Shadows and Doubts
Charlie's barking up the wrong tree when he hits on his new optometrist but over the course of his exam he realizes that Michael Sinclair Abbot is actually perfect for his best friend. Now if this saucy Dolly Levi can only get these two kids together life would be heaven.
Lured to Charlie's party against her will, Eve is looking for a quick escape - that is until she's face to face with Sin. The attraction is electric and instantaneous, the force drawing them together like two magnets. It all seems so perfect except there's a dark presence in their midst.
As they fall desperately in love Eve's professional life is falling down around her. The newspaper is making drastic cuts and everyone she's relied on is suddenly let go and she's advanced to a job she's unqualified and reluctant to hold. On top of that someone is shadowing her and there's a menacing feel in the air. Is it the stalker from her past she thought she'd given the slip or is it the woman Sin spurned, who in a furious rage, sent him to the ER for stitches?
Only when they deal with the past intruding on their present can they begin to contemplate a future together. Hopefully they make it that long.
Read the first chapter
Eve Monroe walked along the sidewalk and reached out to brush her hand along one of the ornamental wrought iron cages encircling a naked tree. Her fingers caught then curled around a cool black bar for a moment as if to stop her from taking another step but she stretched out her hand and pulled free.
There was a lingering hint of fall in the chill air and she inhaled deeply, savoring the fading essence of autumn and wishing a few of the colorful leaves had made it through the recent windstorm. Autumn was Eve's favorite season.
Plodding up the wide staircase she stared bleakly at the glossy black paneled door, her expectations in complete contrast with the up tempo music wafting over the front stoop.
Just an hour, she thought. Give it an hour then you can slip away without any hassles.
Why the hell had Charlie insisted she come to this thing anyway? He knew she didn't do crowds, especially not his funky friends. Oh why couldn't he just leave her relaxing at home with her pencils and pads?
He must have been watching for her because Eve didn't even get a chance to knock before the front door flew open and light and warmth poured out over her. She looked up into the shadowed face of her best friend and pasted on a smile for his benefit.
"There you are!" The relief in Charlie's voice was unmistakable as he moved back to let her in.
"Sorry I'm late." Eve stepped over the threshold, catching it with her heel. She pitched forward right into him.
Charlie caught her with a laugh. "God you're graceful."
"Give me a break," she grumbled from the foyer tiles where he set her down on her feet.
"Well it's a good thing I know what to expect with you," he said, his eyes dancing from who know's what. "You're an hour late."
"I know." She didn't bother making excuses. Her perpetual tardiness was well covered territory.
Charlie peeled her coat away as if he was undressing a child and hung it in the closet. Eve turned and surveyed the room.
"Looks like a good crowd." Maybe she could sneak out even sooner. "I don't see Garry."
Charie screwed up his face sourly. "Oh Honey, he's so yesterday. I'll have to fill you in on that ugly scene later. Come on, I want to get you a drink - maybe even two."
He draped an arm over her shoulders and steered her through the random clusters of people towards the kitchen at the back of the stylish townhouse.
Then he stopped abruptly, jerking Eve back as he snapped at the entire room in a loud voice, "What did I say people? Coasters! Coasters! Or you're going to find yourselves buffing my cherry wood before you can leave."
Things went noticeably quiet for a moment as everyone processed what he just said, startled by the double entendre.
It took Charlie just as long to catch it himself but then he broke into a hearty laugh that spread infectiously through the room. Shaking with amusement he called out, "In your dreams boys!"
A few colorful comments followed them into the kitchen.
So this was the tenor of the party already. Eve didn't know if she was up for it.
There were many more people milling around in the kitchen, crowding around the table laden with snacks of every variety. He gave the food a pass and maneuvered Eve over to join the small line in front of the island counter.
"You hired a bartender?" Eve asked, astonished to see the busy man in the kitchen.
"That's Joel," he whispered, admiring the man wistfully. "Isn't he scrumptious?"
"A bartender?" she repeated, shaking her head.
