Authors: Kelley Vitollo
Tags: #Shamrock Falls#2
Except for a month ago…
He pushed Rowan from his mind. She’s walked out on him, so he damn sure wasn’t going to dwell on her. Not that Breck dwelled on women anymore. Hell, he hadn’t had anything to do with women for a couple months before her and now a month since. And things were going a whole lot better for him. If you didn’t count Taylor, a woman he’d spent a bit of time with, and the fact that she stole his cat, Ace.
Okay, so Breck might not go by Ace, but he
use the name for his cat. It fit her, though.
Bright lights flashed around him, the scent of alcohol, cigarettes, cigars, and perspiration clung to the air, and he loved it. It represented something that was his.
“Are you busy after the tournament?” the woman asked—her eyes lit with the gleam that told him exactly what she had planned for their evening. Breck waited for it, that spike of his pulse or the stirring of desire. The woman was gorgeous and she wanted to have a good time with him. But it didn’t come.
“No thanks. I’m always pretty tired after a tournament,” he lied. He was usually primed and ready to go after he played—after he
The woman pouted and he gave her the smile he knew women loved. “I need to go. I have to get ready to play.” She rolled her eyes at him and left.
It was better this way. One-night stands used to give him what he needed, but now they just left him cold and lonely, which made no sense. Couldn’t help how he felt, though. The only other option was a relationship and he definitely didn’t do those. Been there, done that, crashed and burned big time.
Breck pushed those thoughts aside. Everything else was forgotten except the one thing that had always been good to him. Poker.
Adrenaline pumped through Breck. They’d been playing for hours, but he didn’t feel any of it. He simply eyed the other player, saw his brow twitch. This wasn’t the first time it happened and every time it did, the guy had been bluffing.
In the bag,
Breck thought. He paused, making the other man squirm before he laid it all on the table.
And took everything home, too.
It was in these moments that nothing else mattered. He was on top of the world—could do anything, and he damn sure enjoyed that.
Game over, all he wanted was to hit the sack, so he snuck out before his post-game interview. He’d hear it from his agent later, but right now he didn’t care.
Stupidly, he’d made a stop in the bar for one beer before he went up to his room and now it was a struggle to get through the crowd. When he finally got the elevator to his floor, the second the doors opened and he stepped into the hall, he saw her. Not his redhead, Rowan. Hell, he wished it were her, though he didn’t know why. Maybe because she didn’t take his shit. She dished it right back, but in a fun, not psycho way—
the woman in front of him.
“Taylor. What are you doing here?”
“Who were you talking to before the game, Breck?” His ex crossed her arms.
“It’s none of your business. Where’s Ace?”
“Is she why you broke up with me?”
He sighed. “I don’t even know that woman. Now tell me where my cat is.” Taylor gave him a wicked smile.
Jesus. Why did this shit always happen to him? First Bailey—pain slammed into his chest. Even after all these years he couldn’t handle thinking of when he lost her—which was exactly why he didn’t let himself get close to another woman. Emotionally, at least.
And now this. He knew damn well Taylor didn’t really care about him. She liked to win and she didn’t like the fact that he’d been the one to tell her good-bye. It had been months since he dated her and yet when Ace came up missing, he knew exactly who it had been.
“I better go. I just wanted to say hi. Max is waiting for me.” Taylor winked at him.
He couldn’t care less if she was here with Max, one of the other players. Let her move on to any of the guys she wanted. He just had to get his damn cat back first.
“Where’s Ace?” he asked again. He’d informally adopted the cat after winning his first tour. He’d come home and she’d been wandering in front of his building and, crazy as it was, he took that as a sign and Ace became his. She was one of the only constants in his life, and damned if she didn’t mean a lot to him. She didn’t expect anything from him but food, water, and attention, and she loved him. He definitely didn’t trust this woman with Ace’s care.
For the first time, he studied the bag on her arm and realized it was one of those small dog carriers. “You brought her? Give me my damn cat back!” Breck grabbed the strap, but Taylor pulled away. Damn her, she wasn’t letting go.
“Give me that cat, Taylor!” He knew he sounded ridiculous, but he didn’t care.
“Can’t handle losing the one thing in life you care about besides poker?” Taylor swung at him. Yep, the crazy woman tried to punch him. Breck dodged her and pulled at the same time, trying to be careful not to hurt her, but to still wrangle away Ace. Somehow he tripped and Taylor went down right with him.
Ace meowed again, and he held the bag so the cat didn’t get squashed or hit the ground, but Taylor was on top of him, screaming and swinging away.
