Conflict, p.14
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       Conflict, p.14

           M. S. Willis
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  I looked between David and Daemon and then grabbed the photo from David’s hand and put it back on the table. “Thanks a lot, David. I’ll be sure to broadcast all of your embarrassing moments to everyone we meet as well.”

  We started walking down the hall towards the survivalist booth where I could hopefully get more information. I needed David to distract Daemon for me and I was getting antsy as we turned the corner and the booth came into view. The vendor was a large man who was wearing full camouflage. He had a large beard and his skin looked worn from years of sun exposure. I saw a small display of crystal figurines and removed myself from beneath Daemon’s arm before heading to the table. I shot a pointed look at David and hoped he would get the hint that I needed him to play interference once again.

  David winked at me and I was instantly pleased that he was still on board with the game plan. He continued walking down the walkway but then suddenly shrieked with excitement and grabbed Daemon by the arm.

  “Look, Daemon. Cat statues. Oh my goodness, there are so many! Come help me find the ones that I need for my collection!” David began pulling on Daemon’s arm and I gave Daemon a sympathetic smile before turning my attention back the figurines. I could hear Daemon sigh in resignation and when I peeked back over my shoulder, David had succeeded in dragging Daemon to the table. I was amused as I watched him pick up one of the little cat statues and turn it over in his hands to examine it. He had a disgusted expression, while David had an overly bright smile plastered to his face. I could overhear David telling Daemon exactly what he was looking for and I was proud of him for being so specific. It would take them at least a half hour to dig through the hundreds of statues displayed on the table and surrounding booth.

  After examining the crystal figurines long enough for Daemon to become absorbed in his search for David’s perfect cat, I turned and slowly made my way over the survivalist booth. Eric, the vendor, was busily polishing a graphite bow and looked up as I approached. His eyebrows shot up when he saw me, but then quickly turned down into a frown.

  I started perusing the assortment of knives, canteens, hatchets and other similar camping accessories before selecting a small pocket knife that had several blades and tool attachments.

  “Can I help you, miss?” Eric’s voice was rough and he had a slight Southern drawl. His look screamed ‘backwoods’ and I was anxious to get the information I needed and get away from him.

  I put the pocket knife back down on the table and looked up into Eric’s eyes. Knowing that he was a friend of Chris’, I had to be careful about what I asked as I was afraid he would recognize who I was.

  I kept a small smile on my face but then acted like I knew him from somewhere else. “Yeah, hi, you’re Eric, right. I’m a friend of Chris’ and I remember seeing him out with you one day. Do you remember me? My name is…” I paused briefly before coming up with a name. “…Rebecca.”

  Eric eyed me curiously, but then leaned down placing his arms on the table. “Friend of Chris’, huh? Well, I don’t remember ya, which is weird because I don’t see how I could forget a face like yours.”

  I quickly determined that the flirty character would work better on Eric than it had on the janitor. Once again, I took a lock of hair between my fingers and…gasp…twirled it. My mouth turned up into a bright smile and I peeked through my lashes at Eric.

  “Well, that’s real nice of you to say. I was wondering if you happen to know where Chris is, I haven’t seen him in a while.” I leaned into him a little so that I could keep my voice low while we talked. Eric saw that as an opportunity to stare openly at my cleavage. I winced at his brazen glare but then decided to play on his interest. I placed my hands on the table and used it as leverage to squeeze my arms together to enhance what little chest I had.

  Eric’s tongue peeked out from between his lips and he slowly moved his eyes to my face. I smiled innocently at him and his lips formed a sideways grin that actually made his face slightly more handsome. “Well, I can’t help you there, Rebecca, Chris has been M.I.A. for the past couple of weeks.” He chuckled while running his eyes back down to my assets. “Although, you won’t hear me complaining about that. Just means you’re open to give me a date.” His eyes shot back to mine again and I felt dirty just from him looking at me.

