Before I even turn around, I know.
I can smell him. Earth, citrus, a hint of espresso, and overpowering alpha male.
“You just can’t sit still, huh? You had to take over the flight attendant’s job?” His voice is a low rumble, a purr that plucks at my nerves.
The attendant rounds the corner and gasps. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir! I offered to do it, but she said she wanted the experience. I didn’t see the harm…”
“Guilty,” I say without looking at him. “I couldn’t pass up a chance to join the coffee mile-high club.”
His eyes flash with a wicked gleam when I realize my mistake.
“Are you done bothering me, Mr. Lancaster?”
He smirks at the flight attendant. “It’s fine. I know how Eliza gets.”
What? He doesn’t even know me.
Why is he acting so familiar?
First the flirting, and now this?
Did he really bring me on this trip for the sake of coffee science? What do I know about Kona beans, anyway? I’ve never picked them by hand.
The sudden crisis of confidence hits like a Mack truck.
“Why don’t you sit down? I’ve got this. I think we’re the only people left without coffee,” I say, ignoring how he squeezes into the tight space next to me.
Lancaster doesn’t move. If anything, he inches closer, watching how I tremble every time he brushes me and—oh, God. He’s enjoying this, isn’t he?
When I grab the new carafe, I almost elbow him in the gut on my way out.
“Do you mind? Like I said, I’ve got this.”
His look reminds me how very little I’ve got anything when it comes to self-control. I almost drop the coffee container on the floor.
When his hand darts around my wrist, I almost hit the ceiling.
I’m barely breathing as he moves his fingers slowly up my hand, gently lifting the carafe away from me.
“You’re shaking like a leaf with a container of hot liquid. Are you sure you don’t need a hand? Serving coffee isn’t below my pay grade, sweetheart,” he whispers.
I shake my head fiercely, until he gives up the carafe again when I reach for it, touching his fingers.
For the faintest second, my hip brushes his.
“I can handle my coffee, Mr. Lancaster, but…but thanks.” And because I can still feel his breath when he’s so achingly close, I add, “It’s not as hard as I thought it would be.”
He clears his throat loudly.
At first, my mangled words don’t register.
Shocked that this self-possessed man seems so flustered, I replay the last two lines in my head.
It hits me what that must have sounded like.
Double entendre? More like death warrant.
Before I even turn around, I know.
I slam my fist into my bedroom wall, furious and suffocating with the urge to kill someone. Bloody knuckles mix with the black soot from the fire I just spent hours fighting. Black and red. Fury and death.
“Where. The. Fuck. Is. She?” My voice pops through the air like bullets being fired from a gun.
I want answers even though the way my security look at me—wide-eyed, fear visible in their stance—I know they don’t have them to give. “Did you search the entire house?”
It’s a stupid question. If she’s not here in my room where I left her, or at the very least in her own room down the hall, then she’s not in the house. I know this. I don’t even know why I’m bothering asking the question other than to try to damper the raging madness inside of me by asking mundane questions.
“We did, sir.”
“How is it that my security team has no idea where Lyriope is? What the fuck do I pay you for? And why the fuck haven’t I just shot you both through the eyes because of your carelessness?” The question burns my tongue, and I have visions of cutting out someone else’s tongue in retaliation.
“We were all extinguishing the fire,” Harrison defends, stepping in with confidence. He’s the only one in this room with the balls to actually speak the truth to me. “Everyone was at the dock.” His eyes lock with mine, silently telling me to calm the fuck down. “Our focus was on putting out the fire before authorities came.”
I take a deep breath, knowing he’s right. We were all there. The entirety of my available staff.
We left Lyriope alone. Vulnerable. A flashing beacon just begging to be stolen.Read More
“Get out,” he barked, crossing his beefy arms over his substantial belly. “Ain’t no way I’m gonna let a Bannister tromp all over my shop. Who knows what you’ll break?”
Not that half the shit in this hovel wasn’t broken already, but still, tears prickled at my eyes. Gritting my teeth against the sting, I managed to stand my ground. This wasn’t the first time I’d been kicked out of a witch shop, and given my history, it wouldn’t be the last.
“Please,” I begged, reaching inside my bag for the wad of cash. Ellie and I had planned on moving in together after college, but here we were two years post-graduation, with no apartment in sight. Unearthing the fistful of bills, I held them in front of me to ward off my ousting. “I can pay.”
