Authors: Christine DePetrillo
Tags: #romance, paranormal,spicy
“Sure.” She led the way out the French doors to the deck on the back of the beach house. The sound of waves licking the shore grew louder as they neared the water. The sky was vast and cloudless with a million stars looking down on them. She found herself wondering what Keane was doing back home. She mentally counted and realized tonight was a seventh night. He probably wasn’t even home.
He was most likely elbow deep in supernatural blood right now. She shivered at the thought. Her mind had trouble picturing Keane killing. Though he gave her space, when he did talk to her, he was always polite, always gentle. How could he have the ability inside him to sink a dagger into a body? She shivered again.
“Are you cold?” Luke asked.
She shook her head and sat in the sand to remove her sandals. Luke lowered beside her and pulled off his sneakers.
“I love the beach at night,” she said. The moon’s image rippled off the surface of the water, and the sand had that cool, white glow that made it look alien and magical.
“Me, too. I don’t get to enjoy it during the day when I’m working.” Luke gestured to a nearby lifeguard station.
“How many lives do you think you’ve saved?” She had asked Keane the same question. He’d said hundreds of thousands.
“Like a handful each summer,” Luke answered. “With the Coast Guard, I’m less hands-on because I’m usually captaining the boat or piloting the chopper while the others do the actual rescuing.”
“Must be a great feeling doing something important.” She rested her chin on her knees. Once she did something important, she’d be free again. But would she be happy?
“Teaching is important, Holly Berry.” He poked her with his elbow.
“Don’t call me that.” She hid her face by resting her forehead on her knees.
“Would it help if I told you my older brother calls me Puke instead of Luke?”
“Maybe. A little.” She couldn’t resist laughing.
“Anyway, as I was saying, shaping young minds is important, don’t you think?” Luke angled his body to face her.
“Sure, but is it important enough?”
“Important enough for what?”
She realized she wasn’t making any sense to him. Further proof she couldn’t have a relationship right now. She couldn’t even carry on a simple conversation successfully.
“Never mind. I’m rambling.” Holly shrugged.
“Probably because you didn’t get enough nutrients from that dinner you pushed around your plate instead of eating.”
“No doubt, but I know my mother’s meatloaf, and you could build a fortress with it. I’m not putting that into my stomach.”
Luke laughed and it was a pleasant sound. It warmed her, and she hadn’t been warm in so long.
“How about some coffee up at my place?” he pointed three houses down from her parents’ house.
She stared at the bungalow style house with the wraparound porch and said the first word that came to her mind. “Okay.”
A surprised look brightened Luke’s face.
He must feel as if he’s striking out with me.
It wasn’t his fault. He was perfectly nice. For someone else.
“C’mon.” Grabbing his sneakers, Luke stood and reached down for her hand. He pulled her to her feet and didn’t let go of her hand as he walked her up the dune. He was probably afraid she’d change her mind and run away.
Inside his house, Holly was impressed with the simple, beachy décor.
“Are those individual seashells on the backsplash?” She fingered the scallop-edged shells surrounded by sand-colored grout under the driftwood-stained kitchen cabinets.
“Yeah, my nieces helped me find enough shells to make that work.” He set up the coffee pot and pulled out two mugs.
“You did the backsplash yourself?” Creative and handy. Interesting.
He nodded. “It was like making art. I had fun.”
“It’s beautiful.” She roamed into the living room where a huge wooden steering wheel, like that off a pirate ship, hung on one wall. Bottles of various sizes filled a lobster crate topped with a piece of glass to serve as a coffee table. As she sat on one of the deep, Adirondack-style chairs in the living room, she noticed the bottles were filled with yellowed parchment. Messages in bottles.
“That was my sister’s idea,” Luke said as he brought in a tray with the mugs and some cookies.
“Very cool. Do you live here year round?”
“Yep. This place isn’t what you expected, is it?” His lips curled up at the corners, and she wasn’t sure what she expected anymore.
“Not exactly, no.” It had been so long since Holly had been to a guy’s house, and the last one she remembered was littered with empty pizza boxes.
“What’s your house like?” Luke sat on the couch and patted the spot next to him in invitation.
