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Bad Things

R. K. Lilley

Page 1




  I had the strangest shiver of premonition rock my body the first time I heard Tristan’s voice. I heard it from a room away, as he said something offhanded to my boss, Jerry, and still I knew somehow that he would change my life.

  I had an unruly armful of clean laundry and five dogs crowding my legs in my boss’s cramped laundry room, when I heard the front door open, and two men chatting as they entered the house. I wasn’t alarmed. It was a chaotic sort of house, with all sorts of people coming and going at all hours of the day, and I recognized the sound of Jerry’s voice instantly.

  The other man that spoke was a stranger, but his voice was deep and it sort of rumbled through the house until it reached me. I had an instant and positive reaction to it. I had mixed feelings about men in general, having a rather sordid past with them as a whole, and having recently gone through a nasty breakup with a real piece of work. My ex had been an out of work, pothead loser, and he hadn’t been the first loser that I’d wasted my time on. Still, I knew right away that I adored the sound of that deep, masculine voice.

  I dropped the pile of clothes into the clean laundry pile in the clean corner of the room. My laundry skills were negligible, to put it nicely. I worked for Jerry and his ex-wife Beverly, as a live in nanny/housekeeper/dogwalker/poolgirl/gardener/whatever they needed me to do. It was well understood that I pretty much sucked at the housekeeper part of that arrangement, but it seemed to work for us all. I’d been working for them for two years, and we were going strong. Beverly and Jerry, dysfunctional exes, and awesome co-parents that they were, had become my closest friends and two of my favorite people on the planet.

  I was dressed like a slob in too short black cheer shorts and a washed out gray UNLV sweatshirt, my straight black hair pulled into a rough ponytail, and not wearing a scrap of makeup, but I went to meet the newcomer anyway. My five favorite animals on the planet dogged my steps as I padded down the hallway.

  Jerry’s back was to me as I turned the corner from the hallway and into the black, stone-lined entryway, the stranger facing me. I saw at a glance that the stranger was young, sexy as hell, and straight-up Trouble with a capital T.

  I knew trouble when I saw it, it being a very old friend of mine. Trouble for me was this nasty little self-destructive streak that I’d never quite been able to shake. A theme song even played in my head when I felt the big T getting close. Four Kicks was that song, and it cranked up to full volume with my first glance at him.

  He was tall, and built like a linebacker, both muscular and massive. He wore a tight black T-shirt that showcased every starkly muscled inch of his chest. His tattooed arms were folded across his chest in a casually attentive stance, but his presence commanded the room.

  His face was handsome, with clean, even features that were dominated by pale golden eyes. He had a straight slash of a nose, with a rounded tip that would have brought him from handsome to pretty boy if he wasn’t so damned big, and full lips on a wide mouth that popped killer dimples at me as it hitched up playfully. Those dimples were pure big T. His pitch-black hair was cropped short, with dark stubble lining his jaw. His easy smile was playful, but still managed to be sinister. It was a heady combination for someone who was on a first name basis with the big T.

  Jerry turned to see what the other man was smiling about. He was a middle-aged man, short and balding, with a slight build. His face was far from handsome, with close-set eyes and a big nose, but I thought he had one of the best smiles in the world.

  “Danika,” Jerry said with that world-class smile. “This is my buddy, Tristan. He’s going to be crashing on the couch for a few days. He’s…uh…between residences. ”

  I mentally groaned. Bev was going to kill him. One glance at Tristan and I knew he wasn’t just a buddy. Jerry had a spotty history with helping out what he always thought was the latest rising star. He had big dreams of managing the next big rock band, and he took those dreams to extremes. He and Bev were both technically attorneys, but she was the only lawyer in the house that you could call employed. Jerry was too busy collecting unsigned bands to practice law.

  I gave Jerry a pointed look. “Bev is going to string you up. She said that if you brought home one more out-of-work musician, that she was going to kick you out, and then I would get upgraded to a bigger room. ”

  He grimaced. “Now, now, don’t go jumping to conclusions. Tristan has a job. Look, he’s not even carrying a guitar. ”

  I eyed Tristan up. “What’s the job?”

  Jerry answered for him, which let me know that he was full of it. “He’s a club promoter. ”

  I rolled my eyes. “Is that the best you can do? That’s Vegas code for unemployed, Jerry. My pothead ex-boyfriend even calls himself a club promoter, and I don’t think he ever even leaves his house. You need to think up something better before Bev gets home. ”

  Tristan laughed, not looking even slightly offended by our exchange. “I am a club promoter, and I do also happen to be in a band,” he said in a low, sexy drawl.

  Oh lord, I thought, Four Kicks by Kings of Leon playing at full volume in my head as I heard his voice at close range. And I tried to pretend that I hadn’t even heard that sexy as hell laugh. I knew that we were going to be a dangerous combination. Bad things were going to happen if we spent too much time around each other.

  “Don’t let Bev hear you say that,” I warned him. I was really just trying to help Jerry out. I didn’t want him to get into trouble with Bev again, and he never seemed to have a clue just what would set her off, even though it was always very obvious to me.

