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Beard Science(72)

By:Penny Reid

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m feeling charitable.”

His glare narrowed on me.

“Okay, maybe I want a favor,” I corrected.

“Why would I give you a favor for telling me about . . . about Ms. James?”

A slow grin spread over my features and I watched the older man swallow. “You know why.”

Something flashed behind his dark eyes, but he said nothing.

Taking his silence as implicit agreement, I announced, “I want Isaac Sylvester to visit his sister, apologize for being hateful, and be nice to her.”

Repo stared at me, waiting for me to continue. When I didn’t, he frowned. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

He shook his head slowly. “No. That’s not it. You’ve got something up your sleeve. You always do.”

I clutched my chest as though the accusation wounded me. “Uncle Repo!” and then I added with a respectful head tilt and mock sincerity, “. . . I’m flattered.”

He smirked, squinting and turning for the door. “I’ll see what I can do.”

After the rehearsal dinner—during which my brothers continued to feign ignorance of my existence—I drove Jennifer home.


The thought pained me.

Tonight I would leave her. She would stay, and she would be at her home.

At some point over this last week I no longer considered the Winston homestead my home. Not anymore. Not when my woman dwelled elsewhere.

As much as I wanted her home to be my home, if Jenn was going to live anywhere on her own, I was glad she’d chosen Claire’s place. The house was basically a fortress.

Jethro and Mr. McClure—Claire’s father-in-law—had taken extra measures to ensure the place was safe. It had two panic rooms, one on each floor, an alarm and surveillance system with three redundancies, and only three entry points. Every window could sustain anything from a hurricane to a bullet. They were shatterproof. All outside doors had double dead bolts and were steel, as were the door frames.

These were my thoughts as I drove, until Jennifer interrupted the silence with a softly spoken announcement. “My mother called me during the rehearsal dinner. That’s why I excused myself.”

I split my attention between her profile and the road. “Did she?” I knew Jenn had received a call, but I didn’t know who it had been from.

“She did.” Jenn nodded, pulling out her phone. “I told you about how I talked to her on Wednesday? How I told her I wouldn’t be going back to work until we’d finalized an employment agreement? And I told her about my father?”

“Yes.” I braced myself, because her voice sounded sorrowful.

“She’s sending me the agreement on Monday to review. And she’s decided to leave my father.”

We arrived at a stoplight and I took the opportunity to scrutinize her more closely. Ruining her father was still a priority for me. Whatever Diane Donner-Sylvester required in order to ensure Kip never saw a cent of the Donner family legacy, I would do it. This news, about her mother leaving the man, was a good first step.

“What can I do?” I asked, needing to help, needing to make things better for her.

Her extraordinary eyes glittered in the darkness. “Just love me.”

“You got it.”

We were silent for a moment and I turned onto her road before she offered philosophically, “I want you to know that I’m not angry with you anymore for blackmailing my father and trying to control the situation. But I’m glad he told me about it. I’m glad he thought you were bluffing. Because now I’m free of him.”

Her words hit me straight through the heart. I blinked, off-kilter, and readjusted my grip on the steering wheel.

“I’m glad you’re free of him,” I agreed, “but I wish I’d told you from the beginning and made the choice yours, instead of trying to make it for you.”

I caught her smiling at me out of the corner of my eye. “I know. And I wish I didn’t continue to feel loyalty to a man who has treated me badly my entire life.”

“That’ll fade,” I said with certainty, because I knew. I hadn’t always despised my father and I certainly didn’t feel any loyalty to the bastard now.

“I hope so.”

I shifted in my seat and switched on the blinker, pulling into her driveway. “Uh, by the way, I meant to tell you earlier at Daisy’s, I had a discussion with Repo and Catfish about Isaac.”

“Who are Repo and Catfish?”

“Two big deals in the Iron Wraiths.”

“You did?”

“Yes. The Wraiths aren’t looking for retribution for what happened last Friday. Not anymore. So that’s resolved.”

“That’s good.” She sounded relieved and I was pleased to remove any lingering concern about the episode from her mind.

