STONE COLD KNOCKOUT Sneak Peek

Stone Cold Knockout is DONE y’all!!! It WILL be out tomorrow, September 16th… so get ready.

Can you tell how excited I am about releasing this damn book?

excited

Before I give you a sneak peak, I just wanted to talk a little bit about Gennifer and Mikhail.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I love them… and I do. I love them together. They are pure FIRE. They’re both fighters at heart and they love challenging each other, in the ring and in the bedroom… and in the shower…

shower

Anyway, here’s a little SNEAK PEEK to hold you over and wet your thirst for tomorrow. To set the scene, Gennifer has asked Mikhail to train her for Bout It, an upcoming charity boxing event. He agrees, but Gennifer is stubborn and doesn’t always agree with what he wants her to do. The result? Lots of steamy sexual tension, of course! Enjoy* πŸ™‚

*Mature Audiences only.

β€œWhat the hell kind of music is this?” Gennifer grumbled as she tossed her bag onto the chair beside the pool the next morning. Mikhail grinned as the chugging country-sounding music pumped through the surround sound speakers overhead. She looked around for the source of the music and found an iPod player built into the wall. The fancy gym was state of the art, apparently.

β€œThe King,” he said.

β€œWho?” She held up a coffee for him and he took it. β€œBlack. I didn’t know how you take it,” she explained as she kicked off her shoes. It was 4:55 a.m., but she was awake and ready to go. Now that she knew what to expect.

β€œWhat are you drinking?” he asked, his fingers brushing hers as he took the cup from her.

β€œNon-fat iced latte. Two shots of hazelnut.” She lifted her cups to her lip and wrapped her tongue around the straw. The caffeine coursed through her veins as soon as the heavenly liquid hit her tongue. She smiled as she shimmied out of her leggings. She could get used to waking up so early on the weekends as long as she had coffee and a fine-ass man to look at. When she glanced up, he was watching her with rapt attention. His expensive-looking, tight swim shorts left little to the imagination and Gennifer bit her tongue to keep from telling him exactly what she thought of them.

β€œAmericans,” he said, taking a gulp of his coffee, then setting the cup down beside the chair. β€œEverything has to be sweet or you do not want it.”

β€œRussians,” she mimicked him. β€œEverything has to be bitter or you do not want it.” He cocked his head, grey eyes dancing.

β€œWhat do you know about my people?” he asked.

β€œSadists,” Gennifer said as she yanked her tank top off, revealing the brand new purple one-piece that she’d picked up the night before. β€œExtremely competitive sadists. But that’s only a guess, based on the one Russian I know.”

β€œYou only know one Russian?” He advanced on her and a flutter of anticipation ran up her spine. β€œYou are lucky. I know too many.” Sucking on her straw, she craned her neck to look up at him. When she first saw him, handsome wasn’t the first word she thought of, but now, she wasn’t so sure. There was something about his face that was infinitely attractive. She didn’t think she would ever tire of looking at him. He took the latte out of her hand and put the straw to his own lips. She couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on his face as he tasted it. He scrunched up his nose and and shook his head. β€œDisgusting.”

β€œIt’s delicious.” She reached for her drink, but he held it up out of her grasp. β€œThat’s mine!”

β€œIt will be waiting here for you.” He set it on the ground beside his.

β€œI don’t have time for coffee?” she asked, swatting at his bare chest.

β€œNo.” He swung his arm and caught her around the waist. Before she knew it, she was slung over his shoulder and he was carrying her toward the pool.

β€œUh uh. No way!” she screamed. β€œI already have to listen to your terrible music. I need my coffee!” Mikhail froze and stared up at her like she’d just said that God didn’t exist or something.

β€œElvis is not terrible. He is the best.”

β€œIf I say he’s the best, will you let me down?” Gennifer asked as sweetly as she could muster.

β€œPerhaps.” He ran his hand up her thigh.

β€œAre all Russians as touchy-feely as you?” she asked, turning her head to look at him.

β€œWhat do you mean?” He raised an eyebrow, but his hand didn’t leave her thigh.

