I wiped my hands off on the front of my jeans and then placed the wrench back into Violet’s backpack full of random tools. Before I zipped it closed, I rummaged through the assortment. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for. But the whole time I had been fixing the furnace, I had tried to ignore the fact that her tools were in a backpack. What did it really matter? Tool cases were easy enough to carry around. She just wasn’t handy. Clearly. Her furnace looked like it had been patched by someone who knew nothing about them. It was on the fritz. She’d be lucky if it lasted through the winter.
But what if they were in a backpack for a different reason? It would be easier to tramp through the woods with the weight distributed between two shoulders instead of one. Before tonight, I had wanted her to be guilty. I wanted to solve the case and keep my job or get a promotion if I was lucky. After spending a whole night with her though? I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore. I thought Violet had been bluffing when she said she didn’t live alone. I hadn’t been expecting a kid. One with the same hair color and eye color as his beautiful mother. I knew she was sick, but I still expected the whole night to be flirtatious. I hadn’t expected…this. And I certainly hadn’t expected to love it so much.
I zipped the backpack closed and then wiped my hands off on the front of my jeans. There wasn’t anything suspicious in it at all. Just wrenches and screwdrivers of various sizes. As far as I could tell, there wasn't anything suspicious in the entire house. I had taken every opportunity I had to look around. And on top of that, Violet really didn’t seem crazy to me. All night long she had only done one odd thing and I might have missed it if her son hadn’t pointed it out.
The only thing out of place here was her. I still had no idea why she would live out in the middle of nowhere in a dump. A cold dump. The house was crumbling around her. It didn’t really feel that way though. Her and her son’s laughter could make any room feel warm. He was an adorable kid.
I heard a creaking noise upstairs and glanced at the basement ceiling. Violet was walking somewhere. It felt like this was my chance to catch her doing something, anything suspicious. I pulled the backpack over my shoulder and ascended the basement steps as quietly as possible.
There was no need to look around to find where she had gone. I could hear her and Zeke’s voices drifting down from upstairs.
“I know it’s a special weekend, but that doesn’t mean a special bedtime. It’s late, little dude.”
“But Mom. We never have anyone else to play with. Five more minutes?”
He drew out the word mom in the cutest way. But I was more focused on his words than how he said them. They didn’t have anyone else. I figured it was just the two of them, but I hadn’t asked. She didn’t wear a wedding ring and Damien had confirmed that she wasn’t married. But it was hard to believe that someone would have left the two of them behind. They’d be missing out on too damn much.
“You're not going to convince me tonight. You already got dessert for dinner. It’s bedtime.”
I stared up the stairs. I felt drawn to them, like I wanted to be up there tucking him in too. Like maybe they needed me.
“I like your friend,” Zeke said.
“Yeah. He’s very nice.”
I cringed. Nice? That wasn’t how I wanted her to think of me. How do I want her to think of me?
“Will he be back?”
There was a long pause. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
Her voice had at least sounded hopeful there. That hope spread to me. I wanted to come back. I just wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with the case anymore.
I heard the floorboards creek upstairs and moved away from the steps. Eavesdropping wasn’t exactly a good way to get invited back. I retreated into the kitchen.
Violet walked in a minute later, looking anywhere but at me.
“The furnace is all fixed. You’ll be able to take off all your layers in no time.” Screw me. I had inadvertently just implied that she could get naked soon. For a second, I thought maybe she missed it, but then her cheeks flushed.
“Thanks. Are you hungry? I can warm up the food you brought.”
I wasn’t really hungry. But there was an awkward tension hanging in the air between us. She still wasn’t looking at me and all I wanted was for her to make eye contact. Now that Zeke was asleep, neither one of us knew exactly what our dynamic should be. The hot lava game had been distracting. It had been easy to focus on Zeke, but now that all my focus was on her? I couldn’t look away from her. The flush of her cheeks. The curves of her hips.
“Or…” her voice trailed off. “It’s pretty late. Maybe…”
“I’m hungry.” I didn’t want tonight to end yet. I hadn’t asked her any questions at all.
She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Okay, just give me one minute.”
“Do you want to watch a movie or something?”
“I don’t have a TV. But we can eat in the family room if you want. It’s more comfortable. I just need to pick up the cushions…”
“I got it. You heat the food, I’ll clean up the other room.”
She smiled like it was the nicest thing she’d ever heard.
