Then I dug my brush from my purse, sat down on the bed, and began brushing my hair. I worked on it for a long time, until it shimmered like blond silk.
I was going to miss it.
Don’t leave the bookstore until I return, read the note that had been shoved beneath my door sometime during the night.
I crumpled it, irritated. What was I supposed to eat? It was ten o’clock. I’d slept late and was starving. I’m one of those people that needs to eat as soon as I wake up.
I removed the chair from beneath the knob and unlocked the door. Though my proper southern upbringing made me balk at the idea of intruding into another person’s house without an invitation to make myself at home, I didn’t see that I had any choice but to go hunting for his kitchen. I would get a sick headache if I went too long without food. Mom says it’s because my metabolism is so high.
When I opened the door, I discovered someone had been busy while I’d slept. A bakery bag, a bottled latte, and my luggage were outside the door. Down South, store-bought food outside your bedroom door isn’t a treat—it’s an insult. Despite the presence of my personal belongings, Barrons couldn’t have told me any more plainly not to make myself at home. Stay out of my kitchen, the bag said, and don’t go looking around. Down South it meant, Leave before lunch, preferably now.
I ate two croissants, drank the coffee, got dressed, and retraced my steps of last night directly back to the bookstore. I didn’t look either way as I went. Any curiosity I might have felt about Barrons was second to my pride. He didn’t want me there—fine—I didn’t want to be there. In fact, I wasn’t sure why I was there. I mean, I knew why I’d stayed, but I had no idea why he’d let me. I wasn’t stupid enough to think Jericho Barrons had an ounce of chivalry in him; damsels in distress were clearly not his cup of tea.
“Why are you helping me?” I asked him that night, when he returned to the store. I wondered where he’d been. I was still where I’d spent the entire day: in the rear conversation area of the store, the one that was almost out of sight, back by the bathroom and set of doors that led to Barrons’ private quarters. I’d pretended to be reading while I was really trying to make sense of my life and contemplating the various hair color shades Fiona had brought when she’d arrived to open the store at noon. She’d ignored my efforts to make conversation and hadn’t spoken to me all day expect for the offer of a sandwich at lunch. At ten after eight, she’d locked up the store and left. A few minutes later, Barrons had appeared.
He dropped into a chair across from me: elegance and arrogance in tailored black pants, black boots, and a white silk shirt he’d not bothered to tuck in. The snowy fabric contrasted with his coloring, intensifying his slicked-back hair to midnight, his eyes to obsidian, his skin to bronze. He’d rolled the sleeves back at his wrists; one powerful forearm sported a platinum-and-diamond watch, the other an embossed, wide silver cuff that looked very old and Celtic. Tall, dark, and basely sexual in a way I supposed some women might find irresistibly attractive, Barrons exuded his usual unsettling vitality. “I’m not helping you, Ms. Lane. I’m entertaining the notion that you might be of use to me. If so, I need you alive.”
“How could I be of use to you?”
“I want the Sinsar Dubh.”
So did I. But I didn’t see how my odds of getting it were any greater than his. In fact, in light of recent events, I didn’t see that I had any odds of getting the darn thing at all. What could he need me for? “You think I can help find it somehow?”
“Perhaps. Why haven’t you altered your appearance yet, Ms. Lane? Didn’t Fiona provide you with the necessary items?”
“I was thinking maybe I could wear a ball cap.”
His gaze flicked from my face to my feet and back again in a way that said he’d taken my measure and found me seriously lacking.
“I could tuck it up and pull the bill down really low,” I said. “I’ve done it before, back home on bad hair days. With sunglasses on, you can hardly see me at all.”
He folded his arms across his chest.
“It could work,” I said defensively.
He shook his head once, just a few inches to the left and back. “When you’ve finished cutting and coloring your hair, return to me. Short and dark, Ms. Lane. Lose the Barbie look.”
I didn’t cry when I did it. I did, however—damn Jericho Barrons for doing what he did to me next—throw up all over his Persian rug in the back of the bookstore when I came back down.