It's not like I can take him out right here in a room full of people, but I can play with my prey a little before I kill it. I head in Benjamin's direction, plotting a way to break the ice, when a man steps right in front of me.
“Hey there.” He gazes down at me with glassy eyes. “I noticed you over here, standing all alone, and I wondered if I could buy you a drink.”
“Um.” I barely acknowledge him as I keep my full attention on Benjamin, not wanting to lose sight of him. “No thanks.” I try to step around the guy in Levi jeans and cowboy boots, but he blocks me once again.
“C’mon now, I'm just trying to be nice. I don't bite.”
I don't believe a word of his fake sincerity. He’s a predator in the flesh. I can tell by the way he’s eyeing me and his intimidating stance. He screams attacker.
“No, I'm good. Thanks.” The guy sitting next to Benjamin gets up, providing me the perfect opportunity. I step to the left and then the right, throwing the guy off so I can get by.
“You’re not very nice!” The drunk yells as I swiftly walk away. I throw up the middle finger at him. He has no idea how not very nice I can be. He’s lucky I'm letting him live. I hop on the bar stool like a cute little kitten and look over at Benjamin. “Do you know what's good here?” I unzip my jacket, making myself comfortable before picking up the menu from the caddy in front of me. It takes him a second to realize who I'm talking to, looking around before his eyes finally land on me. I wasn't expecting such an effect as his sparkly green irises draw me in with no preemptive warning.
Fuck, he’s hot. And a mark, I have to remind myself. A walking dead man with a target on his back.
“The winter ale and the Big Lebowski.”
“Huh?” I flip open the menu to see what exactly the Big Lebowski is. A grilled lamb burger smothered in Tzatziki sauce. “Mmm…I think I'll go with a salad.”
“Suit yourself.” He takes a sip of his beer but doesn't take his hypnotic eyes off me. I shouldn't like the fact he’s looking at me like all men do. Wait, let me clarify, I shouldn’t like it as much as I do.
The bartender finally gets a second to take my drink order. “A Jack and ginger, please. With a cherry.”
“With a cherry, huh?” He raises his eyebrows. It’s unconventional, but that’s how I like it. “Anything to eat?” He gets everything at once while he has the time. The place is pretty packed.
“The steak salad.”
“Coming up.” The middle-aged man with the perfectly groomed beard and bald head grins, tapping his pen on the bar top, ingesting me the same way Benjamin is. Ben takes notice, and I may be crazy, but I swear I see a flicker of jealousy in his deep-green eyes. I shouldn't like that either, but I do.
After I order, several seconds of silence pass. I don't want it to get awkward or lose momentum, so I plan a second wave of attack. But just before I can ask my next question, Benjamin beats me to it.
“So, you ask my opinion and then completely ignore my suggestions. I'm a little insulted.”
“Don't be.” I press my lips together, trying not to smile. “I'm not a beer drinker, and I was looking for anything other than a patty between two buns.” The bartender drops my drink.
“That's on the house, sweetie.”
“Why is that?” I question him out of sheer curiosity. I know why, but I'm interested to see how he sugarcoats wanting to get in my pants.
“No reason.” He smiles charismatically. “I don't need to give out free drinks to get laid.” The bartender winks and takes the drink order of the person standing behind me. I'm left a little flabbergasted. I look over at Benjamin. “Was that some weird, reverse psychology come on?”
“Quite possibly.” He takes a sip of his beer. “Can we go back to talking about buns?”
“Is it a subject that interests you?” I can't contain my amusement.
The devilish way his lips twist tells me buns is one of his favorite subjects.
“I'm Baz.” He puts his hand out, and I look at it oddly. “Are you unfamiliar with the American custom of shaking hands?”
“Oh, no, of course not.” I get with the program and place my hand in his. His skin is warm and smooth, and I feel the simple connection spread through my entire body like a hot shot of whiskey. How surreal.
“And you are…?” he coaxes a response from me.
Don't tell him your real name. Don't tell him your real name.
“Stevie.” His tone communicates he approves. “That wasn't so hard.”
He has no idea.
“So, Stevie. What brings you around here?”
“Do I scream tourist that loudly?” I scrunch my nose cutely, keeping up with the act.
“A little, yeah.”
Truth? I'm here to kill you.
“Hot springs,” I rush out.
“Ah, checking out Pagosa Springs?”
“No.” I suck on my straw seductively. “Too crowded. I read there are a couple of springs you can hike to in the area. I want to experience one in its natural form.”
Am I good or what? Told you I did my research. Cover, ironclad.
“That's very adventurous of you,” Baz acknowledges.
“Do I not look like the adventurous type?” I bat my eyelashes innocently, laying it on real thick.
Baz sizes me up. I like that name so much better than Benjamin. It sounds like a guy who knows how to fuck. Who knows what he wants and doesn't hesitate to go after it.
Baz leans in closer. “I think a woman who looks as sweet as you and drinks Jack has secrets to tell.”
I wonder how many shades of pink my cheeks turn from our proximity and his highly-attuned instincts about people. I wonder if he can see right through me. If my ruse isn't a ruse at all. The bartender drops my salad in front of me, and I suddenly feel claustrophobic.
