An Everyday Disaster novel, Book 1.5
Putting the Chick in Psychic
(included in Dirty Deeds 2 with works by R.J. Blain, Devon Monk, Faith Hunter, and Jennifer Estep)
Join NY Times bestselling authors Faith Hunter and Jennifer Estep along with USA Today bestselling authors R.J. Blain, Diana Pharaoh Francis, and Devon Monk on a brand-new romp through magical worlds where the damsels bring the distress, what can go wrong will go wrong, and nothing is as it seems.
Adventure with Eli Younger, Liz Everhart, and Brute in the thrilling world of Jane Yellowrock. Face off against old gods and lost souls at a magical crossroads on Route 66. Become entangled in Ashland’s dark, deadly web with side characters from the Elemental Assassin series. Return to the irreverent world of Beck Wyatt, where disaster waits around every corner and cheesecake makes it all worthwhile. And finally, meet up with the Quinns and friends in the zany world of the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.
In this collection of all-new urban fantasy and paranormal stories, the gloves are off and simply surviving might just be the dirtiest, most difficult deed of all
I couldn’t deny I was having a damned good start to the day. My fake mother—aka Aunty Mommy—remained dead and had thus far been unable to rise from the grave and haunt me; my savagely vandalized business was under reconstruction; nobody had tried to kill me recently; my dog loved me unconditionally as did my three best friends; and I was having enjoying the nectar of the gods—aka an extra large 9-1-1 espresso— with a gorgeous man.
Yeah, maybe I had a few problems, but at the moment, I could ignore all of them and enjoy the lovely weather and the very fine specimen of masculinity sitting across from me.
I sipped my ultra-caffeinated brew, eyeing Damon over the rim of my cup. He was flat out hot. Like HAWT. I’d seen him mostly naked and could attest to six pack abs, broad shoulders, and thighs that could crack walnuts. And his ass. It could make a nun wet her panties. With that body, his dark blond hair, stormy blue eyes, and chiseled jaw, he could have been a model. The fact that he was eyeing me with the same orgasmic appreciation I’d just given the first sip of my coffee made me want to lick him like a lollipop.
Just at the moment, my life was closer to perfect than it had ever been, which of course meant that everything would shortly be going straight to hell. Murphy’s Law and Mercury in Retrograde are the ruling forces of my life. Trouble was always lying await just around the corner. At least it meant life was exciting. Often hideously painful, but still exciting. It also meant I knew enough to enjoy the good while it lasted.
I am an almost-twenty-eight years old business woman and witch. I run Effortless Estates, a high-end estate liquidation business. I hold wealthy estate sales and have a showroom of the more valuable pieces. Or I did before a former colleague destroyed it out of frustration, all because I refused to die when he was trying to murder me. Luckily he did succeed offing Aunty Mommy, which made me almost willing to forgive him for my attempted murder, except he’d also tried to kill my three BFFs—Stacey, Jen, and Lorraine—not to mention Damon and my recently discovered uncle.
Nobody fucks with the people I love and gets away with it. Nobody.
Anyhow, my business had really taken off in the last few year, growing like a weed on steroids. Damon’s a lawyer. My lawyer, as of recently. I’m his only client. When Aunty Mommy kicked the bucket, all sorts of cockroaches crawled out of the woodwork, including my real parents and a bunch of other family, also all witches. I’d also learned I was the product of a birth contract, and that the entire witch world revolved around bloodlines and eugenics, and my eggs were in high demand. All of which was enough to make me throw up in my mouth.
But I also inherited a convoluted mess of money and property and Damon had taken on untangling and managing it all so I wouldn’t have to. If I’d had my way, I’d have refused to take it. I considered it blood money—specifically my blood—but I had to be practical, one of my least favorite things to be when I was pissed off. It turned out I wasn’t the only target of Aunty Mommy’s, just her favorite. She’d been a category nine tornado and had left a whole lot of damage in her wake. Since nobody else would, I had to try to fix what I could, and that meant money and plenty of it.
