Maid to Love (Man Maid Book 3)

BOOK: Maid to Love (Man Maid Book 3)
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Maid to Love

By

Rebecca M Avery

**Originally released through Harlequin-E 

Rebecca Avery is a software support professional by day and a romance author by night. She’s a pint-size mother of two and wife to the greatest man on earth. Born in the South, she now lives in a three-stoplight town in the Midwest surrounded by cornfields and a vindictive bullfrog. A lifelong member of multiple procrastinator clubs and organizations, she has somehow published several ebook romance novels and successfully turned a hobby into a dream come true. Additional books in this series by Rebecca M. Avery include Maid to Fit, Maid to Crave and Maid to Order.

Professor Courtney Wells has waited long enough and is going to have a baby on her own. Parenthood isn’t for the faint of heart but she’s well educated, self-sufficient and has finally accepted her limitations where men are concerned. But then she meets military-man-turned-maid Ian Hamilton who leaves her questioning all she thought she knew about herself. Mixed Martial Arts fights and working for his buddy’s cleaning business used to be enough for Ian until he met Courtney. Now he’s seeing forever and family… with her. But can he teach a college professor about love?

This book goes out to all my parents. Mom #1, Becky, who I adore and whose herbal remedy knowledge was exploited for purposes of this book, and to mom #2, Bev, who helped bring Jess’s character to fruition with her wit and charm. And I can’t forget my dad, Warren, who instilled a sense of humor in me that borders on inappropriate at times, and my stepmother, Cathy, who, bless her heart, puts up with him. This also goes to my in-laws, Karen, who started all this madness with “you should write books” and Boyd, whose quiet encouragement means so much. I couldn’t ask for a better group of parents to try to keep me in line. Never give up. There’s hope for me yet!

Dear Reader,

Welcome to my world of what ifs and maybe just maybe. This book is a combination of personalities, memories and life experiences that I shoved into a bag, shook up with all my might, then pulled out the result and combined it with my overactive imagination. I sincerely hope you get as caught up in reading this little bit of folly as I did when I wrote it and that you’ll see a little bit of yourself in one or more of these characters.

I am truly amazed at how I can fall asleep within minutes while watching a television show or movie, even in a theater or with the surround sound on, but I can’t sleep through my own dreams. While I might be able to take or leave a film, the images a good book provokes in my mind stick with me for years. Those thoughts, ideas and feelings a story can provide feed my soul and I sincerely hope that this story does just a little bit of that for you.

The characters in my head have been there my whole life and they call out to me in the dark of night asking me to tell their stories. In the case of this series the characters are a tight bunch of friends finding their way in life and love. Fear kept me from letting them leave my head and make their own way in the world. Now that I am releasing them by writing down their adventures I find that I haven’t lost them at all—I’ve just made room for more.

Leave your world for a little while and enjoy mine.

Rebecca M. Avery

Prologue

Two down and one to go.

One last recruit to get situated and then everything would be set. His men wouldn’t need him anymore, and he could decide what do with his own life.

Master Sergeant Russell “Rusty” Hawkins watched the overly large man in the kitchen with equal parts fascination and respect. Looking at the formidable man, one would never imagine he was a first-rate cook—until one saw him whistling and baking, as he was doing now. One also wouldn’t know that he was a meticulously clean and organized individual who was good at everything from sewing curtains to growing fresh herbs and vegetables to knocking a man out with one well-placed punch.

Staff Sergeant Ian Hamilton was one of Rusty’s closest friends. Ian had served under Rusty in the United States Army for one tour of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. His other two closest brothers in arms, Ronnie Brown and Seth Lewis, were already enjoying all the things civilian life had to offer, including committed relationships and careers outside the military. That just left Rusty and Ian to acclimate.

After deciding not to reenlist, the four men had thrown themselves into building the business Rusty’s grandfather had left to him. They’d changed the name of the company to Man Maid and they now offered not only commercial cleaning services, but also residential cleaning, lawn care and general home maintenance. The business was never meant to be anything other than a stepping-stone while they figured out what to do with their lives after years of active duty. Ronnie and Seth had already moved on, but Ian seemed content with cleaning jobs during the week and competing in amateur mixed martial arts fights on the weekends. Even though neither of Ian’s occupations were adequate lifelong career choices in Rusty’s estimation, Ian seemed to be in no rush to look for alternatives.

