Thunder with a Chance of Lovestruck
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When Detective Drest Bright meets his newest charge, sparks literally fly. There is no denying the instant attraction he feels for Rachael Frankenstein. But she’s off-limits, and he knows as much. Her family has been a thorn in the side of the Nightshade Fae Hunters for over a hundred years, and they aren’t about to let him run off into the sunset with her without a fight. But if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get because this lovestruck Fae will do anything he can to be with his mate again.
This release date is subject to change.
Release date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: Raven Happy Hour, LLC
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Thunder with a Chance of Lovestruck
Mandy M. Roth
New York, NY, thirty-nine years ago…
Drest Bright of the Nightshade Fae Clan read over the files before him once more, doing his best to keep an even façade. His fingers skirted the edges of the manilla folder, all while struggling with the impulse to tear it to shreds. All he wanted to do was cram the folder along with all its contents right up the backside of his district chief.
The object of his annoyance was currently seated at the end of the long conference room table, no doubt waiting for any sign of a reaction. The only thing more ostentatious than the yellow-on-orange geometric shapes of the wallpaper was the man’s shirt. Gilralei “Gil” Travrye more than likely thought he looked good and as if he was adapting well to modern fashion trends.
Drest had known him over a hundred years, and if there was one thing you could set your watch by, it was the fact Gil would be a day late and a dollar short when it came to anything to do with fashion.
Gil had been in charge of the New York area Nightshade Hunter Section since the Dutch first settled the area. He didn’t look much older than fifty but was hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Far older than Drest even, which was saying something.
Gil and Drest had never seen eye to eye. In fact, they butted heads over almost everything. Drest knew part of the reason he’d ended up assigned to the New York district of the Nightshade Fae Clan was because the higher-ups knew Gil would make his life a living hell.
And Gil had certainly stepped up to the plate, ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to make sure Drest’s time in New York was anything but pleasant. The folder with Drest’s newest assigned charges listed in it was proof that Gil had it in for him.
The man leaned back in his executive chair, steepled his hands, and continued to watch Drest. The edges of his mouth drew up in a smirk that Drest wanted to punch off his face.
“Drest, why don’t you tell the group who it is you’ve been assigned as charges,” said Gil, looking smug.
Instead of giving Gil what he wanted—an outburst and protesting—Drest set the folder along with the files on the table before him and plastered a smile on his face. “The Frankenstein family line that’s here in New York. Tarrytown to be specific. That’s what? About thirty minutes from the city? Maybe an hour with traffic?”
Hushed murmurs went through the meeting room.
Drest’s cousin, who also happened to be his best friend, Stratton Bright, was in the process of making himself a cup of coffee. At the mention of the Frankensteins, Stratton jerked and spilled coffee down the front of himself. He then turned partially, his gaze meeting Drest’s.
Gil rocked in his chair just enough to take his smugness up a level but not enough to fall out of the chair (pity). “I know you have a history with the family. It was either give it to you or Stratton. Since he’s not had a charge assigned to him in decades, you lucked out.”
Drest bit back the response he wanted to give. “Yes. The Frankensteins and I go way back. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of this generation. Can’t wait to make my introductions.”
Stratton’s eyes widened.
Drest shook his head just a tad to keep his cousin from giving Gil the satisfaction of a negative reaction. Turning his attention to Gil, Drest kept his face even. “I really hope Victor comes around. Is he state-side or still bouncing around Europe? It’s been ages since he and I were in the same spot. I’d love to catch up.”
Gil’s self-righteous attitude wavered enough to leave Drest’s smile being genuine.
There was no way Drest was going to give him the gratification of knowing he hated the assignment.
Stratton dabbed at his shirt with a wadded-up bunch of cocktail napkins before giving up and taking his seat at the long conference table. He and Stratton were more like brothers than cousins. Both had managed to piss off Gil more than once in their time too. And both seemed to always be on thin ice with the people in charge.
That was fine by Drest.
He’d rather be a troublemaker than a kiss-ass like Gil’s assistant, Farin, who was currently sitting next to Drest. Farin was nearly as old as Gil and just as much of a jerk. His long deep red hair was pulled back from his entirely-too-boyish face. The man was Drest’s age but didn’t look to be out of his twenties.
