Excerpt: Ruffskin

“What did I tell you?” Johnnie snapped, slapping Grim’s hands away. “Do not touch me. You want to touch, you can go back to your stupid ex. I said do not touch me!” Slapping at Grim’s hands again, he turned and stalked across the bar to the pool table, leaving Grim to hang up their wet, muddy coats. Angry, he yanked down his cue stick from the rack.

The balls were already racked, ready and waiting. The bar, thankfully, was empty. It had been nothing but rain, rain, and more rain the past few days. Locals were braced for the hurricane season not far off now, and to judge by the already foul weather, it was going to be an interesting summer.

Johnnie struck, sending balls scattering, wishing each and every one of them was the head of the pretty little witch who had all but plastered himself to Grim while they were out shopping. And right in front of him! Like Johnnie did not even exist.

That was easily rectified, to be certain. If the fool was stupid enough to give his name, then he could suffer the consequences of being blacklisted by Desrosiers. Then they would see who had the audacity to get overly friendly with what belonged to Johnnie.

A hand touched his back, startling him, and Johnnie jerked away. He was immediately yanked back though, into Grim’s arms. “Leave me—mmf—” He bit down hard on Grim’s lip, thoroughly annoyed that Grim was not listening to him, the insufferable ass. “What did I say about not touching me?” he asked icily, when Grim finally broke the kiss.

Grim rolled his eyes. “I have no idea; I’ve been ignoring everything that comes out of your pretty little mouth since we finally escaped Weston.”

Johnnie made a show of haughty indifference. “Weston, was it?”

“You know very well what his name was,” Grim said, looking amused, which was entirely inappropriate for the situation. “I do not doubt within the hour you’ll know everything about him, and ensure he is not welcome in half the buildings in the city.”

Sneering, Johnnie said nothing, only turned away and tried to go back to his game. Half, indeed. He was going to be far more thorough than that.

Only to be yanked back again, and held firmly in place by an arm around his waist, the other capturing his wrists and pinning them to his chest.

“Let me go,” Johnnie hissed, twisting his head—then jerking it back around when Grim’s proved to be far too close.

Then that hot toddy voice poured over him, made him shiver despite himself. “As much as I love it when you get all lordly and snotty, Highness, jealousy does not become you.”

Johnnie said nothing, only shivered again when warm lips trailed along the skin of his throat. What was he supposed to say? The stupid witch had been beautiful, and skilled, and obviously more than willing to renew his old relationship with Grim. A witch like that was probably far less complicated and troublesome than Johnnie, and he and Grim had looked good together.

He knew Grim would not leave him, but it was hard to convince old fears of that.

“Honestly, Johnnie, you’re getting jealous over nothing.”

“Trifles light as air/Are to the jealous confirmations strong/As proofs of holy writ,” Johnnie replied.

“Shakespeare, is it?” Grim asked, amused. “You are in a snit.”

Johnnie said nothing, merely jerked his head to the side when Grim tried to kiss his neck.

“He cheated on me, you know,” Grim said quietly. “He thinks I don’t know, but you know how well I can see things that people don’t know can be seen.”

Johnnie narrowed his eyes at that, and decided blacklisting the bastard was not good enough.

“Stop plotting all the princely things you can do to him,” Grim said with a chuckle, breath hot against Johnnie’s skin. “He’s well in the past, and I would much rather focus on my beautiful, if hostile, present.”

Relenting a little bit, Johnnie said, “How would you react if you ran across one of my ex’s?”

Grim laughed. “You do not have any ex’s. If you had, your father would have taken care of them long before I arrived.”

“I hate you,” Johnnie replied, and struggled to get free so he could inflict bodily harm.

“If you think I am letting you go, just so you can hit me,” Grim said, still laughing, “then you are sorely mistaken, Highness.”

“You’ll have to let me go event—” The words broke off on a hiss as Grim bit the back of his neck, nuzzled at his throat, and Johnnie decided he would delay the hitting slightly if—

Johnnie nearly fell forward onto the pool table as Grim abruptly let him go as the door slammed open. He scowled at the intruder, who at present was nothing more than a raincoat and what seemed to be buckets of water pouring off him. The man had better be bursting in for a very good reason.

“Sorry!” the man said, and pulled off his raincoat, hanging it up on one of the hooks by the door, adding to the mess already put there by Johnnie and Grim’s coats.

Johnnie picked up his cue stick, setting it aside while he racked the balls to start over.

“Sorry to barge in and make a mess,” the man repeated. “Especially as loudly as I did; I’m afraid the wind got the better of me.”

As if in agreement or protest, the wind rattled at the door, threatening to slam it open again.

“No worries,” Grim said. “Can we help you with something?”

The man pulled down the brim of his flat cap, hiding his face. Johnnie realized then that they had yet to get a good look at him. “I’m looking for Peyton Blue?” the man said, phrasing it as a question, as if not certain what Peyton looked like—yet Johnnie had the distinct impression he knew neither of them was Peyton.

“He’s in the back,” Johnnie said, even as Grim darted off to fetch him.

Curiosity snared, Johnnie set his cue stick aside and wandered over to the bar, closer to the man. He was dressed in a drab polo and worn jeans, but Johnnie could not make out the insignia on the polo, covered as it was by a light hood the man wore over the polo.

No jewelry to speak of, hair hidden. Nothing about him stood out or was remotely memorable. The man was trying very hard to give nothing of himself away.

Johnnie moved closer, smiling congenially, as though attending some interminable social function. “So what brings you out in this wretched weather?”

“Uh—business,” the man said. “Delivery. Man said the package couldn’t wait, had to be delivered today, the sooner the better.”

“Package?” Johnnie echoed. But before he could press further, Peyton appeared, wiping his hands on a towel, Grim just behind him.

The delivery man jumped, and Johnnie eyed him askance. The man then stepped forward and thrust a small brown box into Peyton’s hands. “For you,” he said, and Johnnie caught the faintest tremble in the man’s voice.

Then suddenly the man turned and bolted, door slamming behind him—raincoat still hanging beside Johnnie’s on the hooks by the door.