Not like Sergeant First Class Ronnie Brown, who was married now and working at his stepdaughter Addison’s high school while simultaneously earning a degree in physical education and sports management. His wife, Kayla, was the perfect fit for him, and their little family lived on the other side of town with the unit’s retired military service dog, Sergeant Buck. Ronnie and Kayla were always inviting Rusty over for dinner, and he enjoyed seeing Ronnie so happy and domesticated. Kayla once hugged Rusty and thanked him for assigning Ronnie as her housekeeper. He’d kept it to himself that Ronnie had been the only one of them to volunteer for the job. If there was such a thing as Fate, then she must have stepped in that day on Ronnie’s behalf.

Then Fate must have tagged her teammate Karma to step in where Sergeant First Class Seth Lewis was concerned. Seth’s new bride, Tori, was very likely the smallest fully grown woman Rusty had ever seen, but she had made a big difference in not only Seth’s life but also the life of Seth’s brother, Caleb, who had been badly injured in an accident not too long ago.

After Tori had helped pay Caleb’s medical bills, Seth had given up his second job as a male stripper and started architectural design classes at a local community college. The work suited him well, and Rusty was glad Seth had finally chosen to pursue something he was good at. Seth’s brother lived and worked out of the couple’s basement. The three adults and Tori’s little boy, Zach, resided not far from Ronnie and Kayla, and Rusty visited them often, as well.

Ian, though, currently cleaned house part-time for a lady who he had become fast friends with after finding out that she had a well-placed roundhouse kick that could knock him out. Jess Reynolds was a leggy blonde, a part-time model, a part-time kickboxer and a full-time counselor at a youth detention center. She was also a lesbian who had laid out the man who was twice her size when Ian had issued one of his more judgmental statements.

Jess ringing Ian’s bell had apparently helped the man reconsider the natural order of things. Watching the two of them together was like watching two loving siblings squabble over the last cookie in the jar. Once Jess had clarified things, Ian had accepted her lifestyle and she, in turn, had taken him under her wing. She managed his amateur MMA fighting schedule and tried to teach him kickboxing moves while he taught her some of the many martial art skills he possessed.

Even though he was a fighter, a little judgmental from time to time and always quick to offer his opinion on any issue, Ian was also the kindest man Rusty knew. Ian might disagree with someone, and even say so out loud, but that never stopped him from offering the shirt off his back to aid the very person he disagreed with.

“You sure you don’t want to go with us?” Ian asked now, pulling a pan of homemade protein bars out of the oven.

“I do not kick people’s asses for mere fun, Sergeant. Therefore, I have nothing to contribute to this interview.” Ian was scheduled to meet with Jess Reynolds’s friend, a professor researching the effects of violence on social behavior. “I have more constructive ways to spend my time,” Rusty said, refilling his coffee cup and sitting back down at the small kitchen table.

“Professors are pretty smart, right? What if I can’t understand what she’s even talking about?” Ian asked while cleaning up the mess he had made baking.

“Your brain may have reduced in size congruent to the growth of your muscles, but you understand more than you think. You use that dumb act to avoid talking about things you don’t want to talk about…and when that doesn’t work, you scowl at people and puff up to scare them off. I believe Ms. Reynolds corrected that behavior, so you should be fine now,” Rusty replied sarcastically, taking a sip from his mug.

At more than six-and-a-half feet tall and around two-hundred-and-sixty pounds, Ian was a monster of a man. It wasn’t just his size that was intimidating. His striking coloring—dirty-blond hair and silver-grey eyes that glowed with intensity—often made people hesitate to approach him.

“Well, at least Jess will be there to keep me from saying anything too idiotic. I think Courtney Wells realizes how stupid I am, but her lack of interviewees for her research paper forces her to suffer through with me. She looks at me like she expects me to turn green, start growling and go berserk.” Ian wiped off the counter and draped the dish towel across the sink.