Doors opened all around them. People shouted, “What’s going on!” “Break it up!” “He’s attacking her!”
How they got that, considering he was on the bottom, he didn’t know. Knowing there was no way in hell he’d get out of this looking good, Breck stopped fighting and let his ex kick his ass.
He’d lost Bailey
eventually ended up with a psycho pet-stealing woman on his hands. This was why he didn’t do serious relationships. Thank God the one woman who actually felt different to him, who’d felt genuine, had snuck out on him. It couldn’t have ended well anyway.
He was done with women all the way around. All he needed was to get his damn cat back.
And a vacation. That was suddenly high on his list.
Rowan McKinley surveyed the pantry that she’d just finished organizing. No, it hadn’t really needed it, but it felt good to do something. She had to keep herself busy. What good was a bed and breakfast if it wasn’t always in the best condition just in case a guest came by? Not that she’d had many of them. Which made her a little nauseous, but things like this took time, right? Destiny Knocks was her dream and it wouldn’t magically be successful overnight.
She hoped it would only take another night or two, though. Actually, she didn’t have many more nights to wait. Money didn’t grow on trees.
She turned just as her phone rang and she reached for it. Her heart leapt; this could be a possible guest.
Unfortunately, caller ID showed the number for her friend Jace’s office, where he’d been working as a lawyer ever since he moved back to Shamrock Falls. She thought about skipping the call, but it was probably his assistant, Betsy. She didn’t want to miss a call from one of her girlfriends.
“Hey, Row. It’s Jace. Oh…hold on a second.” There was a rustling on the other end of the phone, as though he covered it. “Thanks, Betsy, these look incredible. You’re a lifesaver. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Rowan cringed at his words. Betsy was probably the sweetest, shiest woman she’d ever met, and Jace? Well, he liked women and he liked them a lot. Unfortunately, it was pretty obvious Betsy nursed a crush on him and while words like that meant nothing to him, Rowan had a feeling they meant a whole lot of something to Betsy. Her friend would never admit it, because she just wasn’t that kind of person, but that didn’t mean Rowan didn’t worry about her.
“Hey, sorry about that. I have a favor to ask you.” Jace’s voice was smooth as honey. No wonder women had a hard time saying no to him.
“You’re not messing around with her, Jace, are you?” she interjected.
Jace groaned. “Why the hell do people keep asking me that? We work together. That’s all.”
Rowan guessed he was right. She hadn’t seen Jace show her any real interest, but she needed to ask. “Just making sure. So, about that favor?” Jace didn’t come to people for help very often, so she was curious what this was all about.
“Right. I have an old buddy from college who’s looking to get away for a while. I mentioned you have the B and B and he wants to stay. It’s not going to be a short visit. Probably about six weeks, which is why I wanted to ask, but—”
“Absolutely!” She cut him off. “However long he needs. I have the space and to be honest with you, I could really use the money.”
That hurt to admit, but she knew Jace would understand. He’d never hurt for money himself, but despite his womanizing ways, he did have a big heart.
She didn’t know why, but this made Wilder and his big blue eyes pop into her head. That easily, her cheeks warmed. But then she remembered the connection must have been the “womanizing” thread in her mind and she shut the door on all thoughts of him.
“Are you there, Row?” Jace’s voice snapped her out of it.
“Yeah, did you say something?”
“I asked if you’re okay. Do you need anything?”
Funny. Even though she was close with Jace now, she never would have thought she’d be good friends with him. He’d been a couple years ahead of her in school and he’d moved away for college as soon as he graduated. He was close with her best friends Kade and Sidney and by default, became friends with her, too.
It seemed like everyone was coming back home. Sidney and Kade had both left after high school—Sidney to be a star in Hollywood and Kade to Seattle, but now they were home for good and head over heels for each other. A little pang of jealousy hit Rowan, which immediately made her feel guilty. She loved having her friends back in Shamrock Falls again.
“Yeah…yeah, I’m okay. I don’t need anything.” Geez. What was wrong with her? She suddenly felt all weepy.
“Okay. I have a case I need to work on, so I better go. Breck will be there later today, does that work?”
Give a girl some warning. “S-sure, that works. I need to go, then, too. I have to get things ready.”
“Thanks, Rowan. I owe you one.” The line clicked and Jace was gone.
This Breck guy could be the perfect distraction. She needed something to keep her mind off Destiny Knocks and wondering if she made a huge mistake by opening so soon. If taking out the loan had been her using her heart instead of her brain. Nothing distracted her like cooking—well, except maybe fishing, but Kade was her fishing buddy and he’d been busy with Sidney and his bar/bowling alley, Lucky’s.
