Authors: C.L. Stockton
“Yes, I know about the pendant.” I didn’t like the appraising look he gave me. “It belongs to me now.”
“It does not.” My mind was feverishly working. What exactly did the pendant mean? What did it mean that my father had sent me instead of coming
“Come now, Miss Summerlynn. You do not want to make me angry.” The man’s features were tight with anger or tension, I couldn’t tell which.
“I am the one you should worry about angering.” I raised my chin. I would not give into the shaking of my knees or the fear rippling through me. This man, if he so chose, could force me to give him the pendant. He might even enjoy it.
“Is that so?” The man raised an eyebrow at me.
“I don’t believe you.”
My laugh came out surprisingly steady. “More fool you. “ I tossed my head for effect. “You are forgetting I am my father’s daughter.” I hadn’t missed his reaction to the mention of my father. He became still and watchful, almost careful in what he said and did. Perhaps I could use that to my advantage.
His eyes narrowed. “You’re bluffing. You know nothing.”
“I have the pendant.” Which proved I must know something. I probably should figure that out before using it as bait, but I didn’t have time.
“Which now goes to me.” He extended his hand. When I moved backward, toward the door, he continued, “You do not want me to take it.”
I considered my options. The door happened to be within reach, but I thought I heard it lock earlier. By the time I unlocked it, the man would already have his hands on me. Maybe he only wanted the pendant, maybe he wanted more. I didn’t want to find out.
But I couldn’t give him the pendant. Obviously it figured centrally to whatever my father was involved in. Besides, it didn’t feel right to hand it over to the man in front of me. Something was off about him.
I straightened my shoulders and stiffened my spine. Without any clear directive, the pendant stayed with me. How did I get out of this room with both my life and the pendant?
The time for discussion was over. In two steps, I was at the door, the key turning easily to unlock it. I nearly had the door open before I was pulled backwards, out of the threshold and slammed into the wall beside it.
The stranger’s hand was tight upon my throat and I felt my lungs struggling to expand. Too intent on choking me, he never noticed the person entering the still unlocked door. It wasn’t until the man had been thrown off me and onto the ground that I recognized the newest participant in our little discussion.
Colton shouldn’t be here. His blonde hair was mussed, and a streak of dirt adorned his left cheekbone. He looked rather irritated. Why was he here? Catching the look in his eyes, I suddenly decided I was probably safer locked in the room with my father’s contact than with Colton in the mood he was in.
Once I regained my breath, I began “I can explain—"only no one heard me. Colton and the man on the ground were locked in an intense stare. They knew each other, and furthermore, didn’t like the other.
Leaning forward and speaking in a low tone, the man sneered, “I should’ve known you’d be involved.”
Colton was just as bad. Looking as though the words were the least of what he wished to say, he said, “Considering what you’re after, you’re lucky I didn’t kill you on sight.”
He looked Colton up and down. “You haven’t the guts to murder me in the midst of a bakery.”
Eyes hardening, Colton returned, “Haven’t I?”
“Not very smart, considering how it would reflect on your father. Murdering me wouldn’t look too good right now.”
“Tempting, but I didn’t come to murder you.” Colton paused, “I hope you are more careful now than to just let strange people find you.”
The man’s eyes flicked to me. “Ah, but she is much prettier than the usual.” He looked at Colton. “You, not so much.”
“This is no joking matter.”
“Lighten up. Nothing will happen until we receive your reply.”
“I have your word on that?”
The man nodded. “For what it’s worth.”
“Then we won’t trouble you further.” Taking my elbow, Colton returned the nod and pulled me back through the bakery and onto the street.
In fact, he didn’t stop pulling until we reached the general store at the corner of
Bottomsleigh. On the verge of complaining at the tightness of his grip on my arm, my words were stolen by the speed and strength of his movements as he stepped off the sidewalk and rammed my back hard against a nearby building.
The wooden planks of the building dug into my already recently bruised back but I was more distracted that he was using his body to effectively pin me in place. One hand forced my chin up so I had to meet his gaze, while the other spread against the siding beside my head. I couldn’t move away.
This was entirely different than the way the stranger had held me against the bakery wall. An electric awareness instantly sprang between us, and I wondered if he was as breathless as I. I caught a scent of cheap smelling soap, and noticed his eyes were darker around the pupils than they were at the edges. He was extremely close and I found the feel of his chest against mine and the brush of his knee between my legs more potent than any other thought at the moment.
“I am not certain whether to strangle or shoot you.” His eyes were the bright blue of flame when it hits wood. I knew he didn’t expect a response, so I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to irritate him any more than he already was. “You could have been killed!”
“I am in no danger.” A lie, but I wasn’t going to tell Colton that. He’d only use it to force me to promise I’d stay with him. As far as I was concerned, I obeyed my father. The fact I’d done what he asked and had nothing to show for it didn’t matter.
His grip on my chin tightened. “Tell me what you learned. And do not flutter your eyelashes or play coy. I know you met with your father’s contact. What did he say? Hell, what did you say?”
I decided not to answer. Nothing I thought at the moment was nice.
“Answer me,” he demanded, lightly tapping my head against the wall.
Stubbornly, I glared back. He would learn nothing from me.
“Fine. I hate to resort to such tactics, but you leave me no choice.” So saying, he readjusted the angle of my head, tilting my mouth toward his. Anyone passing by and spying us along the side of the building might mistake us for lovers.
Eyes wide, I waited for Colton’s next move. His face wore a look of intense concentration as he slid a hand around to the base of my neck. Tilting my head toward his, I watched his eyes darken as he looked at my mouth.
