The Crimson Cloak (Ever After book 1)

A kingdom ruined by greed and vanity. The royal family, dethroned by an evil witch and cursed to forget their lives, are tossed into another world. The only thing that will save the fairy-tale realm is a rogue king, an old book, and a crimson cloak. Elysse Grimm is the last fairy-tale guardian and high queen of Ever After, but she has no memory of it. Only true love’s kiss can help her remember.

the crimson cloak

 

Chapter Seven

I stared out the window as the barren landscape blurred into dirty snow and houses. The roads were clearer than the day before leaving behind nothing but muddy slush. The mall parking lot contained quite a few more cars. You can’t keep people from spending their money for too long.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” I said.

“Why did you come to work for Belinda?”

“I’m going to school to be a lawyer. She’s one of the best in the city.”

“That’s the only reason you came?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded his head and sat there in silence. My stomach flipped and flopped as awkward silence fell upon us. I grabbed the door handle and climbed out of his car, hurrying into my own. He smiled over at me before driving away. I glanced in my rearview mirror, watching until his car was out of sight. Pulling out of the parking lot and heading south on fifty-one, I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed.

Half an hour till home.

The snow seemed to get deeper as my car neared the house. Thick snowflakes fell hard and fast, covering the road quicker than the plow trucks could get rid of them. The driveway looked impossible to go up. My engine revved as the poor car chugged through the white fluff. Forcing open the door, I hurried to the front door, kicking off my boots. The walk to my room took forever. The steps extended even further up than usual. At least that’s how it seemed in my exhausted mind. My clothes trailed behind me as I climbed into the shower. The hot water thawed out my frozen body.

“Elyse? Are you eating?” Mom called up to my room.

“Yeah, I’ll be down in a bit,” I shouted, hoping she heard me over the water.

The honey shampoo invaded my nostrils, relaxing me even more. As the shower changed from hot to freezing cold, I turned off the nozzle and grabbed the biggest towel out of the cupboard. Hurrying into a pair of sweats and a hoodie, I took the steps two at a time.

Two plates, cups, and sets of silverware adorned our modest kitchen table. The usual place settings. Mom’s messy black hair, streaked gray pulled into a sloppy bun bounced about as she moved around the kitchen. The faded blue apron I’d bought her for some unknown holiday years ago was wrapped tightly around her tiny waist.

“Mom, it’s time to retire that old thing.”

“I will when you get me a new one.” She smiled, putting a plate of meat and mush in front of me.

“What are you serving me tonight?” I poked at the food.

“Meatloaf and potatoes. Eat.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Uh huh. Now eat. I’m serious. You’re losing weight instead of gaining.”

I watched her closely. The fine wrinkles around her eyes and lips were more defined. She aged beyond her years. It wasn’t fair to her.

For once I did as she asked and shoveled all the food in my mouth without argument.

“I’m going to bed. I have an early start tomorrow.”

“All right. I’m going to read some.”

“Don’t stay up too late, Mom.”

I warily climbed the stairs, happy to finally get some rest. Sinking into the soft mattress on my bed, sleep took over instantly.

Morning came much too quickly. My alarm clock blared some ridiculously upbeat song. Digging myself out of the mountain of blankets, groaning and grumbling escaped my sleepy lips. Once silence descended on my room sleep took over once again. Six a.m. was just too early to be awake, and eight a.m. was too early to have to deal with office shit. Taking a deep breath and bracing myself for the cold air of the old house, the blankets were kicked off my body. My windows covered in a fresh layer of frost, and it just screamed cold. Winter needed to end.

I had been debating with myself all night whether I was going to tell James about the crazy girl stalker tendencies or not.

***

Blanche was already at the office when I got there. There was only one way to deal with people like her. You had to kill them with kindness. A forced smile greeted her as she glared at me.

“Good morning.”

“Whatever,” she grumbled.

“I hope you have a great day today.”

She just glared at me from beneath tarantula eyelashes.

“Glad to see you woke up on the right side of the bed. I thought you might be cranky.”

“You don’t need to talk.” She thumbed through a magazine.

“Don’t work too hard.”

Work place drama always irritated me, especially when it was unwarranted. I contemplated again, for half a second, telling James about it, but realized I didn’t really care. If she wanted to be a crazy stalker, that was on her, and he seemed to be able to take care of himself. The only thing that was bound to really suffer was his private life, which I had absolutely no business worrying about. He wasn’t my boyfriend. We simply had lunch once.

My heart sped up as the thought crossed my mind. I wished so badly to wrap my arms around his neck and muss up his hair. I bit my lip and paused at the door to my little office. Glancing over my shoulder, James’s office door shut but the lights were on. He was there. A small smile crept across my lips. I had something to look forward to at work, a forbidden temptation I could hungrily stare at.

I could take him coffee and say hi, but you are not trying to come off as a bat shit crazy woman. You are not another Blanche.

I shook my head and went inside. All of the paperwork was there plus some. It looked like it had reproduced overnight. I groaned and slumped into my chair. I spun toward the windows and stared out. He kept creeping into my mind. Nothing irritated me more than a person telling me who I could and couldn’t talk to. Blanche’s plan on keeping me away from James backfired. He encompassed my thoughts now. In fact, I wanted to be around him even more. Everything about him intoxicated me. The man didn’t seem real. Biting my lip, I reluctantly opted for getting to work.