Hopefully her guest would like homemade macaroni and cheese and apple crisp.
Rowan went about the house, making sure everything was just right. As she pulled dinner out of the oven, the doorbell rang. Excitement skittered through her veins. She’d only had a few customers so far and with each one, it was like electricity zipping inside her. It was exciting getting to know different people, taking care of them. She’d always wanted to be a caretaker, to make others feel important. She had never wanted anything else and now she finally had it.
Rowan turned off the oven, removed her apron, and walked to the door. Out of habit, she ran her fingers through her curly red hair to make sure she looked at least halfway put together before she pulled the door open.
And her heart stopped.
Visions of sexy kisses, skilled hands…and sneaking out on a naked man filled her brain.
“I thought your name was Wilder!”
Geez. What the hell was this? Considering Rowan had laughed with him, slept with him, and, okay, snuck out on him, hadn’t she at least been worth a real name?
A smile pulled at his lips. A sexy smile. That cocky half smile with the dimple that sent an unwanted spike of heat to rush through her. He actually seemed happy to see her and all she wanted was to shut down her hormones that were ridiculously responsive to him.
“If it isn’t Houdini. Are you stalking me?”
Of all the pigheaded things he could say! “You’re the one who’s standing on my doorstep. And if I remember correctly,
the one who approached me at the hotel, too!”
Crap. Why had she brought up that night?
Wilder—or whatever his name was—winked at her. “You weren’t complaining that night.” He still had his grin in place. She’d never hit anyone in her life, but she wanted to punch him now.
“Great. Thanks for stopping by. See you later!” She tried to close the door, but he had his foot in it. And a bag in his hand. He planned to stay with her. How could this be happening?
“I’m not sure how you ended up here too, but I’ve arranged to stay. The place is owned by a friend of a buddy of mine.”
She pointed at herself. “Me! It’s owned by
And you absolutely are not staying here.”
Her heart kicked up and she was breathing heavily. Good Lord she felt like she was about to have a nervous breakdown. Could this day get any wilder? Ugh. Scratch that. Scratch that word out of her vocabulary all together.
“Aww, come on. It’ll be fun, Houdini,” he drawled, leaning farther into the doorway in his sexy slacks and his stupid sexy button-down shirt.
He was messing with her. The glint in his eyes told her that, but it still pissed her off. “Sorry. Wasn’t that fun the first time and I’m sure it wouldn’t be better a second.”
Again she tried to push the door closed, but he held his hand out to stop it. He sighed, quiet for a few seconds before he spoke. “Listen…I apologize for being an ass. I didn’t know you were here. Besides the fact that you can tie a mean cherry stem with your tongue, I didn’t know much about you, including where you live, since you disappeared on me and all. But that’s not the point. I’m really looking for a place I can get away to for about a month. I could go somewhere else, but it’d be good to hang out with Jace again, too. I’m asking you for a favor here, Houdini.”
“Six weeks! Jace said you want to stay here for longer than a month.” Not like that was really important. “And why do you keep calling me Houdini?”
been honest about her name.
“Because you know how to disappear,” Another grin. Rowan opened her mouth to throw a few choice words at him, but he spoke first. “I’m giving you shit. I’m sorry. Can’t we let bygones be bygones? I’ll stay out of your hair. Scout’s honor.” He held up two fingers.
“I highly doubt you were ever a Boy Scout.” But damn it, she was smiling again. Why did this man make her smile?
He didn’t reply. Shit.
“We’re not… We can’t… I don’t want…”
“And you called me conceited the last time we met? Who said I want to sleep with you again?” he said in answer to the statement she hadn’t been able to get out. His answer made her cheeks heat with embarrassment. Okay, maybe not only embarrassment. Did he have to be so sexy? “Don’t worry, though. We’re on the same page here. I’m not looking for trouble and that’s what I seem to get any time I’m involved with a woman.”
Women were trouble? He was the one with the big blue eyes and sinfully black hair, the one with lines he knew how to use and hands that—whoa, definitely
going there. “As long as we have an understanding. And I’m only letting you do this because you’re friends with Jace.” And she needed the money. And…well, she’d slept with the guy. Manners sort of insisted you not kick a dude out on his butt after that.
What in the world had she gotten herself into?
Apparently unaware that she was having a heart attack, Wilder walked into the house.
“It smells incredible in here. Oh, and you don’t have an issue with cats, right? Either an aversion to or fetish with stealing them?”
