Death and relaxation, p.22
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       Death and Relaxation, p.22

           Devon Monk
 

  I unbuttoned his jeans and then pulled the zipper.

  His eyes snapped back open as my fingers brushed softly over his boxers.

  “Are you ready for this?” I asked him with a low burr in my voice.

  He was firm and hard beneath my hand. I knew what his body wanted, but that wasn’t what I was asking him.

  “Are you?”

  The moment stretched. Neither of us moved. The only motion in the room was the shifting of candlelight swaying in the shadows. I thought I saw something change in his gaze. Something that looked like worry or guilt. His mouth half opened, as if he were trying to decide if he should tell me something.

  Then he smiled and that fleeting look was gone. His smile was soft, and honest, and said more than words ever could.

  Don’t make me regret this, Ryder Bailey. Please don’t break my heart.

  I draped my arms over his shoulders, holding the back of his neck with one hand, the other hand dragging up into his hair.

  He closed the very short distance between us, his hands skating under my shirt and across my ribs and then around to my back and hip as he pulled me against him.

  Then he eased me down and kissed me again, lips catching, teeth nibbling at the corner of my mouth, tongue dragging and licking. I bit his bottom lip gently but firmly to get his attention, and he grunted. “Yes?” he said against my mouth.

  “Strip.”

  I felt his smile against my lips. He rose up on his knees above me.

  “Is this a strip search, officer?” Mischief sparkled in his eyes. “Are you going to read me my rights?”

  I laughed and covered my mouth with my hand, watching him with wide eyes. “Oh my God. You role-play?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Maybe?”

  He shrugged, a fluid roll of his shoulders, then shifted to the side so he could pull off his jeans and boxers, which he dropped down to the floor. “Maybe when there’s a sexy lady cop in my bed.”

  I made quick work of my own clothes while he was occupied. I pushed under the covers, a chill washing over my skin, and held the blanket open for him.

  “My bed.”

  He shouldered in under the covers, settling on his side, head propped on one hand, the other dragging over the curve of my breast, his thumb lingering sweetly over my nipple, then drifting down across my belly.

  “Whichever bed,” he murmured. “Only one sexy cop.”

  “Me?” I asked with all the feigned innocence I could muster with him looking at me like that, touching me like that.

  He stilled. “Only you.” The worry flickered in his eyes again, or maybe it was just the fluttering light of candles playing tricks.

  His smile turned rakish. “Mother, may I?” His hand slipped down and down, curved at my hip, fingers gripping and releasing.

  I groaned. “Maybe you should go back to the sexy cop game.”

  “Mmm. I don’t know…” His fingers shifted to drift over my skin so softly, it was almost impossible to feel. “I might have some other games in mind.”

  “Do not pass go,” I said as my hands slipped down his back and I drew one knee up to hook my ankle around the back of his leg, pulling him closer. “Do not collect two hundred dollars.” I dragged my fingernails up his back and he inhaled noisily, arching his back up into my hands.

  “Don’t need two hundred dollars.” He pressed his warm lips at the side of my throat, and a zing of pleasure rolled through my muscles, turning me into liquid heat. “How about a get out of jail free card?”

  My stomach fluttered with desire and a tiny jolt of fear. What if I was making a terrible mistake?

  I didn’t care.

  “Right now, let’s just have us. No games.” I combed my fingers through his hair, and lifted my other ankle to wrap around his leg, allowing him to settle more intimately against me, molding our bodies to each other.

  He paused, his gaze searching mine with something I could not begin to understand.

  “No games,” he said softly.

  He kissed me, and this time, this one moment, I knew there was nothing but truth between us.

  Chapter 22

  I WOKE slowly, the dreams of Ryder mingling with the memories of the last few hours.

  Dreams couldn’t hold a candle to the reality of him.

  I smiled and shifted my hands, drawing my pillow under my head in a more comfortable position. Sex with Ryder had been fun. But after the joking and teasing, it had become something more. He’d held me with his gaze, his hands, his body, like he was trying to memorize me.