β€œYou’re always touching me.”

β€œIs that a problem?” He let her down then, and she slid down his body until her feet touched the floor. β€œIf you do not like it, I will stop.”

β€œYou couldn’t stop if you wanted to.”

β€œYou are right. Russian men touch women. It is what we do.”

β€œCreepy, but honest.” Gennifer dropped her hands to her hips, examining the black tattoo on his chest. β€œDo you touch just any woman?” The tattoo looked like a name, ΠšΠ°Ρ‚Ρ, she realized after a moment. She was tempted to trace the lines of the tattoo with her fingertip, but she didn’t. Someone had to have some self-control, after all. She’d only known the man for a few days.

β€œNo.” He shook his head slowly, a devilish smile curving over his lips. She didn’t have time to interpret what the smile meant before he pushed her, sideways, into the pool. She had a split second to curve her body into kind of a dive before she hit the water too hard. With a jarring splash, the cool water enveloped her. She felt herself sinking into the blue depths and a memory washed over her. A memory of the first time her mother took her to the Bronx Y, all those years ago. She’d been terrified of the water, but her mother had insisted she learn to swim. Her mother had let go of her hand and she’d panicked, her head dipping below the waves. Eventually, she began to kick her legs and she made it to the side of the pool, crying and hysterical, but alive.

Gennifer rolled over onto her back and kicked her way to the surface, pushing her hair out of her face as she did. She knew she should be pissed at Mikhail, but the childhood memory had quieted her. She floated on her back for a moment when she reached the surface, staring up at the white metal beams that held up the ceiling high over the pool, remembering her mother’s happy face when she swept her up in her arms. β€œYou are my little strong girl, Genny,” she’d whispered in Gennifer’s ear. β€œSo strong. So brave.”

Mikhail dove smoothly into the water and Gennifer turned her head in the water to watch him. He swam past her, doing a lap in his own lane. Competitiveness sparked in her and she pushed the painful memory to the back of her mind, where it belonged. She pushed over onto her side and kicked her legs harder, adrenaline shooting up her spine. She had no chance of catching up with him, but she was damn sure going to try.

***

Mikhail pushed until his muscles ached but he didn’t care. He could feel Gennifer beside him, her energy egging him on. He was so used to doing his workout regiment alone, it was strange to have someone beside him. It was strange, but he liked it. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized how lonely he’d been in New York. He had Vadim, of course, but his brother was busy with the restaurant and he was busy as well. He hadn’t had a trainer since Serge died, so there had been no one to push him except for himself. But Gennifer’s competitiveness matched his own. She didn’t want to lose and neither did he. He liked that about her.

He liked a lot of things about her.

However, she didn’t like Elvis, which was a serious strike against her. Glancing over, he caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye. She was slow and her technique needed work, but she was getting better. She was a fast learner. He dove deep and did a flip, turning to go back. He hesitated a moment under the water, watching her legs kicking, the muscles in her thighs flexing with each move. Her toenails were painted black, he realized, as his eyes skimmed down her leg to her feet. Something in his chest squeezed tight. He pushed off of the wall and sliced through the water. He surfaced and gulped in air, his concentration thrown off.

Earlier, she asked him why he touched her. He touched her because he couldn’t help himself. Russian men didn’t bother with formalities and polite conversation. When they saw a woman they wanted, they didn’t hesitate to let her know it. And he wanted Gennifer. The irony was not lost on him. Before she died, his mother’s only dream in life was for her sons to marry devout Orthodox girls and have stocky Russian babies. Katya Ivanhof never would have approved of a dark-skinned American girl for her son, but Mikhail left the Motherland for a reason. Russia had begun to feel like a prison of tradition and corruption. The freedom and diversity of New York City was the anti-thesis of St. Petersburg’s claustrophobic society. Besides, he was drawn to Gennifer and he didn’t give a fuck.

He wasn’t looking for a wife anyway.

