Angel and the Badman: The Story of Cort and Blanche
It was just after noon when she woke. Blanche rolled to her back and stretched, blinking against the intruding sunlight. The memory of the day before rushed in and she lay quietly, remembering Cortland Davis waking her with the ethereal brush of his fingertips. She closed her eyes, and her hand stole upward to cup her breast. She thought of the warmth of his palm spreading heat through her body, the feathery brush of his lips on her ear that had made her shiver more than the air conditioning. He’d been gentle, every action belying the hot promise in his eyes. Not what she expected at all, he was infinitely more dangerous and beguiling. And that was exactly why she had left him the way she had, insisted on coming home alone.
Last night she had regretted it, this morning she was sure she’d done the right thing. Men like Cort were too hard for her to resist...let them in a little, and the next thing a girl knew, she was giving it all up for love.
‘Not me...not again,’ Blanche vowed silently.
She blew a long sigh and forced herself out of bed, then washed her face, brushed her teeth, and dressed in jeans, running shoes, and a tee before heading downstairs to let Sport outside. Coffee brewed while she stood for a long time, staring blankly into the open fridge. There was nothing that took her fancy; her appetite had vanished since the night before. She settled on a bagel and managed to eat half of it before feeding Sport the rest.
Half-heartedly, she planned her day. Maybe she’d run a few miles, or drive over to use the exercise room at the Palms. Her eyes slid to the light filtering through her plantation shutters, a lovely golden light that promised beautiful mid-February weather. Yesterday’s paper said the temperature was predicted to reach a comfortable seventy degrees…perfect weather to be outdoors. In only two short months she’d wish she could be outside…after April, the desert heat became unbearable. She should get up and get going. Right now. This minute.
Good intentions, but her ambition flagged. With the Valentine’s Day edition of the Sun and a second cup of coffee for company, Blanche relaxed at her kitchen table in the afternoon sunshine. She was staring at an ad for See’s chocolates in heart-shaped boxes when she heard the rumble of a motorcycle, but her neighbor rode and she didn’t pay any attention, not even when it slowed. And then the doorbell chimed in the foyer. Sport let out a deep woof of warning and ran, claws clicking on hardwood, to the front door. His scruff standing on end, he stared fixedly at the door and growled. Already suspecting who was there, Blanche followed him. With her hand on the knob, she took a quick glance through the peephole. The fisheye lens distorted her view, but it was definitely Cort. Her heart leapt into an erratic pounding and after a quick glance in the mirror, she bent at the waist to give her hair an upside down fluff before she grabbed Sport’s collar and commanded, "Stay."
Cort stood on the porch, his back to her as he surveyed the neighborhood. He wore his usual jeans and leather jacket, and parked in her driveway was a black and silver customized Harley Low Rider. At the creak of hinges he turned and Blanche was astonished to see that he held a tissue wrapped bouquet of white roses, a lover’s gift on a day marked for lovers. The symbolism wasn’t lost on her. White, for her name. White, for a new love. She hadn’t thought of the Midnight Rider as capable of…or even interested in…such a romantic gesture.
Her eyes moved from the roses to his face. His hair was windblown, the skin under his eyes discolored a faint blue. He looked tired, like he hadn’t slept. He lifted the bouquet and gave her a cynical half smile, as if he knew what she was thinking.
"For you, Angel."
Blanche took brought them to her nose, murmuring, "They’re very pretty, thank you." The unexpected sweetness of his lover-like gesture threatened to bring tears. She lowered her lashes to hide suddenly wet eyes.
"Come in, Cort." Blanche stepped back and Cort went in, followed her to the sun-washed kitchen. He made friends with Sport while she put the flowers in water.
She watched him from the corner of her eye as she arranged roses and baby’s breath. He seemed subdued, weary, a little uncomfortable. He watched her too, but Cort didn’t bother to hide his observation. The intensity of his gaze unnerved her, made her wonder why he had come.
As Cort scratched Sport’s ears, he studied every nuance of her expression. Without makeup, her face looked fresh and innocent, young. Her body moved effortlessly under her clothes, as smoothly as she’d moved under him. Distracted by the heat-generating thought, he swiped his hand across his mouth and silently watched Blanche carefully place the roses in the center of the table. Sweet and pure as a bride, their scent drifted in the room and tickled his nose.
She went to the counter and came back with a man-sized mug of coffee and set it in front of him. "You look like you need this," she said.
