Damien raised his chin from the crown of the head tucked under it, digging his hand in a tangle of copper until he found the twig that had been poking him in the throat. Removing it with a gentle shush when the girl on his lap grumped, though he didn’t think she was really awake. After they’d determined Andie had only the mildest of concussions, they gave her a shot for the pain due to her bruised ribs. It hit her like a tank. Her eyes had slid closed in under a minute. They were now twenty minutes into the limo ride back to Richmond and her eyes had not opened once. He’d made the decision to have the chopper flown back and ordered the limo for the simple reason of not wanting to set Andie down. Having her in his arms warm and safe was necessary to his sanity. The limo was spacious and relatively quiet. He could hold Andie comfortably.
“This cabernet is fabulous.”
“Manhattan ain’t bad either.”
“I’m glad you’re enjoying the libations.” He inclined his head, acknowledging Jose and Layla’s comments. They were the reason for the relative quiet.
Andie’s friends could be verbose, he’d discovered while awaiting test results. They could also argue. They excelled at arguing. Which they had done. Repeatedly. Over everything from whose turn it was to get coffee, to who was hogging the best ratty, moth-infested, waiting-room magazines, to who had fared worse in the crash. It was when Layla resorted to waving her sprained wrist around and Jose had pulled his sweater off to stick his finger through the hole in his vintage Missoni that Carolyn, who had been beside him quietly thumbing through a magazine, cleared her throat. That was it. A throat clearing. The two went instantly mute and retreated to opposite corners to sulk.
Drake wondered if any old throat would do or if the ability was unique to Carolyn. He hoped for the former, but was betting on the latter.
Which was why he made sure the vehicle’s bar was fully stocked not only with alcohol but also cheese, fruit, and chocolate. Layla Markham had started mixing Manhattans before the driver had gotten the key in the ignition. She had one in her hand and another waiting in the martini shaker. “An heir and a spare” she’d called it and hooted with laughter. She’d been two Manhattans in at the time. The woman could hold her liquor.
Jose was going through a cabernet and an entire wheel of brie. So far, the mood in the limo was downright jovial.
“And this brie is plain scrumptious.” Jose made a gimme motion in Layla’s direction, “Layla honey, pass me some cheddar.”
“Oh hell no.” Layla balked, wrapping her arms around a large platter loaded with enough cheese and grapes to keep an army fed through winter.
And Drake knew the honeymoon period was over.
“You’ve got a whole wheel of brie.” Layla hunkered down over the tray, “You’re not getting your paws on my cheddar, Greedy Gus.”
“This, from the woman hoarding a two-pound box of chocolate.” Jose raised a brow and tossed his head in the direction of the large gold box Layla had stashed on her opposite side, between herself and the limo door.
“I’m a girl. I need chocolate to survive.”
“Horse-shit!” Jose shouted and made a grab for a yellow wedge.
Layla grabbed the cheese knife off her tray and wielded it like a tiny sword, “Back! Back I say!”
Jose was quick but not quick enough. Drake heard crack of the blade on a knuckle even over the outraged, “Ow! Selfish Bitch!”
Drake cleared his throat.
Unique to Carolyn. He’d thought as much.
He was considering the, “I’ll turn this car around” threat, though he couldn’t see how it would help him in this particular case, when the warm bundle in his lap shifted. Andie lowered her hand from the back of his neck, thumped his chest like a pillow, wriggled, wiggled, and muttered a grumpy “Jose.” An equally grumpy “Layla” a rather distinct, “Big mouth,” and clear, if slightly slurred “Shut it.”
It wasn’t subtle, but it worked.
Jose sat back with a sniff and Layla made a stabbing motion with the knife before setting it down and slumping into her Manhattan.
Andie tucked her hand under her chin and went still. Silence.
It lasted about a quarter of a minute.
“Man she’s out.” Layla peered at Andie over her glass, “What the heck did they give her?”
“If I remember correctly, you were the one who insisted she be sedated.” Drake pointed out.
“Yeah, but did they give her a truckload?”
“Andie’s always been sensitive to medication.” Jose said, “She still takes children’s Benadryl. Gets tipsy on a half a glass of wine. If they gave an adult dose of any kind she’s looped to Christmas and back.
