Authors: Mari Carr
A Big Easy Story
By Mari Carr
Copyright 2014 Mari Carr
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Table of Contents
“I know, Mama. Yeah…Yeah…Mmmhmm.”
Blake Mills leaned against the doorframe of the studio. He watched the petite blonde—who had her back turned to him—set up her camera equipment while balancing her cell phone between her shoulder and cheek. Her head was fully tilted to the right, yet she worked with ease.
“I understand how important this fundraiser is, Mama. I’m just not all that jazzed about taking a bunch of beefcake pictures of some brainless mimbos with more muscles than sense.”
Blake stifled the urge to clear his throat, slightly offended by the photographer’s insult, but he let it slide, unwilling to let her know he was there. He’d never been referred to as a male bimbo before. Even so, he was fairly certain he’d find a way to make her eat those words. He might not be the smartest guy on the planet, but he wasn’t an airhead with a penis either.
The woman sighed heavily, continuing to speak. It occurred to him there was something vaguely familiar about her voice.
For now, he held his tongue, intent on enjoying the view as she bent over to retrieve something from her camera bag, her firm, perfect ass pointed in his direction. She wore skintight jeans that accentuated the bottom half of her generous hourglass just right.
“Fine,” she said in reply to something her mother had said. “I won’t insult the models. At least not to their faces. But I’m reserving the right to make fun of them at Sunday dinner. I can’t believe that last guy was able to squeeze his ego through the front door.”
Ah, Blake thought, her annoyance started to make sense. The last guy had been a tool. He sympathized with the pretty woman. He’d been roped into this charity calendar bullshit too. Sounded like neither he, nor the photographer, were here willingly.
She stood up with her back still to him as she snapped her camera onto the tripod. It was clear her mother was giving her an earful by the short, cutoff replies the photographer was making.
“I know that. All I’m…”
“Alright, I can…”
Finally the woman pulled her cell away from her ear and mimicked the action of throttling it. Blake lost his ability to remain silent. He chuckled.
The photographer turned to face him and he sucked in an astonished breath.
For the briefest of moments, he hoped she wouldn’t recognize him. After all, ten years had passed.
That wish was squashed instantly.
Her eyes narrowed when she saw him. “I have to go, Mama.” She didn’t even wait for her mother to say goodbye. Instead, she clicked the end button and slid the cell into her back jeans pocket. It was on the tip of his tongue to express surprise that she could squeeze anything else into the tight denim, but he was starting this conversation on thin ice as it was. No need to make it worse. Though there had always been something about Chloe that had him longing to tease her…just so he could hear her loud, joyful laughter. He’d never met anyone before or since who could laugh with such unrestrained, utter delight.
It was the first thing that had drawn him to her all those years ago. Chloe had trapped him in her tractor beam within minutes of their initial introduction and held him there for months—the best summer of his life. There was no denying the two of them had set off fireworks together—in and out of the bedroom. He’d never understood the word
until that summer. Perhaps enough time had passed that Chloe would forgive him and they could let bygones be bygones.
Chloe’s eyes flashed fire.
Nope. No bygones.
“Hey, Chloe. Good to see you.”
It was clearly the wrong opening. “Fuck you, Blake.”
He deserved that. Even so, his pride—the same pride that had screwed things up between them so many years ago—surfaced. “I’m game if you are.”
“That’s it. Last straw. I’m not doing this. My mother can find someone else to take these damn pictures.” She turned away from him, reaching for her phone, intent on calling her mother back.
He walked across the room and wrapped his hand around her wrist to stop her. “Wait.”
She whirled on him, her temper blowing fast and hot. It took all the strength in his body not to grin. A smile when she was in the midst of an explosion was tantamount to committing suicide. Chloe may be small, but her boxer of a father and three older brothers had taught her well when it came to self-defense. Hell, it might be more accurate to say they’d given her brilliant lessons in all-out offensive attacks.
“Don’t touch me.”
Blake didn’t remove his hand. Maybe the term
did work for him. He’d never been accused of being too bright. Trying to keep hold of this miniature raging bull proved that. “Don’t quit because of me.”
She struggled to escape, but he merely tightened his grip. His body had shifted into overdrive the second he’d gotten close enough to smell her floral perfume and feel the undeniable heat that rose up every time the two of them got within a few feet of each other.
He could tell Chloe felt it as well. Her chest rose and fell rapidly and her face was flushed. Their brief scuffle hadn’t produced either side effect. It was the same for him. Two minutes with her and he was on fire, his cock hard enough to pound nails in concrete.
When it became obvious he wasn’t going to release her, she froze, her body rigid with fury…and arousal. Even after all these years, he knew her well enough to recognize both.
“The committee is going to have to find another photographer. I’ve hit my limit on manhandling for the day.”