When he reached the end of the lane, he draped his arm on the edge of the wall and watched her swim back toward him. He ran his finger over the tattoo of his mother’s name on his chest, feeling his heart beating hard underneath his skin. At the end of the lap, she grabbed ahold of the wall as well, her fingers gripping the cement.

β€œGood?” she asked, breathlessly, pushing her new goggles up onto her forehead.

β€œGood.” He nodded and she smiled. Then she skimmed her hand over the water, spraying him with drops of water. She squealed as he dipped under the divider and into her lane. She pushed off of the wall as he advanced on her, kicking her legs in front of her to fend him off.

β€œThat’s what you get for throwing me in,” she said, pointing an accusing finger at him.

β€œYou were wasting my time. With coffee and endless questions.” He swam toward her slowly, stalking her through the water.

β€œAsshole,” she muttered, but she was smiling. He grabbed her ankle and yanked her toward him. Her thighs opened, and he took advantage, slipping between her legs so she was forced to straddle him. She threw her arms around his neck to steady herself and her eyes widened as he pulled her close, her breasts smashing against his chest.

β€œYou think I am an asshole?” he asked.

β€œDefinitely,” she said, her gaze trained on his lips.

β€œI may be.” He dragged his eyes down her face, studying her. She was a natural beauty surely, with big brown eyes, high cheekbones, and disarmingly full lips. She exuded confidence and strength, but her beauty was hard, like a cut diamond. She was intimidating at first glance, not soft and warm and welcoming like a woman should be. Her stance said ‘don’t fuck with me’ and she had probably scared off many a weaker man, no doubt. If she hadn’t been the only one in House of Pain to spar with that night, he might never have said anything to her. They might never have had any interaction at all. Fate wasn’t something he put much stock in, but it seemed to have been smiling on him that night. He just as easily could have overlooked her. He would have gone on with his life, never knowing that she existed, and the thought sent a chill through him. He couldn’t imagine not knowing a woman named Gennifer Rainbow Rodriguez.

β€œHow old are you?” she asked, taking him off guard.

β€œOld enough,” he said.

β€œWhat kind of answer is that?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

β€œWhy do you ask so many questions, solnyshka?” He ran his hands up her sides, wishing she hadn’t worn a suit even though he’d told her to. He had gotten too used to having her skin bare to his gaze. He raised his hands to her ribs, his thumbs brushing the swells of her breasts.

β€œIt’s called conversation.” She tightened her slick arms around his neck. Not bothering to stop himself, he strummed her hard nipples through the thin fabric of her suit, and she gasped, her lips parting in surprise.

β€œI am thirty-nine,” he replied, pressing his lips to her shoulder to taste the wet skin there. β€œDoes that make a difference?”

β€œNo.” She shook her head and swallowed hard. He could feel her heart beating between them, fast and hard. But maybe that was his heart. He couldn’t be sure.

β€œGood.” He trailed his mouth up the curve of her shoulder to the base of her throat. Her thighs tightened around his ribs and he felt a growl well up in his chest. He dragged his teeth across her chin, letting himself get lost in how she tasted. She rolled her hips against him, her fingers digging into the flesh of his shoulders.

β€œMikhail,” she murmured as he ran his tongue along the line of her jaw. Hearing his name on her lips had his cock hard as steel for her. He swung her around in the water, pushing her back against the wall of the pool. He propped his elbows on either side of her face, trapping her in place. She flattened her hands on his chest, putting some distance between them, but her legs were still locked around him, holding him tight. He leaned in, brushing his lips against hers. She opened her mouth, giving him access, and he took advantage. He sucked her lower lip between his teeth and she moaned. The throaty sound sent ripples of electricity through him and he flicked his tongue against the bruise he’d given her. He’d been waiting days to do that and she didn’t disappoint. She jerked her hips against him, rubbing her hands up and down his chest, the steady friction threatening to drive him insane.

β€œI am going to fuck you, solnyshka,” he murmured against her lips. β€œThis is why I touch you. Because you are mine.”

