If You Dare

By: Jessica Lemmon



Bravery renewed, she retrieved the rest of her stash from the backseat of her car and reminded herself she’d suffer nothing worse than dust allergies during her night behind the mansion’s walls.

The grocery bag in the crook of her arm was filled with the essentials. Wine, check. Bottled water, check. iPad, check. Dinner from her favorite local restaurant, check.

At the mansion’s front door, she cast one last look at the surrounding woods and long, cracked driveway. She’d parked off to one side, behind a low-hanging weeping willow and overgrown brush. Satisfied her car was hidden from the road, she punched the lock button on her key fob and smiled at the answering cheery beep.





“Hawaii, here I come.” With that last thought warming her, she headed into the dark house and shut the door behind her.





Chapter 3

“I don’t know why I had to come with you.”

Marcus stopped climbing the weed-infested hill to glare at his recently-turned-wussy best friend. “What are you moaning about? I’m the one with Hawaii on the line.”

“Yeah, and that trip was technically mine.” Clive pointed the flashlight into Marcus’s face. “Plus, I’m the one in danger of an early grave if Joanie finds out we aren’t really playing darts at The Shot Spot.”

Marcus shielded his eyes, and Clive swept the beam off his face. “I swear you traded in your balls at the altar a year and a half ago.”

Clive only smiled. “That’s a helluva trade, considering how much sex I get.”

“Married people don’t have sex,” Marcus grumbled, resuming his climb to Willow Mansion. “Everyone knows that.”

“Yes we do,” Clive argued. “But unlike you, I don’t have to sneak out in my underwear in the morning.”

Rather than argue, mainly because Clive had made a compelling and, other than the underwear part, irritatingly accurate point, Marcus continued his stealthy approach to the mansion. As stealthy as one could be toting a duffel bag full of Halloween costumes.

He and Clive rounded the house and found a reasonably clean window that hadn’t been busted out. Marcus peeked through one lower corner and Clive through the other. He could make out a kitchen, and beyond that, a doorway. Lily’s face was lit with ambient light one room over.

Marcus swore under his breath. Clive chuckled.

“Is that…sushi?” Marcus whispered.

Lily lounged in the center of an air mattress like the queen of freaking Sheba, pillows fluffed behind her. She lifted a pair chopsticks to her mouth and Marcus’s own mouth went dry watching those plush lips close around the food, her delicate throat working as she swallowed. Damn.

“Mmm. Dragon roll,” Clive said, snapping Marcus out of a fantasy that’d begun brewing. “Do you think she went to Sushi Café? I love when they throw in a free crab rangoon.”

“Unbelievable,” Marcus grumbled.

The soft bluish glow that lit her face came from the computer tablet on her lap. It must’ve been tuned in to something funny. She tossed her head back and laughed, and he felt a jolt of attraction as he watched her. The same unrelenting attraction he felt for her at work. And for a woman he wanted to throttle more often than not. Made no sense.

“Yes, she looks truly terrified,” Clive said, chuckling again.

“That’s why I brought these.” Marcus dropped the duffel bag at his feet.

Clive scrubbed a hand over his sandy blond hair and shook his head. “I don’t get it, man. If you want a date with her so badly, why don’t you just ask her out?”

Clive knew? Marcus shot him a look.

“Yeah. I kind of figured out you liked her, like, a millennia ago.”

Marcus felt his shoulders drop in defeat. “Does Joanie know?”

“No, man.”

Relief.

“I tried asking her out,” Marcus said. When she first started working there.

“No way. She turned down the Marcus Black?”

“Shut up.”

Clive laughed. At his expense, if he had to guess.

“So, ask her again. She didn’t know you then.”

Yeah, well, she knew him now. And practically hated him. “Just stick with the plan, Clive.”

His buddy rolled a shoulder, as usual unfazed by Marcus’s taunts. It was impossible to intimidate the best friend who’d known him since he was a gangly fourteen-year-old. “I don’t know, man.” Clive looked through the window at Lily again. “You may not be able to scare her off, costumes or no.”

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