An Excerpt from: Hardware

Copyright © 2011 Jayda McTyson

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.

Camille eased the van into her parking spot, and then whispered, “Oh, God.” I just drove home on auto-pilot, blind to everything. She got out and retrieved her things, mind still occupied. Her stepfather’s problems were his own. She needed to remember that.

Her cell phone rang on her way up the stairs. She ignored it, but moved faster. On the landing, a grey-clad stranger approached her. She thought he’d walked away from her door. He brushed past and bounded downstairs, sparing her a glance. Her nose wrinkled at his rancid body odor.

She inserted the key in the door. The cell phone stopped momentarily. She kicked the door shut, hurried to the bedroom, and dropped the bags on the bed beside her.

She hadn’t worked up the courage to ask Roderick for Quinn’s number. She hoped it was him calling to cancel. When she answered, Quinn was apologetic. “Camille, I’m running late. I’m still with Roderick and I have another stop to make. Will it be a problem if I pick you up at seven instead?

She smirked, faced with a way to wriggle out of their date. “Uh…if you can’t make it today, I’ll understand.”

“I’m late, not missing in action.”

What could she say to that? His comment bordered on rude, if she didn’t count the smile behind his words. Why can’t I make a decision and stick with it when it comes to this man? She sighed. “Fine. I just got in. That gives me a little more time to get ready.”

“Good. See you later.”

Camille closed her eyes. The perfect opportunity to back out of their date was gone. Now, she’d have to let him down during the evening. She wanted him, but couldn’t allow herself the luxury. Camille needed more than casual sex, and she wasn’t convinced Quinn had anything serious in mind. Penny was taken by storm often enough for Camille to know a thing or two about shallow men. And then, there was her father.

She turned her thoughts off and showered. Dressed and relaxed, she lounged on the sofa, flipping through a magazine and listening to the television.

Time inched by. Her vexation mounted each time her gaze swung from the wall clock to the television and then back to the magazine. Fed up, she got the phone out of her purse, and punched in Quinn’s number. The rap at the door disturbed her mental rant. She flipped the phone into the seat and got up to yank the door open. Quinn’s sober expression softened her resolve to give him hell.

“I’m sorry, Camille.”

She stepped aside and allowed him to enter, admiring his dark blue dress shirt and tailored pants. Irritation reasserted itself. If he knew what was good for him, he’d have a sensible excuse for keeping her waiting.

He gripped her arm. “I left Roderick’s office late and wasted time at the next stop. I’ll understand if you want to cancel, but hope you don’t.”

She glanced at the triangular timepiece again. He did seem upset. “I’m not in the mood to go out, but I haven’t eaten, so we might as well have dinner.”

His features relaxed. He brushed her cheek with his lips. “Thank you.”

Only this once, Camille told herself as her skin remembered his caress. She retrieved the phone from the chair, turned off the television and picked up her bag. “Let’s go.”

“Looking at you makes me forget how disappointing the evening has been so far,” he said.

His eyes conveyed a message that made her skin tingle. He wanted her. She fondled the collar of her shirt, smoothed a hand down the matching flared skirt, and willed her feet to move. “Thanks.”

Quinn’s fingertips singed her elbow. Your hormones are out of control.

He took her to Phil’s Seafood Joint. The main building was old, with improvements added over time. Gingerbread trim, French windows and polished floorboards charmed Camille. However, Quinn accommodated her request to sit outdoors under a thatch umbrella, a short distance from the building. A rustic bar, made out of rum-barrels, occupied one side of the yard. Soft Jazz, with a distinct reggae flavor, played in the background.

Camille swirled the straw in her daiquiri. “Roderick told me the sale fell through.” After a sip of fruit punch, Quinn nodded. “After all that

negotiation. There’s nothing I hate more than wasting time.”

“It happens. Have you spoken to Mr. Wright? Did he say why he no longer wants to sell?”

Annoyance drew lines in his forehead. “I went over to his office before I picked you up. And no, he didn’t tell me why he’s no longer selling. He just insisted he couldn’t.”

“So you’ll have to start searching again.”

