Hometown Hero (Hometown Alaska Men Book 2) (3 page)

BOOK: Hometown Hero (Hometown Alaska Men Book 2)
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The B & B's paying guests milled about the living room for the cocktail hour. Tawney had hidden out in the kitchen with Star as long as she could, hoping to avoid the man who had tried to buy her a drink at the bar earlier today. Now, Star insisted they join the paying guests.

"Tawney, meet Bob and Chuck," Star said, introducing the guests. "They are from Oregon."

"Hello," Tawney said.

Bob, the guest who'd hit on her at The Junebug said, "This must be my lucky day to run into you here." He smiled at Tawney, but his eyes were on her breasts. "How do you all know each other?"

"Tawney is my sister," Star said. "She recently returned to Seward. In fact, tonight's dinner is a celebration of her return."

Bob hefted his beer. "I'll drink to that. Cheers."

Chuck said, "I'll second that." He took a swig of beer.

"If you'll excuse me for a minute?" Tawney didn't wait for a reply. She sidestepped the men and locked herself in the powder room. She'd never get through this dinner with Bob staring at her breasts. Ick. Thank goodness for the cold weather that allowed her to wear this thick blue sweater. She was about as covered up as she could be. Tawney splashed some cold water on her face. She finger combed her hair. Good enough. How long could she stall before Star came looking for her?

Tawney paced the tiny powder room for a few more minutes. When she could put it off no longer she rejoined the group.

"There she is," Star said when she saw Tawney. "Come on over here. You remember Rick Tabor? Cade saw him in town earlier and invited him over for dinner."

Tawney heard the silent apology in Star's words. Star knew Rick, aka the Destroyer, was the last person Tawney wanted to have dinner with. Her humiliation was complete.

"So we meet again," Rick said, but he didn't smile.

"You knew Tawney was in town?" Cade asked Rick.

"We met at The Junebug today," Rick said. "My aunt tells me we are fellow employees."

"You work at The Junebug?" Tawney asked.
Really?
Why hadn't June mentioned that fact?

"I bartend and work as the bouncer." Rick said. "Today was my day off."

He stared at her and for the first time she let herself stare back. Tall, well-built, with close cut light brown hair, and eyes that looked more green than hazel, Rick looked even better than he had in high school. He had a strong jaw and straight white teeth. His height gave him an imposing feel, which no doubt helped him when he stepped out from behind the bar and went to work as The Junebug's bouncer. Rick would be hard to beat in a fight. His top physical condition and sheer size would make him a winner.

"You're not a cop?" Tawney asked.

His mouth tightened. "Not anymore."

What did that mean? His closed expression led her to believe he wouldn't tell her even if she asked.

"Aunt June tells me you rented the cottage next to mine," Rick said.

"Next to yours?" she repeated.

"Our places are separated by the garages."

"She didn't tell me," Tawney said. June had tricked her. June hadn't told her a damned thing about Rick. If the woman harbored some secret wish to get them back together she had another thing coming. Rick Tabor was the last man Tawney wanted to get involved with.

"I'm not at the cottage all the time, just when I work," Rick said. "I stay out at my grandparents' cabin as much as I can."

"I remember the cabin," Tawney said. Rick had taken her there once. Cozy described the place. The setting beautiful, tall trees, private, no neighbors. His grandparents had been living there then. Nice people. They'd raised Rick after his parents had been killed in a traffic accident.

Bob sidled up to the group. "Cade mentioned you're from Vegas and that you're a Vegas showgirl."

"Was a showgirl," Tawney said. "Not anymore."

Rick's eyebrows shot up.

Loving Rick's shocked reaction, Tawney flashed Bob a smile. "I danced in a burlesque show."

"Burlesque," Bob said, then gave a low whistle. "I went to a burlesque show in Vegas once. The dancers were topless."

"You don't say," Tawney said, her tone dry as day old bread. Rick was frowning now. Well, too bad. If he wanted to think the worst of her, who was she to enlighten him?

"Yowzer!" Bob's eyes dropped to her breasts. "I'll bet you're good at what you do."

Tawney resisted the urge to shake her breasts at him.

Cade coughed.

Star stepped between them, taking Tawney's arm. "Come on, help me bring the food out to the table."

