258,518
07.03.2019

I hand her a cup of tea, and we sit down on my unadulterated couch.

“I was surprised by yer phone call. And more ’an a bit curious. What hole ’ave you dug yerself into, m’boy?”

I called her yesterday. And told her I needed her help.

“I have a friend I’d like you to speak with.”

Her eyes twinkle. “Would this be a lady friend, now?”

I smile. “Yes. Katherine Brooks.”

“You always were the one kissin’ the lasses and makin’ ’em cry. And about what would you be liking me to talk to Miss Katherine about? You haven’t gotten her in the family way, have you?”

“Christ, no.”

She raises a stern brow at me.

“Sorry.”

She nods, and I go on. “I was hoping you could talk to her about…forgiveness. Second chances. Redemption.”

She takes a sip of tea and looks thoughtful. “‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’”

Exactly. I thought about sending Matthew or Steven to plead my case. But they’re too biased. Kate would never buy it. And before you ask—no—I would never send The Bitch. Too risky. When it comes to persuasion, my sister’s kind of like a pet lion. Sweet and playful one minute, but if you make the wrong move? She’ll rip your frigging face off.

Sister Beatrice is a religious woman. Kind. Honest. If anyone can convince Kate that men—that I—am capable of changing, it’s her. The fact that she adores me almost as much as the woman who gave birth to me doesn’t hurt either.

“And who might the young lady be needing to forgive?”

I raise my hand. “That would be me.”

“Played the cad, did you?”

I shrug in the affirmative. “And I’ve been trying everything I can think of since to make up for it—short of tattooing her name on my ass and streaking across Yankee Stadium.”

I was saving that for next week.

“Men often want what they can no longer have, Andrew. I like to think that you are not that type of man. So if I speak to the young lady and convince her to trust you with her heart again, what are you intendin’ to do with it?”

I look into her cerulean eyes. And speak without a trace of doubt:

“I’ll cherish it. I’ll do anything I have to to make her happy. For as long as she’ll let me.”

A slow smile spreads across Sister Beatrice’s face. “And they say miracles don’t happen anymore.” She sets her cup aside and stands up. “It appears I have the Lord’s work to do. Where are you hidin’ the dear girl? Is she expectin’ me?”

“I took the liberty of speaking with Kate’s secretary. She’s expecting someone. She just doesn’t know it’s you.”

She chuckles. “Don’t you think that’ll ruffle her feathers a bit?”

“Probably. But she won’t take it out on you. She’ll save all her feathers for me.”

We make our way to the door.

“Have you tried praying, Andrew? Prayer is a powerful thing.”

“I think your prayers are a little more powerful than mine these days.”

She smiles and touches my cheek like a mother would.

“We’re all sinners, m’boy. Some of us just enjoy it more than others.”

I laugh as I open the door.

And then the smile slides off my face as I stare at Erin’s back. She’s standing in front of my office with her arms out. Blocking it. From the woman in front of her.

Who just happens to be Delores Warren.

After Erin escorts Sister B to Kate’s office, I turn toward Delores. She’s wearing a black bustier, tight leather pants, and red stiletto heels. If this is what she wears to work, I can’t f**king imagine what she wears in the bedroom. Must be interesting.

Steven walks up to us, his eyes on the retreating forms down the hallway.

“Was that Sister Beatrice?”

“Yep.”

He nods appreciatively. “Nice.”

See? NILF. Told you.

He smiles evilly at Delores. “Hey, Dee, did Matthew tell you about Sister B?”

“Kind of. He introduced us at church last week.”

Unlike me, Matthew still attends church regularly. He likes to keep his bases covered, just in case.

Steven smiles wider. Like a toddler who’s about to tattle on a sibling.

“Did he tell you about CPS?”

Her brow wrinkles. “What’s CPS?”

“Ask Matthew. He’ll tell you. He’s kind of an expert on it.” He nudges me with an elbow. “Alexandra and Mackenzie are coming by later. You want to join us for lunch?”

I scratch behind my ear. “Can’t. I’ve got a meeting…with a guy…about a thing.”

He’s a skywriter. He’s supposed to fly over the building at four. I just need to work out what he’s going to write. But I don’t want Delores to know. Can’t have her warning Kate ahead of time.

Steven nods. “All right. Later.”

I look Delores in the eyes. And flash her one of my classic smiles.

She just glares back.

I must be losing my touch.

“We need to talk.”

There are only a few reasons why Delores Warren would want to talk to me at this point in my life. None of them are pleasant.

I motion toward my office. “Come on in.”

This is how it must feel to invite a vampire into your house.

I sit down behind my desk. She stands.

You ever watch Animal Planet? Women are kind of like a herd of elephants. They stick together for protection. And if one senses danger? They all stampede.

