Death and relaxation, p.8
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       Death and Relaxation, p.8

           Devon Monk
 
Chapter 7

  WHEN I looked out into my living room after my shower, I was relieved to see that Cooper had taken his backpack and left my house. I spent five minutes I didn’t have tucking away Thanatos’s contract in the family vault in the basement, because we never left contracts at the station, then standing in front of my closet trying to decide what to wear.

  I had a dress. Three, actually. Well, two, if you didn’t count the one I wore to funerals.

  Of the two other dresses, one was a spring sort of number, soft yellow with a splash of watercolor petals falling from shoulder to hem. The other was black, short, and tight.

  I bit my bottom lip. Was this a dress sort of thing, or should I wear my uniform? I stared at my uncomfortable dress shirt, slacks, and badge. Too formal? I didn’t want to scare off my new employee. We needed the help. And as long as this person was able and willing (and not Dan Perkin), I wasn’t about to say no to hiring him or her.

  “Burgers and fries at a brewery is jeans all the way.”

  I pulled on my favorite jeans, added a brown leather belt, and a red tank top. Jump Off Jack’s tended to get hot when it was at full tilt, brick ovens rolling and the big fireplace lit. I scurried to the bathroom to do something with my wet hair.

  “Yikes.”

  By the time I’d dried and brushed my hair and applied a little mascara to try to distract from the circles under my eyes, I was already five minutes late.

  I threw phone, badge, wallet, and gun into my purse, grabbed the first socks in the drawer—black and red striped—stuffed my feet into my boots, and took off out the door.

  Rain drizzled down, a sort of misty fog that soaked a person to the bone in under five minutes. I’d forgotten my jacket, but didn’t turn back. I jogged the stairs and was in the Jeep in less than a minute.

  Jump Off Jack’s was busy tonight, even though it was Monday, and it looked like there were more locals than tourists. The word must be getting out about the new cook Ryder had said was so good.

  Ryder. My heart picked up the beat just thinking of him.

  I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror. “This isn’t about Ryder. This is about work. Also, let’s hear it for waterproof mascara. Not a smudge.”

  I pushed out of the car, noting a figure in a stocking cap walking down the fishing pier, ships tucked into their slips for the night casting yellow ripples of light into the bay. I strode through the drizzle across the parking lot then into the old warehouse between huge vats and past the tiny gift shop and register. The hostess at the register was with customers. She pointed me up the stairs with a nod, and I gave her a quick wave and took the stairs to the bar and restaurant above.

  Heat and music and the stomach-growling smell of burgers, fries, and garlic wrapped me up so tight and nice, I closed my eyes for a second and just inhaled, enjoying the moment.

  Then I strolled into the main room. What a difference a few hours made.

  When I’d come by to talk to Chris, the warehouse had felt cavernous, empty. But now the knotty pine booths and rustic tables and chairs, bare wood floors between walls decorated in the Jump Off Jack’s logo, were filled with happy people. The bar that took up the left half of the room, with its truly impressive offerings of brews, had every stool and table filled, and people leaning against the walls in small clumps.

  A group of Rossi boys—not all of them pale, but all of them that certain kind of vampire graceful—milled around the pool tables that took up some middle space between the bar and restaurant. Half a dozen of the Wolfe family were there too, the shades of dark hair and solid builds giving them away as relations.

  Ben Rossi wore slacks and a deep blue button-down dress shirt, and Jame Wolfe, wearing a black T-shirt and faded jeans, stood shoulder to shoulder with him by a pool table, putting up a united front against both groups, whom they good-naturedly harassed.

  There had always been a lot of tension between the weres and vamps in town. But Old Rossi and Granny Wolfe had made it a point that an all-out war between the two families would not be tolerated.

  That didn’t mean there weren’t scuffles, fights, and the occasional permanent relocation that caused a lot of animosity and the occasional vendetta between the families. But Old Rossi and Granny Wolfe ran tight ships and kept a lid on what could be utter chaos.

