Authors: Serena Pettus
“Ha, ha. Seriously though, what is this place?” Luke asked, following him to the door.
The land around the home was full of gardens with varying types of flowers in bloom. Scattered throughout were dozens of white boxes, which Luke assumed contained the honeycombs. And bees.
He’d definitely be steering clear of those.
“This is my home. No jokes about my bear and my honey, or I’ll hurt you,” he warned.
Hands in the air, Luke could only smirk. “Wouldn’t dream of it, hoss.”
“Smartass, I know you were already thinking it. Let’s just get you set up in a room and we’ll relax for today. We can go into town tomorrow and get some more groceries. I’ve seen how you wolves eat, so I’ll need to add to my freezer.”
Luke laughed. It wasn’t a lie. Wolves could pack away some food, mainly because they were extremely active. “Sounds like a plan. Do you think we could add a run to the agenda? I could stand to stretch my legs.”
“Your wolf getting antsy from being in the car all day?”
“You could say that.”
“Have you tried hanging your head out the window?”
“You’re an ass,” Luke laughed. Truth was, he
hung his head out for a few miles while he was on an empty stretch of road.
“It’s a gift. Now, there’s a room for you at the top of the stairs to the left. And before you come in, I had nothing to do with the decorating. My mother did this while I was away, and I didn’t have the heart to change it.”
Luke shrugged. It didn’t matter to him how another man decided to decorate his home. It wasn’t like he was the one having to live with it. This was a visit, nothing more, however, he still wasn’t prepared for the feminine fiasco awaiting within.
“Why is there so much lace? And pastels? There’s not a masculine thing in this room!” Luke spun around, hand held out, face a mask of disappointment. “Hand it over.”
“Your man-card. Cough it up man, you can have it back once you sack up and put some manly shit in here,” Luke replied, gesturing to what appeared to be the inside of some little girl’s doll house.
The walls were a nauseating shade of peach, while most of the furniture was a shade of pink he had no name for. Lace had been used for curtains, table runners, tablecloths, and even on the edges of the throw pillows.
Benson bristled. “Hey, man, I told you my mom did this shit. I can’t hurt her feelings.”
Luke just shook his head. “Okay, hoss. As long as my room doesn’t look like this one. Otherwise, I’ll sleep in the woods.”
“Says the man living in the Barbie dream house.”
“Fuck!” Benson scrubbed his hand over his face. “Just go to your room and put your shit away. You know, before I tell mom what you think of her decorating skills.”
His evil smile didn’t bode well for Luke. So much for having the upper hand this time. Benson was a grizzly, so his mom was a grizzly sow, and that was something he
wanted to be on the bad side of. “Momma’s boy.”
Stomping up the stairs, Luke’s stomach gave a growl. He’d be doing some major shopping for red meat tomorrow, that was for damn sure.
Waking up to a happy baby was
best thing, in Ashe’s opinion. Lilly had slept most of the night, and was all gummy smiles and coos once she saw her mom.
Deciding to take advantage of the good mood while it lasted, Ashe munched on a cereal bar while Lilly took a bottle, and then got ready for a trip to town. She still needed to pick up some storage containers before taking on the task of cleaning out the upstairs rooms, plus a trip to the plant nursery to get her vegetable garden underway, and lastly, a stop at the grocery store to stock her freezer and pantry.
With Lilly all snug in her car seat, she set off to try and get her errands done as fast as possible.
The first two stops went fairly quickly, especially since she’d placed her order ahead of time. Now it was time for the dreaded grocery run. Ashe didn’t think there was a woman alive who actually enjoyed going food shopping.
Toting Lilly’s car seat inside, she secured it to the shopping cart, watching as her daughter’s eyes darted around taking everything in.
Every now and then another shopper would stop to compliment on her cuteness, but what struck Ashe as odd was how some of them seemed to sniff. It was almost like they could smell something, but nobody commented on it.
Thinking perhaps Lilly had messed her diaper, Ashe gave her a quick check, but came up with nothing. With the baby all clear, she wracked her brain trying to recall if she’d remembered to put her deodorant on before leaving the house.
A glance up and down the aisle confirmed that she was the only one in it, so she quickly snuck a whiff of her pit, relieved to detect the powder-fresh scent.
She was just lowering her arm when possibly the hottest guy she’d ever laid eyes on passed the row. He was walking slow enough for her to get a good look, and Ashe took full advantage. She may be a single mom, but it wasn’t like she couldn’t enjoy the view.
Olive skin, jet black hair, and a tall, toned body encased in some worn jeans and a black t-shirt stretched over broad shoulders? Yes, please!
She thought with a sigh.
It wasn’t like a guy like that would swoon over a single mom anyway, especially with her abundant curves, but a girl could dream, right?
She was looking over the label on a can of baby formula when she heard running footsteps. Turning, Ashe was caught off-guard when a wiry little guy latched onto her purse strap and yanked as he continued to run.
Her shoulder burned as her arm was wrenched backward, her feet tangling as she spun, sending her crashing to the ground. Her back it the cart, jostling Lilly and causing a startled cry to erupt from her.
“Stop you bastard!” she screamed, though he was already rounding the end of the aisle. “Just freaking great,” she muttered, beginning to stand.
She was kneeling when a pair of strong arms lifted her to her feet. Peeking over her shoulder, she saw Benson, the local honey supplier, gazing at her with concern.