Between the money, the fact that I’d never been trained in magic, my current lack of a home (my ex-colleague had destroyed my apartment along with my showroom), Damon and I were practically glued together these days. He was super protective of me and though he hadn’t said much, I know he was scared some witch family—or just as likely my own—would kidnap me and turn me into an Easy-bake Oven for magically powerful babies. He’d been giving me a crash course in witchcraft. Not that I didn’t have good command of my power—I did. I just didn’t know how to create spells or what ingredients to use for what, nor did I really know the dangers, or even what I could or should be doing to protect myself. Other than that, I was in good shape.
His concern and me being his only client made it hard for him to peel away from me, which was both flattering to my female sensibilities and annoying as fuck. I didn’t need him under foot twenty-four/seven, no matter how pretty he was, or how much I enjoyed his company. The constant togetherness had started to feel claustrophobic, which could be totally normal, or could be me panicking over a being in a relationship.
Just at the moment, however, everything gleamed shiny perfect.
“What are your plans for the day?” he asked, interrupting my rambling train of thought.
“I’m going to check on the construction progress and I have a couple potential clients to meet with and talk to Monica about sales this weekend. Later I’m having a late dinner with the girls. What about you?”
“More of the same. Sorting out your aunt’s financial estate. It’s like picking apart a gordian knot.”
The corners of his mouth kicked up. “I enjoy puzzles. There’s no satisfaction like solving a difficult one.”
“I like puzzles just fine, but that mess is sheer torture.”
“Which is why you have me to sort it out for you.”
“Lighting it on fire would be more satisfying.”
“But far less profitable. Anyway, you can bask in the knowledge that your aunt would have hated knowing that you are the sole beneficiary of her financial empire. Milking it for all its worth is the best sort of revenge.”
“I don’t know. Peeing on her grave felt pretty good. The girls and I plan to make it a regular thing. Weekly maybe.”
“I’ll keep bail money on hand. Just in case you get caught.”
He smirked, unfazed by the idea of me, Jen, Stacey, and Lorraine out in the cemetery and squatting on Aunty Mommy’s grave. Chalk up another reason to keep him around.
“Have you thought any more about what you want to do with the estate?”
“Much as I’d like to burn it to the ground, *Uncle’s name is right. Until I can free the gargoyles, I have to keep it. I don’t suppose there’s any way to curse Aunty Mommy, is there?”
Damon shook his head. “There’s no reaching across the veil, I’m afraid. You might have a shot if she stuck around as a ghost, but likely not. The only thing that really sticks to a ghost are bindings. Generally you tie them to an object and keep them from using their powers, if they have any. Usually they do if they’ve stayed on this side of the veil.”
“Karma has seriously let me down. I hope there’s a hell and she’s burning in it,” I complained.
He lost his smile, his gaze turning dark. I didn’t have to ask to know he was remembering the room in the basement with the cage under the stairs, the hook on the wall, the drain on the floor, and the blood that had stained the concrete. He still hadn’t come to terms with the things my aunt had done to me. Not that we talked about it. As far as I was concerned, that part of my life lived behind on a locked door and I was never opening it again. Out of sight, out of mind. As a coping mechanism, it worked most of the time. Like when I was awake.
“Believe me, if there was a way to get at the bitch, I would already have done it,” he said in a stone voice.
“I know. And I appreciate it.” I stroked my fingers over the back of his hand. He grasped mine and gripped it. “The idea of making the estate a sanctuary appeals a lot to me,” I said, returning to the subject at hand. “Lorraine could potentially move her vet clinic there and focus more on rescues if she wants, and I could fund the whole shebang. I’ve got to talk to the gargoyles, though. The place is their home more than mine and they deserve the deciding vote on what happens there.”
He nodded. “They will appreciate your consideration.”
I shrugged. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“For you. Many would disagree.”
“Apparently many are psychopaths, then.”
Just then, his phone bleeped with a text notification. He glanced at it and his expression darkened. His jaw knotted. “Excuse me a minute,” he said as he withdrew his hand and stood. “This can’t wait.”
I watched him stalk away, lifting his phone to his ear. Damon’s entire body radiated tension. I drew my hand from where he’d been holding it and curled it in a fist. Foreboding stirred in my gut, an all too-familiar feeling.