Β© Stone Cold Knockout, Lavender Parker 2014

Advertisements

FLOWER IN THE DESERT Freebie

Flower in the Desert is my new novella, currently available on Amazon and coming soon to B&N and Kobo (I just uploaded to B&N today, so it’ll probably be live tomorrow or Sunday). Anyway, here’s a fun little freebie- a big ol’ snippet of Flower in the Desert!

Jase and Ruby are stuck in the Grand Canyon, after a string of unfortunate circumstances. In this scene, they start to realize that there might be something sparking between them that doesn’t have anything to do with survival.

Enjoy!

Wild horses in the Grand Canyon.

Ruby woke slowly, like coming out of a haze, the pressing fatigue like a weight dragging her down. She could feel Jase behind her and she flattened herself against him, greedy for his warmth. The air was heating up, but it was still chilly on the canyon floor. She opened her eyes and noticed the embers of the fire were still smoking. She pulled herself to sitting and poked at the fire, but it was no use. It was beyond saving.

The sun hadn’t risen yet and a gray fog surrounded them, so thick she could barely see past a few feet on either side of them. With a sigh, she dropped to her elbow, glancing over her shoulder at the man sleeping behind her. Jase’s heavy arm was tossed over her hip and she smiled when she saw the pink makeshift bandage on his hand. His dark features were relaxed in sleep, and she took the time to study him in the hazy blue light. Life was strange, she mused, as she watched the sleeping man. In the midst of the worst week of her life, she’d met someone she could truly count on. She barely knew Jase Rivers, but that didn’t seem to matter much. She knew she could trust him with her life. She knew he was honorable. She also knew he had a dark sense of humor and a sharp mind.

The fact that he was the first man she’d been attracted to in a long time hadn’t escaped her attention either. How could it, when he’d smiled at her and held her and kissed her hand like he was just as interested in her as she was in him? Maybe the seriousness of their situation was getting to her, but she didn’t care. Maybe her attraction was based on some kind of savior fantasy, but she didn’t think so. It felt real.

In the quiet of the early morning, a snapping noise caught her attention and she looked toward the sharp sound. A spotted white horse stepped into the clearing, partially obscured by the fog. Ruby froze, her mouth dropping open as she watched the majestic animal trot past. It was followed by a small white colt and a bigger black horse.

β€œJase,” Ruby whispered, shaking his arm. He took in a ragged breath and opened his eyes. β€œLook.” He blinked a few times, groggy, and craned his neck. His arm tightened around her protectively as they watched the herd of wild horses pass through, blithely unaware of their presence through the thick fog. Ruby didn’t realize she was holding her breath until the animals were gone and then she took in a deep gulp of air.

β€œThey’re moving toward water,” Jase said after a moment. β€œWe should follow them to it.” Ruby nodded, her fatigue fading at the prospect of water. They had collected a bit of rainwater the day before by squeezing out their soaking clothing, but they needed all the water they could get. She dropped her eyes to his hand, still lingering on her hip. He flexed his fingers, and his thumb brushed the bare skin between her skirt and her top. Her breath caught again at the sight.

β€œDid you get some sleep?” she asked, breaking the silence. He sat up abruptly, dropping his hand to the ground.

β€œSome. You?” He pushed himself to standing and then held out a hand for her.

β€œEnough,” she said, taking his hand and hoisting herself up. A rush of dizziness overtook her and she swayed on her feet for a moment. He caught her elbow to steady her, a scowl of concern sliding over his face.

β€œHow do you feel?” he asked.

β€œGood enough,” Ruby shrugged. β€œCan we please get the fuck out of this canyon today?”

β€œYes ma’am,” he said with a slight smile as he kicked dirt over the dying fire.

Jace easily found the trail the horses had made, and they followed behind, keeping enough of a distance to not spook the animals. The high heat of the day had yet to descend upon them, so traveling quickly was somewhat easier. The day was primed to be scorching hot. The sky was clear, which meant the sun would soon be beating relentlessly down on them. A shaft of searing amber light cut across the canyon as the sun rose, cutting through the fog like butter. As the early morning haze melted away, they came upon a standing pool of clear water, left behind by the flash flood. The wild horses stood at the edge, their necks lowered to sip at the water.

