Aleksei Absinthe Solokov, loved books. He loved the smell of them. The sight of them. The information in them. He especially loved the places he could go in them. Books had saved his life on more than one occasion. He’d originally come to this place, needing the quiet and peace, needing the scent and the words. And once again, books had led him to find something so unexpected, so spectacular, he still hadn’t accepted the offering, the gift, not quite believing yet, but he couldn’t walk away.
He sat in his favorite place right in front of the tallest stacks. The table was smaller and less inviting, due to the crowded space. He didn’t like being disturbed. He came to the library to get respite from the continual bombardment of other people’s thoughts and emotions. He could command with his voice, and sometimes the temptation to tell everyone to not think or speak for five minutes was sometimes brutally hard to resist. He needed to feel normal when he wasn’t. He wanted to see if he could fit in somewhere, but he knew he couldn’t. He needed to stand on his own, but it was impossible.
His small table, nearly hidden there beside the taller stacks, not only protected him from unwanted company, but gave him a direct view to the desk where the librarian checked out books, recommended reads, and sometimes—make that often—helped teens with their homework. He had been coming for over a month. Six weeks to be exact. And he just watched her. Like a fucking stalker. The librarian. She was so damn sexy he was shocked that the place wasn’t overrun with single men—because she was single. He’d made it his business to find out.
When he first came to the library, he hadn’t worn his colors. It was more to be anonymous than for any other reason—at least he told himself that. Sometimes, he just got a feeling. Whenever it happened, he acted on it—and he’d had that feeling—the one that often saved his life, so he’d removed his colors and gone into the library feeling a little naked without them.
He didn’t want to be noticed, although he was covered in tattoos and scars that couldn’t be seen beneath the tee that stretched tight across his chest. Just his sleeves showed, those tattoos that meant something to him, but wouldn’t to anyone else. Memorials to his lost family and the children that hadn’t survived that nightmare he’d lived through.
Now, he still didn’t wear his colors for the same reason, although he felt a fraud, because he was Torpedo Ink. His club colors were tattooed onto his back, but it was more than that. His identity went beyond skin and sank right into bone. He knew with absolute certainty that he couldn’t live without his club, nor would he want to. Torpedo Ink was his identity. His life. His family—brothers and sisters—and their lives were bound together irrevocably.
They were woven together like an old tapestry, and nothing could take them apart and yet, he felt as if he had betrayed them. Skulking away. The members rarely went off alone, certainly not daily for six weeks. And they didn’t go six weeks without wearing their colors. It wasn’t done. He might as well have gone naked. He didn’t know why he kept this place to himself...
He did though. It was the librarian. The little redhead. She moved liked poetry. Flowing like words across the pages of a book. One moment she could be a lady in a historical, taking the hand of a gentleman and gracefully emerging from a carriage, the next, a modern-day woman striding down the busy street in a business suit with her briefcase. Or a sexy librarian dressed in a pencil straight skirt that hugged her curves and gave him all kinds of very dirty and graphic thoughts like bending her over that desk of hers when the rest of the world went away.
Still, that feeling of staying anonymous, of keeping his identity secret, so that no one had a clue what or who he was persisted while he unraveled the mystery of the woman who ran the library so efficiently.
He was back. Oh. My God. The most gorgeous man in the entire world and he just walked in off the street like he owned the place. Like the library was his home and gorgeous men came in every single day. He was tall with broad shoulders and a thick chest and arms. Really great arms. Muscles. Really great muscles. Scarlet Foley spent a lot of time perving on his muscles. And all those delicious tattoos. Who knew she’d fall for tattoos when she’d never been all that fond of them?
He had thick blond hair, a lot of it and it spilled across his forehead making her fingers itch to smooth it back. His eyes were very different. Blue. But not. More crystal blue. But not. Like two really cool crystals. She couldn’t decide. When she wasn’t perving on his muscles or fixating on his fascinating mouth, she was definitely wondering how to describe his eyes and she was really good with words as a rule.
She knew she shouldn’t be around him. He left her breathless and tongue-tied. If she had girlfriends, she would be over at their houses every night after work so she could share the mythical pictures she would secretly sneak of him like a crazy stalker. They would have dropped by the library to see him and giggled like schoolgirls.
Instead, she acted the part of the librarian. Dignified. Hiding behind her glasses she didn’t really need. She had that role down perfectly. No giggling. No snapping contraband pictures to stare at in the middle of the night and fantasize over and pretend she might actually have some sort of a love life. Worse, get out every single toy known to single women that wouldn’t help because he was too gorgeous, and nothing ever was going to match the real thing. But as long as he kept coming to her library, she was going to do some daydreaming, no one could take that away from her.