  Which just made Ben and Jame’s relationship that much more fraught with disaster. I’d heard there were bets on how long it would last, and who would end up being the first one killed. The two of them seemed to be taking their impending doom with cool indifference. There was a reason they were two of the best firefighters in town. They only got stronger under pressure.

  Both Ben and Jame must have felt my eyes on them. They turned a look my way, Ben curious, Jame more wary. I lifted an eyebrow, asking without words if I needed to throw some weight around with their relatives, who were arguing over whose turn it was to break.

  They both smiled and gave me a nod. They weren’t worried. The argument hadn’t escalated into trouble yet.

  Ben glided over to Sven Rossi and shoved his shoulder. Sven shut his mouth and stepped away from Jame’s brother, Tonner Wolfe. Tonner’s lip pulled up in a snarl, but Jame, who stood so close to Ben their shoulders touched, stared down his brother.

  Tonner finally looked away and Ben smirked, then took a drink of his beer. That alpha situation apparently settled, Tonner threw both hands in the air and took a step back from the table, giving Sven room. The vampire made the break and the game was on.

  I scanned the rest of the faces in both halves of the room.

  There were several deities in the place. Odin, who refused to go by any other name, sat at the back of the room. With his eye patch and wild gray hair, he looked every inch the eccentric chainsaw artist that he was. In the same booth, her back toward me, was the goddess Athena, or just Thena, as she chose to be called. Her hair curled long and sleek, dark as midnight against a white T-shirt that brought out the brown of her skin.

  She ran the surf shop, giving lessons and renting out wetsuits, boards, and other gear year round. Surfing was just starting to pick up around here, even though the Pacific was brutally cold. To supplement that building business, she also owned a specialty tea and candle shop.

  Raven, who thought it was hilarious to go by the name Crow, flirted outrageously with a pretty redhead back at the bar. He was medium built, a good-looking full-blood Siletz, with spiky, short hair and a wicked grin that got him all the women, or men, he wanted.

  Lots of mortals in the room too. Many of them from around here, but a good half or so were tourists. Proof that Jump Off Jack’s was doing healthy business. Good.

  I finally spotted Myra in the restaurant area, sitting sideways to me and looking my way. Jean sat across from her, giving me a huge grin, blue and red hair glowing in the light. A man sat at the table, his back to me.

  This must be our hire.

  I walked their way, studying what I could see of him. Tall. Probably six foot or more. Good shoulders. He shifted forward to lean elbows on the table, muscles straining the material of the Henley he wore. Change that: great shoulders. Dark, short hair, tanned neck, hands he liked to talk with.

  I knew him.

  No. They wouldn’t hire him. Even my sisters weren’t that cruel.

  I shot a look at Myra, who simply blinked like a satisfied cat. Jean snorted a laugh, then covered her mouth.

  And that was when the man turned.

  Ryder. Ryder Bailey was sitting at that table. Ryder Bailey was our new hire.

  My heart pounded double time. He watched me, his expression a heat that pulsed all the way down to my toes.

  Something about him had changed in the time he had been gone. Or maybe it wasn’t a change. Maybe it was just that the years he had been away had concentrated him into something undeniably sexy. Something that made my mouth water and knees weak.

  I took an involuntary breath as he raised his hand and slowly pinched his bottom lip between the side of his ind
ex finger and thumb, hiding a smile.

  His eyes glittered with humor.

  Great. Everyone was in on the new-hire joke. Fine. I was determined not to let it bother me.

  “Evening,” I said as I strolled around the table to the empty chair and sat directly opposite Ryder. I kicked Myra in the shin as I scooted the chair forward. I said I wouldn’t let it bother me, I didn’t say I wouldn’t be petty.

  She winced and tried to step on my foot, but I knew her tricks and quickly wrapped my boot out of the way around the lower rung of the chair.

  “Evening, Laney,” Ryder said.

  “Sorry I’m late.”

  “Everything okay?” Myra asked.

  I nodded and picked up my menu. “Terrific. Just terrific,” I said through a false smile.

  She wasn’t buying it.

  “So, Ryder,” I started, “I didn’t know you had an interest in law enforcement.”