Dizziness hit her and all of a sudden, Rowan’s world went black.
“Hey, open those eyes for me. You all right in there?” Breck sat on the floor with Rowan’s head in his lap. How in the hell this happened he didn’t know. Out of all the places he could end up, how was he sitting here with her passed out in his arms?
More importantly, why had she dropped like that?
He knew he had a way with women, but usually they were coming undone in his arms or cursing the ground he walked on—not passed out at his feet.
Rowan’s eyes fluttered in flashes of green. “What happened?” Her voice was soft.
“I was hopin’ you could tell me that. Was it being so close to me? I know I’m good looking, but there’s no reason to faint.” With that her eyes flared open for good. She gave him a death glare that made him feel like everything was already okay, but he still wouldn’t take a chance. “How many fingers am I holding up?” He held three in the air.
“I beg to differ and how many fingers?” Her eyes looked normal, but a little glassy. A smile tilted her lips, but he didn’t think she realized it. No, this woman wanted to be pissed at him, but she couldn’t—which should be his first clue to get the hell out of there. A feisty woman like her would be nothing but trouble. A losing hand, if you will, and Breck didn’t lose anymore.
“I mean, maybe a seven out of ten.”
“Nope. Only three fingers out of five. Looks like I’m going to have to carry you.”
With this, her eyes widened. She didn’t want to be in his arms and he somehow had a feeling it was because she’d enjoyed it there last time too much.
“No! I was rating you.”
This time Breck held up ten fingers.
“Ten,” she said.
He winked at her. “That’s more like it. I knew you thought I was sexy.”
He had no doubt that if she had super powers, this woman would be shooting fire out of her eyes at him. Just as feisty as he remembered.
“Of all the pig-headed, conceited, cocky things you can say. You know damn well that’s not what I meant!” Rowan tried to sit up, but he stopped her.
“No more tricks, Houdini. Disappearing and playing dead are fancy enough. Let me help you. You fainted, remember?” Breck wrapped his arms around her, but she tried to slap them away.
“No copping a feel allowed.”
Rowan bit her lip. Her eyes darted around, confused, and worry burst to life inside him. “Are you sick? Do you need a doctor?” Smoothly, Breck stood, lifting her right along with him. The fact that she didn’t argue sent another dose of concern through him. “We’re bringing you to get checked out.” He’d been giving the woman a hard time, sure. But he didn’t want to hurt her.
Rowan’s eyes widened. “No, no. I’m fine. I think…I just…haven’t eaten today and I’m hypoglycemic. I’ve been running around trying to get ready for you to come—well, not you in particular, but my guest. And I didn’t think to eat.” She spoke fast—urgent. It sounded like it could very easily be the truth, but he wasn’t taking a chance. Not with how quickly she’d dropped and the confusion still written all over her face.
“Then they’ll tell us you’re fine. No harm, no foul.”
“I don’t have insurance.”
“I’ll pay.” He wasn’t bending on this one.
“At least put me down! I can walk, you know. And I don’t need your money. I’m able to take care of myself.”
“No, you can’t, Ms. Independent.” He hit the button to unlock the Mercedes. The windows were down even though it was September in Washington, because Ace was inside. He’d hoped it wouldn’t rain, but hadn’t wanted to just assume he could bring in the cat. “In you go.”
The second he set her down, she stepped away from him. “I’m an adult, you know. I can make my own decisions. I don’t need you—someone I don’t know, I might add—to manhandle me.”
He knew it would make him a prick, but he leaned forward. “Honey, you know me about as well as a woman can know a man, if you catch my drift.”
With this she swung at him. He was quick enough to catch her wrist.
“You jerk! Don’t talk to me like that.”
Breck groaned. They were getting nowhere and he couldn’t relax until she got checked out. “Sorry about that, but I’m not bending on this. You just passed out cold in there, and who’s to say you won’t do it again while you’re driving. Don’t let your anger at me put you at risk. You need to take care of yourself.”
He wasn’t sure why those words penetrated her stubbornness, but her features softened and she almost looked ashamed. “You’re right. The last thing I need so close to opening Destiny Knocks is to get sick. But not you, okay? It’s just weird. Can you bring me to my friend’s and she can take me in?”
He nodded, even though it didn’t make much sense to him. Women rarely did. He’d rather get her to a doctor quicker, but if this was what worked for her, he would do it. He needed to nip his urge to take care of people in the bud anyway.
