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Broken Code

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broken code ebook cover.jpg

Chapter One

Jack Benton Can Kiss My…

- Lila -

The bell over the front door jangled in time with the ice-cold blast of wind and Angela, wrapped head to toe, snow dusting her knit cap.

Lila shivered and pulled her cardigan closer. The wind raced along the street, and at the height of winter, it was especially frigid. Angela was late, as usual. Even in winter, the girl couldn’t make it to work on time.

“Oh my God, the weather is really taking a turn for the worse.” Angela said, shivering and stomping her feet to avoid tracking it across the front of the store.

Margery, who had been waiting impatiently for Angela to arrive, levered herself out of a nearby chair. “You’re late. Again.”

Angela peered at her through a static-filled billow of hair that stuck out and waved wildly now that she released it from the knit cap. “Um… sorry?” She replied. Her tone sounded put-upon, more than truly sorry, and Lila hid a smirk as Margery rolled her eyes in Lila’s direction.

“Right, well, I’m off to lunch and my appointment, Lila. See you tomorrow… oh wait, are you leaving tonight?” She waggled her eyebrows. “With Hubba Hubba hot guy?”

Lila grinned. “He’s flying in tonight. We’ll leave the day after tomorrow. Are you sure you’ll be okay to open tomorrow? If not, I can swing by and do it.”

Margery waved her fingers dismissively at Lila. “Don’t you dare. Take the time, relax, for once! This baby has another month to go before he’s due to make an appearance. I can use all the hours you’ll give me until then.” She ran a hand along her rounded belly and sighed. “I can open tomorrow and through the rest of the week. I just hope that Angela here will be on time every day.”

“Oh, absolutely. Not a problem.” Angela answered, unwinding a scarf that had to be six feet long. Her blond hair was dancing in a halo around her head and Lila could see the snaps of electricity arc. It was dry, far drier than she had thought it would be this close to the ocean.

Margery met Lila’s eyes and shook her head. It was quite clear she had no faith in the younger woman’s ability to make it to her shift on time. Which was no surprise, really, since if Angela showed up at the appointed time, it would be the first time. Lila wasn’t sure what she was going to do when Margery had her baby next month. She’d been advertising for weeks and no one seemed interested. She could handle running the store on her own, with Angela’s infrequent and unreliable appearances, but with the first book done and published, she was eager to start on the second book in the series. It was easier with another body in the store. Even during winter, which was the slowest season, she barely had enough time to handle the unboxing of deliveries, running the cash register, and all the other sundry details that it took to keep the store running. As it was, even now she handled the financial aspects at home, a time she preferred to be writing or spending time with Shane when he was in between assignments.

The last year had been hard. Maintaining a relationship with Shane absent more than he was there, had certainly pushed her to her limits. Each time he went away, she found it harder to say goodbye.

“Okay, out I go!” Margery said, and slid her parka hood over her head, clutching the front ends of it tight over her middle. Her belly prevented her from zipping it up. She waddled out the door, and the bell overhead gave a frenzied jingle while another gust of frigid air and flying snow blasted in. Lila watched as she half ran to her car and slid in. Seconds later, the car disappeared down the street into a wall of white.

“Okay, I’m just about finished up with the book order I need to make and then I need to get to Hanniford’s for a few essentials.” Lila told Angela, who had unwrapped her multiple layers and secured them in the back office.

“Will you be okay to close up today?” She asked the girl and Angela nodded. “You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. Don’t worry, Boss. I got you covered.”

“Okay. Maeve should be in soon. She asked for me to hold Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe for her. It’s in its usual place.”

Angela saluted and settled herself on the stool behind the cash register.

Lila couldn’t help it; she was really looking forward to Shane’s visit. He’d been gone five weeks this time, with a grueling assignment. He had said little about it, just that he was really looking forward to the two weeks off. She smiled at the thought of the surprise she had waiting for him. A trip to Sugarloaf, a full week in an Airbnb, in a caboose no less! She had been seconds away from sharing the link and showing him, ever since he told her about train-watching as a kid. She just knew he would love it. But she’d stopped. It was going to be a surprise. She couldn’t wait to see his face when they arrived.