I wrinkled my nose and reached for my coffee. Ever since Aunty Mommy’s murderer had been caught and some of the gargoyles she’d imprisoned freed, I’d been happy. No nightmares, no wondering when she’d attack next, no worrying about how bad it would hurt or how long I could hold out before collapsing. It was like petals opening to the sun after a long, hard winter. These days I woke up smiling and went to bed the same way.
But watching Damon now made my shoulders twitch. I felt exposed, like a rabbit caught in an open field with a hungry hawk circling overhead. A switch seemed to flip in my head and my survival instincts sprang alive. Mental and emotional armor clanked into place and my brain snapped into combat readiness mode. My muscles tensed and adrenaline shot through me. My stomach churned and the coffee turned to acid on my tongue.
I drew a slow breath and let it go, trying to relax. No good. My rational brain had lost all control and my primal self had taken over. A life of constant threat combined with endless torture had honed my survival instincts. It didn’t matter how nebulous my uneasiness was, or that I had no good reason to think trouble was on its way. Primitive me had decided to circle the wagons, raise all the drawbridges, and load all the weapons. In the space of a few seconds, the new, defenselessly happy me vanished and and the old me—scarred, jaded, and suspicious—returned.
I sent a couple of work texts while keeping a covert eye on Damon. He’d begun to pace, his free hand balled into a fist. Ajax made a protesting sound, his ears pricked like little satellite dishes as he also watched Damon.
I stroked his head, infusing my voice with calm. “Easy now. Everything’s okay.”
He visibly relaxed, and he looked up at me, his light brown eyes softening. He rolled onto his side so I could scratch his stomach. I obliged with a little chuckle. His eyes drifted shut.
Ever since I’d help Lorraine rescue him, he and I had pretty much been inseparable and I counted myself extremely fortunate that he’d chosen to give me his affection, especially after the way he’d been abused. I liked to think we recognized ourselves in one another. We were survivors. We’d walked through hell and come out of the flames scarred but unbroken. He was just as much family to me as Jen, Stacey, and Lorraine were. Luckily Damon didn’t mind sharing the bed with both of us, as Ajax tended to want to snuggle at night.
I smiled to myself. Even if Damon did mind, he’d have to get over it. Though how we were going to manage to have sex—if and when that time came—I didn’t know. I didn’t want an audience, furry or otherwise, and if we locked him in another room, I don’t if Ajax would rip down the wall thinking I was under attack or something.
I planned to be a noisy lover.
“Something funny?” Damon had finished his call and returned to the table. He didn’t sit down and his dark expression was the polar opposite of his lightly spoken question.
“What’s going on? You look pissed, and I want to note for the record, this time it wasn’t me.”
He didn’t even crack the slightest smile. I wasn’t sure he even heard me. He was tapping on his phone while talking.
“Problems at home. I’ve got to fly back, and I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
I hadn’t known Damon long. A few months is all, and he’d seen me through some near-death experiences, so we’d bonded pretty quick. Enough that he’d told me he loved me a few weeks into our acquaintance, plus invited me to live with him while my loft was getting rebuilt.
I’d begun to think of him as a fixture in my life, as reliable as the ground or the air, so with that kind of news, I naturally expected to anticipate missing him. What I didn’t anticipate was the shaft of hurt that stabbed through me, threatening to double me over. For a second I couldn’t even move.
Problems at home. The phrase rattled around in my skull like a pinball in a clothes dryer. Because home was not here. Damon lived across the country with houses in Europe and South America. This place wasn’t home. He hadn’t even been looking for real estate in the area. It hadn’t occurred to me that he’d leave eventually and I wasn’t prepared for the idea.
He just said he didn’t know how long he’d be gone, I reminded myself. He’s planning to come back. You’ve been whining about having some time to yourself. Now you get to have it, so quit being such a baby.
