Authors: Kristen Ashley
Shamus backed out from between us and sauntered to his doggie bed in the TV room. He was a smart dog; quickly learning the dril between Hank and me.
“How’s everything else?” Hank asked, his voice had changed, sounding slightly husky.
changed, sounding slightly husky.
I didn’t have to ask what he meant; his hands and tone were doing the talking.
I tilted my head back to look at him and slid my arms around his waist. “I’m fine.”
“You owe me,” he said.
I blinked at him then remembered.
He gave me a light kiss. “Let’s get you a hot shower, some ibuprofen and we’l go to bed.”
“Then you can erase my day,” he told me, turning and tucking me into his side, his arm around my shoulders.
We started walking to the bedroom.
“Maybe you should erase my night,” I told him.
“No, I’m thinkin’ you should erase my day.”
“My night was worse than your day,” I said.
“I had a ful shitty day, you just had a half a shitty night.” This was true.
“Okay, I’l erase your day,” I said.
He hit the lights as we walked out of the kitchen.
I was lying on my bel y, my arms around a pil ow, fast asleep, when I felt the sheet slide down my back, low, lower, lowest, to come to rest at the top of my behind.
I twisted my head around sleepily and looked at Hank’s shadow in the dark.
“Whisky?” I cal ed, stil groggy.
“Quiet, sweetheart. I want to check something.” Then the light went on.
I blinked at him. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. His eyes were on my back.
“That’s a new one,” he muttered to my back.
I looked over my shoulder. I couldn’t see much of anything.
“What is it?” I asked.
His hand came out and his finger traced something that ran across my lower back. “You were movin’ like you were tender last night. Now I know why. The mark hadn’t formed then but now you’ve got another bruise.”
“Oh,” I turned around, snuggled back into the pil ow and explained. “Bil y dropped me when Indy jumped him on the stairs. I landed funny.”
I closed my eyes, thinking that was that and deciding I’d catch a bit more shut-eye.
Hank had different thoughts.
He tagged me at the waist, gently moved me around and then slid me across the bed, pul ing me upright. I was sitting, facing him, the side of my hip against his.
I brought the sheet with me and I pul ed it up to cover my breasts.
“What?” I asked when I looked at him.
“Don’t get used to this shit. This isn’t your life. After this is over, you go back to normal,” he replied.
I watched him and felt my gut twist. It was time to begin to show him what he would not be missing when I went away.
“Hank,” I said quietly. “I don’t have a ‘normal’. I’ve been with Bil y for seven years.”
I thought he’d look at me in disgust, horror or, at the very least, shock. Instead he wrapped his hand around the back of my head, tipped it down and kissed my forehead. Then he let go and looked me in the eyes. “Then I’l show you normal.”
I stopped breathing.
Hank didn’t notice.
He got up and went to his dresser.
“Hate to tel you this Sunshine, but I can’t leave you home so you’re gonna have to walk Shamus with me. Get dressed, we gotta get this done. One of the cases I’m working is heatin’ up and I need to get to the station.” Then he sauntered into the bathroom like he hadn’t just rocked my world.
I stared after him.
I stil wasn’t breathing.
“You have your choice today,” Hank cal ed from the bathroom. “Fortnum’s or Lee’s offices. Both are safe but you can’t leave either.”
Then I heard an electric shaver.
I let go of my breath.
Shamus ambled over and sat down beside the bed and stared at me, tongue lol ing and looking like he was smiling.
I grabbed his head, kissed the top of it and gave him a head rub. He leaned up and licked my cheek.
Hank walked out of the bathroom, stil shaving, and looked at me and Shamus.
“Sunshine,” he said, his voice low with warning, tel ing me to get a move on.
“Al right, al right! I’l get dressed,” I sounded uppity.
I’d think about his complete non-reaction to my dire admission later. I had a decision to make. Crazy Fortnum’s and what might happen there while Lee’s boys were watching or Lee’s offices, meaning Dastardly Dawn, the boring room and Diablo, better known as eight hours of my life sucked away.
