Copyright © 2012 Cherrie Lynn
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Ghost. Where the hell had he gotten a name like that? He wasn’t particularly pale. Well, maybe a little. But not what she’d call ghastly or anything. There was nothing…wraithlike about him at all; he was a very solidly built six-two or so, judging by how tall he stood next to her five-six.
Tattooed. Pierced. Shaved head, though right now he wore a black baseball cap pulled low over his eyes with the hood of his black sweatshirt over it.
The very antithesis to everything she wanted, or thought she wanted.
He was looking right at her, shit-eating grin in place, one dark eyebrow arched. That stare was like a vacuum. Or a black hole. Nothing could escape it.
“Hi!” she managed to squeak—she even managed a smile. When his own grin widened, she pushed herself up from her seat to give him a hug. Unfortunately, her legs were Jell-O, and his tight squeeze kept her from getting up close and personal with the floor even more than those shaking appendages did.
He felt good. Warm, despite the chill of the night air still clinging to his hoodie. Familiar, even if she’d only been in those arms once.
And then he had to speak, the rumble of his voice raising the hair at her nape. “Hey, killjoy.”
Everyone laughed, delighted at the return of the nickname he’d pinned on her not long after they’d met. She only then realized Brian had joined them too, and was snuggling into the booth next to his girlfriend.
“I have a question,” Ghost announced as Macy reclaimed her seat and he slid in beside her, practically cramming her against the wall. His denim-clad thigh was rock hard against her bare one. Sam claimed what was left of the seat on his other side, so she was well and truly trapped. A shiver worked through her. “What in the actual fuck are we doing in a honky-tonk?” He motioned around at the plethora of cowboys and cowgirls dancing to the twang of country music.
“It’s Macy’s night,” Candace said as Brian nuzzled her neck. “She got to pick.”
“Ah, that figures. Just don’t get Brian and me into a brawl with any rednecks. I’m not too stoked to spend the night in jail when I just hit town.” Ghost winked at her. God, those eyes. If she hadn’t been so close to him she’d have sworn he lined them. But no, his bottom lashes were just that thick. If he had hair on his head, she figured it would be the same chocolate brown as his goatee—and maybe he did have hair on his head now for all she knew. She couldn’t tell. But he was one of those guys who definitely rocked the look—his features were strong enough. He stretched out both arms, one behind Macy and one behind Sam, and tilted his chin up at Brian. “I’ve got double your fun, dude.”
Brian, who was mid-smooch with Candace, broke away and laughed. “Good for you. I’ve got all the fun I can handle right here.” Candace blushed and beamed.
Macy nearly jumped out of her skin when Ghost leaned over and put his lips mere inches from her ear. “Am I crashing your party, babe?”
Her face flamed. Did he know about her Valentine’s pity party? “Crashing my party?” she echoed lamely. “No, not at all—I mean, it’s not a party. Nor is it mine.”
He chuckled. “All right.” Her friends were sending her knowing little smirks.
Yes, maim them.
But she couldn’t deny that it was good to see him, that a part of her had missed him and she hadn’t completely realized it until now. “Are you back for good?” she asked.
He shrugged, pulling his arms back and resting them on the table. “Nana’s doing…okay, considering. She’s settled in the nursing home and my sister lives near there, so I figured I might as well come home and try to get back to normal, at least for a while. I’ll be going up there to visit a lot, though.”
His grandmother, who’d raised him from the time his parents were killed in a car accident when he was six, was in failing health. Macy didn’t know much beyond what Candace had told her about the reason for his absence, but she couldn’t help noticing the set of his mouth seemed a little grimmer than it ever had before. He must’ve been through a lot in the past few months.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
He shrugged again, but she wasn’t fooled by his feigned nonchalance. “She’s hanging in there. So how’ve you been?”
“Oh, fine. Great. Working a lot, you know.”
A waitress came by and placed beers in front of him and Brian. Macy’s pulse hadn’t slowed a bit. What was up with that? He was pressed in so tight against her she wondered if he could feel her racing heart, prayed that he couldn’t.
Ghost leaned across the table toward Candace and Brian. “Candace,” he said, and for a moment Macy thought he might actually say something sincere. No such luck. “I really advise against leaving him alone with me again. Two hours away from you and he was coming on to me.” Everyone else at the table broke up in laughter. It only egged him on. “I mean, I know he wants me. He’s made it clear. And I’m growing weak, I tell you. I missed him. If he does it again, I’m gonna give it to him.”
Brian was shaking his head. “God, we missed you,” Candace said.
“Did we?” Brian asked.
Ghost reached over and placed his hand on Candace’s. “Don’t worry, though. We’re not going to shut you out. You’re welcome in our house anytime, sweetheart. I might even share him with you. As long as, you know, I can watch.”
“This is actually pretty hot,” Samantha observed, and Macy could just imagine the sparkle of interest in her eyes.
“You can come too,” Ghost said, earning Sam’s flattered laughter.
“Fuck you, man.” Brian punctuated the words with the corresponding hand gesture, but Macy could tell from his grin he was probably the happiest person at the table to have his friend back.
“I’m trying so hard to resist that, Brian. You damn moody Capricorns. You would only hurt me in the end.” Ghost drew a shaky breath. “But I think…I’m ready to take the chance.”
“You’re gonna have a hell of a fight on your hands,” Candace told him, running her hand over Brian’s shoulders. “This one belongs to me.”
“Yeah. Stake your claim, baby. Save me from him.”
As the banter continued to fly and Macy slowly began to realize it seemed to be just business as usual here, she found herself relaxing. She took a deep breath, distancing herself from the memories of what she’d allowed to happen between her and the guy sitting next to her not long before he left town.
That’s it, get a grip. So what, you were confronted with him when you least expected it. That would throw anyone.
But it shouldn’t. Not her, no way. He was part of a world so separate from her own it would be impossible to bridge the chasm between them. He was heavy metal. She was all country, all the time. He wouldn’t belong at a rodeo, and she wouldn’t belong at one of his wild concerts where they probably sacrificed live chickens or bit the heads off bats onstage.
That was that. Since the accident that had damn near killed her, sensibleness had ruled her world, not impulsiveness. And certainly not her heart or hormones. She was the one in control here, and she liked it that way. If she messed up, she could at least mess up knowing she’d weighed all her options and made the best decision possible.
Even being miserably single on Valentine’s Day wasn’t enough for her to give up that position.
Ghost’s thigh pressing more firmly against hers was cause enough for her to do a quick reassessment.