He liked science fiction. He read psychology books. Not self-help books, but the real thing, industry books. He also read a lot of obscure reference books on the pyramids of Egypt. The building of them. She knew because she watched his every move and sometimes, she helped him find the books he wanted. Up close, he smelled like cedarwood and at night, when she was alone, she couldn’t get that scent out of her mind. She knew she would always associate it with him. Man. Muscles. And sex. Worse.
Yes. It did get worse because she’d looked down his body. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t mean to. She practiced keeping her eyes up on his chest. But she handed him the book and her gaze just dropped and there it was...in all its glory. Hard as a rock. The full ultra-impressive package. So now, she had it all to take to bed with her. And quite frankly it sucked that the man wasn’t in bed with her as well.
He would ask her for help in finding a particular book, and when he did, his voice was mesmerizing. Velvet soft. She swore she felt the sound sliding over her skin. Stroking her. An actual physical sensation. A little shiver always slid down her spine and a very inappropriate flutter in her sex accompanied that shiver. Now that she knew what he had her wayward gaze strayed often and her panties went damp more than they should have. She had no respect for herself. None. But that didn’t stop her.
She’d never had that kind of reaction to any man, not in college and not when she’d traveled to other countries. His voice was always pitched low, very soft, but it was commanding, and she heard a little twist of his words as if he had an accent under the English pronunciation, but she couldn’t place it. She’d never heard a voice like his before and she’d traveled extensively. He was very much a gentleman, and yet, he gave off an extremely dangerous vibe. She’d been around dangerous men and she would have placed him right there with them, but she didn’t know why. He seemed as if he’d be more at home in a suit and tie than casual clothes. And he wore his clothes like a model.
She had a lot of time—too much time—to think about him when she went home from the library and sat alone in her reading chair, surrounded by her books and little else. He was the fastest speed reader she’d ever seen in her life and she knew he was for real. At first, she thought he was faking his ability to read that fast, but then she realized after time, that he clearly was reading the books and must be comprehending what he was reading.
She was impressed. She’d taken several speed-reading courses and, in the end, had gone with the advice of the fastest reader in the world, learning from his books. She picked up things fast, she always had. The more time spent, the faster she learned. It was a gift she had, and she used it often which made it all the more readily available to her.
She’d made certain to touch him. The first time had been a brief brush of their fingers as she handed him a book. Frankly, she hadn’t been certain if he’d made that initial contact or if she had, but she would never forget it as long as she lived. The spark had gone up her finger to every nerve ending in her body, spreading like a wildfire, bringing her to life as if she’d been asleep—or dead—her entire life and it had taken him to wake her up.
She had been dead. She’d chosen to be dead. She’d shoved the woman in her aside out of necessity and become what she had to be. Now she was simply surviving. Until he walked in. She had no idea what to do with him—but she wanted him. She’d sworn she would never—not ever—go there again. Put herself in a situation where the dark things inside of her had a chance to escape. She’d seen the results of that, and yet she couldn’t stop thinking about him...wanting him.
Touching him was dangerous, but she couldn’t seem to resist no matter how hard she tried, and every touch brought something new. She couldn’t get to him, couldn’t uncover him or strip him in layers like she did others, but something connected them so strongly, melding them so tightly together that there was no going back, and she knew it. Every time he was close to her, he melted away that shell of a hardened human being that wasn’t real and for a moment, she felt alive and genuine—and vulnerable.
Right now, he sat in her library, disturbing her beyond all measure. She hadn’t thought it possible. She thought she was stone cold when it came to the opposite sex, but she lit up around him. On fire. Hot as hades. She apparently had red hair for a reason, and it wasn’t her temper. Okay, maybe it was that too. She hadn’t made up her mind how she felt about Mr. Aleksei Solokov. That was the name on his library card. She didn’t know if her body coming to life was a good thing or a bad thing. If fantasies were wonderful or a curse. There was a lot to think about, but then she had a lot of time to think.
She jerked her head up, her breath exploding out of her lungs. No one had managed to sneak up on her in years and yet just perving on Aleksei Solokov and she failed the first lesson in survival. She turned slowly, already knowing who was behind her, identifying him by his voice.
“Hi Tom.” He was sixteen and trying desperately to learn to read at his level. His English teacher was no help, giving him assignments far beyond his comprehension. It made Scarlet angry that the man couldn’t take the time to help the boy. “I was hoping you’d come in today. I have plenty of time to help you.” She flashed him a reassuring smile.
The boy’s face flooded with relief. “Thanks, Miss Foley.”
She waved him toward the table where they often worked together, and she was most comfortable. She could see out the windows, but no one could see her, or the boy she tutored. She was always careful just in case, so no one could ever harm any of the teens just because of her. She put aside the rest of the evening’s work and settled down to help Tom do his homework. She would have plenty of time to finish her own work before the close of her shift.
