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Ex-Con: Part 3
By Katana Collins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Katana Collins
All rights reserved.
Charlie woke up on the floor of the garage, her wrench still in hand. And the empty bottle of red wine was on its side behind her. Shit. This was why you don't drink and work on cars.
Somewhere in the distance, she registered the sound of her phone ringing; an awful, blaring sound that pounded in her head. What time was it? A quick glance out of the window of the garage told her that whatever time it was, the sun wasn't up yet.
With a stretch Charlie reached for her phone, her fingertips dipping into something chilly and wet on the floor. Wine? Oil? Who the hell knew. Shane's name lit up the screen along with the time. 12:50 a.m.
That's when she realized that the pounding sound wasn't just her head, but someone knocking on the garage door. Charlie bolted up to a seated position, immediately regretting it as her headache went from pounding to splitting.
"Hello," she croaked into the phone. Pushing to her feet, she saw a Post-It note from Michelle tacked to the window of Shane's car.
Not sure you'll remember us saying goodbye as you were asshole deep in Shane's engine and well on your way to inebriation. I locked the garage behind me so that you wouldn't get robbed when you passed out. Call if you need me.
"Charlie," Shane said, his voice nearly as rough as Charlie felt. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Just ..." Groggy. Hungover. Drunk. Wait — was it even possible to still be drunk and hungover? "... fell asleep in the garage. That you at my door?"
She heard his sigh of relief. "Yes, please let me in."
She hit the button to the garage door, and it lifted slowly as she ran her hand through her hair — an effort to clean herself up a bit. Unsuccessfully. Her fingers immediately got caught in a nest of tangles. So instead, she pulled her hair — tangles and all — into a ponytail.
"What are you doing here?"
"I need to talk to you. Tell you something." His gaze swept over her body, lingering at where her T-shirt, stained with grease and oil, pushed up beyond her hips revealing the slim strip of tanned skin. He licked his lips and Charlie tugged the hem down, feeling her face go hot. He looked at her. "You're — you're drunk?"
She pushed out a breath through loose lips and scrubbed her hands over her face to try to wake herself up. "Well, I'm not sober." Grabbing the keys to Shane's Stingray, she tossed them to him. "She's all yours."
His eyes widened to the size of saucers and his gaze shifted incredulously between Eve, the keys in his hand, and Charlie. "You finished? But this must have taken you all night —"
"Literally," she said, easing the kinks out of her neck. Fuck, someone remind her not to sleep on the floor of her garage again.
He swallowed hard, gripping the keys. "We need to talk," he said.
"So you mentioned."
He muttered a curse, pinching the bridge of his nose hard. "It doesn't feel right to do this when you're drunk."
She narrowed her eyes at him. If she'd been sober, it probably would have been a subtle motion. But drunk as she was, she was pretty damn sure her entire face scrunched together. "What's it about?"
"For starters, your dad. My dad. Paola Vasquez, Carlos Sauceda, Rig, HSC —"
"I don't want to talk. Especially not about HSC and Rig. I'm so sick of talking." She glanced at Eve. Completely finished, souped up. Charlie had even hosed her down and put on a coat of wax. Eve was shinier than the day she was built, probably. "Let's go for a ride," Charlie said. "Somewhere peaceful."
Shane examined her for another long minute before moving to the opposite side of his car and opening the passenger door for her. "I can handle somewhere peaceful."
While she was like a clumsy Labrador trying to get into the passenger side's bucket seat, Shane slid into the driver's side, sexy and smooth as all hell. He reached beneath it to slide it back, and Charlie watched carefully for a reaction. Any sign of his discovery that she had moved his gun. But where she thought he would panic, there was nothing but smooth relaxation at being in the driver's seat. No visible stiffening of his muscles or clenched jaw or panicked eyes. Which was weird, right? Someone moves your hidden gun, you should be freaking out.
He tilted his head, matching her questioning glare with his own.
"Buckle up, Red," he said gently.
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere peaceful. Somewhere sacred."
Shane gripped the wheel tighter, as though that could have an effect on how smoothly this drive would go. He hadn't even started the damn car yet and he could feel his excitement pattering in his chest, fluttering against his throat with every palpitating heartbeat. Sure, he'd been behind the wheel since getting out. He'd even been behind the wheel of some gorgeous cars ... but not Eve. Not in four years. The thought of getting out of prison and driving the fuck away from Boston, away from Rig and Javi and HSC, had consumed most of his thoughts night after night in prison as he tossed and turned on that scratchy yoga mat they called a bed. And now here he was. Wheel in hand. Woman by his side. All he had to do was turn the key.
Turn the key.
Turn the fucking key, Shane.
"Hey." The soft voice was silky beside him, and he clamped his eyes shut. "What's the matter?"
"I'm afraid if I start driving, I may not stop," he said hoarsely. And if she was shocked by that answer, she sure as shit didn't show it.
