Authors: Jerri Drennen
Tags: #Z Series
Copyright © 2013 Jerri Drennen
Cover art by Elaina Lee
Edited by Gina Ardito
This book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any existing means without written permission from Jerri Drennen.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
I want to dedicate this book to my critique partners at ERA. All of them have been monumental in keeping me on the right track, and to Gina Ardito who makes my work shine with her editing skills.
Other Books by Jerri Drennen:
Dark Moon Magic
Agent in Training
Her Man Flint
Fire & Ice
(available in e-book and print)
Three stories by Jerri Drennen are published
in an anthology entitled
“Inventing the Abbotts”
“Do you think that’s the answer, Lettie?” Charlotte Delaney’s best friend Cara stared questioningly at her, a set of extensive worry lines creasing her forehead. “You can’t find another way?”
Charlotte shook her head, a chunk of her curly blonde hair falling onto her cheek. She quickly tucked the short strands behind her ear and sighed.
How many nights had she paced the floors, praying for a different solution? Too many to count, and at this point, she’d exhausted every avenue possible. There seemed to be no other way for her. She’d have to accept William Terran’s offer.
“But William’s so, ah...” Cara turned away, unable to look her in the eye or finish what Charlotte already knew she was going to say.
She wasn’t thrilled about this either, but Cara didn’t have a foreclosure looming like a thunder cloud over
head. If Charlotte didn’t come up with twenty-five-thousand dollars in the next couple of months she’d lose everything she had worked for over the past seven years. Lettie’s would be no more and frankly she didn’t know what she’d do without her little cafe. Not when it was the only thing that had kept her going day-to-day since her husband’s accident.
The thought of Shaun sent pain rocketing through her chest. He’d been dead for almost two years now. Would it take another two before merely thinking about him didn’t threaten her mental stability?
One thing was for sure, Shaun would have found a way to raise the money. Not resort to what she planned. But, unless a miracle happened and some bank execs changed their minds about loaning her cash, she had no choice.
Cara planted her hands firmly on Charlotte’s shoulders. “Wait a few more days before you give William an answer. Take the weekend to think it over.”
Charlotte inhaled deeply, then released the breath. “What is two days going to change? Money isn’t going to magically appear into my account.
...just like that. But, I’ll hold off until Monday if that’ll keep you from lecturing me.”
Her friend smiled. “It will. So, let’s get this kitchen cleaned up then go to Bailey’s and get a drink. I’m buying.”
The last thing Charlotte needed was a night out with Cara, since she didn’t feel like babysitting the grown woman again. When she consumed tequila, her drink of choice, Cara lost all common sense. On one of her wild weekends, she just about ended up married in Vegas. Thank God she’d stopped by the cafe early that morning and Charlotte had been able to talk her out of it. Otherwise, Cara would be living with a man she hardly knew, who didn’t have two sticks to rub together.
And her friend thought
was making a rash decision.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. She’d spent the last twenty-two years of her life, since the two had met in kindergarten, talking Cara Elaine Manning out of her bad choices. Attempting to run off to Vegas, just one of them.
As far as William and his proposal, she didn’t want to marry him any more than Cara wanted to be tied to
man, but he’d come to Charlotte with the offer and she was out of time and options. Either marry him, or lose the restaurant. Charlotte refused to let go of Lettie’s
a place where she met and fell in love with her husband. Those memories were all she had left.
Besides, what was she losing, giving him her hand? Her freedom? What did that afford her? Being able to wallow in self-pity alone? Nothing looked worse on a woman.
Charlotte twisted on the hot water faucet in the large stainless steel sink and squirted in some soap. As the tub filled, she studied her hands. They were red and chapped, her nails cut short to keep grease from under them. Her wedding ring, a simple gold band, still adorned her finger. Shaun might be dead in body, but his spirit remained in her heart, and she refused to take it off. Would William expect her to?
Angry with her lapse into melancholy, she dunked her hands into the sudsy water and started rinsing off the three dozen or so plain white plates, then tons of silverware, to place in the dishwasher. From the looks of all the pots and pans she’d need to wash by hand, it was going to take a good hour to finish, since they’d been busy that afternoon. If they’d had days like this a year ago, she wouldn’t have gotten so far behind.
If it had only happened sooner
But, if she married William, she could keep the place going and hopefully turn things around—maybe even repay him by this time next year.
An hour later, Charlotte finally switched off the lights inside the cafe, then locked the door behind her. Cara stood beside her, fidgeting impatiently from one foot to the other—obviously in a hurry to get a drink.
She might want to look into help with that.
On the short walk down Clover Avenue to Bailey’s Bar & Grill, Charlotte remained quiet. She was exhausted and wished she was headed home instead of to the pub. She’d never been much of a drinker. Unlike her friend.
At the door, before stepping inside, Charlotte grabbed Cara’s arm. “We’re going in for no more than two drinks and then heading home. All right?”
“You’re such a party pooper, Lettie.”
“I mean it, Car. We both have to work tomorrow.”
“Okay, okay. Two drinks. But you have to promise me something.”
She studied her friends intense expression. “What?”
“That you’ll at least try to have fun.”