Unlike Gil, Farin wasn’t dressed to match the décor. He had a light blue, , two-button corduroy blazer with wide lapels. The navy dress shirt he wore under it had large white flowers printed on it and was something Drest wouldn’t be caught dead in. Come to think of it, Drest wouldn’t wear any of it.
No. He liked to keep his clothing choices simple and had learned over a century ago to avoid fads as much as possible. Since he’d come to the Nightshade building directly after his shift ended at his full-time job (the one that was known to humans and was his cover), he was in what he wore to work nearly daily. His blazer was navy and some kind of cotton blend. The dress shirt he wore under it was a solid-colored light blue. There were no flowers or excessively wide collars to be had. Not for him. His tie was hanging over the rearview mirror of his sports car and would remain there. He hated wearing them.
Farin laughed at something Gil said under his breath.
As Drest narrowed his gaze on the redhead, he couldn’t help but notice that Farin had the same callous smirk Gil did. They probably sat around practicing them when no one else was there to see it happen.
“The Tarrytown Frankensteins should feel honored,” said Farin. “They landed one of the amazing Bright Boys. More’s the pity you both could have been assigned to them. I suggested as much.”
Stratton clenched his teeth. “I’m sure you did.”
The Bright family line was powerful and old. One of the original founding Nightshade Fae families. That meant they were a threat to the power structure. Having too many in positions of power was a fear many had.
Drest didn’t want to be the guy in charge. Who needed that kind of responsibility? Always having to make sure everything was running smoothly. No way. Not to mention, it would get in the way of what he liked to do—kill bad things, drink far too much, and sleep with too many women.
The perfect life.
Stratton leaned across the table and opened the folder to a photo of Nile Frankenstein. He bore a striking resemblance to Victor Frankenstein. As Stratton moved to the next photo, this one labeled “Henry Frankenstein,” it became evident the family had strong genes because Henry looked a lot like Victor too.
Stratton continued flipping through the contents of the folder, but Drest paid it no mind. If he dared to keep looking, he’d give in to his anger. He and Stratton had spent a huge chunk of time and energy chasing Victor and his monsters around the world back in the 1800s. Babysitting the man’s descendants wasn’t something Drest signed up for.
“This information seems a little out of date,” said Stratton, holding up a black and white photo of a little girl who looked to be around eight or so in the picture. She had huge dark eyes and a head of long dark hair. She was smiling wide, missing some of her teeth. “The date on this picture is nearly thirteen years ago. I’m guessing the kid isn’t a kid anymore.”
Drest found his interest piqued. “What’s her name?”
Stratton glanced at the file. “Rachael. Says she’s this one’s little sister,” he said, pushing Henry’s photo forward.
Drest reached out and took the photo of the girl from Stratton, studying it more. The strange urge to be sure she was looked after and protected hit him hard. So hard that he dropped the picture and sat back in his seat quickly.
Stratton’s attention went to Gil as he continued to flip through the other files in the folder. “Why is their current Hunter being pulled?”
Drest was curious about that as well.
Farin shifted in his seat nervously as he took an abnormal interest in his click pen with multiple-colored inks in it.
Gil shrugged. “I felt it was time for a change.”
“Because?” asked Stratton.
“I don’t recall needing to answer to you,” said Gil.
Drest tapped the table, pulling everyone’s attention to him. “Since I’m the one being assigned the family, it’s within my rights to ask why their current Hunter has been reassigned. In case you’re wondering about that, check the rule book there, buddy.”
Gil sat up straight in his seat as his nostrils flared. “I’m not your buddy, Bright.”
“I know,” replied Drest, never looking away. If the little shit wanted to take him on, he was welcome to try. Drest would use Gil’s horrid shirt to choke the life out of him.
Stratton offered a sardonic smile. “Drest, we could always put in a request with the people above his pay grade. You know how much they like having to stop and answer questions that should be handled at this level.”
“You have no friends in that crowd,” warned Gil.
“That’s so weird,” said Rhys Carywenys from the other end of the table as he pulled his long black hair back from his face and fastened it at the nape of his neck with a leather cord. He, too, avoided fads and thought Gil and Farin were dumbasses. “I could have sworn I read an interoffice memo just last week that announced Stratton’s father was accepting a seat on the council. You know, as is the right of his family to do.”
