Vanquish (The Xander King Series Book 2), page 6
The jury was still out on Sarah Gilbright.
Sam’s Cold Heart Might Just
Have a Warm Spot After All
Xander, Sam, and Kyle gave Sarah time to pack a bag before they all boarded the jet bound for Lexington. Jack Bronson agreed to hold council at Xander’s home there, but he wanted to drive himself down. Sam got to work immediately on preparing the next steps but when she approached Xander, he made it very clear that he needed a break. Twenty-four hours. That’s all he asked. He knew how quickly they needed to regroup, because at the very moment they were speaking about it, Nicoli Pavlovich and Vitalii Dragov were trying to figure out a way to kill him. He just had to have one day to recover. She declined his offer of taking a break with them, but she understood.
Sam knew that Xander’s hidden, but real reason why he wanted to take a break. He wanted to get to know Sarah Gilbright and where her allegiance truly lies. Sam was okay with this, because she knew Xander had a special way with women. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that by the time they all sat down together tomorrow morning to get serious, that Xander would know exactly just how in Sarah Gilbright was. She also saw the way Sarah looked at Xander and she knew there would undoubtedly be some “complications” that came along with this so-called night off. Sarah was much too beautiful for Xander to keep his hands off of her. Especially with Natalie Rockwell off in Paris, trying to live without him. Sam knew that wouldn’t last long either. She had never seen Xander look at a woman the way he looked at Natalie. He was in love, and when Xander loved something, it stayed around forever. The only thing that really made her nervous for Xander was that Sarah embodied a lot of the same qualities that she knew he liked about Natalie. Sam didn’t do love anymore for this very reason. That, and she had been burnt by a love triangle once herself. She knew there was nothing she could do because Xander led with his heart. And while that is an amazing quality in a person, it can often lead to more heartache than anything else.
Sam let all of these thoughts wash over her as she looked out the window as Kyle, Kate, Sarah, and Xander played in the pool. Kyle had invited Kate over to relax with Xander and Sarah. She looked out beyond them toward the rolling hills of freshly cut green grass. Sam had never been much of a fan of anything but the city. That was because she had never known anything else. She had to admit to herself, as the afternoon sun shined down over the majesty of Kentucky, she couldn’t even imagine going back after now being exposed to both ways of life. She, of course, could never tell Xander this, but Lexington and the Internet had all the things in the world a girl could ever need, without all the shit the miserable people that live around buildings all day try to sell you is good about where they live. Bullocks, every single bit of it. Big city living is for people that haven’t figured out what to do with their lives. Sam realized that was why they loved all those distractions, to keep from having to actually work at figuring it out. Sam knew she didn’t have it all figured out, but she was at least doing some real good with her life. A fact that, before she met Xander, she never thought would be possible. You just never know in life. She had that thought because as she was looking down at Kyle and she couldn’t understand why it bothered her when she saw Kate touching him. For as long as she’d known Kyle, she’d thought him an immature wildcard, incapable of real love. But something was different about him since coming back from Syria. Or, maybe something was different about the way she saw him. Whatever it was, the thought returned like a bullet through flesh.
You never know.
“Xander, thanks for being okay with me coming along. I’m not sure Manning would have let me even keep my job if you hadn’t insisted that I be part of the team.”
“Sarah, if I haven’t said it, thank you for everything you have done for me. You have gone way beyond to help me and to make sure that my team and I were safe. I am forever in your debt for keeping that crazy son of a bitch alive.” Xander smiled and pointed to Kyle who was leaning against the side of the pool talking to Kate. Xander was on his back on a float in the pool, being careful to not get the stitches in his stomach wet. Sarah had pulled a sun chair over to the side of the pool and she was lying on her stomach looking down at him. She found him absolutely fetching in his swimming trunks. The sun glistening off of his lightly sweat beaded body.
Before she could respond, Kyle and Kate waded over and Kyle splashed playfully at them both.
“Would you all stop being so goddamn serious all the time? Jesus. Sarah, I need you to be a positive influence if you are gonna be around. I have a hard enough time getting Xander to relax, I don’t need your help making it worse.” Kyle splashed again. “Now get your ass in the pool, girl!”
“Hey now, come on. Watch it. Don’t get Xander’s stitches wet!” Sarah laughed as she got up. She took a seat on the concrete, letting her legs dangle in the pool. The three of them stared back at Sarah like she was on fire. And, as far as Xander was concerned, she was hot enough to be. Her blonde hair looked lighter than usual against the darkening tan of her body. The only bathing suit she could find in her apartment in Virginia on such short notice was a pale blue bikini—Brazilian-cut bottoms with little tiny straps on the top. Far too skimpy to be wearing around people she hardly knew.
Kate said what everyone was thinking.
“Girl, you are sexy!”
“Well, thanks,” Sarah blushed. “This bikini is a little much, but I hadn’t been planning on a pool day. Can’t remember the last time I had one, actually.”
“Can I ask a personal question?” said Kate.