When Rowan was belted into the passenger seat, he climbed behind the wheel. The drive was silent except when she gave him directions. They ended up at a place called Lucky’s. It looked like there was a fairly fresh coat of white paint on the building—the sign boasting a bowling alley, bar, and diner.
“I can make it from here. We didn’t lock up, so you can go back to the B and B and I’ll have Sidney bring me home.”
“Not happening.” He was around the car and opening her door a few seconds later. He didn’t trust her to get checked out without making sure her friends knew exactly what happened.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re bossy?” she asked, arms crossed.
“All the damn time.” He tried to put his arm around her to help her walk in, but she jerked away from him. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell her he’d touched a lot more than her shoulder, but he didn’t want to piss her off again. And even though he shouldn’t, he wanted to touch her one more time. The woman was drop-dead beautiful with that fierce look on her face and gorgeous red hair.
Despite it only being late afternoon, the place was packed. The lanes were busy and a couple teens worked behind the shoe counter. Breck took in the way everyone talked to each other and got the feeling this was one of those towns it would be impossible to keep a secret in.
The building looked newly remodeled. Breck vaguely remembered Jace mentioning something about working on the place. He followed Rowan through the bowling alley and to the bar area, where she went straight up to a man with dark brown hair. He was about Breck’s height and immediately put his arms around her in a hug.
Ah, so she had a boyfriend. That’s why she seemed so upset about seeing him. Christ, had he been the other man? No. Rowan didn’t seem like the type for that, and he doubted she would bring him here if the relationship weren’t new. Still, an unexplainable disappointment struck him at the fact that she was taken.
“Hey, Kade. Is Sidney around?”
“Yeah, she’s sitting at the bar with Betsy and Jace.” The man looked over Rowan’s head to Breck. “Who’s this?”
Breck didn’t like his tone. “The guy who just scooped her off the floor when she passed out.” Then to Rowan, “Is this who’s supposed to take you to the doctor, Houdini?”
“What the hell happened, Freckles?” the man said at the same time. “Sit down.” She let
help her to the counter, Breck noticed. He wasn’t sure why that pissed him off.
Breck wouldn’t be dismissed so easily though. He was right next to them.
“Kade, this is Wilder. Wilder—Kade.”
“Breck,” he interjected.
“Huh?” Rowan asked.
“My name’s Breck.”
“Oh, I forgot. You
Jesus, was she still going to argue with him? Before he could reply, they met up with her friends. Jace sat at the bar between a brunette and a black-haired woman.
“Breck Wilder! What’s up, man?” Jace stood and they shook hands.
“She passed out,” he said in reply, to which Rowan gave him another evil eye, before easing farther from him and Kade and over to the women “And see? I didn’t lie to you about my name,” Breck added.
“Oh my God. Are you okay?” one of the ladies said before Rowan could reply to him.
“I’m fine, Sidney.”
Rowan took Sidney’s seat when she stood and leaned against Kade, who put his arm around her and gave her a tender kiss. So the guy wasn’t Rowan’s lover. Good to know.
“No, she’s not okay,” he said. “She dropped at nothing. She needs to go to the hospital, but she wouldn’t let me take her.”
Rowan nodded her head. “Yes, sir!”
Oh, the things he could say to that comment. But he didn’t want to upset her, so he kept his mouth shut.
“Should I bring you in?” Sidney asked. Rowan’s eyes flashed to him as though she didn’t want him to see her reply, but said yes.
“You want me to go too, Freckles?” Kade asked her.
“No, no. You need to stay here. We girls can handle it. I feel sort of silly seeing a doctor at all. I’m fine now.”
“No—” Breck started, but was immediately cut off by Sidney and Kade disagreeing at the same time.
The third woman, who hadn’t said a word yet, stood at this and each woman put an arm around Rowan before they were gone.
“So what happened?” Sidney asked as they drove to the hospital. Rowan didn’t really know how to answer. She’d just been standing there looking at Wilder. Shocked he was there. Confused. Angry. Who knew what else…and suddenly she felt dizzy. But to say that to them, she’d have to explain that she knew him, something she wasn’t ready to do.
Oh, I was a little shocked the guy I slept with and ditched showed up on my doorstep
just didn’t feel right to her.
And she didn’t want to admit it, but she still felt a little woozy. She wasn’t lying about the hypoglycemic thing, but she’d never fainted. Unease swirled around in her stomach and her hands started to shake.
“I don’t know. Jace called and asked if his friend could stay. Then we were standing there talking and I passed out.” All true. Still, guilt tugged at her for not telling her friends everything.