Willow The James Children Chapter Four 2/2/16

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~Chapter 4~
Willow avoided him completely on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, she had to take the morning off to have the stitches removed and didn’t get to work until after eleven. By the time she’d caught up on her mail and fielding calls from vendors, she was nearly five hours behind. At six o’clock, the last truck left the lot and she was on the first floor covering seams with mud on the newly hung drywall. She’d thought about Robert all week and wondered for the hundredth time what he’d been about to do. Kiss her? She certainly would have let him at that moment and gotten angry with herself all over. No matter how appealing it was, kissing her employees was out of the question. If it ever was a possibility. She snorted to herself and turned the volume up on her book. It was nearly eleven when she got to her house. Exhausted and dirty, she stripped down to her boxer briefs and bra in the kitchen and tossed the whole load in the washer. One more day, she thought. Then she’d have two days off in a row. Then she remembered her dinner date with her parents. “Fuck, fuck fuck.” Standing in the kitchen listening to the washer fill, Willow wondered if she could get out of it. She was running ideas through her head when her phone rang. It was one of her parents, as they were the only ones with this number. “Hello, parental unit. How’s it hanging?” She smiled when her father sputtered on the other end. “You ever check your messages, young lady? Your mother has been frantic.” Willow smiled bigger. Her mother didn’t get frantic, her dad did. “I’ve been having a torrid affair with the milk man and he keeps strange hours. He had to keep me a secret from his wife and eight kids.” Willow burst out laughing at her dad’s “smart ass,” but he went on without any more comments about her mom. “This dinner thing tomorrow night, I’ll expect you here on time and without a stitch of flannel on. Ghastly attire you’ve gotten into the habit of wearing.” There went her hopes of getting out of it. “I had a dress made of just that material too. Now what will I wear? Maybe if you’re really nice to me and tell me the name of the man mom and you have set me up with this time, I’ll know what to wear.” She had a number of clothes that would deter even the quickest hands. Her dad snorted, a nice habit she’d taught him to do. “Your mother has two set up. Well, one from each of us. Miscommunication or some other stupid reason. I distinctly remember her telling me to invite young Nathan, but now she swears that she didn’t. That ugly boy Taylor is coming too.” Willow laughed. “He’s not ugly, Dad. He’s unique.” Boy was he ever. “Willow, the man has the biggest ears I’ve ever seen. Why, in a good storm, a wind would pick him up and he’d be on the space station in a matter of minutes. And that laughter…sounds like a bull horn going off.” Willow did agree about the laughter, but could only laugh more. She loved her parents very much and was a daddy’s girl too. She and her mom had been best friends since she’d discovered, at age ten, that her mother hid a wicked sense of humor and a sharp wit. They had never had the usual problems most families had. Willow even enjoyed the company of her older brother Alexander.
“So,” she stretched out the word. “I suppose you’d probably prefer it if I didn’t marry Taylor. And since Nathan won’t have me, then I guess I’m safe for the night.” Willow waited for the explosion and wasn’t disappointed. “What do you mean he ‘won’t have you?’ Why that man would be damned lucky if you gave him the time of day. Won’t have you—why, men would be lining up if you’d pay them the slightest attention. Why won’t he have you? I’ll tear him apart for saying such a thing.” “Because, my dearest defender, I don’t have the equipment he prefers in a sexual partner. And I’m pretty sure he has one. A partner, I mean.” The silence at the other end was profound. She opened the icebox and waited while she tried to remember the last time Marta, her housekeeper, friend, and cook, had bought groceries. Marta Priest was due back tomorrow, thank goodness. Willow had missed her while she’d been on vacation. But putting up with Willow, she figured the woman needed a break. The house seemed incredibly empty and not just of food, but also Marta’s sage advice and her smart-assed answers. Marta was the daughter of Willow’s parents’ cook, Shasta. Her dad, she knew, was sorting thought the information no doubt trying to figure out a way to still marry her off. She knew he wouldn’t care about Nathan being gay. That had nothing to do with either their friendship, or hers to him for that matter. But he would try to salvage something out of this. “Willow, honey, where do you get—never mind. I’m sure as your father I just don’t want to know.” The heavy sigh made her smile. “All right then, we’ll just be a bunch of friends and family getting together. Your brother is going to try and make it in, but he said he couldn’t guarantee anything at this point. And you stay away from that Taylor boy. I won’t have you getting with child by him. Birthing one of his children with those ears could kill you.” Willow hung up a little while later after her dad went on then about her brother and how her mother despaired of the day he’d have a baby. She didn’t even tell him that Alex having a child would be harder than her birthing Taylor’s kid, but let it go. She was too tired to even open a can of soup, had there been one in the house to do so. She was trudging up the stairs to her bedroom when she decided she’d go to the store Saturday on her way home if Marta didn’t. Pulling a small pad of paper and a pen to her as she laid down, she made a note of things to get. She hated shopping for food almost as much as she hated to do laundry. Which was why, she thought with a huge yawn, she had about seventy pairs of underwear and that many t-shirts too. She fell asleep with the pen still in her hand along with the pad of sticky notes. When she woke the next morning at four, she was covered in sticky notes and ink blotches. As she stripped off her sheets, she made herself a mental note to buy pencils and then discarded that idea almost immediately. It would be just her luck she’d end up with lead poisoning if she slept with a pencil. After taking a long shower, she made her way to the closet. Willow had purchased the house at an estate auction. Her parents had helped her get the loan. Even with all her money and a job, the bank didn’t want to loan money to a then seventeenyear-old kid. But she had paid the loan back on time and had also been able to get a second loan on her own since then. The house for the most part had been in great shape. The lawns were the worst she’d ever seen, but she’d enjoyed bringing them back to life. All the bushes had to be pulled up and instead of replacing them as the local nursery had suggested, Willow planted bulbs and perennials and flowering fruit trees. She had made the cover of Architectural Digest last fall for her grounds alone.
