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Inferno by Aliyah Burke
"Sometimes the flames aren't meant to be put out. "
Bastian put his hands on the mattress behind him and watched the woman in the room with him. Her frustration with the entire situation showed all over her features, but he admired her restraint. Brown eyes sparked with emotion, and she occasionally chewed on the inside of her cheek. I have the feeling she’s close to the end of that particular rope, however. She held a shoe in one hand, showing off her bright pink sock with its white toes and heel.
“I don’t have time for games,” she stated, glaring at him.
“And, you think I do? I was out playing games earlier. Haven’t even had food. Neither have you, considering how you stormed out of the diner without eating. So, here’s my proposition. We go out to eat, and you explain all of this to me in a calm, rational manner.”
“You say that in a condescending way, like I am not being calm or rational.” She dropped her shoe and positioned her foot to shove back in it.
“I’m not the one who stormed out of the diner.”
She narrowed her gaze on him, apparently forgetting about the shoe as she scowled. “No, you’re the one who was disrespectful to your grandfather.”
Seriously? “Come here.”
“Do you see a dog collar on this neck? Because I don’t respond like that.”
“Christ, woman, are you going to make everything this difficult?” He rose and went to her. She smelled fresh and clean, no cloying artificial scent. He liked it. Were he to pull her close to him, she would tuck into him nicely.
She took several deep breaths and said, “I’m sorry. I will try to be nicer.”
“Those words sounded dragged out of you,” he murmured, leaning closer until he brushed her hair with the side of his face. “Being nice that difficult?”
“I don’t know you from Adam. Your grandfather invited himself along after telling me you would help me. I don’t have a God damn clue about what is even needed for a photo shoot, and if I don’t deliver on this, my cousin is going to lose her flipping shit. Not that she should have put it on me to begin with. I mean, after all, I’m just the fucking family punching bag loser.” She threw up her hands and walked away from him.
He gripped her arm and drew her back against him. “Darlin’, you’re about to hyperventilate. Calm down and take deep breaths.”
Her dark skin had paled as her chest heaved with its attempts to pull in oxygen. He led her back to the bed and sat her on the edge.
“Deep breaths,” he stated once more. “Slowly.” He crouched before her, hands on her thighs as she continued to struggle. “Concentrate on your breathing.”
It began to slow. Her phone rang, and he noticed immediately how her breathing increased when she reached for it. He moved the item out of the way, so she couldn’t get to it. “Look at me.” Her attention swung back to him, expression scattered. He settled his hand on the side of her face. “Good, stay with me. Deep breaths. Do as I am.”
Five minutes later and her color had returned. Her breathing had gone back to a much more relaxed tempo. Focus inched into her gaze.
“I’m fine.” He didn’t move, remaining crouched between her legs. “You can back away.”
Slowly, he returned to his feet, not backing off, however. “Does that happen a lot?”
She touched the corners of her mouth. He went to bring her a bottle of water from the table. Bastian opened it and handed it off. She drank heavily until he took the bottle away.
Her phone rang again, and he stared at her face, observing her debating if she should answer it or not. “Why not? What about your grandfather?”
“He’s on his own. This is between us.” He held out his hand. “Come on.”
She ignored his hand and went to the door. He turned and, right as she opened the door, said, “Would you like your shoe?”
Fire sparked in her gaze. “I need to drink,” she said, walking back to him where she snatched the shoe from his grasp.
“I think we can get you a drink.”
She gazed at him as she hopped on one foot, shoving her shoe on the other. “I didn’t say a drink. I said to drink.” She wriggled her foot then marched to the door once more.