“Sorry bout the mud. I did my best to get the boots clean, but sometimes shit just sticks no matter what you do. Beg your pardon on the language, ma’am.” The first man took off a weathered cowboy hat, slicking his hand over his dark brown hair in an effort to make it lay flat. His accent was nowhere I could place, which left a lot of places. In contrast to the faded and worn hat his face was smooth and unlined. Light brown eyes twinkled under a set of bushy brows. “Been a while since I was in the presence of a lady.”
“Thank you for having us in your house.” The second man’s accent was softer, more rounded. More educated, or at least it seemed to me. Like his brother, he had dark brown hair and light brown eyes, but there the similarities ended. While the first man was the very image of a die-hard cowboy, the second man put me in the mind of some old-time cattle baron. He even had a bolero that perfectly matched his suit. “I am Wayne Carter. The lout tracking mud on your floors is my brother John.”Wayne Carter crossed the room, extending his hand to me. I took it automatically, charmed in spite of myself when he lifted my hand, brushing a kiss over my knuckles. His lips quirked, the handlebar mustache he wore echoing the movement. “We are pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Henries.”
“Uh, thanks.” I tugged my hand free, taking a step back. Theo’s hand closed over my elbow, drawing me further out of Wayne Carter’s reach. I let out a breath I hadn’t been aware of holding. “So. What can we help you with Mr. Carter?”
“Please, call me Wayne. If you address us as Mr. Carter, we’ll spend the evening attempting to discern which of us you’re directing your statement at.” He smiled genially, not bothering to hide his fangs. “It can get very confusing when we’re both in the same room.”
“You’re forgetting your manners, Wayne.” St. Germaine seemed to take extraordinary glee in his words. “And after you worked so hard to rid yourself of the ditch digger image.”
The air in the library dropped at least ten degrees. Wayne stared at the Comte for long moments while everybody in the room capable of holding their breath did so. Finally, Wayne inclined his head slightly, the tension level in the room dropping to a somewhat more comfortable level. “Of course. The formalities must be observed.”
He beckoned his brother forward with a curl of his fingers. John shuffled further into the room, rolling and unrolling the brim of his hat, keeping his head down. Something about the little tick had me changing my assessment of who was more dangerous. I don’t know if I made a sound or if he just sensed my stare, but he glanced up from studying his boots.
His eyes were no longer brown. Only a depthless, pitiless black.
He lowered his lashes again and I remembered to breathe. The bumps—excuse me, Anne and the unnamed child—were kicking up a storm and it was a struggle to hide my discomfort. I tuned back into the conversation just in time to hear Williams acknowledge the Carter Brothers and welcome them back to the city.