The librarian moved, drawing Absinthe’s attention. It was growing late, and she walked the boy she’d been helping with his English paper to the door, reassuring him he was getting better with every paper and she was proud of him. She moved like someone who could handle herself, always balanced, even when she was carrying stacks of books. He’d noticed that almost immediately about her. When one was as fucked up as he was, you always assessed the men and women around you to see who the fighters were. Under that sexy prim and proper librarian façade, she could handle herself.
She wore her hair up in an intricate, twisted bun, but twice, after work, he’d seen her let it down. It was bright red, shiny red. There was no other word for the color. Just red and that color hadn’t come out of a box. It was a waterfall of true, thick, silky red. Her hair, once let loose, refused to be tamed. It snaked down her back to her waist, drawing attention to just how small her waist and ribcage were and how curved her hips were. She had an ass, and tits that were high and firm, and very generous. Her curves were deceptive considering she was very fit.
Absinthe’s entire body reacted to her in an entirely unprecedented way. He didn’t have normal erections. Those had been beaten or raped out of him when he was a child. To achieve one, he had to command his body to cooperate, and why the hell bother? To sit in the library—that quiet and peaceful place—and feel his body respond to a beautiful woman was a form of magic. He enjoyed the feeling, knowing he would never take it for granted—and it happened every damn time he looked at her.
He had experimented after he’d had a reaction to her, going to various bars and even the market, in the hopes that his body would respond to someone else after it had come to life, but it seemed it was only the little librarian with her bright red hair that did it for him. That was just fine with him. He liked her. He liked the way she was so gentle and calm—so patient with the kids that came in asking her homework questions. If she noticed there was a much higher percentage of boys than girls, she didn’t make a big deal out of it. She spoke in soft, melodic tones, but hushed, in keeping with the library rules.
After seeing the boy out, she turned and looked straight at him. He could never quite interpret the expression on her face. He was always careful not to touch her for too long. He didn’t want to read her thoughts. He was enjoying their dance around each other too much for that. She was fascinated, but nervous—anxious even, which he found interesting as well. She was always so calm with everyone else. She couldn’t know he was in a club, so it wasn’t that.
She came toward him, flowing across the room. She was breath-taking. Beautiful. All woman wrapped up in that sweet package. Her name was Scarlet, and he loved that name. It said Scarlet Foley her nameplate, and she’d finally introduced herself formally to him three and a half weeks earlier. It had taken quite some time before she actually spoke to him. She’d smile, but she didn’t come near him at first. Even now, she was extremely reserved with him.
“You’ve been here for hours. Are you doing research again? I might be able to help you,” she offered. “Although, we’re closing soon.”
He glanced around. The library was empty. It was definitely near closing time. He decided to take a chance. “I stayed late on the off chance you’d have time to have dinner with me. Nothing fancy, just across the street there.” He indicated the more upscale restaurant facing the front of the library.
He liked the location of the library. It was on a block that was also quieter than most of the town’s streets. Foliage was abundant, in fact the front and sides of the library were covered in ivy so that it appeared to drip down the brick walls and fall like a waterfall over the second story to the first. Everything about the place proclaimed it was cool and inviting.
Scarlet stood very still, her large green gaze, behind her glasses, moving over his face slowly. For a moment she looked scared. Not scared exactly. That wasn’t the right word. Leery, maybe. Assessing the risk? He wasn’t certain but she wasn’t jumping at his invitation. She glanced over her shoulder toward the restaurant. Absinthe stayed silent, letting her make up her mind. He needed her to feel safe with him—and he wanted her to want to spend time with him the way he wanted to spend it with her—just the two of them. Walking across the street with her vehicle close was a good start.
“I think that sounds fun,” she said finally. Almost reluctantly.
He could hear lies. She wasn’t lying, but there was something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. For the millionth time, he glanced at her hand to see if she was wearing a wedding ring. She wasn’t. There was no faint tan line that might indicate she’d worn one. She had very pale skin. A dusting of freckles was across her nose, spreading out just a bit, very faint, but he had the unexpected urge to kiss each one.
“I’ll wait here for you while you close up and we can walk over together,” he said. He made it a statement. She more than likely would want him to go out the door first. She didn’t walk outside with anyone, even if one of the teens stayed late. Not one time in the six weeks he’d been coming. She always stood at the door for a long period of time, scanning the entire block, the buildings and even the rooftops.