  Like it would be his only, his last time to touch me.

  By the time we were too tired to do more than hold each other, hands stroking gently, absently, the sleep I’d been putting off for over two days caught at me and tugged me down.

  I just hoped I hadn’t snored and drooled on him all night.

  I opened my eyes. I was facing the west window, and from the soft blue-toned light seeping in through the curtains, it was just barely dawn.

  It was silent in the room, dark.

  And I knew without a doubt that I was alone.

  I inhaled and let out my breath, calming the clatter of my thoughts all trying to crowd in past the roar of the unhoused power rolling through my head.

  The swell of the power’s song made me realize it had been quieter last night. Whether that was because of Ryder, my fatigue, or the various concoctions of rhubarb I’d imbibed, I wasn’t sure.

  I rolled over and pulled the covers tighter around my shoulders.

  The other half of the bed was empty, the candles on the step ladder nightstand no longer burning.

  A small piece of paper was folded into the shape of a little origami house, the door open to show writing on the inside, my name written above the lintel. I lifted the house and a tiny folded paper dog that somehow looked a lot like Spud sat in its place. So cute.

  “I had no idea you were so clever with paper.” There didn’t appear to be any writing on Spud, so I unfolded the house. Inside, written in Ryder’s square, clean style was a note.

  “A dear John?” I sighed and rubbed my hand across my eyes. “Terrific.” I sat, holding the covers against me in the cool of the room, and read.

  DELANEY, I’M SORRY I COULDN’T STAY. WORK CAME UP. IF LAST NIGHT WERE RHUBARB, I’D GIVE YOU AN ELEVEN OUT OF TEN.

  —RYDER

  I didn’t know if I should laugh or be offended. Had he really just left me a note comparing me to rhubarb?

  I rubbed at my eyes again, a mix of emotions rolling out as laughter.

  “You jerk,” I groaned between snickers I couldn’t stop. “This is no way to romance a woman.”

  The empty room had nothing to say about that, and I left the little unfolded house on the ladder and picked up Spud.

  I took in a deep breath and let it out. Maybe it was better he wasn’t here when I woke up. Maybe that would have been too intimate, too much of a promise neither of us were ready to keep.

  Still, I would have like to have opened my eyes and felt him there next to me. Would have liked the chance to settle against him, wrapped in the scent that was spicy and rich and wholly his, mingled with the lavender of my sheets and the heavy vanilla perfume of the candles.

  “Guess we don’t always get what we want, eh, Spud?” I left Spud on the empty pillow and wandered off to the bathroom.

  The scent of vanilla lingered in the smaller room. It had been sweet of him to fill the house full of candles. It had been romantic.

  I smiled as I looked in the mirror.

  “Well,” I said to my happy reflection, my hair mussed, my eyes still soft and relaxed. “No matter where it goes from here, last night was worth it.” I pulled out my toothbrush so I could get ready for the day.

  I took a quick shower and had just finished pulling on my clothes and boots when my phone rang from the other room. I jogged out and picked up the phone, glancing at the screen.

  “What’s up, Jean?”

  “Ar
e you okay?” She sounded out of breath, her words sharpened with worry that wasn’t quite panic yet.

  “Yes? What’s going on?”

  “I woke up with a really bad feeling, Delaney.”

  “Woke up? You were supposed to be on night shift.”

  “I traded with Roy.”

  “Okay. When?”

  “Last night. When else would I trade?”

  “When did you get the bad feeling?”

  “Just a few minutes ago. It hit me hard. It’s about you.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “It’s about you,” she said. “I’m headed your way.”

  I glanced out the window. Nothing but gray sky and wet trees and the low, quiet fog of morning. “Everything looks good here. Don’t come to the house. I’ll meet you at the station.”

  She hesitated, trying to make up her mind. “I don’t know. I think you should hunker down. I’ll come by.”

  “Jean.”

