Authors: Dee Tenorio
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
For Barbara Alvarado Hernandez: Without you, there literally aren’t words.
For Alan: You are the reason there are heroes.
For Moo: For making my dreams real.
For Pet, Rae, X, Anna & Wax: For putting up with more than you should have longer than anyone else would have. You deserve medals.
You are the reason I never quit.
Special thanks to Angie, for clearing the chaff.
“If I asked you to have sex with me, would you do it?”
Not precisely the question Burke Halifax expected to hear when opening his door at three-thirty in the morning. Nor did he expect to find CB Bishop there, looking like a drowned rat.
“CB?” He scrubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand. “What the hell are you talking about?”
She swayed, the yellow light of the outside lamp turning her sallow while wind and water pelted her from all sides. “Remember when you used to call me Cass?”
She woke me to ask that dumb-ass question?
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Not enough.” Her shoulders hunched in the pouring rain. She had to be dead drunk not to come under the eaves. She lifted her chin—
God, I hate when she does that
—asking louder, “Do you remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. It’s been years. No one calls you Cass any more.” Not if they wanted to keep their arms. Cassandra Bishop had a left hook like Mike Tyson when she was good and riled. He should know, he taught her when she was eight.
“You never answered my first question,” she accused, apparently satisfied with his grudging answer.
She damn well better be. She wasn’t getting another one. “Are you coming in from the rain or what?”
“You wouldn’t, would you?”
“My name is
Burke’s temper rose. She woke him out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night to argue with him in the rain about whether or not he was in the mood? Hell, no, he wasn’t in the mood and he told her as much.
She nodded without emotion. “Thanks. S’what I thought.” She turned around, leaving as mysteriously as she arrived.
Burke slammed the door, intent on heading back to his warm bed and his dream of a cool blonde. Two steps later, he woke up enough to realize he’d let a drunken woman go out into a rainstorm to drive herself home. Swearing, he went back to the front door, rushing out in boxers and bare feet. When she was sober, he had every intention of killing her.
CB’s car—a wicked black ‘82 Z-28 he helped her restore himself—was nowhere to be found. Just as he was imagining all their hard work wrapped around a phone poll, he saw her trudging under a street lamp half a block away.
One thing he could say about a drunk CB, she didn’t move quick.
Burke, now as drenched as she was, ran down the street at full speed to catch her. She didn’t respond to him at all. He grabbed her arm, spinning her around. She followed his lead, letting him haul her back to his house. It was a fairly clinical twenty minutes after that, if one discounted all the swearing Burke did while dragging her into his bathroom, stripping her down to her cotton underwear and shoving her head under warm water while she screamed. Satisfied she was as unhappy as he was, he turned the water hot to get the blue tinge off her and held her there no matter how much she fought him.
A man needed a bit of restitution after what she’d done.
He wrapped her in a towel, carried her to his guest room and dumped her there on the bed with about as much care as he’d give to a sack of potatoes. If she wanted blankets, she damn well had to get under them herself. He’d done all he was required as a friend. Still in a huff, Burke dried off, more than ready to go back to his bed, his blankets and his dreamy blonde. If CB wanted to stay alive in the morning, the blonde damn well better still be there.
Cass didn’t feel like herself when she woke up. She felt like a smashed bug. Fitting, since she’d intended to get smashed, but at the time she’d been hoping to die from it.
The day before had gone reasonably well. Sunny overhead, a cool enough breeze to keep the windows on her landscaping truck down and hum along to the music on the radio while she ran errands. The last stop before heading back to the nursery was The One Stop Bar & Grille to give an estimate. It should have been an easy twenty minutes of work and possibly a sandwich. Instead…well, things got bizarre.
First, she needed to meet Henry, the manager, inside instead of along the perimeter where he wanted her to redesign. No big deal. Until she saw Luke Hanson walk in and
The Twilight Zone
music began playing in her head. Handsome, confident, swaggering ex-fiancé, Luke. Not-seen-in-more-than-a-year Luke. Hoped-never-to-see-again Luke. More correctly Luke and his
. The date wasn’t the problem; Cass even expected a blonde if this horrible moment were ever to happen.
She never expected a woman.
That was about when she decided to get drunk enough to forget the entire day. Unfortunately, she was still a few kegs shy of oblivion. Feeling the cold air on her skin, she realized she was a few garments shy of dressed as well.
Peeling open an eye with one almost cooperative hand, she looked around the room. From the warm tan paint and the portrait of a cowboy with his pony on the wall, Cass realized she was in the only safe place in Rancho de Cielo—Burke’s house. How she got here was a mystery, but not one of any importance. No one would be stupid enough to take her to her father’s house in her condition. Eddie Bishop might not pay attention to much, but he’d yell the rafters down if she had to be poured into her bed. The same could be said of Burke, however she had the advantage of ignoring him with little to no guilt. That is, until he opened the door to the bedroom, piercing sunlight at his back. She let her eyelid snap into place and groaned.
“Mind telling me what you thought you were doing last night?”
