After a shower and some intense hair conditioning Andie felt almost human. She’d had a little trouble with the wrapping around her ribs, but after some tugging and turning was able to get the bandage off and back on. The problem was finding something comfortable to wear. A hunt through her closet produced an old flannel shirt-dress, soft from many washings. Slipping it on she rolled the sleeves, and went in search of Sumatra.
Making her way to the kitchen, she found it empty and silent like the rest of the house. Her Grandmother, she knew, was at the winter market buying green tomato pickles and jam. Adonis probably poofed off to Mt. Olympus to do Demi-God stuff, and her two best buds were still in bed, thank goodness. She’d be able to sip her coffee in silence. Growing up, some of her favorite memories were the quiet mornings spent in this kitchen. While her grandmother had updated over the years, she’d kept the warm sandy colors and white enamel appliances. The only major change was the huge window that been had put in over the farmhouse sink. and this moring wthe wsunshine was warm and bright, slanting over the oak cabinets.
Following her nose to the full coffee pot. She poured herself a cup of dark rich nirvana, doctoring it with cream and sugar, turned her face to the warmth, closed her eyes, basked in the sunshine and savoured the silence.
She was halfway through her first cup when the silence broke.
“Enjoying the sunshine, kitten?”
Opening her eyes, to see Adonis was the doorway. The wrinkled clothes and stubble were gone. He now wore a fresh t-shirt and jeans and a clean-shaven face. She kind of missed the stubble, but there was no doubt he cleaned up good. Real good.
He sauntered over, and oh, could that man ever saunter, until he was mere inches away, midnight eyes traveled over her face and settled on her mouth. Heat that had nothing to do with the sun filled her face.
Bracing one hand on the counter at her hip, he reached around her. She heard the toaster being pushed down. Her crumpet probably, but she couldn’t take her eyes off his throat to check. What was it about the man’s neck that made her want to nibble? Blaming the painkillers for her lack of restraint, she stood on her tippy-toes, leaned in and touched her lips to his throat right under his jaw. Mmmm.
Damien froze with his hand on the toaster. “Kitten?”
“Hmm?” She trailed her mouth up to his jaw, felt a shudder go through him. She smiled against his skin.
She bit. And heard a hungry groan. She liked it. Sliding a hand in his hair, she brought his head down and sucked his ear lobe into her mouth.
Her feet left the floor and her bottom met the granite countertop. Adonis caged her, one hand at her hip the other digging none to gently into her hair. Her head was pulled back until she gazed into eyes that had no slumber in them. They burned black. Black, and hot, and hungry. Damien’s mouth hovered over hers, “What are you doing?”
She couldn’t quite reach him with her lips. Her tongue, however. She licked his bottom lip before answering, “Nothing.”
He exhaled a rough, laughing breath, “Kitten, we have very different applications for that word.”
A loud thump shook the ceiling above their heads. Followed by another, then another, then a couple of bumps and some distant snarls.
Damien tilted his head up to the ceiling. “What the hell?”
“Oh darn,” Andie didn’t bother looking up. She knew what those thumps and bumps were about. “That didn’t last long.”
She rested her suddenly, heavy head on Damien’s shoulder. “The quiet.”
The words were followed by a barrage of thumping and bumping, like two elephants stumbling around. Two grumpy, hungover elephants battling to be the first one to the watering hole. They raged along over their heads and finally, rampaged down the stairs.
“Oh boy.” Andie slid down off the counter and started rummaging through the cabinets – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder. Okay good, she could work with this as long as there were chocolate chips…
Adonis’ heat warmed her back, “What are you doing?”
“You should be resting.”
Oh, he was too cute. Clueless, but still cute. “Trust me, if we don’t have muffins, we’ll get no rest.” She still had not found the bright yellow bag. “Damn damn damn, where are they?” She pulled open the cabinet over the stove, not that she could see that high up, “Do you see a bright yellow bag up there?”
Damien reached over her head, “Do you mean the chocolate chips?” He pulled out the bag.
“YES!” Andie snatched it from his hand and lay it on the counter, “Just remember, you brought this on yourself.”
