Natural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars #7)(2)


by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

“The owner’s wife dropped me off after my Camaro picked this morning to permanently give up the ghost. She was supposed to come back an hour ago to pick me up, but she didn’t show. I was trying to figure out what to do when I saw a certain scumsucker whip by in a Ford Focus I helped pay for.”

“The boyfriend?”

“Ex-boyfriend.”

“The one you’re getting ready to murder.”

“Keep pretending that I’m kidding.” She peered around her tail. “There’s the church. Hang a right.”

“If I drive you to the crime site, does that make me an accessory?”

“Do you want to be?”

“Sure. Why not?” He turned onto a bumpy, semiresidential street where some scrappy ranch-style homes sat on weedy lots. Although the town of Rawlins Creek was only about twenty miles east of Denver, it didn’t seem to be in much danger of becoming a popular bedroom community.

“It’s that green house with the sign in the yard,” she said.

He pulled up in front of a stucco ranch where a metal deer stood guard over a row of sunflower whirligigs and a sign reading ROOMS TO LET. Except some comedian had drawn a big letter I between the TO and LET. A dirty silver Focus sat with the motor idling in the drive. Next to it, a leggy brunette rested her hips against the passenger door and smoked a cigarette. As she saw Dean’s car, she straightened.

“That must be Sally,” the Beaver hissed. “Monty’s latest loser. Me being her predecessor.”

Sally was young, thin, with a big rack and lots of makeup, which put the sweaty-haired Beaver at a distinct disadvantage, although showing up in a sporty Aston Martin with him at the wheel might have evened out the playing field. Through the windshield, Dean saw a long-haired, artistic-looking dude in small, wire-rimmed glasses emerge from the house. This could only be Monty. He wore cargos, along with a woven shirt that looked like it had been handmade by a band of South American revolutionaries. He was older than the Beaver—maybe midthirties—and definitely older than Sally, who couldn’t have been more than nineteen.

Monty came to a dead stop when he saw the Vanquish. Sally ground out her cigarette with the toe of a bright pink sandal and stared. Dean took his time climbing out and making his way around the hood to open the passenger door so the Beaver could start her killing spree. Unfortunately, as she tried to swing her paws to the ground, her tail got in the way. She attempted to angle it, only to have it unfold and knock her in the chin. That pissed her off so much that she took a swing at it, which threw her off balance, and she landed flat on her face at his feet, that big brown paddle waving in the breeze over her butt.

Monty stared down at her. “Blue?”

“That’s Blue?” Sally said. “Is she a clown or something?”

“Not the last time I saw her.” Monty switched his attention from the Beaver, who was trying to climb up on all fours, to Dean. “Who are you?”

The guy had one of those fake upper-crust accents that made Dean want to spit tobacco and say “y’all.” “A man of mystery,” he drawled. “Loved by some. Feared by many.”

Monty looked mystified, but as the Beaver finally made it to her feet, his expression changed to hostility. “Where is it, Blue? What did you do with it?”

“You lying, hypocritical, poetry-spouting jerk!” She shuffled down the gravel drive, sweat glistening on her sharp little face, murder in her eyes.

“I didn’t lie.” He spoke in a condescending manner that got even Dean’s hackles up, so he could only imagine how the Beaver was taking it. “I’ve never lied to you,” he went on. “I explained everything in my letter.”

“Which I didn’t get until I’d blown off three clients and driven thirteen hundred miles across the country. And what did I find when I got here? Did I find the man who’d spent the last two months begging me to leave Seattle and come out here? Did I find the man who cried like a baby on the phone, talked about killing himself, and said I was the best friend he’d ever had and the only woman he’d ever trusted? No, I did not. What I found was a letter telling me that the man who swore I was the only thing keeping him alive didn’t need me any longer because he’d fallen in love with a nineteen-year-old. A letter also telling me I shouldn’t let this kick up my abandonment issues. You didn’t even have the guts to talk to me in person!”

Sally stepped forward, her expression earnest. “It’s because you’re a ballbuster, Blue.”

“You don’t even know me!”

“Monty’s told me everything. And I’m not saying this to be a bitch, but you could benefit from therapy. It’ll help you stop feeling so threatened by other people’s success. Especially Monty’s.”

The Beav’s cheeks grew bright red flags. “Monty makes his living traveling to poetry slams and writing term papers for college kids who are too lazy to write their own.”

Sally’s fleeting expression of guilt made Dean suspect this was exactly how she’d met him. But she didn’t let herself be thrown off course for long. “You’re right, Monty. She is toxic.”

The Beaver clenched her jaw and started advancing on Monty again. “You told her I was toxic?”

“Not toxic in general,” Monty said, haughty as all hell. “Only to my creative process.” He poked his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. “Now tell me where the Dylan CD is. I know you found it.”

“If I’m so toxic, why haven’t you been able to write a single poem since you left Seattle? Why did you say I was your fricking inspiration?”

“That was before he met me,” Sally interjected. “Before we fell in love. Now I’m his inspiration.”

“It was two weeks ago!”

Sally tugged on her bra strap. “The heart knows when it meets its soul mate.”

“A crap mate is more like it,” the Beaver retorted.

“That’s cruel, Blue, and very hurtful,” Sally said. “You know Monty’s vulnerability is what makes him a great poet. And that’s exactly why you’re attacking him. Because you’re jealous of his creativity.”

Sally was even getting on Dean’s nerves, so he wasn’t surprised when the Beav rounded on her. “If you say one more word, I’m decking you. Got it? This is between Monty and me.”