CUL-DE-SAC (On The Edge Book 1) (7 page)




Xan was opening his mouth, ready to spew
more arguments pointing out her thoughtlessness and throw a few threats for a
good measure when something burned bright and hot in her blue eyes.

He tilted his head to the left, surprised
to recognize a flash of temper in her gaze, curious now what she had to say for
“Contrary to your belief, I am not a
. I would have never used
those pictures without working on them first.” The tone of her voice dropped
several degrees and could rival the coldest of places found on the face of
Earth, he thought.

But she was not done.
“The subject was not of my choice, it was a very specific job offer I simply
chose to accept. The snapshots are dimmed and blurred. You can rest easy
because your face can’t be recognized. That was not the point, but I doubt you
could understand the nuances and specifics of my job. That’s right

I said a
I do have one, and make no mistake Xan, I am a professional.” Cat’s lips curved
into a mocking line in the answer to the condescending look he was giving her.
“I do give a
. Want to see just how much?” She reached for the
manila envelope she carried with her not waiting or caring about his reply.

Her hands were shaking a tad when she took
out a few pictures and pushed them toward him.
“Don’t bother, these are just copies.” She informed him in case he thought her
to be so dumb she would have actually handed him over the originals. “I came
here today to reassure you that you have nothing to worry about as far as the
pictures are concerned. That, and to get my camera back. Can we please move on
to the second part now?” She arched a brow trying to maintain her icy façade
while her insides were set ablaze.

Catalina regretted her little outburst as
fast as the words poured out of her mouth but it was too late to halt any of it
as well as the swear word she used to paraphrase him. It was not that she was
too prim and proper to utter profanities. She simply believed that there were
many other ways to express one’s emotions.

Yet if she was completely honest, she
couldn’t bring herself to feel the usual stings of remorse. But the fact he was
just sitting and accepting her tirade calmly for a change took some of the wind
out of her sails.
“Could I please get my camera back now?” She asked, not knowing what more to
say because he was looking at her as if he saw her for the first time in life.

Xan skimmed his gaze over her, taking in
her flushed cheeks and the fire in her blue eyes that were much darker now due
to the heightened emotions she presented. He was surprised to discover the
porcelain doll was capable of giving back as good as she got when push came to

He was astonished alright, but not as much
as by the spark of interest it inspired in him.

At this moment he didn’t care about the
pictures he had yet to gaze at, curious more about imagining her reactions
under far different circumstances. If all that was not enough, he found that
her little flare-up caused his own temper to level out somewhat.

She cleared her throat delicately and he
understood he was just sitting there like a jerk staring at her, which
apparently made her highly uncomfortable. Perhaps her visible abashment would
cause him to chuckle if he weren’t as perplexed about his own reaction as he

Xan finally forced his eyes to drop and
look at the reason why they were here in the first place.

She was right, he thought. Not that he was
going to tell her that.

He knew shit about
nuances and specifics
of photography and couldn’t care less about any of it. But he knew what he
liked and begrudgingly he had to admit he was digging what she showed him.

She applied some kind of a trick which made
him and the club look mysterious and wicked at once, instead of portraying them
as sinister and sordid. It was all about the play between spotlights and
silhouettes and he understood what she was trying to tell him all along.

It didn’t change the facts though, he

While taking those shots was bold in ways
his wild nature approved, it was also risky, not to say dangerous, and no
matter how spiffy and spruced up they were, they still should have never been
taken in the first place.

He glanced back at her and saw she was
clearly expecting something of him. Whether it was praise, apology or her
camera, she was not going to get it, he smirked inwardly.
“I stand corrected. They are nothing but trouble and you would do well to reconsider
making them public.”

Cat met his gaze steadying herself in the
face of impassivity of his expression. She didn’t delude herself in believing
he would appreciate the pictures, but she expected the end result would placate
him a tad. And even if he was not going to apologize for his rude behavior he
should at least agree with her there was nothing wrong in taking them.

Yet all her presumptions came to a
screeching halt and for a moment she nearly let her mask slip away and show her

While his head was bent and he was busy
studying the photographs rather than her, she used the opportunity to take a
closer look at this fighter.

The photographer in her was itching to grab
a camera

any really would do

and capture his
implacability. In her mind’s eye she placed him somewhere in the wild where the
simplicity and rawness of the nature could magnify his roughness.

But then a ray of the sun glided over his
features, softening them and confusing her, causing her thoughts to scamper off
for a moment.

The woman in her took her turn feeling
disturbed by his harsh masculinity, not to mention his presence alone so she
pushed it all aside. When he stubbornly kept to his original assessment, she
wondered how she could believe even if for a second there could be anything
soft about him while he was all rough edges.
“It’s not your call, Xan. I had made the decision to accept the job with all
consequences. Putting it simply and to the point; it is not your business but
mine.” She smiled, oh-so-sweetly, at him refusing to back down under the weight
of his piercing gaze and unrefined judgment.

A smirk was his only answer and she felt
tempted to ask him what it meant but he reached under the table and she
instantly changed her mind, convinced he was finally going to act rationally
and give back the camera he had taken from her.

