And I totally got how messed up that was.

Didn’t change how I felt.


Anyway, I decided the best way to pay Ruger back was to become his unofficial housekeeper. He didn’t plan to charge us any rent, but I wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t earning my keep.

Which brought me to the pair of tiny purple panties lost in the couch.

Sadly, this was not the first piece of lingerie I’d found in the last twenty-four hours. They weren’t all the same sizes, either—Ruger clearly appreciated variety among his many booty calls.

I picked up the panties with a pair of kitchen tongs and carried them into the laundry room. I didn’t know who they belonged to, but I didn’t think I should be tossing out anything I found, no matter how … used … it might be. I dropped the panties into one of the four plastic boxes I’d lined up across the top of the dryer.

The first held money. So far I’d found ninety-two dollars and twenty-three cents. Box two was condoms. I found stashes in almost every room. Some were definitely on purpose, and I left those in place. But I’d also found them in the pockets of stray pants, in the silverware drawer, on top of the bookshelf … I’d even found two in the pizza box on the coffee table. Chocolate-flavored ones. This led to a series of fantasies about pizza-themed sex, which squicked me out a bit.

Also made me sort of hungry.

That’s when I decided I needed little boxes to put all this stuff in, so I could just close the lids and pretend they didn’t exist. So far it was working pretty well. Box three held women’s underwear, bras, and a single silk stocking. Box four was “other”—small, strange chunks of metal, random tools, a Buck knife, and two ticket stubs from a Spokane Indians game.

Weird pangs of jealousy aside, I wanted Ruger’s house fresh, clean, and comfortable when he got home. It was the least I could do. I cleaned everywhere but his bedroom, although I did wade in just far enough to grab the worst of the laundry.

That night, Noah asked me when Uncle Ruger would be back. I had no idea what to tell him, and I wondered if living in his house could ever feel normal. Free rent was great, but Kimber was probably right. Ultimately, I needed my own place, where the couch cushions weren’t full of strange underwear and the silverware drawer was condom-free.

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The thudding of feet overhead woke me up around three o’clock early Friday morning. Ruger was home, I noted drowsily, and it sounded like he was throwing a party. Fortunately, my kid and I could sleep through anything, so five minutes later I was out again.

The next day, Noah and I did our best to stay quiet as we got ready and used our own door to leave the house. When I got back from dropping him at school, I had a near-miss with the house alarm, punching in the code twice before I got it right. Ruger’s obsession with security was damned inconvenient at times …

I showered and straightened up our little apartment. By then it was almost ten and still no noise from upstairs. Maybe I dreamed the whole thing up? God knew, Ruger had a tendency to invade my dreams.

I slipped up the stairs softly, not wanting to wake him. I reached the top, turned toward the kitchen and swayed, completely shocked.

Apparently a hurricane had hit the house in the night.

Empty beer bottles covered every possible surface. The furniture had been shoved around, with one end of the love seat actually lifted up and resting on the back of the main couch. There were partially empty pizza boxes, spilled beer—and the most disturbing part of all?

A completely naked blonde chick sat at the breakfast bar, lighting a cigarette.

Seeing her hit me hard—I actually couldn’t breathe for a second, and I felt dizzy. I knew Ruger slept around. I’d found the evidence myself, but somehow this finally brought it all home for me.

She was gorgeous and utterly unselfconscious. Naturally, I wore an old tank top and cutoffs, hair in a messy bun, and no makeup. I wanted to kill her. Dead. Strangle her on the spot for being a damned whore and being prettier than me and f**king my man.

I gave myself a mental smack.

I had no claim on Ruger. None. This was his house and he could do whatever he wanted in it, including this whore.

I didn’t even want him, not really.

“So, you Ruger’s property?” she asked me, eyes hostile, red-tipped talons tapping the bar idly.

“Um, I don’t think I understand the question,” I replied, torn between staring at her perky, jiggly boobs and watching the trail of smoke rise from her cigarette toward the ceiling. Once that smoky smell gets into a house, you never get it back out.

Yet another reason to hate the bitch.

“Simple yes or no,” she said. “You belong to him? He patch you?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said, glancing around the living room, growing pissier by the second, despite the fact that it was none of my business. This was going to take hours to clean and it sure as hell wouldn’t be me doing it, I decided. Let the whore do it. Or Ruger himself—what a concept!

“That’s a no …” she said slowly. “So why the hell are you here? Did he call you this morning? Seriously, if he wanted a three-way, he should’ve talked to me earlier. No offense, but I can do better.”

She looked me up and down as she said this, judging every inch of my body.

“I think I should go back downstairs,” I said with careful control. I turned to leave, but Ruger’s voice stopped me.

“You still here?” he called. The blonde answered, voice all sweet like honey, eyes sparkling with possessive triumph.

“Sure thing, baby. You need me?”

Ruger strolled down the stairs and into the living room, wearing only a pair of unfastened jeans. I could tell this because they drooped low enough to leave very few secrets. Damn.

I knew Ruger was hot, but it seemed like I forgot just how hot whenever I didn’t see him for a while, because it still shocked me. I could spend a year trying to describe him, but you still wouldn’t fully appreciate his unique appeal until your panties spontaneously combusted the first time he smiled at you.

Or, in this case, when he walked through the living room wearing half-fastened jeans commando, eyes still sleepy.

My eyes caught on his chest, sliding down along the lines of his muscles. Oh, my … Perfect pecs, sculpted obliques and abs. They disappeared into the denim, which just barely rode his hips, ready to slip at any minute. I wanted to lick him all over.

Right after I killed him for f**king The Blonde Slut.

“Morning,” he said, looking from me to TBS. I raised my hand and gave a little finger wave, wondering if the knife in the laundry room was well-balanced for throwing.

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