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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 9


Canoodling with the Devil

Sloane

The offices of Rollins Consulting took up the entire fourteenth floor of a pricey-­looking building with a pricey-­looking view. Everything from the marble floor of the reception area to the dark, wood-­paneled walls whispered wealth and power.

There was fancy art on the walls and real plants in gold pots.

“I need to see your IDs,” said the woman behind the front desk.

She was somewhere in her midfifties to early sixties and had the ramrod posture of a career military woman. She was looking at Naomi and me like she thought we might try to steal a painting off the wall or stuff our purses full of espresso pods. The nameplate indicated that her name was Petula.

I found her both terrifying and fascinating.

“They’re friends of mine and Lucian’s,” Lina insisted.

Well, that was a blatant lie.

Petula didn’t appear to be impressed. “Just because they’re friends now doesn’t mean they won’t be enemies later,” she said. “I will accept a driver’s license, military ID, or passport.”

Naomi raced to comply, digging through her purse like it was a scavenger hunt.

I pulled my driver’s license out of my wallet and was just handing it over when ex-­U.S. Marshal Nolan Graham entered the lobby space through a pair of smoked-­glass doors.

“Blondie!”

“Nolan!”

He looked good. Healthy and happy. And that made me happy.

I opened my arms for a hug. He wrapped me up and plucked me off the floor, leaving my feet dangling. We had dated. Barely. Not even long enough for more than a very nice kiss or two before his heroic injury changed the trajectory of his career and personal life.

Lucian, for reasons that remained shrouded in mystery, offered Nolan a job with his firm. A position that made it possible to win back his ex-­wife, Callie.

I may not have ended up with a hot U.S. marshal boyfriend, but at least I’d gotten a new friend out of the deal.

“How’s the bullet hole?” My question ended in a gasping giggle when he gave me a tight squeeze before setting me on my feet again.

His answer was interrupted by the sound of multiple throats clearing. I glanced around and spotted Lina, Naomi, and even Petula looking as wide-­eyed as Taylor Swift’s front row audience.

“Oh, hey, boss,” Nolan said, taking his time releasing me from his embrace.

Shit.

A familiar blaze of heat swept my back from head to heel. It always made me wonder if the man commanded the powers of actual hellfire.

“So how are you doing?” I asked Nolan again, determined not to address the threat behind me.

“All healed up,” he said.

“Don’t listen to him. The big baby was just whining Friday about the winter wind making his bullet hole ache,” Lina interjected.

“I’m a hero. Heroes are allowed to whine,” Nolan insisted with a smirk.

“How is the soon-­to-­be missus? I heard you’re eloping,” I said, ignoring the fact that my back was bathed in flames.

Nolan’s grin showed every tooth in his mouth. “She’s great. We’re great. Heading to St. Croix in a few weeks to make things official…again.”

His happiness was palpable.

I squeezed his arm. “Congratulations. I’m so happy for you two.”

I really was. Everyone around me was falling in love and getting married and starting—­or growing—­families. It was making me acutely aware of my current single status.

“Ladies.”

The deep rumble of Lucian’s voice vibrated its way up my spine.

I turned slowly and drank in the godlike hotness of Lucifer himself. It was impossible not to. It was like standing in a room with a great work of art and trying not to memorize every masterful brushstroke.

Lucian was annoyingly attractive in yet another impeccable dark suit with a crisp Oxford and a gray-­and-­blue-­striped tie. I wanted to grab that tie and yank on it until that perfect facade cracked. His thick dark hair waved away from his face in a too-­perfect style that begged for someone to mess it up. He was too perfect. It was unnatural.

He scanned me as he always did. And for once, I wondered what he was seeing. In contrast to his perfectly polished exterior, I was wearing snug, army-­green cargo pants and a lightweight violet turtleneck. My hair was in a high ponytail, and my lips were a murderous red.

Was it my imagination, or did his gaze linger a little longer than necessary on my mouth?

Why the hell did I feel so alive when we locked gazes?

Was someone going to say something, or were we just going to stare eyeball flames at each other all day?

“I hope you don’t mind that we’re here,” Naomi said, breaking our staring contest with her polite people-­pleasing.

I looked away when she greeted him with a friendly hug. Petula, I noticed, was watching me with a calculating expression.

“Lina told us the good news, and we wanted to come see where she’ll be officially working,” Naomi continued as if it were her job to smooth over the awkwardness that happened whenever Lucian and I had the misfortune of being in a room together.

