Authors: Aurora Rose Reynolds
“I'm gonna need your mom’s number, and the contact information for the detective in New York who was working on your case,” Mr. James says, and I nod my head in agreement.
“I have a friend who’s been looking into things,” Asher says, and I look over at Asher. I never knew this. We talked about what happened to me, but he never told me anything about someone looking into it.
“You do?” I ask, wondering when he had asked someone to look into it.
“Yeah.” That was all he said while pulling me closer so he could kiss my forehead.
“Okay,” I say slowly. “When were you going to tell me about that?”
“Don’t you think that I should know about things like that?”
“You know now.” I narrow my eyes and he brings my hand to his mouth, kissing my fingers that are wrapped around his. “Nothing has happened in the last few months. We were not even sure if the break in had anything to do with what happened in New York.” That is a good point. We didn’t know anything. I don’t even know why I cared. I was grateful that he was looking into it.
“Have they come up with anything?” I ask, hoping that some detective was using his skills so I didn’t have to live my days worried about my life being in danger, or worse, having Asher or either of our families in danger.
“Nothing new. They know it was an isolated incident.”
“So, do they have any idea why this is happening?”
“Do you think someone is stalking me?” I ask, looking at Asher then his dad.
“I'm not sure what’s going on. And before I jump to any conclusions, I need to talk to the florist who delivered the flowers and ask about the person who placed the order. Then I need to contact your mother and find out what she remembers from the night of your attack. I also need to contact the officer who was handling your case and see if there are any cases are similar to yours.”
“Asher already found that out. They said it was isolated.”
“Yes, they did, but he was talking about the attack. I'm talking about the flowers and the messages,” Mr. James says.
“Smart.” I smiled at him and he shook his head, chuckling.
“In the meantime, I want you to be extra cautious when you’re out. I also need you to make a list of people that you have dated. There might be someone who wasn’t ready for your relationship to be over.”
“That’s simple. I dated my ex fiancé and Asher.”
“I mean anyone you went out with, even if it wasn’t serious.”
“I know, and it was only my ex and Asher. I never dated in high school. My mother wanted me to work, and if I wasn’t working, I had to be home. I met my ex during my sophomore year of college and I dated him until I caught him with my mother. After I broke it off with him, I needed time and I was never really interested in anyone, so I didn’t date. Before the attack happened, my boss made me sign up for a dating service, so I did that, but I haven’t even checked the activity of that account.”
“Do you have the account information?” Asher asks and I can see his jaw tightening.
“Yeah, it’s in my phonebook.”
“So, you didn’t think about closing the account since we met?”
I rolled my eyes and looked at him, wanting to determine if he was being serious.
“I haven’t even thought about it.” His eyes narrowed. “What? You’ve been keeping me busy,” I shout, throwing my hands in the air. “I'm sorry if I haven’t thought about a dating site that I didn’t even want to be a member of.”
I hear Mr. James laugh from across the kitchen and I look up at the same time as Asher. Mr. James put his hands in front of him in a stay back gesture and laughs harder. I laugh, and Asher’s eyes come to me.
“You think this is funny?”
“Um…no?” My answer sounded like a question, and I start laughing louder.
“What did I tell you about laughing at me, baby?” he asks. I see the look in his eyes, so I jump off the counter and start to run to get away from him. Sadly, his legs are longer and his speed faster, so I didn’t have a chance to escape before I was lying on the floor and his big body was pinning me down, tickling me.
My head is thrashing back and forth. I am begging him to stop and then Beast comes over, not to help me, but to assist Asher in his torture. He is licking my face while Asher tickles my ribs.
“Are you going to close the account?”
He keeps up the tickling. ”YES!” I screech my agreement about the dating site. “Please stop. I'm going to pee.” I was finally able to say a full sentence. He stopped immediately. I jumped up and ran to the bathroom without looking back. When I am walking back toward the kitchen, I hear Asher and his dad talking.
“I want this shit done.”
