Home > Dirty Bastard (Roughneck Billionaires #3)(19)

Dirty Bastard (Roughneck Billionaires #3)(19)
Author: Jessica Clare

I’m not put off by her tone. “Well, I thought bringing in dead ones might be a bit too Morticia Addams, even for you. And yeah, I think roses are a nice touch. They add a bit of funereal ambiance to this place.”

That makes her look up. Her reluctant smile begins to show. “Such big words. I’m impressed, hillbilly youngster.”

I make a mocking bow. “I live to impress you.”

“That you do.” Her focus changes and for a moment, she stares hard at the street outside the shop. “Do you hear a fire truck?”

I tilt my head, listening. Sure enough, there is one, but it’s distant. “Yeah, but it’s not close.”

“But it’s definitely a truck, right?”

At my mystified nod, she seems to relax. Huh. I notice that her counter seems oddly bare compared to the last time I was here. I rack my brain, trying to recall what she had up there before. Ah, right, a stone Buddha. I almost pocketed it because I wanted something of hers. “Your Buddha’s gone,” I comment.

“I didn’t like the vibe he was giving off,” she says, and turns pointedly back to her catalog. “Don’t you have someplace you should go?”

“Yes, actually, and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me. I know it’s a busy day, but I was wondering if you could fight back the crowds and steal away for a while.”

Her mouth twitches and she looks up at me again with a bit of a challenge on her face. “You don’t think they’re flocking in thanks to my winning personality?”

“I think it’s winning,” I tell her, touching my chest. “Others might not have such cultured tastes.”

“That might be an insult, coming from a hillbilly,” Lexi replies. “But I’ll take it.”

I hold the envelope out to her. “For you.”

She doesn’t take it. “What’s this?”

I wiggle the envelope at her. “Another chance at impressing you, of course.”

“Oooh.” She takes the envelope and runs the edge underneath her nose without opening it, pretending to smell it. “Is it a personalized mortuary tour? I’m a fan of embalming.”

Her words make me think of Seth, but instead of the stab of pain I normally feel, there’s only a raw ache. “Nothing like that, I’m afraid.”

It must show on my face what I’m thinking about because her expression gentles. “I’m an asshole. Feel free to tell me to fuck off. That wasn’t cool of me.”

“You didn’t mean anything by it.”

“I do have to admit that most of my humor is macabre.”

“From a girl that wears all black? I’m shocked.” I shake my head and lean across the desk. “Though how someone like you ended up buddies with Natalie Weston, I don’t know. She’s very cardigans and cupcakes. You two don’t seem a match.”

“She’s just as lonely and out of touch with this town as I am.” Lexi shrugs and considers the envelope, then hands it back to me, unopened. “And I probably shouldn’t even look, because I might want it, and then it’ll be even more difficult to turn you down.”

And now I’m frustrated. “Is it me?” When she shakes her head, I consider the envelope before taking it back from her. “The timing?”

“The timing isn’t great,” she admits, and there’s a rather sad look in her eyes. In fact, all of her looks a little . . . defeated today. That’s not like my Lexi. I’m not sure what happened, but it’s like something’s sucked all the wind out of her sails, and it makes me even more determined to win her over. I want to know what’s gone wrong so I can fix it.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Nah. I’m fine.” But she doesn’t have that mischievous light in her eyes that she normally does, and that worries me.

“Is it the renovations?” I ask. Because that hole in the wall has to be there for a reason.

Her brows furrow and she gives me a confused look, and then realization dawns. “Oh no, not that. That was an accident. A client of mine had a bad misstep and ran into the wall.”

She says it so smoothly I wonder if she realizes I can tell she’s lying? It’s in the way she won’t look me in the eye, or the way she won’t look over at the spot on the wall. She’s a little too glib about it.

Whatever it is that’s bothering her, though, it’s clear that Lexi doesn’t want to talk about it, and she’s not going to let me sway her. Time to turn up the heat a little. “So you don’t want the reservations, then?”

“Reservations?” Her head perks up.

“Yeah. Thought maybe if you weren’t doing much that you might want to get away. I’ll of course, compensate you for any classes you might have to reschedule if that’s going to be a problem.”

Lexi looks torn. “Much as I would love to get away right about now—and god, you have no idea how much—I really can’t. I’m sorry, Knox. It’s really sweet of you to come here and keep trying, but I shouldn’t—”

“You don’t even know where the reservations are for.”

