Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(3)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(3)
Author: Staci Hart

“Do you want a picture?” he asked.

I got the distinct impression he asked everyone that question simply because there was no way in hell anyone could have the constitution to request a picture on their own. Not with his energy sapping everyone in a twenty-foot radius of their wits.

“I…erm…”

He was out of his seat and stepping around the table before I could say no again, and this time, I’d have meant the word in full. But there he was, approaching like a thunderstorm. My chin lifted as he approached. He was at least a foot taller than me, the air around him charged, everything about him dark. His hair. His beard. His bottomless eyes. His jacket that smelled like Italian leather and combat boots to match, the laces half-untied and the top gaping open with irreverence.

My senses abandoned me completely. The effect of him amplified with proximity, and there was nothing to do but submit. So there I was, tucked into Thomas Bane’s side with his arm wrapped around me like hot, heavy steel.

It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to curl into him, fist the lapels of his jacket, and bury my face in his chest for a good, long whiff of him.

If my nose didn’t come approximately to his nipples, I would have smelled his hair, too.

“Do you have your phone?” he asked, but the rumble of the words through his chest vibrated through me to the point of absolute distraction.

“Ah…um…”

“Here, we’ll take one with mine.” With a slight shift, he retrieved his phone, holding it out for a selfie. “Say irredeemable asshole!”

A laugh burst out of me. And then his hand lowered.

I stiffened. “Wait, did you take it?”

He nodded, smiling down at his phone. “I’ll tag your blog on Instagram.”

“But…I mean…is it okay? I’m not…”

He looked down at me, and for a second, I lost myself in the vision of him this close, from this angle. I could see the fine lines in his lips, the thick clusters of his lashes, the depth of his eyes. The brown was finally visible, so deep, there were almost hints of a deep, dark crimson.

“You’re gorgeous. See?”

Gorgeous? Me? The words sounded like Greek, a mush of sound that made no sense.

I tore my eyes away from his to glance at his phone and almost didn’t recognize myself. My eyes were closed, my nose scrunched, my smile big and wide and happy as I’d unwittingly leaned into him.

A hot flutter brushed my ribs. “Oh…that’s…”

He laughed, a short sound through his nose as he pulled away. “I’m glad you came today. Tell Janessa to email my brother if she wants any more books signed, and we’ll send them to the office.”

“O-okay.”

“Thanks, Amelia. For everything. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.”

Hysterical laughter crackled in my throat, but I swallowed it down in a feat of self-control.

The girl behind me cleared her throat, and I glanced back at her apologetically. She looked furious.

“Sorry,” I said quietly.

“Ugh, life is just not fair.” She brushed past me and plunked a stack of books on the table.

Thomas Bane’s smiling eyes were on me as he took his seat, and I waved lamely before turning to walk away.

I swore, I felt those eyes singeing a hole in my back the whole way out the door.

Pocket-Sized

Tommy

“You did what?”

Theo’s arms were folded, his frown the mirror of my smirk. It wasn’t the only thing that was mirrored. My twin was an exact copy of me but with a practical haircut to match his practical suit. We were almost indistinguishable from each other beyond the hair, which had really put a damper on our ability to fuck with girls.

I pulled off my jacket. “I asked Amelia Hall to read for me. Be a critique partner.”

“The girl who hates you?” he asked flatly.

“She doesn’t hate me, and she’s not wrong.” I tossed my jacket on his couch.

“She does hate you, which is exactly why Blackbird Books keeps sending her your releases. Her bad reviews sell your books.”

“She doesn’t hate me, and she’s gonna help. She’s smart, Theo. And articulate. And if you hadn’t told me not to, I would have asked her for help a long time ago.”

He snorted a laugh. “God knows you fucking need it if you’re ever gonna turn in a book again.”

“I told my editor I’d have the book to him soon.”

“Soon is not a measure of time, Tommy.”

I smiled. “They’ve waited six months. What’s a few more weeks?”

“A few more weeks would imply you were close to being finished.”

“Who says I’m not?”

One of his dark brows rose.

I sighed. “All right, fine. I’m not, but I will be. Soon, which is a measure of time. I have a good feeling about this.”

That climbing eyebrow jacked a few more millimeters. “Oh? And which one are you gonna send? The mpreg werewolf or the space opera that feels suspiciously like Firefly?”

I gave him a look. “I’ll have you know, male-pregnancy fantasy makes a shitload of money. Throw in a werewolf, and we can probably afford a jet.”

“You’re playing with fire. She’s working for the Times…for Janessa. What happens when she writes her tell-all?”

I rolled my eyes and walked past him toward the kitchen. “I don’t have to tell her anything, Teddy.”

He glared at me. “Nice try. You’re not goading me into a fight just because you know I’m right. This is a bad idea, man.”

“Or it’s a great idea.” I opened the fridge and reached for a beer. “She’s smart. She knows the market. I’ll have her sign an NDA. What’s the problem?”

“First of all, NDAs only keep honest people honest.” Theo strode toward me, stopping on the other side of the kitchen island. “And secondly, my problem is that you never think anything through. You never think at all. You just act.”

I popped the cap with a hiss and tossed the tin in the sink with a clink. “I like to think of it as recognizing an opportunity when it lands in my lap. That’s the difference between you and me. You’re a thinker, and I’m a doer. It’s why we’re such a stellar team.”

“You mean I’m the fixer.”

Ma’s voice came from behind him. “What are you fixing now, Teddy?”

Everything about him softened as he turned to face her, and I found myself relaxing, too.

“Oh, just Tommy’s mess, as usual.”

She chuckled, shuffling into the room, her arms oddly still. Theo grabbed her arm to stabilize her and helped her take a seat at the island bar. “Well, that’s nothing new.”

“It’s not a mess, Ma. In fact, I think I’ve solved all my problems.”

Her brow rose, just like Theo’s had. “Oh? You found a cure for writer’s block?”

I smiled. “Sure did—in the form of a tiny little blonde with too many opinions for her own good.”

She laughed, the sound a tight, trembling echo of what it had been before Parkinson’s. “A girl’s gonna save you?”

I leaned on the island across from her, still smiling. “A smart girl, one who isn’t afraid to tell me I’m being an idiot.”

“Well, bless her for trying.”

“Listen,” I said, meeting Ma’s eyes, then Theo’s before I continued, “I’m not too proud to admit that I need help—”

Theo snorted a laugh, his gaze brushing the ceiling.

I ignored him. “I have a good feeling about this. There’s something about her…I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Some writer you are,” Theo shot without any bite.

“It’s not that, dick. I haven’t had time to process anything. I’ve been on for the last four hours. Cut me some slack.”

He kept his mouth shut. I took a sip of my beer to keep my lips occupied and dug into my repository for a way to explain in words.

What had it been exactly? Something had stopped me on the sight of her, halted my thought. Something in the air between us, tight and humming, a spark of awareness, a zing of connection.

   
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