Her small white teeth caught at her lower lip for a moment and his heart nearly stopped. Why he found that sexy, he had no idea, but he did. His body stirred, and heat rushed through his veins like a drug. Just being close to her was addicting. Her eyes did that reluctant drop, as if she couldn’t help herself. He fucking loved that. For just one moment her gaze rested on the bulge at the front of his jeans and he hardened even more. She turned red and averted her eyes. He resisted grinning.
“I have a few things to do. You could grab us a table and I’ll meet you there.”
Yeah. She didn’t want to be seen with anyone. That was a red flag. He held up his cell phone. “I’ll text them to hold us a table. I scoped it out earlier and they have a few tables for two. They’re kind of in the shadows, but if you’d rather sit on the main floor...”
“No, I think a table for two sounds excellent.”
She jumped at that. A little too fast. She didn’t want to be seen with him. Fuck.
“I’ll make us a reservation and you finish up.”
She hesitated again, but then turned away with a little nod. He watched her go back to her desk. He’d already made the reservation. If she’d said no, he simply would have cancelled it. He kept an eye on her while he made a show of writing down a few facts from the book he had pulled out to reference. Truthfully, he didn’t need to write anything down. He could read and absorb over twenty thousand words per minute. He retained everything he saw or read. He could compel truth and make suggestions that others would follow. He had highly developed gifts. Some were a curse, no matter what others thought. Most were. Or maybe it was how he’d had to use them.
He was uneasy without his fellow Torpedo Ink members close by and even more so now that he could see just how nervous she was. They had survived their childhood and then later, as teens and adults, by sticking together. The rule had always been one or two stuck close to a third. Sometimes they were unseen, up on a rooftop with a rifle, sometimes they were in the shadows, but there was always someone close to protect one another.
Absinthe knew if the pull toward the librarian hadn’t been so strong, he never would have continued to come without at least one of the others. He wanted them close. Eventually, he would have to ask them to ride with him, but there would be so many questions and he wanted this time with her to be real. He wanted to unravel the mystery of Scarlet Foley alone. If he enlisted the aid of his club, Code would be involved, and her life would instantly be an open book. No one escaped Code’s ability to uncover their past with his genius computer skills. There was something to be said for the old-fashioned way of conversation and courtship.
He drummed his fingers on the table, reminiscent of Czar, their Torpedo Ink president. When Czar was thinking, he often kept time with his fingers. Absinthe found himself with the same habit and he’d never bothered to try to break it. Twice, there in the library, his little redhead had sent him a small frown. Now he often drummed his fingers on the table just to see that frown because he found it provocative. Sensual. Hell. Everything she did was sensual.
He waited for her to turn the lights off before he got up and made his way down the aisle between the tall stacks to her. She knocked her purse off the desk and then when she picked it up, she dropped it again. Absinthe recovered it and handed it to her. That was absolutely, entirely unlike her, especially the fact that she hadn’t caught it before it hit the floor. He’d seen her catch dozens of books and other objects over the last six weeks even when others had dropped them.
Scarlet took the purse with a rueful expression. “I’m a little nervous,” she confessed, not looking at him. “I don’t go out very often.”
He’d already guessed that. He also was very sure she was afraid of someone. “Does your family live here?”
He held the door open for her. He wasn’t used to making conversation with an ordinary citizen, and certainly not one that made his cock feel so diamond-hard he was afraid he might not be able to walk. Wasn’t that a perfectly ordinary question? One any man might ask a woman on a first date? Date. Hell. He didn’t date. He’d never been on a date in his life.
She had dropped back, not walking with him and he just stood there, waiting for her to exit. Scarlet’s gaze slid up and down the street before she reluctantly stepped outside and allowed him to close the door behind her, take the keys from her hand and lock it and then hand them back to her.
“No, but my grandmother did. I used to visit her here. I had a lot of good memories, so I came back and was able to get the job at the library. What about you?”
He shook his head. “No, but now I live in Caspar which isn’t all that far from here.” It was by some people’s standards, but he found it peaceful riding his motorcycle and the roads were perfect for cruising between the coast and inland, so distances didn’t matter to him.
Her face lit up. “I’ve been to Caspar. It’s on the coast, right? I love it there. The sea is always changing. One day it will be quiet and calm and the next, it’s wild and crazy. You’re lucky to live there, although I imagine there aren’t very many jobs available.”
Was there a wistful note in her voice? He hoped so. He needed the stars to align and let him have this miracle of a gift. He needed her in his life. He just had to find a way to make it happen and have it be real. He was most afraid of that—needing her too much and creating a false relationship.
He opened the door to the restaurant for her, scanning the room quickly for potential trouble before allowing her to do the same thing while he turned back toward the street and gave that another quick once over. Certain no one was paying attention to either of them, he closed the door and followed his librarian’s amazing ass. She was in a black skirt with small white polka-dots scattered over it. The material clung to her curves. He appreciated that particular skirt very much.