And it was her device he put on the table
between them but its condition stilled the air in her lungs. She blinked
helplessly hoping for the sight to change.

Sadly it didn’t.

Something tightened painfully in her chest
when she drew her head back as if he slapped her.
“Why?” Her voice hitched and then broke forcing Cat to clear her throat in
order to speak again. “Why did you do it?” She looked into his eyes and the
coldness and indifference in his gaze were making him look as closed off as

But no matter how uninviting he seemed, she
still preferred to examine him than the broken camera he was offering her back.
It wasn’t about its financial worth; for Cat her Canon was far more than that:
it held a sentimental value because it was a gift from her father.

He had showed her that a camera could be a
tool of communication between her and the world as she saw it. Photography was
his passion, the hobby he had never been allowed to turn into a profession, but
he told his daughter she should always ever listen only to herself and be whom
she wanted to be, because only she could decide how to use opportunities and
what to make out of endless possibilities.

It not only represented her freedom of
choice but was also the very last gift from her father before he was murdered.
“Why? Because I could.” Xan looked her straight in the eye but his flippant
answer threatened to burn his tongue when he saw the expression transforming
her face.

She seemed so smug when she basically told
him she would do with pictures as she pleased and he could do nothing about it,
that he wanted to pay her in kind.

In Xan’s world, there was only one rule:
eye for an eye, and he learned to be pretty fond of it after too much time
wasted tilting at windmills.

And now Catalina’s apparent distress was
making him regret
he was which didn’t make sense.

She could easily replace the damn thing, he
thought angrily, but something told him that if that were the case she wouldn’t
react the way she had.

She shot to her feet without a warning and
for a second he thought she was going to grab his glass and throw its content
into his face or slap him instead. He was prepared for either, but of course
she did no such thing, reaching for the broken device instead, no matter its
pitiful condition.

He gripped her wrist before he could think
better of it. He had no intentions of stopping her, yet he was stalling for
some reason.
“You are hurting me.” She informed him and he knew it cost her to say it calmly
while she was struggling with her anguish.
“You hurt yourself by thinking I am something I’m not.” He told her instead of
trying to fix the situation as his gut was pushing him to do.

But Xan was not known for apologizing or for
his forgiving nature.
“Could I please get my camera back now?” Cat forced herself to look at him
searching his green eyes for something she couldn’t even name.

She tried to breathe in and out but the
roar in her head was intensifying along with a widening of a crack in her heart
until she started to feel dizzy.

Paradoxically the thought about losing it
in the middle of the café, not to mention the pitiless man sitting in front of
her, helped her to get a firmer grip on her emotions no matter how shaky her
wavering control was.

She deeply regretted coming here today.

More, she regretted ever taking on the
offer and meeting him in the first place. Neither the chill of excitement nor
the fat check was worth the loss of the only memento she had left of her

How stupid she was for wanting to come in
here today, to reassure him about the pictures while he was planning all along
to… what exactly? She asked herself swallowing the bile rising in her throat.

Prove to her he had no respect for other people’s

Humiliate her?

She shook her head slightly because in the
end it didn’t matter one way or another.

She wondered when she was going to learn
that fair meant nothing in today’s world because everything always came to
money and power. Strength was power, quite literally in this case, she thought.

He held her gaze for a moment and she
thought she saw a glint of remorse in his eyes. Even if he regretted it now he
surely didn’t before, she decided. Her bottom lip desperately wanted to tremble
but she bit down hard on it and the instant pain that answered was sobering.

She schooled her expression, determined not
to show any more weakness in front of the man who apparently had none. She
managed to curve her lips into an indistinct smile when he finally let go of
her hand.
“Have a nice life.” She told him while cradling the camera protectively in her
hands even though it was too late for that.

She turned away leaving him there with the
damn pictures splayed all over the table hoping she would never see him again.

Xan gazed at the exit even long after she
was gone. He avoided dealing with other people’s emotions since he was not
adept at handling his own. Now he was bombarded by them and one was more
disturbing than another.

Catalina was seemingly cool and undisturbed
like an ice sculpture and she was pretty good at keeping the pretenses, he
would give her that. But his entire life depended on reading others and he usually
saw more than he let on.

He was still unsure what her motive was for
showing up today and facing him the way she did, because he didn’t buy the
wanting to reassure him

Nobody could be as selfless and
good-natured as that. Even though it was perfectly obvious they were nothing
alike and as different as two people could get, they were still living in the
same world and its rules were brutal.

If she truly were that naive, she shouldn’t
be allowed to cross streets on her own, he thought trying to cover up the
uncomfortable pang of guilt with irreverence but it didn’t do the work. Not
fully anyway, and he hesitated for a moment catching himself on the verge of
running out after her.

would be truly idiotic, he
decided and topped off his glass of water instead.

What could he tell her at this point, that
he was sorry?

It was too late for that anyway and wouldn’t
change the outcome. He knew firsthand how useless words were, how powerless when
put together with blame. How inadequate, just like he wasn’t adequate to fix

He should have been satisfied, Xan
considered, since he achieved his plan and sent the woman home crying.

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