I left her alone and started picking up all the pillows and cushions in the other room. By the time I was done, she was walking in with two hot plates of food.
She sat down on the couch all the way on the end, like she wanted to be as far away from me as possible. She balanced her plate on her lap and took a bite.
I sat down only one cushion away from her and took a bite too. The chicken parm hadn’t survived well in the microwave. The coating was soggy and the meat was a little rubbery. I was about to make a joke about it when she broke the awkward silence.
“I don’t know how to thank you for this. And the furnace. We probably would have frozen tonight if you hadn’t stopped by.” She laughed like what she'd just said wasn’t a big deal.
“I’m sure a repairman would have come out if I hadn’t. It was no problem.”
She sneezed. “No one could come for two days.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. You should have called a different company.”
“I called five. And I’m sure they do come out quickly for most people. Just…not for me.” She took a bite of chicken and sighed like it was the most delicious meal she’d had in ages.
If only she knew what it tasted like when it had been fresh. “Why not for you?”
She took another bite, and for a minute I thought she was going to ignore my question. But then she set down her fork and knife and looked up at me. “Because no one wants to come all the way out here.” She scrunched her mouth to the side. “That’s a lie.” She laughed. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind that. It’s me. I told you earlier…I’m the crazy lady on the hill. Everyone avoids me like the plague.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy.”
“You don’t know me very well.” She tapped her fork against her plate a few times before looking back up at me.
“I have a feeling I’ve gotten to know you better than most of the people you’re referring to.”
“You’re really not from around here, are you?”
“No. I was transferred to this department about a year ago.” I didn’t want to talk about me. I wanted to know more about her. “Zeke mentioned earlier at dinner that you were doing that thing. What was he referring to?” She had been opening and closing one of the takeout containers continuously. Like she was stuck in some sort of trance.
She put her fork back down. “I have a little bit of a nervous OCD thing. Well, not just when I’m nervous…it’s also when I’m upset, agitated, anxious, and nervous.”
“You said nervous three times.”
“Yeah. It’s especially bad when I’m nervous. But really whenever I feel at all uncomfortable.” She tapped the side of her plate.
I watched this time. She tapped it three times and then stopped. Then she proceeded to do the same thing with the next finger. “Are you uncomfortable right now?”
“No.” She pressed her lips together. “I think you make me nervous, Detective Reed.”
“Right. Tucker.” She continued to tap the side of her plate. “Why are you here?” She didn’t give me a chance to respond. “I can pay you for the furnace.”
“I’m not here for your money. I just wanted a chance to really talk to you.”
“You mean to question me? I’ve already answered all your questions.”
I set my plate down on the ground and moved closer to her on the couch. And I swore I heard her gulp. “Your son is adorable.”
She smiled. “He is. He’s funny and brilliant and so sweet. I couldn’t have imagined a better son into existence.”
“And his earned day off?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “One day isn’t a big deal.”
“It's almost the weekend.”
“Kids need a break every now and then. Just like adults.”
She was right, she did always answer my questions. But not the way I wanted her to. She was hiding the truth from me. I thought about the conversation I had overheard. Zeke had said they never have anyone else to play with. “Does he enjoy school?”
“He loves learning.”
“And his friends?”
She put her plate down on the ground beside mine. When she leaned back against the couch, she closed her eyes.
I should have been studying her face. Trying to figure out what she was hiding. Instead, I found my gaze wandering lower. She was so close that I could smell the sweetness of her skin. I wasn’t sure if it was soap or perfume, but she smelled like a field of spring flowers.
She pulled her legs up on the couch, not caring when her knees graced my thigh. Her breathing started to slow. For a moment I thought she was asleep, but then she broke the silence.
“The other kids pick on him. It’s not fair that I make him go to school when I hide out here. And that’s the whole problem. It’s my fault that he gets teased.” She wiped beneath her eyes and then tucked her head more against the pillow. “I’m a bad mother. I’m the reason he doesn’t fit in. It’s all my fault.” She wiped beneath her eyes again.
Her words broke my heart. I wanted to reach out to her and give her a hug. But I was worried that once we touched, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. I was already distracted enough by her knees against my thigh. Look away from her. Tell her you need to go. Leave.
“Are you married?” I asked, instead of listening to any rational thoughts. I knew she wasn’t. There was no ring on her finger. And Damien had already told me she wasn’t. But I still wanted to hear it from her.
