The Next Sin, Page 2Georgia Cates
I’ve played my violin a lot since returning from Edinburgh so I’m in tiptop playing shape, probably the best ever.
I’m desperate to feel anything other than the misery of living without Breck. Although I’m certain this isn’t a good substitute, it’s a start.
I hold up my JW and toss it back. There’s no way I’d agree to this if I weren’t buzzing a little. The whisky has clouded my judgment. “Okay. But you’re buying.”
I have three more Johnnie Walkers for good measure as I do a run-through with Cody and his band in the back room.
“Damn, Wilson. This girl is good. We might need to use her to replace Digby on a permanent basis,” the drummer says.
“Ohhh, no. I’m not a performer. I’m only doing this because I owe Cody one.”
He looks puzzled for a moment before bursting into laughter. “You talking about busting my nuts?”
I’m laughing hard, and it feels good. Nice to laugh in place of crying for a change.
“Playing one song with us won’t begin to make up for that. Mmm,” he groans as he shifts his hips. “I’m still feeling that one.”
“I never apologized. I’m really sorry.”
I feel I owe an explanation for my reason but what do I say? Sorry, Cody. I was being trained to become a killer so I was a little overly responsive to being pounced upon.
“It’s okay. You got your message through loud and clear.” It’s been twelve years and I still hate that I did that to him.
The lead guitarist comes into the back room, interrupting our conversation. “Showtime.”
I skulk onto the stage with the four band members, violin in hand. Each guy takes an instrument while Mark, the lead singer and guitarist, goes to the mic. He introduces every member and lastly comes to me. “Digby couldn’t be with us tonight so Miss Bleu MacAllister has graciously volunteered to step into his shoes on a number we couldn’t possibly do without a fiddler.”
He plays a few chords to liven up the crowd. “‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’” I drag my bow over the strings since it seems like a cue. “This is the way it sounds when you put a Tennessee girl on a fiddle.”
We jump straight into the song, which is good. It means this will be over quicker.
The crescendo of the song approaches and Mark motions for me to take center stage. Shit. I don’t want to be seen. It’s bad enough being heard. It becomes clear he isn’t going to give up so I concede and move forward until I’m front and center. Not my forte.
I shouldn’t have had those whiskies.
I’m thrilled when the song ends. Without a word, I quickly sneak away from the stage and back to my table.
Ellison gives me another drunk clobber hug. “Bleu! I haven’t heard you play like that in years.”
She turns to her friends. “My sister is a total badass, am I right?”
Five drunken voices agree and shout comments about my playing.
Cody is back at our table as soon as his band finishes. “You did a great job. Thanks for being a good sport.”
“You can thank Johnnie Walker. I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.”
“Why not? You’re amazing. It’s a shame to keep that kind of talent to yourself.”
Has Cody forgotten me entirely? “Have we met?”
Cody laughs. “I see not much has changed with the MacAllister sisters in twelve years. You still prefer to hang in the background.”
“I’m content with not being seen or heard.”
Ellison and her friends squeal loudly over some sort of nonsense. “There was only room for one attention whore in our family. She was there before me so I never had a chance.”
Ellison leans in between us. “Heeeey, Bleu. We’re tired of this place. We want to go hear the dueling pianos at Silky O’Sullivan’s.”
Oh God. I shouldn’t have agreed to come. I am not up for pub crawling. But I’m stuck.
I look at Cody and shrug. “You heard the boss.”
“I guess they’re in the mood for piano music,” Cody says.
Ellison’s not really a fan of the country scene either. I’m guessing her friends are the ones who chose this bar. “I think they’re more in the mood to troll for guys. The ones here aren’t Ellison’s type.”
I hug Cody. “It was really great seeing you again.”
“You too. Thanks again for bailing us out. It was really nice of you.”
“Then I can consider us even?”
“Yeah.” Cody laughs and his dimples reappear. “We’re even.”