Unfortunately, neither stern words nor logic filled the sudden pit in my stomach. Damon planned to come back now, but what if he recovered his senses and decided I wasn’t worth the trouble? I had a lot of baggage. And even if he didn’t decide to just quit, how long would he want to wait around for me to figure out my feelings? I hadn’t exactly been encouraging. I’d wanted to take things slow, having never even dated before. Maybe he was tired of swimming in the kiddie pool and wanted to go hang out with the adults. Maybe his balls were turning cobalt. He probably had plenty of uncomplicated women he could call.
Oh for fuck’s sake. I was reading way too much into the situation. I was a walking soap opera, not to mention a complete nut case.
I decided that silence was the best way not to make a total ass of myself. I got up and disposed of our garbage. Damon was still tapping away on his phone, so I grabbed purse and cup and started back toward the hotel. He fell in beside me, barely looking up from his screen. Since he was in a hurry, I kept a brisk pace, Ajax trotting happily beside me. I didn’t use a leash or a collar on him. I wasn’t sure he’d put up with either, after what he’d suffered, and he stuck to me like glue.
I’d already decided I didn’t want to figure out new doubts to torture myself with while Damon packed. As we approached the elegant boutique hotel, I slowed. “You know, there’s no sense in me going up to the suite. I’m just going to head out.” I nudged my chin toward the entrance to the parking garage. “You don’t need a ride to the airport, do you?”
He tore himself away from his phone long enough to glance at me. “No. I’ll have the hotel shuttle take me.”
Shuttle. As if. It was a limo.
“Well, have a good trip. Hope everything’s okay.” I winced. Lame. Could I have come up with anything more impersonal? Maybe if I’d said Dear Sir or Madam at the beginning. Or To Whom It May Concern.
His attention had returned to his phone and he didn’t seem to notice my awkwardness.
“Everything will be fine,” he said.
I stared a moment. “I guess I’ll see you when I see you then,” I said finally, uncertain whether I should interrupt his focus for a kiss goodbye. I waited a few seconds for him to say or do something, but it appeared he’d forgotten me. I gave a little shrug and left, pretending I wasn’t even slightly annoyed or hurt. I mean, Damon wasn’t given to hysterics, so whatever was going on had to be pretty bad and he didn’t need me being all needy. The situation wasn’t about me at all, and I just needed to get over myself.
I waved at Josef who was currently alone at the valet stand and kept going, the cool, dark air of the garage closing around me. They’d long ago gotten used to me parking and unparking my own car. Back when my car was a gorgeous classic Thunderbird in near mint condition. But then the attack on my business had happened, and the car had been a casualty. I hadn’t decided yet if I wanted to use magic to fix it. *killer had chopped it in half long ways. Fixing it using ordinary methods would mean replacing most everything.
I’d loved that car. Aunty Mommy had hated it. She’d wanted me to drive a Cadillac or Rolls or even something flashy like a Mazerati. Despite how much she’d hated me, she’d helped me to build my estate sales business by recommending me to all her rich friends. Appearances mattered. Couldn’t have me making her look bad, after all. I’d refused to cowtow. I loved the age of the Thunderbird, its curved rear seat, red interior, giant trunk, and sleek lines. It had a beast of an engine and wouldn’t know how to break down if it tried.
Every time I thought of replacing it, I felt guilty, like I was betraying it. At the same time, a lot of people had seen the damage and would have a tough time believing anybody could put it back together to look exactly as it had before, which it would if I used magic to fix it. Maybe I could claim it was a different one and change the paint and interior color.
I sighed. Stupid to get so upset about a car. I should just suck it up and find something else. Maybe a Ranchero or an El Camino. Or a Mustang fastback. Anything but the Toyota Highlander I’d been renting. Though to be fair, it was nice enough and had a lot of room for all the things I had to carry to and from sales. It just didn’t have much by way of charm, not like a classic car.
I’d walked down the ramp to the second level when I heard rapid footsteps behind me.
I stopped and turned and waited for Damon to approach. His brow was furrowed and his jaw looked like it was sculpted from granite.