"But of course. How else could I circulate without one? I should warn you though, he has a girlfriend so it's strictly looky no touchy." He shook his head sadly. "Pity."
When their turn to order came the bartender looked at them expectantly.
Charlie's arm came up around Eve's shoulders again and he gave her an affectionate squeeze.
"Joel, this is my very dear friend Eve. I want you to take extra special care of her tonight. She needs to relax and unwind - something she's not very good at." Then he leaned in and added confidentially, "Too tense."
Eve rolled her eyes. "I'm really not."
Joel didn't seem to care. "What can I get you?"
Without missing a beat Charlie tittered, "She needs a Slow Screw."
"Shut up!" Eve hissed in embarrassment, jabbing him in the side with her elbow - hard. "Velvet and Coke, light."
She watched in alarm as the bartender proceeded to make her drink stronger than she requested. It was hard not to mask her annoyance when he slid it across but she thanked
him automatically anyway. Honestly, didn't guys understand light? Now she'd have to sip this one slowly and wait for the ice cubes to melt just to make it palatable. She couldn't be the only one who enjoyed the feeling of a whiskey buzz far more than the taste. Because she was irritated with herself too for not speaking up - big surprise - she threw Joel a parting glare over her shoulder. It was completely wasted. He never saw it. Thanks again Joel.
The sleek black car door closed with a solid thump and Sin Abbot hit his automatic locks and made his way to the sidewalk. He paused for a moment to admire the elegant architecture of the dark neighborhood before spotting the right townhouse. Nice area but what was he doing here?
He snorted at the question. He knew exactly what he was doing. He'd already decided he wasn't about to spend another Saturday night in self-imposed exile, cut off from all socializing just because of Megan. So he'd chosen an alternate party, clear across the city. There was no way she could possibly show up here. No doubt she'd be as out of her element as he expected to be. Whether the night would be worth the bother or not, at least it was something to do. Either way, he was sick of spending the better part of his weekends avoiding the woman and their mutual friends.
The doorbell rang and Charlie went into action, his over the top excitability flaring to life. If Eve didn't know him better she might have thought he was high or something but he was like this stoned or sober so any suspicions in that direction were moot.
"Duty calls!" He whirled towards the living room radiating bonhomie but stopped suddenly and turned back to give her a quick command. "Mingle Honey, mingle."
Feeling little enthusiasm for it, Eve returned to the living room and scanned the clutches of guests looking for familiar faces. She never felt at ease at parties but then, she wouldn't even have a social life if Charlie didn't insist on her inclusion sometimes. She actually loved him for that.
Sliding her loathing for small talk to the back burner wasn't going to be enough. It was time to remove it from the stove altogether, at least for one night, and make use of that dusty trivet on her metaphorical counter.
Eve's eyes lingered for a moment on her coworker Gail standing in a group near the ficus. She toyed with the idea of joining them then rejected it. Gail would invariably talk shop and that was the last thing Eve wanted to do on her own time.
Sin stepped gracefully onto the tiles of the foyer and unbuttoned his long black coat. He slipped his leather gloves into the pockets then accepted the hanger Charlie was holding.
Oh, this isn't good, Sin thought, groaning internally as he wrapped his merlot colored cashmere scarf around the neck of the hanger. The man was positively beaming at him. For the umpteenth time that night Sin questioned his decision to drop by.
Then his qualms ballooned into actual alarm because Charlie shifted from fawning over his damn coat to open admiration of him! Fuck. If Charlie hit on him again he was out of there. No question.
Eve was just prodding herself towards a group along the far wall when she looked over and saw Charlie making a beeline for her with a - her pulse stuttered shakily - very attractive man in tow. Oh god, what was Charlie up to now? This guy better be his date.
Still, it was impossible not to notice the stranger. Several inches taller and with more presence than their host he drew the eye like a torch in a cave. It was painfully obvious that Eve was staring but hey - she wasn't the only one. Her reaction to him was primal, pure and simple. Well . . . maybe not exactly pure because there was a sultry undercurrent of sex, of lust, heat, and salty sweat too and it sucked her under with every step that narrowed the gap between them.