Absinthe held the back of her chair for her, ignoring the waiter who looked as if he might conk him on the head and abscond with the girl. She looked regal as she took the seat, smiling up at Absinthe, nearly taking his breath away. Whatever it was that she had, affected him like some kind of aphrodisiac. Her small teeth. That mouth with her full, pouty lips that were made for a man’s dirtiest fantasies. He hadn’t had them until she came along. Not like this. Mostly he’d had nightmares. The erotic, very graphic dreams were a welcome change.
“Are you a wine drinker?” Absinthe didn’t know the first thing about wine. He could make her any kind of drink she wanted, or talk beer but, wine eluded him. If she loved wine, he was going to be taking a crash course. It wouldn’t take him long to catch up.
She shook her head. “I actually don’t drink very much. Once in a while, if it’s really hot out I’ll have an ice-cold beer. But other than that, it’s a very occasional drink and usually I go for something girly like a cosmopolitan.”
“I don’t drink wine,” Absinthe admitted. “Like you I’m not a big drinker, but mostly that stems from wanting to be alert all the time.”
“You don’t put your feet up, relax and have tons to drink?” There was the merest hint of amusement in her voice. Mostly she was serious.
He loved the look on her face when she gave him her full attention. He focused completely on her, once he was certain the few couples already eating or waiting to be served weren’t in the least interested in them.
“No, that wouldn’t work for me. I do like to put my feet up though,” He admitted. “I’m going to be very upfront with you.” It was confession time. If he didn’t say it straight up, she’d find out anyway. “I’m not good at this. I never know what to say and I come off stilted and awkward, but I don’t want to be that way with you.”
Her green eyes were hard to stay still under. She seemed to see right through his skull into his mind where chaos reigned—thanks to her.
“I’m not so great at this either,” she declared. “I guess we’re going to have to learn. I’m very competitive and I have a fast learning curve. Very fast. Wait.” She frowned at him. “You weren’t reading a help book on dating, were you?”
“Do they have those in the library?”
Her lashes swept down and then back up. A small smile teased the curve of her mouth causing his heart to accelerate. He found himself staring. Shit. He was going to lose before he got started because he couldn’t stop staring at her.
She laughed. “I’m not telling you. I’ll read them and turn into a scintillating conversationalist in minutes, leaving you in the dust.”
He instantly learned three things. There were multiple self-help books on dating, she read extremely fast and she really was competitive. He flashed a small grin, looking at her with hawk-like eyes, giving her the predator look just for a moment. Just to the see the shiver that crept down her spine.
“I’ll have to be there first thing in the morning before your shift.”
“You know my shifts?” The smile faded, and she sounded uneasy.
He shrugged. “How was I going to ask you out? I went multiple times without seeing you so clearly you had a shift and only came into the library during those times. I kept having to trade work with friends, and drive here from the coast, so, I found out when you worked. I came as often as I could, and just waited until we’d established a very tentative woman can charm the socks right off a shy man any day of the week.”
“Is that what we established?”
Her laughter got him every time. He found himself actually relaxing. The waiter hovered, and both guiltily studied the menu. She ordered a pasta dish and he ordered a steak. Fresh-baked bread was put on the table and he suddenly realized he was very hungry.
“I watched you right back,” she admitted as she buttered a small piece of bread. “You’re quite fascinating.”
“The way you read. Even the books you choose. They’re reference books on just about every subject. Three were language books. All on Hindi. Are you planning on going to India?”
He shook his head. “I like languages. I study the various ones to see how alike they are, and how different. There are at least 720 dialects spoken in India, but most speak one or more of the official 22 languages.”
“Do you speak other languages?”
“Yes, I’ve studied them so much over the years, I’ve picked them up. Some more than others. You know how some people are good at mechanics? I’ve got a gift with languages. I can pick them up easily.”
“How did you learn to read so fast?”
She really had been watching him. He liked that, although it could be dangerous.
“I started practicing when I was really young. I practiced every single day for hours. I have a gift there as well. I read and absorb very quickly now, and I never miss a day that I don’t keep up the practice. I like books.”
“That’s so awesome that you started so young. I read this really cool article on the internet about speed reading and how to comprehend what you were reading at the same time,” she explained. “It’s funny that you speed read too. I started practicing about seven years ago. It comes in handy when you want to learn about various subjects.”
“That and YouTube.”
She nodded. “Right? I’ve found help from a tremendous number of videos. I rent this little house out in the middle of nowhere and it’s always falling apart. Repairs are my responsibility, so I just read or YouTube whatever I need.”
