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Leather & Lark by Brynne Weaver


Leather & Lark

by Brynne Weaver

Published by Zando

Book 2 in The Ruinous Love Trilogy


“I don’t just want to hear her laugh, I need to earn it. Every time I gain a little ground, I want more. I want to break out of the shade and back into her light. Without even realizing it, I’ve become addicted to it. To her.”


Contract killer Lachlan Kane wants a quiet life working in his leather studio and forgetting all about his traumatic past. But when he botches a job for his boss’s biggest client, Lachlan knows he’ll never claw his way out of the underworld. At least, not until songbird Lark Montague offers him a deal: use his skills to hunt down a killer and she’ll find a way to secure his freedom. The catch? He has to marry her first.

And they can’t stand each other.

Indie singer-songwriter Lark is the sunshine and glitter that burns through every cloud and clings to every crevice that Lachlan Kane tries to hide inside. The surly older brother of her best friend’s soulmate, Lachlan thinks she’s just a privileged princess, but Lark has plenty of secrets hiding in the shadows of her bright light. With her formidable family in a tailspin and her best friend’s happiness on the line, she’s willing to make a vow to the man she’s determined to hate, no matter how tempting the broody assassin might be.

As Lachlan and Lark navigate the dark world that binds them together, it becomes impossible to discern their fake marriage from a real one. But it’s not just familiar dangers that haunt them.

There’s another phantom lurking on their doorstep.

And this one has come for blood.



Genre


Triggers

Copied from the Book

  • Eyeballs but not eye sockets, so you're welcome

  • Teeth and tooth byproducts

  • I might have ruined pizza and beer. Also smoothies. Still not sorry.

  • Snowglobes

  • Autocannibalism ...? Welcome to a debate you never thought you'd have

  • Numerous weapons and sharp objects, including darts, scissors, funs, saws, knives, grinders, an edger, and a little implement called an enucleation spoon.

  • Severed fingers

  • You might have new thoughts about crafted with epoxy resin

  • Vehicular collisions

  • Drowning in various forms.

  • Terminal illness of a loved one

  • Detailed sex scenes, which include (but are not limited to) adult toys, choking, rough sex, mild degradation, sexual acts in public, pegging, praise kink

  • References to parental neglect and child abuse (not depicted)

  • References to child sexual assault (not depicted)

  • Religious references/trauma

  • Explicit and colorful language, including a lot of "blasphemy." Don't say I didn't warn you!

  • Injured dog (cause of injury not depicted and he's okay, I promise!)

  • There is a lot of death ... it's a book arbout a contract killer and a serial killer falling in love, so I feel like that's probably a given. I'm adding stalking on this list (not by MC's)

 

So for those of you who have read Butcher & Blackbird and Leather and Lark, settle a debate between my best friend and I.

Which is worse? The cookies and cream ice cream, or the smoothie?


Which is worse?

  • 0%Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

  • 0%Leander's Smoothie


She says the ice cream ... which to be fair, is gross. But honestly, predictably, in my opinion. I just knew what that ice cream contained when reading the triggers. I mean, what else could it be? But also, it's not like it's not something that many people already ... digest?

That was a really weird thing to say.

I'm so sorry.

I argue the smoothie is worse. Not just because what the smoothie contains, but how it was served.

I just gagged a little thinking about it.


I enjoyed Leather & Lark just as much as Butcher & Blackbird.

While both having similar themes of being romances between killers, they also stood apart, which I appreciated. The characters are different, their relationship is different - even the killing is different.

Similar to Butcher & Blackbird, however, is the tension.

There is so much tension.

Sexual tension. Romantic tension. Tension from the hunters becoming the hunted. Tension from the secrets!

Add on top of all this tension and fun storytelling some great, witty banter, and you got a great book.


Honestly, while Rowan and Lachlan are absolutely delicious to read, the stars of these books are really the women. Just like I enjoyed Sloane, I loved Lark.

I might have even liked reading her more than Sloane.

While Sloane is weary, and keeps to herself, Lark is ... not.

She is what I would describe as serial killer Barbie.

She is cheerful.

I mean, not always. She has her dark moments, that definitely go back to her trauma. She suffers silently.

But with people - including those she kills - she is so peppy.

Normally that annoys me. I'm definitely more like Sloane, as an introvert. But there is something so unhinged about a cheerful killer.

And the only way its made palatable is the fact that she only kills rapist ... or those who cover it up.

Her character was just so fun to read.

I mean ... she turned her kills into arts and crafts as trophies. Absolutely insane.

Lachlan was also fun to read, because despite his job as a contract killer, and despite being brothers with a serial killer, he doesn't enjoy it.

That being said, he stands by and supports those who do.

He helps Lark with her trophies. I mean, how sweet (and yes, deranged) is that.

These two together? Delicious. That push and pull between them, the banter, and all the tension was just top notch. The chemistry between their characters was evident from the first chapter to the last.


Leather & Lark was a wonderful addition to the Ruinous Love Trilogy. It was unhinged, steamy and entertaining. I don't know how Brynne Weaver adds such humor to these situations, but she does. I can't wait to see what Brynne gives us in Scythe & Sparrow.



 



 

For those of you who came here after the B&B ice cream and just read the L&L triggers and thought, “She’s not really serious about the pizza … right …?”

This one’s for you.


Predators might make beautiful promises, but mine is simple and unfussy.

Never.

Again.

It might not make for a pretty vow, but I do my best to make the execution of my promise fucking spectacular.


Lark: “Atmosphere is so important in these moments, don’t you think?”

I ask as I bring up “Firework” by Katy Perry and turn it up to full volume. Predictable? Yes.

Perfection? Also yes.

I sing along and don’t bother to hide my broad smile. There might be no chance for Andrew like Katy suggests, but he’s definitely gonna have a spark inside.


Lark: “Dad, I can sort it out. I really just need the number for a cleaner. Ideally one with a tow truck. And maybe some scuba gear.”

His laugh is hollow.

Dad: “You’ve got to be joking.”

Lark: “About what part?”

Dad: “All of it, hopefully.”

Lark: “Well,”

I say as I lean over the rocky drop to peer down at the water,

Lark: “we might be able to get away with someone who can snorkel. I don’t think it’s that deep.”


Lark: “Well? Did you smell any when you were all up in my face sniffing my breath like a fucking psycho?”

That earns me a snort.

Lark: “Exactly. So thank you for your totally unnecessary judgments, Budget Batman,”


Lark: “Well? The sooner we fix this, the sooner we never see each other again.”

Lachlan: “Works for me, Blunder Barbie,”

my wet-suited Dark Knight snaps. I catch the cadence of an accent despite his attempt to hide it, though I can’t place its origin.

