Authors: Christine DePetrillo
Tags: #romance, paranormal,spicy
“But you’re stuck with me, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do that’s so goddamned important.” She sniffled and cleared her throat. Some anger had woven itself into the sadness.
“First of all, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m
with you. That word indicates that I’d rather be somewhere else. At the moment, that’s not the case.” He took his gaze off the empty road again to look at Holly, his hand still over hers in her lap. “Secondly, when the time is right for you to do what you’re meant to do, you’ll know. You’ll feel it. I’ll feel it.”
“You’ll feel it?”
“Yes. I get a sense right before I’m about to be released from my current save.” Why did that thought ruin his happy mood? Being released from Holly was not going to come with its usual relief.
“Well, school starts in two weeks,” she said. “I’ll bet that’s where I’ll find something important to do. Teaching is the only thing I know how to do. That and digging graves, I guess.”
Keane didn’t care for the somber atmosphere that had seeped into the vehicle. He searched his mind for something to say to change the tone, but all he could focus on was the feel of her slender fingers under his hand. She hadn’t moved, and he wasn’t planning on moving either. If she could tolerate that smallest of touches, he was going to take it.
What else might she tolerate?
They rode on in silence until she flicked on the radio to fill the void. He was amazed at how many songs about love could be played in a single car ride. She didn’t reach over and change the channel though. In fact, she whistled along with a few of the songs.
Finally, she directed him to park in front of a modern beach house complete with a hexagonal sunroom off the side. He shut the engine and gazed beyond the house to the ocean.
“I’ll run in and grab my purse. It’s late so I should be quick.” She put her hand on the door pull.
“Okay. I’ll scoot down so no one will see me.” He slouched in the driver’s seat.
“I wish…” she started. She shook her head and stared at the beach house. “Never mind. I’ll be out in a second.”
She tossed open the door and jogged to the sunroom. Lights flooded on outside at her movement. Keane edged up in his seat a bit so he could watch what was going on. A woman came to the door of the sunroom and threw her arms around Holly. The lights in the sunroom illuminated the two women, and he felt as if he were watching television. He tried to look away, to give them some privacy, but that one embrace which appeared to go on forever, had him transfixed. Eliah had been the last one to give Keane a hug like that, so long ago.
Holly and her mother went into the main house leaving him to wonder what the inside looked like, what Holly’s mother’s voice sounded like, and what sitting at a kitchen table with them over a cup of tea might be like.
“Man, what is wrong with you?” He opened the window and rested his head on the steering wheel. He took in a deep breath through his nose hoping to get some whiff of salted air, but there was nothing. Waves beat against the shore nearby with an almost tribal rhythm, and he was reminded of the deer-hide drum Eliah had made. He used to play it when they were celebrating a victory and make up crazy songs that told of the battle. Eliah had a fantastic singing voice, and his quick wit always made the songs entertaining.
What would Holly have thought of Eliah? She probably would have enjoyed him. Visions of introducing the two of them flashed into Keane’s mind. He was actually about to laugh at the way Eliah would have given him the eye to indicate Holly was magnificent when footsteps outside the car made him look out the open driver’s side window.
“You planning on stealing this car?” an older gentleman wearing checkered shorts and a polo shirt asked. Even in the dark, Keane could see a familiar green-gold in the man’s eyes and remnants of reddish hair in his otherwise white beard.
“You’re Holly’s father.” Panic shot through every molecule of Keane’s body.
“I know that,” the man said. “What I want to know is who are you?”
Keane’s mind split in a thousand directions as he ran through his options. He could go with the car thief action, but he’d have to get nasty and maybe drive off without Holly. He didn’t want to do that. He could tell Holly’s father the truth, but knew Holly would not approve, and since she’d come back from visiting this beach house, she didn’t seem to loathe him as much. He didn’t want to ruin that.
He ticked through numerous options until he finally said, “I’m Keane Malson, a friend of Holly’s.”
“Well, okay then. She mad at you or something?” Holly’s father narrowed his eyes at Keane as he slipped his hands into the pockets of his shorts.
“No, sir. I don’t think so.”
“Then why are you out here when Holly’s in there?” He pointed to the beach house.
“Holly said she’d just be a minute.”
“Women are never ‘just a minute’ anywhere, buddy.” Holly’s father chuckled and stuck his hand into the car. “Doctor Charlie Brimmer.”
