Authors: Kate Meader
Why him? Why the man who had cast her aside like day-old bread? His arrogance made her muscles seethe. Men like that were welcome in her bed, but not in her heart.
Stark evidence of his arousal pressed against her hip, hard and thick, sending a message to her clenching sex.
it shot back like a Morse code throb. If she shifted a couple of inches, it would be an invitation for him to lift her skirt and thrust into her. She suppressed a groan. If she stayed still, what did that say? He could wait her out forever with the patience of a feline predator.
So color her surprised when he withdrew his granite body from her personal space, the loss of it so shocking she almost whimpered.
“Do you have a portfolio?”
“An album of work, demonstrating what you can do.”
Irritation frayed her patience. Might have had something to do with the chill his body’s removal left on her sensitive skin. “I know what a portfolio is, Beck. And it just walked out the door.”
“Yeah, I’ve inked most of his body. Even parts you can’t see.” She plastered on a saccharine smile, enjoying his disquiet and especially getting a kick out of how she had hauled the power back to her side of the room. Because now he was thinking about what other ink lay beneath
clothes—and whose hands she had permitted on her body. “Why do you want to see my work?”
“Because if I’m going to let you brand me, I’d like to know it’s worthy of forever.”
Her breath caught. Power shift, activate.
Their gazes locked. Held. Warmth unfurled in her blood.
“Yes, Darcy. I want you to design a tattoo for me and brand it on my skin.”
The way he said that, the way he owned it, made her wetter. Word that she was in town had filtered out, guaranteeing her dance card was full through the end of the year. She didn’t need new business. She didn’t need
business. But hell, she needed something.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Something for Sean and Logan. To commemorate them.”
“That’s beautiful, Beck.”
He coughed out a mirthless laugh at her compliment. “It’s a typical reason to get a tattoo, isn’t it? Remembering people.”
The air was charged with memory and want. Dangerously so. The past held risk, the present just as much. She needed to claw her way back to the safety of the future.
“I’m only in town for another couple of weeks. I’m moving to Texas for a job after the holidays.” It was best to get it out there, establish the parameters of the transaction. An old friend had offered her a job in his parlor, and Austin was on her never-ending bucket list of places to live.
Nothing on his face indicated whether he cared about that. The pang of disappointment in her chest pissed her off to no end.
“Will you have time?” For the tattoo, he meant.
“Yes, I will.” But Darcy meant something else. Time enough to flush Beck Rivera out of her system once and for all before she headed to warmer climes—and a fresh start.
he pots of money invested in Sunnyvale couldn’t quite mask the astringent smell of disinfectant, marking it a place where old people went to pass on to the other side. Sort of morbid, Darcy admitted as she quickly navigated the slick floors of the lavish care facility, where her grandmother was camping out while she recovered from her stroke. The old girl was richer than God and could have afforded around-the-clock care at the mansion, but the docs had recommended she spend her rehab here. Something about socializing her way back into regular life.
Lord help the other residents, was Darcy’s answer to that.
Darcy entered her grandmother’s room without knocking. “Hey, Grams, how’s it hangin’?”
Eleanor Cochrane’s regal gaze landed with a thud on Darcy’s bustier-molded cleavage.
“You trying to catch a cold or a man in that outfit?”
“Oh, a man. Most definitely a man.”
She’d gone leather today from the waist down, and maybe it was too sexy for her grandmother, but it sure as hell wasn’t for Beck Rivera. For that man on fire, it was the perfect temperature. She had plans for him later.
Bending over Grams, Darcy kissed the wax-papery skin of her cheek. The woman had aged so much in the last three months it scared the shit out of Darcy, which is why she loved when her grandmother showed flashes of spirit—even if that spirit was laced with acid.
Darcy plopped down into a comfy armchair near the bed. “Looks like you might be on the hunt yourself, Grams. In that nightie, you’re flashing enough bosom to send the boys here to their graves with big smiles and bigger hard-ons.”
“It’s a peignoir, Darcy. Your expensive education was clearly wasted on you.” She inhaled a breath with difficulty, causing Darcy some difficult breathing of her own. “But at least you’re here. Not a single visit from the rest of them. All waiting for the call that I’ve croaked and my money is ready for distribution.” Them, meaning her cousins. The rest of the Cochranes found it hard to fit tongue lashings from the family matriarch into their busy schedules.
“I’m only here in the hopes you’ll change the will and drop it all on me,” Darcy said with a grin, knowing that despite Grams’s diatribes against the younger generation, she would never do such an outrageous thing.
Blood is king
was her mantra when she wasn’t damning the lot of them to hell.
“He’ll cut you out for good if you’re not careful.”
At the mention of her father, Darcy stiffened in the plush chair, but recovered with a wave. “Guess I should continue to be careless, then. I don’t want it. Any of it.” Her father’s cash-rich approval came with strings so tight they made the bustier she was wearing feel roomy. Since she had dropped out of college and became her own person, she had felt free. Rootless, a little lonely, but liberated. She loved Chicago, but there wasn’t an umbrella big enough to weather her father’s toxic rain.
“He misses you,” Grams said, and Darcy’s heart melted. Not because she believed Sam Cochrane truly missed his daughter, but because Grams sounded so forlorn.
