Hired by Jedidiah Wormwood Worth to locate a missing lawyer, former model Antonio Silva heads to Miami to begin his career as a PI. Instead of finding Chloe O'Shea, he stumbles upon a ditzy surfer named Coco in the local paranormal bar. To his dismay, this odd woman with dreadlocks proves to be everything he needs, but nothing he wants.
Coco is a Siberian shifter, but she's lost her inner animal. Heck, she just might have lost her mind as well, because one day she was living in a condo and driving a sports car, the next she's camping out in a boathouse, teaching tourists how to kite board. Now, a big, scary shifter in a designer suit is tailing her every move, claiming to be her mate. And every time she turns around, he's trying to paddle her ass!
Antonio would just like to finish his job and get out of town. Coco would like to get a comb through her hair. Unfortunately, true love is something you can't escape, even if it seems all wrong.
|Final Cut Miami: Voodoo You Love?|
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2011 Belinda McBride
Round wooden tables dotted the room but the space was dominated by a spectacular bar. Shelf upon shelf of bottles rose in majesty behind the hustling bartender. The bar itself was made of gleaming wood and surrounded by tall stools with low backs. Off to the right, a despondent demon sat facing a beer; a giant shifter of some sort watched him suspiciously. No doubt the oversize chrome dome was the resident bouncer.
Various patrons scattered through the bar, some drinking in solitude, others clustered together in small, chatty groups. A woman caught his eye. She was dark skinned and mysterious, and gave off the vibe of a talented human rather than a paranormal. She had an array of cards before her, studying them carefully. She sat in profile to him, her head bowed. For a moment, he thought he knew her.
Laughter spread through the room, distracting him from the human. Off at the end of the bar, a dreadlocked beach bunny spun in circles on her stool, first one direction, and then the other. He narrowed his eyes. If he wasn't mistaken, she had no business being here at all. Her humanity radiated from her tanned skin. Not a whisper of talent shimmered in her aura. She whooped, losing her balance, and the stool teetered precariously.
"Coco, you're gonna fall!" The bartender looked more amused than annoyed. But then it was difficult to be annoyed when a tiny blonde bombshell was happily wasting her afternoon putting on a show for hungry -- and horny -- clientele. More than one avaricious gaze was locked on her curvy body.
She seemed pretty ordinary to Antonio, who regretfully ruled her out of his search. He chose a spot at the bar where he was unlikely to be overheard and dropped a bill on the gleaming wood.
"What'll it be?" The bartender was decent enough to look at: fit, handsome and clueless. Another human. Antonio bit back a smile. The economic crash had resulted in some unusual changes in Miami real estate.
"Rum and cola. And information." He pushed the photograph forward, his PI credentials on top of it. The guy seemed pretty straight up, like he was former law enforcement or something. He wiped his hands and peered at the photo, frowning. He picked up the ID and compared the photo to Antonio, then looked at the photo of the woman.
"She's familiar. What's this, a skip trace?"
"No, missing person. I'm doing the case as a favor to her brother. He lives overseas and hasn't heard from his little sister for a while." It didn't hurt to play the family card. If the guy knew anything, he might hold back if he thought someone meant her harm. Sure enough, the bartender gave Antonio the once over.
"Brazilian by birth, American by citizenship." Antonio smiled blandly. He nodded at the photo. "Look again. Maybe she's been in here?" He briefly wondered what would happen if he cued the bartender off to the fact that his bar was filled with characters from his nightmares. The chaos would be fun, but more in the style of Jedidiah, or even Jasper. Antonio had a bit more class.
The girl spun and Antonio gazed at her appreciatively. She was tanned and buff, wearing knee-length board shorts, a bikini top, and mismatched flip-flops. She'd probably dropped a little too much acid at some point. She giggled, grabbed her drink, knocking it back in one gulp, then slipped down onto the stool, lying back, her dreads nearly touching the floor.
"Sam! Refill!" She dug into a pocket and waved a crumpled bill in the air. Even from where he sat, Antonio caught the smell of fish and seawater on the filthy paper. It looked like she'd gotten lucky.
"Just a minute, darlin'!" He glanced up at Antonio and winked. "Coco's on soda and lime. I don't think she has a clue she's not wasted!" He pushed the photo back. "You know, she's got a look, but I can't place it. Any distinguishing marks? Tattoos, that sort of thing?"
