“Okay,” she whispered, bobbing her head.
“I love you, Emma Scarlett,” I said, pressing my forehead against hers. “You make me every shade of crazy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m coming back for you, and I better find you waiting for me because I don’t care what, why, or who it is, I’m not letting you go without a fight.” A rapping thundered into the room and made both of us snap to attention, whipping our heads towards the door.
I slid her a reassuring smile before turning and walking towards the door, but she didn’t let me go alone. She wouldn’t let me face this without her at my side. She was just as much my protector as I was hers, and that made me feel every kind of good a man could feel.
Resting my hand on the handle, I exhaled. Sliding her hand over mine, she gave it a squeeze and helped me get this over with.
“Patrick Hayward?” the cop sporting a buzz cut, a mastiff sneer, and a pair of handcuffs boomed as soon as the door was open.
I nodded, spinning a one eighty, my hands crossing together over my back.
“You’re under arrest for the aggravated assault of Ty Steel. You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney.”
I smirked at the floor; my attorney was going to kick their attorney’s ass.
And then I looked back up at Emma. At her anxious face, but still peaceful eyes. I was going to jail for a crime I didn’t commit for a woman I loved. And I’d do it all over again. I’d never been so bloody happy in my life before.
As officer bull mastiff started pulling on my freshly handcuffed wrists, I slid a smile into position, and I’d bet my fortune my eyes even twinkled. “Don’t worry about me, Em. No bars can keep me caged.”
Blackness still sweltered around me like an unwelcome house guest, but this time it had nothing to do with my mental fortitude, or decay thereof, and everything to do with it being lights out at my new bachelor pad. Also known as the prison that shall not be named.
Instead of spending the last few months wrapped in the glorious arms of the siren Emma Scarlett, I was gag reflex and hairnet deep in kitchen duty, slopping corned beef hash and other substances of a gelatinous form onto the trays of men wielding them like weapons.
In addition to being a jumpsuit wearing, slop-tossing maid, I showed the boys how a real game of street ball was played, bench pressed four hundred pounds just so every other bad ass behind bars would know I was the baddest ass of them all, and wrote enough love letters to keep the mailman busy. I also spent a good portion of my months behind bars losing myself in thought to pass the seemingly endless time.
Thoughts consumed all, every last one of the orange jump-suited felons with nothing to look forward to except tomorrow’s watered down cup of cheap coffee. Lucky for me, I had more than enough good ones to get me through the day—thoughts, that is. Ones that involved the woman I didn’t only love, but flippin’
worshipped. A woman who had as checkered of a past as myself; a woman who was honest enough to call me on my bull; and a woman I wouldn’t settle for anything less than spending the rest of her lifetime with.
So, yeah, to the ever growing list of attributes, verbs, adjectives, titles, and profanities prescribed to me, one could officially add felon. Nathanial was more than his usual shade of pissy self when Judge Stick-Up-His-Butt announced the verdict—not because his little brother was found guilty of aggravated assault and would be serving hard jail time, but because his perfect record of never losing a case had come to an end.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’d let myself have a moment of vindication, doing an internal cartwheel that I was the one responsible for tarnishing a one hundred year winning streak, but then the fact I had a date with a sour-faced warden and hundreds of lonely, hardened criminals hit me full on as cold metal circled my wrists.
I didn’t even have a chance to grab her hard against me, bury my face into the bend of her neck, feel the breath moving in and out of her chest, before I was handcuffed. Watching her face fall apart as she mouthed my name while I was being all but drug out of the courtroom by the chain of a set of handcuffs was a worse punishment than the four month sentence I’d been given.
Emma gave her side of the story, like the pillar of strength I’d always known she was and she was just beginning to embrace, and it was convincing enough to lock the jailhouse bicycle formerly known as Ty Steele away for a year. I’d been so damn proud of her, hearing the run down of her testimony retold by William. I wanted nothing more than to fold her into my arms that night and fall asleep with her, putting her day in court, the past six years of domestic abuse, and the past twenty years of being abandoned by two parents in two very different ways behind us like a bad dream. I wanted to wake up with her the next morning and file those nightmares away forever and embrace the future together.
However, an impressive set of steel bars, a nasty brigade of prison guards—that from their screwed up expressions seemed like they were suffering a bad case of hemorrhoids on a daily basis—and a wall of China chain-link fence kept Emma away from me.
However, it didn’t keep me away from her. Completely.
She didn’t know about it of course, and I knew it was eighty-eight ways to Sunday seriously creepy, but as I was a being of supernatural quality, gifted with elements of the same quality, I wasn’t about to waste this gift. So, because I could, and because I wanted to more than I knew I should, I teleported into her dorm room every night, right around the same time. A few hours after midnight and a couple before dawn, the only time it would be safe to assume a college student of her four-point-o quality would be asleep.