“Excuse me, can I get this to go?” I push the plate away. I’ve lost my appetite.
Both the bartender and Baz share the same bewildered expression.
“Everything okay, sweetie?”
“Fine.” I feign a smile and suck down my drink. “It's just time for me to leave.”
“Did I say something to upset you?” Baz grips the fur of my hood lightly as I try to slip my coat on.
“No. I just . . . It's getting late.”
“Don't go.” He sounds a little alarmed. “Stay. I'll buy you another drink, and you don't even have to sleep with me.” His smile is sexy as he jokes, and all I can think is … oh shit.
My head, my heart, and my body suddenly go to war. My head telling me to get the hell out of here and execute my mission. My body telling me to stay so I end up in his bed. But my heart, my heart is the biggest surprise of all. It's telling me he’s more than just a job. He’s a man. A man I'm wildly attracted to and intrigued by. A deadly combination for a woman in my position and my profession.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I shouldn't, but I want to. I want to stay. With him.
I hesitate for what feels like an eternity.
“We can play some pool,” Baz offers in the most innocent way. In a way that tells me all he wants is some company. Some simple human interaction. And I secretly wonder if he’s as lonely as I am.
“Do you care if you get your ass kicked by a woman?” I cave, like a damn idiot.
“If you’re the woman, I have no issues.” He slides off his chair. Standing at his full height, I realize just how big and tall he is. Strapping is how I’d describe him. The mountain man look never really appealed to me before, but it's starting to suddenly grow on me.
And the way his dark blue flannel shirt hugs and stretches over the crests and ridges of his arms, chest, and shoulders—I have to cross my legs just so I don't come right where I sit.
If tonight is a test of my will power and restraint, it's the fucking SATs, because I want this man. I want him more than I have ever wanted a member of the opposite sex. It’s like he’s the magnet and I’m the steel. I want him right here, right now, going at it like two animals on the pool table, and I wouldn’t give a shit who’s watching.
My heart is pounding and my skin is fevered as I watch him rack the balls. Spending a few more moments than normal to make sure they’re straight. I shouldn't feel so uncontrollably tempted by this man. It isn't natural. Not for me.
I shouldn't feel anything at all. I should be numb.
Because no matter what, I was sent here to end his life.
And no matter what, I will.
“You want to break?” Baz offers me a pool stick.
I need to pull it together. “You can. Let’s see what you got.” I have to keep it light, keep it fun, even though it feels like I'm sinking.
“Suit yourself. I'm going to lose anyway.” He grins up at me as he leans over the table. Damn his boyish charm. And mischievous eyes and devilish mouth.
God, that mouth….
“You’re up.” Baz strides around the table as I grab a cue stick off the wall and chalk the tip. My head is in the clouds as I line up the cue ball with the six for a shot in the corner pocket. I hit the white ball too hard, and they both drop in. “Mother,” I curse under my breath. I wasn't talking shit. I really can play. It's one of the many skills Benny honed in me. Pool, darts, cards. I'm a master at each. He was adamant I be well rounded. Well educated. A girlie girl who could hang with the boys. That's who I am.
“Practice shot.” Baz retrieves the cue ball and the six.
“Hell no. Put it back. No special treatment. I scratched.”
Baz lifts his hands in surrender. “What the lady wants she gets.”
I shoot laser beams at him as he sets up his shot. I watch as he sinks three balls before missing the fourth. Okay, it’s on now. No more dicking around. This game is about to be over.
I bend over and line up a shot. Baz moves behind me, no doubt checking out my ass, but I won't let his ogling fuck up my concentration. Look all you want, buddy. I hope you like, because I know you want me.
I shoot, splitting the three and the five, sinking them both in a corner pocket.
“Nice shot,” Baz hums behind me as I stand up straight. His beard tickles the shell of my ear, and I laugh. I laugh like a little fucking girl. Who am I?
“Ticklish?” He grabs my hips playfully and does it again, a little harder this time, causing me to squirm as the octaves of my laughter elevate. For a split-second I feel completely free. Completely normal. Just a girl, with a boy, playing pool. No stress, no demands. No expectations.
Is a simple laugh capable of unlocking such things? Providing such freedoms?
We're both laughing by the time Baz is done with me. Our bodies relaxed and pressed comfortably up against each other's. While catching my breath, I get high off his strong, woodsy, cypress scent.
It shouldn't be this easy. He shouldn't be this comfortable.
“Don't go soft on me now. You still need to kick my ass.”
I look up him flirtatiously as he holds me in his arms. “I didn't forget.”
With some reluctance, he lets me go, and I concentrate all my focus on the task at hand. I need to remember where my loyalties lie.
Four strokes later, I clear the table, hopping the eight ball over the ten to sink it in the side pocket.
Baz looks impressed. “You were trying to hustle me with that first shot.” He tries to circle his arms around my waist, but I subtly dodge his attempt. One more embrace and I’m putty in his hands. I can't let that happen. I can't let him get to me or allow my desires to cloud my judgement. As much as I want them to.