He nodded. “That property would have been ideal. I planned to expand the existing building, but I guess some things are just not meant to be.”

A shiver slid down Camille’s spine, which she attributed to the slight breeze that also stirred the leaves on the surrounding mango trees. The candles flickered and she looked up, trying to guess Quinn’s thoughts as the shadows chased across his impassive face.

His mood lightened during dinner. She ordered boiled wild crab, to his amusement. He grimaced at the pink-andbone-colored heap on the platter.

“Don’t knock it,” she said. “It’s quite good.”

He watched her remove flesh from a pre-cracked leg. “I prefer not having to fight my food to eat it.”

Camille chuckled, and eyed his curried shrimp. “And I prefer not having to down gallons of liquid to cool the fire in my belly after I eat.”

They exchanged smiles, which turned into probing stares. Camille broke their eye-lock, and dabbed her mouth with the napkin. When she dared look at Quinn again, his expression said she was chicken. She preferred to call it self-preservation. In terms of experience, he was light years beyond her league. Anxiety tightened her chest. What am I doing? What if he hurts me?

She frowned, remembering the last time she had that exact thought…the flat-tire incident. Camille analyzed Quinn in her mind’s eye. It couldn’t be. That man wore a beard and his body carried more bulk. Then again, it was dark that night.

She fidgeted, ran a finger around the rim of the glass, and caught his frown. Briefly, their gazes met. He sensed the shift in her mood. His hand came out to cover hers, fingers running back and forth over her knuckles.

“There’s no need to be afraid.”

His words frightened her. She couldn’t afford the havoc he’d bring to her life. Besides, she didn’t understand the effect he had on her. His touch confused her.

Her hand lay stiff, and she avoided looking at him. He withdrew his hand, but she felt his scrutiny. Camille fought the tightness in her throat, wanting to say something, anything to lighten the air between them, but her lips remained glued together. Her brain screamed. You’re not going to spoil this date! Say something, now!

Fighting her way back from the place where silence and dangerous thoughts reigned, she picked up a forkful of crab and said the first thing that came to mind. “Tell me something about yourself. I don’t know much about you.”

The fork stabbed her lip and she winced. Now he’d think her a klutz and an idiot. Quinn winced but didn’t say anything, so she fiddled with the napkin to mask her embarrassment.

“I can say the same of you. What d’you want to know?”

“D’you have any kids?”

He shook his head.

“The average Jamaican male—”

Quinn interrupted her. “I’m not the average Jamaican male.”

“I just thought—”

“I’d prefer to have children with one woman.”

He stared at her over his glass. “D’you have any kids?”

Camille frowned and waggled her head.

“The average Jamaican female—”

Camille held up a hand. “Point taken. I won’t make assumptions.”

He inclined his head toward her. “It’s safe to assume that when I have children, you’ll know about it.”

Her stomach heaved and dropped to the pit of her belly. Not a single retort came to mind. Quinn’s eyebrows rose. Clearly, he thought he’d floored her. She regrouped. “You have some nerve.”

He sipped, and set the glass on the table. She studied the creamy remnants of the rum cream he’d ordered from the bar. “That’s right. It’s taken me a lot of nerves, and then some, to achieve what I have. If you outline your goals and work for what you want, success is almost guaranteed.”

She got the feeling those goals included her. He certainly possessed more than his share of confidence. While he paid the bill, she considered his words. He also had more brainpower than she’d credited him with, at first. What would he think if he knew what she really thought of him? But then, she’d revised her opinion.

He rose and guided her toward the car. The ride home didn’t take long, traffic being sparse. He waited for her to get the keys out and open the door to her apartment. The glow of the light from the living room, combined with that in the hallway outside, gave them enough light to see each other.

He took hold of her upper arms. She retreated, but the wall stopped her escape.

She licked her lips. “Quinn, I think we shouldn’t see each other again. You’re just too…much for me.”

Dumb! Dumb! What a stupid excuse!

The bolt over his shoulder captured her attention. Much safer than looking at him, especially since her skin threatened to burst into flames where his fingers stroked her arms.

