Beneath These Lies (Page 42)

That could actually work. “I’ll give it a try and see what happens.”

In the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, Maybe when this thing with Rix blows up in my face . . .

I would let him down easy, and this would be over.

I WAS NOT ON A date. I swore I wasn’t. And yet, here I was sitting across the table again from Rhett Hennessy. Table ambush. Let’s call it that. Much like the first night we had dinner together, this one wasn’t intentional, and I hadn’t been able to come up with a polite excuse as to why he couldn’t join me.

To celebrate the success of our Monday-night opening and all the hard work Remy had been putting in without Trinity there to help, I’d taken him out to dinner after we closed the gallery. Burton Ridgeway had sold well over half of the pieces we’d been showing.

But Remy’s roommate had texted a few minutes after we’d been seated and she’d lost her key. Being the nice guy that he was, Remy ditched a free dinner to help a friend.

Which left me sitting at an empty table in the window when Rhett Hennessy had been walking by. Sometimes, New Orleans really was the smallest town on the planet.

“I could’ve sworn you’d said you were busy tonight,” Rhett had commented as soon as he helped himself to the seat across from me without asking for an invitation.

“The opening was a success, and I came to celebrate with one of my employees. But he had something come up unexpectedly.”

“Then I guess it’s my lucky night.”

Rhett was persistent; I could give him that. And he was a nice guy. But all I could think about while I was sitting there was the promise I’d made to Rix, and the plan to let him down easily the girl posse had helped me concoct. The words formed on my tongue dozens of times, but I hadn’t been able to find the right moment to get them out.

My conversational skills were decidedly subpar as the server brought food, which also coincided with Rhett’s phone receiving a barrage of text messages.

Pulling it from his pocket, he frowned.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

He didn’t reply until after he tapped out a response. “A neighbor of mine called in a prowler around my house. Local units are headed that way.”

A prowler? That sounded bad. “Shouldn’t you go and check it out?”

“You trying to get rid of me? You pick the other guy?”

His direct questions threw me off, and I choked on the sip of water I was currently taking. “Excuse me?”

“You said you were dating someone else. I want to know if I’m fighting a losing battle.”

This was my opening. “Well—”

His phone went off with another text. “Fuck.” His tone was low and disbelieving. When he looked up, his expression was hard. “I gotta go.” He rose, pulled his wallet out, and tossed some bills on the table before he cupped my chin.

I met his piercing green eyes.

“Losing battle or not, you’re worth the fight. I’m not giving up.” He leaned down and pressed a hard kiss to my lips.

The intensity flowing from Rhett was impossible to ignore. He released his hold on my chin and I opened my mouth to respond, but he was already heading for the door.

Are you serious right now? How can I not break up with this guy that I’m not even trying to date? This was becoming ridiculous.

I finished my dinner alone, wishing the man I was trying to choose was able to sit across from me. But that wasn’t going to happen. The impossibility of the situation killed my appetite for dessert.

“YOU GOT BALLS THE SIZE of fucking boulders to break into my house,” the cop yelled as he slammed the door and walked into his living room.

“Worried someone’s going to think you’re a dirty cop like your brother was accused of being?” I asked.

“Fuck you, Rix.”

“That ain’t why I’m here. I’m here to deliver a message, one I thought might get lost in translation.” I shoved up out of Hennessy’s recliner and stalked toward him. “Valentina Noble is off-limits.”

Hennessy’s expression twisted with shock. “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re staking a claim on her? She’s so far out of your league, you must be trippin’ on whatever shit’s runnin’ the streets lately.”

I stopped a foot from him, and even though we were evenly matched in size and weight, I could take him. I had rage on my side. And a little duchess who had questions to answer.

“She’s off the menu. Find someone else.”

Hennessy shook his head. “No. Fucking. Way. I’m not bowing out of this when we both know you can’t have her.”

His vehemence pissed me right the fuck off. She was already mine.

“You still want help proving your brother wasn’t dirty, or not?”

Hennessy stilled. “So it’s like that.”

“Take it or leave it. I got nothing to gain by helping you on this one, so a little extra motivation is in order.”

And when it came to Detective Hennessy, I knew there wasn’t much he wouldn’t give up to prove that his brother wasn’t a dirty cop. His reputation had been blackened by the suspicions, and his pops had retired because of it. The whole family of die-hard cops had suffered a serious blow the day the older Hennessy brother had been killed when a bust went bad.

When Hennessy didn’t respond at first, I wondered if I’d miscalculated how deep his fascination with Valentina ran. Didn’t fucking matter. She was mine. He might be the better man, but I didn’t care. I’d laid my claim, and I wouldn’t give her up for anything or anyone. Not even a cop who could sit across from her at a restaurant in a window where my guy saw him and reported back to me.