Copyright © 2013 Dee Tenorio
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Far more rested than she’d been in weeks, Susie opened one eye, willing to be forgiving. Especially if Amanda had brought her homemade bread—
The other eye popped open in surprise as she took in her dim surroundings. She blinked, rubbing her face and finally realizing she was on her own bed, the light outside the door casting the room into golden-hued half-tones.
How the hell had she gotten here?
The old iron frame squeaked as she sat up, trying to get her bearings, almost masking the clanking of what sounded like someone doing dishes. Dishes? Okay, there was hunger-inspired forgiveness and then there was going too far. She hadn’t done her dishes in nearly a week, just too damn tired to do more than fall on her couch and sleep. There weren’t a lot, because she hadn’t wanted much in the way of food either, but that wasn’t the point. She didn’t need taking care of and if she did, she’d do it her damn self. Lit with righteous fire, she slid off the bed and stormed into the open living area.
And stopped dead in her tracks.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Locke’s shoulders stopped moving, the sound of determined scrubbing coming to an abrupt end. She didn’t want to be amused at the sight of this giant man hunched down to reach her mini-sink, towel over his shoulder, legs braced wide so he could keep himself in place. Like a Mack truck trying to pull into a compact parking space.
He turned, straightening a bit more, the spiky tips of his hair brushing the round light fixture on the sloping ceiling. She’d thought the wall-length kitchen was too small for her, but for Locke, it was just laughable. Except she couldn’t afford to laugh. He’d take it as acceptance and make himself comfortable taking over. Not in this fucking lifetime.
“Soup’s ready. Sit down, I’ll bring you a bowl.” He turned back to his scrubbing as if she wasn’t standing there, sparks likely shooting out of her head.
“I will not sit down. Why are you in my apartment? What the hell gives you the right—”
“Mandy let me in when you wouldn’t wake up.”
He grabbed two bowls from the dish rack and pivoted to the stove to start dishing up whatever he’d been cooking. “She didn’t want to leave you downstairs in the store, and the girl never did have much upper-body strength, so she needed someone who could get you to your bed.”
Her mouth clapped shut on her indrawn breath. Oh sure, like she was walking into that one. One verbal volley and he’d show her exactly how good he was at getting her to her bed.
Instead, all she did was watch him set the bowls on her kitchenette table—which he’d no doubt cleared, damn him—and spin back for two spoons from the drawer. Without asking, he settled himself in the small metal chair like an ogre at a tea party and started eating.
Her hands curled into fists, and those little lights of rage she’d started calling “Locke-dots” sprinkled her vision. “Y-you…you…you…”
“Come sit. Eat while it’s hot.”
“Eat. It’ll get gooey if you let it get too cold.” He shoveled another bite into his mouth. Okay, not shoveled, he had better manners than that, but she was too mad to be a stickler for details.
“You unbelievably presumptuous bastard!”
“How dare you just come in here like you own the place?”
“This is my house. I’m not one of your siblings that’s dumb enough to give you free rein.”
He put a spoonful in his mouth like he was at a dinner theatre or something.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
Another bite. She put her hands on her hips, waiting for him to answer, a fact he didn’t seem to register was required of him. Before she could jump on him for that, the timer on the stovetop went off with that ear-piercing ding. He got up, opened the oven and pulled out a loaf of Amanda’s homemade bread. Butter and garlic wafted to her nose. Oh, damn him… How was she supposed to stay mad when he had that?
“Where did that come from?”
“Had Amanda steal it from the elder twins when I sent her to lock up my store.” He pulled the split loaf out and set the cookie sheet on the stove next to the soup. He looked over his shoulder and gave her a conspiratorial grin, stealing her breath and probably not even realizing it. “Thought you might appreciate that.”
She closed her eyes, trying desperately to hold on to her anger. Unfortunately, it seeped away from her, leaving her tired and hungry. In too many ways. One smile—so small most people wouldn’t ever recognize it—and she melted for him. Every. Single. Time.
“You have to go. Now.” Before she threw herself at him again. Crawled on his lap and rubbed herself over every delicious inch of his body. Maybe when she was done with that, she could lick— No. Absolutely not. She shook off that imagining before she broke out into a sweat. “Right now.”
His sigh should have pushed her back a step. “It’s just dinner, Susie.”
Sure it was. Last time, they’d just been talking. She opened her eyes to give him a glare.
Back in the chair, he’d leaned his big body against the wall next to the table, that haggardness she’d seen earlier making him impossibly sexier. Golden bristles of a heavy five-o’clock shadow on his jaw and cheeks. Heavy-lidded blue eyes, shadowed and watchful, peered at her with a patience that made her whole body vibrate. He must have remembered too, because a slow, sensual smile spread across his face, freeing dimples on either side and showing off his perfect white teeth. Tigers couldn’t look so predatory.
Susie dropped into the chair opposite him, her knees shaking and her underwear in a state she refused to admit to.
His brows rose in question.
“Shut up and eat.” She grabbed her own spoon and stabbed it into the bowl. Keep your eyes on the plate and pretend he’s not here. He’s not here. Food magically created itself and he’s not here.
A deep, warm chuckle forced its way through her mantra.
Don’t talk to him. He’ll go away if you don’t talk to him. A total lie, but it wasn’t like she was listening to herself anyway. She was already glaring at him again. “What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing. Bread?” He offered a torn piece of the loaf with one hand, his gaze gobbling her up at the same time.
“You suck at the innocent act, Locke, so knock it off already.” She snatched the bread from him. She was mad, not stupid.
His big shoulder shrugged as he tore another piece for himself. “It’s just nice to see you being more like…you.”
“Which is?” This ought to be good. She blew on the steaming spoonful of what looked like some kind of rice soup with pieces of chicken in it. Did he find that in her freezer or was it something else purloined from the elder twins?
“Not afraid of me.”
Once more, her gaze snapped to his. “I’m not—”
“You have been.” Banked anger flared to life in his eyes.
She couldn’t help it, she flinched.
Locke’s mouth tightened into a flat line, his back straightened, affront filling every line of him.
Guilt, her new best friend, flooded her. She reached out without thinking, grabbing his hand, feeling worse when his rough fingers tightened reflexively around her own. “It’s not like that, all right? I know you’d never physically hurt me. You’re not that kind of man.”
“I’m not the kind who would hurt you any other way either,” he said quietly, his thumb sliding over the back of her hand.
Her breath shuddered out of her. Damn it, she didn’t want to have this talk with him. Not yet. But with every stroke of his finger, she softened a little bit more. Truth spilled out before she could stop it. “You might. Without even trying.”