I pul ed the sheet with me when I got up and wrapped it around me in a voluminous toga. Then I stomped, with a fair bit of attitude (just to make a point, even though there was no real point to be made), out of the room to the other bathroom.
Shamus fol owed me.
What I didn’t know was, so did Hank’s eyes.
And another thing I didn’t know, he was smiling.
* * * * *
“Get over here!” Tex boomed at me.
“Shit,” I muttered.
Hank’s hand slid around my waist and his fingers gripped me reassuringly.
“What?” I snapped at Uncle Tex.
“You know what. People are shootin’ at you. A week ago, you were kidnapped! What’s goin’ on in that fuckin’
head of yours?” Tex shouted.
There were over a dozen people in line, waiting for coffee or sitting in the couches and chairs. Duke was behind the espresso counter, so was Jet. Jane was at the book counter.
They al started to stare.
“It wasn’t my fault!” I returned.
“Not your… not your fuckin’…” Tex spluttered. “You have no business goin’ to a goddamned haunted house when you got lunatics chasing you. I’m cal in’ your mother!” My body went stil . Everyone’s eyes turned to me.
“Don’t you dare cal my mother!” I yel ed.
Everyone’s eyes went to Tex.
“I’m cal in’ Trish. No!” Tex’s voice blasted across the room when I opened my mouth to speak. “Shut your pie hole. I don’t want to hear it.”
There was a col ective gasp and everyone’s gaze came to me.
My eyes narrowed and I leaned forward. Hank’s fingers were biting into my waist now, not for assurance but to keep me from launching myself at Uncle Tex.
“You did not just tel me to shut my pie hole!” I shouted.
The eye swivel went to Tex.
“You heard me right, girl,” Tex boomed.
I turned to Hank.
“Take me to Lee’s office,” I demanded.
“Don’t you do that, Nightingale. I want her here so I can keep an eye on her,” Tex bel owed.
Hank was grinning.
“I’m thinkin’ I don’t have to worry about Tex giving you any crazy ideas,” Hank remarked.
I frowned at him.
He gave my stil -frowning mouth a light kiss then started to leave.
“Don’t expect me to erase your day tonight!” I shouted at his back.
He turned at the door and winked at me.
Then he was gone.
I turned to the woman nearest me and said, exasperation dripping from my voice. “Men!” She was staring at me. “Are people real y shooting at you?”
I looked at her. “Wel … yeah,” I admitted.
“Honey,” was al she said on a shake of her head, that one word speaking volumes, then she turned back in line.
* * * * *
I was sitting on a couch, nursing my second coffee.
Uncle Tex was experimenting on me. The first one was an almond mocha with cinnamon sprinkled on the coffee grounds before brewing. This one was snickerdoodle with a hint of vanil a. Both were divine.
“That space across the street is phat,” Annette announced, throwing herself on the couch next to me.
“We’ve put in an application. I’m, like, jazzed.” She turned to Tex and yel ed, “Americano, big man!”
“Gotcha!” Tex boomed back, scowled at me, apparently not over it yet, and then started banging on the espresso machine.
Daisy sat across from us while Jason went to the espresso counter.
“There’s some space for let down the street. I’m thinkin’
of startin’ a beauty parlor, like in
, except not in a garage. I gotta find somethin’ to do with my time. I thought I’d do charity work but I’m doin’ this fundraising party and the women on my committee al got sticks up their asses. They wouldn’t know fun if someone beat them over the head with it, and believe me, I’ve thought about it.” I believed her. I also believed she might be moved to do it.
Jet came over and sat with us.
“That’s cool,” Annette said to Daisy after she smiled at Jet. “I’d let you do my hair.”
Jet looked at me with wide, frightened eyes and gave a firm shake of her head that said clearly, “no, no,
I had no time to react, as Daisy started talking.
