Where Charlie had taken the night's excitement in stride, Matthew had only begun to seethe. Radcliffe was trouble. Here she was, trying to start a life outside the nightmare that ate up her childhood, and that gangster was gonna ruin what she had going. As far as Matthew was concerned, the two shouldn't mix.
He'd brooded on it while she was in the bathroom preparing for bed. When she'd emerged in her dressing robe, she hadn't been timid – as if set on distracting him from his brooding.
Playful, Charlie bouncing on the edge of the mattress, gobbling up tiny slice of cheesecake from the tray. "Have you ever had this? Really, Matthew, you gotta try it."
She'd waved the dessert before his face until he gave in and took a bite. Watching her lick her fingers clean, so caught up in that little pink tongue, he'd hardly tasted anything at all. She'd even tried to coax him to share the bed, but there was no way on earth he could stand after her show. If he'd climbed in that bed, no matter his good intentions, he wouldn't be able to keep his hands or his cock to himself.
So long as there might be danger, distance was best.
Charlie fell asleep quickly. Matthew had not allowed himself the same reprieve. After taking off his tie and loosening his shirt, he'd sat back and looked his fill at the woman he wanted. She slept like a log, hair messy against the pillow, taking up the full space of the bed with her sprawling. His anger faded to staunchness and the night was spent debating how best he could show her the sense of things.
At daybreak movement came from the covers. The second Charlie sat up to stretch, Matthew grumbled, "What did Radcliffe say last night?"
Yawning, bleery-eyed and sleepy, Charlie asked, "What?"
After a sleepless night and too many hours of worry, Matthew's patience was worn thin. "Beaumont Radcliffe... what does he want from you?"
A portion of her silk covered bosom peeked from her robe, Charlie leaning back on her hands to think it over. "We came to an understanding that I'm out of the game." Mulling it over, she thought of Beau, she thought of Martha, and added, "I think he... I don't know, wants me to settle near 'the family'."
Fuse spent, Matthew snapped, "You ain't marryin no gangster to forge some alliance for him."
Charlie pursed her lips, nodding at her thoughts. "I hadn't considered that, but I wouldn't put it past him to try."
It would make sense why Tommy had been at their table, why Martha had seemed hell bent on painting the pair of them in a flattering light. It was in Beau's character to use everything around him to his best advantage. He got to keep her close. It set Tommy as successor, throwing a bone to what might otherwise become one power hungry pooch tired of waiting for the old man to die naturally. And, it made the gang look strong. Moreover, fantastical weddings delighted the press and offered plenty of opportunities for business to flourish under the guise of legitimate transactions.
It was a win-win for everyone. Everyone but her.
She may have been fool enough to have a carried a torch for the boy at thirteen, but now she wasn't quite so stupid.
Tommy would have to find another way to assure his position in the gang. And Beau would be wise to own up to why he would have even suggested such a thing in the first place, and it wasn't affection for his underling. He knew Tommy could be trouble.
Charlie's silence had gone on to the point the room grew tense. It was too early in the morning for such ludicrous ideas. Unwilling to spend another moment of thought on Tommy Kennedy, Charlie got out of bed, wandered to the bathroom, and locked the door.
By the time she emerged, clean and hungry, Matthew was curled up under the covers, snoring softly.
He'd done so much for her, come all the way to Chicago to be with her... It was high time she did something sweet for him. Leaving him sleeping, Charlie snuck from the room.
The flea infested Wayside Inn was easy to find, stealing Matthew's stuff, easier. It took less than an hour for her to waltz back inside the Drake, to hang up his coat, and to plop down in the abandoned chair.
While Matthew snored, Charlie chuckled over the gory front page news. Whittaker's corpse had been found on Buggies flagging turf, propped up in full public view - sans balls.
The more she read, the funnier it got.
Unfortunately, laughter woke Matthew. "What's funny?"
Charlie folded the newspaper, slinking from the chair to lie atop the covers so she might admire the fresh stubble on Matthew's cheek. "Retribution and body parts. Beau gets a little vulgar when he's in a real mood."
A large hand fell from groggy eyes, Matthew fractionally raising his brow. Seeing her smile, he turned, wrapped an arm about her waist, and tugged her closer.
"You know, Matthew," Charlie cooed more than happy to press against him. "You could have slept beside me all night. It wouldn't have bothered me a jot."
He grumbled against her hair. "If I'd climbed into bed with you last night, we wouldn't have been sleepin."