She was so fucking perfect for him. She made him ache inside. It was a good kind of ache after a lifetime of nothing but bad.
“Tell me about this boy you work so much with. Tom. He seems like a nice kid. What’s his story? You work with a lot of the kids, but he seems very special to you.”
She shrugged and buttered another piece of warm bread. He liked that she didn’t stint on the sweet, salted butter and worry too much about her figure. She had curves and he wanted her to keep them.
“He’s a nice kid. He has a great mom. Single. She works all the time. She came in once to thank me for helping him and even brought me some cupcakes she’d made. They were delicious.”
She flashed him a grin that said he’d missed out. His cock jerked hard at that mischievous grin. He could fall hard for her. He thought maybe he already had. Six weeks staring at her and she’d cast her spell.
“He was deaf the first few years of his life and then they operated on him, but he’s had trouble hearing sounds correctly and so has been slow reading and identifying words. He fell behind and she can’t help him because she works nights and isn’t home with him.”
Scarlet shrugged again but he had the feeling she wasn’t as casual as she tried to sound. She was upset on the boy’s behalf.
“He puts in the time, but he needs a tutor. I work with him after hours sometimes and he’s catching up now. He’s getting it.”
He knew immediately she was tutoring him as well as working with him in the library. He didn’t bother asking but knew she didn’t get paid for it. She didn’t want him to ask. He liked her all the more for it. He dipped his bread into oil and balsamic. “I’m glad the kid’s picking it up and that he wants to learn. That’s really what it takes, the desire.”
“You know what I do, the library. What do you do?”
He made a point of sighing. “I was afraid you’d ask. It’s very boring. I’m an attorney.”
She stiffened. She tried not to, but she did. He could see she had a major aversion to anyone with his particular career choice. He thought perhaps that would gain him some points, but he just lost any advantage he might have had.
“Hate it. Don’t work much. Looking for another career. Kind of fell into it because I like to debate but feel like criminals always get off and no justice is ever served. So, I’m kind of a lousy attorney.” He kept his voice low and pushed a little persuasion into it. Just the slightest to see the effect on her. She was different. He’d noticed that right away when he was with her in the library just observing her and then later when he would ask for various books.
She was susceptible to his voice, and yet he could see she could build a resistance fairly quickly to things, she reacted so fast. He wasn’t going to let her find a way to stop his subtle influence on her until he had already managed to get her to fall completely under his spell. He intended to put everything he had into this war and win. She already admitted she had a fast learning curve. She had gifts, the same as he did, and they were strong in her, already developed. He had to be cautious. This was one war he was determined to win.
Scarlet visibly relaxed a little, taking a breath, studying her bread before she took another bite and washed it down with a sip of water. “What kind of lawyer are you?”
He shrugged. Now that was a very good question. He was whatever he had to be. In the days of specialization, Code’s paperwork was invaluable. Absinthe’s ability to devour law books and keep up with the latest on whatever was needed for Torpedo Ink was equally as valuable.
“I’m kind of a jack of all trades, the fill out papers boring kind of work.”
She relaxed even more. “Do you have your own practice?”
He nodded. “I get by. It’s not my passion though.”
He wanted to say he’d walked into the library and found it, but he knew that wasn’t going to fly. “Books. Languages. The written word. Dead languages. History. Art. Martial Arts from around the world. Legends. Weapons. Poetry.” That was all true. He didn’t bother to hide the enthusiasm because he actually felt it and that was who he was. If he wanted the real her, she had to want the real him.
A slow smile spread across her face. “You are an amazing man. I can’t imagine you as a lawyer.”
“Neither can I,” he agreed. “I should have been a librarian, although I did volunteer in a library once. I read all the books and then had to quit.”
That was sort of true. He worked there, read as many of the books as possible, assassinated a member of the ministry and then returned to Sorbacov’s hellhole. That had been in Russia. “Do you like the outdoors?”
She nodded and looked up as the waiter returned to place a salad in front of her and then one in front of Absinthe. The waiter stood a little too close to Scarlet and she shifted in her chair slightly, edging away from him. She waited until he was gone before she spoke.
“I actually prefer to be outdoors if the weather’s good. Well,” she hedged. “Sometimes I find the most amazing places and take a book when it’s storming just to be outside when it’s raining. I love storms.”
She was perfection. Who knew that it was possible to have a woman be perfection for him? He didn’t think so. He hadn’t thought one was made for him. He could look at her all day. He knew he could because he had. He’d sat in the library and studied every single inch of her body. She was clothed, but often, her clothing was tight and moved with her body and he had mapped every curve, every valley, every sweet inch of her that he could.
“I really love storms as well. I particularly love to sit above the ocean and watch the storms move in while the waves rise up to meet the lightening. There’s something very freeing in the wildness of it.”
