“Can I help you?”
Tamara Keene successfully stifled her shriek, but she wasn’t as victorious in masking the surprise in her expression or manner when she brought a hand to where the pulse beat ferociously at the base of her throat.
The man who had stirred her surprise watched her intently and Tamara wondered at how long he’d been there. She hadn’t even heard him approach. Surely it wasn’t easy for a man of his size to muffle his footsteps, she thought. Then again, she had been beating on the front door like a wild woman for the past seven minutes.
Her heart completed a backwards flip to the roof of her mouth. The reaction didn’t render her speechless as she should have been staring up at the giant who glowered down at her.
“I’m sorry is-do you live here?” She asked.
Carlos McPhereson gave the woman a measured glare. “Who are you?”
“I-“ The books Tamara Keene had been successfully cradling in the crook of her arm picked that moment to threaten a tumble onto the wide brick porch. She caught them just in time, clutching them to her chest while struggling to slow her breathing.
“I’m sorry, I- Tamara. Tamara Keene. I have an appointment with Dena Ramsey.”
The abrupt correction caused Tamara to jump.
“What’s your appointment with my wife for?”
Tamara secured her hold on the books against her chest and fumbled around in a pocket on the linen eggshell jacket she sported. “I’m a florist,” she produced a card.
“Right…” Carlos studied the card the woman handed him. “She did say she had an appointment at…” he purposely trailed away, waiting for the florist to supply the missing information.
Tamara Keene however had gotten lost in studying the honey-toned specimen whose fierce demeanor only emphasized the appeal of his divinely constructed features. And his eyes… She felt herself jump again when he spoke her name.
“Time?” He prompted.
“Oh uh-yes, yes I was to meet with her,” Tamara paused to check her watch. “Twenty minutes ago,” nervously she tucked a lock of silky blonde behind an ear and worked up a smile. “Normally I wouldn’t stand around beating down someone’s door, but when the Ramseys call…”
“Right,” Carlos rolled his eyes and pocketed the florist’s card.
“The women who left said she was in there and taking visitors.”
Inclining his head at the revelation, Carlos smoothly invaded more of Tamara Keene’s space with his considerable frame. “What women?”
“Um,” Tamara blinked owlishly for several moments not quite sure whether what she’d said had stirred mere curiosity or a more dangerous element. “One was dark, pretty and tall. Uh- the other wasn’t quite so- so dark, but tall, very tall- big, excessively big at first I-I thought she was a man.”
Carlos murmured something indecipherable. He made an instinctive reach for one of the three weapons that adorned his body whenever he left the house. He stopped himself before freeing one of the deadly items, recalling the florist. She’d already noticed the holster he wore and was looking more wary with each ticking second.
“Thank you for your patience, Ms. Keene.” His captivating sea-green stare narrowed in tandem with his faint smile. “I’ll find out what the issue is and have my wife get in touch soon for another meeting.”
His tone left no room for disagreement while he escorted the woman to the midnight blue Camry parked before his GMC. He ushered her into the car, shut the door and waited for her to start the ignition and put the vehicle in drive. When she’d gone, he spanned the wide steps to the front door in a few long strides.
He released the silver tab securing the flap over the gun from the holster beneath his left arm. Still, he hesitated when his hand folded over the front door lever. He wanted to convince himself that; as usual, he was overreacting. He was always so ready to confront a battle when there was only a party to be had.
In his own defense, he had every right to expect the worst. Things were far from settled in the mishmash of drama, betrayal and danger that weaved into the daily lives of the Ramsey- and now Tesano clans. While Dena was free to enjoy her friends and family until she was content, Carlos knew of only one ‘big woman’ who could be mistaken for a man that might have cause to pay a visit to his wife.
Hand still at rest beneath his arm, he twisted the lever with his free hand while setting his shoulder to the door. Cautiously, he leaned into it while the heavy pine slab gave.
“Hate it when I’m right,” he murmured, eyeing the mess he encountered following a look into the den just off from the foyer. Fingers flexing on the butt of the gun, he continued the journey deeper into his home.
A quick scan of the lower level turned up no sign of Dena. He’d decided against calling out to her. There was no need- she was there, that much he sensed. He set the front door locks and then ascended the rich, red wine carpeted staircase. The gun, he carried parallel to his thigh aiming it toward the floor as he made his way stealthily along the stairs, pausing intermittently to check out every room he passed.
Cocking his head as he lowered it, Carlos stilled for a moment breathing deep to take in the scent his nostrils had detected. He followed the familiar fragrance and; had only taken two steps into the bedroom’s sunken living area, when unexpected force unsteadied his stance. He would have recovered quickly were it not for the kick to the shin that sent him down to one knee. The gun was knocked clear of his grip.
The attacker punished him with another kick, that time to the small of his back sending him to the floor. Carlos braced a hand to the carpet, refusing to be taken completely down. He made a sudden pivot that brought him face to face with his opponent.
“D?” He scarcely had time to register what; until then, would have seemed impossible.
Dena gave her husband no time to add further detail to his inquiry. One of her small bare feet landed a perfectly executed blow to the center of his broad chest. That move; along with the added pressure when she straddled his waist, finally sent Carlos to his back.
Later, he would ask himself how much the mere shock of the attack had to do with his defeat. Expression equal parts awe and bewilderment, Carlos watched Dena dismantle his weapon. Parts of the gun were thudding to the floor even as she suddenly gripped her head. Shaking frantically then, she cried out and squeezed her eyes shut before landing in an unconscious sprawl atop her husband.
A Lover’s Debt releases Friday, November 1st 2013….