“No.” Another tear fell, like she had loved and lost. Or maybe she was still upset about what she had told me about Zeke. “I’m not married. That was never in the cards for me.”
“What about Zeke’s father?”
“He didn’t want anything to do with him.”
How? How was that possible? “His loss.”
She smiled and a small moan escaped her lips. “Yeah. His loss.” Her breathing became more shallow. And then she snored. A cute, adorable little snore. It was probably because she was sick.
“Violet?” I whispered.
She didn’t respond.
All night long she had been running around playing with her son. If she thought she was a bad mother then she was insane. And if she missed Zeke’s father at all, she was even more insane. I immediately regretted the thoughts. Insane wasn’t the right word. Violet wasn’t crazy, despite the rumors. She was kind. And sweet. And beautiful.
She snored again and I smiled.
For just one night, she deserved to be cared for. I leaned forward and lifted her into my arms. She was lighter than I expected, the layers of clothes she was wearing adding a little more bulk to her lean frame. I carried her down the hall and up the stairs. The second floor was more fixed up than the first. I walked into what I assumed was her bedroom. When we first met she had said she was fixing the place up. Maybe she was handier than I had given her credit for. As soon as I thought it, one of the floorboards at the base of her bed squeaked beneath my foot.
I kept walking and laid her down on her bed. My body begged me to climb in bed beside her. Instead, I pulled the covers over her. I wanted her to invite me into her bed the first time. I didn’t even care that my mind was already jumping to that conclusion. Violet wasn’t crazy. And she wasn’t an arsonist. I doubted she could kill a fly. Everything about her nature screamed that she was innocent. Did she have secrets? Sure. But she was just reserved, that was all. And I was coming back tomorrow. And the next day. And the next, until I broke down her walls. I wanted to know everything about her.
I walked back in the direction I had come from. The floorboard squeaked again. I stopped and looked down. It almost looked like it hadn't been laid properly. I bent down and tried to shift it back into place, but the whole piece of wood lifted into my hands.
Shit. I was about to place it back where I had found it when I realized there was a box hidden beneath the floorboards. I glanced at Violet sleeping and then crouched down. This was snooping. I didn’t have a warrant. And beyond that, I wanted her to trust me. She hated the rest of the people in this town. I didn’t want to be one of them.
And yet…I picked up the box. I couldn’t help it. My curiosity had gotten the better of me. I lifted the lid and opened up one of the letters inside. A love letter.
Meet me at the lake after practice. I have a surprise for you.
Forever and always,
I picked up another note and scanned it.
Study session tonight? I need to look at your Calc notes, mine suck.
Forever and always,
They were all high school nonsense and signed the same way. Promises of forever. I tossed the notes back in the box. It was none of my business, but I wanted to know if Joel was Zeke’s father. And how "forever and always" became "never and goodbye." He seemed to love her. So why would he leave when she needed him the most?
Violet snored, pulling me out of my thoughts. I closed the lid of the box. I wanted to put Joel’s name into the system and see what I could find. I wanted to know what kind of man would abandon his beautiful family. But I wasn’t going to do that. Violet was slowly opening up to me. Maybe she’d tell me about Joel soon. And Zeke’s father, if they weren’t the same person.
I turned to put the box back where I had found it when my eyes landed on something I never expected. A pistol. Right there under the floorboards. I looked back at Violet sleeping and a chill ran down my spine. All night long I had been captivated by her, completely ignoring my suspicions from a few days ago. But Violet wasn’t as sweet and innocent as she seemed. She wasn’t a damsel in distress in dire need of someone to take care of her. She could clearly fend for herself. After all, people that couldn’t even kill flies didn’t own guns.
END OF CHAPTER 8
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What the heck did I just agree to? I sneezed as I wiped down the counter once, twice, three times until every remaining spot of flour was gone. But a clean counter didn’t help. The rest of the kitchen was a mess. The rest of the house was even worse.
Zeke and I had spent most of the day playing hot lava, which entailed pulling off all the couch cushions and pillows and putting them on the floor to hop on. I had melted in the lava way more times than Zeke thanks to my constant sneezing in between jumps.
“Mommy.” Zeke pitty-patted my leg. “What are you doing? It’s your turn to make it through the lava course.”