“Are those real?”
“You don’t have to answer that, Sarah,” Xander interjected.
“Oh, it’s fine. I get that question a lot. They are real. Mom’s great gift or burden, depending on which way you look at it.”
“Burden? I’d kill for a set of those.”
“So would I!” Kyle joked. That warranted a punch in the shoulder from Kate.
Sarah just looked at Xander and smiled. He didn’t say a word. She really wished he had.
The afternoon grew toward evening and the cicadas began their southern serenade from the tops of the live oaks that surrounded the property. The warm air carried the scent of honeysuckle. Every once in a while a horse whinny could be heard, possibly from the great King’s Ransom himself. The group made their way to separate quarters to get cleaned up for the evening. They had reservations at Bella Notte, Xander’s favorite Italian restaurant in town. On his way to the shower, Xander noticed a light coming from the bottom of Sam’s room. He knocked on the door.
“Hey Sam, can I come in?”
Xander walked in and Sam was sitting up against the bed’s purple quilted headboard, her computer in her lap and hair in a ponytail. Xander didn’t often see her so dressed down. It looked good on her. She was wearing a white v-neck t-shirt and a black pair of yoga pants. The same pants that seemingly every other woman on earth had decided necessary to wear all the time, regardless of their plans to actually do yoga or not. Xander didn’t mind. Even a mediocre body looked great in them. Not that Sam needed help in that department.
“What can I do for you, Xander?”
“Come to dinner with us.”
The soft yellow light of the lamp actually gave Sam’s otherwise pale skin a nice warm glow.
“Oh no, no, no. I know better than that. Dinner with you and Kyle means coming home at three in the morning, snockered, the entire next morning lost.”
“Come on, Sam.” Xander turned on his best smile. “We haven’t just hung out, in forever.”
“You know that smile doesn’t work on me, so you can just go head and wipe it right off. I’ll just order some take-out or something. I am eyeball deep in preparing a plan for us, and it is really starting to come together.”
“You know that I appreciate, so much, everything you do for me, right?”
“But, just tonight. Knock it off?
“There you go, letting Kyle plant seeds in your head again. If it were up to him you’d never do another thing but indulge his childish whims.”
“Kyle’s not so bad, you know. He loves you too, Sam. And ever since you dropped down to your underwear on the plane a couple of weeks ago, he hasn’t stopped talking about you either.”
“I would eat that poor boy alive.”
Xander had a feeling that was absolutely true. “I don’t doubt that, Sammy. Now come on, for me. Come with us?”
“I don’t do fifth wheel.”
“You don’t have to. Kate can’t make it. Help me get to know Sarah better. I need you to get a feel for her anyway.”
“Get a feel for her? That what you’re trying to do, Romeo?”
Xander laughed. Julia Sanders—she helped around the house when Xander was in town—came in with an ice cold gin and tonic perched on an old fashioned, round, silver serving tray.
“You’re behind. I had Julia here whip you up a G and T. What do you say?”
Sam sat there for a moment eyeballing Xander, then the drink, then back to Xander. Just then Kyle poked his head inside the bedroom.
“Where’s my date?” His goofy smile turned something in Sam’s hardened heart.
“Sam?” Xander smiled and held his arms out to his sides.
She paused a moment longer and then a smile finally made its way to the surface. “Oh, all right. But just dinner!” She said as she slammed her laptop shut.
“Yes!” Kyle and Xander rejoiced collectively.
“I’ll just call Melanie and have her work on a few things while we eat.”
“Whatever gets your ass down to the driveway in thirty is what I want you to do.”
Sam hopped up, grabbed the gin and tonic, and walked toward the bathroom.
“All right, go on then.” She waved behind her.
Kyle and Xander both couldn’t help but notice how great Sam looked in those ever flattering black yoga pants. Again, not that she needed the help.
Dean Martin, Bottles of Wine,
and Cold Showers
The buttery voice of Dean Martin melting over sweeping violins, and the thrumming beat of a bellowing upright bass filtered through the speakers of Bella Notte Italian Trattoria. Happy chatter and the clink-clank of busy silverware were the music being made inside. It was rare to see unsmiling faces gathered around a gluttonous meal. The inside of the restaurant vaguely reminded Xander of his villa in Tuscany, a place he hadn’t visited in far too long. The restaurant floor, an antiqued cobblestone, and the walls, made up of broken stucco, were illuminated by the soft yellow light emanating from the outstretched branches of an olive tree that took up real estate in the middle of the indoor courtyard.
It was difficult for Xander whenever he saw pizza on a menu to pass it up, but tonight he opted for the lasagna. There was just something about layer upon layer of meat sauce, cheese, and noodles that could transform any mood to a great one. The Chianti they passed around the table certainly didn’t hurt, but tonight no one needed the boost in moral. All of them had silently decided to save the darkness of life for the dealings of tomorrow.
Sarah finished the last bite of her pasta—Penne Gorgonzola—with a satisfied sigh.