  I giggled and quickly turned to peek back at David and Daemon. Luckily, their backs were to me, but I knew I needed to hurry this along before Daemon turned around looking for me. My eyes returned to Eric’s and I vomited a little in my mouth at the lewd grin stretched across his lips. I breathed in a large breath and continued on with my flirtations.

  “Oh. I don’t know about that, Chris can be a little…possessive and mean…when I see other guys.” I eyed Eric’s face for any indication he knew what Chris was doing, but his expression fell and then quickly changed to one of anger.

  “Chris ever lay a hand on you?” His voice was somewhat loud when he asked me that question and I became nervous that Daemon could hear. I turned quickly again and felt better when I saw that David was intensively scrutinizing one of the statues, firmly trapping Daemon’s gaze in his direction.

  I turned back to Eric and my voice was somewhat rushed as I attempted to move along our little conversation. “Um, no, he’s never hit me or anything like that. It’s just that he can be a real asshole.” A let out a small nervous giggle and then got to business. “So, you have no idea where he might be?”

  Eric stood up straight again and eyes me curiously before answering. His hand reached up and stroked down his beard. “Well, I know the law is looking for him. They came by here a couple weeks ago asking about him.” He was thoughtful for a moment but eventually continued. “You know, Chris was big into survivalist training and roughing it in the woods. There’s a nature preserve a couple miles from here that he might be hiding in, but I wouldn’t go looking for him if I was you. It can get rough in those woods and I would hate for a pretty lady like you to meet up with a wild boar or other nasty critter.”

  A normal person might be intimidated by Eric’s warning, I, however, was not. I’d grown up exploring the wetlands and woods surrounding the Center and I knew my way around a lot of different environments. What did concern me was Chris being a survivalist. Those types tended to carry around weapons and I would not be able to deal with Chris if he had access to guns.

  I feigned a frightened expression in response to Eric’s warning. “So, does Chris have protection against all of those scary animals? I’d hate for him to be caught unarmed if something tried to attack him.” On the contrary, I would absolutely love it if he was caught and eaten by a wild animal, but somehow I didn’t think I could end up that lucky.

  Eric laughed at my concern. “Now, don’t you worry, your pretty little head. Where he’s probably staying, there’s several shelters left out for people caught on the trails in the rain. I’m sure he’ll be fine. Chris don’t have no guns that I know of, but he is pretty handy with a knife.”

  I bet he is…

  I was somewhat satisfied that Chris wouldn’t be armed, but I couldn’t count on that, knowing that he was hiding from the police. He may have bought a gun when he went into hiding. I had no option but to find him, and I decided that arming myself with at least some knives would be in my best interests.

  I realized that I was taking longer than I had intended and I glanced back to look for Daemon and David. Daemon’s back was to me and David caught my eye and shot me a look of desperation. I had a feeling Daemon’s patience was wearing thin and David was running out of ways to occupy him.

  I turned back to Eric. “So, where is this preserve exactly?”

  Eric shook his head and responded. “Well, if you are that intent on finding him, go south on the State Road leading out of town and about twenty miles down you will see a large brown sign indicating a nature preserve on your left. It’s the closest one you’ll get to once you get out of the state parks. I’d take plenty of supplies with you, it can get pretty rough back in the Flori
da scrubs. The bugs are nasty and the animals are nastier.”

  I nodded my head in understanding. I could easily admit that I was very adept at traversing different terrains, but it would be out of character for my current undercover persona. I turned to check on Daemon again and when my eyes met his angry stare, I froze. Crap! My eyes shot to David’s and he gave me an apologetic shrug.

  I turned back to Eric and muttered a quick thank you before heading back in Daemon’s direction. I took quick, determined steps as I approached him and he stared at me as if he knew I was up to something. When I reached him, I smiled and wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled him to me. I peeked up at him through my lashes and his face softened slightly while his mouth worked to contain the grin I knew wanted to break out.

