Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(11)


by Melissa F. Olson

“Scarlett? It’s Eli.”

I mentally slapped myself in the head. You couldn’t just yell, “Who is it,” could you, Scarlett? I stepped close to the door and closed my eyes, concentrating on my radius. Yup, a werewolf, and no other supernatural creatures with him. I opened the door.

He was leaning into the doorway, arms on each side of the frame, wearing the same jeans and tank from the bar. Werewolves don’t really need jackets, even in December. He took one look at me and said, “Cruz didn’t tell you I was coming, did he?”

“Uh, no.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning to Tase me?”

“Oh.” I looked at the Taser in my hand and stuffed it into the pocket of my jacket, which I was still wearing for some reason. “Come on in.”

He stepped through the doorway, and I had a surreal moment of wishing I’d picked up the place. Molly and I aren’t particularly tidy, and rejected outfits were flipped over the back of most of the furniture. But it wasn’t really the time. “I don’t need protection,” I began automatically. “If Jesse told you to bodyguard me, I’m doing just fine by myself. It’s not like she can get near me, and—”

“Stop, stop.” He held up his hands. “Cut the crap, Scarlett. Olivia is crazy, and you don’t know what she might think to do to you. I’m staying until the morning.”

Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. He actually blushed. “On the couch. Or on the back porch, if you prefer.” He gave me a tentative grin. “If you really want to get rid of me you’ll have to have me arrested, and Cruz already said he’d bail me out.”

“No,” I said stubbornly. “I don’t need help. You’re not a werewolf around me, remember? You’re just a guy. What can you do that I can’t?”

His eyes hardened, but he didn’t rise to the bait. “If it helps, don’t think of it as me protecting you. Think of it as me helping you protect yourself.”

“I can handle it without you,” I said, looking away.

“But you don’t have to.”

I shook my head, unable to think of a thing to say.

“Scarlett,” he said softly, stepping closer. “What happened with us? You’ve barely looked at me since the basement.”

Ah, yes. The basement where a mass murderer had chained me to the floor and felt me up, until Eli had literally dropped into the room to rescue me. That basement. “I’ve looked at you,” I protested feebly. “We talk almost every day.”

“We talk about work stuff. But things aren’t the same between us. Even Caroline has noticed.” Will’s assistant, Caroline, had recently become a friend. She’s also a werewolf, and the pack’s sigma, its weakest member. I think that makes her sensitive to other people’s moods. Or maybe that’s just Caroline. “Is it Cruz? Are you guys together?”

“No.”

“Are you in love with him?”

Oh, jeez. I shied away from the question and the door. “I don’t know how I feel about Jesse.” I swallowed. “Look, if you want to sleep on the porch I can’t stop you. Just leave me alone.”

This was usually the moment when Eli backed off, gave me space, and my hand was already moving toward the doorknob. But this time he surprised me. With no warning he bent from the waist and scooped me up, throwing me over one shoulder and marching into the living room. Werewolf or not, he was strong. “Hey!” I sputtered. “Knock it off! This is not a John Wayne movie!”

He sat down on the sofa, swinging me easily to straddle his lap so we were face-to-face. “Do you want it to be?” he said, grinning again. “I could kiss you, and you could beat your tiny fists against my chest until you’re just too overwhelmed with love to resist.”

“That’s not funny,” I said, annoyed.

“Talk to me,” he said firmly, the smile gone. “Talk to me, and I’ll head to the porch. And if you tell me you never want us to be more than colleagues, I promise you I’ll respect that. But this evasion thing has got to stop.”

I stared at him, openmouthed. Eli was always gentle, quiet. “Tonight? You’re picking tonight to throw ultimatums at me? This is bullshit.” I leaned back, trying to wiggle off his lap without dumping myself on my head.

Eli caught my wrists, very gently, and held me in place. “Scarlett,” he began, but I didn’t hear what he said next. I felt a sharp rush of panic, and salt water stung my eyes. I couldn’t take his hands off my wrists. Eli’s fingers were warm, but they still made me think of the cold silver handcuffs in Jared Hess’s basement.

“Let go,” I whispered. “Please let me go.”

He followed my gaze and immediately released my wrists, looking stricken. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t think.”

I scrambled off his lap, nearly tripping over the coffee table, and dropped into the opposing armchair. I pulled my knees to my chin and hugged them, hating the gesture but unable to stop. “It’s fine. It’s fine.” Good Lord. My body chemistry couldn’t take much more of this night.

“No, it’s not.” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and scrubbing at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I’m sorry, Scarlett.” He looked so tired. All of a sudden I felt like a terrible person.

“Look,” I began haltingly, “I know I’m not—good at this. The talking stuff.” He looked at me. “I do, um, care about you. But you deserve someone who can do the talking stuff.” He opened his mouth, and I held up a hand, shaking my head. “No, please don’t. Not tonight, okay? Tonight could you just drop it and…come to bed with me? To sleep,” I added hurriedly. “For sleeping.” Stop talking, Scarlett.

He stood up slowly, so I could see him coming, and came around the coffee table to take my hand. I let him pull me up. He studied my face, but when I kept my eyes trained over his shoulder he just kissed my forehead. I led him up to my room.

Eli flipped on the light switch and took hold of my jacket so I could twist out of it. I pulled down the covers and crawled onto the bed, unbuttoning my jeans, which he tugged down my legs, depositing them on the floor. He pulled off his own shoes and jeans, exposing blue cotton boxers that I’d never seen before. He lay down beside me on the bed, lifting his arm so I could snuggle under. I marveled again at how easily Eli and I fit together.