β€œThat’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Ruby said, her mouth watering at the sight. The horses scattered as they got closer, and Jase crouched at the water’s edge.

β€œIt’s standing, but it’s only been there for a few hours,” he said, looking up at her. She nodded, bending down beside him and cupping her hands in the water. She shivered as the cool water touched her skin and goosebumps of pure joy broke out over her skin.

β€œIt’s cold.” She shot Jase a look, knowing from her lifetime of camping to never drink water that hadn’t been decontaminated.β€œShould we risk it?”

β€œWait,” he said, his hand flying to her knee. Ruby froze, the water dripping between her fingers. He pointed and she followed his gaze. At the bottom of the pool of water, Jase’s backpack was settled in the sand.

β€œAre you kidding me?” Ruby gasped.

β€œIt’s waterproof, but that doesn’t mean water didn’t get in,” he said, clenching and unclenching his jaw. β€œEverything could be ruined.”

β€œWell, we’re going to find out,” Ruby stood and kicked off her sandals. β€œI’ll get it.”

β€œNo. I’ll go.”

β€œNo, I’ll go. My clothes dry faster than yours,” she said, sliding her sweater off her shoulders and handing it to him. β€œBesides, it’s not that deep.”

β€œBe careful of sharp rocks,” he said, glancing down at her dusty bare feet.

β€œI’ll be careful, Mr. Rivers,” she said, bunching up her ragged skirt around her knees as she stepped into the cool water. β€œDon’t you worry.” The goosebumps tingled over her skin again as she stepped thigh deep. β€œThis counts as a bath, right?” she tossed over her shoulder. β€œOr do I have to be naked for it to count?”

β€œJust get the damn bag, woman,” he said, but humor lit up his eyes.

β€œBossy, bossy,” Ruby murmured as the water hit her ribs. She took a deep breath that puffed out her cheeks and dove beneath the water, feeling around blindly until she found the bag. The damn thing was heavy, but Ruby pulled it to the surface, standing up triumphantly. She swooped her mop of wet hair back out of her face and opened her eyes. β€œSee? Not hard,” she announced to Jase, who was still crouched on the bank, watching her.

β€œYeah, yeah, yeah.” He shook his head, a tease of a smile on his lips. She waded back to him, wringing out her hair with one hand and dragging the bag with another. The cool water and the discovery of the bag had revitalized her, and she felt pretty damn good right about then. However, Jase’s smile faded the closer she got to the bank. He stood, unbuckling his belt. Her eyes widened and she stopped when she was still ankle-deep in water.

β€œIf you’re going to flash me, at least give me the heads up so I don’t miss the good part,” she said, only half-joking.

β€œWhat?” he looked up at her, brow furrowed in confusion so genuine that Ruby actually felt disappointed.

β€œWhat are you doing?” she clarified as he slipped the leather through his belt loops.

β€œTake this,” he said, holding the belt out to her. β€œYour skirt.” His eyes dropped to her midsection, and Ruby realized that her skirt was slipping perilously down her hips. Her lower belly was exposed, C-section scar and all, as well as her hip bones and the waistband of her thong panties. She burst out laughing, wondering if she should even bother being embarrassed anymore. There was no room for modesty in the middle of a life or death situation, apparently. Stepping out of the water, she dropped the bag in the dust and took the belt Jase offered.

β€œWho knew the only diet that would be effective is the ‘starve in the Grand Canyon diet’? Maybe I should patent it,” Ruby said through her laughter, tugging the wet linen up to her natural waist and cinching the belt around herself. Jase ignored her and busied himself unzipping the bag, pulling out the items inside and lining them up on the ground. Ruby wrung out her skirt and then crouched next to him, watching him as he inspected each item.

β€œMy phone is fucked, but it was dead anyway,” he said, tossing the cracked iPhone down in the dirt. β€œRadio’s intact, but it’s waterlogged. Medical supplies are fucked. We have two bottles of water, some food, and the heat blankets.” He held out a half-full bottle of water and she took it.