Drest fought to keep from laughing but failed. Instead, he chose to cough in hopes of covering it.
Rhys gave a curt nod in his direction.
They’d been friends a long time, having once fought side-by-side on the battlefield.
“Right,” said Gil, clearly uncomfortable with the facts set before him. “Alford got a bit too chummy with Nile. You know how that’s frowned upon. When it was brought to my attention, I decided it was time for a change. There you have it.”
Somehow Drest highly doubted that was the truth. Gil was up to something. Drest wasn’t sure what. For now, he’d play the man’s game.
“Henry?” asked Uncle Nile from the study as I entered the gothic manor, trying to shake off the chill from the brisk fall day. His accent was what was referred to as transatlantic and had been popular in the Golden Age of Hollywood. My father’s accent had been similar. I’d never quite been able to figure out the hows or whys of that, especially since they’d been born and raised in Tarrytown, New York.
I unbuttoned my coat, unable to believe how much the temperature had dropped already. October in New York was often unpredictable. This one was proving to be exceptionally cold.
“No, Uncle Nile, it’s me,” I called back. I’d spent enough time under my father’s desk, reading through books I wasn’t supposed to touch, to know exactly how easily sound traveled from the foyer, through the main hall, to the study at the back of the home. “Henry is parking the car and bringing in my bags.”
My brother had insisted on driving into New York City to pick me up from school, rather than letting me ride the train here. I’d enjoyed the car ride with him, despite his rather bland taste in music. There really was only so much of Mozart’s Requiem in D minor I could take.
I’d not wanted to come home at all, let alone for a forced dinner party, but I’d not gotten much choice in the matter. I was now in my senior year at university, majoring in journalism, and I had a paper due in less than a week. It was on a case that had rocked the media this year, dominating the headlines. A man had allegedly killed his landlord only to then claim the devil made him do it.
My paper wasn’t about the trial itself or whether the man was guilty (that was for a jury to decide); I was focused on the media and how they’d handled the case thus far. Since I was set to graduate with a degree in journalism, it was relevant. But stopping to take a week out of my already busy schedule for a forced family time wasn’t going to get me any closer to finishing my paper or getting my degree.
I waited for Nile to respond. Silence greeted me, and I had to admit I was thankful for that small mercy. Nile and I had a rather odd relationship. Most of the time, he pretended as if I didn’t exist, which was fine by me. When his attention fell on me, his gaze lingered too long, making me feel uncomfortable. When my father had still been alive, he’d noticed it too and had pulled his brother aside to speak with him. I’d not been allowed in the room during the discussion but remembered it had gotten heated. When Nile had left the room, he’d slammed the door shut behind him and stormed out of the house. He stayed gone a week after that. He’d also kept his distance from me after that—at least until my father passed.
Then all bets were off.
As I got older, his stares became even more disconcerting. I wasn’t sure if he hated me or not. Whatever prompted him to behave the way he did around me gave me the willies.
I’d once brought the matter up to Henry, only to be told I was being ridiculous. That Nile loved me and that I was the apple of his eye. That there was no reason whatsoever for me to be nervous or leery of him. That I was simply reading too much into things.
As I spotted my uncle exiting the study, my breath caught. Without Henry close by, there was no buffer between Nile and me. For the briefest of moments, I considered rushing outside and insisting on bringing in my own bags.
Don’t be crazy, I said to myself. I was a grown woman. He’d never actually harmed me before. Maybe I was simply reading too much into everything.
I caught additional movement at the end of the hall and did a double take, positive my eyes were playing tricks on me. My uncle was talking with two men, both of whom looked to be wearing robes as one would see on a monk. At least, that’s what they looked like from afar.
Since the lighting in the manor was marginally better than it had been at the advent of electricity in homes, it was hard to make out details. Whoever the men were, they were both tall, though not as tall as Nile. He was six foot four and was a little over two hundred pounds of lean muscle. The other two held themselves in a way that bordered on threatening.
One of the robed men glanced my way, and I was almost positive he had a symbol of some sort branded into his forehead. I was also certain I’d seen the symbol before. I blinked, convinced that my mind was playing tricks on me. I’d been elbow-deep in researching the occult and satanism for my paper. Evidently, I had black arts on the brain, and it was causing me to see occult-like things where there were none.