“Call Kenton and ask him to make November a priority. You can always send her to him to keep safe.” Hmm, that’s interesting. I’ve been wondering what Kenton did, but every time I ask about it, I get the run around.
His laugh held no humor. Then he answered, “He met November at the Christmas party and was getting ready to go in for the Kenton kill when I told him she was mine.”
“He would never cross that line and you know it.”
“The only thing I know is that I want this shit done.” He growled. “I'm too selfish to send her away. I wouldn’t be able to function knowing she was staying with Kenton.” I heard him take a breath. “If things escalate, I’ll take her to the cabin.”
“Your cousin is a good man. He’s also one of the best at what he does.”
“I don’t give a fuck. You were not there. You didn’t see the way he looked at her. I know Kenton better than anyone. And unless something else happens, she stays here with me.”
“Your jealousy could end up getting her hurt,” His dad whispers and my heart starts beating double time.
“I would never let anything happen to her. I have my fucking reasons for not trusting anyone with her.” I needed to quit eavesdropping, but it was like I was glued in place. “We don’t even know what’s going on. The only thing we know is she was attacked in New York. That may not have anything to do with what’s happening here.
“The card shows the New York City skyline. I think whoever is doing this knows her from New York. We don’t know if the attack and the things happening here are connected, but since she’s been in Tennessee, she has had two separate instances where she has been left poetry. The thing is messy. We just need to clean it up and put the pieces together. I'm going into town to the florist. I’ll call and let you know if I find out anything from them.
I could hear the frustration in Asher’s voice. In the meantime, I'm gonna talk to my friend in Jersey and tell him about what happened today.”
I walked out of my hiding place in the hall just as Mr. James was opening the front door. He tipped his head in my direction, his eyes soft on me. “I want you to be extra careful.” I could tell that his tone was not that of the sheriff, but as a man who cared about me like a daughter. “If you’re out, you need to watch who’s around you. If anyone makes you feel even the slightest bit of unease, you go somewhere where there are a lot of people and call me or one of my boys. As I told Asher, this whole situation is a mess. I just need to see if I can dig anything up that will straighten everything out. In the meantime, stay safe.”
“Thanks for everything.” I walk to him and hug him around the waist. He gives me a one-armed hug, his other arm full with his notebook, his plastic bag with the card inside, and a coffee cup.
“I'm sure Susan is going to be stopping by soon and will want to see for herself that you’re safe.” He was not wrong. Susan was a momma bear and very protective of her cubs. Since being brought into the family, she has taken me under her care and made it known far and wide that if you messed with me, you would have to deal with her.
“Okay,” I murmured. My real mother might not want me, but Susan loves me and she is better than anything I could ever ask for in a mother. Asher’s brothers are always giving me a hard time, telling me I am a suck up. I don’t care. Asher hooks me around my waist, pulling my back to his front.
“Talk to you soon, Dad,” Asher says, shuffling us to the door as his dad closed it behind him. He locks it and turns me around, his hands framing my face. “You okay?” I can see the worry in his eyes.
“I'm fine. I just want to know who is doing this and why.”
“Me too, baby,” he says, laying his forehead against mine.
“Is it me, or is that poem totally creepy?” I whisper.
“It’s not just you.”
“What do you think it means?”
“I don’t know, baby,” he said quietly. I wrap my arms tighter around him and hold on. I can tell he hates this more than I do.
“Bye,” I call over my shoulder as I walked out of Temptations.
“Bye, honey,” Liz calls through the open door of her shop. I got up early to meet Liz for coffee and to explain to her about what happened yesterday. She knew I received flowers yesterday because I had called her, and everyone else I knew, to see who sent them. She, like everyone else, said didn’t send anything and asked why. I couldn’t explain the situation to at the time. Plus with each phone call, I got more and more scared and was too freaked out to tell anyone about what happened. Then Mr. James showed up and we found the card. So, I knew it was more than just a nice gesture from a friend.