  “Thinking about camping sometime soon, Damsel?” He wrapped his strong arms around me and kissed the top of my head. Our height difference was always such a relief for me because it felt good to be small sometimes. I had to admit, part of me was starting to enjoy the feigned submissive position I’d taken to Daemon while attempting to make him believe I’d finally given up on finding Chris.

  I looked up and placed a kiss on his chin, which was the only place I could reach while he was standing upright. His head came down and his lips softly took mine before he pulled away and looked at me for a response. I looked up innocently and batted my lashes. “Nope. Just looking. You ready to get out of here? I’m a little tired and think I’m ready to go home.”

  Daemon laughed before answering, “Yeah, I’m ready. I can’t take shopping with David much longer. The man has a passion for cat statues, I’ll tell you that.

  My eyes went over to David’s and he gave me a large, exaggerated wink from behind Daemon’s back. I smiled at him and nodded. He’d done a good job and I was proud of my partner in crime. Daemon reached down and took my hand and the three of us headed out to return home.

  Chapter Ten

  We arrived at the apartment in no time and upon entering through the front doors, Daemon immediately grabbed my arm and started pulling me towards his bedroom. My eyes sought out David’s, but he was too preoccupied with getting his flea market loot back to his room. Daemon’s pace was sure and steady and I found myself being seated on his bed in no time at all. He remained standing in front of me and I had to crane my neck to look up at him. My eyes went to the definition of his biceps while he crossed his arms over his chest. My body instantly buzzed at the sight of him, but my curiosity as to why he dragged me here overcame my thoughts.

  Daemon was obviously attempting to hold a straight face, but I could tell a small grin was trying to break free from his lips. Once he had satisfactorily gained control over his facial expression, he said, “Damsel. Mind telling me why you were talking to the survivalist guy. Should I be worried that I’m not exactly your type?” His head slightly angled and that grin finally broke free from one corner of his mouth. It occurred to me that Daemon was being jealous and I appreciated that he handled it maturely rather than going all nutso apeshit like some guys I’ve seen. Daemon’s normally calm demeanor was impressive, yet intimidating at the same time. He was like a sleeping bull, just waiting for some poor victim to cross his path, or an ambush hunter that sits quietly until you are within reach. His control over his expression and body language could be staggering and offsetting when you were confronted by him.

  “You have nothing to worry about. Camouflage isn’t really my biggest turn on.” I chuckled. “I was just checking out the camping gear and pocket knives and stuff.” I laid back on the bed and rested my head on my hands. I smiled up at the beautiful man standing above me and crossed one leg over the other to get into a comfortable position.

  Daemon leaned down and placed one hand on either side of my body as he held himself over me. His head came down and he placed a small, soft kiss on my lips before pulling up to smile at me. I wanted nothing more than to reach up and pull him down on top of me, but I knew he would resist until he’d said whatever it was he wanted to say to me.

  “I didn’t imagine you as the camping type. Want to give me a better explanation?” After asking me that question, his head came down again but instead of touching his mouth to mine, those warm, soft lips started working their way down my neck. My body arched up to him as he lightly nipped at my skin and I gasped when his teeth closed over my earlobe.

  “I…I’m not sure…how…I’m supposed to think….fuck…while you are doing that.” My arms came up to push him away and he chuckled before crawling up on the bed to lay beside me. He laid on his side and his hand started traveling up my thigh, pulling the hem of my dress farther up towards my torso. Those traitorous bumps instantly speckled my skin and his grip tightened around my leg when he noticed. I flinched at his sudden rough grip. He let go and started running his fingertips up farther towards the apex of my thighs.

  His face moved down until it was just touching mine. “Okay, Damsel, I’ll stop, but you need to start talking. I know you weren’t shopping for new pocket knives and tents.”

  My mind raced with what I could say to divert him from my true reason for speaking with Eric. If I’ve learned anything about Daemon, it’s that he will immediately stop a conversation if it turns around to a discussion of him; so that’s what I did.