β€œNot bad, right?” Ruby tipped her head back and took a swig from the bottle, her spirits raising even higher as the water rolled down her throat.

β€œWe need the radio to call for the chopper,” he said, catching her eyes.

β€œSo we let it dry out and then try it,” Ruby said with a shrug.

β€œFuck,” Jase hissed. β€œYou can’t spend another night in this canyon.”

β€œWe’re not going to,” she said. β€œWe’ll get to higher ground and we’ll call for the helicopter. That’s the plan right?” He nodded silently, scrubbing his hand through his beard. β€œThen that’s what we’re going to do.” She sat back on her ass and pulled her sandals on her newly clean feet. β€œYou know, if you want a bath, this is your last chance.” She threw him a smile. β€œYou can get undressed and I won’t look. I swear.”

β€œLiar,” he said.

β€œCan’t blame a girl for trying.” Ruby shrugged, as nonchalantly as she could muster. She didn’t know what was getting into her. Her sense of humor had never been this bold. Maybe the trauma of the situation had flipped some switch in her brain.

β€œShow me more of yours and I’ll show you mine,” he replied, repacking his bag.

β€œWhat?” Ruby did a double-take.

β€œNothing,” he said, opening the wrapper of a salvaged protein bar and holding it out to her. β€œTake a bite of this.” Ruby narrowed her eyes at him, but did as he said, her hunger winning out over her curiosity. She chewed slowly, catching his eyes. They were dark and unreadable again, but they were trained right on her and he didn’t look away.

Neither did she.

A KISS OF FIRE sneak peek!

Kiss of Fire

Mark Kiss of Fire as a to-read on Goodreads.com!

I’m working furiously on Kiss of Fire, the follow up to Kiss of Ice. Kiss of Fire will definitely be available in March. Anyway, here’s a fun sneak peek* to hold you over!

*as always, sneak peek is subject to change in the final book! πŸ™‚

Toni watched herself in the mirror at the studio, as she practiced her routine. But her mind wasn’t really on the dance of the Lilac Fairy. No. All she could think about was Sebastian O’Donovan. A.K.A. The Asshole.

He was sexy. He was sexier than he had any right to be. And Jesus, he was almost as old as Annata. But surprisingly, that didn’t seem to matter to her. Christophe was younger than Nat and they got along fine. Better than fine. Older men and younger women had been getting together for all of time. Other than the clichΓ©d aspect of it, his age didn’t bother her at all. But it seemed to bother him. She wondered why.

God. Why did he have to be such an asshole?

They would be good together. The sex between them would be fire. Red-hot. She knew that it would be. She’d wanted to jump him at the hospital, and he was wearing a damn paper gown. She’d wanted to lick his face. Who knew a few days worth of beard and a few gray hairs would be such a turn on? Maybe it was just sexy on Sgt. O’Donovan. Everything about the man was sexy.

The only problem was, he didn’t want her. He’d made that quite clear. Maybe it was because she was black. Maybe it was because she was too young. Maybe she’d been right about the ex-wife thing. Maybe he was heartbroken and not ready for another relationship. She didn’t know. Whatever the reason, the outcome was the same. She was turned on with no outlet for her passion.

So she danced.

She danced until her muscles ached. She danced until her legs shook with the exertion. She danced until her toes felt like they were going to break. Only then did she stop. She pulled off her pointe shoes, and whimpered at the pain. All she could do was wrap up her toes, slide on her Ugg boots, and hobble to the train. But at least her mind was on the hurt, and not the sexual frustration.

She found herself riding past her train stop and heading for Annata and Christophe’s. They were supposed to be back from Paris that evening, she wasn’t sure what time. They’d probably be jet-lagged and want alone time, but she didn’t care. She was in the mood to be the bratty younger sister.

She rang the doorbell when she arrived and saw the lights on at the townhouse, figuring she would be courteous as opposed to using her key and tromping right in. The door swung open and her sister stood there, barefoot in a sleeveless white dress, a big smile on her face.