The yard in the back had been useless so Willow had had a large in-ground pool put in along with a pool house and a little cottage for Marta to live in. Willow spent a great deal of time in the back yard in the warmer months and even the cooler ones since she’d had the pool heated. Willow simply loved the outdoors. The third floor of the house was finished, as it was where her room was. The original house had had four bedrooms on the third floor and six on the second with a single bathroom per floor. Now after three years, there was a master suite complete with fireplace, sitting area, and an office. Both bedrooms had massive bathrooms as well. The master bath had a large shower stall, as well as a sunken tub. She loved its jets and when she was able to use it, lit candles to set all around the glass block shelves that formed the outside wall. The toilet and sink were separated from the tub by another wall of glass blocks. She’d had to order the porcelain in the room, as it was a dark cobalt blue, so that the sink, toilet, counter top, and tub all were dark against the blue and white tile of the floor. The shower stall was surrounded in the glass and some had been filled with a blue gas that seemingly moved inside. As one stepped back toward the bedroom, there was a closet complete with dresser that sat back to back to each other. They split the room in half and divided the closet perfectly. She hadn’t wanted to put in two dressers, but her mother pointed out that if she ever sold the house to buy something bigger or something to play with, she would have a better chance of selling it for a couple. Willow loved her bedroom with its twelve foot ceilings and top to bottom windows. The two outside walls both had two each. Since there was no need for a closet in this room, Willow built the headboard into the wall and made sure it had all the comforts she wanted, including the size of the custom mattress at one and a half the size of a regular king. The small end tables pulled out and there was a gun safe behind one and a fire proof safe behind the other. She had them both filled with her things. Most nights when she came home from work, it was all she could do to put the gun back in the safe because she never left the site until well after dark. There was a gas fireplace in the wall directly across from the bed and a sofa and two wing backed chairs as well. There was also a work area, though Willow never used it, but it had been a suggestion from her dad and since she let her mom talk her into the double dressers, she went with the workstation to appease the man. He had blustered for days about it. The other bedroom, only marginally smaller than the one she slept in, had the same type of headboard, but there was no bed. She used that room strictly for storage and nothing more. After she was dressed, Willow went to her office. The second floor had taken her the most time. It had been her plan to reduce the number of bedrooms down to two as well, but had taken out two of the rooms and added baths that each set of bedrooms shared. She’d taken out the smallish closets and replaced them with large walk-ins that were well-lit and spacious. The bedrooms were finished for the most part. Carpet had been taken up and the floor sanded and finished. But the woodwork, wide ceiling molding, and overhead fans needed to be hung, and the furniture, all antiques, had to be put back in place. Most of it was in storage in the garage. The first floor had a grand entrance with wide double doors and stained glass windows down either side of it. The parquet floors replaced the worn tile and Willow had talked her parents into the beautiful chandelier she’d wanted for the ceiling last Christmas. There was a huge living room that was devoid of anything—not even pictures on the wall. She didn’t spend any time in there so was in no rush to furnish it.