At his questioning look she pointed over his shoulder. He turned around, “Oh. I see.”
“God, don’t talk. Nobody talks.” Layla’s words were so rusty it hurt Andie to hear them. Her friend stumbled into the kitchen, Jose fumbling along after her. They both looked bad, but Layla, man, had she tied one on. Wild hair, dark circles, her face a waxy shade of yellow that should not be found in nature, she raised her hand over her eyes and squinted against the light, “Shit, who was the fucking sadist who put a fucking window in here?” She groaned, stumbled and groused her way to a stool at the island, “Where’s Grandpa Jack’s gun?”
“Uh…” Her Grandmother had sold Grandpa’s guns after he passed away. Andie conceded that it was probably a good thing.
“Fuck it.” Layla gingerly lowered her face until her forehead rested on the countertop, “Just grab a knife and chop my head off.”
“Aspirin. Andie honey, aspirin.” Jose fell onto the stool beside her holding his bed-head.
Andie went to the cabinet that housed all the meds. Her Grandmother was old school and kept the original Alka-Seltzer hangover remedy on hand. Grabbing identical juice glasses, she dropped the tablets in, filled them with water from the tap, and set them in front of her best buds, “Drink this. I’m making muffins.”
“Chocolate chip?” Layla’s head came up long enough to ask.
“You have a two lb box….” Damien ventured. Andie would have to explain later that reason was wasted on hungover she-beast.
“Chocolate. Muuuuffiiiiinsssss.” Layla’s voice dropped two octaves and ended on a demonic hiss. Damien had the sense to back away. So no explanation would be needed.
Jose was suffering too much for rational thought, “Layla, shut up.”
“I’m not the one wailing like Linda Blair on acid.” Jose pointed out logically.
Layla was in no mood for logic, “Fuck you and your pie hole.”
“Fuck you infinity times anything you say.”
And they were off, Fuck yous, shut ups, and insults were traded as well as an array creative and dire threats involving everything thing from hair and scissors to Armani man bags and razor blades. It went downhill from there.
“Take note.” Andie hissed to Damien as she pulled scissors from the utensil drawer, “This is the result of getting them drunk.”
“Noted. Next time, I’ll make sure they wake-up in another state.”
“Can you really do that?”
“The company has two private jets reserved for our exclusive use.”
“Wow.” Andie blinked, “Just wow. Another State.”
Damien’s mouth curved up in a half-smile, “I get the feeling. I’ve just moved up the “Is he a keeper” scale.”
Oh, he had no idea. “Adonis, if there is such a scale. You are way, way up there.”
“According to my cousins, there is most definitely a scale.”
“Then, all I can say is, don’t look down.” Andie said and gathering her courage, she faced her two bestest buds, holding the yellow bag over the trash can, “Shut it! Or the chips go in the trash.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“I dare and I will. Sit there quietly and drink your seltzer and muffins will be made.”
“I hate that shit.” Layla wrinkled her nose.
Andie made a big show of cutting the top open.
“Fine.” Layla held her nose, threw the liquid down her throat, and slammed the glass down, gagging and gasping and bleche bleching, “God, that stuff is horrible.”
Andie cleared her throat.
“Okay, okay, I’ll just sit here and quietly wish for death.”
Jose’s eyes were marbles pinging around in his head, “And people call me a drama queen.”
“Jose, stop poking the she-beast.” Done with the dramatics, Andie went straight for the throat, “I know where you keep your Matt Bomer scrapbook and I have matches.”
“I don’t understand. I get the car inspected regularly. I know she’s old, but she’s reliable.”
“Mr. Harris, it’s not your fault. Please don’t be upset.”
“You could have died, child.” Her elderly neighbor reached out and brushed her cheek with a trembling hand.
He’d shown up at the door as she was pulling the muffins out. Jose and Layla on either side of her sniffing and snarling. She’d been left alone with the grumpy gusses, Damien retreating to her Grandmother’s study to make some calls. When the doorbell buzzed Layla had grabbed her head and threatened to rip it off the wall. Jose had used the distraction to pinch off a piece of muffin and hissed when the chocolate burned him. Andie warned them both not to touch them till the cooled and went to the door to find Mr. Harris his whispy gray hair lifting in breeze and his frail body shaking all the way down to his orthopedic shoes.
