Excerpts from The Wolf and The Butterfly

Josie reconnects with Simon

Mama turned to go but gave me a last look. “Before your father gets the two of you engrossed, you need to get your room ready. You won’t get any coddling here. You know where the linen closet is.”

“Yes, Mama.”

She gave my shoulder another squeeze before focusing her attention on Amy.

I gave Armando a sly grin. “Just like old times.”

He laughed. “Like I said, man, nothing’s changed.”

I returned his laugh, the final vestiges of unease from my decision to move home vanishing in the warmth of this family. I wandered down the hall, heading for the well-remembered closet. Mama had never pampered me when it came to equality in chores.

What I hadn’t remembered was that the linen closet was mere steps from the back patio where Josie and Emmie had retreated. The slider was open, the last remnants of a warm fall evening blowing fresh air into an overly warm house.

I opened the closet, still amazed by how many sheets and blankets a house could hold before being considered a motel. When the women’s voices floated in, I should have grabbed the first sheets I laid my hands on and left the scene. The towels and blankets could wait until later. Then I heard Emmie ask about someone named Paul.

The single name was all I needed to know who’d stolen the light from Josie. When I reached for a set of sheets and found my hands balled into fists, I paused. This isn’t my business. I released my fists and grabbed the first set of sheets at hand. I stared at the towels, deciding on a color, but my attention turned to the women’s conversation. I was eavesdropping on an intimate topic, but my feet stuck to the floor. At least I didn’t sneak closer to the door. That had to earn me some points.

Their words whispered in with the breeze, bits and pieces, random words and phrases. Mind-blowing sex, they didn’t want the same things, stalking, and Masquerade Club. My chest tightened at images of Josie in someone else’s bed, and I pushed them away. Then other images took hold—Josie going to work, having drinks with friends, always glancing over her shoulder to see if she was being followed.

My older sister had been involved in an abusive situation when I was too young to do anything about it. Our father had been useless. She moved away to start over. To be honest, leaving was the best thing she ever did, and it had as much to do with getting away from our family as it did with the asshole who’d beat her. The thought of Josie having to move away from her family because of this guy was intolerable.

I don’t know how long I stood there, staring at the towels, before I heard footsteps and caught the flicker of someone clutching at the door frame. Josie stared up at me, her large amber eyes wide, like a cat who discovers a large predator lurking in the shadows. She blinked, and her shoulders relaxed, but her brows drew together over narrowing eyes. Her expression clearly wondered—how much had I heard?

I dragged my gaze away and turned back to the linen closet, repositioning the sheets I held. “I can’t seem to decide whether I need a blanket.”

After a few seconds, Josie snickered. “I can’t believe you forgot the rule.”

I glanced back at her and grinned. “Always one blanket, in case of fire.”

We both laughed. That had been an old joke her grandfather often repeated. He’d insisted a wet blanket would save them if the house ever caught fire. Paddy, the Collins’s current patriarch and son-in-law to the old man, would shake his head, arguing that going out the window was a safer option. Their squabbling would last long into the evening.

Josie crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe. “How long are you in town? I think I missed that part of the conversation.”

“I’m hoping permanently.”

I couldn’t read her expression and decided it was for the best. “I hear you own a gym now.”

She perked up. “The best in downtown Portland.”

“Ah.” I tugged on a set of towels, and once they perched on the sheets I held, I tossed a blanket over everything.

“What does that mean?” Josie stepped away from the doorframe, hands on hips. That was the Josie I preferred.

“Nothing.”

“You’re not getting off that easy.”

I held my grin and shrugged. “Portland’s a big town. Just saying you’re the best downtown kind of diminishes the title.”

She stared at me for a long minute, then those dimples showed. “If I need marketing advice, I’ll just ask Emmie.”

“That’s right. She said she was in marketing. My mistake.”

She stepped closer, and I caught the wisp of citrus and spice. She gripped the doors of the linen closet and slammed them shut. “You’ve only been back a few hours. You’ll need time to readjust.”

She marched down the hall, leaving me smiling like a dumb oaf.

Once I dropped my towels in the guest bath and made the bed in my temporary room, I found Armando waiting for me by the fireplace.

“Finally. Dad’s hyperventilating in his workshop. You have no idea how much this means to him.” Armando started to get up, but I laid a hand on his arm.

“I know. I’m sure it’s great, but before we go out there, what can you tell me about the Masquerade Club?”