“I’m just…” I let my voice trail off. Screw it. I tossed the washcloth back down on the counter. My house was a disaster. And freezing cold. Zeke was dressed in his snow-pants and layered up in a few sweaters. The only reason I had agreed to let Tucker in was so that he’d fix the broken heater. Who cared what he thought of my house? This wasn’t a date. I wasn’t trying to impress him. We both knew why he was really here. He was fishing around for information. And my lips were sealed. And I was only going to open them to eat the food he had brought. If I hadn't been exhausted, I would have turned him away.
I tucked a dreadlock behind Zeke’s ear. “You know my friend who brought us doughnuts earlier? Well…he brought dinner for us too.”
Zeke’s eyes grew round. “More doughnuts for dinner?”
“No, not doughnuts.” Honestly I didn’t know if that was true. He may have brought doughnuts for dinner. He was a cop after all. It may have been the only thing he ever ate for all I knew. “I don’t know what he brought, we’ll have to see when he brings it in.”
“Doughnuts!” Zeke took off toward the front door.
Abandoning my lame attempt at cleaning up my house, I followed my son.
Zeke threw open the door and yelled “doughnuts” to a very confused looking Detective Reed.
He looked at me and then back at my son.
I assumed he knew I had a kid. I had told him I didn’t live alone. And he had known my name without me offering the information. He had clearly done some digging on me. But the way he was looking at Zeke made me think he wasn’t very good at his job. Because he sincerely looked surprised. Or maybe I had this all wrong. Maybe he wasn’t digging at all. And this was a real date.
Which meant that letting him come in was a terrible, awful idea. I put my hand on Zeke’s shoulder and stared at Detective Reed. I was about to tell him to go when he crouched down in front of my son.
“You know,” he said. “I didn’t bring doughnuts this time, but I did bring dessert. How about we eat dinner first and then you can have that?”
“Or…we could have dessert first.” Zeke looked at him hopefully.
“Or we could have dinner first.”
Zeke sighed. “Fine. But we have to get away from the lava fast or else we won’t be able to eat anything because we’ll be dead. Hurry, your feet are burning!” Zeke started to hop from foot to foot like his feet were on fire.
“You better hurry! Or the lava will get you!” I grabbed the take-out bags from Detective Reed’s hands and watched Zeke pull him toward our family room.
Zeke looked so happy. It made me realize just how much I was failing as a mother. He never had friends over. It was always just the two of us. I knew some of the kids at school picked on him, but did he not have any friends? Or was he just embarrassed to have them come here? Or maybe his friends’ parents wouldn’t allow their children to come play here. All three options stung.
His laughter drifting from the family room eased some of the pain in my chest. We were happy just the two of us. We had been playing hot lava all day and laughing just as much as he and Detective Reed were. And I was a trooper because I felt like I was five seconds away from passing out.
I set the table for three, which was a first in this house. I tried to ignore the warning bells in my head. There was a detective in my home. One that seemed dead set on tying me to a crime I didn’t commit. So why did I feel excited? It had just been too long since I had been around a single man. That was all. But it didn’t stop me from tidying up the kitchen just a bit more.
I started to remove the take-out containers from the bags Detective Reed had brought. My fingers wrapped around a bottle and I pulled it out. It was just a simple bottle of Nyquil, but when I looked down at it, I felt the oddest sensation overcome me. My whole body felt warm, but it wasn’t from my fever. He brought me Nyquil? I felt tears prickle the corners of my eyes. This morning Zeke had offered to make me pancakes. And now a complete stranger had brought me medicine for my cold? I wasn’t sure I had ever felt more loved in my entire life. I immediately shook away the thought. Love? Detective Reed was just trying to butter me up. But my mind couldn’t convince the rest of me. I felt…cared for.
“I thought you’d appreciate that more than a bottle of wine tonight.”
I looked up to see Detective Reed leaning against the doorjamb. His shirt was a little off-center and his hair was askew. Zeke had probably jumped on him at some point during the game. And his cheeks were slightly rosy either from how cold it was in here or because he had been running around. He had also ditched his shoes somewhere because he was in his socks. He looked so comfortable and at home. I had never seen a more handsome sight.
“Yeah. Thanks.” I cleared my throat because the words had come out weird and squeaky. “Thank you, Detective Reed, I…”
“Tucker.” He smiled, making his appearance that much more handsome. “I’m off duty.”
“Tucker. Right.” I looked back down at the bottle. “I really appreciate this.” It was sweet and thoughtful. I sneezed.
“Bless you. There’s actually a box of tissues in there too.”