“If only.” Layla raised her glass in a toast.
“I know.” Jose’s voice went dreamy, “Wouldn’t that be wonderful.”
He looked between the two, “Am I missing something?”
Layla snorted in her drink, “Not for long.”
Jose however. He sat up and sat his glass down, and with an elaborate, rolling, double-hand wave, announced, “You will be tested.”
“So I’m missing something.”
Jose brought his hands in and pressed them to the left side of his chest, “Only one who loves true can survive Andromeda Adrianna chases Christmas from hell.”
He smiled, “I see.”
“Nah, you don’t.” Layla shook her head, digging through her gold box, “Poor schmuck. I almost feel sorry for you.”
“It can’t be that bad.
At that, Layla fell back against the seat and outright cackled. It was terrifying. His brother was insane.
Jose just sent him a look that was both pitying and wise, “You say that now, but one day when you are up to your armpits in wreaths, holly, trees, ornaments, and lights you will remember this moment and….”
What he’d do when he remembered “this moment” he’d never know.
Layla Markham cut Jose off with a wail worthy of the Wall. “Oh God! Oh Dear God the lights!” Then, grabbing the whisky, she skipped the pouring and mixing and took huge swigs from the bottle between mutterings of “Oh fuck.” “Fuck me” and “Oh fucking fuck.”
As curious as he was, he let the topic drop. Layla was Andie’s best friend and alcohol poisoning could be fatal.
She was drifting in that between space. Not awake, not asleep. It was wonderful. She was warm and comfy and her bed smelled awesome. So when someone tried to pull her out of it, she hung on.
“Just for a second, kitten.” Her bed chuckled in her ear.
She pulled heavy sticky lids open and met dark eyes brimming with humor, “Huh?”
“We’re at your Grandmother’s. I need to put you down to get out of the car.” The Adonis holding her explained.
Her bed was Adonis. No wonder it smelled so good. She blinked and tried to focus her bleary eyes, but her head was swimming in a gloshing psychedelic sea. It was heavy and fuzzy and her tongue felt two times too big. Oh crap on a cracker. Had somebody slipped her another mickey? “Was I drugged?” She asked. It came out Wath ah thugged.
Another chuckle as she was positioned on a seat, “Yes and no.” Adonis said, kissing her nose before climbing out of a car.
Yes and no. Would that make sense if her head wasn’t all bleary? She was lifted up and out of the car. Cool air, damp with night caressed her face and hands and nowhere else. Squinting down at herself she could see she was wrapped up like a mummy. Okay, that did not compute. She looked back at the car. The long shiny black car. “That’s a limo.”
“Yes.” Adonis confirmed.
Oh shit. She was on a date with Adonis and she got hammered. She’d never been hammered in her life. “Am I drunk?”
“No,” More chuckling tickled her ear. It made her toes curl. “You’ve been given painkillers.”
“Somebody slipped me painkillers?”
Chuckle chuckle chuckle. Sexy sexy sexy. “You were in an accident sweetheart.”
“Like a car accident?”
“Exactly like that.”
Andie searched her big, heavy head. Black Friday. Shopping. Suffocating under a pile of sweaters. Coffee. Jose and Layla whining. Tree farm. More wining. Drive home. Whine whine whine…no brakes. “Jose! Layla!”
“Right here honey.” Jose exited the limo, and gave her a peck on the cheek, “I’m right as rain. Oh, and the Black Friday pact is null and void.”
“You were a Rockstar taking that wreck down the mountain.” Layla came around from the other side. A big gold box under her arm and a bottle in her hand, “And what he said. Next year I’m going for wine and chocolate.” Layla patted her cheek with her free hand and wobbled behind Jose to the front porch.
She wasn’t so loopy she didn’t hear all the smug loaded into those two short words. “You got them drunk.”
One perfect brow popped up at her, “Your friends had a harrowing experience. I supplied wine and Manhattans as requested.”
“Uh-huh.” Andie loved her two best buds, but she knew them well. Without those libations, the ride home would have been one long gripe-fest about jalopies and demon possessed trees. “You’re sneaky.”
“I am.” He admitted with zero shame.
“I’ll remember that.”
