So when I see my name, Willa Peet, scrawled in black marker on a sign, I do a double take. Is it just a coincidence? I quickly discard the notion. It’s not a common name, and we’re currently the only flight disembarking into this terminal. My gaze tracks upward from the sign to the owner…and I find myself staring into the most dramatic pair of blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Blue is an inadequate word to describe the color, really, when they are given an entirely unique dimension by the utter disdain lurking in them. Frankly, it’s breathtaking, this individual’s contempt. Not to mention, completely out of place in this frothy sea of tearful Hallmark-style reunions. I can feel my fingers sliding over my canvas bag, itching to take his picture, capture the contradiction he represents, but his mouth is moving now. Talking to me. A mouth, I realize dully, is a worthy companion of those storm-born eyes.
He straightens from his post, where he’d been leaning casually against a pillar. Tall. Absurdly masculine. I would use the word strapping, but it’s such a lame description, I’d have to take a lifelong vow of silence afterward. His mess of deep brown hair looks as though he wet his hand and swiped the thick wave back on the way out the door, rounding out his irreverence perfectly.
“Uh, yeah. Hello? Are you the contest winner?”
His Irish brogue is thick, punctuated by irritation. I pull my proverbial shit together and nod. “Yeah.”
“About bloody time. Did you stop to sign autographs?”
He doesn’t wait for me to answer, but strides off in the direction of the baggage claim. I stare after him for a moment before a sympathetic look from an eavesdropper horrifies me into motion. When I catch up with him at the carousel, he’s staring at me hard, but talking into his cell phone in a clipped tone.
“What do you mean there’s no customers in the pub yet?” He listens for a moment, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Have you unlocked the front door?” His head falls back as if imploring the ceiling for patience. “Yes, I reckon that would explain the line of people outside. Go unlock it. And if Faith hasn’t gotten her arse downstairs yet to wait tables, give her a bell.”
Okay. I’m starting to catch up now. The Claymore Inn is where I’ll be staying for the month. A quick Yelp search on the way to the airport told me there is a pub located on the ground level, run by the family that owns the inn. They must have sent one of the employees to pick me up. Excellent choice, folks. He’s clearly the warm, fuzzy, welcoming type. As he launches another strained set of instructions into the phone, I can’t help but watch him out of the corner of my eye, even as I wait for my suitcase on the rotating metal carousel. We’ve been given wide berth by my fellow passengers thanks to the utterly untouchable quality of my reluctant driver.
I glue my attention to the baggage claim when I realize how long I’ve been looking. What was that about? Why am I weighing the risk of taking out my camera and inciting him further? It’s the anger. He’s doing nothing to hide it. It resembles my own, only he doesn’t seem to have any desire to restrain the emotion.
And I’m fascinated by that.
It’s in that moment, waiting in travel-hell for my suitcase, coated in airplane grime, my mouth dry from too many roasted peanuts that I decide to stay far away from him. Whoever he is, we will not be friends or even the barest form of acquaintances. I don’t want to be fascinated by him, and I don’t want to spare another minute guessing why he’s so pissed off.
I spot my red and black-checkered suitcase coming toward me and ready myself to retrieve it. My hand curls under the stiff, leather handle and I pull, but the weight disappears. He is behind me lifting it effortlessly in one hand. He’s finished his phone call and glaring at me again.
“I’ve got it,” I inform him, my jaw tight.
“Oh, an independent American girl. How unusual.”
“A stranger taking my bag against my will. How illegal.”
His lips jump at one end as if a sense of humor might exist somewhere underneath all that hostility, but it’s gone so quickly I know I imagined it. “Do you find, in America, that a lot of strangers hold up signs with your name printed on them?”
“Everywhere I go. I’m f**king famous, hence the autograph signing.”
“Right.” Rubbing a hand over his jaw, he considers me a moment as if seeing me for the first time. He hasn’t shaved yet this morning and the hair darkening his chin makes him seem older than the early twenties I assume him to be. As he gives me a covert once-over, I know what he’s seeing. While I might have shed the gothed-out top layer I rocked until age seventeen, I kept the nose ring and black is still my go-to color, clothing-wise. My hair, although half f**ked from sleeping on the flight, is back to its natural golden-brown color, finally free of the black dye I used to torture it with on a monthly basis. Did I just catch a spark of reluctant interest in his gaze?
Finished with his perusal, he asks, “Are you always this difficult?”
“Actually, I’m usually much worse.” I yank my bag out of his grip, catching him off guard. Without a glance backward, I wheel it toward the exit.
He catches up with me before I manage to make it through the automatic door. I swallow a gasp as he wrestles the bag from my hand. Before I can unleash the string of expletives hovering on my tongue, he leans in close. Defensively, I hold my breath so I won’t smell his cologne. It’s fresh and smoky at the same time.
“Listen, tough girl. Once I get you to the inn unharmed, my end of the bargain with the contest people is fulfilled. Until then, we’re going to put up with each other. Otherwise I don’t get paid. And I have a feeling I’ll deserve every penny for putting up with you.”
“I’m not getting into a moving vehicle with you.”
He finds something about that extremely funny. “I assure you I can handle an automobile with better proficiency than most.”
“I’m not worried about you. I’m worried about me tossing you out while it’s still moving.”
“I’d like to see you try. This suitcase is bigger than you.”
“It’s a good thing, too. I’ll need somewhere to hide the body.”
Someone passing behind us overhears my comment and laughs. His eyes narrow on me, obscuring some of their electric, snapping blue color. “I’ll carry you if I have to, but you’re getting in the car one way or another.”
I’ve been avoiding making embarrassing scenes and pissing people off for two years. I’ve been swallowing my pride and acting like a reasonable adult because I felt that was the kind of girlfriend Evan deserved. I wanted him to be proud of me and not sorry he’d taken a risk on my scrawny, emotionally stunted ass. I could be the bigger person and go with this asshat to the car. Ignore him long enough to reach the inn.
I could. But I won’t. Because, well, f**k that.
Willa’s pale body twitches to life on the banks of the Chicago River.
I smile, but keep it tight as if I’m forcing it. “What’s your name?”
He’s suspicious. The smile doesn’t fool him. “Shane Claymore.”
“Shane.” It fits him perfectly, and his last name tells me he’s not just an employee. His family owns the place I’ll be staying in for an entire month. Damn. I won’t be able to avoid him completely. “I need to use the restroom. It’s urgent. And I need a certain feminine product in my suitcase. Do I need to explain further?”