Still, I couldn’t get the symbol that I may or may not have actually seen out of my mind. Many of the books that were shelved in the study dealt with the occult, mysticism, spiritualism, witchcraft, and even galvanism if anyone but the Nightshade Fae Clan was asking. Those specific volumes were kept behind a false wall. One that opened to a treasure trove of artifacts the Frankenstein men had been collecting for generations. All of which fit the gothic horror narrative that Mary Shelley had made us famous for.
All things considered, I’d never seen my uncle take an active interest in any of the materials in the study. If anything, he always seemed bored by them. My brother, on the other hand, knew the books front to back and could more than likely recite lines from them on command.
I’d been through them all enough to know them well but was drawing a blank on what the symbol I’d seen on the man’s forehead meant, but I was sure I had seen it before, and I was almost positive it had been from the books and texts in the Frankenstein study—the ones that were behind the false wall.
The way Nile hurried the men out the back door made it seem as if he didn’t want any of us to run into them. If I was right and they had been in robes with symbols on their foreheads, I could see why he’d want to keep us from meeting them.
Nile shut and locked the back door before turning slowly, his gaze landing directly on me. I had the strongest urge to look away while also barely containing a shudder.
The picture my uncle presented wasn’t menacing to others. No. To others, he had model good looks and all-American charm, his looks often being likened to the actor Cary Grant. White laced the temples of Nile’s otherwise black hair, leaving him what I’d heard termed as a salt-and-pepper fox. Wire-framed glasses pulled attention to his dark eyes.
He was in his mid-forties. Had never been married and, as far as I knew, wasn’t dating anyone. I couldn’t recall a time in my life when he’d ever dated. I always assumed he wanted to keep that part of his life private, so I never pried. Plus, prying would have meant interacting with him, and I avoided that as much as possible.
Had he not been my uncle, I might have thought he was handsome, so long as I didn’t know him. His personality took from his looks in a big way. At least, in my opinion. Around others, he projected nothing but confidence and was the life of the party. Smart. Suave. And cultured. But none of that fit what I saw. I just couldn’t explain why. I found him to be cold and distant. At least when it came to me.
My best friends, whom I’d met at university, were suspicious of Nile as well. It wasn’t a shock that Sherri didn’t care much for him. She was a tough nut to crack in the trust department and didn’t think highly of many men. LeAnne tended to like almost everyone, but she kept her guard up around Nile as well. That was part of the reason why neither of them ventured home with me for any breaks in our schedule. Didn’t matter that the Frankenstein manor was enormous and had plenty of spare rooms.
Nile had come to the city several times over the course of my freshman and sophomore years of school. He’d given me no warning but had simply shown up out of the blue, insisting on taking me to dinner and for a night on the town. It never seemed to matter to him if I had other plans. He simply expected me to cancel them.
One of the times he’d managed to persuade Sherri and LeAnne to join us for dinner and cocktails. I honestly thought Sherri was going to stab the man with her soup spoon more than once during it all. He’d basically told them both that they were bad influences on me and that they’d better hope their behavior didn’t rub off on me.
I’d been mortified and had tried to speak up in their defense, only to have Nile snap at me, telling me to speak only when spoken to. That was the moment I thought Sherri was going to end him.
I’m not sure I’d have mourned his passing.
I pushed a smile to my face, hoping I looked pleased to see him, even though I wasn’t. I’d extended my trip to London to study journalism abroad by a few months just to avoid having to live at home for the summer before the fall semester started at my university. Then, I’d gotten back to New York and went straight into classes at my university. I’d not been home once since the semester had begun, at least not until now.
Nile raked a rather odd look over me before quickly schooling his face and coming right for me. “Hello, Rachael,” he said. “Welcome home.”
“Hi,” I replied. “Who were your friends?”
“Come again?” he asked.
“The men I just saw leaving,” I returned with a nod in the direction of the back door.
He regarded me critically. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about. There were no other men here.”
The hell there weren’t. I’d seen them. “Uh, the guys in robes. You were talking with them by the back door. I think one had a symbol on his forehead.”
“Ah, the life of a college coed,” he said, coming even closer. “Late nights, parties, it all takes a toll. I’m guessing your little friends have been dragging you to countless parties after not seeing you for a year while you were away in London. Clearly, you’re rundown and tired. It’s making you imagine things.”
