“We were fated to kill each other, Dante. The simple fact we’re still breathing is already a win.”
The first time Montoya said that to me, at the edge of an isolated field along the Rio Grande, it was like death herself was kissing the back of my neck. Having his voice filter in on the high-end speakers, filling the luxury BMW, brought the sensation back to haunt me. My business partner may be a dark bastard, but the things he sees in the darkness have made us a lot of money over the years.
“Open your eyes to the world around you,” he continues, “or you will search endlessly and never find what you most desire.”
“You know, I still don’t get what you think I’m supposed to want.”
Thanks to our consulting venture with elite criminal society, we have money, homes, private jets, and the freedom to do anything we want. For Montoya, that means staying at the lodge on my family’s ranch. For me, a stay in Monte Carlo long enough to win and lose more than most people make in a year.
“You haven’t enjoyed the company of a woman lately.” Why and how he knows this is beyond me. We work the floor at our parties, getting to know our guests on a personal level. Sometimes it leads to more. Though, when I take a woman up on an offer, we both know it’s a one-shot deal, so there’s no expectations or hurt feelings to get in the way. Everyone walks away happy, especially me. “I’d say you’re ready to find your mate and win her love.”
Over the years, I’ve learned to trust and even respect Montoya, but this thing about me needing a mate went over the line. Damn Mennonite. Even his voice, that old-fashioned, uptight manner, is getting on my nerves. “So now you’re trying to hook me up?” I challenge, intending to derail his plan.
“Not a hookup, amigo.” He tsks. “Something much deeper.”
Which is why I always avoid the conversation. It’s not the first time he’s brought up the subject, and today I’m in no mood for this bullshit.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect woman,” I retort, without hiding my annoyance. My taste leans toward an experienced partner who’s into sharing. While I’ve come across the occasional woman who can catch my attention, she hasn’t been the complete package, the one I want to see again. It’s always been the blink of an eye then they’re all easily forgotten, and I like it that way.
“She exists, Dante,” he insists. “When you find her, the world around you will come to a halt.”
“I don’t—” A sharp pain pricks just behind my right eyebrow, signaling the beginning of a migraine. “I…uh.” The pinprick intensifies, throbbing until I have to press my fingers against the corner of my eye.
“What’s wrong?” Montoya asks, sounding all too innocent.
“Headache,” I shoot back. I keep the pressure against the curve of my eye socket as I maneuver through traffic. “Damn it.” I need to get home and start working up files for the weekend.
“Hmmm. There must be a neighborhood market or convenience store where you can get something for the pain.”
Up ahead, the sign for Gloria’s Market lights up as the sun dips into the horizon. I hit the turn signal as I move into the center lane. “Gotta go, bro.”
“Feel better, amigo.” Yet I’m not relieved when I hang up the phone. Sometimes it’s like that with Montoya. I feel like I’m missing something that’s staring me in the face.
Turning into the empty parking lot, I pull my hand back so I can put the gearshift to park. The dull pain slices through my brain, which is actually an improvement. Damn Montoya. It’s times like this when things get disturbing. Sometimes it’s like he’s picking through my thoughts and knows what’s happening better than I do, even when he’s a couple hundred miles away.
As soon as I step out of the SUV, I feel eyes on me. Fuck. Annoyed, I open the back and grab a dark cowboy hat I keep to shield my face when needed. The best part of living in this section of South Texas is having a guy in a cowboy hat, faded jeans, and expensive shoes stepping out of a vehicle priced at six figures doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.
Pulling the brim low, I stuff the keys into my pocket and walk toward the entrance. A friendly faced caricature with a beer belly and beat-up straw hat beckons me inside, promising incredible savings. The place is empty, though the big-brother vibe doesn’t go away. A quick glance from under the brim confirms cameras watching from above while oversized mirrors sit in the corners, offering a view from behind each aisle. A local Tejano station plays over the speakers, the singer encouraging the women on the dance floor to show off what their mama gave ’em.
“Hey there,” a woman calls over her shoulder from the back of the store. “I’ll be with you in a sec.” She pushes a mop into a narrow hallway while several large fans send the smell of lavender cleanser throughout the building.
Signs hang from the ceiling, leading me to the far wall and a small but well-stocked medical section. Snatching up something for migraines, I head back to pay. The cashier, a young, dark-haired woman, darts around the end of an aisle, her arms held out to help keep her balance. Tiny feet shuffle across the wet floor in a pair of tennis shoes that might be as old as she is. If I wasn’t so used to keeping my thoughts to myself, I’d grin.
She wipes her hands on the front of the boring, coffee-colored smock she’s wearing as she tilts her hips to slide behind the counter. “Is that it?” she asks, running the box over the scanner before dropping it in a bag.
“Yup.” I pull a bill from the stack in my wallet and hand it to her.
She stares at Ben Franklin then purses her lips. “Sorry, I can’t take that.” She points a slim finger to the handwritten sign announcing they don’t accept fifty or hundred dollar bills.
“No problem.” I drag out the card I use when I travel. It’s one of those gift cards you load on your own so nobody can connect you to the purchase or location.
“Umm.” Pushing back a curl, she flashes a smile that lights up her features for a fraction of a second before she shuts it down. “Do you need water or something else to take those?” she offers, her attention on a sliding-door refrigerator a few feet away. The same colorful graphic of an old man announces they have the coldest drinks in town.
I don’t, but grabbing a drink will give me a few extra seconds to figure out what the hell is happening. This girl with the thick ponytail of curly dark hair is an innocent kid, mid-twenties or so. She’d run the other way if she knew I’m standing here wishing I had a better view of her body as she settles in behind the register. That didn’t include what I’d do if I could reach out and touch. Any other time I probably wouldn’t give a sweet girl a second thought. But today is different because Montoya put the idea in my head.
“Yeah, guess I do.” Before I can step over, she backs up and grabs a tall Ozarka bottle. Fingers spread over the contoured plastic, she swipes it over the scanner, once, twice then again, only to have the reader fail each time. The tip of her tongue darts out as she pulls the bottle around to read the numbers off the bar code.
Mmmm, I know exactly how she’d look playing those fingers around my cock before bringing it to her full, pouty lips. Putting the card into the payment slot, I twist the lid open and take a drink. The icy water is a sharp contrast to the heated thoughts creeping into my mind.
With the image filling my head, I reach into the bag for the meds. After fumbling a bit, I tear open the box then drop the container into my hand, just as the music goes silent and the lights go out. Big, startled eyes meet mine in the dim light. The stray curls framing her face stop dancing around in the breeze as the fans power down. Her only movement is the quick rise of her breasts as she sucks in a breath.
My chest tightens, sending the echo of my heartbeat throughout my body. I study her eyes, thick lashes lowering as she looks anywhere but at me. The image of her beneath me, lips parted, curls laid out around her, gets the best of me. I have to shift so I can get some relief, because even my cock is heading off on its own. Damn you, Montoya. The place feels a lot smaller all of a sudden, as if we’re in an elevator. Just the two of us… I’ve never been into the shy, quiet type, so I need to shut this down pronto.
Playing on her obvious discomfort, I check the front of the smock, my gaze lingering on the curve of a perfect breast as I look for a name tag and find nothing.
“So, no hundreds and no power for the card reader means no water and no headache meds. And I don’t even know your name so I can plead my case.”
She crosses her arms, glancing over, out of the corner of her eyes. “Yeah, well, life can be a disappointment sometimes.”
Despite my best efforts, a smile tugs at the corner of my lips. Maybe there’s more to the little innocent than I imagined.