The man was eighty and not in the best health. Shaking head to toe could not be good for him.
“But we didn’t and everything is fine.” She took the man’s thin arm in her own and led him into the house, “Come have some tea. I made chocolate chip muffins.”
In the kitchen Layla was already filling the teapot with water. Jose plated a muffin and set it down at the end of the small breakfast table, knowing a stool would be too difficult for Mr. Harris to mount. He sat, still going on about the car. Both Andie and Jose sat with him came to trying to protest, but it was Layla who cut through the man’s trembling words, using the same confident yet compassionate tone she used when dealing with traumatized women.
“Mr. Harris, it absolutely was not your fault.” Crossing the kitchen she kissed one papery, weather roughened cheek, then with a surreptitious look around she took the last chair and leaned in, “Listen, I’m not supposed to say anything, but we think it might have been foul play.”
“Foul Play?” Mr. Harris’s stammer was lost amid Jose’s “What? Who? I didn’t hear…” Andie cut him off with a kick to the shin, “Ow! Andi Chase,” She fish-eyed him, “Oh” Jose’s eyes went ringed-white wide. “Oh, is that what that phone call was about? You know that one you took? Earlier? Uh, today?
Sheesh, he was a pathetic liar,
Layla more than made up for it. She cut him off without missing a beat talking absolute rubbish, “Yes, they think the brake lines were cut.”
Mr. Harris drew in a shocked, horrified breath, “Oh no, oh my dear girl, why would someone do that?”
Good question. Fortunately, Layla had an answer ready. “I run women’s shelters. I’ve gotten more than one jerk locked up. Sometimes they get out and want to even the score. If anything, I should buy you another car. If I hadn’t been in it…”
“No, my insurance will cover it.” Mr. Harris cut her off.
“Hmm, if you insist.” Layla sent him a dubious look.
Wow, she was good.
“I do.” Mr. Harris was most insistent, his voice gaining strength with every word he spoke, as he suggested Layla search for another career, by the time he finished with, “I wouldn’t want any daughter of mine near those no-good, wife-beating bastards.” There was no trace of a tremor left.
“I’m plenty safe. They’ll catch this guy and I’m very careful. Don’t you worry.” Her friend assured him with a pat on his weathered hand. Before rising and taking the tea pot from the stove and pouring steaming water into the cup, placing it in front of the man she’d lied and manipulated into calming right down. Mr. Harris sipped his tea, ate his muffin, talked excitedly about his granddaughter coming to visit, and left twenty minutes later, a smile on his face.
“How did you know about the car?” Damien was back, standing in the doorway – again. He liked to hang in doorways. Although usually he did it with that secret smile on his face. He was not smiling right now, his piercing gaze sliced through Layla.
“Know what?” She asked peeling the paper off her third muffin.
“That the brake lines were cut.”
“THE CREEP!” Layla shouted, then grabbed her own head and moaned, “Oh god, I think I broke something, or punctured something or, god can your brain explode?”
Damien stalked into the room and pulled Layla’s hands down, his face hard as granite, “What. Creep.”
Her Grandmother’s Tudor had been built in the 1930’s. Rooms were smaller back then to conserve heat, but years ago, her grandmother had taken down the wall between the two separate front parlors and put in a huge window. The result was a spacious living area and lots of light. Andie never thought she could ever feel claustrophobic in this room. She did today. It wasn’t the number of people so much as the size and testosterone levels and all the very grim faces. Damien was there, standing by the window all brooding and dark. Stan and Maurice flanked him, their usual good humor nowhere in sight. Then there were the big black shadows by the front door. Three huge men in black fatigues who looked like they could kill you ten different ways and be quick about it. Yep, there was enough beefcake in the house to satisfy even Jose’s craving for hot-man meat. There was also a detective, as in police, because when some whacko tried to whack you that’s who you called.
