Besian and Marley! Sneak Peek #2!
Besian and Marley's story will be here in just a few days!
Sneak Peek #2!
The bus made its first stop—a very popular campground—and then trundled along its route. At the spot near the most popular hostel in the city, I grabbed my backpack and stood up with Andres and almost every other passenger. It seemed quite a few of us were staying in this area, probably because we were all trying to travel as cheaply as possible.
I hitched my backpack onto my shoulders and followed the line of passengers off the bus and out onto the street. The afternoon sun made me wince, and I slipped my sunglasses into place. I moved out of the throng of travelers looking at their phones and printed maps and walked a little farther down the sidewalk. Wanting to tell Andres goodbye, I turned back to smile at him—and then I heard my name.
Startled by a rough, deep voice I hadn’t expected to hear ever again, especially not after the way he had all but forgotten me while I was in the hospital, I slowly pivoted toward the street. My gaze settled on him almost immediately. Besian. Right there, leaning against a sleek black Mercedes.
Polished as ever in his dark jeans, gray shirt and brown boots, he swept his aviator sunglasses from his handsome face and tucked them into the front pocket of his navy blazer. The sight of him sent my heartbeat into overdrive. Usually, he had a playful smile for me, but today, he was all business.
And it terrified me.
Whatever had brought Besian to Albania, to Shkodër, to me, had to be serious. Steeling myself for the worst, I gripped the straps of my backpack as he approached and prepared myself to hear news that would forever change my life.
Relief surged through Besian with every step he took toward Marley. Even though Zec had assured him she was safe in Valbona and on her way to Shkodër, he didn’t believe it until he saw her in the flesh.
And, fuck, did she look good. His fingers itched to comb through her glistening auburn hair. He wanted to sweep his hands down her sun kissed skin and claim that pouty, stubborn mouth of hers. He wanted to embrace her, trap her close to his chest and never let her go again.
“Besian,” Marley said, her gentle voice soothing his raw nerves. She removed her sunglasses, revealing the greenish blue eyes that haunted his dreams. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” The relief he felt vanished only to be replaced by frustration and anger with how reckless she had been. “Why the hell haven’t you been answering your phone? What were you thinking running off into the mountains like that? Alone? In your condition?”
“My condition?” she asked, taken aback. “I’m perfectly fine, Besian.”
“You just had heart surgery.”
She rolled her eyes. “It was a simple procedure!”
“They burned your heart tissue!”
“Where was all this worry,” she gestured wildly, “when I was in the hospital and you never even came to visit?”
Neatly put in his place, Besian shut his mouth. Before he could try to apologize, a man who had been hovering nearby interrupted. When the younger and much handsomer man put his hand on Marley, Besian swallowed a possessive growl that threatened to erupt from his throat.
“Are you okay?” The man shot Besian a mistrustful glance. “Is this guy hassling you?”
“Mind your own business,” Besian snarled. “We’re having a discussion that doesn’t include you.”
“Look, man, I don’t know who you are,” the Spaniard—if Besian had to guess by his accent—stepped in front of Marley, “but you don’t tell me what to do when it comes to my friend.”
“Andres,” she said, touching the other man’s chest in a way that made Besian’s stomach lurch painfully. “It’s okay. Besian is my friend from Houston.”
Andres scowled. “The strip club guy?”
Hating how cheap and dirty the other man made his businesses sound, Besian bristled. Marley shot him a pleading look, silently asking him not to make a scene. Acquiescing to her request, he said, “Tell your friend goodbye. We’re leaving.”
Not giving her a chance to argue, he stepped away to give them a few moments of privacy. He slipped his sunglasses back into place and gritted his teeth when Andres dared to kiss her cheek and then her lips. It was a chaste kiss, barely a brush of his mouth against hers, but it spoke of a relationship between them.
Gutted by the realization he had fucked around and lost her to this new man, he glared behind his sunglasses. Fuck that Spaniard. Fuck him and his pretty boy smile and hair.
Marley turned back toward him—where she belonged—and he counted the steps until she was right in front of him. With an irritated sigh, she said, “I am not going to be ordered around like one of your dancing girls.”
“You could never be one of my dancing girls.”
She frowned up at him. “What does that mean?”
“As beautiful as you are, there would be riots at the front doors every night.”
She seemed even more upset. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?” She held up her hand. “You know what? Don’t answer that!” With a loud of huff, she asked, “Why are you here?”
Knowing there was no easy way to break the news, he said, “Something happened back home.”
