Page 10

 Kristen Ashley

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The waitress came and slid the mozzarella sticks in front of Emme, Emme murmured, “Thanks, Sarah,” the waitress replied, “No probs,” and was off again.
Emme shoved the plate to the middle of the table and offered, “Help yourself.”
She took one.
Deck took one.
He ate it whole, swallowed and shared, “Elsbeth isn’t happy.”
Her head snapped up from looking at the sticks, she chewed, swallowed and asked, “You’ve talked with Elsbeth?”
“Fucked her in Denver last summer.”
Her mouth dropped open.
Deck didn’t know why he said it and he further wouldn’t know why he kept talking.
Then again, he’d talked open and honest to only three people in his thirty-seven years of life. His dad. Chace Keaton. And Emmanuelle Holmes.
“Did it before I knew she was still hitched. Found out she was still hitched when I heard her talkin’ on the phone to her husband even though she tried to hide it. Told her she was a piece of shit, walked out. Before I did that, I had to get dressed so I listened to her tell me how her life was in the toilet and her husband was an ass**le. Still left. First time I saw her since back when, and, I’ll admit, babe, I looked her up, she took me up on a get-together, chatted me up until we hooked up. Now I hope it’s the last time I ever see her.”
Emme continued staring at him with lips parted. It was cute. It reminded him of the old Emme when they’d talk politics and he’d say something ridiculously conservative in response to something she’d said that was ludicrously liberal and he did it just to get a rise out of her.
She finally got over her surprise and stated, “Okay, her husband being an ass**le, not a surprise. He was that before she married him. He’ll be that forever. He’s probably trying to find ways to be that from beyond the grave, working with gypsies to do it or something.”
Deck felt himself smile as Emme kept talking.
“But, she went for you?”
“Got played, Emme. She told me lettin’ me go was the worst mistake of her life.”
Her shoulders shot straight and she replied instantly, “It was. But cheating on her husband with you without you knowing you were doing it isn’t the way to rectify that mistake.”
And there she showed another something he forgot or buried.
Emme had fire.
It was cute. It had always been cute.
Women like her, it was hard to be cute. She was not small. Elsbeth had been five foot six but teetered around on high heels every day, even in jeans or shorts, so she could be five nine or ten. Emme was five nine; now with high heels she wore with more naturalness than Elsbeth who’d probably put on her first pair at age three, she was six foot at least.
Being tall, curvaceous, intelligent, women like that could be alluring, sexy, a lot of things, but not often cute.
Emme pissed, was cute. When she showed her fire, he always thought so. During a discussion. In defense of a friend.
Fucking adorable.
And no less now.
“Got that right, baby,” he muttered through his grin, her eyes again got that weird light before she hid it, shook her head and reached for a stick.
“She’s whacked,” Emme declared.
“Reckon she always was.”
Her eyes lifted to his, held steady and she whispered, “She always was.”
Deck stared into her eyes and his chest seized at what he saw.
Just turn the dial.
She gave him that kaleidoscope and told him to turn the dial, find more beauty.
And f**k him, she was standing at his door the day after Elsbeth dumped him for a rich man who could give her the life she grew up having and Emme had offered herself to him as friend, or maybe even lover. All he had to do was turn the dial.
And he’d been so f**ked up by Elsbeth, the promise of her, the beauty he thought he’d lost by not doing what she wanted and losing her, that he didn’t see it. He didn’t see he had something even more beautiful right in front of him.
Until nine years later.
Before he could capture that moment, she looked away, shoved more mozzarella stick in her mouth and grabbed her beer to wash it back.
She didn’t want that moment. Maybe back then. Now she had a man. Her mind might not be going there. He might be wrong and it might never have gone there. Not where Deck’s seemed to be going every other second, her sitting across from him. But she had a man and f**king him over like Elsbeth f**ked over her husband by using Deck last summer would never enter her mind.
Which meant the next week would suck for her because, picture proof, McFarland was into her in a big way. He didn’t know how into McFarland she was, but in cases like this, she wouldn’t have a man on a string and keep casting her lures.
She’d be loyal.
But McFarland was also a dick, a moron and a criminal. And he was going down.
He just wasn’t going to take Emme with him.
“Babe,” he called, she put her beer down and looked at him. “You can’t drink too much beer because you gotta sink all your money in your house?”
Again, her eyes lit, this time with excitement. She leaned into her arms again and smiled so huge, her dimple pressed deep.
“Jacob, honey, I bought this house that… is… the… absolute… bomb!”
“Yeah?” he asked.
She nodded.
“Oh yeah. I’m fixing it up. Of course, I have no clue what I’m doing but I did manage to get broadband out there so I have YouTube and I work in a lumberyard… by the way, Dad bought the local lumberyard and I’m running it for him. Which proves what he always said. I could run a ship with a manual just as long as I can convince the men to go about their duties and that I know what I’m doing when I don’t.”
She grinned and the dimple came out. Deck was dealing with how much he liked that dimple when she went on.
“But, anyway, they also tend to know how to plumb stuff and fix stuff and other stuff so I pick their brains if I can’t learn on the Internet. It’s awesome. I’m having so much fun doing it. I can’t wait until it’s done. Which, if the current workload and schedule continue, should be sometime in the next decade and a half.”
She shot back in her seat and her eyes lit even more.
“You have to come up and see it,” she invited.
“I will, babe,” he told her. “Soon,” he promised, though she wouldn’t know just how soon that would be—in other words, that night.