Lark: “Don’t drown, Budget Batman. What would Rhode Island do without your exemplary customer service skills and your empathetic medical diagnoses?”


Conor: “I’m Conor,”

my new companion says, not taking his eyes from the lake as he extends a hand in my direction.

Lark: “Badass Barbie,”

I reply, accepting the handshake.

Lark: “Also known as Harley Quinn, here for one night only.”

Conor: “I figured. Cool makeup.”


Lark: “What about if it’s your friend who gives me trouble?”

I call after him.

Conor: “Definitely shoot him. Just aim for the kneecaps. The rest of him might still be useful.”


Lachlan: “Time to go,”

he grits out as he draws close to where I plant my feet in the center of the road.

I cross my arms.

Lark: “How about, ‘Time to go, please.’ Or, ‘Shall we depart? My Batmobile awaits, fair maiden.’”


Fionn: “You look miserable.”

Lachlan: “And you look like a dickhead with your feckin’ bag of birdseed.”

Fionn: “Omega fatty acids decrease inflammation and LDL cholesterol,”

he says as I pass by to enter Rowan’s apartment, a space that takes up the entirety of the third floor in the narrow building.

Lachlan: “I’m sure they do. They also increase your chance of looking like a dickhead, Dr. Kane.”


Lachlan: “Oh, you’ve heard things, have you? What kinds of … things?”

She giggles and slips her hand free of mine as she says,

Lark: “Well, I think the word ‘broody’ might have been tossed around.”

Fionn: “Now, now,”

Fionn chides as he brings me a glass of whiskey on ice.

Fionn: “Don’t mischaracterize my poor brother. I said he’s a broody asshole.”

Rose: “Asshat. You said he’s a ‘broody asshat whose only hobby is scowling.’”

Sloane snorts.

Sloane: “Accurate.”


Lachlan: “I have hobbies.”

She laughs when I give her a wink.

Lark: “Oh yeah? Like what, crochet? I could see you being a big crochet guy. I bet you make a mean doily.”

Rose cackles, her eyes dancing from one person to the next.

Rose: “Nah, that’s doc’s forte—”

My brother chokes on a sip of whiskey.

Fionn: “Rose—”

Rose: “He’s in a club, actually—”

Fionn: “Fucksakes, Rose—”

Rose: “They meet every Sunday. It’s called the Suture Sisters, and he’s the—”

Rose’s next words are lost to the palm my brother clamps over her mouth, her diabolical laugh replacing whatever would have come next.


Lachlan: “Hey.”

It’s not my most slick opening line, I know. But Lark still smiles when she glances over her shoulder at me.

Lark: “Hey. You’re not coming out here to be an asshat, are you?”

I chuckle, shutting the door behind me.

Lachlan: “No, that’s only weekdays from nine to five. The rest of the time I just brood.”

Lark: “That just sounds so wrong,”

she says through a tinkling laugh.

Lark: “It’s like you spend your evenings in a chicken coop sitting on a clutch of eggs. But somehow it kinda makes sense with your brother’s doily vibe.”

Lachlan: “You’re right, scratch that.”

She snorts.

Lark:Scratch? You’re really wedded to the chicken puns, aren’t you.”

Lachlan: “Oh my dear Christ. This is the least smooth opening I’ve ever had. Let me start again.”

I turn around and head inside. I can hear her laughing through the glass as I open the door again and step back out onto the balcony.

Lachlan: “What a lovely evening. Mind if I join you? I know nothing about chickens, by the way.”

Lark: “That’s good. The last guy was way too into poultry.”

Lachlan: “He sounds like a feckin’ asshat. Feather fetishes aren’t really my thing.”

Lark: “Such a shame, I do love a bit of feather play—”

I turn around again, opening and closing the door for a third time before she’s even finished laughing.

Lachlan: “Hi. My name’s Lachlan and I don’t know anything about chickens but I do like feathers under the right circumstances.”

Lark is still giggling, her eyes shining and bright in the ambient glow of the city lights.

Lark: “Well, you sound like my kind of guy. The first dude had a chicken obsession and the next guy hated feathers. I’m batting oh for two here. But you’re welcome to share my little perch.”


Lachlan: “Oh I’m a feckin’ psycho, am I? You’re the one who jumped from a moving vehicle after you rammed some poor bloke into a lake and then fake teared up when I dropped his blimmin’ body at your feet. And they weren’t even good fake tears. They were sarcasm tears,”

I snarl. I take a step closer and bend to meet her eye level, dabbing my eyes as I clear my throat for my best candy-sweet vocal impression.

Lachlan: “Boo-hoo, I’m Blunder Barbie and I just feckin’ killed a man. My bad. But don’t worry, I’ll just get someone else to fix it so I can toddle on back to my perfect little life.”

Lark: “That is the biggest pile of hypocritical bullshit I’ve ever heard. How’s the contract killer gig going, by the way? Raking in some good cash with your murder-scuba skills, Batman?”

Lark snorts and steps toward me, drawing a giant circle in front of my face with a dainty finger.

Lark: “What you think you know about me, or anything, frankly, is this,”

she says as she continues the circle.

Lark: “But what you actually know is this.”

She stops abruptly to hold her finger and thumb close together, only a whisper of space between them.

Lachlan: “What I actually know is that you’re a huge pain in the arse.”


Lark: "You look so beautiful, by the way. Have I told you that?”

Sloane: “You might have said that once or twice when you tried to put gold star stickers on my tits.”

Lark: “They deserve it. That dress is smokin’ hot.”


She glances up at me with sharp hazel eyes.

Sloane: “Are you staring at my tits?”

I sputter and choke on the sea air.

Lachlan: “Christ Jesus,”

I hiss as she tosses me a devious grin and takes a step forward, prompting me to match her stride.

Lachlan: “Just when I thought my brother was the biggest pain in my arse, you came along.”


Lachlan: “Hey,”

I say, patting her hand.

Lachlan: “You remember when you came into the restaurant that first time and I was there?”

Sloane nods as she keeps her gaze trained away from me.

Lachlan: “I whispered something to my brother. Want to know what I said?”

She pauses, then nods again.

Lachlan: “I said, ‘That girl is too good for you, asshat, but she loves you anyway. Don’t fuck it up.’ And he won’t. One thing I know for sure, Spider Lady. You and Rowan are meant for each other.”


Lachlan: "Just keep my brother out of the whiskey. He’ll start singing ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’ and it’s bad. It’s so feckin’ bad. He’s got a voice that’ll make Satan weep.”

Sloane: “Give Rowan all the whiskey. Got it.”

Lachlan: “Christ Jesus.”


Rowan: “You look so beautiful, Blackbird.”