"Thanks." The skin at the corners of his eyes grooved in deep lines as he smilingly confessed, "I didn’t sleep much." Gratefully, he wrapped a hand around the mug and lifted it to his lips. "Good," he told her, after an experimental sip.
They looked at each other and an awkward silence fell, the kind of silence that comes between a man and a woman who know too much of each other before they know enough. Cort was the first to break eye contact when he reached to pat her dog.
"So this is the guy you left me for?"
Blanche nodded. "That’s him. He’s my boy, aren’t you Sport?" The dog’s tail thumped on the polished floor and he left his new friend to rest his head on his mistress’s knee.
Cort’s lips twisted into a wry grin. "Looks like he’s staking his territory."
"I guess he is." Her eyes wicked, Blanche cracked, "At least he didn’t pee on me."
He laughed at her earthy humor, sipped at his coffee again. "Nice place." His eyes moved over the room, took in the marble countertops and stainless steel appliances. The house was new, the neighborhood upscale. He wondered how she managed to afford to live there. The pros called it skill, but poker was still a game of chance. Cort was damn good at the cards himself, but he wouldn’t count on them to maintain a house like this. He reckoned Angel had another source of income, something that hadn’t shown up in his search.
When he glanced back at her face, he saw it had changed. The relaxed good humor was gone and once again, the blank inscrutable expression that hid every thought and emotion had taken over her features. It was as if she had read his mind and had deliberately closed down to keep him in the dark. He didn’t like that look…he felt shut out, as if she’d physically pushed him away.
"Why are you here, Cort?" Blanche said coolly. "You didn’t come all this way to bring me roses...you could have sent them and saved yourself a trip. What do you want?"
He shook his head. The woman blew hot and cold in the blink of an eye, but he was beginning to think it was fear that drove her to hide from him. Fear was something he understood.
"What do I want?" His face changed, faded from weary to charming. "I want you, darlin’." He rose from his chair and pulled her up out of hers, captured her with an arm around her waist. As soon as he touched her, the distance between them vanished and his confidence returned.
"Dinner tonight, Angel? Candles, flowers, good wine..." he winked, gave her a comic leer, "...and me, all to yourself. Got reservations at Picasso for eight o’clock, best table in the house." His eyes fell to her mouth, pink and full, and he didn’t resist. His lips brushed hers in a kiss meant to tease.
Picasso was the cream of several world class restaurants at the Bellagio. Obviously, Cortland Davis was a man of some stature in town.
"A last minute reservation...now how did you manage that?" she said, deliberately cool.
"Bribery, darlin’. Works every time." He kissed her again, this time lingering over her mouth. When he lifted his head, his voice had taken on a hoarse note. "I’ll pick you up at seven."
"Will it just be us, or are you going to bring your buddy Slick?"
He laughed. "That what you call him?"
"Yep. What do you call him?"
"Jackass, usually," Cort admitted with a pained look.
He didn’t seem the type to suffer fools, and she couldn’t keep from asking, "Why do you keep him around if he’s stupid?"
"He has his uses." Cort shrugged and said cryptically, "Better that way, Angel. It’s the smart ones you have to watch out for." His hands caressed her back and the look in his eyes had her skin prickling. "Forget him, darlin’, and think about me. I’ll be back at seven to pick you up." It wasn’t a question.
Blanche pretended to consider. "I don’t know...I’d have to call my date and tell him we’re off for tonight."
Cort lifted her chin with his fingers, speared her with his eyes. "You tell him it’s off period, Angel," he said, his meaning clear. He slanted in for a kiss and tasted her slowly, his tongue licking into her mouth. Blanche slid her arms around his neck, threaded her fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck, and fed off the hunger he stirred in her blood. She was still breathless when he turned to leave. "Seven tonight," he repeated. "And Angel?"
She fought back the urge to pant. "Yes?"
"I hate to wait, darlin’..." His knowing eyes glittered over his shoulder as he paused in the door, "...so make sure I don’t."
The door closed quietly behind him. Blanche looked down at Sport and grinned. "He asks for it, doesn’t he, boy?"
Helpless to stop herself, like a teenager with a crush she pulled aside the blind and watched him through the window. She loved the way he walked…each step firmly planted, his body language nothing less than a declaration of virility and strength. He climbed on the bike and it occurred to her that he mounted it like a horse. She watched him kick start the Harley, then with legs splayed to the pavement, rev the motor until the neighborhood reverberated with thunder. There was something about his attitude...defiant, fearless...that brought to mind an outlaw of the old west. It wasn’t hard to imagine him in a black hat with a gun on his hip.