  “Food before business,” Jean said, cutting off his reply. “We were waiting on you to order. Except for beer. Got you a Haystack. Your favorite.”

  “Thank you.” I glanced over the menu edge, with a look that said one beer would not make me forgive her for choosing Ryder as our new employee.

  She opened her heavily outlined eyes even wider, feigning innocence.

  “What’s good here now?” I went back to actually reading the menu offerings, surprised by how varied the selection was. Just a few months ago Jump Off Jack’s offered basic bar food: chips, bread appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches. Now there were some impressive options.

  “Crab cakes with chili hollandaise, yellow curry rockfish over peanut rice, whiskey honey sauce sirloin, wild shrimp in smoked tomato glaze,” I recited. “Wow.”

  “Mmm-hmm,” Ryder said. “The joint’s gone classy. Might have to up our game.”

  “It all sounds good,” Myra added.

  “New cook, new experiences,” Jean said. “We should all try something we’ve never done before. It might make us much less bitchy.”

  I kicked her.

  “Had,” she corrected. “Try something we’ve never had before. The bitchy comment stands,” she muttered.

  I checked out Ryder’s reaction through my lowered lashes. Other than a crooked smile, he was studiously ignoring my stupid sister, poring over the selections.

  “I know what I’m getting,” he said.

  “Something fancy?” Jean asked.

  “No.” He placed the menu down in front of him, and when I glanced up, he tipped his head just a bit to hold my gaze. “Burger, double cheese, double onion, side of fries.”

  The same thing he said he’d had last night.

  “I thought you were an adventurous man, Mr. Bailey,” I said.

  “Naw. A small-town boy like me? I know when to savor a good thing that’s right in front of me before it slips away.”

  My lungs stopped working.

  He was flirting with me. He was really, right here, in public and everything, flirting with me.

  What happened to the friend thing we had going?

  Was he just acting? Was this a joke to him? Something Myra and Jean had talked him into? If he saw me tongue-tied and flustered, would he laugh because I had mistakenly thought he was really flirting?

  We were just friends. We both knew that.

  Or did we?

  “Burgers and fries are great,” I said, my voice too high. Stupid. Nervous. Jean covered her laugh with a cough.

  Ryder might be messing with my concentration, but Jean was an easy, clear target. “What are you having, Jean?” I swung a boot her way, but she shifted sideways, easily avoiding the under-table war.

  “Well, I hear the burgers are great. But you know I always go for the hot, dark, and delicious.”

  Ryder’s eyebrows tucked down, but just the corner of his mouth slid up as he glanced over at her.

  “Dark?”

  “Chocolate,” she said with an innocence she hadn’t had a right to claim since she was sixteen. “Unlike Delaney, who is compelled to plan out every little thing in her life and then boss us around about doing the same, I’m more of a jump-in-all-the-way, dessert-first person.”

  “I boss you around because I’m your boss. Order food that isn’t sugar,” I bossed.

  Myra sighed and placed her menu down, her eyes scanning the room for the waitress just as a mortal named Molly walked over with our drinks.

  Molly was a college student staying with her grandmother this term and saving up money for next term by working at Jump Off Jack’s.

  “Hi, officers. Hi, Ryder,” she said with a quick smile as she set out our drinks. “Everyone ready to order?”

  “Hey, Molly,” Myra said. “I’ll take the chef salad, blue cheese on the side.”

  Jean pointed to the back of her menu. “Can I get the chocolate lava cake with a side of vanilla ice cream?”

  I scowled at her. She rolled her eyes.

  “And carrots?”

  “Uh…steamed carrots?” Molly asked.

  Jean made a face. “Do you have raw?”

  “Sure. Do you want those on the side?”

  “Yes, please.” Jean handed her menu over and took a nice long drink of her beer, daring me with her eyes to nag her about her food choices.

  “Chief?” Molly asked.

  “How’s the fish?”

  “We’re out tonight. We’ve been having some trouble getting shipments in.”

  Getting fresh fish around here didn’t seem like much of a challenge. We lived next to the ocean, the brewery abutted the bay, and there was more than one fisherman who would be happy to supply a restaurant that did this much business on an off night.

