Home > Arctic Bite (Forgotten Brotherhood #2)(2)

Arctic Bite (Forgotten Brotherhood #2)(2)
Author: N.J. Walters

   Forcing himself to look away, even though he kinda wanted to keep staring, he spun around on the stool and surveyed the room.

   It was typical of this kind of establishment, which existed in every corner of the world. Along with the eight stools in front of the scarred wooden bar, there were a dozen small tables scattered around. The back room had two pool tables, both currently occupied. Country music pumped out from the old-fashioned jukebox in the corner. It was a cozy space, a place where everyone knew everyone else.

   He was the stranger, so everyone was watching him while trying to pretend otherwise.

   He made eye contact with each and every man and woman. None held his stare beyond a couple of seconds, all of them dropping their heads or turning away.

   “Stop trying to scare my customers.” He swiveled back around to face Cassie, who seemed more amused than concerned. Her skin was smooth as silk. He longed to stroke it to see if it was as soft as it appeared. This was the kind of woman men wrote songs about. Ones much better than the one currently coming from the jukebox.

   “If they’re scared, that’s their problem.” He frowned, which usually sent people scurrying. He’d practiced it in the mirror for days until it had become second nature.

   The musical sound of her laughter filled his ears, drowning out all other sound. She picked up the whiskey bottle and refilled the glasses he’d already emptied.

   She wasn’t afraid of him. Not in the slightest.

   Every muscle in his body tightened. Sexual arousal roared through him.

   Do not get attracted to the target.

   First rule of being an assassin. It was too easy to allow emotion to cloud judgment and get in the way of doing the job.

   “It’s my problem if they leave. That would upset my boss.” She rested her elbows on the counter and leaned forward as she confided in him.

   The slightest hint of wildflowers tickled his nose. Nice.

   When he did nothing but stare at her, she sighed and patted his hand. The brief contact sent a shock of electricity racing up his arm. The fine hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. The urge to scoop her up, toss her over his shoulder, and spirit her back to his lair was almost overwhelming.

   “Just do what you can. How are you paying? You are paying, right?” When she smiled, the bottom dropped out of his stomach and he forgot how to speak. She was more potent than any whiskey.

   He reached into his pocket and drew out a wad of cash. After peeling off five hundreds, he slapped them down on the counter.

   Her eyes widened, but she simply took the money and held it up. “I’ll let you know when this runs out. Oh, and I’ll be giving myself a generous tip, just so you know.”

   Her audacity made the corners of his mouth twitch. Not only was she smart, she had a wicked sense of humor—a potent combination.

   She pointed at him and smiled. “Aha. That was almost not a frown. We’ll get you there.”

   Heat crept up his cheeks. He was flustered, a very rare occurrence. He was generally calm and thoughtful. But he was also as curious as any ursine shifter, which was why he was sitting here chatting with her. Call it his need to know, his need to make sure he wasn’t executing someone innocent.

   His teeth tingled again.

   Best to eat before he did something stupid, like bite her neck to see if her blood was as tasty as he imagined it would be.

   “Can I get half a dozen burgers?” He could eat a dozen, but asking for that much food made people uncomfortable. Not that six was much better, but he was hungry. Usually, he’d move around to different restaurants, ordering just slightly larger than normal meals, but there weren’t a whole lot of options up here at this time of night.

   Cassie never batted an eyelash. “Sure. I’ll put in the order. You want fries with that?”

   “With all of them.” It was always best to be specific.

   Now her eyes did widen slightly, and she ran her gaze over his body. “I guess there’s a lot of you to fill.”

   He barely resisted the urge to puff out his chest. He hadn’t acted this idiotic around a woman since he’d been an adolescent. And that was a very long time ago.

   She put in his meal order and poured several beers for the guys at the pool table in the back.

   When she bent over to retrieve more napkins from a cupboard, he downed another glass of the whiskey. And he kept going until they were all empty.

   …

   Her back was turned, but Cassie knew he was watching her. Her skin prickled in warning. She resisted the urge to check.

   Just who was Alexei and why was he here? He wasn’t a regular. She’d worked here long enough to know them all.

   At almost seven feet all, all of it solid muscle, he was a mountain masquerading as a man. Unlike everyone else who’d made their way here tonight, he’d walked in wearing nothing more than a heavy sweater and a hat. Not even gloves or a coat. But he hadn’t seemed the least bit cold.

   He’d certainly ramped up her heat levels.

   She shivered, missing the warmer climes of home. It was one of the reasons she’d picked such a faraway place to settle. Alaska was the last place her family would think to look for her.

   And she enjoyed her job…mostly. The people who came to the Final Pit Stop, aka The Pit, were good folks. Sure, some of them got a little rowdy from time to time, blowing off steam, but it wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle.

   She was used to riding herd on folks. It was what she did. Or at least what she’d done until she’d walked away rather than stay in the family business.

   “Who is the stranger, Cass?” Buck Saunders was a regular, an older man whose wife had passed and whose children had long since moved to other less remote areas of the country.

   “Name is Alexei.” She set a bowl of peanuts in front of him and got him another beer. Buck had the same thing, every evening—two beers. She gave him the nuts for free to help the alcohol settle.

   She worried about him. Hell, she didn’t want anything bad to befall anyone who lived here. That would just bring a member of her family, meaning she’d have to run or hide.

   She was an ex-reaper. Was there even such a thing? Once a reaper, always a reaper. The first to ever willingly leave the fold. It set a dangerous precedent, one that couldn’t be allowed to stand. If others decided to follow her lead, who would deal with the dead?

   It would be a catastrophe.

   Her rebellion would have to be squashed, and she would be made an example of, a cautionary tale for the others.

   Even knowing all that, she’d still left.

   Since the dawn of time, she’d been going to the dead and leading their souls to whatever afterlife awaited them. She never judged. That wasn’t her place. That was predetermined by Death himself and the god or gods of whatever pantheon the person believed in and worshipped. Or in the case of those who didn’t believe in such things, they were Death’s problem to sort out. It was a simple and straightforward system. Efficient.

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