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Authors: Violet Blaze

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BOOK: Stepbrother Thief
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“Why are you really here right now? It's not to check on me, so don't lie about that.”

“I thought you were forever the optimist,
ma belle petite fleur?

I purse my lips.
My beautiful little flower.
Really? Did he just say that? I pretend not to notice.

“I'm an optimist who dabbles in realism. So.” I take a breath and lift my martini to my lips. When the glass comes away clean, I frown. I miss my Ruby Woo lipstick already, that bright red smudge that somehow says
I'm here
to the whole world. “Answer my question and I'll forgive you for knocking my boyfriend out cold.”

“He came at me first,” Gill says, tossing back his Scotch. His demeanor's changed since yesterday, some of that careful intensity dialed back a bit. I study the gentle slope of his jaw, the rounded squareness of his chin, the perfect proportion of his shoulders, his chest. Most men with Gill's strength are like walking mountains of meat, upside down triangles made of fucking ham or something. Ech. But my stepbrother … he's got a leanness to him, a look that my dorky childhood friend, Leilani, used to call 'a ranger's body'. You know how in some video games, there's the big guy in the shiny armor? All wide ass shoulders and overblown chest? See, that's the meaty kind of guy I'm talking about. Gill is like the ranger, the archer, the one in the green tunic with the bow. Strong, but not overdone.

Damn him for it.

“He came at you, but you still punched him in the face and dropped him like a sack of potatoes. He was only trying to protect me,” I add, letting that guilt over Mathis bubble up in my belly. I won't let the words
what have I done
run through my mind, but really …
what have I fucking done?!
I take another breath and give a coquettish wink to our waiter when he drops off my next martini.

I lock gazes with Gill, hook my caramel brown eyes on his feral blue ones. Once, when I was little, my grandmother's Siamese cat had a litter of kittens with a feral tom. One of them was jet black with the sharpest blue eyes I'd ever seen, a sleek predator draped in contrast. Gill's always reminded me of that cat with his eyes, his hair. I have no idea what nationalities are in Gilleon's background because Cliff can't—or maybe just won't—talk about his past, not about Gill's mother, or his own parents.

My stepbrother's skin is as naturally pale as my own, but right now he's got this breath of color on his face, the gentlest caramel kiss on his skin that keeps him from being my same shade of alabaster. It takes the dark ink of his tattoos, all of those blacks and grays, and blends them, turning the hard, sculpted muscles of his right arm into an artist's canvas. Gill's already good-looking enough on his own, but add in the tattoos and he's just gone from handsome to tragic, like a broken god with those calloused hands and that rugged wildness. It seeps from his pores, giving him all the marks of a beautiful but deadly beast, one with claws and teeth and the most disarming of smiles.

His hooded eyes look me over and I know he knows I'm analyzing him, studying him; he's doing the same to me. I feel suddenly naked and my breath leaves me in a rush, stolen away in a split second memory of his hands on me, his teeth grazing my skin, his body sliding between my thighs.

I blink it all away in an instant.

“You might not believe me,” Gill says, sliding his whisky glass towards the center of the table, “but it's good to see you, Regina.” He slides out of the booth, turns to me and smiles. The expression on his face makes the fine hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight. Not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. “I had a rare moment of downtime, so I came here to check on you. I couldn't imagine a more worthy cause.”

And then he winks at me, turns, and walks away.

I'm left behind with a whole host of memories and nobody to reminisce with.

I'm lying in bed the night before the heist, sweat pouring down my forehead and dripping onto the pillows beneath me. I've been over this a million times with Gill, know the plan like the back of my hand, but I can't stop running through every possible scenario.

Just like him.

I know that's what he's doing right now, holed up in some hotel or safe house or hell, maybe he's down in the catacombs beneath the city. I might not know where Gill is, but I know what he's doing. He's a professional, a perfectionist, and there's nothing in his life he's ever loved half as much as a good challenge.

Not even me.

I sit up in bed and swipe a hand across my forehead, drawing moist fingers away to curl in the pale cream, peach and pink of my comforter. Knowing this is the last night I'll ever sleep in this bed, in my apartment with the blue and white tile and the rustic beams, the pain is sudden and intense, taking over me and curling my body into a tight ball. It's an effort to force myself to breathe.

I made this choice, made it by telling myself that I was stuck in a rut, that I needed to move on and let the ghosts of the past be just that, but deep down, I know it's all a lie.

I made my choice for a love lost, for Gill.

The look on his face when he sat down with Cliff and me, started to tell us why he was suddenly there in our kitchen, like a zombie risen from the dead, it told me all I needed to know.

Gill is in trouble.

He'll never admit it, never tell Cliff or especially me why, but I can see it, sense it, feel it.

This heist, it's more than just a job, more than about the money.

And he was going to do it with or without me, that much I know. So I had to help him, even if he betrayed me, left me, walked away without telling me why.

I know doing this job won't heal my wounds, won't bring him back to me (even if I'd want him back, which I don't), but I'm going to do it anyway.

“You're such an idiot, Regina,” I moan, leaning back again, nesting my head in the feather pillows and listening to the soft buzz of the TV I left on in the living room.