Her wistful expression deepens. “It really doesn’t matter. I can’t go.”

“If money’s a factor—”

“Money’s always a factor, my friend.”

“Like I said, I can make up the difference of what you’d make in your classes. I just want you to spend some time with me. Get to know you better. Hear more about how the pregnancy is going.” It’s true, too. If she goes with me and all she wants to do is tell me about morning sickness and isn’t interested in touching, I’ll be fine with that, just as long as I get to spend time with her. For some reason, with Lexi, it’s not just about the physical—though I have to admit, the physical is pretty damned amazing. It’s that I love her personality. I love that dark mischief in her, the way she constantly tries to make the people around her uncomfortable. In a way, she’s like me. I steal things and sabotage to see if people are paying attention. With her flat voice and gothic demeanor, Lexi makes sure they pay attention.

She’s perfect, and I ain’t takin’ no for an answer.

Again she hesitates, but then shakes her head, declining once more. “I really can’t, Knox. I’m sorry. When I say ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ I actually mean that.”

I refuse to be deterred. I study the envelope thoughtfully. “If that’s how it is, I guess that’s how it is. I’ll just call the owner over at the Old Pearson and tell him me and my friend won’t be making it after all—”

Her eyes go wide and she reaches over the desk and snatches the envelope out of my hands. “The Old Pearson? The Old Pearson? The one in Galveston?” She tears it open with shaking fingers.

“Yeah, that’s the one.” I’m secretly thrilled my present’s gettin’ such a reaction. I don’t know much about it, myself. I just Googled “most haunted hotels in Texas” and started callin’, askin’ for rooms. “Like I said, thought you might want to get away.”

She rips the printed confirmation out of the envelope and scans it, then groans and half collapses back onto her stool. “You rented out the entire fourteenth floor?”

“The owner told me that’s the most haunted one, yeah.”

“It is. That’s the floor where Bloody Louise shows up on full moons and where people hear ghost children moving up and down the hallway at night.” Her gaze fixes on me. “It’s legendary for its creepiness.”

“Do you promise to hold my hand if I get scared?” I say, using my best flirty voice. Ghosts ’n’ shit don’t scare me. Hell, I’d give anything to see my little brother Seth again, ghost or not. But if this is what rings Lexi’s bell, I’m game for it. I’ll hunt down every creepy place in Texas if that’s what it takes to get her back in my arms again.

The smile that curves her mouth is equally flirty, equally wicked. For a moment, she looks like she’s inches away from leaping across the counter again, and this time to tackle me. The hot stare she’s givin’ me promises so much that my own heart trips with anticipation . . .

And then just as quickly, her smile fades again. She looks down at the paper, and then carefully folds it back up once more. “I wish I could, Knox.”

Fuck. “Just tell me what’s wrong, Lexi. I can help.”

“You mean other than being pregnant?” One of those dark eyebrows arches. “Nothing’s wrong. The timing’s just shitty. Otherwise I’d love to go.”

That’s such a nonanswer that I cross my arms over my chest and let my stubbornness take over. “So you’re not going to tell me what’s really going on? Maybe I’ll just stick around here this afternoon until you wear down and tell me what the deal is.”

To my surprise, her face goes pale. She jerks up and looks at me with such terror that I’m stunned. What the fuck did I say to instill that sort of response in her? But just as quickly as the terror crossed her face, it’s gone. “You know what? I changed my mind. I’ll go. On one condition.”

Her sudden capitulation makes me suspicious. “Name it.”

She grabs her purse and flashes a brilliant smile at me. “That we go right fucking now.”

“Right now?” I can’t help but think this sounds too good to be true. Something’s up.

“Yep. Let’s just go.” She snags her keys and moves to the door and flips the CLOSED sign over, then opens the door and stands in it, waiting for me to get out of the studio. “Right now.”

“You . . . wanna go by your apartment and pick up some clothes or somethin’? I don’t know what one wears to a ghost hunt.”

“Whatever one wants. The ghosts aren’t critical of fashion.”

“Wasn’t talkin’ about the ghosts, Lexi. Don’t you want pajamas or a change of clothes or . . . I dunno, whatever chicks bring in their purses? Makeup? Tampons?”

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