“You said you wanted to know when or if I took action on your behalf, so I need to tell you something else.”

Her hand came to my knee, warm and comforting. “Oh? What did you do?”

“I requested Isaac pay you a visit, apologize for being hateful, and make an attempt to mend fences.” My eyes flickered to hers as I parked in front of Claire’s—now Jennifer’s—house.

She was staring in my direction, but I doubted she was really looking at me.

“If Isaac wanted to know me, Cletus, then he would have come to me before now.”

Her tangible grief made me want to beat the crap out of Isaac Sylvester. Again.

“Maybe,” I said, “maybe not. Maybe he’s lost and needs the love of a good woman to help guide him out of his foolish decisions.”

She cracked a smile, teasing, “You mean like you and me?”

“Exactly.” I covered her hand on my knee and slid it higher.

Lips parting in surprise, Jenn’s eyebrows jumped and she grinned, visibly delighted.

“Let’s go inside.” Her voice was husky. I liked it.

“Sounds like an excellent idea.” I bolted from the driver’s seat, the sound of her laughter chasing me, and jogged around the hood to her door.

I helped Jenn from the car, stepped forward, and swept her into my arms.

“Cletus.” She both scowled and smiled at me, shaking her head and winding an arm around my neck. “My feet are fine.”

Jennifer’s feet had mostly healed, but I still planned to use them as an excuse to carry her everywhere, whenever possible. Holding her in my arms was one of my favorite states of being.

“I don’t want to take any chances. Get your keys out.”

She pulled her keys from her purse and rested her head against my shoulder as I climbed the stairs.

“This certainly was an interesting evening.”

I nodded my agreement, but said, “It isn’t over yet.” I bent slightly so she could unlock the deadbolts.

Door unlocked, we crossed the threshold; I shut the door with my foot and she flipped the locks, kicking off her shoes.

“Where to now?” I asked, turning left, then right. “To the kitchen? Or to the living room?”

“I think I’d like to lay down.” Jenn snuggled closer, wrapping both arms around my neck and placing a kiss on my neck. “How about the bedroom?”

I didn’t need to be told twice.

I carried her up the stairs and to her room, flicking on the light. She sighed, placing more kisses on my neck, one of her hands moving to the buttons of my shirt and undoing the first three. She was wearing a blue dress that looked like a long sweater, except it wasn’t baggy. It hugged her curves just right and had been driving me crazy all night.

“This dress,” I said, placing her gently on her feet in front of her bed, “it wants to come off.”

“Does it?” She grinned up at me, continuing her work on the buttons of my shirt.

“It does.” I frowned at the material, not certain how to proceed because I hadn’t spotted a zipper.

She placed a kiss on my collarbone, pushing off my jacket and encouraging it to fall to the floor. Then she tugged at my undershirt.

“Cletus, I miss your touch,” she whispered, pressing her body to me and brushing her lips against mine. “Won’t you touch me?”

I nodded, entranced as usual by this woman. I slid my hands under her skirt, relishing the silky skin of her thighs. Jennifer lifted her arms and I took the hint, removing the dress as one would remove a sweater, pushing it over her head.

This left Jenn standing before me in her bra and underwear, a sublimely luscious temptation.

Before explicitly telling my brain to do so, I’d unhooked her bra and bent to savor her breasts, filling my hand with one and my mouth with the other. I kneaded and massaged her flawless skin, tugging and twisting her nipple. She moaned and her breath hitched, the sounds driving me mad. Jenn slid her fingers into my hair, pressing on the back of my head, arching to get closer.

We were alone. In her home. And I wanted her. Very badly.

My lungs burned and my veins throbbed with how badly I wanted her, this woman. My woman.

Times like these, it was difficult not to take advantage. Times like these, my baser instincts fought to seize control, pushing me to tease her, leverage the advantage of my experience until she begged me to ease and fill her ache.

I wanted every inch of her perfect body. As my control slipped, I convinced myself I needed it. I needed her, to possess her, to claim her. The need gripped and suffocated me . . .