The living room Lila stepped into was actually more of a den, fully masculine, complete with hunting trophies. Three rather unfortunate deer heads adorned the dark wood paneled walls, and an enormous, tufted black leather Chesterfield sofa and chair took up most of the space in front of the fireplace. The plush, high carpet had been abandoned here for a parquet floor and a fur rug in front of the hearth. The thick fur felt luxurious under her feet. Above, the open rafters were a chocolate brown, almost black, rough-hewn and large. The den held that odd mesh of styles – the 70s vibe cluttered with various groupings of Victorian antiques that included an Edison Victrola and large organ with mother-of-pearl buttons, tabs and pulls. The fireplace emitted a fair amount of heat from the gas logs within, the flame slowly rippling in a lazy cascade of orange, yellow, and occasionally blue.
Lila chose a corner of the immense Chesterfield sofa. The buttons were buried deep in the black leather, and it had a high back and matching arms. It conveyed a feeling of wealth and intimidation all at once and she could clearly imagine men in coattails sitting and puffing on cigars while the delicate ladies of the manse tittered in some small dainty room on the opposite side of the house.
Shane placed a glass in her hand, “Is bourbon all right?” The glass was heavy, cut crystal, and the two ice cubes sloshed seductively in the amber liquid. “Or perhaps you would rather have wine? I could check and see if there is any downstairs.”
There was a room below the den, lined in stone, with racks of wine. It was an extensive collection.
Shane had been surprised when Jack had told him to take Lila here. His boss still used this as his own private residence when he was in the area and there were other safe houses that were more modern, less filled with antiques and cut crystal. Nice, but not opulent.
Benton had kept all of the odd furniture from the last tenants, two men with a love of everything Victorian who had somehow landed in a 1970s ranch house instead of where their hearts belonged, in Victorian England.
Benton had bought the house, all of its contents, and changed little. He said once to Shane that he “liked the cacophony of it all.” The wine cellar was one small improvement, and the security cameras and alarms were a big one. No one could come within a one-quarter mile of the house without a bevy of alarms being sounded and a host of security cameras recording their every move.
Lila suppressed a shudder at Shane’s inquiry. Wine gave her headaches, vodka gave her hangovers, but bourbon or whiskey, when used in moderation, seemed to have zero negative effects on her.
“Bourbon is just fine, thanks.”
Shane sat down in the matching Chesterfield chair, swallowed up by the high back and sides. She raised the glass to her lips and let the strong liquor roll past her lips and over her tongue. She didn’t drink often. And while she had created a tiny liquor cabinet in her apartment, she had barely touched it. Only socially, when entertaining, and her social life had been rather hit or miss lately.
The kegger parties in college hadn’t really appealed and she hadn’t had much in the way of discretionary spending until the last few months, but she had on a few occasions been exposed to quality liquor. Mainly from tiny pilfering of her parent’s liquor cabinets where her dad had only stored the really good stuff.
He had told her that there was no point buying cheap liquor. “Your mom is always reminding me that cheap liquor is like buying cheap shoes – neither of them is good for your body. Get the good stuff or don’t bother getting anything at all. I guess that means we all need to go barefoot or something like that.” Lila’s dad had been funny and sweet. She missed him. He believed in quality everything. They didn’t have to have the newest, or the most fashionable, but he did want them to have the best that they could afford.
Those stolen nips of bourbon, whiskey and more had definitely taught her the difference in taste.
She savored the taste of the bourbon in her glass. This was excellent. It just added to the mystery of Benton Security Services. So far, this whole protection detail was nothing like what she had expected.
Where were the grimy, barren rooms with beige curtains and mustard yellow walls? There wasn’t a grim detective smoking a cigarette and warning her that the bad guys were just waiting for her to step out the door. And this also wasn’t the Ritz, with its maddening fusion of 70s wood and beam, and Victorian froufrou.
She stared at Shane, who had settled into the chair and Lila felt confused and turned on all over again. She tucked her feet deeper into the blanket and tried not to notice the growing bulge in his boxer briefs. The rest of his body was bare, smooth skin muscles prominent but not ridiculous.
Lila couldn’t stand those men who spent hours lifting weights until their muscles bulged unnaturally, limiting their movement so that they just lumbered by like a proud stag, flexing their muscles. Who wanted that, really? A guy who couldn’t even bend or flex normally? And if she was carrying the metaphor of the deer a little further – those stupid deer got shot. Shane was quick, strong when he needed to be strong, and sexy as hell.
That five o’clock shadow, and the chiseled jaw. Her internal dialogue stopped dead as he quirked an eyebrow at her. She had been staring.
“Um, what?” He had spoken, but she hadn’t even heard him.