The dining room was big enough to hold the cherry and walnut table she’d bought with its fourteen chairs and the massive hutch that held some of her collection of snowmen. She didn’t use this room much either. There was her office, which had been the first room finished, and she thought it reflected her tastes perfectly. A hodgepodge, her mother had called it, but Willow loved it. This room was as big if not bigger than some living rooms, though smaller than the two bedrooms in the house. The computer desk had been custom built by her and stained and polished by her dad. The desk was a rich cherry and shone brightly in the sunny room. The wall over the desk and down both sides held shelves and a filing cabinet each. The shelves were overflowing with books of all kinds, styles, and genres. Willow was an eclectic reader and her books reflected that. Alongside signed first editions were dog-eared paperbacks as well as comic books and magazines. She simply loved the written word. The kitchen was mostly complete and would be as soon as Marta told her what else it needed. Willow didn’t cook, hated the task so much so that she would gladly live off pizza and take out before she’d ever try her hand at it. She and her dogs spent most of their time when she was home in the family room off from the kitchen. By just after seven, she was just finishing up with her last email when someone knocked at her door. Not expecting anyone or anything, she went to the door and opened it, ready to blast anyone who dared bother her on a Friday morning. With a squeal of delight, she launched herself into her brother’s chest. ~o0o~ Jared wandered through the house the realtor was showing him. This one, like the other four he’d been through, wasn’t what he wanted. He wasn’t sure what that was, but this wasn’t it. He came down the stairs no longer listening to the man…something Jones was clattering on about the houses charms. Jared had a mental list. Number one on the list was a large kitchen—a large, working kitchen. One he could move around in, entertain if he wanted, and to make love on the counter if Willow was in the mood. The realtor, William, Jared suddenly remembered, bumped into him when he suddenly stopped. Willow in the mood? Where the hell had that come from? “You all right, Mr. Stone?” Was he? No and hell no he wasn’t all right. He tried to shake off the uncomfortable shaft of desire that had him burning with a sudden need for the prickly woman. He’d had the most incredible vision of her wrapped around him as he pounded into her heat on the top of dark green counters. Jared turned and looked at the man. “This is nothing like what I gave you to find for me and we both know it. If you take me to one more overpriced house you are trying to get rid of then I will find another realtor. Go over the list again and contact me when you have some that I will consider. I have neither the time nor the patience for this. Understand?” This was not how Jared wanted to spend his Friday night. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. But the market has been—” Jared cut him off with a raised brow. “Of course,” William went on. “I’ll set you up for more of what you had in mind next week.” “This weekend if possible.” Jared walked out the front door and got into his car. He’d had enough. Monday morning he was going to confront the woman and tell her she was fired and to fire that Talbor. It was the surest way of getting her out of his system. And his dreams. That made
him think of the dream he’d had of her last night, the one where he’d done all sorts of decadent things to the lovely Miss James. Slamming his hand against the steering wheel, he growled in frustration. And when he got home, he was calling every woman on his phone and exorcising Willow from his mind. He was frustrated, that was all. He needed to get laid. Somehow, as he pulled into his driveway, he knew that wasn’t it at all.

 

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Trent: Calhoun Men By Kathi S Barton Release Day & Winner Announced 1/11/16

Calhoun Men 

Trent 
Elijah (Coming May 2, 2016) 
Scott (Coming Soon) 
Sterling (Coming Soon) 
Randal (Coming Soon) 
Tanner (Coming Soon) 


Johanna, better known as Joe, had been a day walker for her only friend, Noah, for centuries. An immortal with eight hundred years under her belt, she had become proficient in several languages and occupations. When her friend Noah talked about meeting the sun, she had every intention of following in his path. 


Joe had only gone to the Calhoun’s office to catch a ride to the estate. When she entered, it took her breath away to see the younger man on the floor and no one doing a damn thing to help him. 


Trent Calhoun had forgotten how to have fun. Diving into his work was what kept him happy. At 33 he had no life, so when he had a heart attack, his doctor said to change his ways or else. 


When the gorgeous woman stumbled into his hospital room, Trent thought his dad was up to his old tricks again―that was until he caught her scent…. Now, because of his wolf, he’s face to face with an angry vampire…. 