Lina narrowed her eyes. “I thought you were supposed to be out for the afternoon,” she said to her new, official boss.

“I was,” Lucian said, curtly cutting her off. “My schedule was rearranged due to unforeseen circumstances.” Those deep sterling eyes came back to me.

The man probably had security alert him the moment I stepped in the building. And he’d returned… Why? To make sure I didn’t set his office on fire?

“You’re supposed to alert me to any and all schedule changes when they occur,” Petula reminded him.

I smirked, entertained by the big, powerful egomaniac being chastised by the no-­nonsense admin.

“I’ll try to remember that in the future, Petula,” he said dryly.

Lucian was still watching me, and I felt capable of doing nothing but staring back.

Lina snapped her fingers and bobbed her head. “Sooo…”

It looked as though we were back to awkward.

“Find a dress?” Nolan asked her.

Lina nearly sprained an elbow reaching for her phone. “I did. And bridesmaid dresses. What’s Callie wearing for your beach ceremony?”

Nolan reached for his phone, and the two of them put their heads together over wedding dresses.

“You’re giving me regrets about hiring you both,” Lucian said irritably.

Lina looked at Nolan. “I think he’s feeling left out.”

“You’re right,” Nolan agreed.

They sandwiched their grumpy boss between them and began scrolling through their photos, explaining each in excruciating detail.

“You’re fired,” he said as he extricated himself from the huddle. “Enjoy your visit,” he told Naomi, then headed for the glass doors without sparing me another glance.

Lina gave a satisfied sigh. “That was fun.”

“Your guests are cleared for their visit,” Petula said, returning our IDs. She looked disappointed as if she’d been hoping for a security breach.

“Did she just run a background check on us?” I whispered to Nolan.

“Yep. And a credit check.”

“Wow.”

“Enjoy your tour. I’ve gotta go meet an anonymous source about a top secret thing,” he said.

I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not. Knowing Lucian’s shadowy business dealings, anything was possible. “Good to see you, Nolan.”

“You too, Blondie. Don’t be a stranger.”

Lina buzzed us through the double glass doors with a key card. I blinked in surprise.

I’d spent years fantasizing that Lucian ran his empire of evil from a dungeon-­like lair with sweaty stone walls and a sulfuric scented fog. But this was not that. There was an acre of trendy cubicles inhabited by dozens of employees, none of whom looked like they were here against their will. Employees of all ages, races, and fashion senses congregated at communal tables and in glass-­walled conference rooms.

It was busy but not chaotic. Some people were actually laughing.

“Wow,” Naomi said.

“Where are all the instruments of torture?” I asked.

“He keeps those in a separate location. Bloodstains on the carpet and all,” Lina said breezily.

“Wait up, Lina.” A freckled redhead who looked like the perfect combination of dazed and happy came to a screeching halt in front of us. “Petula sent me to see if you’d like any coffee or water or tea.”

Her hair was pulled back from her face in an intricate half updo. She had stickers on her fingernails. And beneath her plaid blazer, she wore a Selena Gomez T-­shirt.

“This is Holly. She’s a new hire like me,” Lina said, introducing the woman.

Two spots of pink bloomed on Holly’s cheeks, and she looked as if she were going to burst into tears or song. “This job is a dream come true. Mr. Rollins hired me as an administrative assistant. It’s my first real job. My kids are so proud of me they pack my lunch every morning and I have to wait until they’re off to school and daycare before I can pack something besides animal crackers and string cheese,” she explained to us in a rush.

“That’s so sweet of them,” Naomi said.

“Congratulations,” I said, hoping that Lucian wouldn’t turn his dragon fire on the poor girl and reduce her to ash.

“Did you say something about coffee?” Naomi asked hopefully. “Because I would love one.”

It had been almost thirty minutes since her last hit of caffeine.

“How do you take it?” Holly asked with an eager smile.

“Any way I can get it,” Naomi joked.

“I’ll bring you my specialty then. Can I get anything for you?” Holly asked, turning to me.

“I’m fine, thanks.” With my luck, I’d spill an entire mug of coffee all over Lucian’s fancy-­ass office and he’d sue me for damages.

“I’ll catch up with you on your tour,” she promised and darted off.

“She’s sweet,” I said.

“She really is. Two weeks ago, she and her two kids were homeless. They left an abusive home and ended up in a shelter. Word is Lucian hired her on the spot. She started the next day and moved into an apartment last week.”

