Page 7

 Kristen Ashley

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He’d had it for nine years. Took it everywhere with him. Treated it with care because what it held was fragile and for other reasons besides.
He didn’t study it. Instead, he picked it up, flipped open the lid and carefully pulled out what was inside.
A long triangular tube of exquisite stained glass leading to five disks also made of stained glass.
A kaleidoscope.
If you put it to your eye, aimed it at a light and dialed the disks, an array of beauty so stark it made your breath stop could be found at the other end.
You think you lost beauty, Jacob, but you didn’t. That dimple. That f**king dimple. This time coming out under sad eyes before she’d whispered, Just turn the dial.
Deck pulled in a breath. He reached up, flipped the lid shut on the box and carefully set the kaleidoscope on top, displayed now, not hidden as it had been for nine years.
After he did that, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his phone and made the call.
It rang twice in his ear before, “Nightingale.”
“Lee, you want me to owe you a marker?” Deck asked Lee Nightingale, owner and top dog badass of Nightingale Investigations, the premier private investigations agency in Denver.
There was only a moment’s hesitation before Lee invited, “Talk to me.”
Deck talked and he said nothing about Dane McFarland and a lot about Emmanuelle Holmes.
When he stopped talking, Lee stated, “We’re on it.”
They disconnected. Deck moved back to his dining room table and looked down at pictures of Emme that did not sync with memories.
Then he looked to his watch, gathered up the files, securely stowed them in his safe and took off to meet her for dinner.
Chapter Three
Listen to Your Gut
Deck sat in the far corner booth of The Mark, back to the wall, eyes to the doors so he saw her come in.
She hadn’t changed clothes, and watching her spot him immediately, make motions and speak to the hostess as she made her way to him, he saw he’d been wrong at first glance. She hadn’t taken off thirty pounds. Twenty, tops. Her h*ps were still full, a lot narrower than he suspected they used to be back when she’d covered up with huge sweaters or shirts that hung low, loose-fitting pants that made her look bulky, shapeless dresses or skirts that did nothing to attract attention to her figure.
He watched her pull off her cap, her hair flew out with it and she ran her fingers through it, that heavy bang falling into her eyes immediately.
Watching it, he noted her hair was the kind of hair a man wanted spread across his pillow. That thick bang shading her eyes, catching her eyelashes, making a man want to lift his hand and brush it away—for her, and so he could feel it on his fingers.
And those eyes. Her hair had never been glossy like it was now, dark, but not glossy. But with that gleam, those highlights, that bang, those eyes were f**k-me eyes.
No, they were f**k-me-all-night-and-do-it-hard eyes.
Fuck, he was thinking this shit about Emme.
He needed to get her shot of McFarland. He just, at that moment, was not going to think about why he needed that so badly.
He buried those thoughts, slid out of the booth and gave her a grin.
She moved right into him and gave him a hug.
Now that was pure Emme, and he wondered why he hadn’t remembered that before.
She touched and she liked to be touched so McFarland touching her and her allowing it was not outside her norm.
Even so, the way McFarland did it was still not right.
Emme wasn’t social and there were few she was tight with. She was mostly a loner. But if she liked you, she hugged. She touched. She grabbed your arm or hand. She sat close with her knee touching yours and leaned in, holding your eyes and doing it steady. Giving you her full attention. Making you think what you had to say was important and she really wanted to hear it.
Elsbeth ended up hating that as she did a lot about Deck and Emme. She also ended up sharing it and demanding he stop doing it. Something he did that he regretted, since Emme felt it, he saw it. He also saw the hurt it caused her and he didn’t like that. But he was in love with Elsbeth and he was young. He reckoned you did shit like that for your woman so she wasn’t uncomfortable and you could avoid fights about stupid shit your woman was uncomfortable about.
The problem was, Emme was never stupid shit.
At first, Elsbeth knew, with her extreme beauty, Emme was no competition. But she wasn’t dumb either. She knew for some men, it might start with the way you look but it ended with the way you were.
Emme was smart. She watched the news. She went to see movies. She read a shitload of books. She gave a f**k about what was happening around her, in her community, and she got involved.
She traveled too. She had a strict rule. One week vacation a year, relaxation on a beach. The other week of vacation, adventure. Going somewhere she could learn, see, taste, experience.
Therefore, since Deck traveled a lot too, and paid attention to what was going on in the world, Emme and Deck talked as well as argued all the time about politics, current events, historical events, whatever. The good-natured arguing that got your heart pumping, made you think, made you listen, made you feel just that bit more alive.
Elsbeth couldn’t do that. Elsbeth knew Deck had an off-the-charts IQ. Elsbeth knew she could never challenge his mind. She could suck his c**k great, ride it like a pro and look phenomenal doing both, but there was an important part of his body she’d never challenge, never pleasure, and she grew to know it.
Looking back, Deck understood she also grew to know that Emme could.
And being a woman, she probably saw what Emme was now under what Emme was then and she didn’t want Deck to see it.
He’d learned, after last summer when he saw Elsbeth for the first time in years, doing it by design, that what he thought he had and lost in Elsbeth was not what he’d built it up to be after it ended.
It wasn’t what Chace had after living through years of hell then finding the woman who was made for him.
It wasn’t a turn of a dial on an extraordinary kaleidoscope to find something beautiful.
It was him being young, stupid and led around by his dick.
He lost Emme through that even before he really lost her after he lost Elsbeth. It hurt her. But she never said a word. Not before. Not after. She took him as he came.
He took himself away.
And for him, she’d allowed that.
Ending his thoughts but not their embrace, Emme pulled away but slid her hands up his chest and left them there, tipping her head back and grinning at him.
“I’m so glad I ran into you,” she told him. No shades, he could see her exotic eyes lit and happy. “I’ve been looking forward to this all afternoon. I almost called you and asked if you could meet at five thirty, that’s how much I was looking forward to it.”