His gaze snagged on the money in my hand, and he licked his chops. By the looks of this place, Mr. Jones hadn’t seen a paying customer in longer than I’d been alive. “What? You stub your toe or somethin’? I ain’t wasting my time on no silly girl with a hangnail.”
Don’t back talk the healer, Wren. Don’t do it.
An old pickup, with new shiny green paint, slowed down beside her until it crawled along at her pace. A quick glance sideways revealed black-hat-cowboy-guy grinning down at her.
A jolt of awareness cleared some of the fog from her head. He was more good-looking than she’d remembered, and also incredibly large above her in the truck.
“Good morning, darlin’,” he called down.
“Drive on,” she called out.
“Headed into town? We’ve got room.”
“I’m going to walk.” She wouldn’t get into a car with a single person from that party. She walked forward, not looking at him.
“Hold up, you dropped something,” he said, stopping the truck.
Randi whirled around, scanning the empty ground behind her. Her fingers lost their grip and her bags crashed down, things spilling out onto the gravel road. Her eyes burned.
Buck turned off the truck engine and leaned out the window.
“That’s a lot of gear to haul all the way into town,” he said, cheerfully.
“That was a dirty trick.”
“I just want to talk to you for a minute.”
“Leave me alone please!”
“Listen. Hugh, in the passenger seat, and I are headed in for some breakfast. If you ride with me, this gas guzzler will have a full cab. Darlin’, that’s a load off my conscience.”
Randi’s belly shuddered and her lips quivered. The dam burst. Her hands flew up to cover her eyes and a hiccupped sob exploded out.
“I can’t jump in some stranger’s pickup,” she mumbled through her fingers.
“Hey now,” he said, the amused condescension in his voice making her glare up at him. “You hold on to that pepper spray if it makes you feel better. Land’s sake, girl, we hauled around passed-out-Sarah last night. You’re practically part of the family. And Hugh here has about twenty sisters, so he’s well-trained.”
The door of the truck opened. She took a step back, pulling up the inside collar of her dress to dab at her face.
Buck’s eyes crinkled at her, a lopsided half-grin on his face. It was probably the way he looked at cows right before he lassoed a rope around their necks, or whatever. But he had helped Sarah. And her.
Her shoulders slumped. Defeated, she was beyond resistance. If they murdered her, at least she might be sitting down.
“All right?” he asked.
She exhaled. “All right, I’ll take a ride to the closest bus stop. Thanks.”
Buck picked up her bags and put them in the back of the truck. She hauled her heavy backpack off her aching shoulders and turned to sling it up, but Buck was already gripping the top and lifting it out of her hands.
“Hi,” said a burly man sitting on the passenger side of the bench seat, a gentle smile on his face. Like she was a crazy person. Which she was. With a deep breath, she hoisted herself up into the cab next to him.
“Sorry about Buck,” the big guy said, glaring at the culprit with one eye squinted. “He’s devious about getting what he wants.”
Buck landed on the seat beside her. “Hugh keeps the standards up. Probably why he’s so grumpy all the time.”
Hugh crossed his arms, leaning into the passenger door. His buzzed blond head and muscular frame brought to mind a late-twenties version of Mr. Clean, minus the jewelry.
“I ain’t grumpy. Just tired of your ugly face.”
I see Craig and Tinea across the room, sitting close to each other, whispering and giggling with flirty smiles in their eyes. I admire their love, but at times I can’t stand being around them. Always touching, petting, and kissing each other.
Like what the fuck.
You’re just jealous.
I’m anything but; I get to bang the girl on the cover of this month’s American Vogue.
Upon my approach, Craig leans over and kisses Tinea.
“You two are corny as hell,” I greet them, then place a kiss on Tinea’s cheeks before sitting.
“Don’t be kissing my wife.”
“She isn’t your wife yet,” I point out. “She could come to her senses and run away.” I laugh.
“Wishful thinking, Mulligan.” Craig laughs. “When you put it down like I do, you never worry about your woman leaving.” He winks at Tinea.
Is that a dig? Simone didn’t leave because I couldn’t fuck her brains out. She left because she’s a conceited bitch. She thinks only of herself. Only Simone has feelings, no one else. Men don’t feel. We do fucking feel, but we can’t show it the way women do cause were expected to be strong.