There will be skiing, sure, but also all the time in the world to curl up in the caboose, just the two of us.

The bell jingled and the icy blast of wind and snow hit. The thought of just how they would keep each other warm helped Lila brave the elements. She pulled her coat tighter around her as she skittered and slid through the snow to reach her car. She really hoped Angela wouldn’t let her down or make it too difficult on Margery.

Although what I am going to do for full-time help once Margery’s baby comes, I do not know. I really doubt that Angela will ever be dependable.

Shane had turned down her offer to pick him up at the airport. “I can catch an Uber. It’s on Benton Security Services dime, anyway. No need to drive in the snow. Besides, I need to run an errand first.”

The sun was already beginning to fade from the sky by the time she ran a couple of errands and pulled into the driveway. These days, the sun was gone by 4:30 and didn’t reappear until seven in the morning. She hated winter for that very reason. Practically her entire day spent inside, and by the time it was over, it was already dark. Today, however, she welcomed the sunset and darkness. It meant that Shane would be here soon.

At a quarter to six, headlights illuminated the drive, and she rushed to the door to find Shane grinning at her, the thick snow already settling in a moist layer across his broad shoulders. His backpack was slung over one shoulder, his hands filled with grocery bags. She grinned as she spied a bouquet tucked under his arm.

He leaned in and captured her lips in a kiss.

“Are those for me?” She asked, taking the bags from him as he wrestled with his boots.

“Nah, I figured I’d give them to your roommate.”

“Well, lucky me, I don’t have a roommate.” She also didn’t have a vase yet, she kept forgetting to order one. The bouquet was exquisite, the roses were a lovely shade of lavender mixed with a spray of white baby’s breath.

I really, really need to buy a vase.

Shane laughed as Lila reached for the tall metal cup that sat under her chrome Hamilton Beach milkshake mixer. It was that or a Contigo, and she only had the one.

“What? It works!” She busied herself with unwrapping the bouquet and adjusting the positioning of the flowers after she filled it up with water.

“I thought you were going to buy a vase.”

“I keep meaning to, really I do.”

Meanwhile, the stainless-steel milkshake cup was the perfect height. Lila finished futzing with the flowers and set it in the middle of the small dining room table. They looked good there. And it was a far better use for the milkshake cup. She still remembered the first time she had used it. She had tried to make a boozy shake with the mixer, gotten the measurements all wrong, and given herself the hangover of a lifetime on a vodka root beer float. At that point, the mixer, as cute as it looked there on the countertop, was relegated to household decor status. And because Shane always brought her flowers, and she had nothing else to put them in, even when he visited, the silly thing remained unused.

Shane’s arms enveloped her from behind as he nuzzled her neck. His nose was ice cold, thanks to the wintry mix outside her warm, cozy house. She squirmed in his embrace.

“Two weeks. Alone. You and me.”

She turned around, slipped her arms around his waist and kissed him deep, hungry. He responded in kind, his hands moving gently at first, then matching her with intensity. They moved from her hips to her back and then reached down, pulling her up, both hands firmly cupping her butt, her feet off the ground, her legs wrapping around his waist as his tongue melded with hers.

They had been apart more than they were together, but even after six months, the attraction hadn’t slackened. She still felt a surge of desire every time he looked in her direction.

Shane walked forwards, holding her, his mouth devouring hers, until they crashed into the kitchen island. The bags full of groceries crinkled and shifted. He had done a decent amount of shopping. She could see that, although right now, her mind was only on one thing, and it wasn’t food. She slipped a hand inside of his jeans, her fingers sliding along his flesh. His breathing changed, accelerated, and he sat her on the counter, swearing as something round and green went tumbling to the floor.

“I was going to fix dinner first.” He reached for the fallen produce. Something that resembled a fat green onion teetered on the counter’s edge, and he caught it before it fell.