Detective Charles Pierce, his card read. Andie sat across from him now, between Jose and her Grandmother. Layla had disappeared into the kitchen probably to grab more muffins without having to share. Her friend consumed copious amounts of sugar when stressed. “You’re certain this is the man who approached you on the street?” The Detective handed her a glossy color photo.
“Absolutely.” Andie confirmed, though his eyes were closed and his face contorted in a strange fgrimace, she had no trouble recognizing him, “What’s wrong with him? Looks like he’s seizing?”
The detective chose that moment to suck down more coffee. He’d gulped the first cup he’d been offered in seconds. Her Grandmother noticed and had brought in the carafe. She’d been silently refilling his cup every time he got near the bottom.
Andie got the feeling that this time he was using it to stall, when he did lower the cup all he said was he wasn’t at liberty to say.
“What the fuck?” Layla was back, her head popped in next to her from behind the sofa, “That man’s being tazed. Wait, hold up.” She snatched the photo out of Andie’s hand, “I know this guy.” Her head swung in Damien’s direction, “Ah shit, your uncle?”
“Uncle?” Andie met Damien’s suddenly wary gaze, “You’ve got an Uncle?”
“Unfortunately, yes.” Damien admitted, wariness falling into a well-worn weariness.
“Derrick Carlton Drake, fifty-eight years old, graduated from Yale with a degree in business marketing or some such. Broke from his father’s companies under suspicious circumstances. Started his own Investment firm. Recently he was forced out by the board. There were whispers of improper use of investor’s money, but nothing concrete. He has two children by his first marriage. None from the second no surprise since it only lasted six months, and three children by with wife number three. They are currently separated.” Jose finished his dissertation and popped the last of his muffin in his mouth.
The detective clamped his mouth shut only to open it again, “How do you know all this?”
“Oh, Tommy’s boyfriend’s roommate, Lars, does wife number two’s hair.” Jose said, “Oh, and if I find him before you do, he’ll be a soprano for the rest of his natural life.”
“Jose, is uh… kidding.”
“The hell I am. Did you see that two by four that went through the windshield? Andie, you would have died if Layla hadn’t grabbed you.”
“Shit, you better save one nut for me,” Layla slapped the photo on the coffee table, “That asshole tried to grab my ass once – in our own house so you can add arrogant to that profile you’re making.” Layla tipped her head, indicating the Detective’s notebook.
“When was this?” He asked.
“Years ago.” Layla sent the picture a look of utmost disgust, “Not like he’s the only one. DC is full of sexist perverts. I learned a long time ago, if they’re close enough to grab you, you’re close enough to grab back and what’s good for the goose will put the gander on the ground.”She paused to allow the collective whispering male winces to die down before continuing, “I add a clockwise twist at the end.” Curling her hand into a claw, she flipped it to the right. “Perverts go down screaming like little girls. Then I kick ‘em a couple of times to reinforce the point.”
“Uh… sounds effective.” The detective said lamely. The rest of the men stayed silent, so as not to attract the attention of the annihilator.
Her Grandmother however, nodded in approval, “Very good. Proper training is all about positive reinforcement.”
“Right.” Maurice cleared his throat and changed the topic, “Getting back to the car, disabling brakes isn’t like you see in the movies. Normally you’d notice right away, they’d feel spongy. Even if you weren’t paying attention. But in this case, because of the age of the car, it was easier to pull off. She didn’t notice a problem right away because the lines were filed down, weakening them. She hit them a few times and they went. Normally, the emergency brake would be an option, but at the speed they were going it would have flipped the car. If they hadn’t been going down a mountain they’d have been able to cut the ignition and slow down.”
“This was an opportunistic hit,” Stan Wyatt said thoughtfully, “But the person who did it had to be skilled. Whoever this is, is dangerous.” He sent a grim look Damien’s way, “This threat needs to be taken seriously.”
“I assure you, I am taking this very seriously.”
“I’ve met your uncle.” Her grandmother said, lifting the carafe and refilling the detective’s cup, “He impressed me as a man who carefully weighs his cost to benefit ratio.”