  “Well, I thought maybe you would like something from the booth. You still have not told me much about yourself, so I guess I just have to guess at what things you might like. So tell me, Daemon, are you much of a camper?”

  His body moved away from mine and he laid down on his back and rubbed his hand over his face. Now that I had brought up the subject of his past, or even current life, he should be quick to change the subject. I was proud of myself for having at least figured out that one little trick to dealing with Daemon. The man did not want to give up much and getting any information was like pulling teeth.

  He stared at the ceiling for a moment and I was surprised when he went back up on one arm and leaned over to look into my eyes. “I know I haven’t been very open with you about my past. But, trust me, beautiful, it’s not a happy story and it would only burden you to know. You have enough to worry about right now without adding my sad tale on the pile.”

  I held his stare and I could have let it go, but damn if I wasn’t curious. “Actually, I would like to know where you come from. I know you were in foster care, but that’s it. What happened when you got out, how did you end up where you are now?”

  He closed his eyes and then opened them again. “Paige, I want to tell you everything, but it’s not something I talk about much. When I ran away from the system, I was homeless for about a year. I fought, I stole, I drank myself into oblivion on most nights, and there’s a lot more I can’t remember. If it wasn’t for…a friend…helping me out, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Hell, I don’t know that I would even be alive anymore. But, when I turned seventeen, something happened, I had purpose again and luckily, there were people who could help me.”

  I searched his face and wondered why he always remained so vague when discussing this subject. Was he afraid I would stop liking him or become disgusted with him? I didn’t think there was anything he could say to me that would cause either of those things to happen. But my heart did break for him. I couldn’t imagine seventeen year old Daemon fighting to survive. The thought scared me and I was glad he had someone who could remove him from all that and set him on the right path. But who?

  “Who helped you? Who was the friend that pulled you off the streets? If you were raised in foster care, who did you know? Was it one of your former foster parents?” The questions were spilling from my lips faster than even I could keep up with. I was desperate for any information he would give me about himself. I wanted so badly to fall for this beautiful man and sometimes I felt like I was kept at a safe distance while he was helping himself to everything about me.

  Daemon let out a resigned sigh and shook his head in silent objection. “Damsel, some day, I hope to tell you all there is to
know about me. But today is not that day. I will tell you that the people who helped me probably saved my life. They were friends of my mother, good people, and they found a place for me to stay. The man I went to live with was an old Marine who whipped my scrawny ass into shape pretty quick. He owned one of the bars that is now mine and when he died, he gave it to me. I built up from there, obviously, but that is how I came to be where I am now. If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t know that I would be here right now, staring at the most frustratingly beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

  I smiled at his flattery, but it wouldn’t stop me for digging for more information. “I thought your parents died when you were young. How did you know any of their friends? And why did those friends let you go into foster care in the first place?”

  Daemon’s face lost its amused expression and momentarily became hard before changing back to a blank state. He moved away from me again and started to sit up. He turned his body as if removing himself from the bed and I reached out and grabbed his arm to stop him.

  “Daemon. Tell me more about yourself. Please stop shutting me out.”

  He pulled his arm from my grasp and pushed himself off the bed. While walking around the large bed, his body was held rigidly and he seemed to struggle with what he should and should not say. When he finally reached the foot of the bed, he stopped. He didn’t turn back to look at me and his gaze was trained down to the floor. “I can’t tell you, Paige. Let’s just leave it at that.”

  My body instantly sat up and anger coursed through my system. I could not understand why he refused to tell me anything. “Why the hell not, Daemon?! It’s not like there’s anybody here to stop you. If you think I’ll stop liking you because of whatever happened years ago, I won’t. Just fucking tell me and stop this bullshit enigmatic act you have going on. It’s not fair for you to ask me to give all of myself to you and then hold out when I ask about where you come from!”

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