I follow Ellison and her band of nitwits down Beale Street to Silky’s. We luck out and find a recently abandoned table. They order two divers, the bar’s specialty drink—a secret blend of libations served in a gallon bucket with no fewer than a dozen foot-long straws.
Oh lordy. As if any of these airheads need to suck on anything containing a gallon of alcohol.
I realize an hour into our excursion that our DD has been partaking in the divers and is wasted. What the hell? That means we have no sober driver to get us home. “Ellison. Ashley is hammered.”
“Yeah?” She’s completely oblivious to what that means.
“She’s supposed to be our ride home.”
“It’s cool, Bleu. She’s a nurse. She isn’t going to drive drunk and risk losing her license. We’ll just get a couple of rooms.”
Get rooms, my ass. There’s no way I’m sleeping with any of their drunken asses and waking up with crusty puke in my hair.
“I did not sign on for a drunken slumber party.”
Fuck this. “You know what? I’m not feeling great. I think I’ll head home.”
“It’s that damn medicine you take. Your doctor shouldn’t have increased your dosage. She’s dumber than snake mittens.”
Oh goody. The drunken buffoonery begins. “Stay. Have a great time with your friends. I’ll see you in the morning. And please be safe.”
I leave the bar and walk to the spot where taxis are lined and waiting for drunks in need of a lift.
“Hey, Bleu.” It’s Cody’s voice I hear in the distance.
He jogs up to me right before I get into the cab. “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah. Bar hopping is not really my scene.”
“I know what you mean. I only came out because we were playing. I rarely come to Beale anymore. I sort of got my fill of all this in the Air Force.”
It’s impossible to enjoy this type of atmosphere after you’ve experienced whisky bars in Scotland. It puts this place to shame.
“Need a ride?”
“Yeah, but I’m going to take a taxi.”
“No way. Let me drive you.”
He must not know we no longer live in Memphis. “Thanks for the offer but I live in Southaven now.”
“That’s not too far.”
“It’s over twenty miles to my house.” I don’t want to put him out.
He shuts the door on the cab. “A taxi will cost a fortune. I’m taking you home.”
I can see this isn’t an argument where I’ll be the victor.
“Okay. As long as you don’t try to talk me into joining your band. ’Cause I’m never stepping foot on a stage again.” Shit. That was brutal.
“I make no promises.”
I’m in the background of Bleu’s life, as I have been for weeks. I have eyes on her at all times, even when they’re not my own. I safeguard her from harm. It’s all I’ve done since tracking my lass down in a small town in Mississippi, right outside of Memphis. I act as her protector from afar and she has no idea. She believes she’s hidden from The Fellowship—and me—but she couldn’t be more wrong. I’m always here, keeping a watchful eye on her and the MacAllister family.
I often need to be reminded that this is Bleu’s world. Every person she has contact with isn’t a threat but there’s an enormous problem wit
h that. I have no idea who’s friend or foe.
I was concerned when Bleu disappeared at the bar with a man earlier tonight. I was on the verge of barging into the back until my lass came out on stage to perform with the band. I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised in all my life. I knew she played but I never pegged her for a public performer. That doesn’t seem like my Bonny at all.
But I guess I don’t really know the real Bleu MacAllister. I only know the woman she pretended to be.
Her father is dying. I’ve hidden in the shadows so she could have these last days with him but we’re running out of time. Abram’s men are hunting her. According to the tabs I’ve been keeping, they’re getting closer. That means it’s time for Bonny to know I’ve come for her.
Bleu and Ellison’s residence is transient. There’s not a single item they couldn’t bear to part with. These two are prepared to flee and leave everything behind at the drop of a hat.
I’m waiting in Bleu’s dark living room when she comes home. She’s with him—the man from the bar. I wasn’t expecting that. In the weeks I’ve watched her, she’s never brought a man home. I’m not at all pleased about this. My immediate reaction is to get up and beat the piss out of him. I fight the urge and remain on the sofa since I don’t know who he is to her. It wouldn’t go over well for me to assault a member of her family.