It was only for a few seconds; I might have been brazen, but I wasn’t a fool. A complete one, at least.
My God—seeing her like that, asleep, peaceful, too beautiful to be real…
Those few seconds got me through the rest of the twenty three hours, fifty-nine minutes, and fifty-seven seconds until I got to spy on her again.
A helicopter snoring started below me, so intense it rattled the springs of my pee-stained, not-even-fit-for-an-Inheritor mattress. Mr. Rogers, my cell mate and, in my opinion, the second biggest badass in this tomb of posers, was dreaming of sugar plums. Mr. Rogers wouldn’t talk about why he was doing time, so naturally, speculations aplenty ran about, but I could recognize death in a man’s eyes when I saw it.
And Mr. Rogers had it.
And, like me, he didn’t seem to regret it. But while I knew the intentions behind my kills were as pure as killing could be, I couldn’t ascertain that by a mere review of Mr. Rogers’s cloudy brown eyes.
Hell, if the fact the man had killed others wasn’t enough to give him a wide berth in the lunch room, the name he’d earned here would have done the trick. Scorpion, Cobra, Danger, those nicknames had nothing on Mr. Rogers. Rule of thumb when it came to prison names: the more benign the name seemed, the scarier the dude behind the name was.
It wasn’t even ten and I had five hours to kill before I could catch a few second glimpse of Emma, so what was I going to do with myself? I could be in Bora Bora sprawled in the white sand, or balancing on a ledge of Notre Dame, or enjoy a bowl of the best red curry I’d ever tasted outside of Pu Khet. I could be anywhere, all night. Every night.
But next to being beside Emma, there was only one place I wanted to be.
I was there before I realized I’d pinpointed the coordinates in my mind and focused my energy on getting there.
I landed smack in the center of a kitchen, in my favorite brother’s house, staring at the back of the woman who’d inadvertently shown me I was capable of falling in love.
She was holding a steaming cup of coffee like it was her religion, and to Bryn, caffeine was. It was one of the few times I’d seen her alone since she’d become a Hayward and I wasn’t going to let a rare opportunity pass me by without riding the wave.
Like the generations experienced cloak and dagger man I was, I tiptoed like a little girl, sneaking up on her where she sat swinging her legs from a barstool.
“Just because I don’t have eyes on the back of my head doesn’t mean I can’t sense when someone’s sneaking up on me in my own kitchen.” She spun around, a Bryn one-sided grin hitched into position.
“Especially someone that’s wearing something as bright and ginormous as a hot air balloon. You can’t stalk in that thing. You rustle.” Her eyes scattered over my cliché, right down to the hunter orange color, jumpsuit.
This was why I normally landed in my bedroom first, so I could change before my family wouldn’t let the open door of payback go unexplored. However, the slop served today looked, smelled, and when I’d chanced a bite, tasted toxic. My stomach was screaming—not because I needed food but because I wanted food—and, while I knew Bryn was hopeless when it came to most things of a kitchen nature, I also knew family dinner night was held at their home tonight and that meant leftovers.
“You were trained by the best,” I said, giving her that sardonic smile right back.
Her eyes made slow work of rolling. “Hey, Bart. How many license plates did you punch today?”
“Hey, yourself, Bryny-bear,” I said, nice and slow and enunciated. “How many pieces of toast did you burn today?”
“That was weak,” she said, giving me an unimpressed face. “Jail’s throwing you off your game.”
“Don’t I know it,” I grumbled, mentally counting off the many ways.
“Uh-oh, I know that face,” she said, popping off her stool and forging towards the refrigerator.
“You’re three and a half seconds away from transforming into a petulant child if you don’t get food.” She began unloading the contents of the fridge, balancing more plates and bowls than someone with Bryn’s proclivity for clumsiness should. Rib-eyes, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, grilled veggie kabobs—Abigail and Cora had whipped together my all-time favorite meal. My mouth was watering. What Pavlov’s bell did to his dogs, rib-eyes did to me.
“An orange jumpsuit is undeserving of this meal,” I said as Bryn began heaping potatoes on a plate.
“I’m going to change and I’ll be back.”
Turning towards me with a plate of steaks swimming in their juices, she smiled, lifting the plate at me. “Oh, I know you will.”
And just like that, with a snap of my teleportation fingers, I was sliding a pair of pewter slacks from their hanger the next moment, trying to make as little noise as I could so Father wouldn’t hear me and distract me from sinking my teeth into a twelve ounce divine cut of meat.
The jumpsuit hadn’t hit the floor before I was buttoning up a white oxford and, since jail issue underwear were in the same class as steel wool, I slid out of those too. Since the dresser holding my sexy, expensive, soft undergarments was across the room, I slid into the slacks. I went commando half the time anyways and at the present moment, it meant getting back to food, good food, sooner. I could think of few instances that would more warrant a session of feeling, eh-hm, free than that.