“That’s amazing,” Naomi said, clasping her hands to her chest.

“Why was he there to hire her?”

“Apparently your archnemesis is a major sponsor of the program,” Lina explained.

“Yeah, well, I guess even ogres can do something good for a tax write-­off,” I muttered.

I didn’t enjoy stumbling onto evidence that contradicted everything I believed about the man. I liked having him well defined. For years, heck decades, he’d been nothing but a two-­dimensional caricature of a villain. Now, however, I was beginning to wonder what other signs of humanity I’d missed beneath those custom suits and heartbreaker cheekbones.

If there was a hypothetical heart that beat somewhere inside that broad, wealthy chest, what did it mean that he still hated me?

Lina continued our tour, showing us an impressive array of break rooms, conference rooms, and offices.

Hers was a light-­filled, minimalist space with a desk, a couch, and a great view. There was a picture on her desk of her and Nash strapped to a parachute.

“So what exactly do you do here?” I asked, trying out the couch.

“The firm’s primary purpose is to support candidates as they run for and hold office.”

“So you dig up dirt on political rivals, blackmail them, and if that doesn’t work, have them ‘disappeared?’” I guessed. “Do you hide the bodies, or are you further up the chain?”

“Sloane,” Naomi hissed.

“There’s an entire supply closet dedicated to corpse disposal down the hall,” Lina joked, spinning around in her ergonomic desk chair.

“Everyone here seems so happy,” Naomi said, trying to switch to a more positive subject.

“It’s hard not to be,” Lina said. “The pay is well above fair. The benefits are generous. And the boss is a beautiful beast of a man who no one wants to disappoint.”

I sniffed. “I guess if you’re into the whole fire and brimstone thing.”

Both women eyed me. “Even you have to admit that Lucian is unnaturally good-­looking,” Naomi prodded.

“Good-­looking?” Lina snorted. “The man looks like the hottest gods in the universe got together and made the hottest baby in the universe. I’m not convinced that he’s mortal. Has anyone ever seen him sleep?”

I had.

Those inky lashes against bronze skin. The slow and steady cycle of breaths that made his chest rise and fall. But even sleep couldn’t steal the tension from that marble jaw.

I hated that I had those memories in my head waiting to sneak up and punch me in the feels. Guilt. Fear. Fiery, righteous anger.

“Vampires don’t need sleep,” I said. “Which way is the restroom?”

The bathroom was like the rest of the office, sedately fabulous and stupidly luxurious. The backlit granite vanities held baskets of high-­end hand lotions, glasses cleaner, and tidy selections of feminine products.

There was even a makeup mirror and counter built into an alcove.

I dampened a towel so soft it had to be cashmere and held it to my cheeks.

The past few weeks had made me question everything I’d been so sure of. Things I believed in like they were immutable laws of nature.

I could always count on my parents.

There was no rush to start my own family.

Lucian Rollins was a horrible troll of a human being.

Now I felt…lost. Like I had somehow stepped into an alternate dimension where up was down and down was purple. I couldn’t handle any more change at the moment.

I patted my face dry. Then, because the supplies were there, I cleaned my glasses.

“This is all just part of the grieving process,” I told my reflection. “You don’t really care if Lucian is human or not. Your brain is just trying to find something else to obsess over. Things will get better. Eventually. Probably.”

Half-­assed pep talk complete, I exited the restroom and ran smack into a hot, hard chest.

My tote hit the floor with a thump as big, warm hands steadied me.

I knew who it was without looking at his face. I knew it from the electrifying current that streaked through my body.

“Is looking where you’re going too much to ask from you?” Lucian said gruffly.

“You’re the one plowing past the ladies’ restroom at a hundred miles an hour,” I pointed out, giving him a shove. He didn’t budge, and that irritated me.

I was the one who conceded and took a step backward. I reached down for the straps of my bag, but he got there first.

“Jesus, what are you carrying in here? A dismembered body?”

“Why do men always feel the need to comment on the weight and contents of a woman’s purse?” I asked, lunging for the straps.

He held the bag out of my reach. “Curiosity. We can only carry what fits in a wallet or a briefcase. This feels like an entire set of encyclopedias.”

“If you must know, they’re Dad’s files. I found them this morning and was going to give them to Lina to give to you.”

“You were going to give them to Lina,” he repeated, his voice dangerously calm.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“Rather than me.”