Keane stared at Charlie’s hand for a few seconds before shaking it. This was bad. Holly was not going to like this, but it wasn’t his fault. How was he supposed to know Holly’s father would be out and about?
“C’mon inside, Keane. I’m sure Holly’s mother would like to meet you, too.”
Charlie reached in and unlocked the car door. He opened it, and again, Keane stared, not sure what to do.
“C’mon, Keane. I won’t hurt ya. Holly’s mother is the one that bites.” Charlie smirked, and Keane slid out of the driver’s seat. “Thatta boy. So how do you know my Holly?”
I brought her back to life after she died and have been living with her since then.
“We met a few months ago.” He followed Charlie up the steps to the sunroom entrance.
“No offense, son, but Holly was here all weekend and she didn’t mention you.” Charlie turned to face Keane before opening the door. “Why is that?”
“We’re…just friends, sir.”
Charlie let out a groan. “Not the ‘just friends’ routine. Sorry, kid. You obviously want more than that, right? I mean, my Holly is intelligent, kind, beautiful.”
“Yes, sir. She’s all of those things and more, but we’re just friends.” He stepped into the sunroom behind Charlie.
“So you’ve said.” Charlie grinned. “But you’ve got the look in your eye. Can’t hide it from me.”
Keane glanced back to the car. He was quick. He could run down the driveway, hop in the car, and peel down the road before Holly or her mother ever saw him. Sure, he’d be leaving Holly stranded, but her parents could give her a ride home or maybe she’d stay here for the night. He could meet her somewhere and bring her home tomorrow. That could be a workable plan.
As he backed toward the car, a woman’s voice reeled him forward.
“Who’s this, Charlie?”
A woman with dark hair leaned in the doorway between the sunroom and main house. She had a figure like Holly’s, slim and fit, but her coloring was much darker. Italian maybe. Holly definitely took after her father in coloring.
“Mona, this is Holly’s friend, Keane,” Charlie said. “She left him in the car, poor guy.”
Keane shook hands with Mona, but didn’t see Holly anywhere.
“Holly Berry,” Mona called over her shoulder, “didn’t we teach you better manners than that?”
“What?” Holly’s voice echoed from somewhere upstairs in the house.
Keane held his breath as footsteps sounded on the stairs. Holly would be downstairs within seconds. He’d be making big trouble for her within seconds. He couldn’t help but think of how he’d gotten the family of a save killed for inserting himself into their lives. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Not with Holly’s family.
Holly skidded to a stop in the kitchen, falling right out of one of her sandals. She fumbled around to slip her foot back into it, then turned wild eyes toward Keane.
“You don’t leave attractive men in the car waiting for you, young lady.” Mona waggled a finger at her daughter, and Keane couldn’t stop the small grin from forming on his lips.
“I…uhh…umm…” Holly stammered, her stunned gaze never leaving Keane’s. She looked like a teenager who had been caught with a boy in her bedroom.
“What we do is invite them in for tea.” Mona motioned for Keane to step into the kitchen with her.
He looked to Holly who nodded mechanically, her lips slightly parted. Even shocked, she was gorgeous. Maybe even more so. Keane was losing the regret and fear he’d had over Holly’s father finding him. Losing both pretty damn fast.
Holly couldn’t breathe. Her worst nightmare had come true. Keane stood in her mother’s kitchen. Yes, he was absolutely delicious in his dark blue jeans and black T-shirt, his snake tattoo running along the rim of his sleeve, but he shouldn’t be here. He was so tall compared to her parents, and he filled the small kitchen. At least he appeared to. She was sure the walls were pushing in toward her as the sunburst-shaped clock above the kitchen window ticked the minutes away.
“Why didn’t you say you had him tucked away, Holly Berry?” Mona filled the tea kettle with water and placed it on the stove. “I wouldn’t have pushed Lifeguard Luke on you if I’d known about Keane.” Mona turned to face him and put a hand to her mouth. “Oh, my. Did Holly tell you about Luke?” She backed Keane into one of the kitchen chairs. Holly found it amusing that her mother could push someone of his size around as if he were a ten-year-old boy. “All my fault, okay? Holly had nothing to do with reeling him in. I don’t think she’s ever reeled a man in.”