She moved to the couch, accepting a mug of coffee as she maneuvered past Luke.
“It’s an old farmhouse surrounded by woods. Front and back porches. Country rustic inside. Simple.”
Oh, and I live with this guy. He brought me back from the dead.
She clenched the mug’s handle on that thought.
“Sounds nice.” Luke picked up a chocolate chip cookie from the tray and held it a few inches from her lips. One eyebrow arched over the greenest eye she had ever seen.
Not one to resist the allure of a cookie, she leaned forward slightly and bit off a piece while Luke held the tasty treat. He broke off a chunk from the other end of the cookie and popped it into his own mouth. Dividing the remains into two halves, he gave one to Holly and ate the other one.
“Sometimes a cookie hits the spot.” She brushed a few crumbs off Luke’s leg.
He put his hand over hers, keeping her from taking her hand off his thigh. He slid closer and caught Holly’s lips with his. Soft, quick pecks turned into something much deeper in a matter of seconds. She wanted to fight him. To stop this insanity, but she couldn’t. Tasting of chocolate and coffee and coaxing her to open her mouth, Luke brought the need hiding in her to the surface.
Before she could stop herself, Holly wrapped her arms around his shoulders and drew him closer. He shifted so he could lower her to her back on the couch. Plunging his hands into her hair, he ran his lips along her neck, and she arched up in unexpected pleasure. The sun-baked, sand-and-salt smell that wafted off Luke’s hair hypnotized Holly. She inhaled the fragrance and let out a little moan when he slid his hand under her shirt. His palm was so hot against her flesh, so human.
Holly pulled Luke’s T-shirt off and stared at the smooth chest and defined abs. Golden perfection. Any woman would be overjoyed to find herself beneath such beauty.
So why am I thinking of Keane, dammit?
She tried pushing the image of Keane in one of his black T-shirts and faded blue jeans out of her mind. Tried erasing that snake tattoo that made both a coil of fear and desire stretch out inside her. Tried denying she wanted the green eyes staring down at her right now to be blue.
Luke reached down to kiss her again, but she put a hand to his chest to stop him. He froze, but she could feel his arousal hard against her thigh.
“I’m sorry, Luke,” she whispered.
“No. I’m sorry.” He slid off her and sat at the end of the couch, his hair slightly mussed and his lips puffy from their kissing. “I thought you wanted to…you know.”
“Maybe I do, but that wouldn’t be fair to you.” She rose to sit and rested her elbows on her knees.
“Are you already involved with someone?”
“No,” she said. “And yes. It’s complicated.”
Please don’t make me explain it.
“Well,” Luke began as he shrugged back into his shirt, “if it gets uncomplicated, you know where to find me.” He offered her a heart-stopping grin and handed her another cookie.
“Really?” She munched on the cookie and puzzled over what had happened. She’d turned a guy down after getting him all primed, and he wasn’t mad. How was that possible?
“Yeah. I’m open to whatever you want. I like you, Holly, but I’m not going to get in the way if you’ve got something else going on. I have to admit that kiss didn’t feel as if you were involved with someone.” He brushed his hand down her arm. “It felt as if you were—”
“Starving.” Holly sighed. She was starving for some attention, some action, some hot, steamy sex.
“I think we could have some fun together, but I’m okay with drinking coffee and eating cookies with you, too, despite Mona’s hopes that I’d carry you off into the sunset or something.”
She mentally reviewed why she had stopped making out with him. Because she was stupid, that’s why. “Jeez, you’re like, perfect, Luke.”
“Remember you said that.” He leaned over and dropped a light kiss on her cheek before taking the tray back into the kitchen.
He offered to walk her back to her parents’ house, but she declined. She needed a couple moments to be alone. To knock some sense into herself. She’d refused what promised to be a night of amazing sex with a genuinely nice guy, because she was pining for…for what? For Keane? How totally impractical.
And yet, totally what she wanted.