Something prickled at the back of my neck. Danger. Beware. Proceed with caution.

I ignored the warning. “Yep.”

“Why?”

Why?” It was apparently my turn to play parrot. “You know why.”

“Elaborate,” he insisted.

“No.”

He fixed me with a glare, then turned on the heels of his very expensive loafers and marched down the hall with my bag.

“Hey!” I had to jog to keep up with his long, well-­dressed legs. That bag didn’t just have files. It had all my essentials like car keys, lipstick, tablet, pepper spray, and snacks.

He stepped through a doorway, and I followed him inside, not realizing until he was closing the glass door behind me that I’d just voluntarily entered the devil’s den.

Lucian’s office.

Of course it was in a corner. And of course it was huge with breathtaking views. It was cold, formal, impressive. I thought of my own cozy, chaotic office.

“Weird. I expected it to smell like brimstone, but I’m catching whiffs of…fish,” I said, sniffing the air.

Lucian swore under his breath.

“Okay. What is your problem, Lucifer?” I demanded.

“You. Once again, it’s you.”

“Give me my bag back.”

Instead of handing it to me like an adult, he set it on the very expensive-­looking coffee table in front of a pricy-­looking white sofa. Had the guy never heard of IKEA? He pointed toward my tote bag. “Give me the files.”

I sat with a huff on the silk upholstery and pulled the tote across the coffee table’s marble surface.

“I don’t know why you’re getting so pissed off when you’re proving my point. This is exactly the reason I was going to give the files to Lina in the first place,” I grumbled.

“Do you think I want to dislike you?”

I looked up, startled by the sharpness of his tone. He was dragging one hand through those dark polished waves of hair while patting his pockets with the other.

“If you even think about lighting up a cigarette in here—­”

“Don’t even pretend you didn’t help yourself to a drag of the last one I had in your presence,” he said.

I felt color flood my cheeks. “Oh, shut up.” I yanked the files free, and out came two library books, my cosmetics bag, and half of my snack stash. “And yes. I do think you want to dislike me. I think you love to hate me.”

He stood, legs braced, hands on hips like he was preparing for battle. I pretended not to notice the clench of his already well-­defined jaw under the perfection of his beard.

The guy had been a gorgeous teenager, and Lina was right. He’d grown up to be a damn god. Sometimes life just wasn’t fair.

“Here are the damn files that you can give to the damn attorney so you can keep looking like a damn hero to my mother.”

I shoved the stack toward him, then spied the Mary Louise Upshaw news clippings in the pile and snatched them back.

Quickly, I returned the clippings and the rest of the spillage to the bag and stood. Slinging the straps over my shoulder, I made a move for the door.

“I don’t love to hate you.”

The words, spoken softly, brought me to a halt.

I turned to face him, and then because I was feeling temperamental, I closed the distance between us. “What do you want, Lucian?” I demanded, looking up at him.

He said nothing. I knew there were feelings and ideas and a freaking personality beneath that beautiful surface, but he’d cut me off from it all.

“You treat me like I’m the worst person on the planet, and then you do sneaky nice things for my parents. You hire homeless single mothers. You pick fights with me, and then you have my favorite burrito delivered. How in the hell do you know what my favorite burrito is anyway?”

He took a step toward me. But I held up a hand before he could answer.

“You know what? Never mind. I don’t want to know. The only thing I do want to know is what do you want from me?”

For one brief, shining moment, the man looming over me like a pissed-­off vampire about to take a bite looked as miserable as I felt.

“I want you not to matter at all,” he said. His tone was calm, but there was heat, a silvery fire in those gray eyes.

It was rude, I’d give him that. But it felt like a damn victory. A heady one. I was tired of being the temperamental one. Of feeling like I was the only one driven to distraction by our mean-­spirited back-­and-­forths.

mattered to him, and he hated that.

“Back at you, big guy.”

“You should go,” he said suddenly.

“Why? Don’t you like having me here in this very nice office?” I wandered over to his desk. It was a huge pane of glass with sharp corners, empty except for a keyboard, mouse, and two monitors.

I wondered if he liked order or just hated chaos.

I trailed my fingers along the beveled edge, knowing full well I was leaving smudges. “You seem upset,” I said, pausing and locking eyes with him. “Want to talk about it?” I offered before hopping up to perch on the glass surface.