Her entire demeanor shifted. Panic flashed in her eyes. “Is it Aston? The baby?”
“No, no,” he stepped closer and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Aston is healthy. The baby is healthy. Ben is fine.”
She frowned. “Then...what?”
Daring to touch her the way he had wanted for so long, he slid his hand from her shoulder to her neck and up to her jaw. He stroked her cheek with his thumb, marveling at the velvet softness of her skin and hoping she would find comfort in his touch. “The MC was raided by the ATF. There was a shoot-out.”
She gasped, and her hand flew up, gripping his wrist. “Is Spider dead?”
“No.” He stroked her face again. “He’s on the run. He may have been shot, but no one knows for sure.”
“Oh my God!” She crumpled against his chest, and he embraced her as well as he could, her bulky backpack preventing him from pulling
her in as close or as tightly as he wanted. “Oh my God!”
“I’m sorry, Marley. I’m so sorry.”
She leaned back and roughly wiped the tears from her face. “What about my mom? Is she safe?”
He shook his head. “Aston said she went by your mother’s place, and it looked abandoned. The grass is overgrown. The mail is piled up.”
Marley groaned and made a face. “She’s probably still gambling in Lake Charles, or she met some new man at the casino and ran off again.”
She huffed. “It’s a thing she does. She meets some guy, lets him love bomb her and then she runs off on some crazy stupid trip, convinced she’s going to finally get her happily ever after. She’ll wander home in a few weeks, broke and depressed, and I'll have to pick up the pieces and put her back together.”
Besian had always heard her mother was a bit of a tramp, but he hadn’t realized she was so desperate. “Do you want me to try to find her? I could have my men follow whatever trail she left.”
“No.” Marley stepped out of his embrace. “She’s safer wherever she’s run off to, and she’s smart enough to know not to come back to Houston if Spider has disappeared.”
“Listen, Marley, there’s something else about the raid,” he said, lowering his voice.
She frowned and then her expression shifted to one of resigned understanding. “Oh. I see.”
He was sure she did. “Yes. It’s...not good.”
She reacted with fear and gripped the straps of her backpack. “Am I safe?”
“Marley, no one will touch you. I swear it.” He didn’t have to tell her what she already knew. He would kill the first man who tried.
“Besian,” she sighed, “please, I don’t want you putting yourself in danger for me. Not again.” Her gaze moved from his face to his chest.
Was she remembering the night he took a bullet meant for her? “You almost died for me. Once was enough.”
Before he could tell her that he would die for her a thousand times, they were jostled by a group of young tourists. He shifted her aside, worried she would get trampled by the loud throng of students rushing to catch the bus. The spell was broken, and she patted his chest. “Wait here.”
“Where are you going?” he asked when she walked off in another direction.
“To get my luggage!”
“There!” She pointed at a building nearby, and his eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“A hostel?” He chased after her. “You’re staying in a hostel?”
She whirled around so quickly she whacked him with her backpack, causing him to stumble back a few steps. “Yes, I stayed at a hostel. I’ve been staying at hostels the entire trip.”
His blood pressure skyrocketed so quickly he was certain he was seconds away from dropping dead of a stroke. When Zec had given him the bus stop address, he hadn’t even considered it was because she was staying in one of the crummy hostels nearby. “Are you out of your mind? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is for a single woman?”
“You are so ridiculous,” she hissed. “It’s perfectly safe. They’re clean, tidy, affordable places that cater to people like me on a very tight budget.”
Besian wanted to strangle Spider for letting Marley come to Europe on such a small amount of money that she was scrimping on her safety in lieu of cheap accommodations. What else had she cut corners on while traveling? Was she eating enough? Could she even afford museums or souvenirs?
“I can see the vein in your temple throbbing,” Marley stated. “You’re going to have an aneurysm if you don’t calm down,” she warned. “Maybe hostels were gross when you were younger, but they’re much safer now.”
“If you say so,” he grumbled, no longer willing to argue with her.
“I do say so. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Besian was never the one taking orders, especially not from a woman, but fuck if he didn’t act like a perfectly trained dog, happily waiting for its mistress to return.
He eyed the clientele streaming in and out of the hostel building she entered. There was a mix of college aged men and women, most of them seemingly quality people. Every now and then, an actual vagabond would shuffle through the door.