He was going to kiss me.
Even worse, I wanted him to.
His head dropped by torturous increments. My eyes were half closed, my lips slightly parted as I waited for his kiss.
Waiting until our lips almost touched, he said, “What did he say?”
“Nothing,” I managed, my voice suddenly thick due to the lethal combination of his proximity and his scent. Whatever it was about his smell, it made me long to bury my face in his neck and just breathe him in (I had a few other thoughts about what to do once I got there).
I was insane.
“I don’t believe you.” Gently, his mouth touched the corner of my mouth. Just the scarcest touch, yet I felt the shock all the way down to my toes. Which appeared to be curling. To say nothing of the fact my stomach was fluttering up and down and I longed to arch my body into his.
If a corner kiss affected me this way, what would his entire mouth do? I couldn’t afford to find out. “He wanted what my father gave me.”
“And you said?” His mouth skimmed to the other side of my lips.
“I had nothing.”
“You didn’t tell him about the letter?” Was it possible he didn’t know about the pendant?
Colton raised his head. I took a deep breath, or at least attempted to. With his weight pinning me in place, it was rather hard to fully inflate my lungs.
“Why should I?” I pressed against his shoulders. “Can you please step back? I would like to breathe.”
“Sorry.” He did more than step back. He began pacing slowly back and forth in front of me. I made a production of brushing off the sides of my now wrinkled and stained dress but gave it up as hopeless.
It was my turn to fix him with a steely glare. “What does the letter mean?”
He shot me a look. “The less you know, the better it will go for you.”
“Apparently I know enough to make my disappearance attractive.” At Colton’s interested look, I said, “Obviously my father’s contact was interested in keeping me.” Plus he wanted the pendant around my neck, but I saw no need to trouble Colton with that until I knew what it meant.
“Of course he wanted to keep you. Men have only to look at you to want you.” Before I could dissect that comment, he was off on another tangent, “What did he say about your father? Has he heard from him?”
“No. He seemed to think I had a message for him.” I frowned. “And what do you mean by men wanting me?” I nearly thanked my head against the building myself. I was more than a hen witted girl. It was time to start acting like it.
He ignored me, asking, “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Have a message from your father?”
“Of course not,” I scoffed. Of course the pendant was the message. And I’d knowingly withheld it from the contact. What did that mean? Had I set in motion a chain of events that would destroy the world?
If so, my father deserved it for not telling me anything. Colton, too.
“Anything else you care to share with me?” I shook my head, still stuck on the world ending because I hadn’t offered up the pendant. “In that case, we’ll retrieve Brutus and be on our way.”
“Aren’t we looking for my father?”
“Sweetheart, your father is not coming to Lisbon. That’s why he sent you.” He knew. Had I done something to tip him off to that fact?
I should probably play dumb. “Why?”
“You tell me.” Our eyes met, and my stomach, displaying a disturbing awareness of the intensity of Colton’s gaze, flipped. That would have to stop.
“He sent you here to keep me safe.”
He snorted. “Your father only cares about one thing, sweetheart, and it’s not you.”
“What is it, then?”
“Don’t worry about it.” The corners of his mouth turned down. “You say you know nothing about your father’s work, yet turn up with one of his contacts. Explain.”
If I told him small kernels of truth, perhaps he wouldn’t ask what I couldn’t tell him. “The address was on a scrap of paper in the purse.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
I met his gaze steadily. “I don’t trust you.”
“Smart girl.” His eyes slowly looked me over from head to toe. “You know something, and I am of a mind to search you for the evidence.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
“I imagine you would.” Before I could reply, he continued, “Now, before we retrieve Brutus, there is one last thing we must get straight.” One moment he was standing three feet away, the next he had once again pressed me against the building.
This time, there wasn’t a trace of mercy or gentleness in his hold. The hard angles of his body forced themselves against my flesh, forcing me to curve around him. The fingers of his right hand splayed around my throat, gripping it lightly almost in the exact same place as the stranger‘s hand. His other hand pinned my shoulder to the side of the building.
“If you ever do anything so foolish again, the consequences will be more than you are willing to pay.” Shifting his weight even closer, he said, “I cannot keep you alive if you do not stay with me.”
“Bakeries do not kill people.” I felt suddenly lightheaded. Possibly because my lungs were being crushed.
“This is no joke, Cadrian. People are after your father, and once they learn you have contacted one of his colleagues, they will come for you.” I had little time to linger over the sound of my first name on his lips because the latter half of his sentence terrified me. Having seen my reaction, his eyes gentled. “You didn’t think of that, did you?”
“No,” I gulped. When he stepped away, I missed him. At least when he pinned me, I was protected from the numerous others out to kill me.
“As I said, stay close to me and no harm will come to you.” Having gone to join the people walking along the front of the buildings, he half turned. “Coming?”
“I suppose I must if I wish to live.” But I followed him.
We didn’t say much on the brisk walk back to the inn. I was chewing over everything that had been said, coming up with no answers. My father was up to something, something Colton and his contact knew, but something which I had not the slightest idea. I’d gone to Lisbon like the obedient daughter, endured an actually very frightening encounter with a strange man, and now I was headed who knew where. I wanted to take the first ship back to Bolien. My job was done.
Now I just had to convince Colton to part ways with me now. Shooting a glance at him, I sighed. His jaw was rigid enough to break a fist on if I were so inclined. As long as he was suspicious of me I didn’t think he’d allow me to leave his side, much less the country.