Forbidden Fruit (Corine Solomon #3.5) - Page 10


“I don’t do tequila.”

“One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor?” I guess.

He laughs. “More than once, and I finally learned my lesson. The agave plant and I simply do not get along.”

“Let me guess. For light drinking, you prefer a bottled beer, probably microbrew. And when you’re feeling fancy, it’s expensive Scotch.”

“Smart-ass.” Jesse leans in and kisses me. “Mmm. Forbidden fruit, so very sweet.” His drawl kills me dead. Dead, I tell you, especially the way he stretches the word very. He goes on, “But yes. In beer, it’s Flying Dog pale ale. For sipping, I prefer Chivas, if you’re looking to buy me something nice.”

I grin. “I doubt I can afford it on a Pretzel Pirate’s salary.”

“Then you’d better find a higher-paying job if you intend to keep me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed.”

I absolutely love this exchange because the idea of me being Jesse’s sugar momma is hilarious. Besides, he gets a cop’s paycheck, so he’s not used to a lavish lifestyle. I’m giggling quietly as the bartender says: “Twila will see you now.”

Jesse takes my hand and guides me back, suddenly somber, and I take my cue from him. My first impression of the Queen of Texas is regal beauty. Her presence is powerful, making you want to drop to one knee in obeisance. I can imagine her seducing Mark Anthony or captivating Caesar on a barge drifting slowly down the Nile. She’s tall, stately, with graceful shoulders and dusky skin. Her black hair hangs in beautiful braids, twisted together and caught in a golden snood. This only reveals her strong jaw and sculpted cheekbones. Right now, I realize I’ve been staring too long, but she must be used to startling people with her majesty.

Her office is equally impressive, all old-world elegance. I dip at the knee, unable to control the urge. Jesse bends as well, bowing before her.

And Twila smiles.

“I wondered how long it would be before you lost lambs came bleating at me.” Her voice is lovely too, mellifluous and rich with just a hint of tropical islands. “Sit, little one.”

She’s clearly talking to me, so I obey, folding my hands in my lap like I’ve been called out for disciplinary action. I’m so nervous, more than when the old woman was trying to murder me. And what sense does that make? Yet the air feels thick, not with the dead, but…sentience. It’s like no feeling I’ve ever had before.

Before I can speak, she adds, “Let me save you some time. You want your lost memories…and to know why the demons are involved.”

Jesse was right; she does know everything. She’s like that song, where Santa Claus sounds like a stalker. He sets a hand on my shoulder, obviously sensing my emotional state. Something about this room is freaking me out. My skin literally creeps, like when I was being watched at the mall, only not quite.

“You’re more sensitive than most,” she says softly. Then she whispers a few words, and the atmosphere lightens.

“What did you do?”

“Sent the loa away. Most people can’t feel them.”

Wow. The power she commands awes and terrifies me. “You were right about why we’ve come.”

“I can help,” she tells me. “But it will cost you.”

“Without knowing what you’ll charge, I can’t say whether I’m willing to pay.”

Twila arches a brow, glancing at Jesse. “I like this girl.”

That’s good, right?

“We’re willing to talk terms,” Jesse says. “But not before full disclosure.”

“Then let me spell it out. In return for my aid, Shannon Cheney will come to work for me. People occasionally leave this life without telling me what I need to know. It would help me immeasurably to have

someone who can coerce answers from beyond the grave.”

“You can’t?” I ask, before realizing that might sound offensive.

She shakes her head. “My loa can do many things, but they cannot pass to the other side. As I understand, nor can you. Instead, you call the dead back to you.”

That’s a fair assessment. I’m about to agree to her bargain when Jesse presses on my shoulder. “Can we talk in private for a moment?”

“Of course. You have five minutes.” She rises smoothly and steps out of the office, then I hear her moving away.

“You can’t do this, Shan. Your life wouldn’t be your own…Twila will keep you on call twenty-four seven. And she won’t have a reason not to kill people. It’ll become more efficient to dispatch her enemies and question them after death. Can you imagine the toll it’ll take on you?”

Not to mention the jump in murder rate. I didn’t think of that, but it makes sense. Twila doesn’t run Texas by being gentle and generous with her rivals. I push out a sigh. “Then I have to turn her down.”

“I think so.”

When she returns, I decline her offer with as much courtesy as I can muster. Whatever she thinks of this, she only inclines her head. “The offer will remain open until the situation is resolved, one way or another.”

Fuck, that sounds ominous.

Once we’re back in the bar, Jesse wraps his arms around me and pulls me close. “Try not to worry. We’ll figure this out. She’s just trying to spook you.”

“It worked,” I whisper.

He rubs my back gently. “I know, honey. Let’s go home.”

