Authors: Kelly Elliott
Sitting back in the chair, I stared at Harmony in disbelief. That is, until her eyes turned dark and she licked her lips. Leaning forward again, I cleared my throat. “I can’t believe you’ve never had the pleasure of eating Nutella. This is a landmark occasion. You’re gonna wanna put this down on your calendar as the day I changed your life.”
Harmony laughed and picked up the brioche and took a bite. Her eyes lit up before she closed them and she let out a moan that moved through my entire body.
Friends. Just friends.
“Holy crap. This is amazing. It’s like…chocolate!”
Laughing, I picked up my brioche and gestured to her. “I told you, it’s the most amazing dessert ever.”
After finishing up our desserts, we headed over to the station. I wasn’t sure why Harmony wanted to see where I worked, but it warmed my heart. Sherry never once asked to see where I worked. She of course did see where I worked, but she couldn’t have cared less. She hated what I did, but I loved it. I was proud of my job. At least I used to be. Now all I had were mixed emotions and I felt like I wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
Stopping in front of the station, I gave Harmony a weak smile. “This is it. Engine 37 and Ladder 26.” Smiling back at me, she asked the one question I was hoping she wouldn’t.
“Can we go inside?”
Tightening my hands into fists, I quickly loosened them. “Um, sure, if you want to.”
The bay doors were open so we walked in. Immediately in front of us was Sharp. Cursing under my breath, I slowly inhaled and let it back out.
Turning, Sharp gave me a smile from ear to ear. “Ward, you don’t know what it means to take a day off.”
Letting out a nervous laugh, I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow. Stopping directly in front of Sharp and a few other guys, I said a silent prayer they wouldn’t put two and two together. Sharp walked away from the other guys, who were all playing a card game.
“Mitchel Sharp, this is Harmony Banks, a friend of mine. She wanted to see where I worked.”
Reaching his hand out for Harmony’s, Sharp gave her a polite smile. “Harmony, huh? That’s a beautiful name.”
Harmony blushed and changed her posture just a bit. “I can’t take the credit on that one. My mother came up with it.”
I watched as Sharp’s eyes moved across Harmony’s body. Glancing back at me, he said, “So you guys are just friends, huh?”
Before I even had a chance to respond, Harmony laughed. “Yes! Very much just friends. Preston is being a gentleman of a guy and spending the day with me to cure my hangover.”
I wasn’t sure why Harmony’s words hurt more than I thought they should. Sharp smiled bigger. “I see. So, Harmony, how about I show you around?”
Smiling, Harmony went to speak but looked at me. Her smile faded briefly before she turned and looked around. That’s when I noticed the pain in my jaw from clenching my teeth together.
“I’ve always wondered what a firehouse looked like on the inside. So this is it, huh?”
“This is it,” I said as I glared at Sharp. The way he was looking at Harmony turned my stomach.
Walking up to her, he placed his hand on her lower back and I looked away, unable to take the sight of it.
Fucking hell. What is the matter with me? I want to pound my best friend’s face in just for touching her.
“How about that tour now, darling?” Sharp said as he stood a little too close to Harmony.
As she cleared her throat, I forced myself to turn and look at them. “Um…actually…Mitchel, was it?”
“Mitchel, Mitch, I’ll answer to anything you call me.”
Rolling my eyes, I glanced over at the other guys as they attempted to hold their laughter back.
Harmony let out a small chuckle and said, “I was kind of wanting Preston to show me where he worked and give me the tour.”
I pressed my lips together to hide my smile as Sharp placed his hand over his chest and said, “Ouch. Shot down before I was even out of the gate.”
Walking over to me, Harmony reached for my hand, shocking me, and asked, “Shall we?”
Glancing back over at Sharp, I gave him a small grin. “Um…yeah, sure.”
After introducing Harmony to the rest of the guys, I showed her where we slept, ate, and hung out between calls. I attempted to avoid Captain Ryan’s office, but he had glanced up and saw me showing Harmony around. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he came out. Sharp had told me that the captain had visited Harmony in the hospital. I was sure he would remember her.
“Wow, Preston. Your family must be pretty proud of you.”
Pulling my head back, I looked at her. “For what?”
Letting out a titter, she looked around as she pointed. “For this. Your job. I mean, you risk your life to save others. I can’t even begin to wonder how your poor mother did it with her husband and now you.”
“My brother Finn is a firefighter as well. So she not only has to worry about me, she has to worry about him as well.”
Harmony’s eyes widened in horror. “And your other brother? What does he do? Nothing dangerous, I hope, for your mother’s sake.”
Scrunching up my face, I said, “Wes is a banker in New York City. Dresses in suits every day, and expensive shoes. I’m positive one of his suits costs more than what I make in a year.”