He grimaced. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I was acting a little too innocent, but I didn’t want to know I’d been hurt. I mean, I wasn’t the center of the universe and I shouldn’t get all bent out of shape over him having to focus on a clearly important problem. Hell, I didn’t know if we were close enough to expect him to tell me about his private life. Certainly he hadn’t said much about his family or life back home. I wasn’t entitled to know more than he chose to share. Besides, it’s not like we’d known each other long.
“For being a dick to you.”
“You weren’t a dick,” I said. Okay, maybe a little bit, but I was frequently a bitch and a half, so I couldn’t very well complain. After all, he’d put up with a lot from me.
He raised his brows in clear disbelief. “I was, and I’m concerned that you aren’t calling me on it.”
I shrugged. “Whatever you have to deal with is clearly upsetting you. I don’t need to make it any worse.”
He tipped his head, his eyes narrowing. “That’s very adult of you.”
“Now you’re being rude.”
“I was rude outside, but that didn’t seem to bother you.”
“And what should I have said? Don’t ignore me? Don’t shut me out? Who am I to make those kinds of demands? Anyhow, it’s clearly none of my business.”
His mouth tightened and his eyes flashed with fury. “Is that what you really think?”
“I think if it were my business, you’d talk to me about it. You haven’t, so….” I shrugged again. I knew I was pissing him off. I knew I sounded like a grade A super bitch. At least I was elite bitch and not middle-of-the-road or mediocre. I probably shouldn’t have taken pride in that, but gotta take credit where credit is due.
His jaw knotted and I could practically see steam rising from the top of his head. I tried to feel sorry about that, but I couldn’t. Riling him up meant he wasn’t ignoring me any more.
“It’s family business,” he said in a clipped voice.
“I have to go help sort it out.”
“You said that.”
“I don’t want to go, but I don’t have a choice.”
Well if that wasn’t mysterious, I didn’t know what was. “Okay,” I said again. I wondered if he noticed he hadn’t offered any details. Whether he meant to or not, he was shutting me out.
“Could you maybe say something more than just okay?” He growled.
“Maybe that you’ll miss me? You don’t want me to go? Anything besides the cold fish act?”
“I will miss you,” I said. “And I don’t particularly want you to go.”
He glared. “I’m not your fucking enemy. I wish you would just talk to me and tell me what you’re feeling or thinking. Talking to you is like trying to get gold out of Fort Knox. Sometimes I wonder if you’re a robot.”
My teeth clenched together. And here I thought we’d been getting along. I stepped back so that I wouldn’t slug him. “You’re going to miss your flight.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
I considered him as I tried to formulate what I wanted to say. I edited out the fuck you, asshole. I’m not a robot. “I think,” I said instead, “that this is probably a stupid argument that’s quickly going way off the rails. Whatever is wrong, you clearly need to go handle it. I’ll be here when you get back and we can fight about something stupid then, if you still want to. In the meantime….”
I closed the space between us and put my arms around his waist. He snatched me close and nuzzled my hair as I pressed my face into his chest and drew a deep breath. He smelled of himself, fresh air, and the spicy soap he used. It made me want to rub all over him like a cat.
“Christ, but I don’t want to leave you,” he muttered in a gravelly voice.
“I’d go with you, but I have too much to do.”
I felt him shake his head. “Last thing I want is to take you back there.”
I pushed back, looking up at him. “My manners aren’t that bad,” I said. “I rarely ever pee on the furniture or chew shoes anymore. And I know how to use all the silverware.”
A smile ghosted over his lips before he sobered again. “It’s too dangerous. You’re a golden goose, remember? Too many will want to scoop you up and use you to breed the *father’s name* magic genetics into their families.”
I rolled my eyes. The witchworld’s eugenics program was the whole reason I existed, when my father tricked my mother into carrying one extra and secret child when they’d contracted for just two. In a fit of rage, Aunty Mommy had kidnapped me so that he’d never benefit from his deceit. She’d also cut off all connection to her previous life, then promptly directed all her resentment and rage at me like being made was my fault somehow.
“I’m not going to let anybody scoop me up.”
He shook his head. “You’re powerful, but you won’t stand a chance if someone organizes a plot to grab you. At least here you stand a better chance of seeing trouble coming and if need be, you can take refuge at the estate. The gargoyle’s will protect you.”
