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Pearls

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Pearls

 

Days went by after Beth dared leave her little calling card on the door handle at the warehouse. She liked to think she played it cool on the outside, but inside she paced like a tiger in its cage. A part of her hoped Gang Friend—oh my God she did not even know his name—would ignore the bauble and write her off as a strange if not interesting little detour in his criminal path, but the other part of her desperately wished he would reach out to her again.

On the night she convinced herself it was unhealthy to hope any longer, he appeared like a dark djinn in the doorway of her kitchen, miraculously adept at picking a time when the kids were out with Dean.

“Think you forgot somethin’ at my warehouse, darlin’.”

This time Beth only jumped half out of her skin, and looked up to see the gangster leaning nonchalantly against the doorjamb, the strand of pearls dangling from between his tattooed fingers.

She’d been in the process of pouring herself a drink, and she made herself calmly finish the motion and take a sip of bourbon, proud that her hand only shook a little. The burn of the alcohol sliding down her throat and pooling in her belly gave her a well needed boost of courage. “How kind of you to return them to me.”

He wet his lips in that way he did when he was thinking—but maybe thinking about what she looked like without her clothes on. It should have been repulsive, but Beth couldn’t help but find it extremely gratifying.

He neared closer, gesturing with a lazy twirl of his finger for her to turn around. It felt a little like turning one’s back on a lion, but she did it anyway, relishing the thrill. When the cool nacre of the pearls slid across her throat she couldn’t help but shudder.

Christ, but she was touch starved. It was a little pathetic, but his light caress at the back of her neck as he deftly clasped the necklace made her eyes slide closed. With that task done he did not touch her further, though she could feel the line of his lithe body like a wall of heat at her back, so close. He spoke over her shoulder, his voice a deep rumble just by her ear. “I can’t figure you out, mamma. Why does a housewife like you livin’ in a house like this hold up a grocery store. Are you bored, or you broke?”

Beth let out a shuddering sigh, barely resisting the impulse to lean back against him. “A little bit of both, I guess.”

“Hmm. I gotta say, I thought you’d take this chance to keep some distance between us. I think you realize by now I am not a nice man.”

Beth pressed her lips, thinking on that. “Maybe, though you could have hurt me a dozen times but didn’t. You just scare the bejeezus out of me—and give me that look that makes me feel like I’m not a such a dried up hag of a housewife after all.”

He frowned at the vehemence of the last part of that statement. She could see it in the window—had that look been directed at her she would have been afraid. “Someone said that to you I’ll break his legs, baby.”

A small laugh escaped her that she knew sounded a little crazy. “No, he didn’t say it.”

“Who? Your husband?”

“Yeah.”

“He runnin’ around on you?”

A longer pause ensued. But in for a penny, in for a pound, and Beth admitted, “Yeah.”

“That why I’m here? Little bit of revenge?” Lightly he brushed the hair at the nape of her neck, sending a wonderful shudder down her spine. She couldn’t remember ever being this sensitive to a man’s touch, and it was driving her a little bit insane. “I’m guessing your man ain’t nothin’ like me.”

“Ah…no, he’s not. But actually, I…” Beth bit her lip, and dared to turn around. He stood so close it was impossible not to brush against him, and where they touched even through clothes made her skin burn like fire. She felt the words she’d meant to impart turn to ash on her tongue, her eyes inevitably drawn to his mouth, the way they always were when he stood close. What happened next she reckoned could best be described as gravity. Before she really knew what she was doing she had placed her hands on his chest to steady herself, and stood on tiptoe to press her lips to his.

He kissed her back.

She’d always imagined—yes, she would admit she had thought about it before—that he would be rough. He wasn’t, so much as he was thorough. His mouth claimed hers and at least in that moment there was no question that she belonged to him.

It was Beth who pulled back with a gasp, those blue eyes wide, and he looked down at her with his usual half smile. “You were sayin’?”

“I….”

She could not rally her thoughts, and in the interim he leaned down, kissing her this time. It was even more breathtaking than the first, his tongue sliding against hers and his strong hands on her waist holding her close. Somehow it made her feel simultaneously tied up in knots and like some great pressure finally released from upon her heart.

“You…what?” he teased as his lips strayed to the line of her jaw, ducking down to plant a kiss behind her ear. Involuntarily her hands curled in the front of his shirt, needing something to hold on to.

Little by little, she managed to get it out, giddy and breathless as his mouth explored the sensitive hollow where her neck met her shoulder. “I was…going to say…if you needed us…to go to Canada again…”

He pulled back, his eyes shining with mischief and something darker.

Desire, Beth realized, and she pressed her legs together in an attempt to relieve the distracting ache that had begun throbbing down below. What the hell did she think she was doing?

“You want back in again?”

“That was quite an operation you had going there...” she adlibbed, grasping for words and praying her neurons would start firing correctly soon. He, by contrast, seemed completely unruffled, though he had not yet let go of her. “I was impressed.”

“Hmm. Turns out I’m not the average thug you thought I was, huh?”

“Something like that.”

He looked her over long and slow, and she fought not to squirm beneath that piercing black gaze. Finally he simply answered, “OK.” He released her, and she retreated to lean back on the island, needing something solid to steady the tremor her legs. Her heart made a laudable attempt at beating out of her chest, and she struggled to take a deep breath without looking like she was taking a deep breath.

By the way he smirked at her, she reckoned she failed on all counts.

“I dunno if I can send you back to Big Mike’s though. He didn’t like gettin’ his toe shot off.”

Beth’s expression was pure horror, and her voice came tiny as a mouse’s. “You knew about that?”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I got an earful about it. But I just told him he was lucky he wasn’t dealin’ with me, pullin’ that shit.”

Beth supposed that meant he would have capped the surly Canadian in the knees, or whatever unpleasant thing gangsters did when someone tried to go back on a deal.

“Ruby didn’t mean to, in her defense. She thought the gun was unloaded.”

“Had one in the chamber, yeah? That ain’t good gun safety. Don’t she got kids?” Now he seemed to be enjoying this too much.

“Yes, but I’m sure her husband keeps it out of reach.”

His expression turned dead serious at the drop of a hat. “I hope so. Guns ain’t toys, you know.”

Beth couldn’t help but think about that gold plated monstrosity this man always seemed to pack around. It didn’t look like a toy, maybe, but definitely an accessory.

“So…what now?”

He shrugged. “I’ll call you.”

With an uneasy mixture of disappointment and relief she watched him saunter out the front door, as though he hadn’t just kissed her silly and then let her into his gang.

No big deal, apparently.

She hadn’t even remembered to ask his name.

A small sound borne of frustration and excitement escaped Beth, and she pressed her fingertips to her lips, where his lips had just been.

Surely, she had lost her damn mind, but it was the most fun she’d had in years.