β€œLook at you, ringing the doorbell like a guest,” Annata St. James said, her hand on her hip and an eyebrow raised. β€œTrying to pretend like you didn’t eat all the food and drink all the coffee in the house while we were gone.”

β€œIt’s the mice. I swear.” Toni stepped in and hugged her older sister, breathing her in. She smelled like coffee, mint, and Christophe. It was comforting. She’d missed her Natty, like she always did when her big sister was away. They were fourteen years apart in age, and Nat was almost more of a mother figure to her. She definitely looked up to her sister more than she looked up to their mother, who was a quintessential, traditional Southern housewife.

β€œIs that my favorite sister-in-law?” Christophe was calling from the kitchen.

β€œShe’s blaming mice for the lack of food in the fridge. I think we need to call the exterminator,” Nat said, following Toni into the kitchen. β€œEither that, or change the locks.”

Christophe stood against the center island, effortlessly handsome in jeans and a cashmere sweater, opening a bottle of red wine. He held out an arm for Toni and she stepped into his embrace.

β€œIgnore Annie. She ordered sushi already anyway.”

β€œEel? Did you get extra?” Toni wagged an eyebrow.

β€œYes, dear. You’re lucky we love you so damn much,” Nat said, taking the glass of wine Christophe offered her.

β€œSo how was your trip? Are you about to pass out from exhaustion?” Toni asked, sipping on her own glass and hopping up on one of the metal stools at the counter.

β€œWe slept on the plane,” Christophe said, sliding an arm around Nat’s waist and pulling her close. β€œAnd we have tomorrow off.” He pressed a kiss to his wife’s neck.

β€œChristy finally hired someone to take over International Paris, so hopefully we won’t have to go back for awhile.”

β€œYay!” Toni clapped her hands. β€œYou two travel too damn much.”

β€œNow, remind me when your show opens?” Nat said, pressing a finger to her temple. β€œI don’t think I put it on the calendar.”

β€œOpening night is June 23rd,” Toni said.

β€œOkay. You hear that?” Nat poked Christophe in the chest. β€œCalendars clear.”

β€œGot it,” he said, with a smile.

β€œWe might have to go to Shanghai some time in June, but we’ll make sure it’s not then.”

β€œYou don’t have to come, you know. It’s not that big of a deal,” Toni waved her hand.

β€œDon’t be ridiculous,” Nat fiddled with her earring. β€œThis is a big deal, right? The Lilac Fairy is a big fucking deal.”

β€œYes, it’s kind of a big deal,” Toni said, giggling.

β€œOkay then. No arguments.”

β€œSo, my lovely Toni, I know you didn’t come over here empty-handed,” Christophe said, looking at her expectantly. A wide smile spread over Toni’s face.

β€œI brought a little somethin’ somethin’,” Toni said, hopping up and reaching for her purse. β€œI figured you guys would want to relax a bit after traveling.”

β€œYou figured right. Roll that shit up,” he said, downing the last bit of his wine.

β€œOoh!” Annata looked up from her phone, a smile on her face. β€œI am so excited.”

An hour later, when the sushi was gone, they sat out on the patio and smoked and drank until all the weed and wine was gone as well. Nat lay on Christophe in the hammock and Toni curled up in a chair beside them. The spring air was crisp, but not too cold. It was a perfect night with two of her most favorite people.

When Nat dozed off, Toni caught Christophe’s eyes over her sister’s head. She could still remember the first time they met, at the hospital after the accident. She’d been so destroyed and he’d been so kind. In the weeks after the accident, he’d kept in touch with her and helped her through the shitty time, until Nat returned to the city. Christophe was one of the good ones. She smiled at his expression. He looked so… at peace. Stoned, but at peace. Like all was right with the world. And it was. For the most part. There was the nagging little issue in the back of her mind. O’Donovan the Asshole was still there, bothering her. God, she wished she’d never gone to see him. She wished she’d never met him!

β€œYou love her so much,” Toni said to Christophe, her eyelids heavy. He laughed, high off his ass.

β€œI’ve loved her so long, it’s as easy as breathing,” he said, his voice strained. Then he coughed. Toni erupted in giggles.