  “And lock your door.”

  “No need to be paranoid.”

  “I can be paranoid if I want to be. Lock your door.”

  “Sure,” I said. I was so not going to lock my door.

  “See you in ten.”

  I ended the call and stared at the phone for a minute. I knew Jean too well, trusted her small gift far too much to ignore her.

  Something bad was possibly going to happen to me. Strangely, I wasn’t all that worried about it. What was the advantage to being warned about possible trouble cropping up if that warning only made a person panic?

  I calmly took off my flannel and strapped on my holster, then checked my gun and put it in the holster. I slipped back into my overshirt and walked to the door.

  The doorbell rang with a two-tone lilt.

  Trouble. Right on time. I drew my gun and approached the door from the side, then glanced out the small square window beside the door.

  Death stood on my doorstep. He wore a bright red overshirt patterned with monkeys, bananas, and fancy little drink umbrellas. Under that was a T-shirt I couldn’t quite read.

  He was not the trouble I had expected.

  “Killers don’t usually ring the doorbell,” I said through the glass.

  “Indeed,” he agreed.

  “So I think you can just move along. I’m not planning on dying today.”

  “Very few plan to die any day.”

  “Seriously, Than, I know why you’re here.”

  “Do you?” His flat black eyes glittered with something that might have been humor. Or anger.

  “You’re going to harm me.”

  His eyebrows lifted up into his cropped hair. “Am I?”

  “Yes. Jean knew something bad was going to happen, and here you are.”

  He tutted and looked like he was having a hard time keeping a smile off his face. “Your sister may be correct in her gift, but she is incorrect in assuming I would cause you harm.”

  “You’re not here to kill me?”

  He pursed his lips as if considering his answer. “Dear Delaney. I am on vacation. Therefore, I am here to kill no one. If I intended to kill you, or do you harm”—he made the last word sound like a filthy insult—“I would first tell you so.”

  “Thanks?”

  He nodded, as if promising to let someone know you were going to kill them was the height of propriety. “Would you open the door so that we could speak in a more civilized manner?”

  I holstered my gun and put my hand on the doorknob. The door hadn’t been locked during any of this exchange. He could have opened it any time he wanted to.

  I opened the door. “What?”

  “Good morning, Reed Daughter.”

  I leaned in the doorway. “Good morning, Than. What’s up?”

  “Although I have secured my business license, I have been informed that you will be among the persons of authority who must approve of my trade.”

  It wasn’t usual for the chief of police to have a say in such things, but I’d found it was easier to head off the more disastrous career choices of new gods in town if I was in the loop from the beginning.

  “Yes. I’ll have a say in okaying your business. What kind of business do you intend to go into?”

  “Aerials.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “String and paper and wind.”

  I waited for him to continue. He didn’t, instead just stood there looking at me expectantly.

  “What are you going to do with string and paper and wind?”

  He looked surprised that I hadn’t guessed yet. “Kites, Reed Daughter. I will sail kites.”

  “Have you ever flown a kite?”

  “No.”

  “You understand you’ll have to make money from this. From selling kites. Pretty, bright, whimsical things for children and the young at heart.”

  “Yes.”

  “Do you really think a job in sales is playing to your strengths?”

  “I thought the purpose of vacation was to relax. To be, for a time, not strong.”

  I couldn’t help but smile at that a little. It was how the gods looked at it. Being a god meant a lot of responsibilities, a power constantly coursing through everything they did, everything they touched.

  It could mean years and years of seeing that the one thing they had the power over was completely and thoroughly enacted.

  For Death, I could see how getting a break from having to harvest souls might be seen as no longer being strong.

  “Maybe,” I said. “Okay. Yes. I approve of you running a kite shop. Have you chosen the location?” I grabbed my coat off the chair where it had landed last night, then stepped outside, shrugging into it.

  He moved primly to one side so that I could walk past him onto the porch. It didn’t matter that he was in a casual tropical shirt. He still moved like he was in a top hat and tails.