After Mr. James left, Asher dragged me into the office, sat me at the desk, got my phone book and had me log onto the online dating site. He dragged me out of the chair, sat down, and pulled me into his lap. I poked around on the website and looked at any communications that I had received from guys. I clicked on my profile and the picture that I had used. I grunted a few times while reading some of the information I posted. We went to the section where people who contacted me left messages. I was surprised by the amount of inquires I received. Some were normal, others disturbing. The normal ones were just,
would you like to have dinner with me
questions. Others were,
would you like to meet to have sex?
Those surprised me. I never knew people used the internet for one night stand type of situations.
Once he was satisfied that no one from the website was stalking me, he canceled my account. I sat quietly in his lap the whole time while he was clicking away on the computer, fighting the laughter that was getting ready to explode out of me. When he was done and the computer was shutting down I turned to look at him. “All mine.” He grunted and I could no longer hold it in. I started laughing.
“You’re such a caveman,” I said kissing him.
“Oh my God. I'm so sorry,” I apologized to the person I bumped into.
The woman mumbled and her body bent to pick up a file. “You need to watch where you’re going.” I knew that voice. My body froze.
“Mom?” I whisper in complete shock as her head came up. Her hair was different, a little longer. I could see a few wrinkles around her eyes. She probably had to cut back on her Botox treatments now that I wasn’t there to help her with money.
“November,” she said and gave a curt nod, but didn’t say anything else. She was wearing her usual gear. Black, wide leg slacks, a lavender blouse that I knew was real silk, and shiny black dominatrix shoes. Well, that’s what I called them. The heel looked like it could be used as a weapon. I also knew that those shoes had a red bottom.
One of her ex-boyfriends bought them for her before his wife found out that he was keeping a woman on the side. She told him that if he continued on with the affair, she was going to take him to the cleaners. That was the last gift he gave my mother and the only thing she kept. All the jewelry and expensive handbags he bought for her got pawned. Well, any jewelry or handbags that anyone bought for her went to the pawn shop. She never kept anything except clothing unless it had the tags. Then, she would either get the money back or get a store credit for the item and find something else that she liked more.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” I ask, starting to freak out. I don’t want my dad to see her and I really don’t want my grandmother to see her. I look around to see if there is anyone out that I know, and lucky for me, the streets are quiet.
“Well, it’s good to see you too,” she snaps. Her tone says that it isn’t good to see me too.
“Sorry, I'm just surprised. I mean, I tried to call you and you haven’t returned any of my phone calls.”
“You abandoned me for your father. He wanted nothing to do with you and you still left me for him.” Great, now how do I deal with this? My dad didn’t abandon me. My mother kept me from him, but I really don’t want to get into an argument with her in the middle of the town square. Word travels fast in this town and I don’t want my family to know that she had even been in the city.
“Mom, please. I didn’t abandon you. You know what happened to me. I couldn’t stay in New York anymore.”
I watch her roll her eyes, completely disregarding my attack. “That kind of thing happens every day in the city, November. Don’t be such a drama queen.”
Oh my God. I want to scream in her face. I know that bad things happened in the city. I lived there my whole life. I watched the news, and read the paper. But it didn’t happen to someone else. It happened to me, her daughter, someone that she was supposed to love and look after. “Mom, I could have died. I could have been raped. You heard what the police said. And trust me, I know that bad things happen, but I didn’t feel safe there anymore.” I take a deep breath. “You didn’t answer my question. Why are you in town? Is everything okay?”
She shakes her head and presses her lips into a flat line before answering me. “Everything is fine. I had to see the lawyer in town for something that doesn’t concern you.” I am kind of curious about her meeting with the lawyer, but I’m not going to ask her about it. I want her to leave before anyone sees her.
I take a breath, hoping that the answer to my next question is a big no. “Are you in town for long?”
She looks around and scrunches up her face in disgust. “No, it was a one day trip. My flight leaves in a few hours.” Well, thank God for small favors.
“Okay,” That was all I could say. I wasn’t sad that she was leaving.