“As you should.” He said, making it up the stairs to the porch light as a cat.
Her Grandmother stood in the open doorway, looking way too put together for post-midnight predawn. In a black velour turtleneck and jeans, perfectly coiffed hair and full makeup
“Hey Grandma. You look great. I was in an accident.”
“Thank you dear.” She stepped back ushering them into the house and closing the door behind them, “And yes I’m aware. I was at the hospital.”
“You were? I don’t remember that.”
“Perfectly normal for a mild concussion.” Her Grandmother responded with a reassuring smile, lifting a hand in the direction of the stairs, “Her bedroom is the second door on the right.”
“Wow. Grandma must like you.”
“Why is that?”
“She never allowed boys into my bedroom.”
Another point in Grandma’s favor, “Carolyn is a wise woman on many levels.” He stopped at the bedroom door. The soft glow from the bedside lamp illuminated the room and well, yes. Right. That was a lot of flora.
“Don’t run into the Congress.”
“Which one is it?”
“Don’t know. I was in the bathroom.”
“I’ll avoid anything suspicious.” He took a winding trail to the sleigh bed dominating the room.
“Thanks, you’re a peach.” He got a sloppy pat on the cheek and her hand stayed there. Tiny, soft.
“So you’ve said.”
“You’re always putting me to bed.”
“Am I?” He paused in the process of setting her down.
“Yes. There was that first night.” She tapped his jaw, “And then, uh…” She scrunched her nose, her brow wrinkled. One finger tapped, “Huh, I guess that’s it. Seems like more.”
“Does it?” He set her on her feet. He’d rather forgotten how cute she was drugged up. He was half-tempted to keep painkillers on hand, but even his slumbering conscience woke at the thought of plying her with pills.
“You’re answering questions with questions.” She crossed her arms over her chest and swayed right
“Am I?” He grabbed her waist before she fell over.
“Yes, it’s very disconterbing.” She glared at him with glassy eyes and swayed back to center.
“You mean disconcerting or possibly disturbing.” He said. Remembering what Jose had said about her having no head for alcohol. He could keep Champagne on hand. His conscience didn’t like that either.
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Which one?” It would be good Champagne The best. His conscience wasn’t impressed.
“Huh?” She blew at a snarl of hair that had fallen in her face.
“Never mind.” He tucked it behind her ear.
It fell right back in her face when she looked down, searching the floor, “Why can’t I stand up straight?”
“It’s the medication.” He said, jumping back when she popped back up and swung her arms out like airplane wings, “What are you doing, kitten?”
“Sobriety test.” She threw her head back and kept going. Scrambling to get both hands on her back to keep her vertical, ducking to avoid the hand she pulled back in. Her extended finger landed between her crossed eyes.
“Missed.” Fuck it. They’d have wine with dinner every night. People did that. His conscience could take a hike.
“I know.” She glassy glared at him, brought the other hand in and promptly poked herself in the middle of her left eye. “Ow!”
“You flunked.” He pulled her hands down before she poked her eye out. Indulging himself with kisses to her fingertips. “So how many gentleman callers were there?”
“Not many.” She sighed, flopping down hard on the bed.
“Boys weren’t interested in me.”
“I find that hard to believe.” Impossible.
“I was chubby.”
“Were you?” He hid his smile against her palm.
Her head bobbled in a nod, “Yep. And I had glasses and wore braces.”
“You sound adorable.” Resolving to look the house over for pictures of a chubby be-speckled Andie, he released her hands and she just fell over, her head landing in a pile of pillows. She then rooted, scooted, rolled, mooned, squealed and to his great disappointment, tugged. So that his t-shirt once again covered her derriere, and finally, flopped – on her back.
“They called me chubby bunny.” The revelation came with the pout of her bottom lip and an attempt to reach the blankets at her feet. It was an epic fail.
“Like I said, adorable.” Leaning down, he took hold of the blankets she’d missed, “Close your eyes, kitten.” He murmured the words against the silk of her cheek. With a soft sigh she did just that. He lay the cover in place and by the time he’d settled himself in the only chair in the room, Some round low frilly girly thing with no arms, her even breathing told him she’d already slipped into sleep. Even spread out, she hardly took up any room in the bed and he was struck by just how small she was. Tiny. Delicate. Fragile.
