WantedBy: J. Kenner
I know exactly when my life shifted. That precise instant when his eyes met mine and I no longer saw the bland look of familiarity, but danger and fire, lust and hunger.
Perhaps I should have turned away. Perhaps I should have run.
I didn’t. I wanted him. More, I needed him. The man, and the fire that he ignited inside of me.
And in his eyes, I saw that he needed me, too.
That was the moment that everything changed. Me, most of all.
But whether it changed for good or for ill … well, that remains to be seen.
Even dead, my Uncle Jahn knew how to throw one hell of a party.
His Chicago lakeside penthouse was bursting at the seams with an eclectic collection of mourners, most of whom had imbibed so much wine from the famous Howard Jahn cellar that whatever melancholy they’d brought with them had been sweetly erased, and now this wake or reception or whatever the hell you wanted to call it wasn’t the least bit somber. Politicians mingled with financiers mingled with artists and academics, and everyone was smiling and laughing and toasting the deceased.
At his request, there’d been no formal funeral. Just this gathering of friends and family, food and drink, music and mirth. Jahn—he hated the name Howard—had lived a vibrant life, and that was never more obvious than now in his death.
I missed him so damn much, but I hadn’t cried. Hadn’t screamed and ranted. Hadn’t done anything, really, except move through the days and nights lost in a haze of emotions, my mind numb. My body anesthetized.
I sighed and fingered the charm on my silver bracelet. He’d presented me with the tiny motorcycle just over a month ago, and the gift had made me smile. I hadn’t talked about wanting to ride a motorcycle since before I turned sixteen. And it had been years since I’d ridden behind a boy, my arms tight around his waist and my hair blowing in the wind.
But Uncle Jahn knew me better than anyone. He saw past the princess to the girl hidden inside. A girl who’d built up walls out of necessity, but still desperately wanted to break free. Who longed to slip on a pair of well-worn jeans, grab a battered leather jacket, and go a little wild.
Sometimes, she even did. And sometimes it didn’t end right at all.
I tightened my grip on the charm as the memory of Jahn holding my hand—of him promising to keep my secrets—swept over me, finally bringing tears to my eyes. He should be beside me, dammit, and the swell of laughter and conversation that filled the room was making me a little sick.
Despite the fact that I knew Jahn wanted it that way, it was all I could do not to smack all the people who’d hugged me and murmured softly that he was in a better place and wasn’t it wonderful that he’d lived such a full life. That was such bullshit—he hadn’t even turned sixty yet. Vibrant men in their fifties shouldn’t drop dead from aneurysms, and there weren’t enough pithy Hallmark quotes in the universe to make me think otherwise.
Antsy, I shifted my weight from foot to foot. There was a bar set up on the other side of the room, and I’d positioned myself as far away as physically possible because right then I wanted the burn of tequila. Wanted to let go, to explode through the numbness that clung to me like a cocoon. To run. To feel.
But that wasn’t going to happen. No alcohol was passing these lips tonight. I was Jahn’s niece, after all, and that made me some kind of hostess-by-default, which meant I was stuck in the penthouse. Four thousand square feet, but I swear I could feel the art-covered walls pressing in around me.
I wanted to race up the spiral staircase to the rooftop patio, then leap over the balcony into the darkening sky. I wanted to take flight over Lake Michigan and the whole world. I wanted to break things and scream and rant and curse this damned universe that took away a good man.
Shit. I sucked in a breath and looked down at the exquisite ancient-looking notebook inside the glass and chrome display case I’d been leaning against. The leather-bound book was an exceptionally well-done copy of a recently discovered Da Vinci notebook. Dubbed the Creature Notebook, it had sixteen pages of animal studies and was open to the center, revealing a stunning sketch the young master had drawn—his study for the famous, but never located, dragon shield. Jahn had attempted to acquire the notebook, and I remember just how angry he’d been when he’d lost out to Victor Neely, another Chicago businessman with a private collection that rivaled my uncle’s.
At the time, I’d just started at Northwestern with a major in poli sci and a minor in art history. I’m not particularly talented, but I’ve sketched my whole life, and I’ve been fascinated with art—and in particular with Leonardo da Vinci—since my parents took me to my first museum at the age of three.