Charlotte couldn’t remember the last time she’d had any of that. Even when Shaun was alive, the business made it impossible to have much of a social life. While she ran the restaurant, he worked as a project manager for The Terran Corporation. The last month before Shaun died, Charlotte had barely seen him and when she did, he seemed overly stressed about the job he’d been working on.
Thoughts of his funeral rushed back and brought with it a realm of troubling emotions. Most of that day was still a blur to her, but she did remember William coming over, insisting that if she needed anything, that he was there for her. She could only assume he felt guilty since her husband had been on his way to one of Terran’s construction sites when he was killed.
Charlotte didn’t blame him. She didn’t blame anyone. She just wished she’d have had a chance to say goodbye to her husband.
“Are you listening to me?” Cara’s voice pulled her from the past.
“Booth or table?” Her friend waved a hand around the room.
“Whatever you want.”
Cara grabbed her by the elbow and shoved her through a row of tables that sat empty and adjacent to the large wooden bar. They found a booth central to the pub and slid in.
Charlotte glanced around and stopped short on a man she didn’t recognize sitting at the bar, a glass of dark beer in his hand. She had to clamp her mouth shut to keep it from gaping. The guy had to be the best looking male specimen she’d ever seen, with a head of shortly cropped, dark-brown hair and days’ worth of growth covering his angled jaw. From this distance, she couldn’t see the color of his eyes, but she was sure they must fit with the rest of him.
He was lean, yet his biceps looked as if they’d lifted their share of weights. Charlotte found herself drawn to the first man since Shaun’s passing, and a sense of guilt flooded her. Was she somehow tainting her husband’s memory by looking at another man? Her head said no, but her heart questioned it.
* * *
JT Malone nursed his ale, tired of this whole waiting game. It had been close to a week since he had applied for the job as project manager at the William Terran Corporation, and he still hadn’t heard anything.
Getting this position was crucial.
A tingling sensation made the hairs on the back of his neck charge. He turned his head and found a pretty woman with short, warm-blonde hair and the bluest eyes he’d ever seen, watching him. She sat with another gal, who was talking to her, but she didn’t seem to be listening.
JT smirked then turned back to his beer. He wasn’t in Freemont to scout women. He was here to do a job, and no pair of blue eyes, no matter how alluring, was going to distract him from that.
He scratched at the scruff growing on his chin and sighed. He hated this part of the mission, working his way into the world of the man Z was trying to infiltrate. JT’s cover was perfect for the position he was acquiring and his credentials the best they could be. No way could he
get the job. The waiting though, was driving him nuts. Especially in a town the size of this one. He was used to big city life in Norfolk. Not some po-dunk community in the middle of Oregon. The place had one motel on the edge of town, their rooms straight out of the seventies, ugly too nice a word to describe them. With no wireless internet. No in-room coffeemaker or mini bar, not to mention zero illicit channels on the TV that could have kept him entertained.
That’s why he’d come to Bailey’s. Room number 12 was closing in on him, had somehow catapulted him back in time to the dinky apartment he’d grown up in. He hated remembering that part of his life. Despised his mother for all the crap he’d endured growing up—especially the revolving pseudo-daddies she’d brought into his life, all who had thought discipline meant beating the ever-loving shit out of him.
Abused child turned angry teenager.
Thank God the juvenile system had gotten a hold of him, strongly suggested the military, and he’d enlisted. The US Navy changed him—turned him into the man he was today. Faults and all. But much better than he would have been, left to his own devices.
Three years ago he’d been approached by Z, a covert branch that worked unofficially with the military, and was asked to join them because of his SEAL training. The rest was history. That’s where he was now. In a job he loved. All because of the woman who gave him life thirty years ago, almost to the day.
JT cleared his throat and took a long drink of his beer, intent on forgetting about
. He was getting good at it. Too bad he couldn’t completely erase her from existence.
An idea hit him. Maybe a little distraction with a blue-eyed beauty was just what he needed to get that memory in check.
Instead of jacking off, he could have the real deal tonight. It’d been a while since he’d indulged in some gratuitous sex to push away his troubled past.
JT smiled, then signaled the bartender.
“Need another beer?” the short, balding man in a green vest asked.
“Yes and I’d like to buy those two ladies over at that booth...” He pointed to Miss Blue-Eyes, “...a drink, as well.” JT extracted two twenties from his billfold and tossed them at the man, then picked up his beer and headed toward the intended target.
“Ladies,” he said once he’d reached the booth. “How are you two this evening?”
Both women stared at him, but his eyes were glued to Blue-Eyes who seemed lost for an answer.
When neither said a word, he asked, “Could I join you?”
The other lady nodded, but the woman he had his eye on looked reluctant.
“We’re just here for a quick drink,” she finally said, then looked away.
JT refused to let that deter him. He could change her mind, given enough motivation. He just needed a few minutes to draw her in, since he’d set his sights on having her now. A little challenge was good for the soul—made it more fun in the end.
“That’s all right. I’m new in town and might be here for awhile. Maybe I can pick your brains for the best places to eat. Things to do.”
“Sure,” the other woman said, gesturing for him to take a seat.