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The Sweetest Obsession: Chapter 11

ONE BAD SEED (GRANT)

I’m just leaving A Touch of Grey, our main local furniture store, after a late call came in from Talia Grey. Easy business after wrangling pigs for over an hour.

The poor girl was flustered, panicked about somebody lifting money from their cash register. Turns out, it was her own grandfather.

Gerald Grey is still one hell of a master artisan with everything wood, only he’s going a touch senile in his seventies.

When the old man told his granddaughter he’d make the bank run to drop off the cash, he wound up losing it under an old box of chair legs stuffed in his truck. Damn good thing I thought to look when I saw how upset he was, swearing up and down that nobody ever stole from the store in its fifty plus years—and of course, there was no way they’d start on his watch.

I walk out with two happy, relieved faces behind me, trying not to dwell on the ravages of time.

Sometimes, it comes in like a berserker, daggers drawn and ready to shred the heart.

Other times, it’s just a slow, insufferable march to heartbreak.

We all have an invisible hourglass counting down our minutes like grains of sand.

That makes me all the more eager to get the hell home.

Knowing I’ll see Nell and Ophelia again is the only thing that keeps me from slipping into a fully shit-mad melancholy mood—until I walk past December Fifth just off Main Street.

There’s a familiar, ugly damn mug staring at me through the green-tinted window.

The place is one of our most popular local bars, styled like an old-timey speakeasy and named for the day Prohibition ended.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Aleksander Arrendell there, tucked into the small wooden booth and gesturing to me through the window.

What now? What could human slime possibly want?

I’ve got half a mind to storm past and keep going, pretending I never saw him.

Too bad I’ve made eye contact.

Worse, he’s not alone.

I find that out the second I step into the dimly lit bar with its tall black leather booths and shelves of glossy bottles soaring to the ceiling.

“Captain!” he calls to me, snapping off a half-mocking salute which jostles the sleeping lump of Ros on his shoulder.

What does this asshole need?

Nothing good.

I can already guess that much as I stalk forward, trying my damnedest not to show my teeth like the angry wolf he turns me into.

“Something I can help you with?” I growl.

“Relax. I wouldn’t dream of putting any trouble on your very broad shoulders while you’re presumably off duty,” he says smoothly. “I just wanted to thank you for coming by the house and dealing with our nasty situation. Mummy was so upset, finding that poor gal swinging there.”

My eyes narrow.

The polite response would be a curt you’re welcome and a cold, quick escape.

Only, he’s already dragged me in here and I ain’t feeling the least bit polite.

“Something you’re holding back, Aleksander? You got something we missed on our sweep?”

“Please, call me Sandy,” he slurs, his eyes glazed with too much of that godawful cocktail in front of him that smells like smoked rocket fuel.

I will not.

He shakes his head slowly, huffing out an exaggerated sigh. “Gods, do I wish I did, Captain. I always adored poor Cora. If I only knew how she was suffering—if any of us did, really—we’d have gotten her the help she needed and spared no expense.”

My eyebrows go up and freeze in place.

Right. And I’m the fucking tooth fairy.

I just wish I could decide if he’s so drunk or high he’s speaking with a guilty conscience right about now.

If only one of these miserable, cold-blooded fucks would slip up.

“That it then, Sandy?” I snarl the nickname. “Look, if this is you hinting you’re feeling a need to talk to somebody to set your mind straight, there are plenty of folks around who are better qualified than me. I can’t take away any crosses for you or your folks to bear. That’s above my pay grade.”

He looks down sheepishly, staring into his drink.

Next to him, Ros whimpers in her sleep, smacking her lips.

“Certainly not, Captain. Nothing of the sort. Truth be told, I was being a tad selfish when I saw you passing by and waved you in.” He meets my eyes again. Finally, a little truth. “I just wondered if you might consider putting in a good word for little ol’ me? For Ophelia Sanderson’s sake? She wasn’t so open when I tried.”

What the shit?

He can’t be serious.

I cock my head and stare as Ros stirs against him again.

There’s a tall empty glass with a fruity smell like raspberries next to her. I wonder how many she’s had to put her down in a bar that’s already getting noisy with the evening crowd trickling in.

“What about Ophelia? And what’s that got to do with me?”

A flash of teeth, too sharp and bone white.