Tawney tossed Bob one more smile before following Star into the kitchen. What did she care? Bob would be gone tomorrow. Her bad behavior was worth the priceless expression on Rick's 'holier than thou' face.

"Geeze, Tawney," Star said when they were in the kitchen. "What was that all about?"

"You know what," Tawney said. "I can't believe I'm having dinner with the Destroyer. And I work with him. And he's my neighbor. What the heck, Star? Why is he here? What's going on with him?"

"He was a cop," Star said. "Until about four or five months ago. Something happened. I'm not sure what. He doesn't like to talk about it. I do know he was shot and beaten up pretty badly. He came back here to recover."

"He was shot?" Tawney repeated. "Wow. I wonder what his story is. Probably broke someone's heart. Mom almost shot him once."

"Don't remind me," Star said with a grimace. "She's coming to the wedding."

Tawney smiled. "It will be good to see her, even if she is an over-the-top wacko."

Star chuckled.

"Seriously," Tawney said. "What is Rick's deal?"

"Cut him a break." Star shook her head. "Rick isn't eighteen anymore."

"Neither am I," Tawney said, taking a bowl of green salad from Star.

Star smiled. "Bob sure likes you."

"Yuck. I'm so sick of guys ogling my breasts."

Star laughed. "You dance topless. Your breasts paid the bills until recently. You should be used to it."

"I have been wearing full costumes for the past two years. I got promoted. I clawed my way out of the topless chorus to the lead. I'm so sick of being defined by my breasts. See what I mean about needing a change?"

"I guess I understand that," Star said. "I'm sorry I teased you."

"No, I'm sorry," Tawney said. "I should have risen above Bob's comments. Seeing Rick has set me on edge. I wanted to goad him. I know it's childish."

"Any idea what you want to do now?" Star asked. "And I know your answer isn't waitressing at The Junebug."

Tawney followed Star to the dining room, placing the salad on the table. Tawney glanced over at Rick who was accepting a beer from Cade. He was watching her. "Phone solicitor?"

Star laughed. "No, really. Get serious. Your life is a blank canvas. You can do anything you want to do."

Anything? What did she want to do? She had no idea. None. All she'd ever wanted to do was dance.

"Think about it." Star turned to the men. "Dinner's ready, everyone."

They spent the next minutes settling in around the large dining room table. Everyone talked at once as they dished up hearty pot roast, mashed potatoes, and whiskey glazed carrots.

Tawney couldn’t remember the last time she'd eaten so many calories. She felt wicked, like she was committing a sin. She forked up some mashed potatoes. Comfort food. Her eyes slid closed as she chewed.

When she opened her eyes, she found both Rick and Bob watching her. Great.

The potatoes lodged in her throat. Rick looked away first. Bob stared at her breasts.

"This is delicious, Star," Rick said. "Thanks for the invite. I'd be at the cabin having a frozen dinner tonight if Cade hadn't run into me and taken pity on me."

"You're welcome any time, Rick," Star said.

Tawney took another bite of pot roast. She knew she should be done, push the food away, but she couldn't. She ate everything on her plate.

"More?" Star asked her, eyebrows raised in amusement.

"I’m stuffed." Tawney patted her flat stomach. "Star, I can't remember the last time I tasted anything so good."

"Goes double for me," Rick said.

"Great meal," Chuck said.

Bob wiped his mouth on his napkin, then looked at Tawney and licked his lips.

Tawney wanted to escape from all of them.

"May we be excused?" Finn asked, his fork hitting his plate with a clatter.

"Sure," Cade said.

Finn and Emma headed off toward the family room.

"Any plans for tonight, Brad?" Tawney asked the teenager in an effort to take the focus off of her.

"Sort of. I told some of the guys I'd meet them at Randy's house."

"Curfew is at nine," Cade said. "You have school tomorrow."

"Yeah, yeah," Brad said. "I guess I'll get going." He pushed back in his chair.

When the kids were gone, Cade rose and began to clear. Star started to get up to help, but he said, "Stay and visit with your sister."

Tawney thought the gesture nice. So not like the Cade O'Brien she remembered. That boy had played keep-away with Star's lunch, intimidated her, made Star wet her pants. Somehow Star had managed to forgive Cade, and she'd fallen in love with him. Star was definitely more forgiving than Tawney was.

"Sounds like you had a glamorous life in Vegas, Tawney," Rick said.

