Excerpt: So Says the King!
After the warmth of New Mexico, the Chicago winter night is bitterly cold. The wind slices through me as I dart from the cab to the entrance of the office building, the icy chill shocking the breath out of me in a plume of white fog that trails after me. I burst into the building’s lobby, the wind chasing me inside. A shiver wracks me, my teeth clattering together. Just a few moments outdoors and my body already feels like it’s going to shake itself to pieces. Next year I’m going to spend Christmas far away, somewhere hot and balmy where swimsuits are too much clothing.
Cupping my hands in front of my mouth, I blow out a breath to warm them up. I look up and freeze, not even shivering anymore, all my awareness centered on the man waiting in front of the elevator. Even with his back to me, I know it is him. Jaime. The urge to run rises up in me, sharp and imperative. My muscles tense, ready to flee, but a voice calls out.
“Good evening, Mr. Carr. Welcome back to the city.”
I suppress a groan. “Thanks, Jimmy.” I shift my gaze to the right and give the security guard a smile I don’t feel. “How have you been?”
The middle-aged man’s smile is a lot more genuine than mine. “I’m good, sir.”
“Good. Good.” I try hard to mean it—he doesn’t know that he foiled my plan. I force my feet to start moving again, carrying me toward the elevator and the man I wanted to avoid.
Dark eyes meet mine and my stomach drops to the vicinity of my feet. A tropical paradise would be lovely, but to get me out of this moment, I would happily settle for Siberia.
The weather outside has nothing on his frostbitten tone. I duck my head to hide a wince, raking my hands through my wind-tossed hair to try to restore some order to the tousled strands. If only it was so easy to order the other tumultuous parts of me.
As calm as I can be, I look up. “I thought you’d be upstairs already.” I’d hoped anyway. Jaime’s condo is only a couple of blocks away from here, the office building that houses our firm, whereas my place is clear across town. He should have made it here ages ago.
I make myself walk over and stand beside him, facing the brushed metal of the elevator doors. The closer I get, the stiffer his body becomes.
The muscle at the side of Jaime’s jaw flexes, but his face is expressionless, carefully so. “I got held up,” he says, his tone as coolly polite as the mask he’s using to shield whatever he’s feeling. It’s the one he uses when he’s dealing with clients he doesn’t like. He might as well have slapped me across the face. Punched me. Broken my ribs. It would have hurt a damn sight less. “What about you?”
“Traffic.” A nice, succinct answer and one that is partially true. “Toby’s going to be pissed at us.” Toby is our other business partner, and while Jaime and I were in New Mexico attending a convention, he was holding down the fort and organizing tonight’s office holiday celebration. We were supposed to be back in the city early this morning, but delayed flights meant we only got back a handful of hours ago. It shouldn’t have taken either of us this long to get here, but it looks like we both tried to avoid this evening as much as possible. No, we are trying to avoid each other. My heart—my stupid, stubborn heart—aches.
Jaime’s only answer is a soft grunt.
The elevator arrives with a cheery ding. Neither of us say anything as we step inside, the doors sliding shut to seal us in. I’ve never realized how small the elevators are in this building before. Jaime presses the button for our floor with a hard jab of his finger. The compartment starts to ascend and my stomach lurches, but that’s all to do with the proximity of the man standing next to me.
How can someone so close be so far away?