My knight in shining armor. I grabbed one of the tissues and blew my nose. When I lowered the tissue, Tucker’s smile looked even bigger. “What?” I touched my face, worried that I had just trailed snot everywhere.
“You have a little grease spot right there.” He tapped his right cheek.
I grabbed another tissue and mimicked him, wiping off my left cheek.
He laughed. “No, opposite.”
I could feel my face turning red as I wiped off the correct cheek. There was a lot of black residue on the tissue for it just being a tiny spot. My whole cheek was probably covered in grease. I continued to wipe it. “Is it gone yet?”
“Yeah. You got it.” He cleared his throat and looked around the room. “Is your furnace in the basement? Just point me in the right direction, I should probably get started on it so you don’t have to sit here shivering while you’re sick.”
“Let’s eat first, before it gets cold.” I gestured to the seat that was always empty at the kitchen island. For once in my life I was happy I loved to do everything in threes. Or else I wouldn’t have a seat for him.
Tucker may have been expecting a romantic night for two, but an extra seat was all I had to offer him. I didn’t even have a dining room table. I also had a son that he hadn't known about. And I was sick. Yet Tucker was still looking at me with a smile on his face. Like somehow this was his idea of a perfect night regardless of the weird surprises. I looked away.
“Zeke! It’s dinner time!”
He came running into the room, sliding in his socks across the wooden floorboards. “You’re both dead. Which means I get dessert first.” He scrambled into his usual seat, the one in the middle, with a big smile on his face.
I sat down on the other side of him. “Nope, we’re still alive.” I sneezed again. “Sick, but still breathing.”
He sighed like that was the most disappointing thing in the world.
I opened up the container closest to me and then closed it again. And opened it. And closed it. I started to do it one more time when Zeke put his hand on my wrist to stop me.
“Mommy, you’re doing that thing again.”
I pressed my lips together and set the container down. Normally I loved when he pulled me out of my funk. But in this one rare case, it felt like he had highlighted my issues to the whole world. I could feel Tucker staring at me, but I ignored it as best as I could. “Thanks, bug. You know what? You serve everyone.” I slid the container toward him and handed him a serving spoon. “I’m going to have a bit of Nyquil.”
I grabbed the bottle and turned my back to the two of them. Now I kind of wish he had brought a bottle of wine. Although, I hadn’t had a drink in ages. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a drink. There wasn’t any alcohol in the house. For all I knew, it would make my issues worse, not better. I twisted off the cap of Nyquil and took a huge sip instead of taking the time to measure it out. Hopefully this would at least help with my cold symptoms. I immediately sneezed after swallowing the sweet liquid. Ugh.
The two of them laughing made me turn back around. They both had dessert on their plates instead of the delicious chicken parm Tucker had brought. But in their defense, they both had adorable grins on their face that made it impossible to reprimand them. Plus the dessert looked pretty amazing too. It was some kind of ooey-gooey chocolatey goodness that I definitely would have chosen myself.
“You’re going to be up all night,” I said and kissed Zeke on the top of his head as I sat back down.
“So? It’s a three day weekend!” He shoved a spoonful of dessert into his mouth.
“Three day weekend?” Tucker asked. “I feel like kids get off for holidays I don’t even know about now. What is it this time? National Puppy Adoration Day?”
Zeke shook his head. “No, I just earned it.
Tucker moved his gaze to me but I looked away.
“This looks amazing.” I grabbed the container of dessert and put some on my plate. “What is it?”
“Chocolate bread pudding. I hope you like chocolate.”
I took a bite and held back a moan. “It’s amazing.”
“She loves chocolate,” Zeke said. “She has a whole drawer of it in her bedroom that I’m not supposed to eat.”
Zeke. I didn’t even know that he knew about that. “It’s dark chocolate. You wouldn’t like it.” I tickled his side.
His spoon clattered onto his plate as he fought a fit of giggles. “I love all chocolate too. Almost as much as hot lava! It’s your turn, Mommy.” He scooted off his chair.
“Zeke, you didn’t even touch dinner.”
“But the lava! It’s coming into the kitchen. Look.” He pointed to the clean wooden floor.
“Oh no,” Tucker said. “We better get back to the rocks!” He slid off his stool, lifted Zeke off the ground, and carried him back to the family room.
“You too, Mommy!” Zeke called through his laughter.
I abandoned the food and followed them into the other room. Who needed a well-balanced meal when there was fun to be had? And I was feeling a lot better after downing more than a recommended dose of Nyquil. I hopped from cushion to cushion, pillow to pillow with them before collapsing on the cushion-less couch to catch my breath.
