Immortal Nights (Argeneau #24)


by Lynsay Sands

One

“Abs!”

Abigail Forsythe had just stepped inside the country-and-western-themed bar when she heard that shout. Finding the owner of the deep baritone wasn’t hard. Jet was six foot six when barefoot. In his cowboy boots he stood more than a head taller than pretty much every other person in the bar. Hell, he was a head taller than most of the people everywhere, she thought.

Spotting her dark-haired friend standing by two empty stools at the end of the bar, Abigail found a real honest-to-God smile tipping her lips. It was the first time that had happened in at least three months, and she immediately headed in Jet’s direction, suddenly eager for the affectionate hug that she knew awaited her.

“Ahhhh, baby girl,” Jet groaned, bending to wrap his arms around her the moment she reached him.

It was all he said, but a lump was suddenly lodged in her throat and Abigail couldn’t speak, so she merely hugged him back silently. As usual, the hug went on longer than was perhaps normal between friends, but Abigail didn’t mind. She simply rested her head on his chest and released a long drawn-out sigh.

“Let me look at you,” Jet said after a moment, and grasped her upper arms to move her back a step.

Abigail tilted her head up to peer at him. Her eyes traced the fine lines of his familiar face with affection. He looked older. But then they both were. Although they’d written each other faithfully each week, she hadn’t seen Jet in three years now. He’d been off in foreign lands, flying fighter jets for the navy, while she’d been here in Texas, nursing her mother to the grave.

“I was so sorry to hear about your mom, Abs,” Jet said suddenly, as if his thoughts ran along the same lines as her own. “She was always good to me. I thought the world of her. You know that.”

Abigail nodded.

“I’d have been right there at your side for her funeral if I hadn’t been overseas, but I was only released from the navy and got home the week after,” he said with regret.

“I know,” she assured him, managing a smile.

“She was the best, Abs.”

“Yeah, she was,” Abigail agreed, her voice going husky and tears glazing her eyes. Afraid that if they didn’t soon change the subject she’d be bawling like a baby, she glanced to the bar and forced another smile. “I need a drink.”

She glanced back to find Jet watching her. There was concern in the depths of his eyes and she turned away with discomfort, knowing exactly what he saw. Her skin was pale and blotchy, her eyes bloodshot with dark circles under them, and she was carrying a lot of extra weight that hadn’t been there the last time they’d seen each other. All were the result of spending the last year inside, doing little but watch over her mother as she faded away under the ravages of cancer. Abigail had always carried around an extra ten or twenty pounds. She’d been more round than society liked, but the three years since her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer had done her few favors in that department. Others might have wasted away under the strain, but Abigail had gained a good thirty pounds, going from rounded to just plain round. She was terribly self-conscious about it at the best of times, but with Jethro Lassiter looking her over and taking it in, Abigail was painfully aware of just how bad she must look.

“A drink it is,” he said suddenly. “Here, take a load off.”

Abigail’s eyes widened and she bit off a startled squeal as the man caught her under the arms and lifted her onto the bar stool. He’d picked her up as if she weighed little more than a feather, but she knew that wasn’t the case and wrinkled her nose at him as he claimed the empty bar stool next to hers.

“Keep that up and you’ll pull something,” she said dryly, swinging to prop her elbows on the bar. “Then you’ll have to take time off and lose that new job you just started.”

Jet merely snorted at the claim and tugged at the backpack still strapped to her back. “Take this off. We’ll set it on the floor between us.”

Abigail shifted the straps off her shoulder and allowed him to pull the pack away. She watched him set it on the floor between the stools, and then glanced around as a cheerful voice asked, “What’ll it be?”

A pretty young blonde in a tight T-shirt with the bar’s logo on it now stood on the other side of the bar. She smiled at them engagingly, or smiled at Jet really, Abigail thought as she noted that the woman’s bright blue eyes and generous breasts were pointed exclusively at him.

Jet smiled faintly at the woman, but then turned to Abigail. “Long Island Iced Tea?”

Abigail snorted. That had been their drink of choice three years ago for his send-off party when he’d left to become a navy pilot. They’d sucked back the drinks well into the early hours of dawn, long after everyone else had left the party. Abigail had paid for it the next day, waking with a killer hangover. That night was a fond memory. The following day—which she’d spent hanging over the toilet—was not.

“Come on,” he urged. “I think you’re in serious need of letting loose a little. One Long Island Iced Tea and then we’ll switch to something less deadly.”

Abigail smiled faintly at his wheedling tone, but then shrugged. “What the hell.”

“What the hell,” he agreed with a grin and turned back to the barmaid. “A Long Island Iced Tea for the lady, and a draft for me please, ma’am.”

“Hey!” Abigail protested.

“I’m driving,” Jet explained, then grinned and added, “Besides, iced teas are sissy drinks.”

Abigail scowled at the claim. “As I recall, that sissy drink kicked your ass the last time we had them.”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “Boy, was I sorry the next day. The first day in boot camp is not a good day to be suffering a hangover.”

Abigail smiled faintly. “I can imagine.”

“No. I’m quite sure you can’t,” he assured her with a grimace.

“Well, your letters were pretty descriptive,” she said with amusement. “Hard, huh?”

“Hard doesn’t begin to describe it,” Jet said, but didn’t expand on it, and turned to smile at the barmaid and thank her for their drinks when she set them down.

Abigail looked Jet over curiously as he paid for their drinks. His tour in the navy had changed him. He’d been tall but too thin, and lacking in muscle when she last saw him. He’d been all arms and legs then as she recalled, but not any longer. He’d filled out and grown into his height. Her best bud was now a strong, handsome guy with confidence and even swagger. The navy had done wonders for him, and she actually envied him for it.

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