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Winner  of a mystery paperback  is  Donna ______ no last name 
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Kathi S Barton 
Prologue  
1224 AD Johanna, Joe to her few friends, moved as quickly as she could to the heap of trash that had been put out only moments ago. It might have been filled with nothing more than a few scraps of food, but it would be enough to fill the hole that seemed to be forever in her belly. And maybe if she was lucky enough, she’d find a pair of shoes with only a few holes in them, or a coat. But before she could get close enough to see, she saw Abraham and another man. It did not look to her as if they were friends. At first she thought they were having relations. It wouldn’t surprise her if they were. Abraham would do most anything for a bit of coin or food. She did not care for the man overly much, but she would help to keep him safe even if the man didn’t seem to think he needed her. But before she could move around the two of them, she saw that Abraham held a man at knife point. The man he held she did not know, but she did know what he was. A vampire. There were plenty of them about now, feeding on ones such as herself and Abraham when they needed food. While she knew very little about his kind, she did know that he would kill the man that held him if he only moved just a little. Looking into his eyes, she spoke to him. “Please do not harm him.” The man stilled in his slight struggle to look at her. “He is only hungry, as are the rest of us, and would otherwise leave you alone.” “He has a bit of coin, Joe. More than we could have a fine meal on. I’ll share it with you should you help me. I promise I will this time.” Joe looked at Abe and shook her head. “You just stand there and I’ll slice his throat and we’ll find us a meal, you and me.” “Abe, this man has done nothing to you save come to this place of death and sadness. Let him go before he hurts you.” To the man, she spoke again. “Please. Do not harm him. He is not a nice person, but he is all that I have here.” Blood moved down the handsome man’s throat, staining the collar of his white silk shirt. Joe knew that just the cost of his shirt would have fed her and Abe for many days. His small nod was all she needed to let out the breath that she’d been holding. Looking at Abe again, she took a step toward him, speaking softly, her hand guiding his away from the throat of the stranger. “You don’t want to kill him, Abe. Should you do that, the food that you eat from this will taste bitter and will make you sick for a long while. You know this.” Abe growled at her, telling her to go away. “I cannot and you know that. Should this man kill you for what you have done, then I will have one less person that I know here, and I have so few now. Please, let him go so that you and I can go to the dump that is still warm from the house.” She didn’t think he was going to do it. He looked determined, his face set. When his belly growled, hers did as well. It was a sound that she was sick of. When Abraham 
stomped his foot at her, she wanted to remind him that he was a grown man and that he should act like one. “I need a fine meal, Joe. I was never meant to be like this. I am a great man.” She’d heard the stories before. He’d come from a grand house, the servant to a great man. But it was, like other stories she’d heard in her life, a lie. A fabrication of something that was a dream to him, a way to make him seem more important than he really was. But his lies, like his stories, had long since given her a headache. Joe had given up on dreams. They were useless without any way of making them a reality. “I will make his death quick if that would make you feel better.” “Nay, it will not and you will know it.” Joe glanced at the man, who watched her carefully. “Allow this man to go about his business. Perhaps he will give you a coin or two for your troubles. Would you let him go for that?” “I should have it all.” Joe shook her head and told him to be reasonable. “I am not going to let him go without all his coin, Joe. You cannot ask me to do such a thing. It has been years since—” “Then I will quit you.” He looked at her then. “I will no longer come to your aid should you become ill again. I will not give you a part of my blanket when I have none to share with even myself. You will be on your own. And you know that no one else will help you either, Abe. You have made many enemies here.” Taking the last two steps to the two of them, she put her hand on Abe’s hand again. When he didn’t fight her, she moved the handmade silver blade from the man’s throat, but did not look at him. As soon as he was free he leapt from them, then fell to the ground. Joe stood in front of Abe. “Please don’t harm him. He is starved.” The man held his neck and nodded while blood poured from between his fingers. She knew that he would die soon. No matter what he was he should get himself healed or he would bleed out and die there as the sun came up to take him. “I will trade myself for him.” “Send him away.” The voice was cultured, hard, and full of hate. Her fear of the man, now that he was free, doubled. “Send him away, Joe, and come to me.” Nodding, she turned to Abe and then back to the man. “Coin. Do you have a coin or two that you can spare to give to him? I should hate to have lied to him.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a very beautiful change purse. She could tell that it had been made with a fine hand, and that the beading work alone was done by someone who loved their job. If only she could have such a job. Shutting down that thought, she reached for the three coins in his palm and took only the two that she’d promised Abe he could have. The man grabbed her hand before she could move away. “Give them all to him.” She shook her head and turned to Abe. Giving him the two gold coins, she turned back to the man when he said her name. “Why did you not take the three of them, if only to have one for yourself?” “I did not say that I would take one for myself. I do not lie. No matter how hungry I am.” He nodded, his face pale now. “What do I need to do to help you?” “You would still come to me, even with your friend safe?” She told him that Abe was not her friend. “Then pray, why did you save him?” 