“I didn’t imagine anything,” I protested. My friends hadn’t dragged me anywhere. “I saw two men with you. Why are you acting like it didn’t happen?”
Unease settled through me at the way his eyes seemed to harden. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Rachael. There is no story to be found here. No titillating…” he said, his dark gaze sliding to my chest and lingering there for a long, pregnant pause before returning to my face again, “…tale to be discovered.”
I bit my tongue to keep from saying anything that would start an argument. I managed a semi-believable grin. “Right. Sorry.”
Nile extended his arms and pulled me against him with enough force to cause the air to swoosh from my lungs. It felt less like a hug and more like a boa constrictor was wrapping around me. Then he clamped his arms behind my back, effectively pinning me in place as he squeezed me tightly.
I whimpered and could have sworn I heard the softest of laughs come from him. “Uncle Nile. Too tight.”
He put his lips near my ear. “It’s so good to have you home, niece. I do so hope you enjoyed your time away.”
I managed to get enough play to move my arms up. I pushed on his chest, trying to put space between us.
He didn’t let me move. “So, did you?”
“Did I what?” I asked, my voice coming out as more of a squeak than anything else.
“Enjoy your time away?” he asked, keeping me locked against him. “I gave you nearly a year and half.”
What did he mean by that? The cost of my time away had been paid for out of my inheritance. Specifically, the money my father had ensured was set aside for my education. I’d not taken anything from Nile.
“You do realize had I put my foot down on you leaving the country, Henry would have forbidden it, right?” he asked. “You may think he is in charge, but in the end, he will always obey me.”
I squirmed against him. “Nile, you’re holding me too tight.”
“Am I?” he asked, keeping his grip the same. “Sometimes I forget my own strength.”
I teared up.
He eased his hold slightly but stayed pressed to me. He then took a deep breath near my hair.
My eyes widened. “Nile?”
“It pleases me greatly to have you home, where you should be,” he said.
“I’m only here for a week,” I stressed. “Classes start back then and I’ll need to be back at school.”
“Are you still going with this journalism thing?” he asked.
I did my best to stay calm. “Yes. I’m still going with it.”
“And what, again, do you hope to do with the degree?” he asked. “There aren’t that many women succeeding in the field.”
“There are more than you think,” I countered, trying to wiggle free of his grasp.
He kissed my cheek and laughed, but it sounded forced. “I guess we’ll have our own Gal Friday then, won’t we?”
I blinked, my lips in a thin line. “Uh-huh.”
“You do understand we have more than enough money for you not to have to worry your pretty little head with things like working,” he said.
I didn’t respond, more out of a hope he’d let me go and lose interest in me than giving in on the matter.
The door behind me opened, and a gust of cold air hit me from behind. It sent my long dark brown hair flying forward.
Nile drew in another deep breath. He jerked me tighter against him briefly before loosening his hold a tad, but he didn’t let go.
A shiver ran through me. Was he turned on by my smell? No. I had to have read the situation wrong.
Henry entered the house, carrying my bags. He set them to the side, near a serving table that ran the length of the wall there. He was all smiles as he saw Nile embracing me. “Good to have her home, isn’t it?”
“I was just telling her as much,” said Nile, his voice never once betraying him.
Henry pulled his scarf from around his neck and hung it on the coat rack before removing his outdoor jacket next. He hung it over his scarf, bumping the umbrella holder that stood at the base of the coat rack. The long-handled umbrellas that called the spot home rattled as the holder tipped. Henry caught it, steadying it before he stood to his full height and adjusted his vest and dress shirt.
His chosen attire mirrored Nile’s, making them look as if their next stop was a speakeasy.
“Stop hogging her,” said my brother with a chuckle. He pried me out of Nile’s arms and hugged me firmly but without causing me pain—unlike Nile. He didn’t sniff me weirdly like Nile, either. “I only got a small hug in when I picked her up. Her friends were there, staring at me peculiarly.”
I returned the embrace. “Because they think you’re good-looking.”
His dark brows darted up. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” I said before winking. “I don’t see it.”
Nile grunted. “Stay clear of her friends, nephew. They’re trollops who would love nothing more than to seduce a married man.”