Sloane: “You kind of cleaned up okay yourself. Though I’m a bit disappointed you’re not in a velveteen dragon onesie.”

Rowan: “It could use a wash,”


Fionn: “I’ve been watching you look at her all day. One minute you’re glowering, the next you’re staring at her like a lost kitten, then you’re glaring at her like she ripped the head off your teddy bear.”

Lachlan: “Fuck you. And leave Mr. Buttons out of it.”


Sloane: “I thought you hated Lachlan. You can’t be serious about marrying him.”

Lark: “What gave you the impression I hate him?”

Sloane: “You saying, ‘Lachlan is a dickhead, I really hate that guy,’ might be one reason.”


Sloane: “Okay. But if he hurts you, I swear to God I will take his fucking eyes.”

Lark: “Sounds good to me.”


Sloane: “Piece of advice, Lark. If your intention is to convince anyone that this isn’t just some sham marriage, you should probably at least pretend to want to fuck your husband on your wedding day.”

Lark: “Shit. You’re probably right.”

My shoulders lift and drop with a heavy sigh.

Lark: “He does look pretty good. I just have to pretend he’s not just a sexy skin suit over a completely shitbag interior.”

Sloane: “That’s the spirit,”

Sloane deadpans.


Then I look to Lachlan, whose grin has become diabolical. For someone who probably hates this idea as much as I do, he certainly looks like he’s enjoying himself nearly as much as my aunt.

Not to be outdone, I put on my most vibrant smile.

Lark: “Darling.”

Lachlan’s smirk brightens.

Lachlan: “Duchess.”

Lark: “It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding ceremony.”

Lachlan: “Is it? Huh.”

Lachlan runs a hand over his freshly shaved face, rings glinting in the October sun.

Lachlan: “You mean it can get worse?”

Lark: “In the most loving way possible, fuck off,”

I say, flashing Lachlan a sardonic grin as I roll up the tinted window.

Sloane: “Yeah, so … we might need to work on that a little bit,”

Sloane says, and then she pats my leg in a wordless command to stay seated.


I square my shoulders and grip Sloane’s hand tighter.

Lark: “Let’s get this done. The sooner we do, the sooner we can go drinking at the Dubliner as official sisters.”

Sloane: “Wedding night, Lark,”

Sloane says as we walk hand in hand toward the city hall entrance.

Sloane: “You’re supposed to go fuck your husband, remember? Not have two martinis and start crying on a stranger.”

Lark: “I do not do that. I’m an adorable drunk.”


Sloane: "I don’t think you’re supposed to make that face every time you say ‘wedding,’ or ‘married,’ or ‘husband.’ Just FYI.”

Lark: “Right,”

I say as we enter the elevators to the city clerk office.

Lark: “Smile. Pretend I want to fuck him. Got it.”


Lachlan: “Geallaim duit a bheith i mo fhear céile dílis duit, fad a mhairimid le chéile,”

Lachlan whispers before his lips press to mine in a kiss that blankets my heart with an electric charge.


Lachlan: “What is it?”

I ask, shifting my attention to Lark as the beast drills its glare into the side of my face.

Lark: “Some would call it a dog.”

Lachlan: “What kind of dog.”

Lark: “American Akita.”

Lachlan: “He looks … broken,” I

say, taking in his wonky legs that seem bent at uncomfortable angles.

Lark: “He’s an Akita. It’s what they do.”


Sloane’s reply takes a moment to come through, which I soon realize is because she spends that brief time yelling at Rowan about why I’m such a dickhead.

SLOANE: You think I’m just going to cough up my best friend’s history on a platter for you? Lachlan Kane, be so fucking for real right now.

ROWAN: Hey dickhead. My wife wants to know why you’re such a dickhead.

ROWAN: Should I give her the long version or the short version?

SLOANE: Do you honestly think I would tell you that? Seriously? GO FUCK YOURSELF.

ROWAN: Secure your eyeballs. Repeat. Secure your eyeballs.

SLOANE: If you’re having trouble with your “marriage” and talking to your “wife,” why don’t you crack a fucking book. A ROMANCE book, not more of your “history of leather” bullshit. It’s literally an instruction manual for dumbasses like you.

SLOANE: And get fucked.

SLOANE: METAPHORICALLY

ROWAN: If you can find insurance for eyeball enucleation, now would be a good time

Lachlan: “Feckin’ bollocks.”

I drop my phone on my desk and rest my pounding forehead on my arms as I try to work out what the fuck I’m supposed to do.


LACHLAN: Eyeball spider lady, I humbly request a truce.

SLOANE: Didn’t I just tell you to pick up a fucking book?

LACHLAN: Christ Jesus. You are so acerbic.

SLOANE: Thank you. What the fuck do you want now?

LACHLAN: Are you and Rowan free for lunch today at B&B? I want to invite Lark, but maybe she’ll be more comfortable if you’re there.

There’s a long pause before the three dots start dancing on my screen.

SLOANE: OMFG I KNEW THERE WAS A GOOEY CENTER IN THERE SOMEWHERE

SLOANE: YES WE WILL BE THERE. Rowan is off at 2pm, let me know if that works.

SLOANE: You’re still an asshat though. Just so we’re clear.


Sloane: “Listen,”

she says, laying her palm flat against the table as she finally meets my eyes. That bloody dimple flashes next to her lip. It’s like her bat signal for mischief.

Sloane: “Lark Montague might be cute as a button, all shiny happy ra-ra cheerleader shit, but bitch is fucking vindictive. I love her to death and beyond, but let’s just say that particular unicorn doesn’t shit rainbows.”


Sloane: “Lachlan,”

Sloane says, shaking her head,

Sloane: “I’m going to give you this one because you’re hopeless and I pity you.”

Lachlan: “Thanks …”

Sloane: “Lark Montague doesn’t just have a ‘spiteful streak.’ She takes the idea of retribution and makes it into a full-on glitter parade of vengeance.”

Rowan points his fork toward her.

Rowan: “She rigged a glitter bomb in my car for the time I made Sloane cry and told her to go home. I spent a grand getting the car detailed and I still find glitter on a daily basis.”


Rowan: “Don’t know why you’re still sitting here when she’s probably slicing Claire’s face off to make into a kite, but it’s your bail money, I guess,”

Rowan says, and in a heartbeat I’m halfway to the door.

The sound of Rowan and Sloane’s laughter follows me out to the street.


Next, I take two sticks with brightly painted bulbous ends from the box.

Lachlan: “And what are these?”

Her focus darts to the items in my hand. She avoids my eyes.

Lark: “Maracas, clearly.”

I clear my throat for dramatic effect.

Lachlan: “Maracas …”

Lark nods.

Lachlan: “And what would they be made of, exactly?”