Lila grabbed his shirtsleeve. “I love your cooking almost as much as I love other more energetic pursuits, but your priorities are all messed up, Shane Ellis.” She pulled him back towards her. “Forget the lettuce.”

“It’s cabbage, actually…” He stopped talking as she pulled his mouth to hers and reached down to make sure the vegetable escape hadn’t affected something far more vital.

Nope, his priorities are still right where they need to be.

He sucked in a breath as she undid the top button of his jeans and eased the zipper down. He set down the fat onion and returned to running his hands along her body. Roaming, exploring, possessing her in ways no man had ever done. Sex, hell, the lead-up to sex, was more thrilling than anyone she had ever been with. He reached up her skirt, his fingers questing. She shuddered as his fingers slid past the edge of her underwear and caressed her clit. A surge of dampness and she moaned against his mouth, pushing closer and closer until she risked slipping off of the edge of the counter. His erection tented his briefs, and he slipped his dick out of his bindings with one hand, the other continuing to caress her slick folds.

Lila wanted him inside her. Wanted to feel every bit of him fill her. She wrapped a hand around his silken shaft, teasing and tantalizing, listening to his breathing speed up, matching hers. The long weeks away from him had served only to build the sexual tension, and add fire to this moment here between them. Shane broke contact with her mouth and moved his lips to her neck, moving up to her earlobe where his teeth nipped her gently.

“Woman, you drive me insane. I was going to seduce you over a delectable dinner, dessert, and right now all I want to do is fuck you, right here, right now.” He growled into her ear and nipped it again, harder this time.

Lila shivered, a wanton shiver she felt from the top of her head down to her toes.

She stroked him harder, slipped off the edge of the countertop, knowing he would catch her, hold her.

“You know me. I like to work up an appetite first.”

A groan of frustration, lust, or perhaps both, was the only sound he made before he pushed his way inside her. A parade of groceries crashed to the floor, ignored by them both, as he thrust hard, and fast, into her. She could feel the tip of him slam into her cervix, his fingers from one hand dancing along her clit, sending waves of exquisite pleasure cresting through her as he pushed her back against the countertop.

Lila shoved a package away from the small of her back, moaned and wrapped her legs around his ass as he fucked her hard and fast. God, she had missed this! Shane ticked all the boxes for her, and the sex was simply out of this world.

Their two bodies moved as one now, both questing for the release, when the stars and planets aligned. She heard something else clatter to the floor, ignored it. She was so close. From the change in his breaths, so was he.

“Come in me now.” Lila breathed, gasping in pleasure as she felt the orgasm flow through her, a wave cresting at its apex, and Shane cried out a millisecond later, groaning as he joined her. His body breaking and collapsing onto her as he rode the same wave with her.

Seconds, a moment passed. His hair tickled her bare chest. Lila sighed with pleasure. She barely remembered ripping her t-shirt off, or Shane’s quick release of her bra. The oxytocin and dopamine rush were still circulating through her. She could feel it all the way through to the tips of her toes.

Shane groaned, nestled his face in her stomach, mumbled. “I love fucking you. I want to fuck you all night long, woman.”

Lila smiled. “I’m good with that. As long as dinner is involved.”

“I had a magnificent dinner planned. Veal scallopini with lemon and capers, potato and leek soup, and a crème brûlée for dessert.”

On cue, her stomach rumbled, and he raised his head, quirked an eyebrow, and chuckled.

“I told you I wanted to work up an appetite. Well, now that I have…”

Shane’s chuckle turned into a roar of laughter. He stood up, pulled his jeans back up, and straightened his clothes. Then he pulled her up against him, kissed her deeply, and set her back on the floor.

Lila reached for her t-shirt and bra, which was hanging off the corner of the butcher block next to the fat green onions. Before she could put them on, Shane pulled her into another hungry, lingering kiss.

“I cannot get enough of you, Lila. When I’m on assignment, all I can do is think about when I can see you again.”

