“Your kitchen is so beautiful.”
Prickles of awareness finally drew my attention back to Henry who had settled himself back against the farthest countertop from me. He simply stared, devouring me with that unreadable expression on his lovely angular face.
For a second, I did the same, absorbing his beauty—the perfect line of his sharp jaw and strong chin, the slant of his dark eyes and straight nose. The tattoos covering his arm and peeking up out of his t-shirt at his neck, some dark spiky tips that belonged to a much larger tattoo on his chest that I so longed to see. And touch.
I was a toucher. And that was a problem at the moment, because I couldn’t simply wander freely through his home, looking at and caressing everything. Nor could I close the distance between us, lift up his shirt, and trail my fingers over the ink attached to those spiky ends sprouting out of the collar of his t-shirt. I had to rein in my normal behavior as much as possible or I might spook him.
“You’re probably wondering why I showed up at your house?”
He merely nodded.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I asked Gareth for the address. I thought it best we talk in person.”
He’d positioned himself the farthest away from me he could get so I walked closer, noting his body stiffening against the counter as I came. He reached back with his hands and braced them on the black marble behind him.
I stopped a few feet away, still holding the confectionary box in both hands. “I know your secret.”
That’s when emotion finally flitted across his face, shock and a touch of fear. Rather than let him stew, I bolted ahead.
“I know you’re Raven1, my biggest fan on my blog for The High Tea Book Club.”
He remained fixed and unmoving except for a slight lift of his cleft chin. “How do you know?”
Smiling wider, I admitted, “I wish I could say it was my psychic ability, but unfortunately I don’t have as much of that gift as Violet.” I shrugged. “She told me it was you.”
Frowning at the memory of her sarcastic demeanor in that conversation, I remembered when she’d added, it’s so obviously him, Clara. Anyone could figure it out. It hadn’t been obvious to me.
I recalled the raven carved into his front door, playing guard over his domain. Tentatively, I asked because I needed confirmation, “It is you, isn’t it?”
Another solid, single nod from the paragon of rough beauty.
“I knew it,” I said more to myself. “That’s why I’m here,” I told him. “You always have such good insight into the books that we’re reading that I want you to join our book club.”
One dark brow arched high, disappearing beneath a swoop of sable hair. “You want me to join a romance book club with you and your widows,” he said as a statement, not a question.
“Don’t be all superior now, Henry. There’s nothing wrong with a man admitting that he enjoys reading romance,” I teased, noting his pale complexion shaded a pinker hue.
“I’m not being superior,” he argued, “It’s just that…” then he lost his words, his gaze trailing down my body.
I preened under the attention. I’d taken great care to pick out the most pleasing outfit for my figure—my favorite magenta miniskirt with a white flowy top that dipped at my cleavage. I’d worn my hair down as he seemed to enjoy looking at it. I wondered what it would feel like to have his hands in it.
“On my blog, you show a keen insight into matters of the heart,” I observed, watching his complexion turn darker still. “And the ladies have all agreed that they’d enjoy a masculine point of view. It seems unfair that you only offer insights into our books after we’ve already discussed them. We’d all like you to be a more interactive part of the club rather than simply making comments afterwards on the blog.”
“Your widows all want me in your book club?” Again with the questioning arched brow that had me squirming a little, a hot sensation pooling between my legs.
I hadn’t realized until this moment that apparently I was aroused by arching eyebrows. Henry’s at least.
“They’re not all widows, actually. And yes, they do want you to join us. But,” I stepped closer, “especially me.”
The tension between us stretched taut like a bowstring, the air thick as we gazed at each other.
“You won’t disappoint me, will you, Henry?”
And so here it was. If he had any feelings for me whatsoever, he couldn’t deny me now. He had to join the book club, which would lead to stage two of getting my man. But if he told me no at this moment, then I’d have my answer. That me and my sisters were wrong in that he liked me too.
I trusted my sisters. But putting my own feelings out there without being able to detect how the other felt was like flying a plane blind. My magic was my navigation system by which I walked through life. With Henry, I couldn’t ever tell. Waiting for his reply was sheer torture.
Finally, when I thought I might faint from suspense onto his kitchen floor, he said, “I’ll join.”
A huge breath of air left my lungs. “Wonderful!” I beamed, trying to calm the giddiness swirling through me.
While I was doing cartwheels on the inside, I held myself together by a thread, trying not to reveal my profound relief and joy that this was going to happen. Once I had him in the book club, I’d seduce him the only way I knew how. Through books.
“I also brought you a little thank you gift as well as a welcome to our book club.”
I thrust out the open box of cupcakes in my hands. Henry flinched like I’d tossed a nest of snakes at him, his back fully pressed to the countertop.
“It’s just cupcakes.” I laughed. “This is my very own recipe, including the frosting. Whipped cherry.”
He blinked, his near-black eyes rounded with an emotion I couldn’t place. And that was what drove me absolutely mad about this man. Of all the people to draw a total blank on my emo-detector, it had to be him? It was like Goddess was playing a nasty joke, probably cackling at me from her heavenly lair.
“Really, Henry. They taste so good.”
I took a single step closer. He stiffened, his knuckles whitening, bracketed on the black marble countertop behind him. The veins in his hands rippled as he gripped tighter, the muscles in his arms flexing. I tried not to get distracted by his lovely full-sleeve tattoos, but it was more than a little difficult to stay focused while standing this close to Henry Blackwater.
He seemed almost scared, even though his expression and dark gaze—ever fixed on me—hardly changed since I’d walked through his front door. I decided to speak softer, maybe come across less threatening. Vi said I could sometimes appear aggressive when I was excited. And I was so very excited standing in his kitchen, basking and soaking up his delicious essence.
I glanced down at the perfectly iced pink cupcakes.
“This one is my favorite. Strawberries and cream.”
He gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing, his eyes never straying to the box of cupcakes. Though I couldn’t detect his emotion like I could every other human being, I certainly understood the meaning behind the piercing, primal look in his dark eyes. That’s when the devil took me. It happened from time to time. Vi said I had a demon inside me that liked to come out and play on occasion.
I lifted a cupcake out of the box and took another step closer, holding it out to him.
“It’s sweet and creamy, Henry. I promise. Don’t you want to lick my cupcake?”
He made a strangled sound in the back of his throat, his eyes blinked heavily, his chest caving with a gusty breath. For a fleeting few seconds, he seemed pained, almost tortured, then suddenly it was all gone. Like a switch had flipped. The look of agony vanished, replaced by something altogether more terrifying—resignation and a hard wickedness that made me quiver with desire.
He shoved off the counter and straightened above me, forcing me to tilt my chin up. Holding my gaze, his own dark as pitch, he finally spoke. “Yeah, Clara. I wanna lick your cupcake.”
Grim and Bear It Chapter One Excerpt