Lark turns to the fridge for butter.

Lark: “How am I supposed to know?”

I rattle them, the objects inside hitting the lacquered walls of what looks suspiciously like skin.

Lachlan: “You know I’m a leatherworker, Lark. Want to try again?”

She refuses to acknowledge me.

Lachlan: “What do you think would happen if I …”

My words evaporate as I crush one of the bulbs in a fist. Human teeth fall into my waiting palm, several falling to the floor as Bentley rushes over to investigate the possibility of wayward food.

Lachlan: “Somehow, that’s what I expected, and yet I’m still surprised. What a feckin’ conundrum.”

Lark pretends to focus on the muffin she pops into the microwave.

Lachlan: “Okay …”

I tilt my hand and let the teeth fall into the box.

Lachlan: “We’ll come back to that one. In the meantime,”

I say as I hold up my final prize,

Lachlan: “what is this …?”

Lark’s eyes flick from the item on the table and back to the microwave as it dings. She shrugs.

Lark: “A ring …?”

I let the weight of my gaze hammer into the side of her head, and even though she fidgets, she resists the urge to turn around.

Lachlan: “A ring,”

I repeat. She nods.

Lachlan: “Did you happen to notice it’s attached to a finger in a feckin’ jar?

A nervous laugh trails behind her as Lark moves toward the sink. She grips the stainless-steel edge as though she hopes it might suck her down the drain. When she finally turns to face me, she’s biting her lower lip, unable to control the cringe that creases her features.

Lark: “Ha … yeah …”

Lark’s half-hearted laugh disintegrates as I set the mason jar down on the table with a damning thunk. A little shiver racks her body as she shores herself up and raises her head, readying herself for a confrontation.

Lark: “Well, there’s a very straightforward explanation.”

Lachlan: “Which is?”

Lark: “I couldn’t get it off. His fingers were too thick.”


Lark: “No,”

There’s utter panic in her eyes. Her skin goes instantly pale.

Lark: “Don’t open it, please, Lachlan.”

When I raise a brow in a silent question, she shakes her head.

Lark: “Seriously. The formalin. I hate the smell. I nearly puked like five times just pouring it in there. If you open it, I’ll definitely hurl.”

Lachlan: “Well, I’m glad you managed at least long enough to put glitter in the jar.”

Lark mutters something that sounds like snuffluk as she scratches her head and trains her gaze toward the floor.

Lachlan: “Didn’t quite catch that, duchess.”

Lark: “Snowflakes,”

she repeats a little louder, then flicks a hand in my direction without meeting my eyes.

Lark: “Shake it.”

I glance from her to the jar and back again before I pick it up to give it a shake. The ring clanks against the glass and the finger taps the steel lid. When I set it back down, tiny, glittering snowflakes swirl around the severed digit before they slowly fall toward the base of the jar.

Lachlan: “A snow globe,”

I say slowly, waiting for her to look up, which she doesn’t do.

Lachlan: “You made a severed finger into a feckin’ snow globe.”

Lark: “It was almost Christmas,”

she says with a shrug.

Lark: “It felt … festive.”


Lachlan: “Are you a serial killer?”

Lark: “No.”

She scoffs. It’s entirely forced.

Lark: “Of course not. No. I’m more like a …”

She drifts off into thought as she seems to weigh several possible responses. Dread sinks into my guts as her brow furrows and then smooths. A heartbeat later, a vibrant smile erupts on her face.

Lark: “I’m more like a multiple deleter.”


Lachlan: “How many … deletions … are we talking about, exactly?”

Lark: “Umm.”

Lark’s gaze shifts to the ceiling.

Lark: “I think … seven?”

Lachlan: “Seven?”

Lark: “No, eight. Definitely eight.”

Lachlan: “You cannot be serious.”

Lark: “Well, there was this one guy who died in the hospital maybe, like, four days later. Does he really count?”

My reply is a silent, dead-eyed glare.

Lark: “He could have died from medical incompetence,”

she barrels on, tapping her calloused fingertips on the metal jug.

Lark: “Or maybe he choked on a bagel. The food in the hospital is pretty bad, you know? Could have been anything, really. Yeah, I don’t think he counts. Four days has gotta be past the grace period.”

Lachlan: “There’s no grace period, Lark.”

She sighs.

Lark: “Yeah, you’re probably right. Make it nine.”


Lachlan: “You. Lark feckin’ Montague.”

Eyes molten with a dare, she gives me a sardonic smile.

Lark: “Kane. Lark feckin’ Kane.”


Lachlan: “Stop right there, Lark Montague,”

I call after her.

Lark: “Not sure who you mean,”

Lachlan: “Lark Kane.”


I guess that’s the irony of being married to someone I have absolutely no desire to make happy. For once, I don’t have to try so damn hard to project one thing while I feel another, and the realization of how exhausting that is settles into my thoughts. But with Lachlan, I can turn the hologram off and just exist.

… Well.

That’s a fucking terrifying epiphany.


Ethel: “Ready to stir some shit up, my girl?”

I shake my head.

Lark: “No. No, I am not.”

Ethel: “Too bad.”

Ethel shifts her attention to Lachlan and whacks his arm with her purse.

Ethel: “What about you?”

Lachlan: “Yes, ma’am. Ready to stir shit up.”

Ethel: “That’s the spirit.”


Lark: “Were you making your accent thicker to appeal to my mother and sister with your nonexistent Irish charm?”

I hiss. Lachlan’s smile is nothing short of devious.

Lachlan: “Ye wound me with yer accusations, me darlin’ wife.”


Ethel: “Lark never took the Covaci name,”

Ethel says, her voice low and quiet.

Ethel: “She always said she would never leave that piece of her dad, Sam, behind. But she did it. For you.”

I can feel Lachlan watching me in the rearview. But I can’t bear to meet his gaze.

Ethel: “Your wife just broke her family’s heart. And she did it to save your life.”


I shake my head, but still smile as I place a kiss on my aunt’s cheek.

Lark: “Love you, hell-raiser.”

Ethel: “Shh. Don’t give the devil any ideas. I want to sneak up on him.


Lark: “You mean the files are in the computer?”

Lachlan looks from me to the monitor and back again, confusion etched between his brows.

Lachlan: “Yes … that’s … how it works …”

Lark: “Oh my God, you have literally no idea what I’m talking about.”

I whack Lachlan’s arm with the back of my hand and roll my eyes before clicking into the search field to type a name.

Lark: “It’s from the movie Zoolander. How are we even married?”


Lachlan: “I know this isn’t the type of marriage either of us envisioned for ourselves. I know it’s not … ideal,”

he says as he lays his other hand over mine where it rest on my lap, my attention snagging on the simple touch.