That one, in particular, had the look of a serial killer. Everything about him was designed to blend in, to make him invisible, unremarkable. He was the sort of man younger women would walk by without even a passing glance. Too old to be attractive but too bland to be interesting. The way the man watched others put Besian on alert. There was a darkness about the man, a predator’s aura that made his hackles raise in defense of Marley.
A trio of tall, noisy frat boy types strolled up to the doors of the hostel, and the weasely man with the serial killer vibes disappeared into the crowd. Besian rolled his neck, trying to shake off the uncomfortable feeling, and wondered if he would cross paths with that creep again.
When Marley came out of the hostel a short time later, she dragged a single wheeled suitcase behind her. He ate up the sidewalk between them with quick strides and took the suitcase. She shot him a perturbed look. “It’s not heavy. I can handle it.”
“I know you can handle it.” He gestured toward the idling car waiting for them. “If we hurry, we can get to Tirana and grab the first flight to Paris tomorrow morning.”
“I’m not going to Paris.”
“Fine. London. Madrid. I don’t care. We’ll take whatever flight is available that is heading west.”
“No, you don’t get it. I’m not leave Shkodër yet. I know it sounds selfish, but I’m not leaving until I see the castle.”
Besian blinked. “The castle? Kalaja e Rozafës?”
At a loss for words, he considered her situation. Frankly, it was probably safer to keep her here, in a place where he could protect her more easily, than to immediately take her back to Houston where there was a price on her head.
“You’re not selfish,” he said, thinking about how many times he had seen her behaving selflessly. He suspected this might be the first time in her entire life when she had been selfish, when she had put herself and her wants first. “If you want to see the castle, we’ll see the castle.”
“Tomorrow,” she negotiated. “I’m really tired, and also,” she admitted sheepishly, “hungover.”
Hungover? His thoughts circled back to the handsome Spaniard who seemed close to her. Had they spent the night drinking and partying together in the mountains?
Another troubling thought struck him. “Where were you staying while up in the mountains? A hotel?”
“Last night, yes,” she said carefully, and he sensed there was more to it.
The Spaniard, he realized with a sickening twist of his guts.
She’s not yours. She can do whatever she wants with any man she chooses.
Acknowledging that truth didn’t make it any easier to swallow. It should have been him with her last night. It should have been him taking her around the Albanian countryside, showing her his homeland and introducing her to the wonders of his culture and his people.
“And the nights before that?” he asked, his jaw tightening as he imagined the very worst. “Not a tent,” he said, almost pleading. “You didn’t camp up there. Right?”
She swallowed anxiously, as if anticipating his reaction to whatever she was about to tell him. “I sort of slid down the mountain and found a puppy.”
Shocked, he seized on her blasé description of her fall. “You slid down the mountain?” Looking her over, he wondered how many bruises she had hidden under her cargo pants and jacket. “Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine. I didn’t fall that far.”
He wasn’t convinced. Images of Marley tumbling down a mountain and rolling to a stop at the edge of a cliff tormented him. How could she be so reckless?
“Anyway,” she continued, “I took the puppy down the trail to a café. The old man there told me the puppy belonged to a farmer back up the other side of the mountain.”
“Marley,” he interrupted with a low growl, “do not tell me that you wandered alone up to a farm and stayed the night in a barn.”
“Of course, I didn’t stay in a barn! I stayed in the guest room.”
He muttered a string of curses and tried to figure out how this incredibly brilliant woman could be so careless. “You stayed at a farm, in the middle of nowhere, with strangers?”
“Agnesa isn’t a stranger. Not anymore,” she added. “We’re friends. She let me help with her farm chores, showed me how to can pickles, feed her chickens, make byrek and...” At his thunderous expression, she trailed off. Reluctantly, she admitted, “I probably shouldn’t have taken a chance walking away from the trail and up to the farm.”
“Yeah. Probably,” he agreed tersely. Shaking his head, he asked, “What the hell am I going to do with you, Marley?”
“Hopefully not scold me anymore,” she answered with an annoyed frown. “Did you really fly all this way just to chastise me like I’m a naughty child?”
“No.” He had been a colossal asshole. “I’m sorry, Marley. I shouldn’t have taken out my stress on you like this.”
“No, you shouldn’t have.” Unlike so many, Marley had no problem putting him in his place. She didn’t shrink away in fear or kowtow to his whims. She expected the best of him, and when he disappointed her, she was only too happy to let him know it.
“I’ll do better.” Exhausted and desperate to get off the sidewalk where everyone was watching them, he held out his hand. “Come with me?”
“Wherever you want, rrushe.”
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