Unsure if he understood the effect such talk had on her, Charlie blushed scarlet. "And to think, all this time, I thought you didn't like me."
"I like you just fine." Voice turning molten, eyes hungry, Matthew said, "That's the problem."
Charlie's face fell. "Why's it a problem?"
Running a warm stroke down her back, he assured, "Cause I can't keep my hands to myself."
Her bashful grin sputtered back to life. Fingers toying with the fabric of his shirt, Charlie found Matthew's regard for her virtue endearing, though ridiculous. "I never thought I'd like a man's hands on me, but I like yours just fine." Charlie edged closer, purring, "Are you hungry?"
Yes he was. He was very, very hungry.
Low and husky, she added, "Maybe we should eat."
Before he could pounce, she cooled him right down. "There's a great café a few blocks down. Or, if you want something a bit swankier, we can take brunch downstairs. I brought your suitcase over from the Wayside and hung up a fresh shirt-"
Matthew stiffened, the scowl back with full force. "Have you lost your mind?"
"Excuse me?" Her voice darkened. "You want to repeat that?"
Rolling atop her, he trapped Charlie before she might scamper off, glaring something fierce. "Last night a man was sent to rape you, and you go wanderin around Chicago alone? So I ask you, have lost your fool mind?"
Shoving at the man, she growled. "No, jackass, I haven't lost my mind. Whittaker is dead, his mangled corpse front page news and Bugs made to look a fool. Besides, you don't know Chicago like I do. I understand this place and I am telling you, it is safer for me to move through the streets, dressed as a woman, than it is for a brawny out-of-towner like you – face cutting reputation or no."
He caught her hands, pinning them beside her head, and made darn sure she was paying attention. "Knock that off and listen good. No matter the things you know, this ain't no place for you."
She'd heard the disgust in his voice and didn't much like the way he was looking at her. "Things I know? What I know kept me and my mamma alive. I'd rather know those things, have done those things, than be dead."
Matthew forced himself calm, watching her bravado fade with each passing second he held her gaze. When all her pretense crumbled, he said what had to be said. "Charlotte, that life has done enough to you. You deserve better."
"You say one thing, then you say another!" Charlie squirmed, wanting him off her, wanting to stand as she shouted so they would be on equal ground. She could not budge him, growing frustrated, embarrassed, and dangerously angry. "I can't hardly tell if I'm coming or going with you. Half the time, you make me feel like I'll never get it right. Then you come here... you confuse me, and kiss me. Make up your damn mind!"
There was no right thing he could say, so the answer was simple. Matthew cupped her jaw, turning her red face to his, and kissed her pouty mouth.
Scared she misunderstood, she entreated, "You have to say it."
He hated and adored that look in her eye - knowing he'd hurt her feelings but loving that she looked at him with open longing. "You're a fine woman, Charlotte."
"Even though I can't cook, or sew, or garden? Even though I have killed men? Lots of men..." There was more, Charlie spitting out her every flaw just so they were clear. "I swear, like to hunt, swim naked around Monroe. I can't paint my fingernails for my life... and have a temper."
Something about her tirade was just so damn cute, before he could stop himself Matthew cracked a smirk.
"Holy shit..." Eyes big as plates, Charlie, never believing in a million year she'd see the bastard smile, shut the hell up, and couldn't help but smile back.
Pulling at Matthew's arm, Charlie promised the world's best tour of Chicago. He followed where she led. And boy did she know how to tempt him. She popped his first taste of caramel corn between his lips, dragged him to a hotdog street vendor, all the while grinning like a fool. For an entire day, Charlie showed off her favorite places and some of the city's most notorious - full of secrets only someone on the inside, someone who'd been there, might know. She whispered who'd really shot who, where, and why. Charlie knew it all.
Matthew maintained his customary silence, but listened intently. The only time he truly frowned was when they stood side by side and Charlie showed him the bridge she'd lived under when still very young. There had been such pride in her voice when she pointed, as if the mud spattered, rotting shanty had been the finest mansion.
When he'd lost his folks, it had been bad... they had starved, scrounged... but it had never been that bad. Not when they had their daddy's old still to get them started; not when they had neighbors who'd spared what they could.
Charlie had had nothing but an infirm mother she'd only ever mentioned once, a mother she never brought up while they walked through her childhood stomping grounds.
It was there, at that bridge, he took her hand and entwined their fingers. The pretty grin on her face, it was perfect.