“I miss you, too.” That earned Darcy a geriatric scowl. Gaudy shows of emotion were unacceptable from a Cochrane.
They spent ten minutes chatting about the upcoming fund-raising gala for homeless women that Grams organized each holiday season. Darcy was playing proxy for her grandmother, and had discovered that ordering people about in the name of Madam Cochrane was the ultimate power trip.
Her grandmother turned on the dowager countess stink eye once more. “So who are you flashing all that skin for?”
Heat scalded Darcy’s cheeks. “Do you remember Jack’s friend? The boxer from about seven or eight years ago?”
Grams screwed up her pinched face, calling deep on her memory reserves, and Darcy held her breath. Just how much damage had that stroke done to her?
“Serious boy. Broken nose.”
“That’s him. Beck.”
“Ah, my favorite ladies.”
Darcy’s muscles locked up as the deep, resonant tone of her father both warmed and chilled the room. Sam Cochrane had a marvelous speaking voice, which he used to great effect encouraging his employees Trump-style—and crushing their dreams, when any of them dared step out of line. It was the same tactic he used to control his family.
Self-pity, thy name is Darcy Cochrane.
She turned in her seat, “displaying her wares” as he had once described her body art and revealing clothing. Petty satisfaction warmed her gut at watching his lips form a grim seal.
Tall and urbane, with graying hair winging his temples, her father had aged exceedingly well. Tori, his third wife, was a health nut and she made sure to keep him active, both in the gym and in the bedroom. A between-the-sheets exercise regimen with women who weren’t his wife had always been his go-to before the latest Mrs. Cochrane.
He had married Darcy’s mother, a former beauty queen and daughter of a wealthy man, for seed money. And then he left her to a boozy rot in their Gold Coast mansion while he screwed his secretaries and figured out ways to contort everyone around him into knots. Darcy
had seen the effects of her father’s manipulations on her mother. It dragged her down, made her small. But she had eventually wised up and was now happily remarried, living in South Beach.
“Well, Grams, I’ve got to go seduce that man. I’ll check back in later.” Darcy sprang up and gave her grandmother a kiss good-bye along with a gentle squeeze, netting for her trouble a disapproving
at her mawkish display.
Bypassing her father, she headed to the corridor with a parting nod of acknowledgment. “Dad.”
“Darcy,” he said, following her out. “Stop behaving like a child.”
She halted and let the fury work through her body for a gratifying moment before she spun on her boot heels and drew herself taller. He made it so easy to hate him. “In another two weeks, I’ll be out of your hair. I’m only here for Grams.”
“What about the fund-raiser?”
“Like I said, I’ll be there for her. Not for you.”
“Dressing appropriately, I hope,” he said, his dark gaze skimming her outfit. “Your stepmother would appreciate it.”
Instinctively, she drew the lapels of her jacket together, hiding what made her individual, different. Not Cochrane. Her ink felt like a huge X over her heart, an invitation to her father to take his best shot. Every battle in this war between them left her diminished and bruised, and now she dug deep for ammo.
“Dad, do you still have it in mind to trot me out as
meat for one of your screw-someone-over schemes? Who is it this time? The scion of a Swiss banking dynasty? The geek founder of some start-up you want to buy out? Or is Preston Collins back on the market looking for Wife Number Two?”
Her father scoffed. “Well, now that you’ve made yourself look like a barrio mural, no one of use to me would want you.”
Shock sliced through her, not at his words, but that they could still sting so much. Her usefulness to him had vanished with every
she embedded in her skin. She could feel her body curling up, her heart shrinking in his outsize presence.
“I’m more than what you choose to see, Dad. I always have been.”
Subtlety was not part of her father’s skill set, but in that moment, he seemed to realize his faux pas in cutting her so deeply. His mouth softened.
“Darcy, you’re still my daughter and I love you. Come home.”
“It doesn’t feel like home anymore, Dad.”
“Even with one of the city’s finest at your
Rage boiled up. “For God’s sake, Dad, have you been following me?” His keeping tabs should not have surprised her. Given some of his past stunts and his preference for gold jewelry, he had more in common with an old-school Mafioso than with the upper echelons of power he so wanted to control.
“He’s not worthy of you, Darcy. He never was.” He
stared her down for a moment, then turned and walked into Grams’s room.
“Keep your fists up,” Wyatt said.
Shoulders back, Beck adjusted his stance, putting more weight on his back foot, and delivered a one-two to the bag with his chin down and fists proud. Only three weeks since he’d started his leave, and his muscles bitched at every unfamiliar motion. Sweat rolled off his neck, soaking his tee, the impurities of his body sloughing away with every punch. Not the impurities of his mind, though. He held on to those like a drowning man whose life flashed before his eyes in bursts with each desperate second above water.
Darcy writhing under him, encouraging him to take her harder, do her right. Darcy’s hands exploring his chest and rasping his nipples. Hell, sexy shit she hadn’t even done!
The bag hit his head so hard that his ears popped and rang.
“You’re distracted,” Wyatt said as he steadied the bag he had just used as a weapon to usher Beck back to reality. If reality meant the cramped gym at Engine 6 on Chicago’s North Side, he’d take his fantasy life, thanks. The old quarters could do with a face-lift, which given the city’s budget woes and the fact CFD came last on their good mayor’s list of priorities, would not be happening in any Dempsey’s lifetime.