I thought it was Kash, but it wasn’t. Someone else.
My insides instantly knotted, seeing who it was, recognizing who it was.
Matthew Francis leaned against the door frame, a smirk on his face, dressed like he was going to a nightclub. Low-hanging jeans. A leather jacket. A shirt underneath that was one of those where they bought them already ripped. His hair was messily rumpled, though I was sure there was hair product in it. The jacket added a little more bulk to him than I had noticed the night before, but he was still gangly.
“You kill cats here?”
His eyebrows went up. His smirk turned knowing. “So you are Kash’s mystery guest, and you’re already snooping around?”
I broke out a tentative grin. “Still curious about the cat comment.” Splaying my hands out to my side, I tucked them behind me and glanced down.
It was a nervous movement, but damn. My brother was talking to me.
“I’m Matthew Francis. Kash works with my father.” He was eyeing me up and down, dissecting me. There was frank curiosity and a slight flash of anger mixed in. He raised his hand up, a drink there, and took a sip. Hissing, baring his teeth from the burn, he coughed and then put his hand back down. His fingers transferred so he was holding the glass by the top of the rim, and his head went back up, resting against the door frame. “Kash is the king of secrets and mystery around this place, so the way I figure, you’re either running from someone or something else is going on.” He straightened from the doorway. “Which is it, little cat? I introduced myself. Now you introduce yourself.”
My nostrils flared as I straightened to my fullest height. My head rose. My chin squared against his and I rolled my shoulders back. He took everything in, a flare of surprise in his eyes, but he masked it deftly.
“I’d imagine that if Kash wanted you to know who I was, he would’ve told you.” I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to say, but I had a feeling if I rattled off his entire Wikipedia page he wouldn’t be impressed. He would be suspicious.
I had the names and dates and lies to spew out. Aunt Judith. Uncle Martin. Cousin Stephanie. Bad breakup. Kash and I kept in contact when he visited them from when he was four year old till he was eight. There was nothing in those files about why he stopped, so I’d have to bluff there as well, but I would.
Kash had underestimated my brother. He was suspicious, enough to seek me out within an hour of being on the premises.
“I saw you at the hotel. You were in the elevator with Kash.” He lowered his head until he was more normal. He must’ve bought at least a little of what I said. “If you were there and you were Kash’s girl, why didn’t he walk you to your room? If you really knew Kash, he never would’ve let you go to your room alone. He can be a protective asshole sometimes.”
I opened my mouth. I wasn’t sure what I was going to spew, but it was going to be as much a surprise to myself as to him … and then someone else spoke for me.
“She’s not my girl,” Kash drawled behind Matthew.
I was busted by both of them, and looking at Kash, I gulped.
His eyes were glittering at me. His jaw was clenched. His mouth tight. The guy was pissed, and a wave of awareness crashed over me. This was like seeing him walking into that interrogation room for the first time. He must’ve been toning down his intensity since the car ride, but it was back in full force now. He was dangerous, and livid. Not a good mix. But his eyes latched on to me, burning me, before sliding to Matthew. That’s where he stayed, and that’s when I saw the arrogant bravado start to slip from my half brother.
Matt’s head lowered an inch. He grew a little … self-conscious? Was that what I was picking up from him?
“What are you doing here, Matt?” Kash clipped out, strolling past him.
That was wrong, too.
He stalked past him, coming in, bypassing me. His eyes had moved to me, he watched me the whole time he went past, until he stepped into his closet. Coming out, he’d taken off his shirt and carried another one in hand. Tossing it on his bed, his hands dropped to his pants.
I did not look away.
I should’ve. I could’ve.
He was cut and chiseled, and there were sleek lines of muscle all over him. Not overly, where it was too much muscle, but enough to give him a leanness. He was like a jaguar, one trimmed and poised to attack. His eyes flashed to me again, and I gulped before they skirted to Matthew and stayed there. He’d found his target.
“I asked you a question. What are you doing here, Matt?” He let go of his jeans and shoved his arms in the shirt, pulling it over and down. It fit perfectly.
“I’m meeting your new friend. What’s her name? She still hasn’t told me.”
“Because it’s not your business,” Kash shot back.
Matthew laughed, but I heard the unease in there. “First time you bring a girl here, and you think I’m not going to check her out? You nuts?”
“Right there.” Kash’s head fell back, his nostrils flaring. “First time. First. Time. You don’t think I’d want privacy, even if she was my girl?”
Doubt filtered over Matthew’s face, his eyebrows pinching together. “You’re always shoving your way into my places.”
Places. Matt had more than one?
Matt was still speaking. “You never give a shit if I’m pissed or not.”
A snort. “How?”
“Because you’re a dumbass that usually needs me to either kick your ass or someone else’s ass around you. That’s why.”
I waited, expecting a retort from my brother. None came. He nodded, running a hand over his head and gripping his neck for a moment. “That’s fair.” A corner of his mouth curved up, and he went back to studying me. “But seriously. Who is she?”
Kash let out a sigh, grabbing his shirt. “She’s a friend from the family. My family. Bailey Hayes.” He bundled his shirt up in a ball and threw it at Matthew, hard. It was enough to smack against his chest from across the room. “That’s all you need to know. Respect her wish. She ain’t here on vacation.”
My eyes darted to him, my body warming.
There was that protective asshole that Matthew commented on, but it was regarding me. I knew it was a lie. He was helping with my cover, but I couldn’t deny that it felt nice to hear it. I almost wished it were true.