They took the late train home, Charlie napping against his shoulder, Matthew able to rest his cheek on her hair. By the time they got to Monroe County it was dark. It was cold. And as much as he wanted to keep her, Matthew was not going to see her shivering on the vacant Gap Mills platform just so he could have her to himself a little longer. He urged her to her car and followed to the boardinghouse, grateful for the wave she threw before the door closed.
He saw her again the next afternoon, Charlie right on time for her Saturday lunch at Devil's Hollow.
Nathaniel slumped in his usual spot, sloppy as he ever was, sat up straight the second Charlie pulled open the screen.
Setting his broom aside, Eli rushed forward to help her with her coat. "Well, Miss Charlie, how was Chicago?"
Charlie took her usual seat, her eyes meeting Matthew's in the mirror. "Just fine."
Nathaniel picked up on their little exchange, cooing, "Did you go dancing in that fancy dress?"
"I did," Charlie answered, turning toward the troublemaker. "Tommy even let me stand on his feet so he could do all the work."
An irritated growl came from the man plating food.
Nathaniel darted a look at his agitated little brother and frowned. "What else you do?"
"Never you mind what I did in Chicago." Charlie have Nathaniel a poke. "Just know I had a wonderful time."
Eli straddled the seat beside her. "You going back soon?"
Charlie nodded. "Around Christmas..."
"That's next month," Matthew grumbled, plopped her laden plate down. "You have no business going back to Chicago so soon."
Unsure why he was cross, Carlie made it clear she'd do as she damn well pleased. "If you think I am spending Christmas at the boardinghouse with Mrs. Fontanne, you are dead wrong."
Nathaniel was getting too much of a kick out of Matthew's open frustration show.
"Nathaniel, stop grinning like a jackass. Eli, get on the grill. And Charlotte," He slammed a second plate down and moved around the bar to sit at her side, "you will spend Christmas here with us. Not with Martha. Now, eat your damn lunch."
Unsure why he'd worked up such lather, Charlie picked up her fried chicken and did as she was told. The first crispy bite was so damn good she closed her eyes and sighed, "I would take your cooking over lobster salad at the Drake any day, Matthew."
He hunched a little less, nodding once to confirm he'd heard her. Working his jaw, offered his own amends, "I like it."
"You like what?"
He gestured at the ceiling, saying in his way, he liked what she'd done to his bedroom.
Flattered, Charlie smiled. "I told you it was nice waking up with something beautiful to look at."
Once she'd spoken, Nathaniel starting laughing so hard he just about fell out of his chair. Unsure at first what was so funny, Charlie turned a vibrant shade of red. "Nathaniel, you stop laughing or I will slap that grin right off your face."
He straightened and brushed the hair from his bloodshot eyes, faking behaving before adding, "Fancy wallpaper is nice, but I think the man would prefer waking up next to something beautiful he can look at." And the guffaws started all over again.
Even Eli began to snicker. Tears in his eyes, the boy looked up to the mirror just in time to see Charlie sock Nathaniel square in the shoulder.
Surprised she'd followed through on the threat, Nathaniel watched her march out the door, shouting after her, "I was just playing, Charlie! Come back. Don't be mad."
"I'll give you playin," Matthew growled, already standing and mighty angry Nathaniel had scared her off. "You know she's shy. You have any idea how hard it was to get her to put down her hackles and hear me out? She wasn't even here an hour!"
Nathaniel wasn't sure what shocked him more, Matthew's sudden verbosity or the fact he'd called Charlie shy. Then it struck him... Matthew wasn't saying she was shy, not really. He was saying she was unsure of herself. And she was. "I'll go down to the boardinghouse and take her something nice. I'll put on a clean shirt and everything."
Matthew grew red-faced. "You want the whole town to think you're courtin her?"
"Jesus, Matthew. I ain't got designs on your woman." Nathaniel reached for a fresh jar, twisting of the cap and setting his lips right to it. "And it ain't my fault you just sit there quiet, making eyes at her when you should be telling her she looked pretty in her dress or asking her to go for a drive."
Matthew was gonna do just that when the moment was right - and then the lumbering jackass had to chase her off before he got the chance.
Followed in Charlie's footsteps, Matthew stalked out of the grill in a temper, leaving his kin to manage on their own. He drove the five mile distance to Gap Mills to see her, to say the things he should have said the second she showed up at the grill - to kiss her in plain sight if he had to and toss her in the truck so he might take her somewhere where they could sit and look at things. But she was already gone.
