Authors: Shady Grace
He wished he could get rid of them, but he wasn’t the boss. Besides, they served a quick and deadly purpose. He’d use them when the need arose.
Nobody fucked with Mary, and if this town kept giving her a hard time, he’d make them burn.
But he had to be careful.
He’d seen how she looked at him, curious but unsure. She just needed a gentle hand from a man with confidence. But he hoped he had enough of it to show her the man he really was. To show her a part of himself nobody else sees.
If Gabe could land a woman and convince her to marry him, then Terry at least had a small shred of hope that one day he could be happy, too.
“Where are we going? There’s a nice burger joint down the road.”
Terry tipped his head back and laughed. “We’re not dressed up for beef on a bun, silly. We’re going out in style.”
They arrived at the only fine restaurant in town, a bistro-type diner Terry found seriously lacking, but it was his only option. Thank God Mary had said yes because he’d already made reservations at their most private table, and even had them hold a bottle of fine wine he’d brought from home. Wine that probably cost more than their monthly food order.
“I’ve never been here before,” Mary said in awe. “It’s too expensive.”
He opened the door and guided her through. “Not anymore.”
Mary looked up at him, clearly confused. “What?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he gently shoved her inside, ignoring how she glared at him with those stunning eyes.
The hostess, with her dark hair pulled tight at the back and red lipstick, reminded Terry of one of the guitar girls in that eighties music video. She smiled at Terry, but when she saw Mary her demeanor changed instantly.
“Didn’t you recently bury your husband?” She looked her over and made a disgusted face. “Kind of early to go out on a date.”
Mary pulled back in horror but Terry wouldn’t let her shrink away. He put his arm around Mary, keeping her close. He wanted to deck the broad behind the cedar podium, but hitting a woman went against his moral rule. Just because he lived on the wrong side of the law didn’t mean he was an animal.
Terry placed his free hand on the podium and leaned closer. “People die all the time. Life goes on. If I were you I’d apologize to the lady. I’m not spending good money in here for her to be insulted.” He stroked Mary’s lower back and smiled to himself when he felt her body relax. The urge to continue rubbing, and maybe moving further down was an exciting thought, but he pushed the urge aside and gently cupped her hip instead.
The woman swallowed and nodded, her face red. “M-my apologies.” She grabbed two menus and immediately guided them to their private booth. Without another word she set the menus down and went back to her post.
Every time she glanced their way Terry raised his brows. She immediately blushed and looked away.
He’d put everyone to shame if it pleased the cute little thing sitting across from him. He focused his attention back to Mary. “You look beautiful tonight.”
Her blush made her cheeks deliciously pink. It made the color on her lips brighter. “Thank you. You look pretty good yourself.”
Terry glanced up at the stuffed northern pike on display a couple of booths down. A large red and white daredevil hung from its gaping mouth. He almost lost his appetite at the rustic decor reminding him of death. Above every booth hung something killed by somebody.
He turned away from the huge moose head next door and focused on Mary instead. “I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while. I had some business to tend to.”
“I know. Gabriel told me about Ben.” The sad look on her face said much more. Terry wasn’t sure where to lead the conversation.
Thank God the waitress arrived right away. He was beginning to think this date would end in disaster before it started.
“Would you like to start with drinks?”
Terry grinned at the waitress. “Bring us a bottle of your best wine, please. I have a woman to impress.”
The waitress gave him a knowing smile and winked at Mary before she walked away.
Mary looked like she was completely out of place. Her eyes said it all. Beautiful, sad brown eyes with liquid gold around the iris. They mesmerized him, made him want to stare at her, read her thoughts. Her gaze darted around the room, staring at the animal mounts as well, but she seemed genuinely impressed by the décor, unlike him.
He stared at her while her attention was everywhere else. She was a damaged woman. Maybe she’d never been on a real date before. Maybe she was still scared of him, or didn’t trust him, and he deserved it. He knew she needed to be treated with kid gloves, which was a whole new game for him. It was a challenge, and he loved a good game of cat and mouse.
His life had been filled with the type of women who liked bad guys. They wanted the attention, the jewelry, the yacht parties, and expensive wine, and they were fake. Mary Billings would probably be satisfied at that burger joint, and she was real. No fake tits and lips on her.
He leaned back in his seat and stared at the wolf head right above her. The beady eyes reflected a cunning creature ready to pounce. Terry tried to hide his wolfish grin as he returned his focus to Mary.
Being around Mary made him feel good, like he had nothing to worry about. He felt like he owned the biggest piece of earth. “So what have you been up to lately?”
The waitress brought the wine and glasses, and took their food order.
“I don’t really have anything exciting to tell. I’ve been taking care of nuisance beaver in the area, and did some minor repairs to the house. Gabe has helped out quite a bit too. That’s about it.”
Terry leaned forward. “Not only are you a knockout, you’re a handyman, too. Impressive.”
Her unladylike shrug made her even cuter in his eyes. “Not really. I just do what needs to be done.”
“Anything I can help with?”
Maybe pet you to madness?
“Well, I do have a wood shed that needs to be filled before winter. I’ve been busy with nuisance beaver lately and haven’t had time for it.”
He’d never chopped a piece of wood in his life. “Consider it done.”
Mary nodded, and Terry felt a small shred of hope. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad after all, as long as he had cell service to google these wilderness tasks so he didn’t look like a total jackass in front of her.
“Look, I know this trip of mine was sort of sprung on you at the last second, but I’d love to spend some time with you. On your terms.”
Mary looked up, her smile shy, uncertain. “I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure. . . .”
He grinned. “Then don’t say anything at all. Let’s enjoy dinner and see what happens.”
