Clandestine: A Garden Falls Novel
Finding himself in Claire’s bed wearing nothing but a Zorro mask wasn’t exactly how Zane planned his Halloween. It was a certainty his sister’s best friend would lose her mind when she realized what they’d done. Having been secretly in love with Claire for years, Zane has no choice but to hide his identity. But he can’t just walk away…
Claire knew waking up naked and alone was just a part of a one-night stand. So she wasn’t too upset to find her mystery man had bounced sometime during the night. But when she finds his mask and a note, she can’t help but be intrigued. A few corny poems later, Claire starts a hunt to discover the identity of the mysterious “Z”. His demanding, yet sincere, persistence arouses not only her desire to recapture the magic they had shared on Halloween, but stirs up hidden desires she’s held on to for years.
When her best friend’s brother suddenly ups his flirting game, Claire is caught somewhere between her clandestine admirer and the man she knows she can’t have. Will she choose the secretive “Z” who won’t even tell her his name, or risk her relationship with her best friend and take a chance on Zane?
Turning into the packed parking lot at Garden, Claire stomped the brakes and winced. Her car screeched to a stop, the bumper mere inches from Dracula and Medusa. The kissing couple didn’t seem to notice their near brush with death. If they did, it didn’t bother them enough to interrupt their embrace, anyway. With an exasperated shake of her head, Claire eased her car around them, glancing toward the front of the building as she crept slowly by. The line of people went from the double front doors, all the way around the side under the big stained glass windows. Of course it would, every adult in town under thirty was inside the club—or wanted to be. She finally found an empty spot at the back of the lot. A sports car was straddling the line, but it left just enough space for Claire to squeeze her little compact car in between it and the red Ford truck on the left. The Richland Construction sign on the door of the big truck made her sigh.
Shit. The last thing she wanted to deal with tonight was Zane freaking Richmond. The big goof had made it his life’s mission to make her smile for years. But lately? Oh, lately, he’d taken it a step further and the teasing had taken on more of a flirty tone. And now her heart went crazy every time he smiled her direction. Which happened way more than she wanted to admit. If he wasn’t her best friend’s brother, maybe… But after all that she and Talia had been through, endangering their friendship all for an uncertain relationship with Zane wasn’t something she was willing to chance.
It was just one night. She could ignore him for one night.
Even if he flirted? No… Some things just weren’t worth the risk. And despite how much that little dimple when he laughed begged her to kiss it, or how her heart fluttered whenever their hands brushed, she couldn’t give in to the temptation of Zane.
With a fortifying breath, Claire stepped out of her car. She pulled the rest of her costume from the back seat. Huge wings. Tonight, she was an angel. The snowy white feathers weighed heavily on her back. But with her mask and wings firmly in place, she strode up to the worn brick building. Zane Richmond wasn’t going to keep her from this party. Not tonight. Halloween was her favorite holiday and she’d be damned if she let his presence stop her.
She got in line behind a pair of ninjas and crept slowly toward the entrance, inch by inch. The slow moving line gave her too much time to worry. It would be a miracle if she was able to find her friends in the crowded club. At least she’d be able to find Sean. Even if he was in costume, the massive bartender her best friend had just married would be easy to find. And he’d be able to point Talia out.
A shiver coursed down her spine as the cool autumn breeze picked up. The angel costume really needed more fabric to be appropriate for this weather. She rubbed her hands over her bare arms, trying to warm the chilled flesh. She almost reneged on her promise to show up tonight when the line stopped moving for a minute. With the sun high in the sky today, the air had warmed to the mid-fifties. But now that it had eased below the horizon, those warmer temperatures were falling fast. She didn’t recognize the bouncer, but the jerk laughed at her chattering teeth when she finally made it to the door. She showed him ID and got the 21+ stamp on her hand.
Oh she definitely planned to have a few drinks tonight. This week had been damn ridiculous at work. They’d lost three patients due to various complications and her stress level had reached its max. She was so ready for some alcohol and a little relaxation. A few drinks, maybe some dancing where she could get close to a hot guy for a bit.
Slipping her ID inside the tiny pocket she’d sewn on her costume, she fought a shiver as her body tried to adjust to the temperature difference. Ten feet inside the club Peter Pan asked her to dance. She eyed him carefully. He was kinda cute. Glancing down, she vetoed that. Nope. Not nearly enough in those tights to tempt her. She gave him a soft smile and let him down easy. “Sorry, Pete. I’m an angel, not a fairy. Keep looking, you’ll find your Tinkerbell.”