“You never know what life experiences people bring to a situation. Often people have preconceived notions about each other that aren’t accurate. That may be what’s going on with Ms. Wells. If a person could see past his own judgments and get to know the person he’s judging, he might be surprised at what he’d find,” Rusty replied. “You might try that with Ms. Wells.”

Chapter One

“Are you sure about this, Jess?” Courtney Wells asked, glancing out the passenger-side window of her best friend’s car.

“I know you’re scared, but you know that I would never put you in harm’s way. Ian is intimidating, but outside the ring he’s the least aggressive fighter I know. He’s your best option,” Jess Reynolds replied, turning her car into the parking lot of a restaurant in downtown Dayton, Ohio. “Besides, I’ll be with you the whole time and that little bitch fears me.” She laughed.

Somehow Courtney doubted Ian Hamilton feared anyone or anything. He didn’t need to be afraid. Being one of the biggest men Courtney had ever seen, and trained in both military warfare and martial arts, who did he have to be scared of? Yes, Jess bragged often that she had knocked the man out, and he easily admitted that she had…but still, that was an unusual circumstance, and both Ian and Jess knew it.

“You forget I’ve seen him fight. If I didn’t already fear him simply because…you know…I would fear him after seeing that fight,” Courtney argued. Flashes of the determined look on his face and the way he had toyed with his opponent filtered through her mind.

“That was adrenaline, not hate-filled violence,” Jess replied.

Courtney had told Jess about her past, about the things she’d seen. Courtney had struggled with the mental effects of one violent encounter for decades. It had led to her career in psychology. And, a little more than a month ago, after telling Jess about her latest grant project for the psychology department, Jess had talked Courtney into attending her first-ever fighting match.

Her research was on sports-related aggression, how certain sports brought out higher levels of aggression in the audience and in the competitors themselves, not only during the competition, but also in their daily lives.

Courtney had hoped to focus on interviews outside the arena, but she’d known she would need to attend at least one boxing match, wrestling match or other type of fight during her research. She just hadn’t expected it to be so soon into the process. Then Jess had taken Courtney to actually meet Ian before the fight. She’d been a little shocked by him, even though very few people surprised her anymore.

Her heart had hammered in her chest to the point of causing physical discomfort. He was gigantic, with muscles on top of muscles and hands the size of dinner plates. He’d sat in a chair that looked too small to handle his size and weight as he put some kind of wrap on one of his wrists. Then the man had looked up and stolen what breath Courtney had left. She had very nearly broken free of Jess’s grasp and made a run for it.

He had the most unusual silver eyes. His gaze had pierced her as it raked over her slowly. Just before she had completely chickened out of meeting him, his smile had appeared, showing even, white teeth. She’d expected disturbingly battered facial features, missing teeth and dark, angry eyes, but those were just her fears, not reality.

Other than saying hi to her, Ian had spent the majority of that first meeting being peptalked by Jess, who had tried in vain to make him angry so he would be ready for his fight. Eventually Jess had given up and just wished him luck. He smiled at Courtney again before Jess led her past equally muscled but angrier-looking men, back to their seats at the perimeter of an octagon-shaped fighting ring. She’d asked Jess how often Ian fought. She’d wondered if he could win against some of the other fighters who appeared to be really angry.

Then when Ian started his fight, she had been amazed at the change in him. Gone was the smiling, friendly man with nice teeth. In his place was a Viking of old, complete with a brutality that had made it hard for Courtney to watch and equally hard to look away. Ian had played with his opponent until the crowd caught on to the act and chanted for him to end it.

The most aggressive person at the fight hadn’t been Ian but rather a friend of Ian’s, Tori Lewis. Even though Tori was only about the size of one of Ian’s legs, she had yelled and chanted with fervor. Later, Courtney learned it was the first fight Tori had ever attended. Due to some recent outbreaks of violence at sporting events, Courtney had theorized that the more violent the sport the more likely the violence would spread to the audience. Between Ian’s non-aggressive behavior both before and after his fight, and Tori Lewis’s passionate reaction to seeing her first match, Courtney was now questioning her theories on sports-related aggression and violence. Courtney had spent time around Ian and Tori socially since that first fight, and neither of them seemed overly aggressive in their everyday lives.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” she finally replied, opening her car door to get out.