Antonio opened the file and scanned Jasper's notes. Nothing, not even a scar or pierced ears. He frowned over the basic profile. Under eye color, Jasper had noted, Two. A joke? But then, Jasper himself had one eye that was a whirl of blue and amber. He pulled a pen from his pocket and made a question mark next to the description. They looked perfectly normal in the picture.
"What makes you think she might be around here?" Sam the bartender turned away, busying himself with wiping down the bar. "She's local?"
"Yeah, from Lauderdale, and this is the sort of place she might be drawn to if she's here in Miami."
"A sports bar?" Sam looked skeptical.
"Sports bar! Sports bar!" Sam hunched his shoulders at the loud squawking of a parrot a few feet away. "Shut up, Polly!"
The big bouncer growled.
The parrot began flapping its wings and howling like a dog. Antonio raised a single brow. Maybe the bird knew something.
"Hush!" Sam shouted.
The parrot squawked once again, and the girl slid off the stool, landing on the floor with a crash.
"I'm all right!" She rose to her knees, pushing away the helping hands of the enormous bouncer. "Floor came to meet me little too fast." She pushed back a matted clump of hair, giving the room a beaming smile.
Antonio shivered. She was gorgeous. Not the perfect, polished beauty of Miami and its hordes of models and trophy companions, but a gleaming, beaming ray of sun. Little glass beads studded strands of her hair. Her wide smile displayed straight, white teeth; there was a tiny gap right there in the middle. Her honey-colored skin was bare of make-up, her eyes -- the one he could see was as blue as the ocean. Before he could see the rest of her face, she untangled a crooked pair of sunglasses from her mop of hair and perched them on her straight little nose.
She stood unsteadily, bracing on the back of the stool for balance. Clearly, she was looped out of her brain and Antonio shot a look at Sam, who simply shrugged. She smelled only of sunshine, citrus and herself. There wasn't a tinge of alcohol on her.
Something else then.
"I'm outta here. Later, gaters!" She wiggled her fingers, tripped over her own flip-flop and caught herself on Antonio's arm. She squeezed it, fingers probing his bicep.
"Nice." She looked up at him. "Model?"
"Not anymore," he admitted. Not many people would get that much of an admission from him. Modeling hadn't been the most brilliant part of his history.
"Pretty man. Big. Fae or shifter?"
Oh. Shit. He looked at Sam, who'd returned to his sink and was rinsing glasses. He grinned at Antonio, shook his head and slowly circled a finger at his temple, indicating that little Coco wasn't quite right in the head. Antonio then caught the ominous gaze of the bouncer. He gave nothing away. Antonio swallowed. The big man was bruin -- a bear shifter. Poor Sam had no clue.
"I'm a Siberian," he whispered in her ear. She went perfectly still. Her glasses hid her eyes, so he couldn't see her expression.
He nodded. He stood perfectly still while she looked him over from head to toe.
"Liar." She grinned at him. Even though the smile was forced, the most kissable dimple flirted with him. To his surprise, his cock responded. He looked at those full, plush lips and had the most insane urge to kiss the little human. She was close enough he could feel the heat from her body, and again she swayed toward him, clearly off balance.
He caught her before she staggered, grinning as she looked down at where her belly pressed into his groin.
"Oh yes." He grinned. He wondered if the place had a store room, or even a private toilet stall. Normally a dreadlocked surfer chick was far from what attracted him, but right now, attraction was a mild description of what he was feeling. He grinned wickedly, reaching up to slide her glasses off. She took a step back, bumping into a stool. Antonio leaned forward, tilting his head slightly, just a breath away from a kiss.
Her pink tongue darted out, moistening her lips. "Water. Need water."
She nodded. Her hair tumbled over one side of her face and she giggled, a throaty, sexy sound.
"I can do that." He straightened and turned to the bar. "Water for the lady."
Sam leaned a bit to look around him, grinned and reached under the counter, bringing up an icy bottle. "On the house." His blue eyes twinkled and he returned to his chores, chuckling quietly. The file still lay on the bar, so Antonio tucked the photo back into his jacket and fished out a business card, leaving it for Sam. He grabbed the slim file. He'd pretty well memorized all it contained, but still, it wouldn't be a good idea to lose it. Jedidiah -- and the entire paranormal community -- would have his head.
He shrugged and turned, and then froze. She was gone. The front door hadn't been opened and there was no sign of her anywhere. He looked around and spotted a dark corridor. An exit sign glowed at the end of the hall and Antonio tossed the bottle up into the air, deftly catching it as he began his pursuit.
He had a bottle of water for the lady.