I stared at the mound of papers still sitting in the in-box. I scowled into the mirror that hung opposite my desk. My curls already fell limp. The hair was straight and lifeless as ever. The warm, golden tan from summer had long faded and in its place was translucent-looking skin. My blue eyes seemed to have an icier color to them. I pinched lightly at my cheeks trying to create some poor excuse for color.

As I kept watch on my reflection, my office door opened slightly.

“Knock, knock,” an amazingly soothing voice called.

James walked in as my chair spun round in circles. His unbelievable beauty lit up my boring office. Now that his head wasn’t buried in papers, and we weren’t sitting in the dimly lit Primanti’s, he was tall, wearing brown pants, and a white button down shirt that stretched just right over his muscular torso. His chocolate brown hair feathered back, which he had a habit of running his fingers through, a lot. His beautiful blue eyes were soft and looked to be full of questions. My heart pounded and the butterflies in my stomach fluttered. I bit my lip lightly; horribly naughty thoughts raced through my mind. Thoughts that were wildly inappropriate for work. Thoughts that no woman should think about a man she had met just a few days before.

Stop it. He’s just a guy. Just a guy so ridiculously gorgeous he makes you want to leap across your desk and just do things you’d never tried before to him.

“Hi, James. Is there something I can help you with?” I smiled, thankful he couldn’t read my mind.

“No, I wanted to give this to you.” He placed a hot mug on my desk.

“You got me coffee?”

“Yeah, I didn’t know how busy you were and it is early so I figured you may want some morning juice to help you wake up.”

“Thanks.” I blushed.

“I guess I’ll see you around the office then?”

He started to walk out, but I had to stop him. “You can stay if you want.”

“I can?”

“I mean if you aren’t too busy. I enjoy company.”

“Sure.” He sat across from me and sipped from his own mug. “I’m sorry about yesterday.”

“Sorry about what?”

“Bringing up your dad,” he said.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. I tend to overreact about it sometimes. No harm, no foul.”

“Do you mind if I ask what happened to him?”

“Well, I can only tell as much as I know,” I replied.

“What does that mean?” James asked.

“My dad split before I was born.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Yeah. My mom told me he went out one night for work and just never came home. They never found him, his belongings, nothing. It was like he just vanished off the face of the Earth.”

“That’s crazy.”

“I know. I think he just didn’t want to be a dad. My pregnant mom must have freaked him out.”

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“I don’t know. Either dead or in some far away land I guess.”

“A far away land?”

“Europe or Asia. Some literally, far away land.” I laughed.

There was a fire in the pit of my belly that burned red hot. Try as I might, my eyes were stuck to his image. He was so incredibly alluring, from the perfect lines of his face to the softness of his lips. My mouth went dry as my gaze lingered on the perfect curve of his bottom lip. I longed for him to press his mouth to mine, wanting him to explore my mouth with his tongue. The thought of his hands touching my body made my most private of areas become alive with passion. I knew nothing about him, yet I wanted him. I craved him. It was so strange.

I frowned, trying to focus my attention back to work or at least to something more than James. As we sat there, trying to think of some vague resemblance of a conversation, I couldn’t help but notice a slight smile crossing his lips. His eyes appeared to be trained on me. A small part of me hoped he was thinking some wicked thought.

“What do you like to do in your spare time?” I asked, trying to break the increasing silence.

“I hunt.”

“You hunt?”

“Yes,” he responded. “You seem shocked.”

“I am.” I confessed.

“Why?”

“You don’t strike me as the hunting type.”

“Sometimes there are things that need taken care of.”

“What does that mean?”

“Not everything belongs in this world, Elyse.”

“That’s an odd way to view hunting.” I wasn’t sure if I should be concerned, disgusted, or intrigued by his answer.

“Perhaps.”

“What do you hunt?”

“Whatever needs hunted.”

“What does that mean?” I furrowed my brows and stared at him from over the top of my mug before taking another long sip.

“If there is an abundance of something out there, I hunt it.”

“Oh, so a surplus of deer you help get rid of then?”

“Something like that.”

“Okay.” How odd.

He sat there staring at me with such an intense curiosity that I could feel my heart beat speeding up and my cheeks flush yet again. What a way to spend a morning at work, and if this keeps up with James, I won’t need to buy blush ever again. I could feel the muscles in my stomach clench, and my throat went dry. The work atmosphere became increasingly unhealthy for me. He drove women crazy. Literally.

“Do you enjoy reading?” he asked rather randomly.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I was curious, with your last name being Grimm, do you favor fairy tales?”

“Not particularly. I read other things. My mom likes them though. That’s all she does, all day.”

“All day?”

“Yeah, she sits at her desk and reads fairy tale after fairy tale. Sometimes I think she would rather live in one than be here.”

“Any in particular?” He seemed persistent about the reading.

“No, just whatever she finds online or in book stores. Why are you so interested in my mother’s reading habits?”

“I’m not. I suppose just curious about you. I should probably get back to work.” He leaned forward and squeezed my hand.

An intense rush surged through my body. His hands were so warm and soft.

“Okay,” I whispered.

“We’ll have lunch together again tomorrow. There is an amazing restaurant a few blocks away I’d love to take you to.”

I simply nodded and watched as he walked out of my office. His black slacks hugged tightly at his waist and accentuated the well-toned behind beneath.

Oh that ass.

 

The Crimson Cloak