“Thanks for the ride.”
“No problem. I didn’t mind at all.”
Aye, I bet he didn’t mind.
“Well.” She hesitates as though she doesn’t know what to say next. It’s that awkward silence thing. Good. “It was nice catching up with you.”
“It’s been too long. How about we don’t wait seven years to see each other again?” Ahh. He’s an old acquaintance.
“Sounds good.” No. That doesn’t sound good at all.
He reaches up and pushes a strand of stray hair behind her ear. If I know my lass, she’s fighting the urge to untuck it since she despises her hair like that. “I’ve always hated the way things ended between us.”
What does that mean? Is it possible Bleu had some type of romantic relationship with this man?
“Me too,” she agrees.
Please, don’t invite him inside, Bonny. I’m not sure how I’ll react to that.
He moves closer and I can see it coming from a mile away. He’s going to kiss her. And I don’t think I can sit here and watch it happen.
He touches the side of her face with his palm and I twitch to go to her, to get between them. “I’d really like to kiss you but I’m afraid you’ll kick me in the nuts again.”
If she doesn’t, it’s likely I will.
“Cody,” she sighs. “You’re a great guy but the timing is all wrong. I’ve just gotten out of a really intense … situation. I’m nowhere near ready for a new relationship.”
“I get it, Bleu. But you should be aware that I’m a very patient man. I can wait.” He leans in and kisses the side of her face. “Goodnight, Memphis Bleu.”
This man has a pet name for my Bonny. I’m not okay with that.
She shuts the front door and turns the deadbolt. Her high heels clang across the tile floor until she reaches the carpet of her bedroom. Everything goes quiet. Walls separate us but I imagine she’s kicking out of her heels. It was always the first thing she’d do when we’d come home from a night out. I doubt that’s changed. I’d bet money she’s sitting on the edge of her bed right now rubbing her feet. She hates wearing heels because they’re uncomfortable.
“Hey, Dora.” That’s one of Harold MacAllister’s hospice nurses. “How’s Dad tonight?”
Bleu is calling to check in on her father—part of her nightly routine before going to bed.
“Good. I’m coming in the morning. You can tell the dayshift I’ll be there in time for breakfast. He eats better for me than Myra, but mostly because I force him.” She laughs. “Have a good night and call if anything happens.”
A moment later, I hear water running. She’s going to have a soak in the tub. It’s something she does almost every night.
I recognize the smell of her signature fragrance floating in the air—peaches and cherry blossom. I inhale deeply. Damn. I’ve missed that scent.
I sit on her bed and it feels like the longest wait of my life. I don’t know how she’ll react to discovering me inside her home. I’m certain she’ll initially be startled. Fear will likely follow. I expect a physical struggle. She’s an agent so she’s going to make a move for the gun she hides at the head of her bed. But she won’t find it there.
The door opens and she comes out of her bathroom wearing a short, satiny robe, her hair wrapped in a towel. She jolts from surprise and then goes completely motionless.
“Hello, my sweet Bonny.”
She takes a few steps back and darts around the bed when I stand. I’m certain she’s going for her gun. “There’s no need for that because it’s not there.”
She makes a move for the door and I catch her around the waist from behind. I hold her tightly to prevent escape. She throws her head backward and slams it into my nose. I immediately feel warmth ooze down my upper lip.
I walk backward to the bed and fall with her on top of me, her back pressed against my front. She’s struggling with every bit of strength she has. It’s like wrestling a wild animal. “Stop fighting me, Bonny. I’m not here to hurt you.”
“Liar! I don’t believe you.” She tries to kick my knee where it joins my prosthesis.
When you physically struggle with someone, it isn’t long until one or both of your bodies give out to exhaustion. I’m fit but she’s more conditioned so I have no doubt she’ll outlast me. I must use words, not strength, to convince her.
