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Patti O'Shea - Paranormal Action Romance Author

 

Excerpt from In the Midnight Hour

Ryne pulled a long-sleeve polo shirt off the rack and held it at arm's length.

"I'm not wearing pink," Deke growled over her shoulder.

"It's salmon."

"It's pink."

With a silent sigh, Ryne put the shirt back. If she'd learned one thing during this trip to the mall, it was that there was no point wasting energy arguing about something as trivial as this. "Any objection to turquoise?" When he didn't say anything, she reached for the hanger.

"I don't need more clothes." His hand curled lightly around hers, stopping her from taking the shirt off the rack.

He stood close, but Ryne refused to show weakness by stepping back. "Yes, you do."

Deke moved her hand till it rested on his chest and covered it with his. "I don't have any money," he said quietly. "You've paid for everything and I know you can't afford this."

Ryne stared at him in amazement. What he'd said wasn't some smart-ass comment, but a thoughtful statement of concern about her finances. It was the first time she'd seen this side of him. "Why do you believe that?"

"You always head straight for the clearance area. I don't want you going into debt for me, babe, okay? Clothes wash."

Instead of correcting his erroneous assumption, Ryne went off on a tangent. "I might not have time to wash clothes if I have to deal with Anise on top of my regular duties."

"I can take care of it."

"Do you know how?"

Edging a half-step nearer, Deke said, "I've been doing my own laundry since I was twelve. I'll handle it."

"Really? You don't strike me as having domestic skills."

He smiled. Not a smirk, but an honest-to-God smile. For a split second, she forgot how to breathe. "I'm thirty-four and I've never earned enough money to hire servants. I do laundry, I cook, I dust, I vacuum—everything an adult who's lived on their own has to do. You're the one who's probably helpless around the house." Deke's grin widened. "A little twitch of your nose and the chores are done."

"I almost never use my abilities for something like that." Ryne lowered her voice. "The Gineal consider it a waste of magic."

She'd inherited the attitude, but hadn't understood the whys. Now, she knew. Last night she'd been left with only her own pool of power. If she'd used it frivolously, she would have died. It had taken everything she had to survive long enough to send the wraith through the soul gate.

Deke's thumb brushed across her cheekbone, jerking Ryne's attention back to him. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, sorry, I was thinking about something." Before he could ask any questions, she quickly said, "You're wrong, though. I can afford to outfit you. It's March, which means you need warm clothes, and those are on clearance at this time of year." He looked doubtful. "Have you heard of The Gineal Company?"

Recognition sparked in his eyes. "That's your people?"

She nodded. "We own conglomerates that sell everything from food to electronics to household cleaning products. Officially, I'm an employee of the corporation and I'm well compensated for what I do."

For a moment, he stared at her. "I'm still going to pay you back."

"I know," she assured him. He was a pain in the ass, but Ryne had no desire to step on the man's pride. Besides, he'd never be in this situation if it weren't for Anise. "Now how do you feel about turquoise?"

He grunted. She took that as a go-ahead to pull the shirt off the rack and hold it against his chest. "Do you want to try it on?"

"I don't need to." He gently removed it from her grip. "It's my size, the color isn't horrible—let's buy it and get out of here."

Ryne blew out a long breath. Deke didn't want to try on anything, and damn it, he didn't need to. He was wearing jeans and a long-sleeve Henley shirt—something they'd picked out at the first store—and both fit him perfectly. He'd simply grabbed his size, changed clothes in the dressing room, and handed the tags to the salesclerk. His cooperation had gone steadily downhill since.

"You need more pants, more shirts, and a couple of jackets."

Deke grumbled. "How many more damn stores are you going to drag me into?"

"As many as it takes." Ryne went toe-to-toe with him. "I hate shopping as much as you do. I'd rather buy stuff online, but you need clothes now, not a week from now. If you'd stop being difficult, we could finish and get the hell out of here."

"I have an idea," Deke said, and from the sweet smile he gave her, Ryne guessed she wasn't going to like it. "Why don't I write down my sizes for you, and you pick out the clothes. I'll wait for you by the televisions."

"Not a chance, hotshot. If I have to suffer, so do you." Something went through his eyes and she suspected he was about to head off anyway and make her try to stop him. "You do what I think you're going to do," she warned, "and I swear to God, you'll have more pink clothes than any man who's ever lived."

"I won't wear them."

"If I return everything else, you won't have much choice."

"You wouldn't."

"Try me." Ryne glared up at him.

He measured her, and she knew when he decided she meant every word she'd said. "You're a hard ass," Deke complained.

"If I wasn't, you'd walk all over me."

"Probably," he admitted easily. "The blue is fine. Why don't we pick a few more of the same shirt and call it good?"

"If we do that," she said, "most of your wardrobe will be the same."

"So what?"

Ryne shrugged. If he didn't care, why should she? With a common goal—getting out of the mall ASAP—things went faster. They picked out a few more jeans, a denim jacket, and a warm winter coat. He nixed the knit hat in favor of a baseball cap with Minnesota Wild emblazoned on it, and they were ready to go.

Or so she thought.

Deke was dragging his heels so she asked, "Did we forget something?"

"Babe—Ryne," he immediately corrected, "I hate to ask, but..." His voice trailed off.

She knew he wasn't feigning discomfort. Ryne had seen how embarrassed he'd been when she'd whipped out her credit card to pay for his clothes, yet he'd gone to the register with her each time anyway. Maybe it was a small thing, but it told her what kind of man Deke was and she liked his determination to do what he thought was right even if he was mortified.

"What?" she prompted softly.

Deke grimaced. "Would you mind if I got a watch? Nothing fancy," he added quickly.

"It's not a problem," she told him. But it was. Not because of the price. No, the problem was the way he'd asked, as if he didn't want to be an imposition.

And when she saw the piece of crap he picked, Ryne nearly smacked him. Damn it, she didn't want to like him, but Deke wasn't giving her much choice. "I'm not wasting money on that. Here," she grabbed a watch that was about triple the cost. "This one's better."

"It's too expensive."

"If you think I'm going to be seen in public with some guy wearing a watch with a plastic strap, you better think again. I have my standards." Ryne caught the glance he gave the watch she held, and it was obvious he preferred her choice. "The brown strap will go better with the clothes we bought," she suggested.

"Yeah, like I'm some kind of fashion geek."

"You're going to pay me back anyway," Ryne said, trying another tack, "so why not get the nicer watch?"

He hesitated for moment. "Are you sure?" Deke lowered his voice. "You've put a hell of a total on your credit card already."

Instead of answering him, Ryne flagged down the sales associate and had her ring up the one with the leather band. "He'll wear it," she said, handing the watch to Deke, "but you can put the box in a bag."

The teenager did that as Ryne signed the receipt.

"We need a pack mule to make it to your Explorer with all these bags," Deke groused as they walked through the mall.

"I thought that was your job."

His laugh surprised Ryne. "So that's the real secret behind why women drag men shopping, huh?"

Deke's grin was infectious and Ryne returned his smile before she was aware of it. Damn, she did like him—when he wasn't infuriating her. "Since everything we bought is yours, why shouldn't you carry the bags?"

"Point taken, babe."

Ryne frowned, but otherwise ignored the babe thing. He wasn't going to stop using it as long as she reacted, so she needed to tune it out. Either that or she might have to pound her name into his thick head.

 

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