  I sighed, knowing that this wouldn’t be easy to fix. I tensed as I heard the loud garage door opening across the house. Bev’s house was a huge, rambling, ranch style house, but the garage door was so loud that it always announced her presence.

  I gave Jerry a stern look, sometimes feeling like his mother, even though he was forty-five, and I was barely twenty-one. I pointed at him. “I know what we need to do, but you’re going to owe me. I hate lying to Bev. ” It was true. I was nowhere near nonchalant about the deception I was about to undergo, and I wanted him to know it. Beverley was my hero. No one had ever helped me as much, or been as supportive of me, as she had. Plus, I just liked her. She was my closest friend, and I’d developed a serious case of hero worship for the successful, forty-eight year old woman.

  “Tristan is a friend of mine,” I told them. “Do not mention the words club promoter, or band. He is a plain old out of work student, and crashing for one week on the couch. We met at UNLV last semester. Got it?”

  Jerry nodded, giving me a grateful smile. “You’re the best, Danika. I owe you. ”

  He sure did. I looked at Tristan, who was giving me that playful smile of his, as though we hadn’t just barely met.

  “You’re a sassy little thing. I like that,” he murmured, just as Bev and her boys rounded the corner that led from the garage and into the main living area.

  Ivan and Mat caught sight of me and the dogs swarming at my heels and rushed me with huge whoops. Ivan was an unabashedly diabolical eight-year-old, and Mat was a precocious six-year-old, and the two of them combined were more than a handful, but I loved them to pieces.

  Mat went straight for a tackle to my midsection, while Ivan caught the biggest dog, Mango, in a bear hug. Mango was a tan-colored bloodhound. She was nine years old and left a trail of slobber in her wake. She was a terrible guard dog. We were all convinced that if the place was robbed she’d just see it as an opportunity to lick more faces.

  Mat squeezed my waist so hard that he drew a little grunt out of me. The second biggest dog, Dot, took exception to the rough handling
. He growled menacingly at the six-year old. He was a big black Belgian Shepherd, and none of us had any doubts that he was a good guard dog. A little too good, in fact. He’d taken to being my own personal protector, even against the other inhabitants of the house, and that included the boys.

  I shushed Dot, hugging Mat back. He was a skinny blond kid with gorgeous blue eyes.

  “You said you’d make us cookies when we got back!” Mat told me excitedly.

  I nodded. “Okay. You gonna help me make them, or you want to go play while I cook?”

  “Play!” he shouted. I didn’t know if it was Mat, or being six, but the boy had a serious volume control issue. It just made me laugh.

  “Okay. I bet you’ll be able to smell when they’re done. ”

  “Yes!” he shouted, even louder, then took off for his room.

  Ivan straightened, looking around at all of the adults and pursing his lips. He had light brown hair, was tall for his age, and had soft brown eyes like his dad. He was a funny kid. He had moments of being a shameless brat, but just as many moments of absolute charm. “I want to play, too, Danika, but I’ll help you if you really, really need me to. ”

  I smiled at him. “I got it covered, buddy. You go on and play. ”

  He took off, never saying a word to his dad or to Tristan. Typical eight-year-old, only paying attention to the one making cookies.

  Beverly and I shared a look. She gave her boys a laughing eye roll before heading the same way they’d gone, towards her bedroom. She’d barely spared Tristan a glance. It wasn’t a good sign.

  “Jerry, a word,” she called out, still moving toward her room. It didn’t bode well.

  He swore under his breath, but followed her.

  I headed over to the kitchen. I felt Tristan following me.

  The house was set up with an open floor plan. It was huge, but the entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen, and family room all shared one massive space, so it was a straight shot into the kitchen once I got around the giant L-shaped sofa that dominated the living room.

  The house was a strange combination of shabby chic, leaning way further in the direction of shabby. Beverley was very successful as a worker’s compensation attorney, and she came from a rich family, so money wasn’t an issue when it came to the house. It was colossal, and in one of the nicest gated communities in Vegas, but the house was lined with outdoor carpeting and the furniture was in desperate need of an update. The only saving grace in the house was the spectacular artwork that she collected. Words couldn’t even express how much I appreciated her fine eye for upcoming artists, but they were the only saving grace when it came to the house’s aesthetics.

  I understood why she didn’t update a lot of it. New carpet would be ruined in just a few weeks by her unruly dogs and crazy kids, and the dark green leather sofa had the entire back gnawed off. I couldn’t imagine a new sofa wouldn’t receive the same treatment.

  I had to unlock the latch that had been installed on the side of the refrigerator before I opened it. Mango liked to eat sticks of butter when it wasn’t latched tight…

  I pulled out a plastic tube that was filled with chocolate chip cookie dough. I heard a clear, disappointed groan behind me.

  I turned to look at Tristan, arching a brow at him. “What? You don’t like chocolate chip?”

  He shook his head at me, still showing off one dangerous dimple in a half smile. I really wished he’d put those dimples away. They were counter-productive to my peace of mind.