‘Bad man…’ she thought, and her body flooded in a rush of excitement. ‘Very sexy bad man.’ She wanted to run outside and jump on the bike behind him. She wanted to wrap her arms around his waist and make him take her with him. And she realized there wasn’t one good reason why she shouldn’t do that. Without another thought, Blanche opened the door and darted outside.
He didn’t hear her, the bike was too loud. Slamming the door behind her, she ran down the sidewalk just as the Harley roared again. Cort let out the clutch, lifted his feet to the pegs, and the bike drifted toward the street.
His boots thumped to the pavement and he swiveled his head to look over his shoulder. His eyes were hidden by black Ray Bans, but the grin that widened his mouth told her what she needed to know. He slid forward in the saddle. Blanche threw her leg over and got comfortable behind him, slipped her arms around his waist. The scent of leather and exhaust filled her head, the potential for danger quickened her heartbeat.
"Where to, darlin’?" Husky and deep, his voice reached her over the throb of the motor.
"Take me to heaven, darlin’." She mocked him playfully, and smiled when he laughed. He revved the engine again and she shivered at the vibration between her legs. Cort let the Low Rider drift down the driveway and her spirit took flight as he goosed the accelerator. Blanche held on, her body tight against the sun-warmed leather of his back, her palms splayed flat on his stomach, absorbing his scent, the heat of his body.
Cort turned northeast toward the scenic road that skirted Lake Mead. There was little traffic and he kept to a steady sixty miles an hour. He didn’t intend this to be a short ride. She’d shocked the hell out of him, but he liked it. He’d planned a visit to the site for the afternoon, but tossed that idea when he heard her call his name. He wouldn’t have missed this chance to have Blanche ride behind him for all the construction contracts in Nevada. His blood heated from the thrust of her breasts against his back, the warmth radiating from between her open thighs. His hard dick, trapped in his jeans, crawled up his belly toward her hands as if seeking a caress. He deliberately scared her, leaning far into the curves, skimming his boot on the highway. Each time, she tightened her arms around his waist and pressed closer to his back.
He drove until they came to a deserted spot five miles out on the lake road. Cort pulled off the highway, bumping over rough ground as he steered toward a massive outcropping of russet and ochre colored rock. Out of sight of the road, in shade cast by a forty feet high wall of sandstone, he switched off the engine.
The lake, a half mile distant, looked as if it had been poured into a shallow bowl. Blue as the sky it reflected, it was dotted here and there with pleasure craft. Farther up the gentle banks rose and steepened, became walls of rock. Cort held the bike steady until Blanche was safely on solid ground, then kicked the stand down. He shrugged out of his jacket, hung it on the handlebars. Blanche took a few steps forward and reached up to rake her fingers through her windblown hair, her eyes on the water.
Cort waited a moment, his gaze on the graceful line of her back, the indentation of her waist, the flare of her hips in tight denim. Aching to touch her, he moved closer and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"Pretty, isn’t it?" Blanche said.
His eyes flickered over the view, then settled back on the slope of her breast against tight cotton. "Not as pretty as you," he murmured. She had pulled her hair to the side and he couldn’t resist pressing his mouth to the curve of her neck and shoulder. His tongue dragged...her skin tasted sweet with a trace of salt, and the clean fragrance of her hair had intensified in the warmth of the sun.
As soon as he touched her she went still, but her body was relaxed and pliant when she leaned against him. Hands firm on her hips, he pulled her back and let her feel what riding with her body pressed to his had done to him. The hard ridge in his jeans throbbed and he caught his breath, pleasured by the contact when she shifted against him.
Her eyes drifted closed when his lips teased at the shell of her ear.
"Angel…you know how much I want you." A breathless Blanche didn’t answer, didn’t move as Cort’s rumbling voice thrummed against her throat. "It wouldn’t take much for me to forget it’s broad daylight and bend you over the damn bike..."
He might want to, she might want to...but she knew they wouldn’t go that far. Just the threat of it was enough to heat her blood though, and start the fire licking through her veins.