“I did not want him dead by your hand. I do not want anyone dead by your hand. Your kind have been killing us off for years, and I should like to be able to think I have saved one. Even if it was just Abe the thief.” He nodded but said nothing more. “What do you need of me?” “You know what I am, so you know what I need.” She nodded and moved closer to him. “Come to me. I should like to have you drink from my wound if only to draw some of the poison that Abe has put inside of me. The silver of it even now is racing in my veins to kill me.”  He was weaker than she’d thought. But she knew that even in his weakened state, he could still kill her. Once, not long ago, she’d seen one of his kind tear a man’s head off even with a stick protruding from his belly. And then he’d stood and pulled it from him as he drank greedily from another that stood too close. Moving to sit on the ground near him, Joe leaned into his neck and could smell his soap. Not that she’d had any chance to have such a thing. She tried her best to make her way to the river at least once a week, no matter what the weather was, to clean herself and her clothing as best she could.  As soon as she put her mouth over the large cut, he curled his hand in the back of her head and pulled her tightly against him. His blood didn’t taste as she’d thought it might. There was a coppery tang to it, but it was warm and filled her belly nicely. Trying not to think of what she was doing, she lifted her head from his neck when he lifted her and fitted her over his lap. Her legs on either side of his hips, she was in a position that she was sure was going to get her raped if not killed. “I shall not take what is not freely given to me.” Nodding, she watched his eyes as they darkened. “If you are coming when I drink from you, I will not need as much to fill me to heal. Do you know what I am asking you to do?” “You wish to have sex with me?” He nodded, then shook his head. “I do not understand you. Should you not like to have sex with me? I am free of diseases. Not that I wish to have it with you, but I did give myself to you in Abe’s place.” “I only wish for you to come for me. Have your pleasure as if we were having sex.” Joe still had no idea how that worked. “And I am aware of your body. Not only are you free of anything that would kill you, but you are a virgin as well. I would guess you have had to work very hard to keep yourself in such a state.” “There are not a lot of men that wish to touch someone such as me.” He asked her why. “I’m not what is considered a very well-endowed woman. I am…too skinny, and most think me a boy.” “You are not a boy, and that would not stop most men that I know should you have happened to be one.” He watched her face and she felt herself heat in embarrassment. “You are very strange, Joe. A human that would help a vampire even though you know that it could cost you your life.” “I have not much of one anyway, my lord. This is all that I have.” He pulled her body to his again; this time she could feel his hardness. “You wish me to come, but as you have said, I have no knowledge of how this will work.” 
“I will do the work, little one. You will be my savior and I will give you pleasure.” His laughter made her hurt with anger, but he only pulled her to him again. “I should like nothing more than to show you the delights of having me inside of you, but if I do not feed from you soon, I will still be here when the sun rises. Tilt your head for me and I shall bring you to peak. Your blood will be much stronger and tastier for it.” Tilting her head as he had directed her to, Joe felt the heat of his breath on her. When his tongue lapped at her pounding pulse, she put her hands on his shoulders to hold on for the pain of what he was going to do. As surely as she was sitting atop the man, she knew that he was going to kill her. The bite was gentle, almost like a deep kiss. And when he drew deeply on her throat, taking her blood into his mouth, she moaned before she could think that he’d hear her. As he pulled her to him again, she could feel his hardness getting thicker, his manhood touching something deep within her even though she was as dressed as he was. When he commanded her to come, Joe found herself rolling her hips up to his body, riding him, she supposed. The feeling that he was giving her, the way that his hardness kept pressing against her womanhood, made her hold tighter to him. She knew that something was going to happen and it was going to tear her apart. As soon as she felt it take her, the feeling that she’d been reaching for, her scream of release—for that was all she could think of it being—nearly had her sobbing. ~~~ Noah drank deeply of her. She tasted like a fine wine to him, her blood spiked with her release as well as the virginity of her body, something he’d not had in more years than he could remember. As she rode him faster, coming again and again, he knew that he could take her, slam his cock deep within her and she’d let him. But, like her, he’d made a promise, and Noah prided himself on his word. But to have her, all of her, was making him greedy for more. When she went limp in his arms, he knew that he’d taken too much from her weak and starved body. And the numerous releases had taken their toll on her. He had to save her, even if it was from herself. Sealing the wound at her throat, he looked at her. She was pretty in a too thin sort of way. And the fact that she believed that men thought her a boy had him thinking that she had something inside of her that kept her from harm. But someday, and he’d bet soon, she would run out of whatever it was and she would be as dead as most of the humans in this part of town. Laying her beside him on the ground, Noah stood up and took to the skies to free himself of the stench of the man who had held him. He should have killed the man, and it had been his intention. But he’d heard her coming toward them and had paused to see if she’d be a tastier meal. When she pleaded so prettily for the man’s life, not only had Noah been impressed, but he’d been curious as well. Especially when she’d told him that the man was not her friend. Going back to the place he’d left her, Noah did the only thing he could do…he picked her up in his arms and took her to his home. 