And then she was lost, submerged in him while her breathing and the frantic shockwaves of her heartbeat were amplified in her head as the rest of the room receded into a muffled echo.
Was that her? Sin's eyes locked on Eve as they walked over and his heart rate accelerated when he realized she was just as focused on him. The whole room, the whole world for all he knew, simply retreated, leaving them alone in a deafening wind tunnel of their own. He was only vaguely aware that people's mouths were moving as he passed. Hell, even Charlie was blathering on about something but Sin heard none of it.
Such a little thing, he thought, staring at her. He wondered with wry amusement and not a little excitement just how far her shoes would have to fall to hit the floor if he swept her up, eye level, in his arms. This was one set-up that held serious potential.
They came to a stop right in front of the diminutive creature and up close her delicacy was even lovelier.
Charlie saw the effect they were having on each other and his mouth opened and closed silently several times, like a fish in a tank, as he scrambled to find a way to break them out of their spells without embarrassing either of them. In the end he opted to ignore the obvious.
"Eve, here's someone you just have to meet." He patted her arm in an unsuccessful attempt to draw her eye. "The minute I met him I thought, I have to get these kids together."
He glanced up at Sin and shrugged. "Well, not the minute I met him actually. Then I was thinking only of myself."
Silence. Charlie expelled an awkward laugh.
Eyes back on Eve he thought, poor thing, she was thrown. Charlie sympathized. The man he just dropped in front of her carried a beautiful yet raw masculinity that could overwhelm the best of them and, let's face it, Eve wasn't exactly Social Sally.
He reached out and rapped her hand, harder this time. "He's my new optometrist. He was checking out my eyes and I was checking out his." Charlie's smile was more a grimace now.
Eve heard herself laughing along though she had no idea what Charlie had said but somehow it managed to drag her from the depths, blinking and sputtering back to consciousness.
"Honestly," Charlie went on, looking at the man with unbridled pleasure, "I simply couldn't help myself. He was oh so nice about it though," he assured her.
Sin returned Eve's embarrassed smile with one of his own. His warm eyes gave her face a luxuriant caress that she swore she could actually feel.
"So, where was I?" Charlie asked, sighing with relief to see that the lights were back on in Eve's eyes. "Oh right, Eve, allow me to introduce you to Sin." He laughed out loud, quite taken with his delicious joke. "I've been waiting for two days to say that. I almost went shopping just to find a pair of snakeskin boots for the occasion. Can you imagine?"
But they ignored him and Sin reached for Eve's hand. "It's nice to meet you."
She expected a handshake but he surprised her by taking her fingers as if he were going to kiss her hand old-style but drew them against his solid chest instead. What an extraordinary thing. Feeling the pump of his heart against her knuckles left Eve slightly off balance. She didn't need this.
Charlie watched Sin's elegant move with interest then gave Eve a satisfied little leer and declared, "My work here is done. You two are on your own."
"What?" Eve gasped in alarm.
He drifted off, ignoring the daggers Eve was shoving into his back with her eyes. Sin flinched when she turned on him next.
"Did you know he was going to do this?" she demanded.
"Of course. You didn't?"
"No," she said tightly. "I think I'm going to have to hide his eyelash curler after this."
Sin laughed, even though it was obvious Eve was wavering between her fight or flight instincts.
In the end she chose neither. "Your name's not really Sin is it?"
He nodded. "It's short for Sinclair but that's actually my middle name. I never warmed to Junior."
"Say, where can I get one of those?" he asked, eyeing her drink.
"In the kitchen - follow me."
He would have, even without the invitation. All thoughts of a quick escape were completely scrapped.
There was something about her, an innate vulnerability that called out to him when he saw her standing adrift and alone in the crowd. Her size and uncertainty hit him deep in the chest and for the first time in his life Sin understood the ageless compulsion men felt to leap through fire or use their very bodies to block any threat to that one special woman. There was no question in his mind that, if she allowed it, he'd gladly serve as her champion.
Of course getting past her defenses might be a little tricky.