  “Sorry to hear that,” I said. “I’ll go with the blue cheese maple bacon burger, fries.”

  “Excellent,” she said. “Ryder?”

  “Burger, double cheese, double onion with fries,” Ryder said.

  She nodded and tucked all the menus under her arm. “Anyone want to try the Barberry Butte beer? On the house.”

  “Is that Chris’s rhubarb-cranberry beer?” Jean asked.

  “Yep.”

  “No thanks,” Ryder and I said at the same time Jean and Myra said, “Sure.”

  “Two yes, two no, got it.” Molly was off at a quick clip.

  “I didn’t know you liked cranberries,” I said to Jean.

  “You know I like free beer.”

  Ryder chuckled.

  I took a drink of my beer, watched Ryder drink his, spending a little too much attention to how his lips moved against his glass. Maybe our wait would be best spent going over business, not my fantasies of his lips on my skin.

  “Which of my sisters conned you into volunteering for the department?” I asked. Jean might think I planned everything out before jumping in, but she was wrong. Look at me—spontaneous.

  He shook his head. “Neither. I volunteered.”

  “When?”

  “This morning, after you came by and mentioned you were short-handed.”

  “I didn’t bring that up so you would offer your time.”

  “Why not offer my time? This is my town too. My home. I don’t mind pitching in. I’m a quick study. Took some law classes in college. Keep up at the gun range, know self-defense. Plus, I’m charming and capable of talking people into seeing things my way, which should come in handy during the crowd detail at the Rhubarb Rally. I know I’m not a trained police officer—I understand the rigors it takes to become one. But I’d make a decent security detail, or handyman, or janitor, or whatever you need around the place.” That last he offered up with a shy smile. It added a dose of humility to his assurances.

  Confident in his abilities, but not an overbearing jerk about them. Damn him. Could he get any sexier?

  “You already have a job.”

  “I set my own schedule. I’m sure I could take a week out to help with the rally, then maybe we can talk about how many hours a week you’d need me after that.”

  “You think this
is permanent?”

  “I’m hoping it might be.” The way he said it, with a low purr in his voice, made me wonder if he was talking about the job or if he was asking how many hours a week I, personally, would need him.

  Both ideas made my pulse race.

  Okay, the me-needing-him-personally made my heart race a little more than the other thing.

  “And I suppose you’re both on board with this?” I asked my sisters.

  Jean rubbed her thumb down the condensation of her glass and gave me the most serious look she’d had all night. “Ryder’s smart, went to college, owns his own business. Other than coming back to this Podunk town, he seems to have good decision-making skills. He plays well with others, isn’t a gossip, and—not to make your head swell, Bailey—he’s hardcore physically fit. Plus, he shoots a gun. The perfect man…”

  Ryder choked on his beer but got himself quickly under control.

  “…for our department,” she finished. “Jeez, Bailey. Did you think I was hitting on you in front of my boss?”

  He grinned down at the table, and the laugh lines that spread from the corners of his eyes made him look younger somehow. “No, Jean. I’m sure you’d never think of such a thing.”

  Myra tapped her fingers on the tabletop. “We need extra hands. We do. You know that, Delaney. We’ve been short since…” The slight pause was an ocean wave of silence crashing over us. Since Dad died. It echoed in the silence, it washed between my sisters and me. But Myra continued smoothly: “…a year or so. We’ve needed the help. No one wants to take a post in this town. There’s no upward mobility, for one thing, the benefits and pay aren’t that great, and honestly, we only need the extra help when the festivals are in town. Ryder is the perfect choice. We know him. He knows us. Knows the town and people here.” Mostly, her shrug seemed to say.

  “You have bedazzled my sisters,” I said.

  Ryder held my gaze. “Have I bedazzled their boss?”

  Yes. “No.”

  “Enough to land me a job?”

  I wanted to say no. Working with Ryder was going to be distracting and difficult and distracting, and had I mentioned distracting? But Myra and Jean were right. He was the perfect choice for the position. If I didn’t have a raging crush on him, I wouldn’t even hesitate to hire him.

 
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