Lachlan: “But if you’re worried about me stepping out on you and breaking our vows, that’s not me. Doesn’t matter that it’s not a normal marriage. If I make a promise, I keep that promise.”


Lachlan: “This one is about a happy girl. One who was well-liked. Talented. Effervescent. One who Mr. Aoki alerted you about when he found her shaking in a corner of the music room with her uniform stained and askew. He was sure something serious had happened, but she wouldn’t tell him what it was. He was worried for her well-being. And just a day later, Verdon mysteriously disappeared.”

Campbell goes rigid beneath his bonds as I take slow, predatory steps around the edge of the table until I’m standing next to him, my eyes fixed to the words on the page. To the name. To the image of the person it evokes, and all that must be hidden beneath what I can see.

Lachlan: “Her name was Lark Montague.”

The gun clicks as I release the safety.

Lachlan: “And she is my wife.


Lachlan: “Keep her safe, yeah?”

Conor chuckles as I take the grinder from the toolbox and plug it in.

Conor: “Of course, bro.”

Lachlan: “What are you laughing about?”

Conor: “Nothin’. I’m just happy for you, man.”

Lachlan: “Shut the hell up. Feckin’ gobshite.”


Lachlan: “You know, I’ve been told I’m like a tougher, buffer, generally better-looking version of Constantine-era Keanu—”

Lark: “Stop right there, Lachlan Kane. You will not Keanumatize me into forgiveness. That is fucking blasphemous.”

Lachlan: “Worth a shot.”


But it’s not music that fills the car.

I’m not done with you yet,”

a male voice coos through the speakers.

Lark: “What the fuck?”

I look toward Lachlan as the narration plays on, but he’s busy picking up boxes and setting them down just inside the door.

“Do you want me to stop, love?”

Lark: “Holy shit.”

A sense of glee washes through my veins as I sit up straighter and turn the dial on the volume.

“If you want me to fill your ass, you have to say it.

I whip out my phone and open my last conversation with Sloane.

LARK: I get it now.

SLOANE: Get what?

LARK: Your thing about books

SLOANE: Okaaaay. I’m still not catching what you’re laying down though …?

I record the narration on a voice note and send it to her, catching enough of the audio to provide Sloane with a colorful segment of ass foreplay.

SLOANE: Oh. My. God. I told him to crack a romance book. I didn’t think he’d actually DO IT ahahaha

My head tilts. I reread Sloane’s message.

LARK: You told him to what …?

I glance at Lachlan as he heaves the last box from the ground. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice the way his clothes strain across his taut muscle, or the way my belly clenches in response.

SLOANE: Crack a romance book

LARK: Why? Now I’m not catching what YOU’RE laying down

SLOANE: So he could learn how to talk to you without being such an asshat

SLOANE: He wanted to know about the claustrophobia thing. I told him to go fuck himself and read a book. I think he just wanted to connect with you. Kind of cute, actually. Dumb but cute.

SLOANE: Hold on a second … is it working?!

Sloane’s question rattles around in my head. I lower my phone and notice in my periphery Lachlan locking up the shop.

LARK: I’ve gotta go

Several texts buzz in my pocket when I shove my phone in my jacket, but I ignore them. Lachlan strides toward the car. He doesn’t notice that the door is locked until he tries the handle, then meets my eyes with confusion as I hold down the push button lock for dramatic effect. A wicked grin creeps into my lips. With one finger still pressed to the lock, I reach toward the dial and turn it up until it’s nearly deafening.

The look of pure mortification on Lachlan’s face is delectable.

Lachlan:Fuck fuck fuck.”

I can’t hear him between the audiobook playing at full volume and my maniacal laugh, but I can certainly see the word repeated across his full lips as he scrambles for his phone. He pats down every pocket until he finally finds it. The recording comes to an abrupt stop, and I pout as he glowers at me through the window.

The moment I pull the lock button up, Lachlan whips the door open.

Lark: “Well. That was enlightening,”

I say as I rise from the driver’s seat and block Lachlan’s access to the vehicle.


Lachlan: “Death’s Obsession.

A faint smile plays on my lips as Lachlan releases my wrist and takes a step back.

Lachlan: “Get in, you feckin’ catastrophe,”

he says, his voice gruff.

Lachlan: “We’ve got places to be.”

It takes a second longer than it should for my feet to start moving, but then I stride toward the rear of the vehicle, my steps a little lighter than I thought they’d be.

Lark: “I think we should listen to it on the way—”

Lachlan: “Not a feckin’ chance.”

Lark: “Okay then.”


Lachlan: “Anyone you’ve seen around lately?”

Lachlan edges behind my shoulder as though he can watch the club through my eyes. His breath warms my neck. Gooseflesh rises on my arms.

Lachlan: “Anyone whose gaze lingers on you a little too long?”

When I turn my head to the side to meet his eyes, Lachlan’s attention fuses to my lips. They curl in a smile.

Lark: “Only you.”


The rejection must be written in every detail of my face. There’s no way I can hide it, not even in shadows. Lips parted. Skin crimson. I take a step back, expecting Lachlan will lift his hand away when I let mine fall to my side. But he doesn’t.

Lachlan: “No, duchess,”

Lachlan whispers, his expression resolute.

I swallow. Shake my head. I want to say so many things, but only one word comes out.

Lark: “Lachlan …”

He pulls his hand from my chest and leaves a cold ache behind, but when I think he’ll back away completely he grazes my cheek with his knuckles as he holds my eyes.

Lachlan: “Not until I know you forgive me. Otherwise, this won’t work, and I want it to work.”


Lark: “What were you thinking about when you made these?”

she asks, pointing to the stars.

Lark still doesn’t look up and her question hangs in the air around us, suspended.

I take a step forward around the coffee table. Another. One more. Then I let my hand drift free of my pocket and I point to a star near her thumb.

Lachlan: “I was thinking about the time you told me not to Keanumatize you into forgiveness when I made that one.”

Lark puffs a quiet breath of doubt. I can nearly hear her eyes roll.

Lark: “Liar.”

Lachlan: “No, really. I remembered it and laughed. It’s why the edge of that star isn’t as uniform as the others.”

Lark’s eyes flick to mine before returning to the strap in her hand. She brings it closer to her face and tilts it in the light to examine the details. When she glances at me again with suspicion and doubt, I pick another one.

Lachlan: “I was thinking about the time you sang ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.’ Your voice, it …”

I shake my head.

Lachlan: “I had to take a minute. My mother loved that song. I’d forgotten how she would sing in our house in Sligo. Hadn’t thought of her in so long.”


Lachlan: “I want to make this marriage into one you can be proud of, no matter what it looks like or how long it’s meant to last. I don’t want it to be something you regret.”