"Not really. I go to work like everyone else. Vegas is a seedy place."

"Still, dancing in a show sounds glamourous." He sipped his ice water.

"I suppose." She glanced at Star. "Tell me about Will. How big is he?"

"Enormous," Star said with enthusiasm. "He's so cute. He smiles all the time."

"Seems like just yesterday Will was born," Tawney said. "I can't wait to see him."

"He's a love," Star said. "Makes me want one of my own."

"Really, Star?" Tawney said. "You'd make the best mother."

"That's what Brandi always tells me," Star said. "I never believed it, but being around Finn, Emma, and Brad changed my mind. I want a baby."

"Does Cade?" Tawney asked.

"Yes." Star smiled. "Yes, he does."

"How about you, Rick?" Tawney asked. "Are you married? Do you have any kids?"

"No and no," Rick said, his jaw hard. "I was married once, didn't work out."

"I'm sorry," Tawney said, meaning it. No matter what she thought of Rick personally, she didn't wish divorce on anyone.

"You?" he asked.

"No, I've never been married. I've never even come close. It's hard to meet good guys in my line of work. Most men assume I'm easy. They send me expensive gifts I don't want. They want to wine and dine me with one objective—to sleep with me."

"Tawney," Star warned. "Poor Rick isn't going to know what to think about you."

Rick held his hand up. "No, I find Tawney's candor refreshing. Speaking as a man, I can understand why you'd have a lot of admirers. You've always been a beautiful woman."

Tawney met his stare. She saw sincerity there, not ogling or the look Bob gave her—the kind of look that made her skin crawl. She reminded herself that he'd wooed her once with disastrous consequences. Once upon a time Rick had been able to talk her into anything. She needed to remember that he was like every other guy. His brain was below his belt.

She'd come home to forget about men, to concentrate on herself, on feeling good about herself again. Star was right; she had a blank canvas in front of her. She could do whatever she wanted with the rest of her life.

Life here was so far removed from Vegas.

For tonight, she just wanted to forget.

*    *    *

Rick let himself into his house and powered up his computer, doing a search on Tawney O'Hara. He turned up nothing. Puzzled, he tried two other search engines before giving up.

Why was he looking for Tawney O'Hara anyway?

There was something about the woman that got under his skin, something beyond her beauty. He'd bet his next paycheck she was hiding something. His detective skills had always been sharp, his instincts like a razor blade. He didn't buy Tawney's story about needing a change.

His search pulled up nothing. Not even a mention of her dancing in a burlesque show. He considered calling his ex-partner Phil and asking him to do a more thorough check, but he discarded the idea. Hell, he didn't want to know if she'd been in any kind of trouble. Best to keep the current ties between them clean and simple.

Rick left his computer. He snagged a blanket from the sofa and stepped out into the small back yard. He needed a pure hit of ice cold Alaska air. The day had hit forty degrees, but now the temperature was in the twenties. He sat on his zero gravity chair and reclined back, his eyes on the sky.

Billions of stars twinkled overhead. The universe stretched before him, vast and wide. Did he even matter? Did any of them?

Maybe it was being with Cade and his family, but tonight a hollowness had taken residence in his chest, making a hole that couldn't be filled by a starry sky.

Tawney O'Hara's image moved into the empty space, padding the void, making him feel a spark where moments ago he'd been cold.

The woman had a chip on her shoulder when it came to her career. Dancing in the show embarrassed her, he could tell. So much so she used her career to try and put him off. He smiled. She'd done the opposite. He didn't want to think about her, but his mind wouldn't cooperate. The woman was sexy to the max.

Careful
. He also knew better than to get mixed up with her again. He didn't need or want trouble in his life. He'd had enough trouble in Seattle to last him a lifetime. Rick focused on the night sky.
Breathe in and out
.
Walk away from her
. He'd learned from his mistakes.
All
of his mistakes. He put Tawney O'Hara from his mind and concentrated on the sky overhead, using the meditation techniques he'd been taught while he'd been recovering from his wounds.

In the stars he would find the peace he craved, the path to a quiet mind.

Focus, focus.

Breathe in and out. Listen to your breath.

Walk away from trouble
.

An image of Tawney flitted across his mind.

BOOK: Hometown Hero (Hometown Alaska Men Book 2)
2.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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