“That is true.” Damien’s gaze sharpened. Her Grandmother’s insight had surprised him.
“What’s the benefit of harming my granddaughter?”
“And that is valuable enough to risk a lifetime behind bars?”
“He’s an arrogant asshole.” Layla said, like no further explanation was needed.
“He said to tell you hello.” Andie recalled, wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the chill that had been steadily creeping into her bones, “If he were planning on killing me, would he have given me the message?”
“For that matter why approach her at all?” Wyatt added, “It was an unnecessary risk.”
“Hello?” Layla grabbed the photo back and waved it over her head, “Arrogant asshole?”
The three goons by the door chuckled. Maurice joined them. Stan smiled. Even the Detective’s lips curved.
Damien’s face was granite, “When I find him, I’ll be sure and ask.”
“And you’ll be protecting my granddaughter in the meantime?”
“I assure you, Andie will be protected at all times.”
“Good. Okay. That’s good.” Andie shoved down her wild desire to giggle, “Do I get big, burly security guards.”
Damien’s face softened, “I’m afraid so.”
“Great.” Andie waved at the scary men by the front door, “That’s great. What with your uncle trying to kill and/or maim us. That’s a good idea. Yeppers. Awesome.” She nodded shakily and wondered if she were babbling.
“Kitten?” Adonis studied her, concern wrinkling his brow.
That was a yes on the babbling, then, but it was better than cackling like a half-crazed hyena so she babbled away, “Should we take Tai Kwon Do or Judo? Carry a 357 maybe? I hear they make pink guns now. I don’t look good in pink.” A giggle popped out. She slapped her hand over her mouth. Dag-nab-it, the heroines in the zombie movies didn’t go whacko when people tried to kill them. They bad-assed up and let the Zombie heads fly.
“Hey,” Adonis knelt in front of her, cupping her face with warm steady hands, “You okay?”
“Sure. Yep. I’m Great.” Andie raised her arms, flattened her hands, and brought them down on Damien’s broad shoulders karate style, “HI-YAH! Judo chop!” There. Bad-ass. “Oh yeah, I totally got this.”
“Right.” Damien rose and scooped her up, and poof, she was airborne.
“Where are we going this time?”
“To your room.” He said, calling back over his shoulder, “Wyatt, Maurice, you know what to do. Detective, the interview is over.”
There were murmurs and assents as she was carried up the stairs. Adonis didn’t stop until he was on her bed with her in his lap, “Breathe, kitten.”
She sucked in a breath of clean, spicy Adonis air. Yum.
She sucked in more air let it out. Her heart slowed. The hysteria settled down. Still it was a while before she trusted her voice, “So you and your uncle don’t get along?”
“That is an epic understatement.”
“I’m guessing there’s a story there?”
“I don’t suppose you want to tell me?”
“It’s long and horrible, but at the end of it all, I took my uncle’s business out from under him.”
“Oh.” That would do it.
“He was scooping money out as fast as he could. Had I not caught it in time it would have made Madoff’s Ponzi look like a minor bookkeeping error. I can save it, but it will take a lot of work a lot of belt tightening and the seizing of the vast majority of my uncle’s assets. Conveniently, he left most of them in the name of the company. I’m selling them off and putting the cash back into funds he’s been stealing for who knows how many years.”
“And so your uncle….”
“He’s got nothing. He was born to wealth. He’s in hell, he’s furious and determined to harm me. I should have put a protection detail on you before you left for Richmond, but you were already angry with me and for good reason, I was afraid I’d scare you off.”
“You were afraid?”
“Kitten, what I did was nearly unforgiveable. I was way out of line.” A finger under her chin raised her gaze, she met eyes clouded with uncertainty and was that fear?
Holy Crap. The Adonis was afraid.
“Nothing like that will happen again.” He said, his thumb lightly stroking her jaw, “Not unless you want it.”
Okay, there it was a change of subject. So either kinky sex or murderous uncles. “I’ll take Kinky sex for three hundred Alex.”
“Nothing. I was wondering, you know about all… that,” Andie ducked her chin again, “Just, uh, how kinky do you get?” Her fingers danced nervously under his colar.