“Because they don’t have a choice. I’m not going to force them.”
“It’s not force. You’re working on freeing them. You went through a meat grinder to free their mates. They don’t trust anybody else. They want you safe.”
I looked away. I had no intention of taking advantage of the gargoyles if I could help it. He cupped my cheek and pulled me back around until I met his gaze.
“Promise me you’ll go to them for help if you need it.”
“I guess,” I agreed reluctantly. “If I need it. But I won’t.”
He didn’t look entirely satisfied, but nodded. “Good. Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
Crap. He had the memory of an elephant sometimes. I looked away again. “It’s stupid and not worth talking about, especially when you’re in a hurry.”
Once again he made me look at him. “Nothing between us is stupid and everything about you is worth talking about. I’m never too much in a hurry to make sure things are good between us.”
“That’s sappy,” I said, even though warm pleasure washed through me. “Have you been watching the Hallmark Channel again?”
“I meant every word. Tell me what’s wrong.”
His gaze locked mine in place. I sighed. “You said you were going home.”
He waited for more, his brow furrowing as I remained silent.
“See? I told you it was stupid,” I said, starting to pull away. He clamped his hands tighter, refusing to let me go.
I could practically see his mind spinning in high gear as he tried to sort the puzzle out. Realization lit his expression after a moment and he looked pleased.
“You’re pissed because you don’t want me to go,” he said smugly, and then kissed me before I could reply.
I’m not ashamed to say I melted. His touch had that affect on me. Sizzling fireworks burst in my chest and hunger dug its claws into me. In a matter of a millisecond I went from normal temperature to conflagration and I didn’t mind a bit.
Damon was a good kisser, at least according to my limited experience. He speared his fingers through my hair and cupped my head, holding it how he wanted. His other hand pressed me closer. Tingles of desire sparked across my skin and I made a sound. Could have been a moan, could have been a whimper, could have been a demand for more. Maybe it was all three. At any rate, I wanted more.
In response, Damon hitched me closer, pulling me up on tiptoe. The hand holding my head slid down to cup my ass, while the other one worked upward to brush against the outer curve of my mashed breasts. The sensations made me crazy and I couldn’t help rubbing my aching lady-bits against his male hardness.
He made primal sound deep in his throat and lifted his head. “I want you so goddamn bad.” He brushed a thumb over my lips. “I love the way you look when I touch you. Like you got hit with a sledgehammer. I can’t wait to see how you’ll look when I’m inside you.”
I wanted to protest his assumption that it was ‘when’ and not ‘if,’ but I didn’t have a leg to stand on. Right at the moment, I was more than ready to go upstairs and find out what I’d been missing. Then his words caught up with me along with the image of us naked and him between my legs, sucking on my breasts and I just about orgasmed right there. I closed my eyes and pinched my lips together to keep from begging him to stick his hand down my pants see just how magic his fingers could be.
“Look at me.”
I reluctantly obeyed, only to instantly get lost in the stormy depths of his. “Should I be looking for something in particular? A cataract? Maybe a sty?”
He smiled. “Would you please just shut up?”
“Talk about fickle. A minute ago you were demanding I spill my guts. Make up your mind, already.”
“Tell me the rest of what’s bugging you.” His brows rose in challenge.
Dammit. Why did he have to be so smart? “Who said there’s anything else?”
I’m not a good liar. I don’t generally see the point. Sooner or later the truth will bite you in the ass, so better to deal with it up front. “Maybe.” My cheeks heated and flushed. Could my humiliation get much worse?
“Why don’t you explain it to me, because clearly I don’t get it.”
“I thought you liked puzzles. Figure it out.”
“How can I fix the problem if I don’t even know what it is?” he asked, exasperated.
“What makes you think you have to fix anything? It’s my problem, I’ll solve it.”
He ran his hands up my arms. “I want you to be happy. Why wouldn’t I try to help?”
“Maybe because I’m not a damsel in distress.” It came out more sharply than I planned. The fact was, I didn’t want to be rescued. I didn’t want Damon here because he felt responsible for me.