“Are you okay? Did he hurt either of you?” he asked, his eyes shifting to Lilly, who was still crying.
“We’ll be fine, but he got my purse,” she grumbled, fumbling to unbuckle her daughter with shaking hands.
“Here, let me help. My friend went after him.”
Benson made quick work of the straps and Ashe pulled Lilly to her chest, bouncing and cooing in an effort to calm her down. “Thank you,” she said, smiling at the giant of a man. He was probably close to seven foot tall!
She’d seen him around town and he always had a smile and a kind word for everybody. His sheer size would be intimidating if not for the way he presented himself.
“You’re very welcome,” he replied, looking past her. “Ah, it looks like Luke got your purse back.”
Turning, Ashe nearly swallowed her tongue. She couldn’t help but stare into the most mesmerizing set of ice-blue eyes she’d ever seen.
It was the guy from before, and now he was striding toward her with a confident swagger. It gave him a predatory quality that just did it for her. There was no doubt about it, the guy was smokin’…and Ashe was still staring.
He cleared his throat, holding her bag out to her as he approached. “Here you go, ma’am. Are you okay?”
“Thank you so much! We’re fine, just a little shaken up.” Reaching for her purse, Ashe’s arm protested the movement. No doubt she’d be feeling sore for a few days.
He must have picked up on it, because instead of handing it to her, he placed it in her cart. Lilly was cuddled into her shoulder, probably peeking at the large man standing behind her, judging by the soft whispers.
“Aren’t you a brave girl?” she heard Benson say. There was just something about babies that turned everyone into softies. She was smiling as Lilly gurgled back at him, until purse-boy sniffed in her direction.
Still very much on edge from the whole ordeal, her mouth overrode her current gratitude and snapped, “What the hell is everyone
at? I don’t stink and Lilly’s butt is clean, so what gives?”
Clearly she’d startled the poor guy with her outburst if his step back was any indication, but really, a girl could only take so much.
“I’m sorry,” he replied. “It’s nothing bad at all, I promise. Actually you smell really good. I apologize for being rude.” He took a tentative step forward, extending his hand. “I’m Luke, by the way.”
“Ashelynn, and this is Lilly. I’m sorry I snapped, but I swear just about everyone I’ve seen today has sniffed at us. It’s weird as hell.”
A chuckled from behind had her turning, only to realize that Lilly had ahold of Benson’s finger.
“She’s got a strong grip for such a small girl. Her daddy will have his hands full when this little heartbreaker gets older too.”
Benson’s comments, while sweet, still managed to hit on a subject Ashe was trying to come to terms with.
“I don’t know where her dad is. I know
he is—I’m not that kind of girl—we just lost touch.”
“I’m sorry,” he immediately offered, exchanging a glance with his friend.
“Why? It’s not your fault. It just is what it is.” All she could do was shrug it off. She sure as hell didn’t want pity from these two men. “Thank you again for helping us, and for getting my purse back.”
“How’s your arm? It seemed like it hurt for you to raise your arm when I tried to hand that back to you,” Luke asked, pointing to her bag in the cart.
“It was on my shoulder when he snatched it, so I got wrenched pretty good. It’ll be fine, just a little tender,” Ashe replied with a blush. Both men seemed very sweet.
Benson stepped around to Ashe’s side, causing Lilly to squirm to see him still. “How about we help you to your car then? Are you almost set?”
“Um, you really don’t have to bother. I just need a few cold items and I’ll be good to go.”
“Let us give you a hand,” Luke insisted. “I’d hate to wonder if the two of you got out of here okay.”
Seeing as her arm was really starting to ache, Ashe relented and thanked them for the help. Not to mention she was still shaken enough to be nervous about loading her car in the parking lot alone.
Once she’d finished loading up with meats, frozen foods and other cold items, Benson pushed the cart to checkout where Luke proceeded to unload it, then place the bags back in when they’d been rung up.
After she paid, they pushed her things out, allowing her to continue to hold Lilly, which was doing wonders for calming her nerves.
“So where are you parked?” Benson asked.
“I’m the silver SUV over there.” Ashe pointed off to the right, though she ended up distracted by the police cruiser with a very angry man in the backseat. “That’s the guy, isn’t it?” she asked, feeling a shiver run down her spine.
“Yeah. Luke caught him, but a clerk had already called the law to report a suspicious man in the store,” Benson replied.
Luke nodded. “They caught everything on the surveillance footage, but they’ll still want to get a statement from you, I’m sure.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Ashe assured. “If a little paperwork is all they need to keep him from doing that to someone else, then I’ll be there.”
They arrived at her vehicle and both men gawked when she unlocked the back. Admittedly, it
“How the hell were you planning to unload all of this?” Luke asked. “Do you have help at home?”
“Carefully,” she laughed. “I’ll have to be very careful. Don’t worry, I’m tougher than I look.”
“I don’t doubt it, but it’s your shoulder that has me worried,” Benson pointed out. “Would you be okay with us following you back and unloading for you?”
Ashe was definitely tempted. The bags of fertilizer were sure to give her trouble, but did she want to have two virtual strangers follow her to her house outside of town? With no nearby neighbors, she could be setting herself up for danger.
“Benson, is that you?”
Ashe turned in time to see one of the deputies strolling over, the other remaining by the car.
“Hey Calvin. How are things going?”