Click. The sound of her seatbelt pulled him back to the interior of the Stingray and he trailed his hands around the curve of Eve's wheel. Stealing a glance at Charlie, he lifted an eyebrow in her direction. "That doesn't scare you? That I don't know if I'd want to stop driving once I start?"
She shrugged and he didn't know if it was the wine she'd clearly consumed or the satiated feeling that only came from fixing a car, but her eyes ... one blue, one green ... calmed him like nothing else he'd experienced before. "What can I say? I'm a thrill seeker. I like getting my hands dirty. Not much scares me. And if it does, I usually enjoy it."
The dark admission should have made him push her away. She'd all but declared that the reason she liked him was that he was big and bad and scary. But fuck if it didn't make him want to hold on to her even tighter.
They sat still, his car silent in her dark garage, but both buckled in so tight they might as well have been going eighty. Hell, maybe they were in their own way. "Red, you being with me is more than just a little dirt on the hands. I'm waist deep in muck."
"Anything worth having requires getting dirty for it. Requires a little bit of digging."
He couldn't help the raspy laugh that vibrated in his chest. "What the hell are you blabbering about?"
"Anything of value requires getting your hands dirty. Digging in the dirt. Diamonds. Gold. Oil. Pearls ..."
Warmth tingled against his breastbone as though he'd downed a shot of whiskey. "I think you're cut off from the wine."
"I think you throw punches and joke and brood as a way of avoiding relationships."
Shit. She was drunk, but she was also right.
"Start the damn car, Shane. She waited four years for you. She deserves that much."
He stared at Red, at Charlie in his passenger seat, the back of her head resting against the camel-colored leather. Her fiery hair perfectly matched the car. Almost as though she was meant to be in it. She was meant to be by his side. Fuck. He wouldn't be able to do it. He wouldn't be able to end things with this woman. Maybe she would do it for him, once he told her where he'd been the last four years. And the thought of her walking away from him was almost too much to bear now, even though just hours ago that was the plan. He couldn't picture his days without this annoying, skinny little bug of a woman who buzzed around him, annoying, gorgeous, persistent. He didn't know much about love. But he knew he liked himself better with her around. And when she wasn't by his side, he felt incomplete.
Fuck. Now he sounded like a goddamn Tom Cruise movie.
"Shane." She giggled his name in a way that reminded him of rumpled sheets and spread legs. "Start the fucking car! Just do it —"
But instead, he leaned over the stick shift, clutching at the back of her neck, pulling her lips to meet his. She tasted like red wine ... the cheap shit. Yep, cheap red wine and pure heaven. When he pulled back and opened his eyes, her gaze swept over his face, her fingertips hovering at his temple, brushing down his cheek to his jaw so gently that if he would have closed his eyes again, he may have mistaken it for a feather. "I love —"
Panic morphed her expression. "The car? I know."
Shane shook his head. "No, Charlie. I love ..."
"Red. You always call me Red."
"Okay. Fucking fine. Red, I love —"
"Goddamn it, Shane. Take a hint."
Once again, he cupped her face, pulling her attention back to him. "This is gonna happen, Red. I know you may not be ready for it. So I'll respect the boundaries you draw ... to an extent. And if your feelings really do truly end at my bedroom door, then fine. I'll accept that, too. But right now, I call bullshit." His head dipped forward and he rested his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. There was an energy buzzing off of her, alive and static. He still wasn't sure what the fuck to do about Rig or Vasquez or her dad or HSC. But her safety along with Kelly's was the priority. However he needed to make that happen, he would. Whatever he needed to do to keep them out of harm's way, it would be done.
He only managed to have that revelation for a moment before she responded, interrupting his thoughts. "We were over. We ended things. And now you're saying the L word." She stared past him, out the window beyond his shoulders, her head shaking in the tiniest little movements. It wasn't until she brought her gaze back to his that he saw her resolve crack. The hard casing she wore around herself for protection crumbled. "Oh, fuck it." Her mouth moved to his and she kissed him. But it wasn't one of the ravaged, sex-driven kisses they'd shared earlier that week. It was deep, slow, tender, and insufferably, painfully sweet. Like she had sprinkled goddamn sugar on those fleshy lips before pushing them against his.
As she kissed him, he gathered strength from those lips. From her touch. Hell, from her. With her lips on his, her hand pressing against his breastbone, and the thud of his heart falling heavily against her palm ... he gripped the keys, and turned the car on. He closed his eyes as the engine growled to life.
"How's she feel?" Charlie asked.
"Glorious," he said. "And growling so loud, I think my allergies might kick in."
He put the car in gear, easing out of the garage.CHAPTER 2
Somewhere sacred. Love. Thoughts raced through Charlie's head as she replayed their conversation over and over again. There was no fucking possible way he loved her. It was too soon. They barely knew each other. That wasn't love. That was the insatiable lust of a man who'd gotten it twice in one day and now wanted more.