“My lord.” His butler and friend Michael looked at the woman, then backed away from her. She did smell, but not as badly as he’d smelled many times before. “You have killed her? And why, pray tell, have you brought her body here?” “Nay. I have brought her here because…well, I’m not sure why I have. But I should like to have her fed and well bathed. She saved my life tonight.” Michael looked at him, then at the girl with a new kind of interest. “Had she not taken my blood into hers to drain the poison of silver from my body, then fed me, you would have been without a master and I would be like the dust that is now on my boots.” He carried her up to the second floor. Michael was asking him what had happened, and he told him everything. The man had been in his service for many years and there was nothing that the man did not know about him. He was, in a word, his friend. His only one, he supposed. Noah didn’t know why he’d never been into nests of his kind. But as soon as he was able, he’d left his home, the one his father was the lord of, and set out to find his own way. Never once had it occurred to him to gather his own bunch of vampires to live and be with him, preferring to be in his own home with servants that he trusted. That had been nearly five centuries ago, and in all that time he’d lived alone but for the five people in his household. Each of them humans at one time, and as loyal to him as he was them. “I shall have someone come and bring her something clean to wear. Perhaps we can borrow a few things from the cook in the meantime.” Noah nodded as he lay her on the large bed, looking bigger for the fact that she was so tiny.  “She is very tall, is she not?” Yes, Noah thought, she was very tall, but still very small in that she was thin. Much too thin. “I will have the cook make her something to eat. It will be strange, my lord, having her here.” “It will be.” Pulling the blanket up and over her body, it occurred to Noah that he’d never said she was going to live there, but now that it was said, he realized that had been his intention all along. To help her as she had him. “Michael, what do you suppose we should do with her? She is…she is very protective of anyone, even me.” “I should think she’d make a wonderful day walker for you, my lord. You know that the household would do anything for you, but it would lessen our burden a little should we have her to do that job for us.” Noah only looked at his friend with a cocked brow. “I am not saying that we do not love doing it, but she needs to have a job and this would be a good one for her. I have not met her, but I would be willing to bet that she will need a purpose or she will not stay.” It was funny that Michael would know that about her. She would, too, need a job to keep her busy, or she’d think she was taking advantage of him. Or him her. And he might need her again, just to replenish himself. But he’d never spoil her. That was not his to take, and he would never do that to her. Tempting as she was, he was a man of honor. 

Willow The James Children Chapter Three Grab this for FREE !!!!!!!!!!1/10/16

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~Chapter 3~
Jared was ready to begin work by Monday. Actually, he’d decided to head out when he returned to Ohio on Sunday afternoon. He was surprised when he got there that there was a truck in the parking lot. He could see someone in the site trailer, but didn’t know who so he parked on the street and walked around the yard and building shell. The walls were in, but only some of the interior wiring was finished on the third floor office building. Jared knew from the weekly reports that the electricians were due to bring in extra crew to finish the job by the end of the week. Bricking off the outside of the façade was nearly done with just one more wall nearly to completion. Going in through one of the boarded up doors, he stepped into a large, open area. The building was slated for a single company and the drywall was being put up to make the individual rooms on the lower floors. Most of the first floor wasn’t finished so he walked to the stairs to go to the top floors and make his way down. He smiled when he got to the second level. Stone prided itself on the way they finished a building. The crews would finish the top floors first then work down and out. He noticed that the upper floor, the topmost level, was just awaiting mud work on the seams of the hung drywall. In the four rooms up here, two of them had been painted and of those, one had the ceiling completed. Jared was touring the second floor when he was stopped by a deep, hard voice. “You got a reason to be hanging around a closed construction site? ‘Cause if not, then I suggest you get the fuck outta here.” Jared turned around slowly. He didn’t know the man behind him and didn’t know what the man might have pointed at him, like another bat or a gun. Jared was surprised to see two people standing there. One was the man from the bar; Conley, if he remembered correctly. The other was Willow. His first thought was that she looked exhausted, then he noticed her face. Christ, she was bruised. He caught himself before he went to her. Then he really took a better look. She was taller than he remembered at about five-foot, ten inches. She was also very beautiful. Even with her bruised eye and lip, she still looked like every man’s dream, both sexy and innocent at the same time. Her eyes were clear, a shade of blue so light that he knew they were as unique as the woman was. A small patrician nose and high cheekbones gave the impression of a model, but for some reason, Jared knew she’d scoff at the notion. Willow’s hair was pulled back again; its rich, dark color looked blue-black under the harshness of the bulbs hanging from unfinished fixtures. Today she had on just a t-shirt and jeans; the flannel, he realized now, had hidden a great deal of the woman. Full breasts strained the shirt and her muscled arms looked like she was a working foreman rather than an office one. Her jeans hung low on her full hips and curved over her thighs like a second skin. Tears at the knees and one at the thigh were not from some manufacturer’s idea of what worn jeans looked like, but from actual work. Jared found himself wanting to ask her to turn around so that he could see if her ass looked as good as he remembered. Conley clearing his throat had Jared look back at him. He knew in that moment that the other man knew just where Jared’s thought had been. “I start working here tomorrow. I’m Jared Robert.” He reached for his wallet, suddenly glad he’d had new identities made with his partial name on them. “Miss Kensal set it up. I was just seeing where I’d be working.”