“I know you don’t need a knight in shining armor,” he said exasperatedly. “But can’t I support you? Help you? Isn’t that what…friends…do?”
He hesitated slightly at ‘friends’ as if that that wasn’t the word he meant but was afraid to spook me. Was that how he saw me? That I couldn’t handle what he really wanted to say? Did he think I’d freak out and run in the other direction?
To be fair, I hadn’t given him any reason to think that I wouldn’t. As far as he knew, I was only living at the hotel with him out of necessity. My home was trashed and I hated Aunty Mommy’s estate, which was my other option. That any of the hundreds of other hotel rooms available, not to mention rental apartments and houses. I could afford any of those options.
“Are we friends?” I wondered aloud. My reaction when he’d mentioned going home made it crystal clear that I felt a lot more than that. The idea of confessing that to Damon made me nauseous. My entire childhood had revolved around hiding my feelings and trusting only myself, Jen, Lorraine, and Stacey, and as much as I loved them, I kept everything I could hidden. It was a tough habit to break.
“You doubt it?”
The chill in Damon’s voice brought me back to the moment. His expression had gone icy. He pushed away, putting a couple feet of space between us. The day was warm, but a shiver swept through me. My careless question had hurt him and I needed to fix it. I had to stop playing it safe, I had to explain myself. Anyhow, I’d never let fear of pain be the reason I did anything in my life and I wasn’t going to start now.
“You said you had to go home.” I folded my arms over my chest and waited for him to say something, but he remained silent. I swallowed and slogged onward. “You reminded me *town isn’t your home. You’re stay is temporary. It threw me a little.”
Silence fell between us he processed that. A car door slammed and voices drifted from further up the ramp. Uncomfortable with his penetrating gaze, I started to babble.I couldn’t find the off switch either. Words just kept spewing out, miring me deeper in idiocy.
“I don’t even know why I thought you’d be staying. You’re living in a hotel. That’s the definition of temporary. Your whole life is somewhere else and you must be getting pretty homesick by now. You’ve been here weeks and weeks without seeing your family or friends. I hate to imagine the piles of mail you’ve got waiting. All the food in your refrigerator has probably turned into a science experiment, and you have to be insanely annoyed at having to wear the same clothes over and over. Staying here has put your whole life’s been on hold. You must be dying to get back.”
Every sentence added a pebble in my throat, which I could only hope would dam up my verbal diarrhea. Instead they just made my throat ache. Coincidentally, my eyes started burning, too, as rebellious tears threatened.
I finally resorted to biting my tongue. Hitching my purse higher on my shoulder, I tangled my fingers in Ajax’s ruff. He leaned against me, offering comfort. “Anyhow, I should get going. You don’t want to be late for your flight. I’ll come back later and clear my stuff out of the suite so you can check out. I can stay with one of the girls.”
I hesitated. Should I kiss him goodbye? A peck on the cheek, maybe? Or a hug? Or just go? He seemed disinclined to move. The pebbles in my throat melded into a boulder. Any minute now, I was going to have a royal meltdown with lots of tears and snot. I needed Damon to not see that.
I forced a smile. “Okay, so text me when you get have a chance and let me know how you are.” With that, I spun around and strode away. I made three steps before he spun me back around.
“Text you? Seriously, Beck?”
He didn’t sound as annoyed as I probably would have been. In fact he sounded exasperated and maybe a little amused. Not the reaction I was expecting, but I suppose it only reinforced the fact that whatever he thought he felt for me, he also knew it wasn’t going anywhere. It occurred to me then that he hadn’t told me he loved me since my last near-death debacle. That had to be a sign. Walking the edge of death just to keep the romance going didn’t seem all that healthy.
Damon tugged me toward him, but I held myself away, my body stiff. I had no idea how to deal with the emotions roiling through me. I had absolutely no experience with this sort of thing. Hell, I couldn’t even identify half of them. All I knew was they were pushing up and out and I was either going to start crying or hitting something if I didn’t get them under control.
When I wouldn’t move, he stepped closer. “Look at me.”
