Blood and Roses

By: Sylvia Day

“Jennifer promised me all sorts of sexual favors if I buy her one of those.” Chad Ward jerked his thumb toward the diner’s window, gesturing at a sleek convertible Jaguar that was pulling in across the street. “She got pretty inventive with her suggestions. Inspired me to look one up online.”

Jake Monroe’s gaze narrowed as he eyed the red sports car, awareness rippling down his spine.

“You have to custom order one like that,” Chad went on, returning his attention to topping off Jake’s coffee. “I’d do it for Jenn, if I could; but the diner doesn’t bring in that much dough. Who in hell spends a hundred and fifty grand on a car?”

“Rich, paunchy bald guys who hope to get laid by women young enough to be their daughters.” Jake knew someone else who would. Knew her as well as any man could know his woman. Which was why he was certain she wouldn’t have come back to Whisper Creek after all these years without bringing trouble with her.

As the driver’s side door of the Jag swung open, his attention remained riveted. The ragtop was up, shielding the occupant, but he knew exactly who was going to step out by the flare of heat that raced over his skin. “And someone like her.”

One long, black trouser-clad leg extended to the asphalt, then the driver unfolded in a graceful rise. Her blouse was black, too, making a stark contrast to the wild red curls pulled back at her nape. She looked cool and restrained, but he knew the woman inside that exterior was anything but. His body tensed and hardened with primal recognition, his breathing deep and slightly quickened.

“Well, well,” Chad murmured, straightening. “Can’t miss that hair, can you? And she’s parked right in front of Tilly’s shop. I haven’t seen Ana in... Shit. How long’s it been now?”

“Almost ten years.” Nine years, five months, and a couple weeks. It just pissed Jake off that he was still counting down the damn days since Anastasia Miller had driven out of his life without looking back.

“Hmm.” Chad shook his head. “Wonder if she got what she was after when she left.”

Had she? Was it possible she’d found what she was looking for with some other guy in some other place in the world? “Good question.”

Ana pulled a satchel out from behind the driver’s seat, then shut the door of her expensive toy. She paused, her head turning as if she sensed Jake’s gaze on her. She wore big dark sunglasses, effectively shielding her eyes.

Her lips were just like he remembered. Full and pink, and capable of blowing his mind. He’d felt those lips all over his body, still felt them sometimes when he was lying in bed at night, stiff and aching from wanting her.

Rolling her shoulders back, she moved toward the entrance to Tilly’s Yarn Shop with a swift, determined stride. She disappeared through the door and not five minutes later, the ladies who gathered there for tea and gossip came hustling out with their knitting bags. The open sign on the door flipped over to read Please Call Again and the shade that covered the inset glass was yanked down.

Jake picked up his coffee, considering. “I’ll need the check, Chad.”

“Anastasia! My god, baby, I had no idea you’d be coming home.”

Ana stared hard at her mother, silently challenging that lie, but Tilly Miller acted as if she didn’t notice her daughter’s frustration and suspicion.

“Let me see you.” Tilly approached with her arms outstretched and pulled Ana close for a hug. “You look like you’re heading to a funeral.”

“I may yet,” Ana said grimly.

“Are you talking about your work?”

“I’m talking about your work, Mom. Your life’s dream. I’m just here to clean up after you.”

Tilly stepped back and smoothed a hand over hair that had once been the same vibrant red as her daughter’s, but was now a faded strawberry, sprinkled liberally with white strands. She looked the part of a small-town shopkeeper. Only another world-class thief and grifter would recognize her for what she really was.

“I made a new pot of tea just before you arrived. Why don’t you sit and we’ll talk? It’s been so long since you’ve been home.”

“We don’t have time to play this game.” Ana crossed her arms, her anger simmering. “Frankie’s life is in danger, Mom.”

Like their parents, her brother Frank had the same need for the rush, the same fascination for the bright and shiny and illegal. Ana supposed it was in their blood. Inevitable, considering she was named after a famous identity con and Frank was named after an infamous con artist.

“Is it?”

What a question. Her mother was good at pretending to be clueless. “I know he and Eric would’ve wanted to go into the heist with blanks, but their associate was using live rounds,” Ana said tersely. “Whoever he is, he’s a wild card.”

“You were always so good at dramatizing things, dear.” Her mother sank into one of the mismatched chairs arranged in a circle near an unlit woodstove.

Ana had to consciously relax her jaw to speak. “You know you’ll never be able to fence those diamonds. You knew it when you set this up. The Crown is too distinctive.”