Authors: Shady Grace
Her pride bristled to have him clear her account, as if he believed she needed him in order to survive. She lifted her chin in defiance. “That wasn’t necessary, Terry. I can pay my own bills.”
The corner of his mouth tipped up as his gaze swept all over her. “Oh, I know you can. It was only a thank you.”
Thank you for what?
She eyed him critically, wondering what that was supposed to mean, but decided not to ask in front of Byron.
Terry wore a hoodie, blue jeans, and boots, like many other tourists. Not a fancy leather jacket or crisp slacks. Still, she imagined he had a gun hiding somewhere.
Did Gabe think this was some kind of joke? Why didn’t he say Terry was already here? Now she felt completely trapped and forced to babysit him.
She couldn’t move, couldn’t stop thinking about every little detail since he’d popped into her life almost five months ago. She could only manage to stare at him like a deer in the headlights, unsure how to carry on. After his last visit and no word from him she thought either he was dead, or he didn’t give a shit anymore. She often thought about Terry and how he’d blown into her life that day. Every day his face filled her vision, even as she mourned Tom.
How could she miss Terry as if he was an important part of her life?
She was a traitor to herself.
Still, she wanted to wrap her arms around him and forget her messed up life, even though she was angry by his lack of a phone call.
Maybe she should take Gabe’s money now. It would be what Terry deserved. But then again, that would basically make her a hooker—if her dreams held any weight in the real world. She stared at him, at war with what she should do. How could he show up in her town like this, like he had no care in the world? Were all criminals this casual?
Terry reached a hand out and shook Byron’s. “Terry McCoy.” He eyed the terrified look on her face and smiled. “I’m an old friend of Mary’s. Thought I’d swing by and check up on her, make sure she’s doing okay.”
“Oh, wonderful.” Byron smiled, clueless to how freaked out Mary felt right at this moment, and pumped Terry’s hand enthusiastically.
Mary didn’t know what to do but plaster a smile. “That’s nice of you, Terry.” She eyeballed the sexy criminal and said through clenched teeth, “Totally unnecessary, but kind all the same.”
“Always nice to bump into an old friend.” Byron made his way back to the counter and picked up the bills, completely unaware by the intensity flaring between them.
His eyes widened when he counted the money on the counter. “Friends are a good thing, indeed.”
“Is that enough?” Terry asked, not bothering to look at the man.
“Oh, yes. Absolutely.” He pocketed half the money and put the rest in the register. No sooner than he cleared her account, old Byron picked up the phone. Mary knew damn well he was calling everyone he knew with the news of the widow Billings’ “old friend” with money.
Mary wondered how old Byron would react if he knew who Terry McCoy really was, or what he and his posse were capable of doing. She tried not to think too hard about it and glanced up at Terry with an awkward smile. By rights her shirt should rip open her heart pounded so hard. “When did you get in? Gabriel came to see me, but I—”
Terry pushed her lips shut with his pointer finger. She glared at him, taken back by his audacity, yet powerless to shove his hand away. The heat of his finger sent a little trigger of heat between her legs, and before she could control it, she sighed softly.
He chuckled, his blue gaze soaking her in deep, apparently aware of his effect on her. “I checked in to The Siesta last night.” A thick, manly blond brow arched high. “I kinda like the rustic brown paneling and blue shag carpet. I fully expect the bed to vibrate too.” His grin was too cute for words. “But I bought all the necessities for roughing it. I plan on pitching a tent in your yard tomorrow, as long as I can survive the bears, wolves, and mosquitoes.”
Pitching a tent in your yard
. The words sounded so dirty they made her shudder.
“Then after I cook you an amazing city slicker meal, you’ll have your way with me—because I know you want to. You can tan my hide any day.”
What the fuck did Gabe tell him?
Mary blinked rapidly. Unable to respond to his ridiculous statement, she turned away, completely baffled and flustered, and continued putting items from her list into the cart. Terry followed behind, completely silent, yet she felt his stare as if it lived and breathed on her back.
She had made it clear to Gabe she did not want Terry here. What was she supposed to do with him now? Maybe she should drop him off at Mima’s doorstep and tamper down the rampant urge to kiss him, to feather her fingers through his hair and demand he make love to her.
“How long do you plan to stay?” She hated how husky her voice sounded, when she should be ushering him out the door and telling him to go home.
“Maybe a week or two. Thought I’d check out the sights, do some camping, fishing, hiking.”
She fought to ignore the way his smooth, deep voice slithered along her arms as if he’d licked her with his words. “Well, you’ve come to the right place for that.”
And after two weeks you’ll be gone again. Perfect.
“I hear there’s also a few nice places to eat.”
She ignored the insinuation in his voice and continued onward. “Yes, there is.” The heat in the shop became unbearable.
“Mary, put the spaghetti sauce down and look at me.”
She spun around. “What?”
He eyed her with blue eyes that shouldn’t be so sexy. Shouldn’t make her feel naked and unhinged. She wondered what shade they’d be as he looked into her eyes while he pushed into her body.
“I’d like to take you to dinner sometime.”
Mary glanced around the shop then lowered her voice, an immediate chill sweeping through her. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why?” he whispered back and looked around.
“I can’t be seen having dinner with a strange man. It’s not done around here.”
Terry looked incredulous before his brows furrowed. “Is somebody giving you a hard time?”
“No, no.” Mary straightened her shoulders. She certainly didn’t need him terrorizing the town, although the thought of it excited her a little. She imagined it must feel amazing to have a man do something that drastic to please a woman. She pushed the cart closer to the back of the store so Byron wouldn’t hear what she had to say. “Nobody’s said anything to my face, but I see how they look at me. I hear their whispers. They think I had something to do with Tom’s death.”
