Page 12

 Kristen Ashley

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He heard her low, alluring chuckle, grinned at the phone and continued to make his way through the woods but did it slower, thus quieter. He didn’t want her to hear crunching snow or breaking twigs.
His focus on several things, with ease, he kept it and called up the recent memory of standing outside the opened driver-side door of her Bronco after walking her there when they’d left The Mark, teasing her and making her laugh.
He was not wrong in teasing her. A Ford Bronco was a man’s car, no doubt about it. The fact that her bronze 1995 Bronco had ponytail holders shoved down the gearshift, a glittery butterfly hanging from her rearview mirror that had the words “Free to Fly” in script under it and a marketing shot of Raylan Givens from the TV show Justified lounging back in a chair, one leg bent, one cowboy-booted foot stretched straight out, gun up, cowboy hat tipped low on his brow, this taped to the ceiling of the truck over the rearview mirror was Bronco Sacrilege. Not to mention, the truck was clean as a pin.
Some men, seeing that, might be moved to rip that shit out and take it four wheeling, getting it as muddy, dusty and dirty as humanly possible.
Some men, seeing Emme and knowing that was her truck, might be moved to do that either before or after they turned her over their knee for committing such blasphemy.
Deck was finding he was the latter.
Her words cut into thoughts that were making even Deck lose focus.
“Chace’s wife is pregnant?” she asked.
“Heavily,” he answered.
“That’s good,” she said softly. “I… well, after all that went down, you know, after she was rescued and it made the news she was buried alive and Chace was again in the papers, I went to the library to check her out.”
Chace’s wife, Faye, was the librarian at Carnal Library.
Deck said nothing. He still found it difficult to think about that night. A night he spent with a friend who had endured torture, knowing his woman was buried under dirt. So he held onto the fact that they pulled Faye out of that box breathing, a year later he watched her tie the knot with his boy and now they were building a family of more than them and two serious-as-fuck ugly cats that Faye adored.
“She’s really pretty,” Emme told him.
“Yeah,” Deck agreed, still moving.
“Perfect for Chace.”
“Yeah,” Deck repeated, this time with more feeling.
“Knowing he was around, I thought of, you know, doing an approach, letting him know I lived close. But I didn’t know, what with all that went down, if I should. I mean, not only with Elsbeth and how that might reflect on me but also with Chace.”
His boy had had it rough. And Deck was tight with his boy so Emme would know Elsbeth ending things would not make Elsbeth or anyone around her Chace’s favorite people.
It was again pure Emme she’d have a mind to that. All of it.
“Sure he’ll be glad to reconnect.”
“Good, then maybe he and Faye can come over to your house when I’m there drinking your homemade beer. Though Faye obviously can’t drink it.”
He again grinned at his phone as he saw light coming through the trees. He switched his flashlight off and kept up his approach to her house.
“I’ll arrange that. And soon,” he told her.
“Right, great,” she replied. “Then, I was so busy taking your guff about my girl I forgot to ask you over for dinner tomorrow night.”
Pleased she was asking him to dinner, still, Deck moved toward the light but addressed the more important part of what she said, “A Bronco is not a girl. A Bronco is definitely a guy.”
“Her name is Persephone.”
Deck bit back laughter and returned, “I’ve just re-anointed him Elrod.”
“Persephone,” she shot back.
“You don’t like Elrod, you can pick Cletus.”
“I’m not renaming Persephone!” she snapped, but there was humor in her tone.
“All right, baby,” he muttered, smiling at the phone, keeping to the shadows but moving toward the lit clearing he spied through the trees.
He got silence. Complete silence.
So he called, “Emme?”
There was another moment’s quiet then, “Are you coming over for dinner tomorrow night or what?”
He had work to do, that work important, work that would mean getting her clear of that ass**le.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Good. The yard is open until six but I go in early and leave early. So I can have dinner on the table by six. But I’ll have beer available from five o’clock on.”
“Then my ass’ll be at your door at five o’clock,” he told her, stopped in the shadow of a tree and trained his eyes on her house.
His back shot straight and he stared.
It wasn’t a money pit.
It was what Chace described it as being.
A nightmare.
He could see under all that dilapidated mess that there was beauty. Amazing beauty.
But she had a long way to go before she got it back to that state. This wasn’t only because it was a nightmare. This was also because it was huge.
As his eyes moved, he decided, first and foremost, his girl needed new insulation. They’d had sun that day, it was cold but Colorado sun could burn snow off a roof. But there were tall pines all around the house, short days in February, limited sun and the shade those trees would bring would mean the snow they had yesterday should still be on her roof—if her insulation was good.
The snow was gone.
Her insulation was shit and she was losing heat.
She was also probably losing heat through some of those boarded windows.
“Five o’clock,” she said in his ear, again taking his attention. “Now, I’ll expect you to get on your knees before going to bed tonight and pray my oven works tomorrow or we’re going to be reduced to ordering pizza.”
Looking at her house, if the inside was anything like the outside, Deck had no doubt every time she turned on her oven, it was a crapshoot.
“I’m multi-tasking, talking to God right now,” he told her and got another chuckle.
“Good, honey. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
“See you then, babe.”
“ ’Bye.”
He disconnected, his eyes scanning her house, automatically prioritizing. Insulation. Inspection of the roof, probably reshingling. Definitely windows. Double-paned but wood framed so they would work with the look of the house but hold in the heat.