It was the only thing she could have said that would have prompted him to loosen his grip. He dropped her hand. “What do you mean manhandling?”
She closed her eyes as if praying for patience. Blake had provoked that response in her no less than a million times in the past. And as always, it hit him like the world’s most powerful aphrodisiac. He still drove her crazy. For some reason, that idea turned him on even more.
“How the hell did you get involved in this calendar, Blake? I can’t imagine the committee actually thought it was a good idea to include some punk-ass biker as part of the collection.” Then her gaze sharpened. “Did my mom call you to do this?”
He shook his head quickly. “Of course not.” He hadn’t seen Mama Lewis in nearly a decade. The same day he’d hopped on his motorcycle and driven away from Chloe without a word. He’d been a fool. Chloe had been adorable, cute at nineteen. At twenty-nine, she was a fucking knockout.
“I doubt your mom even knows I’m involved. I drew the short straw this morning down at the precinct. My captain’s wife is on the committee and decided the NOPD needed to be represented. Captain Rogers isn’t exactly known for being organized. He forgot to round someone up until today when his wife showed up and read him the riot act for it. Next thing I know, I’m on my way here.”
Chloe’s brows furrowed in confusion. “NOPD? Precinct?” Then she erupted in laughter…and it was just as Blake had remembered. Loud. Infectious. “Dear God, please tell me they didn’t let you join the police force.”
He smiled. “Detective Mills, at your service. Just got promoted to the Special Victims Unit last fall.”
She shook her head, her mirth dying as she realized he was telling her the truth. Chloe was allowed her shock. There was a big part of him that still couldn’t believe he’d joined the force. For most of his life, he’d half-expected his future to include time spent behind bars, not escorting others there.
“Nope. Wanna see my handcuffs?” He winked at her wickedly, letting her know exactly how he’d use them on her.
She scowled. “It’s not possible. There’s no way—”
“I’m a cop, Chloe.” He whipped out his badge and flashed it at her.
She reached into her back pocket to retrieve her cell phone. “It doesn’t matter. I’m still calling my mother. Surely there has to be someone who can—”
“Take pictures as good as you? Not likely, CJ Lewis.”
Shock registered on her face when he used her pen name. Chloe had made a name for herself in the world of photography, having published a collection of her work called
The Face of New Orleans
. Blake had spotted it in the window of a bookstore and bought it instantly. He couldn’t begin to count the hours he’d poured over the pictures, amazed by her talent and her eye for hidden beauty. She’d captured the people of New Orleans perfectly, bringing their hometown to life in vivid color.
“How did you know that was me?”
He ran his finger along her cheek, trying not to let her see how much it hurt him when she winced and pulled away. What was he expecting? He’d broken her heart. “I always knew you’d find success with your photographs, Chloe Jeannette. You were too talented not to.” He also knew she’d been named after both her grandmothers.
“You remembered my middle name?”
He nodded. It was strange how much he recalled about Chloe. There were times when Blake thought he recalled her life story better than his own. At nineteen, he’d hung on her every word, certain she was the most beautiful, fascinating girl he’d ever met. Now, he was finding the woman she’d become just as enthralling.
“Chloe, this is an important project and you know it. The money raised is going to a good cause. Besides, do you really want to call Mama Lewis and tell her you’re bailing? You think that would be a fun phone call?”
Chloe shuddered. “She doesn’t know
here, that you’re involved. I might actually get a bye based on that.”
His grin grew, causing her frown to deepen. “Your mom always liked me.”
“Liked. As in past tense. Then you stole her favorite wedding gift, cleaned out her wallet and made me cry. I suspect she’d be in the front of the line, even before my brothers, to kick your ass.”
Blake was sure she was right. And that thought hurt. He’d always adored Chloe’s mother. She was the only mom in history who hadn’t taken one look at his ripped-up jeans, leather jacket and bad attitude, then issued an order for him to get the hell away from her daughter. Instead, she’d invited him in for Sunday dinner, engaged him in conversation and seen something of value inside him that Blake couldn’t see himself at the time.
Then he’d betrayed Mama Lewis’ belief that he’d do the right thing, rejected Chloe and run off like a thief in the night.
. Literally a thief. He’d stolen two hundred dollars from Mama Lewis’ purse and a silver serving platter.
“I’m sorry, Chloe.”
She studied his face for several quiet moments. He didn’t bother to hide. He wanted her to see, to read the sincerity in his words. His life was overflowing with regrets, but stealing from Chloe’s family and leaving her ranked at the very top of the list.
“Maybe you are. But you’re not forgiven.” Her words were hard, final.
And not at all surprising. Because he’d stolen more from Chloe than just some money. He’d taken her virginity and her young girl’s love and trust and he’d trampled all over it.