My temper flared. “No, they’re not. They think Henry is handsome and they’re very aware he’s married. They’d never act inappropriately toward him. Can all parties who are present say the same? That they haven’t acted inappropriately in any manner?” I gave him a pointed stare.
Nile locked gazes with me with a mix of pride and challenge in his dark eyes.
Henry stared between us. “Did I miss something?”
“No,” Nile and I said in unison.
Henry shrugged and hugged me again. “Oh, Rachael, I’m so happy you’re back.”
“Just for the week,” I reminded, knowing if Henry had his way, I’d live at the main house for good, not in an apartment off-campus.
We’d always been close despite our age difference. Like my father and Nile, there was a decent age gap between siblings. Henry had me by thirteen years.
Henry kissed my cheek quickly. “I’ve missed you.”
I knew he had, which was the only reason I’d let my sister-in-law talk me into coming for dinner and then staying for a full week. It lined up with a lull in my school schedule.
He eased back from me slightly, keeping a hand on my upper arm. His attention slid to our uncle. “Nile, tell her she should be here, with us, where she belongs.”
“Yes,” said Nile, his voice lacking warmth, his expression heated. “She should.”
I swallowed hard. “Is Amice here?”
Nile stiffened, an artificial smile covering his face once more. “She’s upstairs putting the child down for the night.”
By the child, I knew he meant Astria—my brother’s one-year-old daughter.
Nile wasn’t big on children.
Henry gave my arm a gentle squeeze. “Amice has been positively beside herself with excitement about you coming home. You really should have let us meet you at the airport when you got back from London. We could have helped you get settled into your apartment.”
“There was no need for you both to drive into the city for me,” I said. “I packed light, and since you insisted on keeping the apartment that I’d been staying in prior to leaving, nothing needed to be moved.”
“The apartment was an excellent investment,” said Henry. “I’m planning to hang on to it even after you finish school.”
“Is that so?” asked Nile, taking a keen interest in the topic. “The city is full of vagabonds and miscreants. The crime rate is astronomical. I’m frankly amazed our dear sweet Rachael hasn’t been a victim of a tragedy there. Especially with the way she likes to parade around with everything she has on display. She dresses to tempt the opposite sex.”
My fingers curled into fists, and I honestly considered striking the man. Not that it would have done any good.
“Uncle,” said Henry sternly. “The apartment was a good investment. The area that it is in is seeing a surge of new businesses.”
I noticed how my brother avoided commenting on Nile’s remark about how I dressed.
“But of course, nephew,” said Nile. “You would know best which investments are worth keeping. Not I.”
The only source of contention I knew that existed between Henry and Nile was the fact that my father had left Henry in charge of running the Frankenstein estate and various businesses. The investments were controlled by Henry as well, who had gone to school for finance and had been a child prodigy. He excelled at anything to do with money.
Nile had plenty of money that was his own, but the Frankenstein family had spent generations amassing a fortune, and I’d always felt Nile had his eye on it all. I wasn’t entirely sure what Nile did. I knew he spent most of his time in the manor’s basement. He came and went at all hours of the day and night. He normally avoided speaking to me, choosing instead to glare at me whenever possible. And he absolutely forbade me from venturing into his area of the basement. The one that was locked away behind a thick steel door.
Since I had no desire to be down there, I never let it bother me. What got under my skin was how, after my father passed away, Nile had gone through the house, systematically removing all traces of him.
He’d even had the nerve to try to take over the study. Thankfully, Henry hadn’t let that happen. It didn’t stop Nile from using it all the time though.
I removed my coat, and Henry helped to ease it off me before hanging it near his.
His gaze slid over my outfit, and he froze.
Nile grunted and had the nerve to curl his lip at the sight of my jeans and T-shirt. As if my outfit confirmed everything he’d said before about how I dressed and the crime rate in the city.
Nile was a big believer that women should never wear slacks of any kind. That dresses were the only suitable form of attire for the “fairer sex.” But nothing too revealing. Modesty was important to him.
“Perhaps you should head up to get ready for dinner tonight,” suggested Henry.
“Yes,” said Nile firmly, his gaze sliding over me slowly in a way an uncle should never look at his niece. “That shirt is far too snug on you. So are those jeans.”
I nearly reached for my coat to put it on once more.
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