Home > Fall (VIP #3)(3)

Fall (VIP #3)(3)
Author: Kristen Callihan

What the hell is that all about? If she’s not stalking me, and I can admit, I’d usually been one step behind her, how did we both happen to get the same stuff?

Bloody weird.

I study her again, annoyed, and admittedly baffled by this hyperawareness of her. Is it attraction? I’m not sure. I’m drawn to confident women. The ones who command a room. Okay, I usually go for sex kittens who eye me like candy. I’m shallow when it comes to sex. Sue me.

This woman creeps through a space like she’s trying to blend into it. Until the moment she squared off against me. And then she changed. All her attention had zeroed in on me like a one-two punch. It had been stunning. Electrifying. I haven’t felt that in so long, I almost didn’t recognize the sensation at first.

Strange. And she clearly has no idea who I am. Which I like. A lot. While not everyone recognizes me, most people around my age do. Not Ms. Mint Thief.

I let my gaze slide over her, knowing she feels it, a bonus because it makes her bristle.

Her features are quirky, a nose a bit too big, square chin pared with round cheeks. And then there are the freckles. Freckles sprinkled like cinnamon sugar over her nose and cheeks. They are just dark enough to catch the eye and make you want to count them, maybe trace their patterns. I’ve never liked freckles. Too distracting.

She even has two on her lips. A definite distraction.

It’s her eyes I want to see again. The guilt in them. Because she is guilty. She stands there fidgeting and maintaining her vigilant watch over her food. Completely ignoring me. Cute.

I loom, hovering like a conscience. Her round cheeks flush hot pink, clashing with those cinnamon freckles. I like ruffling her, even though I shouldn’t. Why that is, I can’t really say, but since I’ve always gone on instinct, I follow it now.

The cashier gives me a dirty look. Rightly so. I am a big man breathing down a single girl’s collar.

I smile at the cashier. “We know each other.”

“No, we don’t,” says the little ice cream thief, not bothering to turn around.

I lean in, the scent of girly shampoo and flustered woman filling my lungs. “Ah, now how can you say that, Button? It’s not every day I kiss a woman and give her my cream.”

Button’s whole body seems to vibrate, vacillating between fight-or-flight mode. I’m betting on flight since she’s bolted before. But then that dark-blue glare turns on me. “I kissed you. And it was my ice cream.”

Hers? I lift a brow as she pinks. Try again, you little sneaky thief.

Her brow lifts in retaliation. Who is holding The Mint, chump?

It’s kind of impressive the way she communicates “chump” so clearly with one look. The cashier hands Button her change, and she turns to go. The knowledge that she is about to walk out of my life leaves me unnervingly bereft.

“What’s your name?” I ask, needing to know. It’s probably something cute and perky.

She pauses. “I’m sorry, I don’t talk to strangers.”

I bark out a laugh. “Right, you only kiss them.”

Kiss me again, I’ll get us nice and acquainted.

No. I don’t want to kiss this chick. She’s a cagey Muppet, the type who probably closes her eyes during sex and composes her shopping list—dreaming of another mint chip run. Little thief. An evil goodie thief who has left me with nothing to snack on during the blizzard. Shit, I should go back and get the damn Neapolitan ice cream. But I hate the strawberry part. Why do they even bother with that shit?

I shake my head and focus on Ms. Mint. She’s smirking at me now, knowing full well that I am without any sugary goodness, and I have the sudden childish urge to pull her hair or pinch her ass. It’s a toss-up.

Kinky and weird, Jax.

“You’re really not going to tell me your name, thief?”

“What’s your name?” she lobs back, as if I don’t have one.

“John.” It’s both the truth and a lie. I smile with teeth. “And yours? I’ll need something to put down on the police report.”

Head held high, she grabs her bags but then stops, whips out the Oreos—the last package that she’d managed to snap up before I could get to them—and slaps them on the conveyor belt.

“Feed the cops some cookies. They’ll probably be hungry after hearing you whine on and on.” With that, she stalks off. No sway now, just a militant march that has me wanting to laugh again.

“‘Leave the gun—take the cannoli.’ Is that it?” I call out to her.

The cashier looks at me as though I’m crazy. I have to agree. Because for one thoughtless moment, I consider running after Button and seeing if I can ruffle her some more—despite my suspicions about her being uptight in bed, or maybe it’s because of them. I do like a challenge.

But I can never forget who I am. It’s as unchangeable as the color of my eyes. For better or worse, I’m Jax Blackwood: famous for being the lead singer, and sometimes guitarist, for Kill John, infamous for trying to kill myself two years ago. Any woman I interact with will always know those things about me, and the knowledge will affect everything between us from then on. Fame and infamy are brilliant at keeping relationships on a surface level. I prefer it that way. Sex is sex, fun, easy, mutual pleasure.

Ms. Mint Thief clearly isn’t the quick-hookup type. That much I know. Though bickering with her has been more fun than I’ve had in months, I’d rather this moment stay fresh and pure than sully it by fucking her and rolling out of bed as soon as I’m done.

I watch her go and rub the familiar hollow spot in my chest. Some things aren’t meant to be.

Chapter Two

Stella

* * *

For some irritating reason, my grocery bags feel incredibly heavy. The cold, hard lump of that damn mint chip slams into my thigh with every step. I smother thoughts of irate green eyes and taunting smirks as I walk into my building. The lobby is dank and always smells of moldy pipes, but the cracked black-and-white checkerboard floors and dusty brass fixtures are a familiar comfort.

I’m damn lucky to have an affordable place to live in the city. I remind myself of this as I haul my food up five flights, my feet echoing on the iron stair treads. There’s an elevator if you want to live dangerously. Having once been trapped in that tiny box for three hours, I’m in no hurry to try my luck anytime soon.

By the time I get to my floor, I don’t want to eat—I just want to curl up in bed and go to sleep. My apartment is at the end of the hall. Up here doesn’t smell of mold but of dust and old plaster. I was eleven when my dad brought me here. I was terrified and missing my mother so much I could barely breathe through the pain of it. But she was dead, and my father—a virtual stranger to me—was the only family I had left. I stuck by his side as he led me down the hall to the small efficiency that would be our home.

Back then, my bed had been a small twin behind a curtain and Dad took the pull-out couch, when he was around. He’d leave for days and then show up again as if it were no big deal. As if it were perfectly normal to leave a kid to her own devices. He called it lessons in “toughening up.”

Now he’s gone for good, and the small space feels positively palatial. I don’t miss my dad. There are days I downright hate him. But that doesn’t seem to stop me from wondering where he is, from wanting to see his face just once more, if only to damn him for abandoning me. So here I will wait, in the rent-controlled unit that’s under my late great aunt’s name, where the super looks the other way, just as he did for my dad—as long as I give him a couple hundred each month.

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