Lark: “What about this one?”

she whispers as she points to the next star in the row without breaking her gaze from mine. I run my hand over the back of my neck and give her the faint echo of a rakish grin.

Lachlan: “Nah, you don’t want to know what I was thinking about for the rest of them.”

Lark: “I don’t?”

Lachlan: “Can’t imagine so, no.”

I hold up both hands when she gives me a teasing, skeptical grin.

Lachlan: “This piece is pretty close to a corset, so feathers were obviously involved.”


Lachlan: “You, um … look … uh …”

Fan-feckin’-tastic. Now I have neither confidence nor cockiness. I’ve somehow regressed into some teenage version of myself, and even that guy had more game than me.

And Lark revels in it. Of course.

Lark: “That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,”

she says with a shimmering laugh. With a small box clutched in her hand, she gestures down to the gauzy layer of the sheer black dress that flows over the bralette and opaque skirt beneath it. The harness fits tight across her upper body over the layers of fabric, looping over her shoulders and crisscrossing her torso to hug the contours of her breasts.

Lark: “Imagine if I didn’t have the bottom layer on and it was just the tulle.”

My heart roars in my ears.

Lark: “The compliments would be rolling in. Just one long ‘uhhhhhhh.’ That’s some real Irish charm.”


Lachlan: “You look great. Really great.”

Lark smirks.

Lark: “‘Great.’”

Lachlan: “Yep.”

Lark: “Cool. Thanks. You also look fine. Just fine.”

I snort. Lark bites down on her grin.

Lark: “I must admit, I was expecting maybe stunning, or beautiful. Or, God forbid, feckin’ sexy.


Lachlan: “You’re always stunning, Lark. Always beautiful. Always feckin’ sexy.”

My voice is a husky rasp that coaxes a fleeting blush into her cheeks.

Lachlan: “But I don’t want you to feel as though I’m trying to compliment my way into forgiveness. I know it won’t fix us.”

Lark’s smile fades.

Lark: “What do you think will?”

Lachlan: “Time.”

Lark: “How much time?”

Lachlan: “That’s not up to me.”

Before I truly realize what I’m doing, my hand is out of my pocket. Lark doesn’t break her gaze away from mine when I let my knuckles graze her bare arm, a slow sweep that goes from her shoulder, past her elbow, all the way to the edge of her hand, where it’s wrapped tight around the box.

Lachlan: “It’s up to you. But I don’t want you to ever think I’m pushing you into it because of the way I feel.”

Lark swallows, her pulse a steady hum in her neck.

Lark: “And how do you feel?”

Lachlan: “You don’t know?”

I let my hand fall away from hers. She shakes her head.

Lachlan: “Probably not the same as you. Let’s just leave it at that.”


Lachlan: “You sure you don’t want me to drop you off while I find a place to park?”

I ask as I slow the old Charger to a crawl, earning some appreciative glances as we roll down the street.

Lark: “No, you might have trouble getting in. I’ll take you in the back.”

My mind immediately empties of rational thoughts and refills with vivid images.

Lachlan: “Take me in the back …”

Lark: “Yeah,”

Lark says, giving me a confused, sidelong glance before I resolve to keep my eyes glued to the road.

Lark: “The back entrance.”

I swallow.

Lark: “You know …? The back door …?”

I nod and shift in my seat.

Lark: “Are you okay? Do you have a thing about back doors?”

Her hand shifts in my periphery and I snatch my arm away, narrowly avoiding her attempt at a reassuring squeeze. If she touches me, I’m damn well sure I’ll feckin’ combust.

Lark: “Are they like, triggering for you or something?”

Lachlan: “No, Christ,”

I hiss. I’m squinting. Why am I bloody squinting? I can see the road perfectly fine. I shake my head, trying to reset my senses. My clarity lasts just long enough to zip into a spot along the curb right after another vehicle pulls away.

Lark: “You could have parked it in the back,”

Lark says, her tone quiet and innocent as I cut the engine and drape us in stark silence. I drag a hand down my face but it does fuck-all to wipe my blush away. Lark opens her door with a creak of old steel. Since I don’t trust any words to reliably roll off my tongue, my only response is to shake my head. A long, loud, dramatic sigh leaves Lark’s lips.

Lark: “Lachlan Kane is an ass man. Good to know.”

With a snicker, all Lark’s innocence is swept away. She shuts the door behind her.

Fucksakes.


Lark: "Nothing to be ashamed about, liking a bit of butt stuff,”

Lark chimes as we walk toward Amigos Cantina, dipping down an alley to our left toward a metal stage door.

Lark: “Anal is great. I like anal. This one time, I was on the road touring, and—”

Before I even realized what I’m doing, I’ve grabbed Lark’s waist and caged her against the brick wall of the building. A spike of fear hits my veins that I could have hurt her, but it’s washed away by the look she gives me as I loom over her. Even with the blur at this distance, I can still see it. Flushed skin. Blown pupils. A pulse that pounds in her neck.

Desire.

I lean in slowly, every heartbeat driving me closer until I can feel the heat of her unsteady exhalations against my cooling skin.

Lachlan: “I am not ashamed, duchess.”

Lark holds my gaze and issues a dare when she whispers,

Lark: “Are you sure?”

Consuming the little space that remains between us, I press my hips forward and thread one hand into her hair. Lark’s breath hitches when she feels my hard length against her stomach, my need for her painful, my cock begging to sink into her tight heat.

Lachlan: “I cannot bear to hear about the way some other guy fucked my wife. Or the way she might have fucked him. Please. Not right now.”

Her lips part. Her brow furrows. Her grip on my arm tightens.

I lean closer still, touch my lips to her ear. With one long, slow thrust of my hips, I grind my erection against her. Lark presses into me in return. A whimper escapes her control.

Lachlan: “It is agonizing, Lark. It is fucking torture to imagine. To know it’s not me. Don’t you understand …?”


Lark: “What is it with you and KEX anyway?”

Lark hisses. I lean in and whisper,

Lachlan: “Irish slang. Means underwear.”

She puffs out a little laugh as Xander pushes open a black door and heads into the shared dressing room. Lark stops at the threshold and I relinquish the instruments for her to set them aside.

Lark: “Well, that’s ironic, seeing how I usually prefer to not wear any.”

She winks. I feckin’ die.

Lark: “Go on,”

she says, amusement a flare behind her eyes.

Lark: “Anyone gives you trouble, just say you’re married to the chick who likes to go commando and digs ass play. Bye.”

She wiggles her fingers as she waves and shuts the door in my face.

I’m still standing in the hallway like a feckin’ dumbass when the door opens again. She pokes her head into the hallway.