Ten

The return trip is much quieter; I don’t feel like joking around. Though it takes a lot to depress me, I can’t shake the feeling that something major’s about to go down—and maybe I would’ve been better off throwing in with Twila, who can protect me, even if she makes me do bad things. Yet I don’t want to be an accomplice in her dark business, either. This would be the classic rock-versus-hard-place dilemma, and I get to be the squishy thing in the middle.

“Hey,” Jesse says, as we exit the highway and drive through the dark Laredo streets toward his apartment. “You know I won’t let anything happen to you, right?”

I feel like saying I understand he’ll do his best to protect me, but there are no guarantees…and I don’t expect him to be my hero. I just want him to be the man in my bed. Hell. I’ll eat a quart of ice cream if he makes me sleep on the couch again.

“Thanks,” I manage to reply.

“I know you’re scared. Sad. Confused, too, unless I’m reading you wrong.”

“No, that covers it.”

“What can I do to make it better?”

Despite myself, I grin. “Are you really asking me that?”

“Shan. I’m being serious. Sex won’t fix your emotional—”

“Couldn’t hurt. It produces endorphins, you know, and those improve your mood. Doctors have proven that orgasms help with headaches, too.”

“So I can expect you to say, definitely tonight, baby, I have a headache?”

“You could stop at definitely tonight and you’d be covered.”

It’s easier for me to put aside the bad mood when he’s smiling. My breath hitches a little when his dimple puts in an appearance, creasing his lean cheek. He’s wearing cowboy boots, and I’m discomfited at how hot I find him—from the softly worn chambray shirt to the faded Levi’s, down to those battered boots. He’s all Texas sexy, and I’m incapable of resisting him. To look at me, you’d guess I go for thin, sensitive types with dyed black hair, partial to basements and bad poetry, but no. I’ve never had an eye for pretty emo boys in

guyliner.

Jesse parks the car, still amused. He grabs my bag from the back, then comes around to open my door. I follow him up to his apartment, which is even cleaner than the last time I visited. It smells of lemon furniture polish and…air freshener? Yep, there’s a deeper citrus scent circulating.

“Aw, you got me a Glade PlugIn. You shouldn’t have.”

“Anything for you.” He quotes back my words, and I wonder if he means them as fully as I did. My heart clenches a little at the possibility.

“Smooth talker. Is my toothbrush still in the bathroom?”

He draws in a sharp breath, as if he hadn’t thought of it that way before. “Yeah. It’s in the glass next to mine.”

“Then I’ll get changed and wash up.”

There’s no way he can understand how momentous this is. I’m going to take off my makeup before he sleeps with me. I’ll sit and talk with him, barefaced. Naked. My heart is pounding so fast as I take my bag from him and head down the hall to the bathroom. I lean against the door, nervous but also excited. If I want everything from him, I must be willing to give it back.

Still, I take my time with my nighttime routine, and it’s hard to work up the courage to step into the hall. With all of the kohl, eyeshadow, lipstick, and foundation removed, I look younger. I hope that doesn’t deter him. I don’t think I look like a kid, but he’s not used to seeing me this way, either. He might not want the real me.

Please, want the real me.

Since I own no sexy pajamas, these are simple, a white top with huge blue polka dots, worn with matching shorts. I brush my hair one last time before I exit and head back to the living room. Jesse’s already changed into baggy athletic shorts and a plain gray T-shirt. The soft cotton clings to his chest and shoulders to reveal a lean yet muscular build.

“Come here,” he murmurs.

God, I hope he doesn’t turn on the TV. But I move toward the couch, head down. Jesse startles me by tugging me onto his lap. Well. That’s a good start. Warm hands cradle my cheeks, forcing me to meet his gaze. He skims my face with dark eyes, silently rapt.

Then he whispers, “I had no idea you were this beautiful, Shan. No wonder you wear camouflage.”

Heat rockets through me, starting in my chest and working its way down until I’m squirming on his thighs. There’s no way I can survive wanting him this much. I’ll go nova and explode in a cascade of lights, like the umbrella fireworks on the 4th of July. I tuck my face against his shoulder, trembling with the intensity.

“Back home, there was a boy… Funny how clear I remember him when so much else is fuzzy. Late at night, we’d sneak off to the woods. He said he loved me.”

“Sugar, if you think I want to hear this—”

I ignore him because he needs to. “We had sex, more than once. I liked it, but I didn’t kid myself that it was anything special.”

“Goddammit.” His voice is a raw ache. “I guess I’m supposed to feel better about fucking you now, knowing I’m not the first? So you’re not untouched, I get it.”

“That’s not the point at all. I’m trying to say, this is special. You are. And I’ll never want anyone more than I do you.” That said, I open the floodgates and let him feel…everything, how deep and far my yearning runs. It’s an underground river, racing endlessly toward a sunless sea.

“God help me,” he whispers. “I can’t stop this. Not again.”

“Do you want to?” I’ll leave if he feels strongly against it. Seducing him through my own desire is fine, but only as long as he won’t hate me afterward. I want more than one night with Jesse Saldana.