Cass flinched at the familiar sound of his gravelly voice. Some men sounded smoky, some men spoke rough. Burke spoke with a lazy rumble and grind she could only compare to mountain lions. This morning, he might well have been a garbage disposal ripping up quarters.
“What’s the matter,
? Am I talking too loud?”
Cass rolled over, belatedly realizing she was still above the blankets. She pulled the fabric away to dig out the pillow and covered her head. The movement hurt something awful, but at least she couldn’t hear him anymore. “Go away.”
He lifted the corner of the pillow high enough to shed light on her face. “What
? Couldn’t hear you.”
“Go away!” Hearing her own voice was worse than hearing his, but she’d do it. Even pain was better than Burke in lecture mode.
“I would, but I thought you might want some breakfast.”
Something smelled revoltingly like fried eggs, way too close to her face for the future integrity of Burke’s pristine white sheets.
“Are you wearing your boots?” she asked, slowly and softly, hoping the impact inside her skull wouldn’t be horrific. It was.
“Why?” Good. He
“Because if you don’t take it away, I’m going to enjoy throwing up all over them.” Might even do it twice.
“In that case, no, I’m not.”
Bastard. “Leave me alone, Burke.” Why wouldn’t he let her die in peace? She wanted to whimper, she wanted to scream. She settled for under-the-pillow dignity.
“I would, CB, I really would…but it’s not often I see a woman in cotton undies anymore. I can’t remember the last time I saw a set of grannies in that shade of military gray. I think it’s starting to do something for me.”
Both her eyes opened now. Sitting up faster than was wise, she gathered the dark blue towel from its tangle beneath her belly and clutched it in front of her. Stomach lurching, hair probably on end, God only knew what kind of blotches on her face, Cass knew she was a human rendition of ugly at its worst. All the while he stood there, perfectly pressed in a blue chambray shirt and jeans neat enough to have never been worn before. God hated her. No other explanation available. Why else would He give her a friend as put together as Burke Halifax? She refused outright to give him any extra points for combed hair that actually looked combed, his wide brilliant smile or devil-sexy face. No one got points for good genetics.
“I hate you,” she growled, which only seemed to amuse him more.
“Funny.” He dared to step closer, shifting the tray against his hip. “Last night you were trying to have sex with me.”
She eyed him, glad she was hung over enough to be truly baleful. “How much did
He laughed, probably because he knew it made her head reverberate. “Not enough to give you what you wanted.”
Cass knew he didn’t say it to be cruel. She was over-sensitive right now. Still, it hurt and his blue eyes flickered when he realized it. She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, hoping to make him think it was just her face being contrary instead of a real emotion.
He must have bought it because he shrugged and put the tray on the bureau before sitting next to her. Clean transition from brother-like friend to father-like friend completed. She rolled her eyes and prepared for the lecture. Well, she would have. They were too dry to roll.
“You haven’t pulled a stunt like this since your freshman year in college. What happened last night?”
Lying wouldn’t get her anywhere. It was probably all over their tiny town already. The only thing faster than the gossip in Rancho Del Cielo was lightening. Even then, it was a close race.
She let the air out of her lungs. “I ran into Luke.”
His expression softened and understanding flooded his eyes. Except, he didn’t understand. He couldn’t. “Aw, Cassie.”
She didn’t want his pity, he only called her Cassie when he felt bad for her. Usually when Luke was involved. “It doesn’t matter.”
It didn’t. Luke was the past. A mistake. A long, miserable, life-staining mistake.
“I know how you felt about the guy, but it’s been nearly a year since he…” Burke let the sentence trail away. Everyone in town did that. Referred to her embarrassment instead of directly discussing it, like it would be any easier to deal with that way.
“Since he called off the wedding,” she stated clearly, watching him wince at the bluntness. “I’m not a little kid. You can say it in front of me.”
“Well if you’re not a kid, you should know you can’t go getting this upset every time you see him.”
“I don’t plan to,” she snapped. “You’re not my father, Burke. Stop trying to teach me dating etiquette. It’s not like you know the first thing about dealing with relationships. The longest one you ever had was one that time you gave the girl a ride home.”
He gave her a glare and harrumphed. Burke for
That’s not the point.
“It doesn’t matter,” she grumbled again, looking down at her hands and trying to smooth the towel over more of her body. She didn’t know why. Burke wasn’t looking at her body. He was staring at her face, waiting for elaboration. He never did like facing a situation without all the details, important or not. “I figure Luke’s cleared out of town. I won’t be seeing him again.”
“Yeah, why not?” He reached for the coffee mug off and took a sip.
“Because after I broke his nose I told him to get out and never come back.”
He sputtered, barely catching himself from sending a spray across his beloved white Berber carpet. His eyes really were a vivid blue, when they were this wide and she could get such a good look at them.
He wiped his mouth with a slash of his hand. “You
“I broke his nose.” She looked around the room. Anything but look directly at him. Wasn’t that some kind of rule at the zoo?
Don’t make eye contact with the rampaging animal.
“Where are my clothes?”
did you break his nose?”
“I couldn’t hit the blonde he was with. What is it with you men and your cute little blondes?” Cass stretched out a leg to see if the ground was stable enough to stand up on.