"I been watchin’ you for days, Angel," Cort growled in a voice that did as much to her as his stroking hands. "Got hard every time I saw you walk into the Cafe. The night we finally met, all I could think of was takin’ you out in the desert. The stars above us, this sweet body under me..." His palms slid caressingly over her belly, up over her ribs and cupped her breasts. His thumbs pressed and circled her already peaked nipples. "I wanted to pleasure you, darlin’...wanted to take my pleasure on you. And you knew it, I saw it in your eyes." He caught her hand, forced it backward until it covered the straining bulge in his jeans. "You know it now."
God, he was so hard... Her palm, sandwiched between his hand and his cock, pressed rigid denim. Blanche gasped when he pinched her nipple through her bra and tee and listened to that insidious drawling voice, whiskey-rough and honey-sweet, seducing, persuading.
Soft whiskers tickled as his mouth fastened on the skin of her shoulder. She had a mole there that he seemed fascinated by and his mouth covered it as his hand trailed over her belly and down to the notch between her legs. Strong fingers pressed and the seam of her jeans rasped over delicate flesh. Blanche shivered when he cupped her sex and whispered, "Sweet Jesus, you smell like warm sugar…taste so good, Angel...’specially here. Makes me wild, darlin’."
Desire like a wild thing in her, she stood breathless and immobile as his hands wandered over her body, smoothing a path along her hip and around to her ass, over the curve of her waist. He held her with a forearm across her chest and caressed her throat, his big hand gentle, though its very presence there was a subtle, exciting threat, a reminder that he could do whatever he wanted with her. His lips played, licking and biting at her shoulder, and his hips ground into her until his breath came in ragged gasps that fanned over her cheek.
She didn’t care anymore that it was broad daylight. She didn’t care that they were in a public, if deserted, place. And she didn’t care that he was close to losing control. She wanted him to. Blanche covered his hand with hers and guided it to her breast, forced him to squeeze.
Cort groaned aloud, the sound thrumming from deep in his chest. "Sweet Christ, woman. You’re making me crazy."
"Cort..." She turned in his arms, thrust her hands into the thick tangles of his hair and dragged his mouth down to hers. Soft and pliant, her lips molded to his and her tongue slipped between his teeth. The sound that came from him was feral, like an animal would make. His hands clamped on her ass and he lifted her to his groin. Blanche wrapped her legs around his hips and nuzzled into his neck.
"Say you want me," he panted into her hair.
"You know..." Breathless, her teeth gnawed the rim of his ear.
His hands fisted in her hair and he forced her head back until her throat arched. He bit her there, growling, "Say it, goddammit...I want to hear the words."
She let her legs drop and slid down his body. Her fingers trailed from the mole between his eyes, down the ridge of his nose to his lip. He sucked them into his mouth. Blanche shivered at the jolt of electricity that raced through her body. Her sex swelled for him, heated at the warmth and wetness of his tongue. Shivering, she pressed into him and whispered, "I want you so damn bad...."
He slid her fingers from his mouth, kissed the tips. Jesus, Angel. He had to have her. All of her. All for him, for as long as it took to get her out of his system, even if that time never came. Eyes penetrating, demanding, he pushed her for more.
"Only me. Say it."
He knew as soon as the words left his mouth that he’d made a mistake. Her eyes closed and he felt her slipping away from him, the oneness they’d shared just a moment before dissolving even before she murmured, "No, Cort. Don’t..."
He tried to get it back, keep her with him. His thumb teased her mouth open, he sucked at her bottom lip and pled in a hoarse whisper, "Angel...what are you afraid of? Me?"
"Not you." She shook her head, tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip and forced her to stay close to him.
His voice was a hoarse plea. "What then, darlin’?"
Blanche reached up to touch his face and at the last second, let her hand fall away, unwilling to give him even that much encouragement. Her gaze slid away over his shoulder and she stared blankly at rust-colored stratified rock. The confession sighed out of her, a grudging admittance of weakness in words spoken so quietly, they brushed by him like a breath of wind.
"I’m afraid of the way you make me feel."
His eyes softened, and he wondered what it had cost her to give him even that much. With gentle fingers, he cupped her chin and raised her face. "Look at me. How do I make you feel, Blanche?"
She shivered in his arms, her flesh rippling as if the day had turned cold. She could never explain it to him, the dichotomy of yearning and wariness he stirred in her. Something in him drew her, recognized that in Cortland Davis she had found a kindred soul, a man with his own reasons to keep people at arms length. But the caution that came from long standing habit kept her from letting him in. She wasn’t trustworthy...how could she put her faith in a man who was a male version of herself? All she trusted in was the way she felt when he touched her.