“I talked to my boss,” Shane said again. “The men I shot in the hallway there at Kurgen. They were contract killers, Lila.” He paused, looked her over, and frowned, “Someone really wants you dead. Got any ideas why?”
“Unless it’s for overdue library books, I’ve got nothing.” She shrugged, “I’m nobody, Shane.”
“Lila, everyone is…”
She blew out a breath, took a sip of bourbon, and leaned forward, preoccupied with the mystery. “I haven’t witnessed a crime or found stolen merchandise, and I’m not into drugs or any illicit activity. I’m a data analyst.”
“Okay, tell me more. What do you do for Kurgen in your role as a data analyst?”
“For the most part, I simply analyze market trends and then make recommendations – when to buy, when to sell, what markets are up, which are down, that sort of thing.”
“So, it’s sort of like marketing?”
“Not really, although marketing is a component. Basically, I’m the translator of data. Information, numbers, statistics. By understanding the data and interpreting it, I help management make better business decisions moving forward.”
“That sounds like quite a demanding position.”
She shrugged, “I do end up working more hours than I initially thought I would, but it’s interesting work and the best job I’ve ever had. I really enjoy it.”
He leaned back, drained his glass, and set it down. “Somehow this has to do with your work.”
Lila shook her head, “I just don’t see how.”
“Occam’s Razor. It means…” She put up her hand.
“I know what Occam’s Razor means.”
“Of course you do. Look, what else could it be? You’re squeaky clean. Believe me, I can smell dirt a mile away and you haven’t got any. You’ve seen something, heard something, maybe just read it. It might be sitting on your desk at this very moment, some piece of a puzzle you stumbled on and didn’t even recognize, but it is there.”
His words stirred a random memory in her mind.
It might be sitting on your desk at this very moment. It couldn’t be that. Surely not.
Lila could feel his eyes on her, assessing her, observing her every reaction. She smiled wryly and took the last sip of bourbon. The fire of it slid down her throat and she could feel it working already, a layer of calm lassitude settling over her. Between that and the fire, her thoughts were slowing, and exhaustion from the past few days seeped into her.
Being in pain took energy, fear did too, and her body and mind were conspiring to send her into a warm, fuzzy land surrounded with Egyptian cotton sheets and the slow warmth emanating from the fireplace.
Lila leaned her head back, the high back of the sofa swallowing her up.
“Another bourbon?” Shane’s voice was low, and she closed her eyes and shook her head.
Why did he have to sound so damned sexy? Normally a man like that would have her as jumpy as a cat, but now, with the bourbon coursing through her bloodstream and her body and mind exhausted from her injuries, the fear and flight from the office, and the reassuring quiet and isolation of the house she was now in, all she wanted to do was sleep.
Shane watched her. The arch of her neck, her delicate skin still mottled with bruises. The way one delicate breast was half-exposed by the extra-large men’s shirt she had on. Her legs were drawn up to her chest and to the right, exposing a toned, shapely thigh, and a tantalizing peek at the edge of lacy black panties.
He let his gaze travel from her toes all the way to her sleep-tousled hair. He took his time, listening as her breathing, slowed and deepened. Shane stood up and plucked the now-empty glass from her hand.
She snapped awake.
He reached out a hand to help her up, “You’re done in. Get some rest. We will talk more in the morning.”
Lila nodded and made her way up the stairs. Her steps were silent, swallowed up in the plush thickness of the carpet. So were Shane’s. It gave her a jolt to realize he was directly behind her, towering over her as she placed her hand on the doorknob and it turned effortlessly in her hand. He looked down into her eyes and reached behind her to push the door open.
He was close, and despite her exhaustion, her heartbeat increased, a sharp desire running through her. She sucked in a breath, and the gap between their two bodies closed as he moved closer, one hand straying to the small of her back.
He bent his head down, his mouth mere inches from hers. “And no more going outside of the house. At least, not without me.”
His words were a dash of reality, a splash of ice on her libido. She stiffened and turned away from him, through the door and closing it behind her with a decisive kick of her foot.
Shane smiled, then shook his head. Damned if she isn’t sexy when she’s pissed off.
The bulge in his underwear hadn’t lessened one iota. But he could hear Jack’s words echoing in his head, “Keep it professional.”
“I’m trying my best, Boss,” he muttered under his breath as he descended the stairs and made his way towards the west wing of the house, “But damned if she doesn’t have something about her that I can’t stop thinking about.”
Behind the closed door, Lila stomped to the bed, the sleepy lassitude she had felt in the den gone, replaced by indignation. She slid into the covers, fuming, “Stay in the house. Like I’m an errant child! As if I can’t take care of myself!”
The bed, with its silky soft sheets and feather softness, slowly worked its magic. And despite herself, as she drifted off, she couldn’t help imagining what it would have been like if instead of speaking, he had kissed her instead. It morphed into the most amazing dream.