He regarded me blankly, looking startled by the personal question, and as if he lacked a frame of reference for one. He paused as if debating answering, then, after a moment, shrugged. “Basque and Celt. Pict to be precise, Ms. Lane, but I doubt you’re familiar with the distinction.”
I was no slouch in history. I’d taken several college courses. I was familiar with both cultures, and it explained a lot. Criminals and barbarians. Now I understood the slightly exotic slant to the dark eyes, the deep gold skin, the bad attitude. I didn’t think there could be a more primitive pairing of genes.
I didn’t know I’d spoken my last thought aloud until he said coolly, “I’m sure there is somewhere. You will tell me what you saw out there, Ms. Lane.”
“I didn’t see anything,” I lied. Truth was, I couldn’t make sense of what I thought I’d seen and I was in no mood to discuss it. I was tired and I’d obviously gotten bad fish at dinner. In addition to food poisoning, I was grieving, and grief did funny things to a person’s head.
He made a sound of impatience. “I have no patience for lies, Ms.—”
“Quid pro quo, Barrons.” I got a juvenile kick out of cutting him off. The look on his face spoke volumes; no one ever did. I moved to one of the little conversation areas, dropped my bag of drugstore purchases and my Juicy purse on the table, and sank down on a camel-colored leather sofa. I figured I should get comfortable because I wasn’t leaving until I’d gotten some answers, and as stubborn and tyrannical as Jericho Barrons was, we could be at this all night. I propped my pretty silver sandals on the coffee table and crossed my feet at the ankles. I would have caught heck from Mom for sitting that way, but Mom wasn’t here. “You tell me something and I’ll tell you something. But this time you’re going to have to prove what you say before I give you anything back.”
He was on me before my brain processed the fact that he was coming for me. It was the third time he’d pulled such a stunt and it was getting darned old. The man was either an Olympic sprinter or, because I’d never been jumped before, I just couldn’t get a grasp on how quickly it happens. His lunges were way faster than my instincts to react.
Lips compressed, face tight with fury, he dragged me up off the couch with a hand in my hair, grabbed my throat with the other, and began walking me backward toward the wall.
“Oh, go ahead,” I hissed. “Just kill me and get it over with. Put me out of my misery!” Missing Alina was worse than a terminal illness. At least when you were terminal you knew the pain was going to end eventually. But there was no light at the end of my tunnel. Grief was going to devour me, day into night, night into day, and although I might feel like I was dying from it, might even wish I was, I never would. I was going to have to walk around with a hole in my heart forever. I was going to hurt for my sister until the day I died. If you don’t know what I mean or you think I’m being melodramatic, then you’ve never really loved anyone.
“You don’t mean that.”
“Like I said, you don’t know me.”
He laughed. “Look at your hands.”
I looked. They were both wrapped around his forearm. Beautifully manicured pink nails with frosted tips were curled like talons into his suit, trying to loosen his grip. I hadn’t even realized I’d lifted them.
“I know people, Ms. Lane. They think they want to die, sometimes even say they want to die. But they never mean it. At the last minute they squeal like pigs and fight like hell.” He sounded bitter, as if he knew from personal experience. I was suddenly no longer quite so sure Jericho Barrons wasn’t a murderer.
He thrust me against the wall and held me there, a hand at my throat, his dark gaze moving restlessly over my face, my neck, the rise and fall of my breasts beneath my lace camisole. Moving majorly over my breasts. I might have snorted if oxygen had been in plentiful supply. There was no way Jericho Barrons thought I was a hottie. We couldn’t have been less each other’s type. If he was Antarctica, I was the Sahara. What was his deal? Was this some new tactic he was going to threaten me with—rape instead of murder? Or was he upping the ante to both?
“I am going to ask you one more time, Ms. Lane, and I suggest you not trifle with me. My patience is exceedingly thin this evening. I’ve matters far more pressing than you to attend. What did you see out there?”
I closed my eyes and considered my options. I have a pride problem. Mom says it’s my special little challenge. Since I’d initially taken such a strong defiant stance, any cooperation now would be caving. I opened my eyes. “Nothing.”