Note: Raw text; apologies for typos.
Copyright © 2015 by Lauren Gilley
All Rights Reserved
In Hamilton House...
He heard footsteps. Light, clipping footfalls across the boards, moving toward them.
Tango heard them too, and they both braced themselves, reached for their weapons.
Aidan had a hand inside his cut, hand curling around the butt of his Glock when their interloper stepped between the doorjambs and entered the ballroom.
“Shit,” he hissed, letting go of his gun, half-relieved and half-pissed. “Sam, I thought I told you not to come.”
She braced a hand on the grimy doorframe, curled up one leg, and twisted around to scan the sole of her shoe. In her very proper skirt and sweater number, she looked a little like a Disney character, one about to break into song looking at her pose.
“Hmm,” she said, straightening. “Funny. I don’t see a ‘Property of Aidan Teague’ sticker anywhere.” She met his gaze with a tiny smile that managed to be both mocking and sweet. “So I came on over.”
His stomach grabbed, and it had nothing to do with residual hangover sourness. Property of – did she understand the biker implications there? Had the thought ever crossed her mind? The pawprint tattoo, hidden somewhere beneath her clothes, somewhere private on her smooth, unmarked skin that was for his-eyes only. His name scrawled in ink, embedded in her forever.
Probably not. That was probably just his mind spinning crazy scenarios right now.
“Hi, Kev,” she greeted Tango.
“Hi, Sam.” The guy’s smile was genuinely warm for her. “I think you’re a little overdressed for this place.”
She shrugged. “It’s all cheap and machine washable.” She gestured toward her outfit, a move that pulled her sweater tight across her breasts and invited Aidan’s eyes down the length of her. The skirt fit nice, hugging her hips and ass, highlighting the slender shapes of her legs.
You look pretty, Aidan thought. And way too decent to be in this awful place. What came blurting out of his mouth, though, was, “Don’t you have to be at work?”
Her smile widened. “We already had that conversation, remember?”
“Yeah. Right.” He scrubbed a hand over his eyes, his head suddenly pounding.
“So, did you guys find anything yet?” she asked.
“You gonna help us look?”
“That’s why I’m here.”
“Did your sister say what kinda paraphernalia they were handing around? Needles? Baggies? Joints?” Tango asked.
“She said bags,” Sam said, “but with Erin, bless her heart, that could mean anything.” She let out a deep breath and folded her arms, gaze tracking across the room, up the staircases to the gallery. “This place,” she murmured. “It still gives me goosebumps.”
Aidan grinned. “Little miss good girl like you, when were you ever in here before?”
Her eyes were wide and unhappy when they came to his face. “I came to a couple parties, when we were in high school.”
Ah, right. Back when he hadn’t known she existed.
He cleared his throat for no reason. “Well, look, if you’re gonna stick around, stay close. No telling when you might fall through the floor or get attacked by a ghost or some shit.”
She grinned again, faintly. “Fair enough.”
Tango headed down the back hall to search the old study and library. Which left Aidan alone with Sam to look through the ballroom and then the kitchen.
A stifling silence descended between them, broken only by the sounds of their shoes and the creak of the floorboards as they moved slowly across the room, scanning everything.
It struck him, suddenly, as her perfume crawled up his nose and drowned out the mildewed stench of old house: he’d never, not once in his life, felt anything less than confident in front of a woman. When it came to the ladies, silences were not awkward, moments were not fraught with tension, and words never failed him.
But something had changed after his time with Tonya. Something had shifted the evening he went to change Sam’s tire outside Waffle House. And now he felt raw, nervous, green…and terribly, terribly inadequate. Walking alongside this properly-dressed, well-spoken, college-educated sweetheart, he felt nothing short of unworthy.
Tonya had rejected him out of hand, and she was a bitch. Sam? What must she think of him?
“Will you know something suspect if you see it?” she asked, jolting him from his thoughts. As she took a step, she kicked at a crumpled chip bag, a small pile of beer cans rattling. “There’s a lot of trash in here.”
“I’ll know it,” he assured, refocusing, really looking once more.
She nodded, and then said, tiredly, “I didn’t ever think it would be like this.”
“Hmm?” He caught her elbow when she wobbled on her heels, steered her over the threshold into the kitchen.
“Thanks.” Her hand landed over his a moment, warm as it pressed his fingers to her arm. A brief touch, but one that thrilled him in a way wholly unexpected.
Then she retracted, and he released her.
“I didn’t think my sister would ever have these kinds of problems,” she explained. “Look at me.”
He did, taking in every inch of subtle curves and thick blonde braid, the sloped smallness of her nose and bright turquoise of her eyes behind her glasses.