She regarded him over a forkful of romaine lettuce. “That’s poetic, Aleksei. I haven’t experienced that, but now I want to.”
“What about motorcycles? How do you feel about them?”
Scarlet took a sip of her water and then smiled up at the water boy who rushed to fill her glass. It was already mostly full. Absinthe thought the boy just wanted an excuse to be closer to her. He couldn’t blame the kid. Even the waiter was trying to find excuses to visit their table. He didn’t have to like it though—and he didn’t. The boy he didn’t mind. She didn’t either. The waiter was a different story. He actually seemed to brush his body up against Scarlet’s when he got close to her. Absinthe had never been a jealous man, but then he’d never had a reason to be jealous. He wanted her attention centered on him which was childish. He was a grown man and very confident. He didn’t whisper ‘go away’ to either of the two servers, but he thought it.
“I take it you like motorcycles.”
“You could say I’m passionate about motorcycles. I love the freedom of riding on them. The way the road opens up and you become part of the world around you. You can’t get that in a car or truck. Even a convertible doesn’t give you that same feeling of being part of the landscape and highway around you as you ride. You can see everything. The road stretches out in front of you and it’s like the entire world is yours to see.”
“You make riding motorcycles sound very different than I ever thought about them.”
“What did you think about them?” He braced himself. Most people were very judgmental about motorcycles and the men and women who rode them. He was prepared for her poor opinion and knew he’d just have to work to change her mind.
She took off her glasses for a moment, blinking at him with her vivid green eyes. She had very long lashes, reddish-gold tipped with more gold. For some reason just looking at those lashes framing her large eyes made his cock come to life all over again. She had no idea what that meant when it was unheard of. The men of Torpedo Ink, his brothers, commanded their cocks. Women didn’t do that. Nature didn’t do that. The reality was, the ability had been beaten out of them so they could be trained to order their erections, to always be in complete control of every sexual response.
Until now. Until Scarlet Foley. The red-headed librarian complete with her black or purple, or red square glasses framing her gorgeous eyes seemed to have taken command of his body. She was definitely his lady. His literaturnaya ledi, literary lady. He loved that she was as much into books as he was. That she loved the written word and she could read and comprehend what she was reading fast.
“I don’t know exactly, I haven’t been around motorcycles. I think I thought of them as death traps. One accident and bye-bye brain.” She pushed her salad away. She’d eaten most of it. “You don’t like salad.”
He looked down at his plate. “It’s lettuce. Ruffled lettuce, but green all the same. Bugs thrive on this stuff.”
She burst out laughing and that dark place inside of him that was so solid nothing could penetrate cracked. It just cracked like an iceberg. The sound of her laughter was incredible. Low. Soft. Intriguing. The tones played over his skin like the dance of fingers. He felt the brush of the notes on his chest and down his spine, the stroke of them on his cock and balls like caresses whispering over him. He wanted to close his eyes, all the better to savor the sensation. He had to file it away to take out later, but he knew he would never forget it. She had given that to him, just as she’d given him the first natural erection he could remember.
“So, you’re afraid of lettuce but not of motorcycles. I suppose, since you put your argument for riding motorcycles so eloquently, I’ll have to concede it sounds pretty awesome, as long as you ride with a helmet.”
“Babe, there’s a law in this State that makes that mandatory.”
The waiter arrived with their food, stepping very close to Scarlet so that when he bent to place her plate in front of her, his face was almost nuzzling her neck. She pulled her head immediately to the side, to get away from him, with a look of distaste. The move was almost reflexive.
“Step away,” Absinthe commanded, his voice low, but there was no mistaking the threat. He ‘pushed’ blatantly, although no one would know. Only the waiter would feel it—and the threat that was all too real. “She doesn’t like you so close.”
The waiter immediately complied. There were very few people who didn’t comply when Absinthe used his voice at that level. It was rare and he was shocked that it came out so aggressively when the indiscretion had been a small one. There was silence as the man finished giving them their food. Once they were alone Absinthe reached across the table to gently cover her hand.
“I’m sorry, are you all right?” He removed his hand immediately before she could be the one to withdraw it. He wanted her to feel his touch, be comforted, not offended by it.
“He just startled me, that’s all. I don’t like anyone I don’t know coming so close to me. It’s just a thing I have.”
“It’s not a bad thing to have, Scarlet. It’s called self-preservation. You’re a beautiful woman and men are going to find you very attractive. Most will just look. Others take advantage when they shouldn’t.”
“What do you do?”
“I ask you out and see if you’re interested.” He flashed a little self-deprecating grin. “I confess my worse sins, including not liking lettuce and let you decide.” He was a fucking liar and he was going to burn in the fires of hell, but she was worth it.