“Thanks, Mother.” She sat at the table next to Keane not sure what else to do. If they steered clear of questions, they might be all right. She rubbed the back of her neck and was disgusted to find a layer of sweat under her hair.
Mona waved a hand. “You know what I mean, dear. You don’t pay attention to things like that.” She pointed to Charlie and then to one of the remaining chairs around the table. He obediently took a seat. How did her father tolerate her mother?
“Keane and I are just friends,” Holly said. Maybe she could cut out the awkwardness before it got out of hand.
“Funny,” Charlie said. “That’s what Keane said outside.”
“It’s true, sir.” Keane accepted the mug of tea Mona passed to him. After placing it on the table a little distance away, he rubbed his stomach and shot a look at Holly, one that said, I’m so not drinking this.
Despite the situation, Holly gave him a quick smile.
“See? Right there.” Charlie volleyed a finger between the two of them.
“What are you talking about, Dad?”
“The way you smiled at him. Says it all.” Charlie shook his head. “You might think you’re just friends.” He dug in his pocket and slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the table. “But I’ll bet you twenty bucks, you end up more than friends.”
“Knock it off, Dad.” She pushed the money back toward her father.
“Note how she neither accepts nor rejects the bet, Mona.” Charlie sat back and folded his arms across his chest. Holly had never seen her father so damn sure of himself. She risked a peek at Keane, but couldn’t interpret the expression on his face.
Mona swatted her husband on the shoulder. “Don’t play casino with your daughter’s love life, Charlie.” She winked at Keane. “Not in front of a guest.”
“He won’t be a guest for long,” Charlie said.
“Dad.” Holly’s teeth ground together as she spoke.
Mona set a plate of chocolate chip cookies in the middle of the table. Holly automatically reached for one figuring if her mouth was always full, she couldn’t say anything that might reveal too much. Apparently, her parents could misconstrue a mere smile.
“So, Keane,” Mona said as she took a seat at the table, “how did you meet our Holly?”
“We met—” Holly began.
“I asked Keane, honey,” Mona interrupted. Her mother’s eyes zeroed in on him. Did she know something was not quite right here? Holly’s hearing got that tinny quality that happens right before passing out.
Keane looked at her, and the panic that had been in his eyes when her father brought him inside was gone.
How could this be?
“I met Holly on the road. She had some car trouble.”
He made the truth sound so reasonable. Holly relaxed her clenched toes in her sandals and sipped her tea, her eyes darting from her father to her mother.
“So you came to her rescue?” Mona put a hand over her heart, but didn’t give Keane a chance to answer. “Oh, Charlie, isn’t that sweet?”
Holly’s father nodded. “Always nice to start out as the hero, right, Keane?”
“Yes, sir.” Keane put his hand on the mug as if he were going to drink it, but traced the handle instead.
“What kind of car trouble did Holly have?” Charlie asked.
“Flat tire,” Keane said.
“Dead engine,” Holly said at the same time.
Keane’s eyes widened and a little unease flickered on his face.
. Holly didn’t want to be the only one who was sweating it out.
“You must be thinking of some other chick you rescued with a flat tire,” she said.
“I taught Holly how to change a flat the day she got her license,” Charlie said. “She’s good at it, too.” He patted Holly’s hand.
Keane slowly nodded. “You were the engine. That’s right. My mistake.”
“Exactly how many times have you ridden in on your white horse, Keane?” Mona asked.
“Actually, it’s a black motorcycle,” Holly said.
“Oh, no,” Mona said. “Don’t mention motorcycles.”
Charlie leaned forward over his tea. “What do you have, Keane?”
“Here we go.” Mona groaned and picked up a cookie. She nibbled the edges as she shook her head.
“What’s the matter?” Holly asked.
“Your father has it in his head that he’s going to buy a motorcycle. Try to recapture his youth or some such nonsense.” Mona finished the cookie and rolled her eyes. “He’s going to get himself killed if you ask me.”
“I will not get myself killed, Mona. I used to have a bike back in the day. I know how to ride and will follow all the safety rules I didn’t follow when I was in my twenties.” He raised his mug to Keane’s, and Keane tapped his against Charlie’s in an official man salute. “Besides, I know all the best doctors at Wilson Memorial Hospital. Fine folks that I’ve worked with over the years. They’ll patch me back up if I crash.”