...Troy chucked his phone onto the bed. Whoever it was had waited nearly two days. They could wait another half hour while he cleaned up.
And if he was procrastinating? Well, too bad. He would worry about it later. Tomorrow, maybe. Everyone was entitled to play the role of Scarlett every once in a while and put off things for another day. He was picking today as his day.
Troy was leaning over in the bedroom, drying his hair with a towel, when footsteps echoed in the stairwell. He froze, gaze darting toward his cell phone, lying there like the proverbial elephant in the room.
The water in the bathroom turned on and Troy realized he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t call Ken and Mark and discuss their so-called case. He couldn’t betray Rafe like that, not while in the man’s home. Maybe not at all. God, when had this whole thing turned into such a mess? And when had he gotten so sentimental and mushy? So attached?
Didn’t matter. Troy realized that what he really wanted was a couple of stiff drinks. He yanked on a clean pair of jeans, grabbed his keys and phone, and headed for the front door. The small town of Everton was a few miles up ahead. This was cattle country. There would be beer. And possibly whiskey.
Sure enough, several small taverns dotted the main street, looking old and worn next to the hardware stores and the Wal-Mart complex a few blocks down. Troy picked one and walked in. Liquid courage first. Phone calls later.
Nearly half an hour later Troy signaled for another beer, cell phone mashed against his ear. “I’m just saying, I think we’re going about this all wrong. I know Mark wants to sue Rafe for all he’s got. But you know what? He doesn’t have anything. Just a crumbling ranch that barely pulls in enough money to keep from going under each year.”
“Is everything okay down there?” Ken asked with a note of concern in his voice. “Because you don’t sound like yourself.”
“Could be the four beers. Five? Dunno, I lost count after that shot of tequila.”
“Okay, now I know something is going on. Want to tell Uncle Ken?”
“That sounded vaguely…nasty or something. Look, I think we maybe should remember that Mark is still a kid. Maybe he doesn’t know what’s best for himself. Maybe he’s letting a screwed-up childhood turn him into someone he shouldn’t be. Doesn’t need to be. Whatever.”
“And maybe you’re drunk and not making a whole lot of sense. What’s so complicated about this? Mark—client. You—detective. So finish the job, get the info, and come home.”
Troy swallowed a belch—eww, gross—and slid off his stool, tossing some bills on the counter on his way out. He was already being stupid, talking about the case in a public place. Small town and all that. He didn’t really think the locals would appreciate where the conversation was going next.
Troy stepped outside and leaned against a corner of the building. “I like him,” he blurted out.
“Rafe. I like him. You know, like him, like him.”
“What are you, a thirteen-year-old girl? So you have a crush on the mark. Big deal.”
“The mark? Shit, when did I turn into a con man?” Troy ran his free hand through his hair, thinking that maybe the description wasn’t too far off. He felt like a con man. Every day that he continued to lie to Rafe chafed at him, like an annoying bug bite on the back of his knee that just wouldn’t go away.
“Troy?” The serious note in Ken’s voice caught his full attention. “Have you broken the, and I quote, ‘number one PI rule of all time’? Have you fallen for a client?”
“He’s not a client,” Troy protested. He actually squirmed a bit in the uncomfortable silence that followed. “All right, maybe a bit,” he finally admitted. “But Rafe is nice and gorgeous and, oh God, you should see his ass.”
Troy clamped his mouth shut before he could continue gushing. Damn, he really was acting like a teenaged girl. Maybe he should stop drinking for the night.
Then again, maybe he hadn’t had enough.
“Troy, you need to finish the job and get your ass back home,” Ken said. “Don’t complicate the situation.”
Troy hung up without saying goodbye. He let his head drop back against the siding with a loud thump. He should probably take Ken’s advice. Probably.
Didn’t mean he would. Or even could.
Troy thumped his head against the wall a few more times before he pushed away and stuck his phone into his pocket. He needed another drink. Or three...