Drake wasn’t a believer in luck and he had no faith in the miraculous. But he wasn’t so arrogant that he didn’t understand that on this night he’d been gifted with both. He’d never tempt fate like that again. The cost was too high.
“Man she’s out.”
“Like a light.”
Damien went from restless sleep to wide awake at the two familiar and unwelcome voices.
“Look at all that hair.”
“What are you two doing here?” Launching himself from the chair, he inserted himself between Andie and the two men who should be out gathering the information he needed. Not here staring at his girl while she slept.
“Just checkin up on our girl.” Stan Wyatt said rocking back on his heels.
Our? Unlocking his jaw, he set the record straight. “My girl is sleeping.”
Stan’s smarmy grin said he’d been baited and hooked. He didn’t give a fuck.
Maurice kept his eyes on Andie even though he had to lean around him to do it, “What the heck did they give her?”
“Andie’s sensitive to medication.”
“Well, she’s such a tiny thing.” Stan said, leaning around him on the opposite side. Smarmy grin morphing to full-on goofy as fuck smile.
“Not big as a minute.” Maurice agreed, “You could fit ten of her in that bed.”
“How did you get in here?” He asked walking forward so they had no choice but to back up. They didn’t they just parted like the red sea so he walked between them. Dammit.
“Carolyn let us in.” Maurice said.
“She was leaving as we arrived.” Stan offered, “Super nice lady.”
Both statements were made without taking their eyes off Andie. Drake backed up, planted a hand in the middle of each chest and shoved. They got the message, backing away, albeit wearing identical shit eating grins. “What have you got?”
“Not much.” Stan’s grin fell, “The car was towed to a local mechanic. He’s closed for the holiday weekend.”
“Call him. I’ll pay…”
Stan held up a hand, “Already on it. Maurice’s got a guy.”
“A guy?” What the hell was that supposed to mean?
There was an annoyed snuffle from behind him. Drake turned to see one tiny hand flicking at him in a shooing motion. It then reached over and grabbed a pillow from the pile beside that mass of copper and slammed it down on her head with an annoyed snuffle and a huff.
Stan’s head appeared over his left shoulder. “Poor thing.”
Maurice popped over the right. “Sorry, sugar.”
For fuck’s sake. He shoved again. This time all the way into the hall, pulling the door half closed behind him. “You were saying.”
“I have a friend was a mechanic in the army.” Maurice explained, “Guy knows his vehicles. If those brakes were tampered with he’ll find it. He’s on his way down.”
“Fine. What about the other?”
“Yeah, about that.” Stan grimaced as if in pain. “I got a text from Lena.”
That explained the pain.
“There was an incident…sort of. Shit, see for yourself.” Stan pulled his phone out, tapping it a few times before handing it over
He stared down at the image that made no sense. “What in the ever-loving fuck?”
“Yeah, that’s about what I said. Lena took that photo in case they needed it for uh, you know, legal reasons of any kind. Being as it’s her sister’s place of business and all.”
“Holy Shit. He’s on the…”
“Is that a…”
“Taser. In Lena’s hand. Yes.” Stan nodded, “Yes, it is.”
“Where is he now.”
“But…” Drake held up the phone.
“Yeah, see she didn’t know we were looking for him. This was kind of a coincidence….. “Stan’s shoulders slumped, “Shit, what a mess.”
“What exactly happened?”
Stan sighed, rubbed his eyes and started the most flat out bizarre story that Drake would have never believed it if he hadn’t already experienced the force that was Lena McGovern… and still he couldn’t quite get his mind around…
“I could tell it all again,” Stan said, “But I’d rather not.”
“How in the hell, are they not in jail?”
“Well if he comes back…”
“I already told them to hang on to him, but I don’t see him going back there without police backup and a dozen lawyers.”
“Well, shit.” He knew that was true. His dear old Uncle only liked odds already stacked in his favor.
“I put Lena on it. She may be crazy…”
“Yeah..okay she’s definitely crazy,” Stan conceded, “But woman’s got the nose of a bloodhound. If he’s in the area, she’ll find him.”
“HEY!” Muffled and most definitely annoyed.