“Ah. Hmmm,” She thought she heard laughter in that hmmm, but since she wouldn’t look up she couldn’t be sure, “That’s not a simple question.”
“On a scale of one to ten.” She blurted out, feeling her face glowing red.
“That depends on your baseline.”
Oh Jiminy Cricket, “Okaaay, One is say…lights out missionary and ten is, I don’t know, nipple clamps, black leather thongs, and chandelier swinging.”
There was a short silence in which she felt some suspicious chest rumbling and heard some coughing snorts.
“Uh, whenever you get yourself under control up there, you can answer.”
“Sorry Kitten,” That finger tilted her head back again, the clouds were gone from Damien’s eyes, dispelled by the humor lighting his face, “You have this way of saying things that is…”
“Refreshing.” He tapped her nose.
“I can safely say, chandelier swinging is out and like you, I’m not a fan of the leather thong.”
“So that leaves nipple clamps and hot wax?”
“Only if you want it.”
“Off the top of my head, I’d say no way in hell.”
“But you’ve never tried it. You liked the spanking.”
She didn’t have a response for that one so the knock on her closed bedroom door was welcome until Layla called out, “Andie, your Mom’s on the phone.”
Oh God. She was not up to her Mom right now. “Can you stall her a couple minutes?”
“She’s getting in the car to come down here.”
“Shit!” Andie jumped up, hauled ass, and tripped over the split bamboo. Dammit, her room was full of trip hazards these days.
“Careful.” Adonis caught right before her butt hit the floor, all sexy chuckle-chuckle in her ear, “So we’ll pick up the discussion of nipple….”
Andie threw a hand over his mouth. “Do not say any words relating to girlie parts when my mother is on the phone.” Ignoring the resulting devilish humor in Damien’s eyes, she threw the door open and gabbed the phone out of Layla’s hand to hear words that froze the blood.
“…. I will not sit here while my daughter suffers. She needs her mother.”
“Mom, I’m okay.”
“Andie! Oh sweetheart, I’ve got essential oil blends for traumatic brain injury. I’m on the way.”
“No!” Blind panic made her shout. Her mother carried at least ten different blends on her at all times and every one of them stunk like a skunk in a sewer. But her Mom meant well, so when Andie heard the hurt in her shocked gasp, she reined in the inappropriate fight or flight response, “I’m sorry Mom, what I mean to say is, I’m fine. There’s no need for you to drive back down here.”
Andie covered the phone with her hand and hissed at her two bestest buds standing in the hall with her, “Who spilled the beans?”
Layla threw her thumb at Jose.
“Do not give me that look, Andie Chase. She is your mother. Of course, I called her.” Jose confessed with zero remorse.
He’d be feeling plenty remorseful by the time she was done. “Jose Rodriguez, if my Mom shows up here with her essential oil bag, I’ll douse every piece of Armani you own with so much patchouli they’ll smell to Christmas and back.”
“There’s no need for threats. Jose sniffed, but his face softened when he continued, “Sweetie, it was all over the news. You wouldn’t want her to find out that way. I knew you weren’t up to it, so I called her.”
“You’re right. God, I’m turning into a panicked whacko.” Andie admitted, rubbing her temples. when the phone was snatched from her hand.
“Mrs. Chase, this is Damien Drake. Please do not subject yourself to D.C. traffic. Andie had a brain scan and has no swelling. She is doing quite well.” There was a small silence a sexy chuckle or two, another silence, a “Thank-you,” and finally, “I’ll see to it she arrives home safely tomorrow. I will escort her myself on the company’s private jet. Here she is.” The phone was returned to her hand.
“See Mom, I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll be escorted home tomorrow on the company’s … wait… what?”
“I have some things to take care of today.” The Adonis with the plane and the plan smiled down at her, “Can you be ready to leave tomorrow at noon?”
“Yes, yes she can.” Jose spoke for her. Very enthusiastically. “She will be ready, willing, and waiting.”
“Good.” A kiss to her cheek. “See you tomorrow, kitten.”