Lark: “Oh, and don’t you dare open that present until I give you the bat signal or I swear to God, I will make your balls into snow globes. Okay, bye.”

With a sardonically blown kiss, Lark shuts the door.

And I still haven’t moved an inch.

I mutter a string of hushed swears as I drag a hand through my hair.

Lachlan: “Christ Jesus. I need a feckin’ whiskey.”

Lark: “Ooh, get me a Diet Coke, please,”

Lark chimes from the other side of the door, and with a demonic little cackle, I know she’s finally leaving me to my suffering this time.


Turn it up.

I press the plus sign, over and over until Lark’s eyes go wide and she shakes her head. Her cheeks blush as she bites down on a grin.

Down down down.

Oh. My. Fucking. Christ.

I press the minus sign a few times until Lark’s head drops in relief, and then she keeps her gaze shuttered, swaying gently to the melody as she balances notes with sensations.

My blood froths in my veins. My heart is a riot in my ears. I look from the remote in my hand, to my wife on the stage, and back again.

Lachlan: “I am going to feckin’ die,”

I mutter to myself.


Lark: “Tell me,”

I whisper as his thumb passes in another stroke. His eyes are dark. Deadly. Merciless.

Lachlan: “Tell you what? That you’re my fucking whore?”

Lark: “Yes.”

The vibration increases and I gasp as he presses the toy to my clit.

Lachlan: “I didn’t lock the door, Lark. Someone could walk in here at any moment. Does that scare you?”

I shake my head and bite my lip and moan.

Lachlan: “Good, because any one of those assholes that watched you on that stage could walk in here and I don’t give a fuck. I won’t stop until you scream my fucking name so they know exactly whose whore you are.”


Lachlan: “Red means …?”

Lark: “Stop.”

Lachlan: “Orange means?”

Lark: “Slow down.”

Lachlan: “Green means?”

Lark: “Fuck me and fill me with your cum.”

Lachlan chuckles against my ear before he gives it a nip, letting his teeth rake across the flesh.

Lachlan: “Only if you beg,”


Lark: “So,”

she says as she takes a left at the light when it would be faster to take a right,

Lark: “when you said you were going to fuck me until I couldn’t walk tomorrow, what exactly do you have in mind?”

My molars clamp shut so tightly they might break.

Lark: “Like … are there toys involved, or is this strictly a marathon situation?”

I press my head against the headrest.

Lark: “Do you have a mood board? Pinterest?”

I turn slowly to level her with a menacing glare.

Lark: “Are we talking cold baths here? Should I stop for ice? I can pull into Power Pump. Irony and ice, it’s a double win.”

She turns the signal light on to pull into the gas station.

Lachlan: “Take that turn and I swear to Christ I will make you beg on your hands and knees for me to let you come.”

Lark grins at me. She takes the turn. I say nothing until she rolls into a parking spot and shuts off the engine. She pulls the keys from the ignition and spins them around her finger. My menacing glare does nothing but brighten her smile.

Lachlan: “You are going to regret this, duchess.”

Lark: “Oh good,”

she says as she opens the door.

Lark: “I’ll get two bags then.”


Lachlan: “Quite the smirk you have there, duchess. Think you got away with something, do ya?”

Lark laughs and turns toward me to look out the back window as she reverses. The harness tightens across her breasts with the twist of her body.

Lark: “Oh I know I didn’t, but it still brings me joy.”

Lachlan: “Won’t be so feckin’ funny when you’re gagging on my cock.”


Lachlan: “My feckin’ catastrophe,”

he says as his thumb coasts across my cheek.

Lachlan: “You fucking destroyed me. And now I can’t imagine being anything but the man that I am with you.”

Lark: “Lachlan Kane. You’d better kiss me and prove it.”


He pulls away just enough to stare down at me, his eyes dark and serious.

Lachlan: “Tell me who I am.”

A crease flickers between my brows as I try to work out what he means.

Lark: “Lachlan Kane,”

I say, smoothing my hand up the tense muscles in his arm. My reply doesn’t seem to satisfy him.

Lark: “My husband.”

The relief in his eyes is instantaneous. He nods once. I lay my hand to the side of his face.

Lark: “You’re my husband.”

Lachlan: “And you’re my wife. Don’t forget it when I’m fucking you like a whore.”


Lark: “Have you ever killed anyone with a pencil?”

I blurt out. Lachlan gives me a brief, suspicious glance over his shoulder before he refocuses on the emergency door.

Lachlan: “No. Why would I kill someone with a pencil?”

Lark: “Because you could,”

I reply with a shrug.

Lark: “What about slicing someone’s jugular with a card?”

Lachlan: “What kind of card?”

Lark: “A playing card. A tarot card would be badass though. Have you ever killed anyone with a tarot card?”

Lachlan: “No.”

I let out a disappointed sigh.

Lachlan: “What is it?”

Lark: “I was going to say you look a bit Keanu-y right now, but I take it back.”

Lachlan: “Christ Jesus.”

Lachlan’s eyes narrow into a petulant glare.

Lachlan: “I killed a guy with a Himalayan salt lamp once. Has Keanu done that?”

I shrug.

Lachlan: “No, Keanu has not done that, because he is a bloody actor, ya feckin’ catastrophe.”


Lachlan: “Regardless, I’m proud of you, yeah?”

Lark: “You’re my husband, sweetie. You’re kind of supposed to say that.”


Lark: “I take back what I said earlier about leaving Sloane out of this. We should have gotten her to do it. This is fucking disgusting.”

Lachlan: “You’re not the one who has to dig it out of his face,”

Lachlan says as he leans over Stan’s head with the scalpel. He starts slicing along the upper ridge of bone to cut the thin muscle that adheres to the eyeball. Just one glance at his progress and I have to turn away to gag.

Lachlan: “Feckin’ hell, don’t you start.”

Lark: “I can’t help it.”

Lachlan: “You’re going to make me sick.”


Lachlan: “Keep it together, Lark,”

Lachlan barks, his voice as much a plea as it is a command.

Lark:How?”

Lachlan: “Think about Keanu.”

Lark: “No, don’t you dare ruin him for me with the power of eyeballs.”

Lachlan: “Feckin’ hell, okay. Shite.”

A little wretch comes from Lachlan, and I bury my sweaty forehead into the crook of my elbow.

Lachlan: “How the fuck does Sloane do this?”

Conor: “Just imagine it’s a marble. Or one of those Trolli Glotzer marshmallow gummy eyeball candies. Have you seen those? Gabs loves those things. They’re filled with red sour liquid shit.”

I gag again as Lachlan releases a string of expletives, some of which might be in Irish, though I can barely make out his words over the blaring alarm and the heartbeats roaring in my ears.