Drake pushed the door fully open just in time to have a pillow hit him in the chest. “SSSSHHHHHH!”
“Sorry Kitten,” He leaned over and kissed one velvety cheek. She sniffed and humphed, and grabbed the cover, jerking it up and over her head.
“Damn, you are one lucky son of a bitch.”
Oh Good goddamn. He shoved both men’s heads off his shoulders and kept shoving until they were in the hall. He didn’t follow. “Go. You have work to do.”
“Don’t get your panties….”
He slammed the door on their knowing smirks.
Light intruded, pesky irritating light. Andie ducked her head and tried to sink back into that soft dreamless darkness, but the light kept pushing and then her bladder joined in, and then she moved and pain finished the job. She blinked her eyes open, tried to sit up and oh holy crap that hurt.
“Careful. Bruised ribs aren’t serious but they hurt like a bitch.” Gentle hands held her steady, assisting her as she gingerly moved back and up in the bed so she could rest her back against the headboard.
She turned her head, slowly cause she’d learned a thing or two about morning afters and spinning heads, and there was an Adonis in bed with her.
“Uh, what are you doing in…” She peeked around, slowly. Yep. Her bed this time, “My bed.” Not that he didn’t look good there. Really good. Super good. Downright yummy, with his morning stubble and messy hair, his head in his hand and propped up on one elbow, relaxed and rumpled.
“You asked me to come and get you.” His free hand picked up a hunk of her hair and twirled it around his finger, “Do you remember?”
Oh, she remembered alright. “The brakes failed.”
“They did.” The tightening of his mouth, a tic in his jaw and Andie thought for sure a lecture about jalopies was coming, but then nope. His beautiful mouth stayed shut. Tight, but shut.
Not one to look a gift Pegasus in the mouth so she moved on. “You called me.”
“You picked me up… in a helicopter.”
“You own a helicopter?”
Course he did. Sheesh. “We went to the hospital.”
“We took a limo home.”
“Layla and Jose were drunk.”
“That was sneaky.”
That tightening finally eased. One corner of his mouth moved up. “So you’ve said.”
“It bears repeating.”
The other corner joined it into an almost smile, “Does it?”
“I feel like I should take note.”
That startled a bark of laughter out of him. Releasing her hair, he tapped her nose playfully, “Smart girl.”
Well, at least he admitted it. Was that a good or bad thing. She’d have to think on that one. And thinking could not be done when you had to pee this bad.
She tossed her feet over the side of the bed.
The Adonis was out of and around the bed and in front of her in an instant. “What are you doing?”
I gotta pee? No. No way was she saying that.
Avoiding the embarrassment of peeing myself at the ripe old age of twenty-three? Nope, not that either. “I need to freshen up.” And the Southern upbringing comes through.
“Ah. Right.” A rueful smile and poof! She was picked up, blankets and all, carried, and deposited once again in the bathroom.
“You carry me around a lot.”
“You do that a lot too.”
“What is that?”
“Answering questions with questions.”
“So I’ve been told. I understand it’s disconterbing.”
But the Adonis was done talking and had moved on to action., pulling the blankets from her. She grabbed them back, “Uh, thanks for bringing me in. I’ve um…got it, from here.”
“As you wish.” A ghost of a smile, “I’ll go get you some breakfast. The pain meds should be taken with food.”
Releasing a breath when he finally shut the door behind him, she wasted no time in taking care of the necessary. Then the shower’s siren call could no longer be ignored. She went to pull off the tee shirt. Tee-shirt? What? Oh. Oh no. Her fuzzy memory wasn’t fuzzy enough. She saw herself clear as day refusing the hospital gown because she didn’t want her bum hanging out. Oh dear God she’d said that. Out loud. In front of everybody. Demi-Gods included. She was bemoaning her tendency to embarrass herself in front of beautiful men and wondering why she couldn’t be lucky enough to be have been born mute when she caught sight of her reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Oh. Dear. God.
This was bad. So bad. Horrible. She’d woken up next to Damien I’m-too-sexy-for-your-bed Drake looking like a reject from a b-grade horror flick.
Hair – one huge snarl.
Eyes – puffy, red, and raccooned with mascara.
Face – swollen, blotchy and streaked with dirt.