After awhile, the mindless sound lulls me to sleep.

When I wake, it's to the sound of a gun being cocked.

I open my eyes slowly, carefully, knowing what I'm going to see but scared nonetheless, my heart pounding and my body quivering as I let my gaze rest on Gill and the impassive blankness of his facial expression.

“Get up,” he says, his voice a monotone, his simple words laced with threat. For this whole scenario to work out the way he wants, the way that'll make my life easiest, we have to play our parts from start to finish.

“Gill,” I whisper, hating how my voice shakes and my throat goes dry. The barrel of the gun is inches from my skull, a gleaming stretch of deadly black that could end my life with a single twitch of his finger. Even though this is all pretend, just an act, I don't doubt that his gun is loaded. “What are you doing here? Why do you have a gun?”

Something flashes in his eyes, a twist of dark shadow that covers the bright blue of his irises for a split second. Before I can even begin to decipher the expression, he's reaching down and yanking the covers back, letting the warm air of my apartment caress my bare legs.

I remember a time when he'd run his long, strong fingers up the inside of my leg, past the sensitive spot behind my knee, up my inner thigh. Now, whether for show or not, he doesn't even bother to glance down.

“Stand up, get dressed for work. I'm not back in town for a family reunion.”

I swallow hard and do as he says, just as we planned, just as I knew I was going to do. When I drop my nightgown to the floor, I steal a quick look at his face, but there's nothing for me to read in his expression.

I put on the white tank, the orange blouse, the pencil skirt with the pockets, and then I let Gill lead me out the front door, down the stairs and over to the jewelry store where I work.

And then we rob it.

I order dinner in the restaurant and eat alone—something that I'm unfortunately quite used to. I mean, it's not like I don't always have an open invitation to dine with Cliff and Solène, but sometimes that's even worse. I sit there with them and I think about my mom, wonder how she and Cliff might've been as a couple if they'd been married for the past fifteen years instead of the single one they had.

When the waiter stops by with a complimentary martini for me, I carry on a little harmless flirting with him until the restaurant closes and I leave feeling just a little bit better than before. A few drinks, a kind smile just for me. So much better than Gill and his unreadable expressions.

“Fucker.” I toss back a quick drink of the water my friendly waiter friend sent me out with, something to clear my head he'd said. Of course, he also sent me out with an invitation to bring some chocolate cake up to my room for me. Another time, I might've said yes, but the idea that Gill could show up at any moment, virtually anywhere—no thanks. I'll wait to pick up gentleman callers until after this is all over and my stepbrother has moved onto another job, another city.

When I get back to the room, I check the time again. Shouldn't be too much longer before Cliff and Solène arrive. Even though it's barely been two days since I last saw them, the thought of seeing my stepfather and the little girl who's more than just a sister to me, well, it helps clear up the strange feeling of detachment that's creeping up my spine and taking hold of me.

In the span of an instant, my life's taken a drastic turn that I can't undo, will never be able to undo.

And I did it all for Gill.

I grit my teeth and shake out my hands.

No, no, no. I can't let that thought enter my head, not now, not ever again. I'm not normally a big fan of lying to oneself, but shit. This time, I'll make an exception.

“Going to buy a house in Mount Baker,” I snap, slamming my water glass down on the dresser and hitting the bathroom to turn on the shower. Too bad the hotel doesn't have a boutique, some place I could use to grab a new outfit—or at the very least some new underwear. Then I could charge it all to the room, like I did with dinner. Oh well. At least there's one of those fluffy white hotel robes hanging on the back of the bathroom door. There's a card sticking out of the pocket, something about the price if I want to take it home. I toss it in the trash and lay the robe out across the counter before getting undressed and climbing into the hot water.

As soon as the droplets caress my skin, I'm hit with more memories, flooded with them. See, that's the issue of using them to get by. It's like an addiction, like having a drink when you're stressed or puffing on a cigarette, only memories can come and go as they please, feeding the need even when I try to fight it.

I close my eyes against the spray and hold my breath, drowning myself in the hot water. Doesn't help though, just plasters images of Gilleon's naked body across the backs of my eyelids. He's … matured so much since he left, and in the best ways possible, too. Gill is the epitome of masculinity, but he doesn't have that churlish chauvinism in him that makes my teeth hurt, not even after all this time in what has to be a testosterone driven business. Then again, what do I really know about career criminals? That's right—squat.

I wash up with the hotel toiletries and climb out, wrapping my towel around my hair and slipping into the robe. By the time I open the door to the bedroom, Cliff and Solène are already waiting for me.

“Regina!” Solène shouts, throwing herself off the bed and into my arms. “
Dieu merci!
” She glances over her shoulder as I smile and ruffle her dark curls with my fingers. “
Cette femme,
” she growls in her best know-it-all preteen voice, drawing my attention to a woman standing in the corner by the window, “
est extrêmement grossière et inculte. Elle ne parle même pas anglais correctement—ne parlons même pas de son français.

This woman is extremely rude and uncultured. She doesn't even speak English correctly, let alone French.

BOOK: Stepbrother Thief
11.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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