With a ticking jaw, Matthew listened to Mrs. Fontanne claim Charlie had not returned to the boarding house since leaving that morning.
She was nowhere to be found.
Or at least she wasn't until the following evening when Charlie stumbled through the door around supper.
Startled, Matthew stood up from the table he'd commandeered for work, blinking at her and the looming Nathaniel behind her.
"Look what I found." Nathaniel shoved her forward. "Miss Charlie out for a walk in the woods."
Her dress was mussed, her hair looking as if she'd repeatedly run her hand through it - she even had a smear of dirt on her cheek. From the way she glanced about, it was obvious she was self-conscious, and Matthew could not even begin to wonder what on earth Nathaniel was thinking.
"I wasn't walking in the woods!" Charlie's voice grew shrill. "I was ambushed by your fool brother."
"In the woods," Nathaniel added with a grin, patting her shoulder.
Glaring behind her, Charlie hissed, "For Christ's sake, Nathaniel. I was sleeping... I almost shot you, you drunk jackass!" Swinging her head back to Matthew she pointed as if all this was his doing, "He threw me over his shoulder and dragged me here!"
At least Nathaniel was thorough.
"You should be thanking me." The tallest Emerson shrugged. "Ain't your ankle still sore?"
"THERE AIN'T NOTHING WRONG WITH MY—"
Matthew came forward, frowning at the manhandling. "Nathaniel, get your paws off of her... You're getting dirt all over her dress."
"It's fine," Nathaniel beamed, obviously having thought through his terrible plan. "She can change into the one she left drying here week before last."
The woman looked just about ready to tear her hair out. Matthew stepped between them, leading her away from the no-good troublemaker and guiding her toward the washroom. "Stupid as he is, he's right. Do you want me to fetch your dress?"
"He can't sneak up on me like that, Matthew. I might have killed him! As it is, my knuckles are going to be swollen for a week."
The scowl grew, Matthew's attention going to her dirty hands. Across her knuckles, the faint beginnings of inflamed purple bloomed.
"First ice, then supper." Matthew took her hand, gently testing the bruises. "You eaten today?"
Having the man hold her hand where roadhouse patrons and his kin could see, was more than Charlie could process. She squeaked, "Not really."
"Wash up. I'll get your dress."
Taking a lesson from his brother, Matthew ignored her protests and pushed her gently into the washroom, closing the door in her face.
Once he could hear her muttered curses and the sound of the tap, Matthew turned toward a proudly grinning Nathaniel and thinned his lips.
Matthew booted out the patrons, and a few minutes later Charlie immerged. Dressed in the clean cotton Matthew had laundered, hair somewhat tamed, She looked less bothered, but she had no powder, no rouge, no comb... and there was only so much soap and water could fix. Tucking her hair behind her ear, Charlie came to take her seat, all the while sucking her unpretty lower lip in her mouth so the scar would not be seen.
Once she took a seat, Nathaniel, making peace, slid a jar of applejack her way. Charlie was not biting, and threw him a look of rage, all the while growling like an angry dog.
Matthew was ready for her temper, distracting Charlie by reaching up to pull the lip she was trying to hide right out of her mouth. After setting a bag of ice on the stupefied girl's knuckles, he traced over the diagonal scar with the pad of his thumb.
Charlie blushed right up to her roots.
He fed her, took her empty plate, then told Eli to do the washing so Matthew might lead Charlie out to the porch. They sat down side by side, the final traces of sunset coloring the woods, Matthew breaking the silence, "I called on the boarding house after you left."
Charlie looked askance. "I took a long drive..."
"No more of those, Charlotte. No more long drives." Matthew offered a jar, his fingers lingering on hers when she took it. "Unless you'd like to—"
The door banged and Eli trotted out, already yapping and lighting a cigarette. Nathaniel lumbered right behind him, as if he were trying to catch the boy and drag him back.
Oblivious as always, Eli plopped down on the top step, smiling as he inhaled a chest full of smoke. Stealing Nathaniel's favorite line he asked, "So, Miss Charlie, what did you sit and look at this week?"
Jumping as if she'd been caught doing something bad, Charlie stammered, "I saw this real pretty abandoned house. I'm tempted to see if it's for sale."
Leaned against a post, Nathaniel teased, "Thinking about settling down?"