She flashed him a smile and pointed to his steak. “Eat up before it gets cold. Do you actually own a motorcycle? Is that what you ride all the way from Caspar to here on? Because it gets cold you know.”
It was his turn to laugh. They spent the next hour and half talking and laughing together. He enjoyed every minute with her far more than he expected. He spent all of the time watching her every move, absorbing her as if he could just take her inside of him. It was interesting to be able to relax wholly in her company. He didn’t know why he didn’t worry about making mistakes with his voice, but he didn’t. He just felt at peace, the chaos in his mind, receding until it was gone completely.
After dinner, he walked her to her car and told her he had a great time and he’d see her in a couple of days. She didn’t object or pull away when he brushed a light kiss across her forehead. Touching her skin was a mistake. Inhaling her scent was a mistake. Taking in her laughter and the poetry of her lyrics was even worse. It didn’t matter. He’d done it and he’d do again. She was his addiction now and he would return again and again. He hoped she felt the same about him.
He walked the two blocks to the parking garage where he’d left his Harley. Parked on either side were two other motorcycles and, sitting on them, were two familiar men. Both wore Torpedo Ink colors and they were grinning at him.
Maestro tossed his vest to him. “You’ve been holding out on us.”
He had been. Absinthe caught his vest and shrugged into it, his colors fitting over his body like a second skin. “How long have the two of you been following me?”
Maestro and Keys exchanged a long, amused look between them. “About two weeks now,” Keys admitted. “We hung back, stayed up on the roof across from the library, just to make certain you were safe.” He shook his head. “Even if she’s yours, Absinthe, you know to be careful.”
“Especially, if she’s yours,” Maestro corrected.
Absinthe nodded and slung his leg over his bike. The moment he did, most of the chaos that had been returning in him settled. His bike. His colors. His brothers. His little red-headed librarian. “Yeah. What blows the most is, I wasn’t aware you were following me.”
“We only had to stay close the first time. After that, we knew where you were going. You like books. You like to hang out in libraries. We weren’t aware for the first week that the librarian was the big draw.”
There was a questioning note in Maestro’s voice. Absinthe nodded. “Yeah. She’s mine. I don’t have her yet. She’s somewhat of a mystery and I’m taking my time with that.” And enjoying it. He liked watching her. Uncovering her little secrets. Watching her with the teens that came in and the infinite patience she had with them.
She was attracted to him and shocked that she was. Shocked and a little embarrassed, yet at the same time, she wanted to go for it. He was certain she would have tried for a purely sexual relationship had he suggested it, but because he had asked her to dinner and kept it light, talking about himself and asking questions about her, pushing more for a relationship, she was confused and didn’t know exactly what to do.
“Code look into her yet?” Keys asked cautiously.
“No. Tonight was the first real contact I’ve had with her,” Absinthe said. “When I said I was taking it slow, I meant, really slow. I would have lost had I gone too fast.”
Maestro’s head went up alertly. “You didn’t use any influence?”
Absinthe shook his head. “No, of course not. If she comes to me, I want it to be because she wants me as much as I want her. Somethings not quite right though. I did lift the fork she used tonight and got her prints. I also got a very good picture of her on my cell. Code should be able to give me the information I need if she needs protection, or if I do.”
He sent them a brief grin, but he wasn’t kidding. She had abilities. He was certain of it. He just didn’t want to give Code the opportunity to find out about her yet. He wanted to take his time and uncover her himself, one layer at a time. He knew he was giving them the impression he was turning over the fork and picture to Code immediately, but he didn’t intend to do it, not yet. He really did want to take his time with Scarlet.
“I’m just taking my time right now and enjoying myself.” That was the best he could do, give them the truth of it. They seemed to understand, both nodding.
“Let’s ride, gentlemen. It’s getting late and we’ve got a distance to go,” Keys said.
“She know you’re in a club?” Maestro asked.
Absinthe should have known he wasn’t going to get off that easily. He expected the question. “No. Not yet. I went into the library without my colors and kept it up. Didn’t tell her tonight. I had a feeling...”. He trailed off. Why hadn’t he told her? He was Torpedo Ink. The club logo was inked into the skin of his back, but more importantly, he was part of his brothers and they were part of him. One didn’t work without the other. It was that simple. It always would be.
“A feeling?” Maestro prompted.
Absinthe shrugged. “I just had a feeling I shouldn’t. She’s skittish, and I’m not losing her. I’m reeling her in slow. Once I have her hooked, then I’ll tell her. I just need to set that hook in good.”
Maestro shook his head. “I hope to hell you know what you’re doing man.”
Absinthe hoped so too.