Staking His Claim (Line of Duty #5)

Staking His Claim (Line of Duty #5)

Tessa Bailey

Chapter One

The studio audience inside Lucy Mason’s head gave a collective, sympathetic awww.

Ditched again.

“This was supposed to be our week, Sasha.” Lucy picked up her iced coffee and plunked it back down, never taking her gaze off her best friend. “Ill-advised exploits, questionable fashion choices. Educational museum trips.” She mumbled that last part, since it hadn’t exactly been part of their monthlong discussion. “I can’t believe you’re blowing me off for a dude.”

Sasha winced. “I know. I know. It’s just…Carter.”

“Carter.” Lucy’s brow wrinkled. “Is this the same Carter who made a pass at your mom when she came to visit?”

“That was a misunderstanding.”

“I’ll just bet.” She moved her drink in jerky circles on the table, letting the tinkling ice cool it even further, hoping a sip would cool the fire in her throat, brought on by the need to shout. Minutes before she and her roommate were set to depart Syracuse University, where they’d both, at long last, completed their respective master’s programs, and her plans were being crushed by a guy who’d once pissed himself on their couch after too much tequila. Unacceptable. As if this violation of the “chicks before dicks manifesto” weren’t bad enough, her brother, Brent, who’d been their designated ride to New York City, had bailed at the last minute.

God, I’m sorry, Luce. Something came up with Hayden’s family. She’s presenting her father with some fancy-ass award and if I don’t go, she’ll castrate me.

Her brother wasn’t one to hold back. Even if it meant talking to his sister about his balls. Going to live with him in their childhood house in Queens at the age of twenty-five was going to be a real scream. Until she became gainfully employed and found her own place, that is. Thanks to her growing list of potential employers alphabetically arranged in an Excel spreadsheet, it wouldn’t be long. In the meantime, she’d have to set some ground rules, like no testicular talk. Or making out with his fiancée anywhere her eyeballs might encounter it.

In his place today, her brother had sent his friend Matt Donovan. Another cop. One she’d never met, but based on Brent’s suggestion to bring oodles of reading material for the drive, she gathered Matt was not a sparkling conversationalist. It hadn’t bothered her much, knowing she’d have Sasha to chat with in the backseat, but now that option was no longer on the table. Truth be told, she felt a little slighted.

Okay, a lot slighted. Her brother and best friend making for greener pastures within twenty-four hours of each other didn’t do fabulous things for her ego. They hadn’t meant it that way, she rationalized. They loved her. Still, it was two more instances she could add to her list of times she’d come in second place. Lucy Mason, salutatorian. First runner-up at the debate team finals as an undergrad. Hell, just this week she’d been named second in her class, among the other language majors. While these were certainly accomplishments, sometimes it felt like no matter how hard she tried, someone always beat her by an inch. Sasha and Brent ditching her for their respective lovers was no different.

Pity party of one, your table is ready.

Trying to dispel the useless feeling, she took a long pull on her iced coffee. Sasha had a healthy glow to her deep-brown skin, excitement shining in her eyes that hadn’t been there this morning. Just because she hadn’t had sex since Lost was on the air didn’t give her the right to be a begrudger. “So what are your plans instead? You better be doing something amazing. Seriously, I want goose bumps.”

Sasha did a little dance in her seat, accompanied by a squeal. “We’re borrowing his cousin’s house at Cayuga Lake. Just me, Carter, and a handful of naughty DVDs.”

Lucy perked up. “What? Like porn?”

“No. Like Cruel Intentions and Wild Things. Movies where girls make out so as to guarantee a good evening for yours truly.” Sasha tilted her head. “By the way, you have never looked as enthusiastic in your life as you just did when porn entered the equation.”

“Lower your voice,” Lucy whispered.

“Porn-o-graph-y!” Sasha belted out, opera-style, drawing every eye in the coffeehouse.

Lucy shook her head. “I’m so not going to miss you.”

“Liar. You will pine for me.”

“If you drown in Cayuga Lake, I will clear out your sex toy stash as promised, but that’s all I can guarantee you. Not a single line of poetry will be penned in your honor.”

“At lease I’ll die happy.” Sasha rose and came to join Lucy on the bench, where she crushed her in a tight hug. “Hey, I’m really sorry. You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” Lucy murmured into her friend’s hair. “Now go on. Get.”

Sasha pulled back to study her. “Listen, if I die in an unfortunate water skiing accident or too many orgasms—”

“Or both.”

“Or both.” Sasha nodded. “Don’t dump my stash. I hereby bequeath all manner of pleasure machines to you, my pasty, studious little friend.”

Lucy feigned surprised pleasure. “Me? I-I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you’ll put New York on its knees this week.” Her friend’s expression suddenly turned serious. “Don’t use my bailing as an excuse to hole up with a stack of books. You’ve earned some fun, graduate. Have at it.”

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