Breath – Oh God Breath. Andie grabbed the toothpaste and piled it onto her brush. Within seconds she had foam all around her mouth and dripping down her chin, combined with her snarled hair, blotchy face, and raccooned, bloodshot eyes, she was the poster child for a post-apocalyptic zombie hoard.
She leaned over, reaching to turn on the shower so the water could be heating while she purified the horror that was her mouth and there was a polite tap tap on the door. “Kitten, your Sumatra is brewing. Would you prefer a bagel or crumpet?”
Of course he’d ask a question when she had a mouth overflowing with foam. And for sure she’d panic trying to get to the sink and spit it out, so and trip over the blankets on the floor. And it made perfect sense that catching herself on the vanity, she knocked over her double-sided magnifying mirror that fell into the sink with a clattering crash, and it was downright fatalistic that the doorknob turned and Andie realized she hadn’t locked it.
Then she lost all good sense and tried to shout through the foam. Her slobbering sputter of, “Don’t come in here,” Came out a garbling, gluck-glucking zombie wail.
So it was a certainty that Adonis would throw the door open and rush in to save her from the zombie eating her face off. “Are you…” He froze two steps into his rescue. His mouth open and nothing coming out. He clamped it shut. His lips twitched. And his eyes, his gorgeous deep-blue, eyes, that had probably never been puffy or red in his whole charmed, Mount Olympus living, life – twinkled. They TWINKLED. “I think you might have overdone it on the toothpaste, kitten.”
“OUT!” It came out “ROWOR!” but since she flung her arm out and pointed, he got the message.
“Right. Sorry, kitten.” He ducked back out. She heard choking sounds coming from the other side of the door. He was laughing. LAUGHING.
She grabbed the mirror out of the sink, spit, rinsed, wiped her face on the way to the door, and ripped it open.
Adonis was standing at the foot of her bed, his back to her. His shoulders shaking.
Oh oh. Just… OH! She marched over to him, planted her hands in his back and shoved. “You Jerk.”
In an infuriating display of Demi-God grace, he braced one hand on the footboard, spun around, jumped sideways, and sat down on the side of her bed, laughing the entire time. And looking way too god doing it.
“You. Are. An. Ass.”
He nodded, wheezing, and guffawing and even that was sexy. Jerk Jerk Jerk.
Finally, he stuttered out a weak, “Ss ss ss ssssorry.”
“You never interrupt a lady when she is at her morning toilette.”
“Kitten, I thought you were hurt.” The Adonis protested all wide eyed and innocent.
Pah-lease, like he could pull that off.
“You also don’t laugh at her.”
“Ah,” The twinkle was back, “You’ve got me there.”
“Demi or not, you don’t barge in… ”
She had a whole speech ready, all about not embarrassing mothers and proper behavior and she was going to throw the whole “you weren’t born in the barn” thing as a closer, but in a feat of Demi-God super-speed, Adonis slid his hand behind her head, covered her mouth with his own, and then the life was being kissed out of her.
Her brilliant set-down flew right out of her head as heat slid down her body. The hand gripping her hair tilted her head, and with a hungry groan he went deep, opening her mouth and exploring her in sensual glides of his tongue. She braced a hand on his chest, felt his heart thumping beneath her palm. Her hand slid up into his hair. Adonis legs parted and she was between them. Her breasts barely brushed his chest and another hungry sound filled her head, not a groan but a whimper – her whimper. Her hungry, helpless, girly whimper and oh hell no, but then a hand cupped her breast and a whisper of touch brushed her nipple. And her hell no became an oh what the hell. She slid her other hand into his hair, gave in, and held on.
It was Adonis who eventually ended the kiss. Pulling away, his forehead resting against hers, his breathing harsh in the room.
What the heck just happened? She’d been mad. And then…. Oh sneaky sneaky man.
Andie slid her hand from her sneaky man’s hair and let go of the shirt she was gripping in her fist, and backed up. He stayed where he was on the bed, watching her. Eyes twinkling. Lips twitching. She kept backing up until she reached the bathroom, and, with as much dignity as she could muster with swollen lips and zombie hair, she said, “I’d like a crumpet with my coffee.”
Then she shut the bathroom door and locked it.