I use the last bit of power I have left to flip us over on the bed. Bleu is on her stomach. She’s pressed into the mattress with me lying on top of her back. I move my hands to her wrists and bind them over her head. I wrap my legs around hers, locking them so she can’t move. “I would never harm you, Bleu. I swear.”
She stops struggling and I become aware of how hard we’re both panting. “Then why are you here?”
“Because I love you, Bonny.” In our scuffle, she has lost the towel from her hair. I release one of her wrists and use my free hand to push away the wet strands stuck to her cheek and neck. I press my face to the side of her head so my still-panting mouth hovers over her ear. “I claimed you, Bleu. I don’t take that lightly. You’re mine to protect so I’ll always do what I must to keep you safe.”
Her body relaxes beneath mine. I adjust my position so my weight is no longer pressing her into the mattress. She turns to look at me over her shoulder. “You’re here to protect me? From what?”
I don’t wish to have this conversation while restraining her. “Are you finished fighting me?”
“Good.” I move off her. We’re exhausted from our physical battle so we lie side by side on the bed catching our breath.
She drops her damp hair towel on my face. “Your nose is bleeding.”
I wipe the blood away and hold pressure until the ooze stops.
“Abram’s men are coming for you. They’re getting closer. I expect them to track you here by early next week.”
“How do you know this?”
“I’ve been keeping tabs on their whereabouts because I’m responsible for your safety.” I still can’t believe what a poor job she’s done of concealing herself. “To tell you the truth, this whole hiding in plain sight thing isn’t the genius plan you thought. I expected a chameleon of your caliber to do a much better job of camouflaging herself.”
“Normally I would but my dad’s sick. I couldn’t go far.”
Staying puts her at risk. “I found you weeks ago.”
She bolts up. “You’ve been watching me for weeks?”
I rise so I’m sitting next to her. She’s angry. I see it in her eyes. “Aye. Three. But don’t be cross with me. It was the only way to e
nsure your safety without robbing you of this time with your father.”
Her face relaxes. “Then you know my dad is in hospice care?”
She squeezes her eyes shut for a moment and shakes her head. “I can’t leave him.”
I understand her wanting to be with her father but she’s left herself wide open for attack. “Staying here is too risky.”
“I can protect myself.”
“We both know I could’ve killed you just now if that had been my intention. You’d be dead if I were one of Abram’s men.”
She looks away, staring blankly at the wall. It’s because she knows I’m right, although she won’t dare admit it. My lass hates defeat.
“I won’t leave like some coward.” Why did I have to fall in love with such a hard-ass?
“Your father is dying. He won’t be much leverage for Abram to use against you but what about your sister? Can you protect her and yourself around the clock?”
I know I’ve caught her attention—she looks shocked. “Ellison is innocent. She’s done nothing to The Fellowship. She doesn’t even know of its existence.”
“Abram doesn’t care. He’ll use her to draw you out if that’s what it takes.”
Her eyes grow large. “Oh God. How do I undo this?”
I’ve spent the last three months battling the same question and see only one fix.
“I know what you have to do.” Her baby blues gaze at me in anticipation. But I’m afraid my solution won’t be anything she’s expecting to hear. “Marry me.”
She goes completely silent. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Marrying you would pull me into The Fellowship even deeper. Why would I do something like that?”
I never taught Bleu the ways of The Fellowship. I spent my time fucking her instead of teaching her our practices so now I must give her the quick version. “Every member takes a vow to never violate the family of another member. That means Abram can’t harm you if you become my wife.”
She’s shaking her head. “Common sense tells me betrayal overrides that vow. I lied to all of you about being a former agent. I came to Edinburgh to kill your father, the brotherhood’s leader. That alone is grounds for my execution. It won’t matter if I’m your conjoined twin. The brotherhood will never accept me for anything other than what I am—a traitor.”