“So, Sam, how did you get involved with the military in London?”
Sam pushed her plate forward and took up her glass of wine, gave it a swirl, then a sip.
“Honestly, it’s entirely cliché.”
“You know, I haven’t heard this either.” Kyle sat back in his chair and admired the bulge the overload of meatballs had created in his stomach. “You know everything about me and Xander, but you never share anything about you.”
“It’s really not very captivating.”
Xander wiped his mouth and gave Sam a wry smile.
“Bullshit. That’s precisely what it is. Don’t let her fool you.”
Sam returned his smile in kind.
“So, what is the worst thing that has happened to you while you’ve been on a mission?” said Sarah.
A chill fell across the table and there was an undeniable shift in mood. The question made Kyle instantly uncomfortable as his memory blasted him back to the bottom of Khatib’s compound where he was forced to relive the answer to the question. It was also the worst thing he had ever seen himself. It was something that he still thought about every day. Sarah sensed the awkward silence and made everyone feel better by retracting the question.
“Sorry, that was horrible dinner table manners,” she stumbled. “Must be the wine. I don’t normally drink more than a glass. I think, this might be my...third?”
“Well, this was delicious, but we have a big day tomorrow. Maybe we should get home?” Sam suggested.
“What?” Not surprisingly, Kyle was near outrage at the thought. “It’s only ten!”
“I agree with Sam, we can open another bottle on the patio, it’s a beautiful evening,” said Xander.
“Not you too! Sarah?”
“I could do a little more wine. The patio sounds lovely.”
“Jesus Christ. What are we, ninety?”
“No Kyle, we are not ninety.” Sam said. “But we aren’t nineteen either. We aren’t trying to find ourselves and the three of us don’t need our ego stroked by a drunken slut to make us feel like we achieved something.”
“Speak for yourself.” Xander laughed. Sarah giggled tipsily as she smiled at him.
“Well, Sam, maybe I wouldn’t have to chase after drunken sluts if you’d give me the time of day.”
“Well, Kyle, I don’t recall you ever having the balls to approach a real woman like myself.”
That shut him up. He took an unnaturally hard swallow at the thought. Was that an invitation? Surely not, Sam had only ever held Kyle in contempt. Sarah and Xander got a kick out of seeing Kyle’s normally cocky exterior get a jolt from the almighty Samantha Harrison. Xander paid the bill, making the waitress’ day with his usual one hundred percent tip, and they made their way back to the house.
On the way, Xander had texted Julia to prepare the patio with wine and dessert. As they walked outside through the tall glass French doors, they were met with a gorgeous spread. Two bottles of port—Xander’s favorite—had been decanted and were situated on the table alongside two bouquets of white roses, a plate of assorted chocolates, and a chocolate soufflé with a side of vanilla ice cream. Strands of exposed yellow rope lights hung above them and Sarah had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Her only hope at that point was that Kyle and Sam would somehow decide to forgo this dream and leave her and Xander to it.
That wasn’t the case.
“My, this looks amazing. Julia, is it?” Sarah asked the dark haired—eager to please—young lady that began pouring the port into each of the four sifters on the table.
“Yes, my name is Julia. I’m happy you like it Ms...”
“Ms. Sarah. If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate. I’ll bring out a pitcher of ice water as well.”
“Thank you so much,” said Sarah. Julia gave her a nod and went back inside. “She’s lovely, and she does a fantastic job. You’re lucky to have such great people.” she said to Xander.
Sam took a seat and smiled.
“I assure you Sarah, it isn’t luck. Xander overpays everyone tremendously.”
“I’m sure he does. That’s sweet.” Sarah smiled at him.
“Sweet isn’t the half of it. Did you see that Porsche in the driveway?” Sam asked Sarah.
“I did. Gorgeous car, yours?”
“Wow, are you always so perfect?” Sarah sat down next to Xander and gave his hand a squeeze. Xander smiled. When Sarah noticed Sam noticing her hand on his, she pulled it away.
The four of them continued to laugh and indulge in the warm summer evening. The humidity wrapped aro
“Well, this has been a lovely evening, but I am going to head on up.” Sam announced.
“Come on Sam, have one more with me down by the pool?” Kyle practically begged.
Sam didn’t answer. She just smiled, shook her head and walked toward the house. “Goodnight everyone.” Just before she disappeared she looked back over her shoulder and gave Kyle a wonderful tease of a smile.
“Damn, she’s sexy. Why am I just now realizing this?”
“Easy cowboy. She would chew you up and spit you out.” Xander smiled.
“Exactly.” Kyle smiled back. He let out a huff of sexual frustration, pushed his seat toward the table, and wished Sarah and Xander a good night. Even if he wasn’t going to get lucky, bro-code emphatically states that you don’t get in the way of your friend’s chances. And everyone had seen at one point or another the way Sarah got a twinkle in her eye anytime Xander King came around. It was so bright that it was distracting, maybe distracting everyone from noticing Xander shining a little twinkle of his own.