Lachlan: “Don’t bring up food, ya feckin’ gobshite. Bloody hell.”

Lark: “Yeah, fuck off, Conor. Leave my man alone.”

Lachlan: “The spoon thingy, Lark. Pass me the spoon.”

I heave. Lachlan gags. Conor cackles. I manage to pull myself together long enough to grab the mini scoop and shove it into Lachlan’s hand.

Lark: “Get that thing out, for the love of God.”

Conor: “This sounds like a window into your sex life—”

Lachlan: “Shut up. Hand me the scissors, duchess.”


Ethel: “I do have regrets,”

Her eyes drift away to the corner of the room. I wonder if she feels Him here with us. I do. I feel the Lord’s will in my hand. He keeps the syringe steady in my grip. His presence whispers to me, guides every beat of my heart.

Phantom: “Tell me. Confess your sins before His angel of death.”

The old woman sighs deeply.

Ethel: “I regret …”

She trails off as her gaze shifts back to me. It is fierce with resolve.

Ethel: “I regret not having stolen the recipe for Bob Foster’s banoffee muffins when I had the chance. Fucker took twenty percent of my market share when he launched Bob’s Banoffees.”

My eyes narrow.

Ethel: “I regret not having gone home with Spencer Jones after Marcie’s party when I was twenty-three. Jenny Bright took him home instead and said he ate her ass six ways to Sunday. She wouldn’t shut up about it at brunch at the country club for a solid month—”

Phantom: “Lord thy God, I seek refuge in you from the devil—”

Ethel: “—I met my Thomas shortly after and in sixty-two years of marriage he never once ate my ass. Took me nearly a year to convince Tom there were more positions than just me lying flat on my back like a dead fish.”

I give her a heavy sigh. A cluck of my tongue.

And then I turn to the IV pump and pause the medication drip. I pinch the tube to keep the solution trapped. I stare at the old woman.

Phantom: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled—”

Ethel: “Define ‘undefiled’—”

Phantom:For God will judge the sexually immoral and—”

Ethel: “Define ‘sexually immoral’—do threesomes count? Because there was this one time with Jenny—”

Phantom: “Enough.”


An incredulous laugh bursts from my lips despite the tears that still cling to my lashes. I press my forehead to the soft fur between Bentley’s ears.

Lark: “I’m in love with my husband, Bentley. I guess that means we have to keep him.”

My eyes lift to the ceiling with a bittersweet smile. It doesn’t take much to imagine Ethel’s reveling in a final plan coming together just the way she wanted.

Lark: “Hear that, you scheming hell-raiser? I’m in love with Lachlan Kane. I’m pretty sure that’s what you were after, right?”


Rose: “I’m coming with you,”

Fionn: “Rose, don’t,”

Fionn says, his voice breaking.

Fionn: “Please.”

We stop just long enough for Rose to turn and face him. He’s kneeling on the floor, a hand still placed on Bentley’s side.

Rose: “Lark is my girl. I’m going to get her back.”

Fionn: “But—”

Rose: “I love you, Fionn Kane.”

Shocked silence fills the room. I expect Fionn to say something, anything, but he doesn’t. It’s as though her words are so unexpected that he can’t process them.

Rose takes a step backward toward the door. Fionn stares at her like he’s frozen. Rose takes another step away.

Rose: “Save the dog or this asshat will kill you.”


Lachlan: “You feckin’ catastrophe. Don’t you ever. Ever. Do that to me again,”

he grits out as a tear slips from his lashes to fall down his cheek.

Lark: “Getting kidnapped by a psychopath? I’m not planning on any do-overs, Batman,”

I whisper through an unsteady smile. Lachlan shakes his head.

Lachlan: “No. Forcing me to not choose you.”

Though he grasps for control of his emotions, he’s as powerless as I am to stop them.

Lachlan: “You’re brave as hell. But you’re my person, Lark. I can’t do this without you.”


Lachlan: “You made this vow to save me. My brother. Your best friend. But I want you to choose the future you want, Lark. You can dissolve this marriage. Or we can do things another way. Maybe we start over and pretend we’d first met at Rowan’s place. Or we can stay married, have the honeymoon we talked about. You said it would be Indonesia, if this were real.”

I take a steadying breath, but my throat burns when I swallow. It’s so hard to keep my eyes on her as I break open my heart to let her look inside.

Lachlan: “This is real to me, Lark. I know I promised I wouldn’t let you go, but I was wrong. Because this decision is more important than me keeping my word. And for what it’s worth, I hope you choose me, in whatever way that needs to be. I’m asking you to stay with me. But I want you to choose what’s right for you.”

Lark holds my eyes.

And she doesn’t look away. Not as she tosses the itinerary over her shoulder, a move that incinerates my heart in a beat of panic. Not as she holds the divorce papers up and rips them apart, one after the next until each one is torn. Then she points at me with a trembling hand.

Lark: “I am madly in love with you, Lachlan Kane,”

she says, jabbing her finger in my direction as though punctuating each word.

Lark: “And I am also just madly mad. Don’t you ever give me divorce papers again.”


Lachlan: “I love you, Lark Kane.”

Lark’s anger dissolves. Her smile ignites. It’s the most beautiful she’s ever been, her happiness an unstoppable dawn.

Lark: “Good, you ‘feckin’ catastrophe,’”

she says, and then she crashes into my arms.

Lark: “Because I choose you.”


Lachlan and Lark. They hold each other in a crushing embrace. They sway like two trees that have twisted together and weathered storms side by side. Maybe this will be the last big one. A thunderstorm that leaves clean air and vibrant colors behind. I’d like to think the weather will always be fair for them now, the skies always clear. I think that’s what I’ll choose to believe.


Lachlan: “You gonna get in, or are you just gonna stand out there and admire my Keanu-ish hotness all afternoon?”

he asks without opening his eyes. I roll my eyes and unbutton my shorts to slide them over my hips.

Lark: “You’re way hotter than Keanu.”

Lachlan: “I know.”


Lark: “What does red mean?”

I ask as his first knee presses down on strips of torn paper.

Lachlan: “Stop.”

Lark: “Yellow means?”

Lachlan: “Slow down.”

I watch as the mattress dips beneath the weight of Lachlan’s muscular body. He positions himself on all fours in the center of the bed, his back tense, a shudder rolling through his powerful frame. I smile as I pick up a small bottle of lube and crack open the lid.

Lark: “Green means?”

Lachlan: “Fuck me until I’m spraying my cum all over these feckin’ papers.”


Lark: “Color?”

Lachlan: “Feckin’ hell,

Lark: “Last time I checked, that wasn’t a color—”

Lachlan: “Green, fuck. Green.”


 



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