The loud blare of a train whistle pulled Zane from the depths of sleep. Why was there a train? Where the hell was he? There weren’t any trains near the lake. His Zorro mask blocked one eye. Tugging it up, he blinked a few times until his eyes adjusted to the dim light. A four poster bed? Satin sheets and pillows, a sweet perfume lingering in the air. Not his apartment.
Silky, long hair splayed across his bare chest. A soft arm lay across his stomach. Feathers tickled his arm. Feathers?
He’d went home with Claire. Not just went home with her, but went to bed with her. That was her arm. Her naked body pressed so temptingly against his side. The feathers from her angel costume bent around his arm. And damn, she felt just as amazing as he’d dreamed she would.
She’d hate him when she woke up and discovered him in her bed.
He gulped down a ball of dread when that little speck of consciousness dropped into active thought. No way would she be cool with this. Not even a little bit. His heart and mind raced while he tried to come up with a plan that didn’t end with Claire castrating him. She’d made it clear how little she cared for him, repeatedly.
He wasn’t even sure why she seemed to hate him so much. Back when they were teenagers, she’d followed him around like a lost puppy for about a year. And even the year she’d half-lived with Talia they’d been cool. But it seemed like the more he tried to make her like him, the less she did.
And finding out they’d had a drunken one-night-stand? Yeah. No. He liked his balls just where they were. Firmly attached to his body.
“Talia! Come in, how are you feeling?” Her best friend gave her a quick hug before coming inside.
“I’m good. I wanted to see if you wanted to come with me to Garden? Hang out for a bit?” Talia sat and propped her swollen feet up on the coffee table. “How you been? I’m sorry I didn’t make it out to the costume party. This pregnancy is kicking my butt.” She rubbed her belly with a soft smile on her face.
“I have to be at work early in the morning. I do need to run by Garden though. I…” Claire trailed off giggling. “Oh, I have to tell you. I have a secret admirer!”
“Okay, so since you totally bailed on me for the Halloween party, I went alone. I mean, that costume was too fine and too expensive to waste, right?” Claire paused only for a second before continuing, “So… I’m standing there at the bar and this guy walks up and asks me to dance. And he’s totally hot, so I’m like okay. And so we dance. And drink. And dance. And kiss—oh my God, can he kiss. And well, the details get a bit fuzzy, but I uh… brought him home with me.”
“That’s a one night stand, not a secret admirer.” Talia nudged her.
“I know that.” Claire nudged back, but gentler. “When I woke up, he was gone.”
“So romantic… Never understood the whole hit it and quit it thing?”
“But he didn’t! Well, I guess kinda… but he went and got me flowers. And left me a note that’s signed Z for Zorro. And then a poem on my car, and a poem beneath the door.” Claire jumped up and ran to her bedroom to get the other notes.
When she came back, she dropped them in Talia’s lap. “See, look. How sweet is that? I have to write my next note and leave it at Garden.”
Talia read the notes, with Claire watching her face the entire time. There was a hint of confusion, then something that Claire thought might be anger, before Talia’s face softened into a smile.
“So, Z, huh? What are you saying back to him?” Talia raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t know. Pretty sure I sounded ignorant in my first note.” Laying her head on Talia’s shoulder, Claire asked, “Can you help me come up with something?”
“I suppose.” Her doubtful tone made Claire sit up and look at her.
“What’s that supposed to mean? You found love in an unconventional way. Who’s to say I can’t. Something about this guy…” Claire flipped her hair back. She searched for the words to explain how Z made her feel. How even his note made her feel.
“Okay, I’ll help you. But keep it G-rated, alright?” Talia shook her head. “Sean has made me more willing to try some things, but this is a line I won’t cross. And if you all get more X-rated than the whisker burn, I don’t want to read them.”
“Why not?” Claire poked Talia’s belly. “Baby stole your sex drive?”
“Hush. My sex drive is just fine. I just don’t need to hear about yours right now. Unless you want to hear about just how good Sean is with his—”
“Got it!” Laughing, Claire grabbed the stationery. “So… what do I say to Z?”
“Aren’t you going to try to figure out who he is?”
“Pretty sure it’s a guy who works at the hospital. I think he’s an anesthesiologist.” After a lot of thought, she could only think of one guy who might be romantic enough to pull this sort of seduction off.
Talia shook her head. “I wouldn’t get too attached to that idea, if I were you.”
Claire met her friend’s gaze. “Do you know something I don’t?”
“Nope. I wasn’t even there to see Zorro, remember? Don’t know anything about him except he had a scratchy beard.” Something about the expression on her face said Talia knew more than she was saying.