“I’m the stiffest, lamest, un-coolest kid there ever was–”
“You didn’t remember me,” she reminded. “Lame and forgettable tend to go hand-in-hand. Anyway,” she said, when he started to interject again, “Erin’s my full-blooded sister. And we couldn’t be more different. And with my mom working so much and my dad gone…” Her lips compressed, eyes dropping to the chipped tile floor. “Guess it makes me question my mothering skills.” She laughed hollowly.
Again, he was struck with a sense of personal inadequacy. His current drama was the result of him being his usual hot-headed idiot self. Sam’s problems were beyond her control, her best efforts hampered by a brat sister and overwhelmed mother. He spent his life starting fires, and she spent hers trying to put them out.
“That’s the point though,” he said.
“You’re not her mom; you’re her sister. And your mom was busy and your dad had just died, and you were what? Fifteen? You turned out to be probably the most responsible person I know. So it’s got nothing to do with the raising – no matter who’s doing it. Some people just gotta be wild, I think.”
A grin tugged at her lips. “Some people like you?”
“A born fuckup, that’s me. And maybe that’s not your sister, but maybe it is, and it’s not your fault.”
Her smile stretched a little. “Careful. That sounds dangerously like wisdom.”
Her smile made him want to smile, and he…
“Guys,” Tango said, coming into the room on his damn silent, dancer’s feet. “Look what I found.”
A single baggie, with about an ounce of white powder.
“And look,” Tango said, flipping it over, indicating a sticker with his thumb.
It was a round blue sticker, a nothing little dot that didn’t point fingers toward any one dealer, but that Aidan recognized all too well. Fisher had always marked his product with blue dots. And Fisher had been dead for weeks.
“Maybe it’s old,” Aidan said, meeting his best friend’s sharp gaze. “Maybe it’s been here a while.”
“Nah. A section of the table it was on had been wiped clean, recently, no dust. Footprints on the floor. Fresh mud, still wet.”
They shared a silent communication. Aidan’s energy spiked, that initial reaction to any club threat.
“What?” Sam asked. ‘What is it?”
“Coke, probably,” Tango said.
“Ugh,” she groaned. “That’s just perfect.”
“Erin hadn’t had any when I saw her,” Aidan reassured. “I woulda been able to tell.”
“That doesn’t exactly make me feel better.”
“I took pics on my phone,” Tango said. “Did y’all find anything in here?”
A last sweep through the front rooms proved the single baggie was the only find, and some of the tension in Aidan’s shoulders eased as they hit the cracked front sidewalk once more. There were ghosts in that house – his little sister’s lost baby, for one. Being inside its walls made him twitchy.
Sam’s hulking Caprice was parked in the driveway alongside their bikes, and he walked with her toward the driver door, aware that Tango was hanging back, going to his bike and fiddling with his helmet.
“Thanks,” Sam said, when she reached the car and braced a palm on its roof. She turned a look up to him that was almost apologetic. “Again.”
“Just doing my civic duty, ma’am,” he said with a head dip and a fast grin.
She grinned back. “KPD ought to hire you on.” Then sobered. “I’m serious, though. Thank you. Do you think you can do anything about whoever’s dealing?”
He lifted his brows. “You’re onboard with outlaw justice?”
“When it comes to keeping my family safe, absolutely,” she said, without missing a beat.
The wind picked up, pushing against them, reminding him that the season was about to give way to a chilly fall. It caught strands of her pale hair, tugged them loose from her braid, swept them across her face. A strand got stuck in her lip gloss and she brushed it away, still looking up at him.
A dawning awareness overcame him, as she stared up at him. She looked at him – a lot. Usually when he glanced her way, her eyes were already on him. Except for last time, at Waffle House, when she’d refused to make eye contact. Had she looked at him in high school? He tried to remember, but that time of his life was a faded blur, dominated by his obsession with breaking into the club, littered with groupies and cheerleaders.
But Sam was looking at him now, and her lip gloss looked like it might taste good, and her brows tucked together with the slightest show of concern as she waited on him to say something.
He’d never had lovely before.
“It was really good seeing you today,” he told her.
She looked surprised, her smile small. “Good seeing you too.”
When she opened her door and slid inside, he had to catch himself before he said, “Call and let me know you got home safe.” He had no idea where that impulse had come from; he’d never uttered those words in his life. It was something his married brothers said to their wives.
Instead, he said, “Bye,” like an idiot, and she tossed him a wave before she shut her door.
Tango was waiting for him when he turned back to the bikes, fiddling with the strap of his helmet. “So,” he said in a calm voice, “when did that happen?”
“When did what happen?” Aidan snagged his own helmet off his handlebars, popped it on his head.
“When did you start crushing on Sam?”
“What?” Something like panic flickered across his skin. “I’m not. I don’t. Whatever.”
Tango snorted. “Admit it. You’re hot for teacher.”
“Right.” He rolled his eyes. “And I’m the one in denial.”