"I never lived in a real house. I'd be lying if I said the idea wasn't growing on me." Turning pensive, she confessed, "Besides, I'm at my breaking point with Mrs. Fontanne. For the sake of general peace, I need to get out of there."
Eli frowned around his cigarette. "She still givin you a hard time?"
Charlie raised her hand to god, thoroughly impish. "I have a feeling Mrs. Fontanne thinks I'm Satan himself, here to corrupt the minds of the locals."
"You corrupted mine," Nathaniel said, scratching his scruffy, bruised jaw.
Her eyes danced as Charlie simpered. "You were plenty corrupted before I found you, Nathaniel Emerson."
Matthew wanted her attention, reaching for the jar they shared. "Which house you thinkin of buyin?"
He rocked in his chair listening to her describe the little white house and the lake it sat by, once again amazed with how beautiful she could make their backwater county sound.
Charlie finished with a grin, "And it has a big porch like Eli suggested."
Nathaniel rolled his eyes. "That decrepit ruin is the old Mayweather Mansion... It ain't little and it ain't livable. Better put a match to it and start over."
Charlie poked him with her toe. "Don't you be making fun of my mansion, Nathaniel. Just wait until it's finished and has some fancy name like Elliot's Lodge."
"More like, Emerson Estate," Nathaniel snorted.
"I intended to be a respectable woman... eventually." Charlie leaned toward the menace, met his eye, and taunted, "Why the hell would I name my house after you troublemakers?"
Nathaniel, cocky as could be, nodded his head toward Matthew. "Who do you think owns that pretty little house and all that land you are so eager to buy?"
"The plot thickens." Playful, Charlie took the jar from Matthew's fingers, took a swallow, humming as a fire burned her belly. "I don't know if I want to go into business with bootleggers. Unless, of course, you feel like selling it to me, Mr. Emerson."
Laying just a piece down the road, the Mayweather mansion was in walking distance and sitting pretty, just like she said. But Nathaniel was right; the house needed at least six months of labor, if not more.
But... he could fix it up with all the fancy paper she might like. He could make it real nice for her.
Getting ahead of himself, caught staring off into space instead of answering her, Matthew chugged a few deep gulps from their jar.
"Slow down," Charlie warned, never having seen him swallow liquor so carelessly. "Don't worry. I'm not going to try to buy a house you obviously don't want to sell."
Matthew grumbled something unintelligible, Nathaniel's shoulders shaking in silent laughter behind her.
Clearing his throat, he tried again. "There's no need to stay at the boarding house. Eli's old room is upstairs."
A part of Charlie badly wanted to accept - to be right there near him every day and night. A much bigger part was downright scared it would be a very bad idea.
"Matthew's right," Nathaniel interrupted before she might say no. "You should stay here. It's a far cry better than the boarding house. And just think how fat you'll get from all of Matthew's cookin and all the trouble we can get into when no one's lookin."
"I had enough of your brand of trouble this afternoon," Charlie warned, looking pointedly at his bruised jaw.
The man tugged her skirt. "Come on, Charlie."
She didn't say a word in response to Nathaniel's nonsense. Instead, she looked at the view and mulled it over. Amongst her misgivings, one stood out strongest. "You certain you want me around when you're conducting business?"
"Hell," Eli chimed in. "You can just do what Alice did and wait upstairs."
Alice had lived there?
Before Matthew could pounce on him, Nathaniel smacked the back of Eli's dense head.
'Oww!" The boy jumped from the stoop, rubbing his skull. "What the hell was that for?"
"For opening your goddamn mouth."
Awkward silence fell, not one of the men knowing just what to say to fix the look on Charlie's face.
She felt as if she'd been kicked in the gut. "Eli, I'm not Alice."
"No," Matthew agreed, taking her fist and uncurling her fingers. "You're our Charlotte."
Charlie had not accepted or declined Matthew's offer, and it had been eatin at him. Trying to track her down and explain, to make her see sense, Matthew had only grown more frustrated. Each time he'd gone to town hoping to catch a glimpse of her, her old jalopy had been gone - Charlie off on another one of her adventures god only knew where.
When he finally did clamp eyes on the elusive woman, Matthew wasn't sure if he was relieved to see her, or infuriated to find her drinking at one of the less savory Monroe watering holes he supplied.
The crowd was rowdy - the crowd was always rowdy at Rutabagas. Trying to hand payment to an unresponsive supplier, the speakeasy's proprietor saw what had caught Matthew's attention and gestured to the woman sitting by herself at the bar. "That there is Miss Elliot. She don't like to be bothered."