She tore her eyes back to Shane and watched his profile carefully. God, he was a stunning man. Not handsome in the traditional sense. There was a hardness about him; a strong cut to his nose, and a slicing intensity to his jaw and cheekbones that quite nearly took Charlie's breath away. She didn't want a beautiful man in her bed. She didn't want a man who needed more hair products than her. I want Shane.
Warm yellow light from Eve's headlights flooded the road in front of them, allowing a bit of it to bounce back up through the windshield. Otherwise, it was dark. Incredibly dark, and the reflected light only added to the shadows strewn across his features. Only his features weren't tight like usual. His lips weren't turned down in the way they usually were. His brows didn't pinch together, deep in thought like she was used to seeing. In fact, if she wasn't mistaken, the corners of his mouth were curved slightly into a peaceful smile as they drove down the road, heading north of Boston. One arm rested casually out of his open window, and the cool night air flipped his hair away from his face. His bright green eyes were fixed on the road ahead of them, and his other hand was draped over the wheel. Even with his body relaxed, laying back in his seat casually, Charlie could still see the ripples of sinewy muscles throughout his body. Every fucking inch of him was ripped, hard, and strong. And it had been on top of her, inside of her, only a matter of days ago. She missed it. She missed him. Lust and desire coiled through her body like a heated corkscrew, winding her even tighter than she already was.
He turned his head, catching her mid-gaze. She quickly jerked her attention forward, staring ahead at the yellow dashes blurring into one solid line in front of them. It took about forty minutes until he pulled off into a small suburban neighborhood just outside of the city. The row of homes was cute. The sort of houses Charlie had pictured herself eventually owning one day. Maybe with a dog, a kid or two, and a shitload of cars. And maybe with Shane. The thoughts that were running through her head cut through her like a hot knife through butter, slipping in smooth and easily. She couldn't even blame the wine anymore ... that buzz was wearing off. These thoughts were hers to own and hers alone. Which only made them that much more concerning. For most women, learning the guy they'd been fucking had a loaded gun under his front seat would send them running for the hills. Then again, her father had guns. A shitload of them in the basement. They never really were a taboo thing in her life. And yet, a part of her did want to run. Run and not look back. But another part of her — a part buried way deep down that she hardly ever acknowledged — also found him that much more attractive because of it. He was intense and dangerous ... and sexy. Old habits die hard.
"I wanted to talk to you tonight," he said. "I wanted to tell you everything before you found out." He sighed, pulling up to a small blue ranch-style home, and cut the engine. "I've done bad things," he said. "We gotta get that straight right now. I'm not some goddamn prince on a white horse. I'm the poisoned apple. That being said, the princess always bites, doesn't she?"
What the fuck was he talking about? Maybe he was drunk. Charlie quirked a brow and even though they were inside the car sitting in the road in a silent, sleeping neighborhood, they both whispered as though a sleeping baby were just in front of them. "You know fairy tales?"
"Used to read to my little sister," he grumbled. "Look. Point is, I don't know why you fucking decided to bite. But now that you have, I don't want to let you go. Not yet. And I should. If I really cared about you in the way I know I do, I would push you out of my life and not look back. You set the things you love free; you don't clutch on so tight that you choke 'em."
Except he wasn't choking her. She didn't feel cornered or trapped with him in the way she had with Remy. She felt free with Shane; free, the same way she felt when racing. The thought brought a tightness to her throat. But racing is deadly. "Does this have to do with the gun?"
"Gun? What gun?"
He was playing dumb? That didn't seem like his MO. Leaning forward, Charlie opened the glovebox. The lid dropped down, revealing the Glock there.
He froze when he saw it, his body going tight. Then he laughed a bitter, self-loathing chuckle before swiping his hand heavily down his face. "Son of a bitch. I know you're not gonna believe me. Especially when I say what it was I came here to tell you, but that shit right there isn't my gun. Someone put that in there —"
Charlie wanted to believe him. And a part of her already did. That need to trust in him — to trust a man other than her father — curled around her spine, itching to find its way to her heart. "You're telling me if I had my dad run it for prints —"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll fucking find my prints all over it. All I can tell you is that is not my gun." His head fell back against the seat and he hissed a curse.
"Why would anyone put a gun in your car?"
His grip on the wheel tightened. "Any fucking number of reasons that I don't want to tell you. I know I should. I know I owe you that. But that way you were looking at me as we were driving ... I don't want that to go away. And if I was Prince Charming, I would have told you as soon as we met." He studied her once again with those piercing, scrutinizing eyes. "How you feeling?"
The change in tone, in questioning, threw her off. "I'm sobering up."
"But not totally sober yet?"
She shook her head no.
Excerpted from Ex-Con: Part 3 by Katana Collins. Copyright © 2017 Katana Collins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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