“There is a lot about Ian that will surprise you, if you’ll just give him a chance,” Jess said with a smile as they walked into the dimly lit restaurant.

Jess noticed Ian sitting in a booth off to the side and led Courtney to it. The closer Courtney got to where he sat the more nervous she became. After all these years, she should be used to the anxiety she felt around males. Yet, somehow, when men were nice to her, like Ian, it made her even more uneasy. No amount of trying to convince herself that normal people—male or female—didn’t snap and attack other people eased her discomfort. Courtney could only hope that by the time this project was complete she would not only have grant money for her department but also a clearer idea of what prompted violence, thereby alleviating some of her personal fears. Taking deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself, she slid into the booth.

“Before I forget, my mom said to invite you over for dinner on Sunday,” Jess said to Ian. “I don’t know why she likes you so much. I guess it keeps hope alive for her.” She shook her head in amazement.

“I like
our
mom,” Ian offered to Jess. Then his amazing eyes landed on Courtney. “Hi, Courtney. I guess third time’s the charm.”

She had been trying to interview him for a while, but each time something delayed the process.

Before she could respond, a waiter came to the table and, after handing them each a menu, took their drink orders. Ian set his menu to the side just as Jess’s cell phone rang. Jess dug the phone out of her pocket and answered.

“Mom, slow down,” Jess said after a brief pause. Then after another long moment she sighed loudly and said, “I brought Courtney downtown to interview Ian so I’m close to the hospital. I’ll meet you there.”

After Jess ended her call, Ian said, “Everything okay?”

“Mom is having one of her
episodes
and is on her way to the hospital. Dad has been working a lot lately so let the theatrics begin,” Jess replied with another heavy sigh. Then, turning to face Courtney, Jess said, “I’m so sorry, but my dad is at work, and if I don’t go sit with my mom in the E.R. she’ll call him and put him even further behind on his project.”

Jess’s mother suffered from a serious case of drama. When things weren’t going according to plan, her mother developed various ailments that required immediate medical help. This was apparently one of those times.

As much as Courtney hated putting off this interview yet again, especially after having spent so much time mentally preparing herself for it, she said, “No problem. We can reschedule for another time. Would you mind if I dropped you at the hospital and then used your car? I’ll come back and pick you up when your mother is released.”

“Wait. How about if Courtney stays here and interviews me while you run over to the hospital to check on
our
mom? If you’re not done when we finish here, I can drive her home,” Ian offered with a shrug of one massive shoulder to indicate it was no big deal.

Courtney’s worst fear—being alone with a man. But short of either offending Ian or explaining the unexplainable, what could she do? Looking to Jess for a miracle excuse to leave, she was met with an apologetic expression. She had no out without looking ridiculous. Ian knew Jess’s mother’s trips to the emergency room were never for an
actual
emergency. Therefore, moral support wasn’t needed. Courtney resigned herself to the fact that she would have to be alone with him. At least she was in a highly public place with a lot of other people around.
She could do this.

“Okay. If you’re sure neither of you mind,” Jess said, looking at Courtney to see if she was so afraid that she would humiliate herself and say something or if she would use her coping skills.

“I’ll be okay here with…Ian. Go on,” Courtney finally answered, feeling Ian’s piercing gaze on her.

Jess answered with a supportive smile and then scooped up her keys and pointed a finger at Ian. “Best behavior, buster. I know where you live.”

Courtney watched helplessly as Jess left the restaurant and drove her car out of the parking lot. She took a moment to calm herself before looking back at Ian. Awkward silence filled the gap that Jess left. Courtney nearly excused herself to go to the restroom for some privacy while she called around to see if one of her other girlfriends could come and get her, but the waiter returned with their drinks and then asked for their orders. She hadn’t even looked at the menu.

“You know what I want, man. How about you, Courtney?” Ian asked, handing his menu to the waiter who smiled in acknowledgment.