In frustration and bitter disappointment, Cort saw her face close down again, draining of all expression. It was like a curtain had come down to hide the actors on a stage, leaving the audience to wonder how the play ends.
He tried once more, his voice pleading, "Angel...you give me your body..."
"It’s all I can give you. All I want to give you. Let me go, Cort." She stepped backward, kept on until his hold on her broke.
His anger took flight and he didn’t even try to be gentle. He grabbed her upper arm, pulled her back to face him. "I’ll let you go when I’m good and goddamn ready," he bit out, frustration roughening his voice. He shook her like a wayward child. "It’s not enough, Blanche. I want more."
She gazed coolly into his eyes, unfazed by his temper, his show of strength. She’d always been defiant, even when defiance seemed foolish. "Well that’s too bad, because there isn’t any more," she snapped. "You’re such a liar, Cortland Davis. What happened to ‘no promises?’"
He stared at her with such furious intensity that she could almost feel it burning her face, like a blast of heat from an open oven. And then he let her go so suddenly she stumbled.
"You’re a damn coward, Blanche Donovan." Without looking to see if she followed him, he stalked to the bike.
If there was another way to get home, she would have let him ride off without her. But she had no choice; it was a long way to walk. Her body rigid, Blanche climbed on the Harley behind him and sat stiffly upright, clutching fistfuls of his jacket instead of holding onto his body. The ride back seemed interminable, so different from an hour before that they could have been strangers. This time Blanche didn’t rest her cheek between his shoulder blades, didn’t draw in his scent or smile at the way his stomach muscles twitched under her palms. This time she kept her body from touching his, even though her muscles screamed with the strain of it.
The sun was starting on its downward path when Cort pulled up into her driveway and stopped, steadying the Low Rider so she could get off. He didn’t bother to turn off the engine, but sat staring straight ahead as Blanche swung her leg over the rear wheel and hopped off. She started toward her front door, then abruptly stopped and faced him.
"About dinner tonight..." she said, her voice rising over the growl of the bike.
His eyes bored into hers, daring her. "What about it?"
"Find someone else. I’m not available."
His face stiffened, his mouth curled into a snarl, and Cort stared at her with furious eyes. He thought of all the vicious, cutting things he could say to wound her, but he bit back the words. The roar of the engine served as his answer, he gunned it into a thunderous blast of sound that bounced off the house and beat at their ears until she took an involuntary step back. He wanted to kick the Harley into overdrive, speed away from her and her deliberately emotionless face. But he didn’t. He wasn’t going to run from Blanche Donovan, wasn’t going to let a hard-hearted woman see what her cold dismissal had done to him.
But damn her to perdition, his chest was so tight he was halfway back to Vegas before he could take a deep breath.
* * *
It was late afternoon when Cort strode into his office. Still furious, his face forbidding and grim, he walked in to find Paco lounging in the reception area, hitting on his secretary. The girl’s cheeks were stained red and she looked like she was ready to run. One narrow eyed glare had Paco up off his chair and nervously following his boss into his office.
"You still trying to get in that poor girl’s pants?" Cort grated, flipping through his messages. "Goddammit, I told you to leave her alone."
"Uh..." Paco’s mouth opened, then closed. He never knew what to say when the boss was pissed off. The wrong words could be dangerous.
Cort took a deliberate calming breath and shook his head. "You damn jackass, you’re a sorry fuckin’ excuse for a side man. I’m telling you for the last time to leave her alone. Here..." He took out his wallet, peeled off five one hundred dollar bills. "...if you need laid so damn bad, take one of your whores to dinner tonight and fuck that horniness out of you. There’s a reservation in my name at Picasso for eight o’clock. I ain’t gonna use it."
Confused, Paco reached for the crisp bills. He’d expected to be fired...hell, he always expected to be fired....but this time, instead of the boot he got a bonus. Well, thank you Mr. Davis.... He’d skip the dinner, but a night in bed with one of Sin City’s finest sounded pretty good. "You sure, boss?"
Cort folded his body down into his desk chair and swung it to face the window. Though it was guaranteed not to, the glare of the sun penetrated through the metallic oxide tinted glass and almost blinded him. Wearily, Cort closed his eyes against the light.
"Yeah, I’m sure. Now get out of my sight."