He sweeps his shaggy hair out of his eyes, holding up a burgundy tablecloth—or is it a handkerchief—that looks oddly textured as he wipes his mouth.

“Ros here tells me you’ve always been rather close to her Ophie—and you know as well as I do how this little town loves to talk. In fact, I’ve heard you and Ophelia are quite inseparable.” His smile widens, indifferent to the swords flashing in my eyes.

I start to open my mouth, searching for the most tactful way to tell him to fuck off in public, but he raises his hands.

“It’s not my business, Captain Grant. Suffice it to say it’s wonderful to see you enjoying yourself with a lady friend again. I never imagined you’d—”

“Get to the point, Arrendell,” I bite off.

He holds his tablecloth up and sniffs.

“I simply hoped you might join us for a drink or two? We’ll sit, we’ll catch up, and if I can turn that scowly frown into a smile, perhaps you’ll see there’s nothing for dear Ophelia to worry her pretty little head over. Ros and I were made for each other.” He pauses, this sneering smile spreading across his lips. “Did you know this dear creature convinced me to do laundry? I never touched a washing machine in my life before she began trusting me with her unmentionables.”

Fucking. Gross.

It’s a real effort to keep the revulsion off my face.

Especially as he makes a big show of capturing her hand and pressing it to his lips. Weirdly without releasing that little scrap of cloth in his hands, which keeps finding its way back to his cheek.

Who knew an Arrendell needed a security blanket?

“That’s between you and the Sandersons,” I say flatly. “If you remember anything else about Cora Lafayette, you know where to find me.”

“About that drink—”

“No.” I’m so done. And I’m already turning when I stop and throw a look back over my shoulder that I wish was scathing enough to banish him to hell.

“Ah. You disappoint me, Captain.” He holds up that bundle of—whatever the hell it is—clutched in his hand and breaths it in like potpourri.

Syrupy joy clouds his eyes.

My gaze flicks to Ros who’s basically out cold in his arms. She’s barely moved the whole time.

Holy shit.

Is he so out of it he’s abusing some nasty substance in public? I swear, if he’s here huffing some chemical shit, powdered opioids, cocaine, right in front of me—

My hand moves faster than my brain.

Lunging, I rip the thing away from him, spread it out, scanning the wine-purple surface for any sign of drugs. If I see one damn speck of narcotics, I’ll arrest him on the spot.

Then it hits me what I’m looking at.

I stumble back like I’ve been punched, clumsily thudding into a table behind me.

I drop the thing like it’s suddenly on fire.

Aleksander doubles over, laughing like a deranged hyena, banging his fist lightly against his head.

I’m not goddamned amused.

Frankly, I’m not sure how I’ll ever live down shaking out a pair of panties in a busy bar. Especially if they really belong to Ros Sanderson.

“Are you out of your damn mind?” I barely resist the urge to yank him out of that booth and fling him around until he stops fucking laughing.

I get my way a second later when his fit stops and the broken smile fades, leaving a watery-eyed glare fixed on me.

“Hardly, Captain Faircross. There’s another word you’re looking for. Obsessed. Truly, completely, inseparably. Don’t tell me that’s a crime?”

He kisses Ros’ forehead and clutches her head. Even with all the commotion and at least a dozen people staring at us now, she’s still grogged out.

Fuck me.

I back away slowly.

A second later, I’m almost tearing the door off its hinges. I’ve never been more grateful for a face full of cold air.

I need to get out of here before I do something monumentally stupid.

Unfortunately, Aleksander Arrendell hasn’t committed a crime by being a depraved, psychotic, creepy fuck.

But I will if I spend another second in his presence.

When I get to my vehicle, wishing I could give my brain a bleach bath, there’s a text from Ophelia apologizing. She’s running late to get Nell from school.

Don’t worry about it. On my way now, I send back.

Then I settle in, gripping the wheel until my knuckles turn white, trying to breathe.

How do I do this?

How do I have a normal evening with my girl when her sister’s shacked up with Lucifer?

And I’ll be damned if I let his nauseating insanity throw another wrench in her life—or in mine.

Before I leave, I put my hand over the badge on my chest, swearing a silent oath to Philia, to Ethan, maybe to God himself.

To everything I am.

will get that demon fuck away from the Sanderson girls, come hell or high water.

I just need to breathe, bide my time, and wait for the scum to give me a chance.


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