She smiled. “I feel the same way.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Are you sure you aren’t just keeping me around for my cooking?”

Lila fastened her bra and slid her shirt back on. “Mm, a distinct possibility.” She reached for the weird vegetable that was now on the floor. “This is the fattest green onion I have ever seen.”

Shane snorted, “That’s a leek, you uneducated heathen.”

Their banter continued as he pulled out pans and pots and began working on dinner. An hour later, Lila groaned as she slipped the last spoonful of crème brûlée into her mouth. “This is almost better than sex.” She caught Shane’s look of dismay. “Almost, I said almost!”

Shane looked nonplussed, then arched an eyebrow, stood up from the table, and walked the two steps over to her. “I’ll show you something far better than food, woman. It’s nine inches long…”

“Eight.” Lila interrupted.

“Nine. You caught me on an off day.” He pulled her up to him and she could feel him growing hard. “As I was saying, I’m going to show you all nine inches of something better than food. And I’m going to do it slowly. You will beg me to finish you off.” He growled in her ear.

Lila’s breath caught in her throat as his mouth descended onto hers. She could taste the caramel and cream from the crème brûlée, and a hint of the lemony remnants of the veal. And, as if she hadn’t already experienced one of the more memorable orgasms of her life, her body hummed with anticipation.

She reached for his hand and pulled him after her to the upstairs bedroom.

The next morning was just as satisfying. After a quickie, Lila slid from the bed, sated, and slipped into the shower. When she returned, Shane was gone from it. From the sound of it, he was busy in the kitchen again. A tantalizing aroma meandered its way up the stairs. Lila sniffed the air.

Mm. Bacon and maple syrup. I wonder if Shane knows how to make pecan pie?

She floated down the stairs, her long hair wrapped in a towel, and a thick, warm robe and slippers were the only clothing she needed.

He grinned as she entered the kitchen. “Hey Sexy, did you work up an appetite?”

“Always. It smells amazing, as usual.”

“French toast with cinnamon and maple syrup. The bacon is cooking in the fridge.” He swirled the pan. “The snowfall really added up. I figure the storm laid down four inches, maybe more, by the looks of it. And we have a two-hour drive in the best of conditions ahead of us. What time is check-in?”

Lila grinned. She couldn’t wait to see his face when they arrived at the caboose Airbnb. “Three p.m. but she said we could come as early as two if we needed to.”

“Perfect. We can eat breakfast in bed, make love until noon, shower, and leave.”

Lila giggled. “Well, it sounds like the perfect start to our week-long skiing vacation!”

She leaned in to kiss him, but at that moment, his cell phone rang with a thumping melody. There was only one person it could be. Lila’s heart sank as the tune yodeled, “Big, big, big boss.”

Shane pulled away, dug the phone out of his jeans pocket and answered it. “Ellis here.”

Lila couldn’t hear what Jack Benton was saying. She didn’t need to. The look on Shane’s face was clear.

Are you kidding me?

She mouthed at Shane to tell his boss to find someone else.

“Yeah, I understand. Right. No, I’ll be there. Yeah. Okay.” He hung up the phone and stared at the French toast in the pan, avoiding meeting Lila’s incredulous gaze.

“He did not tell you to come in. Tell me he didn’t.”

“Look, I have to go. It’s a domestic battery situation. Wife of the chief of police. WitSec won’t get involved and…”

“Tell him to find someone else!”

“There isn’t anyone else. Everyone else is on assignment. He says it will only be for a week, and…”

“A week?!” Lila spat, furious and on the verge of tears. Her plans, all the plans she had made. The Airbnb she had rented. The dinner reservations at a nearby Italian restaurant, the ski package. They wouldn’t be able to reschedule. There would be no one to watch the store in another few weeks other than Angela, and she was completely unreliable.

The happy, satisfied feeling she had gone to bed with, woken up with, with Shane by her side, it dissolved as if it hadn’t ever really existed.

An hour later, Shane’s phone dinged. He checked it. “The Uber is almost here.”