She froze. They were both staring at her and the tension felt overwhelming. Tears of anxiety threatened. She was failing miserably at implementing the skills she taught to her psych students. Coping methods were easier in theory than in real life, especially when faced with an extreme emotional trigger.

Ian sat back and said, “You should try the corned beef. It’s really good.”

She somehow managed to nod in agreement. The waiter wrote down the information, gathered her menu and then walked away. The silence continued while Ian stared at her. She felt the intensity of his gaze, and she jumped when he quickly sat forward again.

This
so
wasn’t going to work. She was just too nervous. She couldn’t even think of any of the questions she had planned to ask him.

“Should I start with my stats?” His question was hesitant, spoken in a deep voice that she could only describe as coppery. Its unique sound was the thing after his size and eye color that she’d noticed about him the first time they’d met…and each time after that.

When she didn’t answer he started off with his height and weight, then explained the various types of martial arts he’d studied, and for how long, then finished with the fact that he hadn’t lost a fight yet in his current circuit. She still wasn’t ready to talk to him, but she did manage to pull out a notepad and pen to write down the information he provided.

“How long have you been…fighting?” she asked after writing down the details of his training.

“I’ve only been competing since we all got out of the service, but I’ve been training for years now. One of the guys in my unit was into mixed martial arts big time. He was always talking about how quickly I move for someone my size and kept egging me on until I finally agreed to let him hook me up with this friend of his that’s a trainer. I learned all I could about competing while we were still in the service. Then when we got out and I came here, I started cleaning houses for Man Maid, my buddy’s business. I got hired on part-time by Jess’s mom first and then started working for Jess, as well. The rest is history I guess you could say,” he said with a fond smile.

“Jess told me that she hit you,” Courtney said, taking a sip of water for courage. She didn’t look away fast enough to escape the quick return of his gaze to hers.

He smiled. “Yes. Yes she did. The first time we went to the gym together, she laid me out like a four-course meal on a dinner table.” He laughed. “If you are studying aggressive behavior, you really should be talking to Jess or Tori, not me.”

“How are Seth and Tori?” Courtney asked.

As an ordained minister, Courtney had actually performed the wedding ceremony for Tori and Seth Lewis at a cookout they’d held at their home a few weeks back. It was the first legal marriage she’d ever performed. Before Tori and Seth, she’d only performed love ceremonies for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Jess had introduced Courtney to several gay and lesbian couples over the years, and she’d been inspired by them, and by the aftereffects of what she’d experienced as a child, to become ordained. Everyone deserved a bit of happiness.

The novelty of officiating at the Lewis wedding was second only to the surprise she’d felt when Ian had acted as peacekeeper between the couple that day. He had helped them patch over a rough spot in their relationship with all the finesse and empathy of a seasoned counselor.

“He’s not dancing anymore, if that’s what you’re asking,” Ian replied with a frown. “I have to ask…why would Jess hire a male stripper for your baby shower? I mean, can’t a baby hear things while still in its mother’s womb?” he asked with equal parts curiosity and condemnation.

The judgment in his voice brought her gaze back to his, and his cold stare nearly erased all the gains she’d made in easing the fear in the pit of her stomach. Unless she explained everything, Ian would never understand that the gag had not only been a celebration of Courtney’s positive pregnancy test but also Jess’s way of proving that just because Courtney still feared men, even after all these years, did not mean she was gay. She simply hadn’t fully dealt with what happened. What she hadn’t expected was that the joke would cause problems between Seth and Tori. Apparently it was still a problem for Ian, too, if the look on his face was any indication.

Tears welled up in her eyes, thanks to her pregnancy hormones, and a couple spilled over onto her cheeks before she could stop them. The condemnation on his face left as quickly as it had shown up, replaced by a look of guilt.

“I’m sorry. Please don’t cry. I am really,
really
sorry that I said that. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Knowing that once she started crying she wouldn’t be able to stop until she’d completed the emotional cycle, she pulled her purse onto her lap and unsnapped the compartment containing her tissues. In the brief time she took to look down into her bag, Ian silently moved around the table to sit in the empty seat next to her.

BOOK: Maid to Love (Man Maid Book 3)
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