β€œWe’re so high.”

β€œI know. It’s fucking awesome,” he said, looking up to the inky black sky.

β€œTell me the story again,” Toni said, propping her head on her hand.

β€œWhat story?”

β€œThe story. How you knew my Natty was the one.”

β€œOkay,” Christophe smiled like the drunk in love person he was. His fingers stroked Nat’s arm. β€œShe called me a… hold on. Let me remember the exact words.”

β€œ A ‘pathetic, entitled piece of shit’,” Nat supplied, her eyes still closed.

β€œRight, that’s it,” he said, laughing.

β€œI’m so sorry, baby. Really,” she said, lifting her face. He planted a kiss on her and then she settled against his chest again.

β€œI mean, she was kind of right. Rude as hell, but right,” Christophe said laughing. β€œAnd I just looked at her. I stared right into those golden-brown eyes and I felt my life change. I just didn’t realize how long it would take before she felt the earth-shattering love I felt.” He pressed his cheek against Nat’s hair. β€œAnd then we fucked. After we fucked, I was a goner.”

β€œEw!” Toni raised her hands to her ears, laughing. Nat slapped him on the chest, eyes still closed.

β€œTruth. Stone-cold truth.” Christophe raised his hand in a scout’s honor. β€œYour sister is the best fuck I’ve ever had or will have.”

β€œI should hope so,” Nat mumbled, a smile on her lips.

β€œThat’s cute. Gross, but cute,” Toni said, laughing. β€œWhat about you, Nat? When did you know?”

β€œAfter we fucked,” Nat said with a laugh.

β€œThat is a lie!” Christophe said, his voice rising. β€œYou made me work so fucking hard for it.”

β€œHow else would you appreciate it if you didn’t have to work hard for it?” she opened her eyes and looked up at him.

β€œYou’re so full of shit.” Christophe said, stroking her cheek. β€œI think you didn’t know you loved me for sure until I proposed.”

β€œNo. No! I remember the exact moment. We were – sorry, Toni – we were at that hotel and we were fucking-”

β€œWhich hotel?”

β€œThe hotel, when I was home from Hong Kong. And then we got stoned, and I was in love with you.”

β€œAh.” Christophe looked off. β€œDamn, that was some good weed.”

β€œI’m glad I could contribute something to the love story of Christophe and Annata,” Toni said, giving a light bow. β€œSeeing as how I couldn’t be in the wedding,” she said, tossing a little dig her sister’s way. Their families would never forgive Nat and Christophe for eloping. Nat stuck her tongue out at her sister, but didn’t say a thing.

β€œSo what about you, Toni?” Christophe rolled his head to look at her. β€œYou got anybody in your crosshairs?”

β€œUm. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think he’s really interested in me.”

β€œIf he doesn’t see how great you are, then he’s a jackass.”

β€œI know right?!” Toni said. β€œI’m going to let you tell him that.”

β€œI will. I will tell that motherfucker to his face,” Christophe said, his voice slurring a bit. Nat was giggling now as well.

β€œI think it’s time for bed,” Nat finally said, in between giggles. β€œIf we stay down here any longer, I’m gonna pass out and then you won’t get lucky tonight, Mr. Van der Kind.”

β€œDon’t tease me, woman,” Christophe said and they carefully extracted themselves from the hammock. Nat pressed a kiss to Toni’s forehead on the way past.

β€œAre you going to stay tonight?” she asked. Toni nodded, feeling very tired all of a sudden. β€œOkay, dear. We’ll do brunch or something tomorrow, okay?” Toni nodded again, and then twisted around in her chair to watch Nat and Christophe through the kitchen window. They stopped at the foot of the stairs and kissed, wrapping their bodies around each other like they were starving for each other. Toni felt wistful all of a sudden. She sighed deep. She was so happy for them. But she wanted to be happy, too. More than anything she wanted someone to share her life, and her bed, with. O’Donovan, why do you have to be such a dick? she thought desperately, turning her eyes to the starless sky.