Taking the hint, he steps back. I see the sting of rejection in his eyes, and it eats away at me. I want to console him. Assure him that it’s me, not him. That’s like the worst breakup line ever, but in this case it's the truth.
“How ‘bout another drink?” My suggestion seems to optimistically re-engage him.
“Bathroom run first. I'll grab the drinks on the way back.” He places his stick on the green felt surface. “Save the table?”
“I’ll be right here when you get back.”
Baz scrutinizes me as I lean against the edge, his big green sparklers holding equal amounts of hope and doubt.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re a slippery one?”
I press my bold red lips together, trying not to look guilty under the big, bright spotlight he’s putting me under.
“I'm not slippery. I'm just me.”
He runs his fingers through his long, wavy hair. “I don't know why I find that response such a turn on, but I'd do.”
“Maybe you're interpreting slippery in a few different ways.”
“Not maybe, definitely.” He chuckles, paralyzingly me with his killer smile. I think I may be fucked.
Fucked, fucked, fucked, fucked, fuckity, fuck, fucked.
I watch as he walks away, checking out his ass the whole damn time, all firm and tight in his snug, stone-washed jean.
Maybe playing with my prey wasn't such a good idea. I was expecting Benjamin Sabatino to be a douchebag. Like the usual sacks of shit I deal with, but I'm coming to find out he’s not.
“Can I get next?” Someone encroaches on my personal space. I glance over my shoulder to find the dickhead from earlier, and it smells like he was flushed down a toilet bowl full of whiskey.
“Next game’s taken. Piss off.” I gave him one pass, he won't get another.
“Well, maybe I can get a giggle out of you the same way scruffy did.” He places his hands uninvitingly on my hips, and I grip the pool stick tightly. So tightly the wood creaks audibly.
“Can I ask you a question?” I peer at him calmly through the corner of my eye.
“What grade did you get in comprehension?”
“What?” The confusion is clear in his response. “I don't think comprehension was a subject.”
“It was where I’m from.” I take a spilt second look around the room then even faster flick the pool stick up between his legs. I hear an oomph as the air is sucked out of his lungs right before I swipe his feet out from under him. He hits the ground hard, and I put my hand over my mouth like an in innocent bystander. The table is far enough removed from the bar and most of the patrons. I bend over like I'm going to help him up, but instead take the tip of the cue stick and jam it into his balls. “Let me school you. I said I wasn't fucking interested. Capisce? Now go slither back into whatever hole you came from unless you’re looking for a pierced testicle.”
“Fuck! You’re a crazy bitch.”
I smile sweetly. “So I’ve been told.” I add some more pressure to his nut, and the prick turns a brilliant shade of red.
“Is everything okay here?” Baz approaches us, and I immediately straighten up. I bat my big doe eyes as guilelessly as possible before I assure him, “Everything’s fine. I think someone just had too much to drink.” The guy is already crawling away by the time I glance back down in his direction. If Baz wasn't here, I’d kick him in the ass for good measure.
But I have to remain sweet and innocent and unsuspecting.
I hope it’s working, because the way Baz is looking at me right now is questionable.
“I’m definitely ready for that drink now.” I grab for the short glass with light amber liquid and cherry floating on top, hopefully distracting him from what just happened, but he pulls it away before my fingertips even get close.
“Ah, about drink number two. I know number one had no expectations, but I think this one should come with a price.” He hits me with a roguish smile.
“What kind of price?” I place my hand on my hip and cock my head.
“The consideration of sleeping with me.”
Why is it when other men try to be cute I see them as total assholes, but when Baz does it I completely succumb?
I eye him flirtatiously.
“Everything you want has a price I guess.” I give in willingly. I don't even need another drink to consider sleeping with him. I’d do for gratis. I haven't stopped imagining what those big hands and irresistible mouth are capable of.
“It is the sad, but in my case favorable, truth.” He doesn't sound disappointed by that fact one bit as he hands over my drink. I take a long, hard pull of the sweet libation through the straw, knowing every second that passes in Benjamin fucking Sabatino’s presence is detrimental to my mission. But at the moment, I just don't give a damn.
Once, I was nothing.
Hungry, abandoned, wandering, and alone. An adolescent street rat fighting for crumbs.
Then a chance encounter changed my entire world.
A man in an expensive suit asked me how much my life was worth.
I didn't have an answer, because I didn't know.
He asked if I thought it was worth killing for.
Impulsively, I said yes...
He found me, then fostered me, and in the interim turned me into a killing machine. A modern day La Femme Nikita.
Now, I only have one mission. To avenge the death of the man who saved me.
There's an invisible war on the streets. Us against them. Family against family. Power against power.
They call me Ghostface Killer because they never see me coming.
I understand the weight of that danger.
Because now here I stand, three months pregnant with the barrel of a gun pressed to my head cause I never saw him coming...
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She has a dependence on sushi and a fetish for boots. Fall is her favorite season.
She is surrounded by family and friends she wouldn’t trade for the world and is a little in love with her readers.
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