Terry moved closer and cupped her shoulder with his big hand then rubbed her back in a slow, torturous fashion. Electricity shot right to her heart—or maybe it was her breast—by his touch. She almost closed her eyes and moaned. Instead she lifted her hand and coughed into her palm, hoping he didn’t notice the effect on her.
“The fact is, Tom was respected. He donated quite a lot of his earnings from the trapline to charities in town and the surrounding area. He volunteered his time at events, and he always had a fake smile for everyone.” She shrugged, forcing the sting of resentment far away. “I was a loner they knew nothing about who became his wife. Why wouldn’t I be to blame for his death? Tom was invincible.”
“You are not to blame for anything, okay? I mean it. And who gives a shit what other people think? It’s your life. You’re the one who has to live it.”
“But I have to live
He shrugged. “Then move.”
She released an impatient breath. “It’s not that easy, Terry. I don’t have millions of dollars to throw around like you do.”
He stepped back and chuckled. “Mary, honey. It doesn’t take millions to move. Anyway, if you plan to stay here then you have to learn not to care what anyone else thinks. Thicken that skin of yours. Live like you want to live. You’re the boss.”
But it’s not as easy as he thinks.
Mary wanted to smack him and throw herself in his arms at the same time. She wasn’t a complete fool. For the first time in a long time, she controlled her future, and she wouldn’t let him be the one to mix it up. Besides, she was afraid of what would happen if she did give him such power. He was a friend, nothing more. Even if he did make her insides melt like butter in a pan.
And he hadn’t returned her calls. Maybe he enjoyed a handful of other women while she sat at home, alone, thinking about him like some lonely, hick woman.
Maybe I should use him for pleasure then send him on his way. For once I’d be in charge of my own life and do something crazy.
She glanced past him. “Is anyone with you?” She didn’t want another repeat of what happened before when Ben and his men tried to hurt her. It wasn’t Terry’s fault, she knew that, but she was well aware bad things happened in his line of work.
“Nope. I’m alone. Only a select few know my location.”
She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “Why? Is something going on?” Her hackles went up and her gaze sought the skinning knife on the shelf a few feet away. Maybe he had men following him and they’d find her, too.
He shrugged, but his eyes belied his nonchalance. “I just wanted to see you.”
She was already an outcast in her town and lately Mima had been too busy with Gabe. But Gabe did say Terry wanted to spend some time with her. What harm would come from a simple dinner with a good-looking man like Terry McCoy? Nobody knew him. Maybe that was a good thing. Nothing else had to happen. Dinner with a man every woman in this town would faint over if he simply smiled at her. But it was Mary he wanted to see.
She made up her mind then and there. “Okay. I can do dinner.”
“Wonderful,” he said loudly. “Meet me at The Siesta tomorrow night, eight o’clock sharp. Wear something tight.”
Byron glanced up from the phone, his eyes wide in complete shock as Terry left her there in the aisle, still holding the can of spaghetti sauce.
Terry did a double take when Mary walked into the hotel lobby with her face all dolled up, wearing tight black jeans and a snug pink shirt.
He fully expected her to slap on a jogging suit and work boots, or something that screamed she regularly gutted a deer on her picnic table out back. What he stared at right now pleasantly surprised him.
He couldn’t help his grin as he eyed her up. All her wavy, chestnut hair touched her shoulders, and framed a flawless, oval face. Full lips tinted pink, bright brown eyes that almost matched her hair, and a pert little nose. She was beautiful. A woman who could be wilderness resourceful yet downtown chic all at once. Terry imagined how she would look in a gown at a gala over a thousand-dollar dinner plate.
Mary Billings would look good on his arm.
He pushed up from his seat on the ratty old lounger by the front desk and made his way toward her, thinking of ice-cold water and Gabe’s eyelash curler to settle his erection rapidly going haywire. Since when could he not control himself in front of a broad?
“Come on, honey. I’m starving.”
Her awkward silence did nothing to curb his enthusiasm. He’d do just about anything to get into her clothes, and even though their strange relationship got off to a bad start, he was prepared to offer her whatever she wanted. As long as she would have him. He liked Mary Billings. Whether he’d made a bad decision in coming here was another story. He’d take his chances. Life was a chance in itself.
Guilt weighed heavily on his shoulders for many things. He always seemed to reach out for acceptance even when he felt like he wasn’t good enough. His father always made him feel inadequate. And here he was, away from the responsibility of the business in order to spend time with a woman. He wasn’t there to watch over things even though Colton told him to go away for a short while. He blamed himself for Ben going rogue and causing a shit storm in Mima and Mary’s life. Gabe almost got killed because he was blind to what was going on, and he was the animal who took advantage of Mary in her emotional state. He still remembered that kiss and her passionate response in vivid detail.
When he’d first seen her tied up in a chair a few months back, when Ben had kidnapped her, it hit him like a sudden downpour that he wanted her as more than a friend. He wanted something good with a good woman. And he took pleasure in being the one to slit Ben’s ankles and slowly lower him into the pigpen.
Colton McCoy’s prized pigs could devour a man whole within five minutes. Once those beasts had the taste for blood and raw meat, they’d eat anything put in front of them. Don’t go inside the pen if you have a fresh cut on your person, his father had said to him when he was little, before he even had hair on his balls. They’ll corner you and eat you in a hot second.
Terry had always been afraid of his father’s pigs, and for good reason. Ever since that time he’d thrown an injured rabbit inside, still screaming into the pen, he’d seen the crazy, wide-eyed looks from the beasts before they tore it apart.
That’s scary shit for a kid to see
, he remembered.
Exciting but scary as hell