Terry knew right away that leaving things up to her must be a new experience. She began to fidget with her food, making little tracks in the garlic mashed potatoes with her fork. Every once in a while she’d look around the room, perhaps nervous somebody would corner her, but Terry wouldn’t let that happen. Even when he’d lifted his arm to take her coat by the booth, and she’d stepped back quickly as if he’d hit her, struck a lethal chord in him. He wanted to show her a good time and prove that some men had good intentions, no matter what they did for a living. And if he ever saw a man raise his hand to her, he’d rip his throat out.
After a while she focused her attention back to him. “What did you have in mind—for us to do?”
Anything that doesn’t involve shooting someone.
“Whatever you want. You’re the boss.”
“Anything I want?” Her smile seemed evil almost—something he didn’t expect from her. It made him a little uncomfortable, considering he was in the bush and totally out of his element. “How about I take you fishing tomorrow? If you can handle that then maybe I’ll let you stay.”
If he had to throw a line in the water to prove he wasn’t an asshole, then he’d do it with a smile. Her shy nature and pretty face did him in like a bullet to the head, but he knew better than to push her too hard. She’d gone through a nasty time not only from her marriage from hell, but from what she had suffered a few months ago—partly at his doing.
All because he had to find Gabe.
First Ben got her to talk, then Jimmy was ordered to take her outside and kill her. If Terry wouldn’t have shown up in the nick of time, Jimmy would’ve made her suffer things he didn’t want to imagine.
A woman like Mary needed to be coaxed out of her shell and treated like a queen, because she deserved it. She deserved better than a meaningless life with an asshole who hurt her, and had the nerve to steal millions of dollars of cocaine. Simply put, Tom Billings was a loser.
Mary deserved to be touched gently and kissed passionately. She deserved what Terry wanted to give her.
“Sounds good to me.” Terry lifted his wine glass and clinked it against hers. “Cheers to our little adventure tomorrow. I’ll be there with hooks on.”
* * * *
Mary stood in her bedroom the following afternoon with the closet doors open and a mountain of clothes on the bed. She placed her fists on her hips and released a pent-up sigh.
Why did she care what she wore to go fishing? She was acting like a foolish girl.
Seeing Terry again with his lazy smile and bright blues gave her mixed emotions. She’d missed him, but she was angry as well. She was attracted to him, but she had to be cautious at the same time. He was part of an organization that set him apart from the average Joe, and he was dangerous. Coming from an abusive marriage, Mary didn’t know if she should act on her attraction toward Terry or if she should end their friendship right now and forget about him. She glanced at the cordless phone beside the nightstand, but she didn’t have his number to call him and call off the fishing expedition. She took a step toward the bedroom door, intent on throwing on her jacket and heading to his hotel to cancel his visit in person. But she didn’t. Her curiosity over why he came here was too strong to ignore.
One thing was certain. He acted like he wanted some kind of relationship.
He looks at me like I’m a bottle of water after surviving the desert.
But she didn’t really have enough time to find herself yet. Not even half a year after Tom’s death didn’t seem long enough to be spending time alone with another man. Despite Tom’s cruelty he’d taken care of her financially. But did he give her a choice? He never wanted her out of his sight, therefore she was stuck at home like a bad pet that needed to be on a leash.
It was easier for a guy like Terry. He didn’t have a dead spouse haunting his mind and heart. She was confused by this whole situation. Yes, she wanted to spend time with Terry and see what might happen. At the same time she was afraid to make a mistake.
And if she were to be honest with herself, Terry was completely out of her league. She’d seen the bill for last night’s dinner. It was more than what she spent on groceries for an entire month. More than what Tom spent on her wedding ring.
But she couldn’t simply stop her attraction for Terry, even after the chaos a few months back. She felt in her heart that Terry wasn’t a bad man. Even when those guys terrorized her he hadn’t taken part in it. He even tried to stop it. But his friend had betrayed him, and Mary imagined it must be a terrible weight on his shoulders. Still, she had been wrong about Tom, too.
Maybe Terry needed someone to talk to, somebody who had nothing to do with his family business—someone who didn’t care that he was a McCoy. According to Mima, Terry had it rough. Harder than most. While she didn’t know the exact details of his job or his life, she knew he walked on eggshells every day, and she felt bad for him.
She closed her eyes, remembering the night he’d kissed her. She touched her lips remembering how his felt against hers. How hot it made her. She’d never felt this turned on before.
What the hell am I doing?
She glanced at her reflection in the floor-length mirror. Her eyes were too dull, her lips not full enough, tits too small. Nothing impressive to look at. Why would Terry be interested in her? Was she just some casual bush fling nobody would know about? All of his rich friends and business people would never know anything about her, because she was plain old Mary with seven dogs, a horse, and a shed full of furs.
She lifted her chin and stared at her body again. Maybe she wasn’t a model in high places, but she was a strong bush woman. She flexed her biceps. Yes, she had good definition, could lift well over her own body weight. She turned her back to the mirror, looked over her shoulder and grinned. Nice hard legs. Tight bum. Maybe she wasn’t too bad after all.
If he wants to be here then he’ll have to accept who I am and how I live.
She smacked her ass, sauntered over to the bed, and grabbed a pair of jeans.
No sooner than changing into jeans and t-shirt, the dogs howled outside. She glanced out her bedroom window to see a black Suburban pull into the driveway and park beside the house.
She rushed to put her hair into a ponytail as a knock rattled the back door.
“Just a minute!”
When Mary opened the door she tried her best not to laugh but failed miserably.
Terry wasn’t lying when he said he’d bought all the gear for roughing it, but it made him look like a complete fool and amateur. His moss green, double-breasted shirt and fishing vest, perfectly matched his camo shorts, and every side pocket had a hook hanging from it. Even his fishing hat had a yellow jig hooked to the brim.