His gaze darkened dangerously, and he took a few steps in my direction before stopping. My heart rate kicked up. “I don’t like who either of us becomes when we’re together,” he said.

I scoffed. “You think I like this?”

“I think you love it.”

Had he moved closer? Or was I leaning toward him? My knees were almost close enough to brush the sharp creases of his trousers. We were magnetized to each other. Enemies drawn together again and again.

I was so damn tired of it.

There was an electric tension growing in the space between us. Like when the hair on your arms stands up just before a lightning strike.

“I don’t,” I insisted huffily.

Then my knees were brushing his legs, and he was stepping between them, parting my thighs as I craned my neck to look at him.

My breath caught.

His fingers flexed at his sides, and then they ghosted over the tops of my thighs before he planted his hands on either side of my hips. God. He even smelled gorgeous.

Lucian dominated my senses. The subtle gray stripes in his tie matched his eyes exactly. The heat pumping off his body felt like I’d entered a sauna. His scent was crisp, clean, deadly. I could hear a heart beat, and it was loud enough to think maybe it belonged to both of us.

“You do. You think that one of these days, you’ll land exactly the right insult, and you’ll be able to see through my cracks.”

His voice was barely above a threatening whisper. His gaze was locked on mine. It created a strange gravity. As if I couldn’t look away or I’d somehow just float off without that anchor.

I didn’t know what was happening here. But I did know I didn’t want him to stop talking. I didn’t want him to step back.

“What would I see beneath those cracks?” I asked.

He closed his eyes and shook his head, trying to break the spell. But I wasn’t going to let him. Not this time. I reached out and did what I’d fantasized about for years. I grabbed his perfect tie and yanked him closer.

“Do not play with me, Pixie,” he growled. His words were a warning, but those eyes were open now, and I saw something else in them. Something fiery.

My biological instincts were scrambled. Instead of fight or flight, my body seemed to have added a third option: fuck.

“Don’t call me that,” I breathed.

“Then stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?” I whispered. His thumbs simultaneously brushed the outer curve of my rear end where it met his desk, and I absolutely almost lost consciousness.

This didn’t feel like hate. This felt like something much more dangerous.

“Like you want me to…” The unflappable Lucian Rollins lost his train of thought as he looked at my mouth. The rawness I saw on that gorgeous face both terrified and fascinated me.

I wondered briefly if Lina’s heart condition was contagious, because my heart seemed to be limping along like it forgot how to beat properly.

“This is a horrible idea,” I said in a near whisper.

“Worst I’ve ever had,” he agreed.

Neither of us moved. Neither of us came to our senses.

“I’m exhausted by us,” I admitted.

“I hate us,” he countered.

My fingers began to ache, and I realized I still had them locked around his tie.

His mouth hovered over mine, not quite touching. We were breathing the same air as our bodies caught fire. My head was spinning, flinging away all logic as I clung to the one thing that felt right. Him. I wanted this. I wanted him.

“Excuse me, sir.”

Lucian didn’t move. But I sure as hell did.

“It’s time to unhand the librarian. Her friends are waiting, and you have an emergency call from Boston on the line,” Petula announced briskly from somewhere behind Lucian’s broad chest.

With a yelp, I launched myself forward in a panicked attempt to slide off the desk. But instead of dismounting, I only managed to crash my crotch into Lucian’s.

I was sandwiched, suspended in the canyon of space between the edge of his desk and what could only be described as a mega erection. My legs were draped over his thighs in what would have been the perfect position for getting railed.

“Oh God,” I squeaked.

If I could feel how hard he was, did that mean he could feel how wet I was? This was knowledge neither of us needed the other to have.

Lucian’s nostrils flared, and his hands were now gripping me by the hips. Hard.

“Out,” he snapped without looking away from me.

“No,” Petula decreed. “You pay me to maintain order, not to tolerate your blatant disregard of your schedule. You do not have time to canoodle with Ms. Walton. It will have to wait.”

“Canoodle?” There was a hysterical edge to my tone, and for one fleeting moment, I thought I caught the flash of amusement on Lucian’s face, but it was gone as quickly.

“Ms. Walton was just leaving,” Lucian said coldly.

He gripped my hips with powerful fingers and placed me firmly on the floor. He gritted his teeth and took a step back. The silk of his tie, the only thing that still tethered us to each other, slid through my fingers.

Feeling petty, I grabbed the tail end of his tie and flipped it saucily over his shoulder.

“See you around, Lucifer.”


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