Matthew looked back to his longtime business associate, scowling deeply. "She been in here before?"
"Comes in once or twice a week for supper." The old man pressed money into Matthew's hands. "Keeps to herself and ain't exactly sociable with the gentry. Pays extra for Tiny there to make sure she's left alone."
A dark-skinned giant stood at the wall, near enough Charlie that each time a patron got too close, he was quickly turned away.
Matthew didn't like it one bit. Working his jaw, he pushed past, determined to go where he damn-well pleased.
The burly bouncer came forward. "The lady don't like to be bothered, Mr. Emerson."
The one who was bothered was Matthew. "Tony, back the fuck up."
Of course they knew one another. "Matthew... she pays me two dollars a week. You really gonna make me earn it?"
"A hospital bill is gonna cost you a lot more." Matthew didn't have time for nonsense. Brushing the man aside, he went to Charlotte, the woman watching him with a cocked brow and a smirk.
He nodded, taking off his hat and setting it on the bar beside her. "What are you doin here?"
It was obvious he didn't approve. Sighing, she set her chin in her palm and pointedly glanced down at her half eaten dinner.
Matthew didn't like a damn thing about her sitting there in her pretty green sweater and tight skirt, didn't like the men looking her way, or that she was in a situation where she felt it was necessary to pay a bouncer to watch her back. The only thing about it he did like was the way she seemed to shiver when he reached up and pulled a small, dried leaf from her hair. "Charlotte..."
"I missed dinner at the boarding house."
Matthew knew better. "Charlotte..."
Nathaniel charged forward, his arms full of crates. "Hot damn, it's Charlie!"
Charlie smiled at the other brother. "Evening, Nathaniel."
Nathaniel abandoned his burden on the bar. With a cockeyed smirk, he snatched a fried potato off her plate and teased, "Rutabagas can get a little wild. Don't really know if this is the best place for you. Or are you lookin to deck some more drunks?"
"Why, you looking to get decked?" she quipped, showing her still bruised knuckles for effect. "Besides, I've been in every kind of bar from east coast to west. This place ain't so bad." Charlie lifted her glass in salute, red lips curved. "And they serve Emerson's finest."
Matthew set coins on the counter to cover her tab, an outright challenge in his eye when she quirked a brow. "Come on, Charlotte. We'll see you home."
She didn't put up a fuss like he expected, saving Matthew the trouble of carrying her out over his shoulder. Her compliance didn't stop him from resting his hand on her lower back, a very public act of possession in front of the farmers and local men who favored the raucous establishment. The attention didn't stop outside, Matthew put her in her car's passenger seat and took the wheel, leaving Nathaniel and Eli to follow in the truck. When they pulled up to the boarding house, he got out of Charlie's old car and walked her to the door, following her inside.
The hour was late, and thankfully, Mrs. Fontanne had gone to bed; otherwise Charlie was certain there would have been no end of problems if she'd seen a man with her.
"Matthew," she whispered, cautious eyes scouting the foyer. "You're gonna get me in trouble."
"There won't be no trouble, cause you're movin into the roadhouse. Ain't no need for you to pussyfoot around here and spend your nights eatin at rowdy honkey-tonks just to avoid breakin bread with that woman."
"What if you don't like having me there?" she urged. "I'm awfully independent and I won't be changing my comings and goings. And I ain't hiding upstairs..."
There was no longer going to be a question. He knew exactly how to get a response. Work roughened fingers threaded into the waves at her nape. Matthew leaned down, skimming his lips over her ear, ordering, "You're coming to live with me, Charlotte. Pack up and get ready to go."
Her voice held no confidence. "You sure?"
"Weather's turning bad... snow's comin." There was uncustomary playfulness in Matthew's tone. "I gotta think of Mrs. Fontanne's welfare. Don't want to trap her indoors with a spitfire like you."
When Charlie giggled, Matthew took her mouth slow, deep, and greedy promise. By the time he let her go, she was nothing but a dumbstruck puddle.
An hour later, Charlie was fast asleep in his bed, Matthew lying alone just outside on an old cot. He knew that he'd been a bit underhanded, not having mentioned that Eli had slept in the hall when he pressed her to use his room, but he didn't care. The golden girl was right where he wanted her, and by god, he was going to keep her there.
Jul 16, 2018 in romance