People crowded around the pool tables in Raven’s Pub, and the sounds of laughter mixed with the smell of beer and peanuts. At least, that’s what Keane imagined the bar to smell like. In every corner, patrons enjoyed themselves. A group cheered one of their members on as he sank ball after ball into the pockets of a pool table and blew on the tip of his cue stick as if it were a pistol. A man and a woman slow danced near the old-fashioned jukebox, completely oblivious that the song was fast and upbeat. A gang of older gentlemen clad in leather jackets roared over the dirty jokes they swapped.
Everywhere people were living life.
Keane swiveled back to the beer he’d ordered and clamped a hand around the dewy, glass bottle. A vision of holding a goblet of mead back in the days when he was a normal human popped into his head. Back when he and Eliah would celebrate victory with their men. Nowadays, he had nothing to celebrate, no ability to relish the flavor of alcohol, and no one to share his Saturday night.
Drumming his fingers on the beer bottle, he wondered what Holly was doing right now. Was she enjoying the company of her parents? Had she sunned herself on the sandy shore all day? Had the ocean caressed that stunning body he imagined she kept hidden under her clothes?
Did she wear a bikini?
Keane grumbled and wiggled the bottle on the bar. He should have gone to work tonight at the post office. He’d asked for the weekend off thinking with the house—Holly’s house—to himself, he could relax a bit after demon hunting, but the quiet had chased him out. Would he ever enjoy a moment of peace in the eternity he faced?
Turning back to the crowd again, he caught sight of a woman in a tight red dress walking his way. Her chin-length, blond curls captured the dim light in the pub making her hair look like ringlets of gold. Brown eyes heavily shadowed and rimmed with black eyeliner targeted him. She blinked slowly as she neared him. Her walk was feline, all sex and confidence. She reminded Keane of the exotic dancers he’d seen when he’d worked as a bouncer at a nightclub three saves ago. The hours were great with that job, but those dancers sure asked a lot of questions.
“Hiya.” The woman leaned her elbows back on the bar next to him.
He nodded, but remained focused on his beer.
“You going to study that beer all night, love?” Her voice had a faint southern twang to it.
“Oh, the silent type.” She leaned closer to his ear and whispered, “I love the silent type.” She motioned to the bartender who brought her a glass of red wine. She took the first sip, and Keane had to admit her lips looked dangerous. Running her tongue along her bottom lip, she angled her head toward a corner booth. “Wanna join me, Mr. Silent Type?”
What else are you doing?
“Okay.” He picked up his beer more to have something to do with his hands than anything else and followed her.
They settled into the booth, and the woman took another sip of the wine. “I’m Jessica. Who are you?”
“Can’t say we get many Keanes in this area.” She smiled, her eyes so dark he could see himself in them. “Lots of Larrys and Hanks and Freds, but no Keanes. Where are you from?”
“Mr. Silent Type switches to Mr. Vague, I see.” Jessica pursed her lips and tapped a red fingernail on the base of her wine glass.
“You don’t want to know that much about me,” Keane said.
“The police aren’t looking for you, are they?” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Not that I’m aware of, no.”
“That’s all I need to know.”
Something rubbed against his leg under the table, warm and slithering upward. When the movement made its way between his legs and pressed against his crotch, he reached down and caught Jessica’s bare foot.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Playing.” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Don’t you want to play with me, Keane?”
He wanted to play all right, but he’d spent two months picturing Holly as his teammate. Sure, this woman sitting across from him was gorgeous, but too bold for his tastes. He preferred a more demure partner. Someone whose cheeks would pink when he told her she was beautiful. Someone whose ginger-red hair would spill out all around her as he kneeled over her naked body. Someone whose green-gold eyes ever reminded him of the woods surrounding his first home—the one he shared with Eliah.
“I’m not in a playing sort of mood,” he said.
“Well, what kind of a mood are you in?” Jessica wriggled her foot free of Keane’s grip.
“A self-loathing, pathetic mood.” He went ahead and took a swig from his beer. It burned all the way down like liquid fire, and he knew he’d have a wretched stomachache tonight. The last time he’d consumed food or drink he couldn’t stand up straight for hours. His body no longer knew how to digest. It simply didn’t need to.
“That mood is easy enough to cure,” Jessica said.
“You a doctor?” He took a second gulp of the beer. Man, he was going to be sorry.