“You look like you fit in here with these people,” she says, looking down her nose at me. The words “these people” was said like they were, in fact, not people at all, but a secret alien race trying to take over the world. She takes a step away from me, pulling her bag closer to her body like I’m planning on ripping it out of her hands and taking off down the street with it. I almost laugh. I look down at what I am wearing and I do fit in here. I have on a pair of dark jeans and long sleeve black shirt with a puffy pink vest over it. And on my feet, I have a pair of plain black boots. I look normal. Not New York upper west side normal, but Tennessee normal.
“Thanks.” I smile.
She huffs out a breath then looks around. Obviously, I didn’t give her the response she wants. “I need to go,” she says and I feel tears sting my nose. Stupid, I know, but she is the only mother I have and I hate that we aren’t close. For my whole life, I wished for her to act like she cared about me. It killed me each time she proved that she never would.
“Okay, have a safe fight,” I mumble, realizing that I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t have to explain to people why my mother was never around like all the other kid’s moms. Realizing that I have family and friends here, people who love me, gives me strength. She has no part in my life. I don’t need her. With that thought in my head, I walk around her, down the sidewalk to my car, get in and call Asher.
“Hey, baby. I'm in the middle of something. Can I call you back?”
“No. Uh…um…that’s not necessary. I just wanted to tell you I love you.”
“Are you okay? You sound freaked.”
“I'm great, actually. Really, really great,” I tell him truthfully. I know happiness because of him, his family, and mine.
He is quiet and I hear him take a breath. “Love you too, baby.” His voice sounds gruff.
“Good,” I whisper, closing my eyes.
“Good,” he whispers back. He is quiet a minute then he tells me, “I’ll see you at home.”
“Okay,” I whisper again.
“Later.” He chuckled and that made me giggle.
“Yeah, later.” I hang up before I am an even bigger dork. I look in my rearview mirror and see my smile. I am going home. Home. To a home I have with Asher and Beast. I put my car in reverse and drive.
“No,” I whine to Asher, who is behind me in bed. It’s Saturday and he’s been trying to get me up for the past hour. I'm ready to strangle him.
“Baby.” He laughs, shoving his face in my neck.
“Asher, I'm telling you right now, if you don’t leave me alone, I'm going to kill you.”
“That’s not very nice.” He chuckles.
“I don’t care. Go away. Geez, you have three brothers and a boat load of friends. Can’t you find someone else to bother?”
“I'm not going to ask one of them to shower with me.”
“Oh my God!” I yell. “Go away. I'm sleeping.” I shove my head under my pillow, trying to block him out.
“You sound awake to me.” I hear his muffled reply and I can tell he’s smiling just by the tone of his voice.
“That’s it.” I roll over and straddle him. His face lights up and he smiles. I smile back then grab my pillow and hold it over his big, stupid face. His hands run up my sides and start tickling me. When I finally call mercy, we’re both breathing heavily.
“Now, are you going to shower with me?” he asks, his eyes shining with laughter.
“You are seriously relentless, you know that, don’t you?”
“I like showering with you.” He shrugs.
I shake my head and start laughing. “No, you don’t. You like getting off in the shower.”
His face goes serious and I hold my breath. “No!” His voice is a low. “I like taking care of you. I can fuck you anytime. I'm not always able to take care of you.”
I feel my face go soft. I swallow against the lump in my throat then lift my head, pressing my mouth to his. “Let’s go shower,” I whisper against his lips.
He carries me to the bathroom and takes his time taking care of me. Then, I take care of him. It’s beautiful.
Standing at the kitchen counter, I watch Beast eat while I finish my coffee. Asher walks around the corner wearing his overwashed jeans that hang low on his hips, no socks, and the T-shirt he’s going to put on is in his hand. My mouth goes dry. I squeeze my hand into a fist at my side to avoid reaching out and running it down his chest and abs. He shakes his head and I know he knows what I'm thinking. It is really unfair. No one should have that much power over another person.