“Oh Sugar, aren’t you sweet?” Then she gave a tinkly laugh.
The bel over the door went and our eyes turned to see who came in.
Luke was standing there. He’d changed nuances of his overal look; stil al black, his t-shirt skintight, except this time with long sleeves. Instead of just plain boots he had on black
boots and instead of cargo pants, he had on jeans. As a fashion maven, I appreciated the subtlety that stil managed to pack a punch. As a woman, I just appreciated him.
“Jumpin’ Jehosafats, I think I just creamed my pants,” Annette whispered, staring at Luke.
Luke’s eyes locked on me. He lifted his hand and crooked his finger.
“I was wrong about before. Now, I’ve
creamed my pants,” Annette breathed.
I got up and walked to Luke.
He put a hand in the smal of my back and propel ed me into the books.
We turned right, into the biography section, and stopped.
“Got plans tonight?” he asked.
I blinked at him. “I’m going to a strip club,” I answered.
His eyes flashed, momentarily showing his surprise.
Then he gave me one of his sexy half-grins.
My heart stopped beating for a second.
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m your date,” he replied.
My heart stopped beating for five seconds.
Then I breathed. “Excuse me?”
“You’re not on camera, you’re with me,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I repeated.
“Hank cal ed. His case is bustin’ open. He’s busy. I’m assigned to you.”
I blinked, twice. “Excuse me?” I said yet again.
The grin came on ful -fledged and he moved into my space.
“I’m your bodyguard.”
“You don’t leave Fortnum’s unless you’re with me,” he said.
Holy fucking cow, cow,
I struggled for a second and then decided not to fight it.
I wouldn’t win anyway.
First off, Lord knew I needed a bodyguard. Second, Hank obviously set this up. Last, no way,
, was I going head-to-head with Luke.
So, I said, “Okay.”
“Outside this store, you don’t do anything unless you can see me.”
“You aren’t anywhere unless I’m close enough for you to touch me.”
I gulped at any thought of touching him.
“Okay,” I said, but it sounded kind of strangled.
“We straight?” he asked.
“Roxie, listen to me.”
I stared at him. If I listened any closer, my ears would start bleeding.
“I know you’re Hank’s woman and I don’t give a fuck. I also know the stories of the two who came before you, Indy and Jet. You mess around, do something stupid, put my ass on the line, you answer to me. Got that?” I nodded again. I definitely got it.
“You don’t want to answer to me,” he warned.
I suspected he was right but I had to ask, out of curiosity.
“What would…” I cleared my throat, “answering to you entail… exactly?”
“You don’t wanna know,” he replied.
I nodded and decided I didn’t.
He got closer and his indigo eyes went funny.
“I’d never raise my hand to a woman,” he assured me.
I nodded again and let out the breath I was holding.
“Therefore, I’d have to get creative,” he finished.
“I promise to be good,” I said quickly.
“One more thing.”
“Yes?” I asked, even though I seriously
did not want to
“For the record, I like Hank,” he said.
“Um…” I muttered, not knowing where he was leading with this and I stil
did not want to know.
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Things don’t work out with you and Hank…” I waited while he paused, my eyes wide, my lips parted, my heart thumping.
“You can erase
Oh… my… God.
He smiled at me in a way that I didn’t know if he was serious or playing with me. Then, he moved out of my space but lifted his hand and touched his finger to the tip of my nose. I blinked again, shocked at his words, shocked at his touch, shocked that it was gentle and sweet. It didn’t go with his badass attitude.
Then he was gone.
I stumbled out of the bookshelves like a dying man in a desert would stumble into an oasis.
“You okay?” Annette asked from across the room.
“No,” I said.
“Cream your pants?” she asked.
The eyes of the two customers at the espresso counter, both male, came to me in avid curiosity.
“I don’t think so,” I answered.
“Oh, you’d know,” Annette replied.
I bumbled over to the couches and col apsed.