Lila said nothing. She was too angry and heartbroken.

Damned if I’m going to make this easy on him, either. He just bends over for Benton. Lets him do whatever he wants, ask whatever he wants.

Shane had tried to explain. But Lila didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t care that there was no one else to do the job. Benton had promised Shane two weeks off. She didn’t care about the reasons Shane felt he owed Jack Benton. After five years of dedicated service, he had damned well paid that debt, no matter the circumstances.

“Maybe you can get a refund on the Airbnb you rented?” His expression looked hopeful. Which merely infuriated her more.

Fuck the refund. Tell Jack to go suck an egg!

Lila settled for making a noncommittal, “Sure, whatever.”

Shane shouldered his backpack. The Uber pulled up at the curb and he stared at it for a moment, then back at Lila.

“I really am sorry, Lila. If I had a choice, I’d tell him to find someone else, but I owe Jack. He needs me.”

Lila closed her eyes and willed away the gathering tears.

Jack doesn’t need you. I need you.

“Right.” She opened them, and Shane’s eyes bored into hers. Begging forgiveness and understanding. But she had neither to offer him.

He kissed her as the Uber honked impatiently. “I have to go now.”

“Yeah, I know.”

He stepped down onto the stoop and turned around at her again. “I’ll make this up to you.”

“Right.” The effort to say anything felt as if she were chewing on sharp glass.

“Okay. I’ll call you tonight.”

She nodded, and he walked away. As he opened the door to the Uber, Lila couldn’t take it anymore. She cupped her hands and called out, “Shane?”

Shane stopped and turned.

“The next time you talk to Jack Benton? You tell him I said to kiss… my… ass.” She felt a small measure of satisfaction in watching Shane’s eyebrows shoot up and his mouth fall open before she stomped back inside and slammed the door closed behind her.

She pressed her back against the door and let loose a string of profanity that would have shocked the townspeople, her employees, and likely even Shane. And with it came angry, hot tears of frustration.

It had taken her nearly three days to form the words and just say it. To tell him it was over. Whatever “it” was.

Long-distance relationships don’t work. He picked his work over a relationship with me.

She had gathered her courage, called him, told him she couldn’t do it anymore. He had said little. But really, what was there to say, anyway? It would not work. Not like this.

She missed Kaylee. She hadn’t been able to talk to her friend for nearly two years. Kaylee would have told her to drop sexy pecan pie Shane Ellis like a rock. She would have taken her for sushi at Nara’s and they would have gotten tipsy and gone dancing, just the two of them. But she was here, in Maine, living under an assumed name, and prohibited from contacting anyone. Angela was too young and unreliable to talk to. And Margery centered entirely on bringing a new human into the world and focusing on being a stay-at-home mom.

Lila had never felt more alone than she did now. Even when her mom had died, she could return to college, and Kaylee had been there. To listen, to hold her when she cried, and make her laugh when the time was right. This time, she was alone in her misery. She took the week off of work, if only because she didn’t want to explain it to Margery or Angela. Later she could explain, when time had spooled out and the hurt and anger had diminished.

The groceries Shane had filled her fridge with eventually spoiled. Every day since he’d left, she would stand in the kitchen, refrigerator door open, and glare at the various packages. Angry, frustrated, and ultimately too depressed to even try to do anything with it all. After a week, she went to Hanniford’s and purchased her regular heat and eat meals. They filled the freezer, and she stopped opening the fridge section except to grab milk for her cereal. By the third week, the smell was unbearable. She waited until the night before trash pickup and dumped the reeking mess into the Pay-As-You-Throw blue trash bags and taken to the curb while trying desperately not to breathe the stench in.

“Damn you, Shane Ellis. Kowtowing to your boss. Who cares if Jack Benton is a billionaire used to getting his way and to hell with anyone else’s feelings?” She muttered angrily as she trudged back along the icy driveway. “Jack Benton can kiss my ass!”

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©2021 by Christine Shuck - Author, Artist, and General Malcontent. Proudly created with

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