Black Hills Desperado (Black Hills Wolves, #3)(8)

Xio walked down the aisle with the language programs. Her grandmother had been from mainland China, so it was Mandarin she wanted. The hair on her neck rose as she realized she was being watched. She glanced sideways and spotted a store employee straightening shelves that were already in order. That one action tempted her to boost something, but this was a fresh start, and she’d sworn she wouldn’t screw it up. Besides, she’d promised Marcus she’d behave, and he’d already given up a lot for her.

Typical reaction, and she’d have to learn how to be…more invisible. As it stood now, people reacted the way she’d always expected them to. When she came into a room, women grabbed their babies and held them close, and store employees watched her every move. Before, she’d thrived on it. Now, it needed to be a part of her past, especially since she’d decided to make a new start. But how did one change an image like hers? Her tats, her persona? She’d had her full back done by a master in San Antonio a few years before. The image was a Western scene with Chinese influence. Coyotes and dragons, cowboys and Imperial warriors. A mixture of both sides of her heritage, woven together to tell the story of her family’s place in the Wild West. Some people saw it and thought she was Triad.

Some people were idiots. She was far more dangerous, or had been.

Before, she couldn’t have cared less that people stared. Now it bothered her. Maybe she should remove the piercing through her cheek, where a one-carat, heart-shaped diamond stud rested like a beauty mark? Nothing they’d seen in Kansas, from the looks she’d received. How did one reinvent themselves and blend, when all they’d ever done was try to stand out?

For starters, they stayed out of trouble and didn’t let little things like suspicious employees get to them. She slipped her hair over her shoulder to expose her good ear, listening for trouble as she picked up a beginner’s set of language CDs. She couldn’t wait to get home and shift so she could fix her hearing. Being a wolf did have some advantage.

The employee cleared his throat and stepped closer, hesitant as though he expected her to throw down a little kung fu. “Can I help you?”

“Do I look like I need help? Did I ask?” She didn’t bother looking at him as she flipped through the merchandise.

He put his hands up. “No. I was just trying to do my job.”

“If that’s what you’re doing, then you might want to head over to the music section and stop watching me. You have a couple teenagers cleaning you out.”

His eyes widened and he nodded, hightailing it for the kids she’d spotted when she’d walked in. Like noticed like. Little kleptos. She couldn’t fight the smile that crept over her face. They couldn’t be more obvious. At their age, she’d had skills and didn’t get caught. The kids in the bookstore didn’t. She might as well end their criminal careers before they started.

Perhaps after they were arrested, they wouldn’t end up on the same path she’d gone down. Hopefully they each had a family that cared enough to make them pay the consequences for their actions. At times she was sad she hadn’t had that kind of support. Who would she have turned out to be if she had? It didn’t matter. She couldn’t go back and do her life over.

But she could make a point of not screwing up, and having a kid who could end up like her. She shook off the thought of babies, one that had crept up on her twice in an hour. The last thing she wanted.

Xio grabbed a box and headed for the register. She placed it in front of the clerk who stared at it for what seemed like minutes before he looked at her. “Going to learn a little Chinese?”

“No, I thought I’d start with the Spanish.”

“That’s not….”

“I know it’s not Spanish. I can read English, and I’m fluent in Spanish.” Heat rushed to her face. Some from anger, the rest from embarrassment. “Just ring me up and stop making small talk.”

“Okay.” He scanned it. “That will be three hundred seventy-five dollars and ninety-nine cents.”

She slapped four hundred-dollar bills down on the counter. Nice. New. Crisp.

“We don’t accept bills that large.”

“You’re freaking kidding me?” She blew out a breath. This being honest stuff wasn’t easy.

He used his thumb to gesture to a sign behind him. No Bills Over 50, Please. “Sorry, store policy. There’s a bank down the street you can go to exchange….”

“No,” she all but barked out. Her and banks—not a good idea. “Don’t put it back. I’m going outside to see if my friend has anything smaller.” She snatched the money up and walked out to the Mustang. Marcus’s eyes were closed and he looked to be sleeping, but instincts told her he wasn’t. Xio sucked in a deep breath and tapped on the driver’s-side window.

It rolled down. “Yes.” He didn’t open his eyes or turn in her direction.

“I need smaller bills.”

“I don’t have anything smaller.”

“A credit card?”

He opened his eyes and grabbed his wallet again, pulling out a card and holding it up between two fingers. “You know that whatever you buy is going to show up on my statement. I have it itemized to keep track of my expenses when I was in the field. Had the program attached when I was working to catch a ring of credit-card thieves—to track if someone started using my card. Sort of left it there after the assignment.”

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