I shook my head and stared at the cinderblock wall. “I’m good.”
“I’d really rather not talk to the side of your head.”
“Shouldn’t you be going to pack? Your trip sounded pretty urgent.”
He sighed. “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.”
“That actually counts as a response, so really, you did dignify it. Whatever that means.”
“That’s what I just said.”
“I misspoke about the trip. About going home.”
I frowned and accidentally looked at him. “How so?”
He captured my face between his palms so I couldn’t turn away or escape. Not that he needed to hold me. The intensity of his gaze fixed me in place. I couldn’t have moved if I wanted to. I could hardly even breathe.
“I need you to hear me, Beck. Are you listening?”
“Be hard not to. I’m not deaf.”
His mouth curved. “Good. Then understand this. My only home is here, with you. You are my home. You’re my gravity, the center of my universe. Nothing about me being here is temporary. I’m going to be back here as soon as humanly possible, and while I’m gone, I’m going to be wishing with all my heart I was here. Please don’t move out. I don’t want to come back to a cold, empty room. I want to think of you sleeping in my bed. In our bed and know you’ll be waiting for me when I come back.”
My breath caught in my chest. My eyes went so wide I must have looked like I didn’t have eyelids, and the tears I’d been keeping at bay overflowed. My heart pounded ninety miles a minute.
Damon’s brow creased and he slid his hands down to my shoulders. “Tears, Beck? You never cry.”
That seemed to kick me out of frozen rabbit mode. I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please. Of course I cry. All the time. It’s a perfectly normal human response to all sorts of emotions. I’m not a robot, you know.”
“I know, believe me. Would you mind telling me why you’re crying? It’s killing me a little.”
“Only a little?” I teased. “I didn’t even know you could kill in increments. I thought it was an either/or sort of situation. Sort of like being pregnant.”
“Turns out you can. Are you going to tell me?”
“If I have to.”
He waited. “Now?”
“Be patient. It’s very confusing. I’ve never had feelings like this before and they are a little overwhelming.”
His frown smoothed a way and a smile curved his lips. A distinctly relieved smile, with a little smugness thrown in. “Take your time.”
“You haven’t told me that you love me since we freed the female gargoyles. Combine that with you saying you’re going home, and I figured it meant you’d gotten tired and given up on me, or maybe realized I wasn’t worth the hassle, or that you’d been mistaken about loving me.”
His fingers tightened and he looked consternated. “I thought if I kept telling you, you’d feel like I was pressuring you. I do love you. That’s not ever going to change.” He paused. “It bothered you I might not love you?”
I made a face. “Seems like.”
“So that means you have feelings for me, too?”
“I’ve always had feelings for you.”
“I was hoping for something better than hate, distrust, dislike, fury, disgust, resentment, annoyance….I could go on.”
I choked out a laugh. “You forgot panty-melting attraction.”
“I wasn’t aware that your panties had been melting,” he said, brows arching. “Tell me more.”
“Don’t you have a plane to catch? Fires to put out?”
“You didn’t seem to think so back at the café.”
“I was an ignorant idiot at the café. I got over it. Talk to me.”
I heave a sigh. “Fine. I have feelings for you. Good feelings,” I added. “I’m just not entirely sure what they are. I have zero experience in this arena.”
He smoothed a hand over my hair. It felt so good I’d have purred if I could.
“That’s really, really good to hear. When I come home, maybe we can talk about it some more. Help you figure it out.”
Or maybe move to the showing part. I’d been holding back because neither one of us were the sort to have casual sex, and I didn’t want to hurt Damon by pretending to feel more than I did. Except now I knew I wouldn’t be pretending. In fact, I was beginning to think I’d actually fallen in love with him. Or if not, I was on my way.
We should definitely move on to the showing part. I could practically hear Stacey, Lorraine, and Jen squealing and throwing confetti. They thought I should have been riding him like a stallion practically since they’d first seen him.
Nervousness, anticipation, and joy bubbled through me. My smile grew wide enough to cramp my cheeks.
“Sure,” I said. “We’ll…talk. I can’t wait.”