Conley took his driver’s license and with a quick glance, handed it to Willow. She looked, but made no comment as she handed it back to Jared. “I’m Will James, the foreman here. This is my second in command, Thomas Conley.” She cocked her head at him. “You were at the bar last weekend…Monday, in the back room when…” She looked up at Conley. “Yeah. I’d just come home from another job. I’m here to fill in work until the job is complete. You should have been notified sometime last week that I was coming.” At least he hoped so. “Yeah, got it Friday. Work begins here at eight on Monday, Robert, not Sunday afternoon. You’re lucky no one shot you. Conley, show Robert the lay of the land then both of you get the hell off my job site. I got shit to do and I don’t need a babysitter.” Willow looked pointedly at Conley and he smiled back at her. “Okay, boss. But you’ll call if you…you know.” She nodded at Conley and left them standing there. Jared and Conley stood watching each other until they heard the board move back over the opening again. It was quiet for a full minute before Conley spoke. “She ain’t gonna like that you lied to her. She’s real big on honesty.” Jared didn’t say anything, but was shocked. “You and I met about five years ago at a company function. You here to fire her or to congratulate her?” A man that got to the heart of things. Jared liked him instantly. “Neither, for now. I’m here to work, like I said, and to see what’s going on. We’ve gotten a few…quite a few complaints about her.” Jared studied the man standing before him. “Are you going to tell her?” Conley looked down the stairs before answering. “Nope. Not my place. But I won’t help you either. Don’t come to me about information on her. I won’t help you either way. But know this, if she asks me, I will tell her.” Conley looked down the stairs again. “If you want my opinion, I think sending in a spy for your old man is about as low as it comes. I’m sure you know your way around your own site, Robert.” And with that, he left. The same dirty truck was in the lot the next morning. There were any number of others there, a car and two motorcycles as well. Jared wasn’t sure which vehicle was Willow’s or Conley’s, but he parked next to a truck that made him wonder if the driver lived it in. There were enough fast food wrappers and cola cans that he was sure they could fill a large land fill. With a shake of his head, he went to the trailer where several men and Willow were standing. It was just past seven-thirty. “…Sherman on floor two. I want those walls primed for Wednesday A.M. when the painters get here. Viktor and Jacobs, you’re to get the ceilings done on the top floor. There are…” Willow looked down at the clip board in her hand before she continued. “Seven on the second and the entire entrance this week. If you have time, I want you to begin the second floor as well. There are some more lights that go in there that the owner had decided to add. This is Robert, Jared Robert, and he’ll be with Thomason and Ruby on the set of the stone in the main entrance and office of the president. The rest of you get the drywall hung. Anything else?” “You didn’t assign me nothing, boss.” The voice was heavy with scorn and he had sneered her title like it was a dirty word. Jared turned to see the man behind him. He knew who he was, Talbor. The man had both his eyes still blackened, but probably not as bad as it had been. Jared wanted to laugh at the squat man, but didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot this early in the job.
“Have you finished the clean up?” Willow didn’t look at her list for him. “I told you on Tuesday and then Wednesday that was your job until it was complete. I was told I had to work you. Doesn’t mean I have to find you something constructive you can fuck up. Now you—” “I ain’t no fucking maid service. You put me to work inside, out of the sun, or I’ll tell my daddy that you ain’t complying to the arrangement.” Jared, as did everyone else, turned back to the man. “You ain’t fucking gonna get away with this soon as Stone finds out what I have to tell him.” Willow laughed at the man’s threat. “You ever get tired of that same litany every time you don’t get your way, Talbor? Your daddy bailing your ass out all the time? Clean up or I’ll cite you for failure to do your job.” She walked away even as he kept the insults up. The men didn’t say anything either, but simply went to their assigned jobs. Jared wasn’t sure if she had told them not to speak or they just didn’t care. At this point, he wasn’t sure what to think either. He followed the two men who went into the building to the main hall. Laying stone was usually left for a mason on a building site. Jared had been taught how to lay the stone when he’d still been in high school and knew that it was on his application that Willow had received from Sarah. He was really good at it too. He knew from the file on the men working here that both the men he was working with were masons and they wasted no time getting set up and to work. The sub flooring had already been sectioned off into four even squares with a snap chalk line. It started at the middle of each of the four walls and met in the center of the room to form a large X. It would be the starting point for them to work with. Ruby set Jared to work spreading the mortar after he asked Jared if he’d ever done it before. Jared had the thin-set mortar spread over about a four foot square area. The mortar needed to be in a combed pattern so they could follow the lines in the floor to keep the lines straight. As the men began laying the design of colored stone tile, putting spacers between each one to keep an even grout line, they began to talk. “You gonna be replacing one of us or you just here to fill in? Got my hopes on the first part so long as it ain’t me, you understand.” Ruby sounded like he hailed from the Deep South. There was a soft cadence about his voice that was soothing and funny at the same time. Jared knew he was from Atlanta and that Thomason, the other man, was from California. “Nah. Just helping out. I’ve been out of town for a while and this gig came up so I jumped on it.” his cover story was as close to the truth as he could give without giving away who he was. “I was missing home so I thought what the hell.” The men worked in silence for the most part after that. Twice he heard Willow’s voice and once he’d caught a glimpse of her as she strode by the room, but she never stopped to speak to them. He was impressed that she didn’t micromanage her people, but for a reason he didn’t want to think about, was aggravated that she didn’t. They were breaking for lunch when he saw her again. She was directing a delivery truck to one of the many site storage units. It was a tractor trailer loaded with drywall and buckets of what he assumed was plaster. He watched her as she walked over to a forklift and strapped in when the truck was parked. As she began to unload the heavy pallets, Jared felt someone come up behind him and wasn’t surprised that it was Shawn Talbor.