“I know you think I’m just after sex,” he said, “but I’m asking you to give me a chance.”

Camille couldn’t get enough air. It was impossible to think with him holding her, demanding something she wasn’t ready or willing to give. He released her, but her relief died a quick death. His hands went up to rest on both sides of her head.

A shadow moved in the corridor. The same nasty-smelling man she’d seen earlier in the evening walked past. Their eyes met, and she shivered. Quinn flicked a glance toward the passage, and then hovered closer.

“I won’t push you.” He belied his words by brushing his lips over hers.

Camille put her hands up to fend him off, but they landed on his chest.

“But I’m not going away.”

Her hands moved to his sides, and she wet her lips.

“I’m going to stay until you let me in,” he whispered.

Their lips met, and Quinn gently entered her mouth. She tasted the rum cream on his tongue, but he eased away before she was ready. He trailed a smattering of kisses toward her cheek. She moaned in response.

He spoke directly in her ear. “I’m asking you to forget your fears and take a chance on me.”

The caress of his breath on her skin drew a whimper from her throat. His lips took a slow path back to hers, heating her cheek and jaw. He kissed her again. What sweet persuasion. He withdrew from her.

“Will you take a chance on me?”

She closed her eyes to shut him out, but nodded.

“Good. I won’t let you down.”

She relaxed and allowed Quinn to take her on a toe-clenching ride, which made all her erogenous zones hum and tingle. She surfaced, hands kneading his back, knees wobbly. He stirred against her tummy. In all her life, she’d never experienced a kiss like that. She thought it wise to let go of him.

“G’night,” he said, stealing one last kiss.

He stood in the corridor, hands sliding into his pockets. Camille stared, and a smile came to his lips. “Close the door, Camille.”

She woke then. “Okay, sure. Call once you get home, okay?”

“It’ll be at least an hour-and-a-half,” he warned.

She locked up, turned out the lights and floated into the bedroom. She drifted into the wicker chair and lazed there, eyes on the queen-sized bed. She remembered the weight of Quinn’s body during their exchange of mind-numbing kisses.

The sensible side of her brain asserted itself. What do I really know about him?

All the doubts she harbored about him crowded back. She moved to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. Her image looked the same, but Quinn changed everything. Now, she wanted him more.

Camille pulled on a nightie and climbed into bed to watch the ten o’clock news. Her mind wandered while she listened. The only things that happen on this island are murder, mayhem, and roadblocks.

A familiar name jerked Camille upright. “Mr. Wright, the owner of Wright’s Hardware Supplies died from a single gunshot to the head. At this time, the motive for the killing is unclear, as there is no evidence of robbery. The police are investigating.”

Camille’s heart raced as though she’d gotten a shot of adrenalin. Quinn said he was over at Mr. Wright’s before he came to pick her up. And he was so late. No. He didn’t strike her as heartless. He couldn’t have murdered Mr. Wright and then sat down to eat. She closed her eyes, settled her mind. Quinn would call when he got home.

She kept the light on and pretended to watch television. At a quarter to twelve, the phone rang. “Quinn?”

“Yes, I got home all right.”

“Is everything okay?”

A pause settled before he answered. “No. I heard about Mr. Wright’s murder on the news.”

“I heard too.” Camille blurted.

He sighed, and Camille took her courage in both hands. “You know the police will be looking for you, right?”

“Yeah. They’ll talk to everybody connected with him.”

“You said you were over there earlier.” She cursed herself even as the words tumbled out. “You didn’t kill him did you?”

The silence between them might have lasted a full minute. Quinn spoke, his words low, his voice pained. “I can’t believe you asked me that.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t know much—”

“You don’t know much about me. Goodnight, Camille.” Quinn hung up.

Camille turned the light off and flopped against the pillows. Scattered thought fragments chased each other until she lay exhausted, staring at the pale blue reflection of the television on the ceiling. Roderick said he’d known Quinn since prep school and that he was a good man. But that didn’t mean good men never committed murder. Push anybody far enough and they’d snap.

Panic surged through her body. She shot bolt upright in the bed. God forbid she’d agreed to take a chance on a murderer.

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