  “I had expected to revive the current shop.”

  “The Tailwind?” It was a broken-down A-frame shack on the southern end of town that had once been a thriving kite business before the casinos, internet, and whale-watching trips became the normal for Ordinary. “Have you spoken to Bill Downing?”

  “The owner from California? Yes.”

  “He agreed to sell it to you?”

  “He agreed I could have the building and the name if I drew up a fair contract and paid him a portion of my profits for the next five years.”

  “Think you can follow through on that?”

  “I assure you I am more than capable of sealing a contract for a dilapidated shack.”

  I had to grin a little. He sounded put out that I had doubted Death could close a deal. I started down the stairs and he followed behind me, his footsteps silent on the steep concrete steps.

  “Good.” A car was coming, tires grinding gravel at the lower end of the dead end road. Jean was here quicker than I’d expected. “I’d like to see more kites out in the sky.”

  I had reached the bottom of the staircase and turned to face him. That put the opening of the dead-end driveway and the sound of approaching tires at my back.

  But it was the motion at the head of the driveway, a man stepping out from the bushes, that caught my eye.

  “You were wrong,” Dan Perkin said. He was in a dark gray coat, a silhouette in the deep of the early morning fog and darkness.

  “Dan? What are you doing here?”

  He raised his gun. “My root beer is a winner! I’m a winner!”

  I raised my hands, palm forward. “It’s okay, Dan. I agree. You’re a winner.”

  “You should have given me ten out of ten!” His voice was high and ragged.

  Sweat broke out on my lip, the cold of fog whisking it away. Dan was trembling with rage.

  “We can fix this, Dan,” I said. “I can fix this and you can win.”

  “Yeah, Delaney?” he scoffed. “Well, I can fix it too!”

  The pain and force of the bullet ripping into my chest knocked me off my feet. I heard the gunshot a second after I fell, whic
h seemed wrong to me. I landed on my ass in the sharp gravel, catching myself with one hand and trying to draw my gun with the other. I hoped to hell the car coming up the road wasn’t Jean, and if it was, that she wouldn’t put herself in the line of fire.

  I was having a hard time getting a breath. My lungs burned as if someone had stuck a torch into them. Everything around me had gone freezing cold, my movements slow and stiff, the darkness shifting to an almost purple haze that was fuzzing up my eyesight.

  I had to get on my feet. I had to get to my gun. I had to stop Dan before he shot anyone else—or before he shot me again. But I couldn’t seem to get a grip on the world that was slipping, slipping. Someone had taken all the air along with the light.

  Distantly, I heard Dan’s yell of fury and anguish. “No! No! There are no bullets. There are no bullets!”

  Then the screech of brakes and slide of blue and red lights bruised up the darkness.

  I thought I heard Myra’s voice, blinked hard to warn her, to tell her that Dan had a gun. But the only thing I could see was Death’s face, hovering above me so close that I could see the shattering of silver lightning in his endless black eyes, the collar of his tacky Hawaiian shirt burning like a fire in the night.

  “Reed Daughter,” he said softly, an intimate voice that swept my fears away, even though I still couldn’t breathe and I was thinking that was something I might want to be afraid of. “You cannot try to die. I am on vacation, after all.”

  That ridiculous statement and the amount of sincerity he delivered it with made me want to laugh, but I didn’t have any air for that either.

  Death put his cold hand on my chest, applying firm pressure to my wound as he shook his head disapprovingly. Then the world funneled down to a single speck of light that winked out.

  Chapter 23

  THE OCEAN was too loud. Waves rising and falling in a steady drone that filled my head.

  I wished someone would just turn the darn thing off.

  Rise, fall. Roar, roar, roar.

  I didn’t know how long it took, but I finally realized the ocean sound was my own breathing thrumming in my ears. I was lying down somewhere warm, maybe under a blanket? I couldn’t feel most of my body, which seemed like a really good thing.

 
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