Once he reaches me, he bends over and kisses me softly. Then, he kisses my nose and grabs a mug from behind me to make himself a cup of coffee while crowding me against the counter. His jaw has a few days of stubble that makes his face look more rugged, and something about that look makes my tummy melt. I can’t help myself, so I run my fingers from his hair, down the side of his face, feeling it prickle against my fingers. I remember how it feels when it rubs between my thighs. I squeeze my legs together and drop my hand.
“You okay, baby?” I nod my head, but don’t say anything. I'm happy, more than happy. Some days, I wake up and wonder how I spent the first twenty-five years of my life. I had no clue what real happiness was. Or maybe that was happiness, and now I'm living in bliss. “You look like you’re really in your head. What’s going on?” he asks, taking a bite of a bagel.
“Nothing.” I grin. “So, what are we doing today? Can we go riding?” I ask excitedly.
“No, someone’s coming over in an hour,” he says, wiping his mouth.
“O…kay,” I say slowly, waiting for him to tell me who is coming over. He doesn’t say anything, just smiles. “So, who is it?” I ask after he still doesn’t say anything.
“You’ll see.” He shrugs.
“So, you’re not going to tell me who it is?”
“Nope,” he says, putting his cup and plate into the sink without rinsing it. He starts to walk away, so I clear my throat to get his attention. When he looks at me, I nod my head in the direction of the sink and he raises his eyebrows. So, I nod my head in the direction of the sink again. “Do you have a tic, baby?” he asks, his mouth twitching.
I narrowed my eyes. “I'm not your maid, Asher.” He straight out smiles, giving me the dimple, then walks to the sink, takes his plate and cup out, still without rinsing them, and places them in the dishwasher. “You have to rinse it before you put it in the dishwasher,” I tell him, feeling and sounding like a total nag.
“It’s a dish
,” he says slowly, walking towards me.
“Ye—” Before I can get the words out, his mouth is on mine. The kiss is deep, wet, and so yummy, that when he pulls his mouth away, my hands are wrapped around his neck and my legs are around his hips. I'm in an Asher fog so deep that he could tell me that it’s not a dishwasher, but a microwave, and I would agree with him completely.
My eyes flutter open. He’s looking down at me with a cocky smile and mumbles, “That’s better.” Then, he squeezes my ass in his hands, sets me on the counter and leaves the kitchen, putting on his shirt as he goes.
“Holy crap,” I whisper. Beast looks at me, grunts, then walks to his dog bed and lays down, completely disappointed in my lack of willpower. “It’s not my fault,” I mumble to my dog. He lets out a breath and shuts his eyes, completely dismissing me. “It’s not,” I say, still mumbling. I hop off the counter, take Asher’s dishes from the dishwasher, rinse off the cream cheese so it doesn’t harden onto the plate, rinse out the cup then place them both back in the dishwasher. The whole time, I'm smiling.
I go to the bedroom to get dressed. I pull on a pair of leggings and choose a loose, off-the-shoulder cream shirt, and throw a black open front, oversized sweater on over it. I know Asher says he loves my body, but I need to stop eating everything that is placed in front of me before I need a whole new wardrobe.
Yesterday, I had to lie down to button my jeans, and let’s just say walking around all day and having my toes tingle from lack of circulation is a hazard to myself and those around me. I flop down on the bed, exhausted from getting dressed. I'm so tired that I feel like I could sleep for the next week. I close my eyes just to give them a rest. I feel a feather light touch run down my cheek. My eyes open slowly and I see Asher’s face.
“Time to get up, sleepy head. Our guest is here.”
I take a deep breath and stretch. “Okay, who is it?” I grumble, thinking that this guest better be awesome enough for my sleep interruption.
“You’ll see.” He smiles and pulls me out of bed. He tucks me under his arm and walks us out to the living room where there is a guy about Asher’s age. He’s wearing jeans and a black shirt with the words,
Crystal Clear Pools and Spas
written in white on the breast of his shirt.