“She’s a fucking bitch, you know. Thinks her shit don’t stink. I fucking hate her.” his voice was low but full of hatred. Without turning around, Jared asked him, “Then why do you work here? Seems to me there are plenty of other construction companies around you could sign on with. Most or all of them would welcome someone from Stone Construction.” Which wasn’t true. Word was that Stone was difficult to get hired on to, but if you left on your own, you were either stupid or retiring. Jared knew that they paid top dollar and treated their employees with respect. The answering laugh sent a chill down Jared’s spine. “’Cause it would make her day. I’ll stick around. ‘Sides, Daddy said if I play my cards right, I’ll have her job before much longer. But she’s been fucking that old man Stone for years and got herself buried in like a tick. Only reason she got this far is ‘cause she gives good head.” Jared didn’t turn now because had he done so, he would have killed the man. His parents were the most faithful people he knew and his father had never had an affair. He knew this because his mother told him that as long as he was alive, then she knew this for a fact. She claimed, and Jared didn’t doubt her, that no one would ever find his body if he even thought about having one. “Course you can ask any man here about that too. ‘Specially Conley. Them two been going at it for months. Heard tell she prefers married men to the single ones. Why I don’t stand a chance with her, not that I’d touch some man’s seconds.” With that and his maniacal laughter, he left Jared to go to the lunch wagon. Jared ate with the other men. Willow emptied the flatbed while they did. Most watched her; a couple of them wandered over then came back. Jared wondered if they set up duties or offered to help. He wasn’t sure why what Talbor said bothered him so much. It wasn’t as if he was dating her or anything. After lunch, he went to the upper floors before going back to work on the tile. The second floor had been less than a quarter finished with hanging the drywall last night. Today all but one wall was hung and it was being done now. Willow was setting a screw to the last one as he stood watching her. ~o0o~ Willow had a set of headphones on and was listening to a book. She didn’t particularly care for music, but needed something to drown out the constant hammering and other things going on. It really was too bad the book wasn’t working. When she got the last sheet into place and the last screw set, she turned to get her pail and trowel. She was startled to see the new guy there. She pulled off the headphones. “Something I can help you with, Robert?” She looked around and found they, for the most part, were coming along. “You just looking around again?” He’d been leaning against the doorjamb, but straightened now. There was something about the man that made her nervous. It wasn’t his height, though that was impressive at about sixfoot-six. It was something…manly, she thought, that made her feel weird. He looked like one of those guys on the cover of one of the books, Shasta, her mother’s cook, read. She called them bodice rippers and the men looked like they could take on the world. “No,” he said as he moved closer. “I was just wondering what you’re doing. Didn’t see you at lunch and thought maybe you had a picnic or something up here.” Willow wanted desperately to back away, but stood her ground. “No, just me. I don’t usually stop for…shouldn’t you be on the tile job?” Anywhere but here, she thought.
He reached up and plucked at her hair and showed her the plaster he’d removed. “We’re waiting on the stone to be delivered. Supposed to be on the way.” Willow nodded as she watched his fingers roll the plaster between them. His fingers were incredibly long and so slender. She couldn’t help but think about them touching her. And her skin heated. This man worked for her. She looked up at his face when his fingers stopped moving. It was a beautiful face, strong jaw line, straight, narrow nose. The stubble on his face was dark and begged to be touched to see if it was soft or hard. His eyes were a dark brown, like hot cocoa made with melted dark chocolate rather than with cocoa. His hair was a warm brown and curly at the ends. He wore it long and he had it pulled to the nape of his neck in a pony tail that was probably six inches long. His voice, when he spoke to her now, was dark, low, and made her body tingle. “How’s your mouth, Willow?” He ran his thumb over her lower lip and asked her again. “Fine. Sore. I’ve had worse.” She took a step back then another when he stepped toward her. “You should go back to work.” Her own voice was like nothing she’d ever heard before. She didn’t know what he might have said, but a shout from the lower level had them both back apart. Willow had never been so glad for the noise in her life.

 

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Kathi S. Barton Author
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