I need to play this carefully.

“What can I do for you, Delores?”

“Self-castration would be great. But I’ll settle for a flying leap off a bridge. I hear the Brooklyn is nice this time of year.”

Oh yeah—this is going to be fun.

“Besides that.”

She braces her hands on my desk and leans over, like a snake getting ready to strike. “You can stop f**king with my best friend’s head.”

Not a problem. Kate’s head isn’t the body part I’m looking to f**k at the moment. Think I should tell her that? Probably not.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about last week, when you treated her like a used condom. And now, all of a sudden, you’re all flowers and music and love notes.”

Heard about those, did she? That’s a good sign.

“So I’m thinking you’re either a split personality—caused by the raging syphilis coursing through your bloodstream—or you’ve got an itch for a good challenge. In either case, move along, jerk-off. Kate isn’t interested.”

I’m not into challenges. When Kate blew me off that first night at REM, did I chase her? No, I went with the sure thing. The easy out.

Or in that particular case—the double play.

“Let’s not bullshit each other here. We both know Kate is very interested. You wouldn’t be so eager to rip into me if she wasn’t. As for the rest of your concerns, I don’t do head games. And there’s a line of women around the block willing to scratch any itch I can think of. This isn’t about getting laid.”

I lean forward on my desk. And my tone is straightforward and persuasive, like she’s a client on the fence. One I need to sway to my side. “I’ll admit, my feelings for Kate caught me off guard and at first, I handled things badly. That’s why I’m doing all this—to show her that I care about her.”

“You care about your dick.”

Can’t really argue with that.

She sits down across from me. “Kate and I are like sisters. Closer even. She’s not a one-night-stand kind of girl—she never was. She’s a relationship kind. It’s very important to me that she’s with someone who treats her right. A man.”

Couldn’t agree more. Most guys would sacrifice a limb for some juicy girl-on-girl action. It’s a turn-on—big time. But when it comes to Kate? I don’t plan on sharing. With either sex.

“Last time I checked, that’s what I was.”

“No. You’re a dog. She needs a good man. A nice man.”

Good guys are boring. You need a little bad to keep things fun. And nice guys? Nice guys have something to hide.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbors thought he was a nice guy. Until they found those heads in his freezer.

She crosses her arms, and her voice turns triumphant. Gloating. “And I know someone who’s perfect for her. He works in my lab. He’s smart. He’s funny. His name is Bert.”

Bert?

Is she f**king kidding me? What kind of sick son of a bitch names his kid Bert in this day and age? That’s just cruel.

“He’ll show Kate a good time. I plan on setting them up this weekend.”

And I plan on handcuffing myself to Kate’s ankle and eating the key. Let’s see what kind of good time Bert can show Kate when she’s dragging me around behind her like a Siamese twin.

“I have a better idea. How about we double. You and Matthew, me and Kate. We’ll hang out. It’ll give me the chance to show you how perfect Kate and I are for each other.”

“Okay, now you sound like a stalker. You had your chance, you f**ked up, get over it. Pick some other number out of your little black book and leave Kate alone.”

I stand up. “Contrary to what you think you know, I’m not some serial scumbag. I don’t lead women on—I don’t need to. You want me to tell Kate I’m sorry? I have. You want a guarantee that I’ll never hurt her again? I can write you one, and I’ll sign it in blood if it makes you happy. But don’t ask me to leave her alone, because I won’t. I can’t.”

She doesn’t move. Her face is as still and hard as a pissed-off statue. And my argument is making about as much of a dent as a goddamn toothpick.

“Did Matthew tell you what I was like? Do I look like the type of guy who goes catatonic over just any woman? God, Delores, I f**king worship her.”

She snorts. “Today. You worship her today. But what happens if she gives in? When the novelty wears off and the sex gets old? And some new bitch in heat crosses your path and wants you to sniff her ass?”

Sex doesn’t get old. Not if you’re doing it right.

“I don’t want anyone else. And I don’t see that changing any time…ever.”

“I think you’re full of shit.”

“I’m sure you do. If you dicked Matthew around the way I did with Kate, I’d pretty much write you off too. But what you think doesn’t change what Kate wants. And deep down, even if she won’t admit it yet, that’s me, sweetheart.”

“Could you be any more full of yourself? You may have money, but it can’t buy you class. Or integrity. You’re not even close to good enough for Kate.”

“But you think your cousin is?”

“No, I don’t. Billy’s an immature jackass, and that relationship was going nowhere fast for a long time. Over the years I tried to tell her. To make her see that she and their relationship had become more about friendship than real love. But by then our lives, our families, were so intertwined, I think they were both afraid of rocking the boat and losing more than just each other. But he did—does love her. I’m sure of that. He’s just always loved his guitar more.”

❮❯