END OF CHAPTER 7
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I couldn’t get Violet out of my head. All day, my mind just kept going back to her. My current casework was piling up on my desk, but the only thing I could focus on was the case that got away. I needed to figure out if my hunch was right. Even if there was only a slim chance that I could solve this case, I needed to take it. I turned off my computer.
“Where are you heading?” Damien asked as I stood up from my desk.
It felt like he had been watching me all morning and afternoon, waiting for me to sneak off and work on the case we’d been dropped from. It had made the searches I needed to do on the database nearly impossible. The only information I was able to get was that the woman who had owned the house that exploded was a ghost. No pictures. No medical records. No previous addresses. No nothing. And I was only able to get that useless information because Damien had to go to the bathroom. The whole day was pointless. The only thing I wanted to do was continue to question my lead suspect. Which was what I was about to go do. “I’m going home,” I lied.
Damien leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on his desk. “Not heading out into the woods to harass a beautiful psychopath?”
“Violet is hardly a psychopath.”
“That wasn’t the answer I was looking for.”
“I promise I’m not harassing any psychopaths.” Damien didn’t know that I had already stopped by Violet’s place before my shift started. And he didn’t need to know that or the fact that I was planning on stopping by again. All I needed was an in with Violet. If I could get her to trust me, she’d tell me what she saw last night. Or she’ll tell me what she’s done. And she had responded well to the food I had brought. She had a dinner coming her way and hopefully a little more conversation.
“That’s still not the right answer. You’re going to her house again, aren’t you?”
“Of course not.” Out of habit, I reached for my coat on the back of my chair, but my fingers came up empty. Another reason why going back to Violet’s wasn’t a bad idea. She had stolen my jacket. I kind of wanted it back. That combined with the fact that she was a suspect were definitely the only reasons I was going back. It had nothing to do with her rosy cheeks or the adorable way she sneezed and looked angry at the same time.
“Then give me a lift home, will you?” Damien asked, pulling my thoughts away from Violet. “My car’s in the shop and Uber drivers always give me low ratings when I tell them I’m a detective. I think it freaks them out.”
“We both know you can fix anything wrong with your car by yourself. Besides, I saw you drive up today. I have better things to do than chauffeur your lying ass around town.”
“I’m only lying because you are. We’re off the case, man.”
“I know that.”
“Do you?” He dropped his feet from his desk and leaned forward in his chair. “You’re already on thin ice around here. If you keep pressing this, it’ll be the last straw they need to kick you to the curb.”
I knew that. But I also had a feeling in my gut that I was about to solve the damned thing, which would do the exact opposite for my career. “I know what I’m doing.”
“No one knows what they’re doing when beautiful women are involved.”
“Just don’t believe anything Violet says. She’s cra…”
“Crazy. I know.” But she didn’t seem crazy to me. She seemed…lonely. Whenever I talked to her she threatened me to get off her property. But I was pretty sure her eyes had been begging me to stay. Tonight I was going to up my flirting game. Besides, Damien’s constant pestering reminded me that it had been quite a while since I had been on a date. This would be good practice. Not real flirting at all. Just practice for when I got back out there.
“Please just go home. And if you do decide to be an idiot and go to her house, call me so I can be your backup!” Damien called after me as I headed toward the door.
I didn’t respond. I just waved my hand in the air to say goodbye. Having him with me was not part of the plan. How was I supposed to worm my way into Violet’s good graces if Damien was scowling at me the whole night? Or worse…hitting on her. I wasn’t sure why the thought made me angry. It wasn’t like I was actually going to be hitting on her tonight. Just innocent, fake flirting.
I put the car in park, ignoring every part of my brain telling me to turn around. Fake flirting was going to be difficult when Violet was bent over her air-conditioning unit with her perfect ass jutting up into the air. I stared at the black leggings she was wearing. A very perfect ass. She might as well have had a neon sign on her saying, “Trouble.”
I ran my hand down my face and over the scruff on my chin. I was a detective. Not a horny teenager. I could keep it in my pants for one night. This was going to make or break my career.
She bent over even more as she examined the air-conditioning unit.
I groaned. She’s crazy, I tried to tell myself. But I didn’t believe the words. She blew up a house. I wasn’t sure I believed that either. So what the hell am I doing here? I grabbed the bags of take-out before I could change my mind.
My car door slammed and Violet jumped, hitting her head on the side of the unit.
“Ow,” she mumbled. But then it was like she slowly registered what had caused her to hit her head. She quickly spun around and stared at me. There was a spot of grease right beside her nose. She was holding a hammer in her hand. A hammer that had no business being anywhere near her air conditioner.
“You again,” she seethed and pointed the hammer at me. “How many times am I going to have to ask you to get off my property?” But before I could respond, she sneezed in the most adorable way, and then proceeded to wipe the grease spot across her cheek, smearing it everywhere.
I would have laughed, but for some reason it made her look even sexier. “You’ll probably have to ask me a few more times,” I said with a smile. “It just so happens that I like coming around to see you.” This flirting thing was easy. I wasn’t out of practice at all.
She squinted her eyes at me. “Okay. Then let me ask you a few more times. Get. Off. My. Property. Get off my property. Off. Now.” She pointed to my car. “Go.”
I ignored her and walked closer. “I noticed you weren’t feeling well earlier. I brought dinner for us to share.” I lifted up the take-out bags. “Together this time, though.” I gave her my most charming smile.
For one second, her gaze dipped to my smile. But then she immediately snapped her attention back to my eyes. “Go to hell.” She started to storm past me.
“Whoa.” I caught her arm. “I’m not here on business. I’m here to have dinner with you. You know…like a date.”
She looked down at her arm and then back up at me. Her left eyebrow rose. “Like a date?” She laughed. “Look, you’re clearly from out of town, so let me help you out. I’m insane.” She pulled out of my grip and then gestured her hands around her head in a comical way, although it was a little intimidating since she was still holding the hammer. “People stay away from me. Be one of those people, Detective Reed.”
“You can call me Tucker.” I smiled again, ignoring her lame attempt at scaring me away. And I couldn’t help wondering why she so desperately wanted to be all alone. I certainly didn’t like being single. Four months of moping around were enough for me.
She sighed and looked down at her hammer. “You’re not supposed to be here, Tucker.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Here in the woods? Here with her? Here in this stupid town? She was probably right about all three of those things, yet…here I was. I shrugged. “Where am I supposed to be then?”
“Anywhere but here.” She absently tapped the hammer against her thigh a few times as she glanced at the bags of food.
“It’s a little too late for that, I can’t eat all this alone.”
She scrunched her mouth to the side in thought.
“Plus, I can fix that for you.” I nodded to her air-conditioner.
She still didn’t respond.
This wasn’t a hard decision. She was sick. There was no way that she was in the mood to cook tonight. Plus I was offering her free repair services. I was going above and beyond. “You know what? You’re right. You are crazy…” I knew I had her where I wanted her because a line in her forehead I didn’t know existed suddenly appeared. “…because you care about fixing your air-conditioner even though it’s freezing out. No wonder you’re sick.”
She frowned. “I’m trying to fix the heater.”
This time I did laugh. “That’s not your furnace. That’s the air-conditioning unit.”
She sneezed. “Ugh. I’ve been out here for thirty minutes trying to figure out how to open up the wrong thing?” She sneezed again.
“Let’s get you inside.”
She didn’t move, she just looked back down at the bag. “There’s really too much for you to eat alone?”
“I probably have enough food here for four people honestly. I went a little overboard because I didn’t know what you like.” The smile on her lips was small, but it felt like a win for me. “What do you say?”
She sighed. “No.”
What? Seriously? “I didn’t want to hang this over your head, but technically you did steal from a detective earlier. You can get into all sorts of trouble for that.”
“You gave me your jacket. I didn’t rip it off your back.”
“True. Scratch the petty thievery. But dinner’s getting cold. And I’m good at distinguishing between an air-conditioning unit and a furnace. What does a guy have to do to win you over?”
“Okay. Fine.” She pinched her eyes closed like she immediately regretted her decision. “You can stay.” She opened up her eyes again and pierced me with an intense stare. “But you have to fix my heater because the repair guy can’t come for two days and…” her voice trailed off when she sneezed again. “And this isn’t a date. Just give me three minutes.” She put up three fingers like she was talking to a child and then ran up to her house, her hammer gripped tightly in her hand.
My eyes gravitated back to her ass. She was wrong. This was most definitely a date. A fake one. Absolutely, 100 perfect fake. So stop staring at her ass.
END OF CHAPTER 6
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