Laughing, Harmony gave me a gentle push. “What about your sister? You mentioned she was younger. What does she do?”
“Angie’s a senior in high school.”
“Oh wow. Do you mind if I ask how old you are, Preston?” The way Harmony was chewing on her lower lip had my stomach going all kinds of crazy.
“He’s twenty-three. One of the best firefighters I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside. Well, since his daddy, that is.”
Closing my eyes, I held my breath and turned to see my captain standing in front of me. “Hey there, Cap. This is a friend of mine, Harmony Banks. She wanted to see where I worked.”
Reaching her hand out, Harmony spoke first. “Captain Ryan, it’s a pleasure seeing you again.”
My eyes snapped to Harmony and then to the floor. Harmony and the cap talked for a few minutes while I stood there and tried to calm my beating heart. The cap had warned me to stay away from Harmony and here I was not only with her, but showing her where I worked.
“Harmony, do you mind if I speak with Ward—I mean Preston—for a minute?”
My mouth went dry and I had an overwhelming urge to flee.
“No, not at all. Should I just wait here?”
“Yes!” I said, almost in a panic. If she stayed there, I could keep my eye on her and would know if Sharp tried to talk to her. “Um, just have a seat and I’ll be right back.”
Reaching for the cap’s hand again, Harmony shook it and said, “It was nice seeing you again.”
“It was my pleasure, Harmony.” Cap turned and walked toward his office as I followed. Glancing over my shoulder, I smiled when I saw Harmony watching us walk away.
“Shut the door, Ward, and have a seat.”
Doing as he asked, I sat down and held my breath, waiting for the unexpected.
Cap sat and leaned back in his chair. He rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and tented his fingers under his chin. “Want to tell me what you’re doing, son?”
Sitting up straight, I gave him a confused look. “What do you mean, Cap?”
Glancing over my shoulder at Harmony, he looked back at me and straight into my eyes.
“Preston, you’ll never be able to ease her pain. The loss of her child was not your fault and by becoming her friend you’re not making it easier on either one of you.”
Anger built up in my veins as I gripped the armrests. “I’m not being her friend out of sympathy. I enjoy her company and it has nothing to do with her son. I know, Cap, it wasn’t my fault. I’ve moved on from it.”
Raising his eyebrows, he said, “Have you? Why are you always taking off, Preston? You’re damn near out of vacation time and you never took vacation before that accident. Ever.”
Shrugging my shoulders, I looked into his eyes. “I’m over it, sir. I’m fine.”
Nodding, he looked at his desk and said, “I’m going to ask you one question. And this is not me being your boss asking it. It’s me, a longtime family friend asking. Do you have feelings for her?”
There was one thing I would never do, and that was lie to the man sitting across from me. “Honestly, sir, I’m not sure. I’ve been having some confusing thoughts going through my mind. I keep telling myself we’re just friends. That’s all we are…friends…just friends. I enjoy her company and I think she enjoys mine. I mean, is that so bad?”
Smiling slightly, he shook his head. “No, that’s not bad at all. Just remember what she’s been through, Preston. I don’t want to see you get hurt. What about Sherry?”
Moving nervously in my seat, I looked away as I said, “We broke up.”
Looking back at him, I caught his eyes. “Cap, I’ve told you my feelings for Sherry weren’t what I first thought they were. It was a long time coming.”
Standing up, he pushed his hands through his hair and said, “Preston, I want you to take things slow. Whether this is a friendship or something more…take it slow.” Cap’s eyes moved to the window and he frowned for just a brief second. But it was long enough to cause me to look over my shoulder back at Harmony.
That fucking bastard. Sharp was sitting next to Harmony with his arm draped on the sofa behind her.
Standing up, I looked back at Cap. “Okay, well, I guess we ought to be going.”
When Cap grabbed my arm and stopped me, I closed my eyes and waited for what was coming.
“I see the way you look at her, Preston. And the way you just reacted when you saw Sharp sitting next to her.”
Smiling, I turned around and said, “Cap, it’s nothing. If anything I’m probably just being protective, like a big-brother kind of thing.”
“Uh-huh. I don’t ever remember you looking at Sherry like that once in the two years you dated her, son.”
My smile dropped and I quickly spun around and headed to the door. Opening it up, I stepped outside the office and inhaled deeply to try to compose myself before walking over to Harmony and Sharp.
After leaving the fire station, Harmony asked if we could stop in a few stores. She was still trying to decorate her new place and needed some things to add life to the condo. I’d never had so much fun shopping in my life. The best part was, Harmony couldn’t make a decision to save her life so we only had two bags to carry.
“Are you getting hungry?” I asked as we walked out of one store.
Stopping and looking at me, she laughed. “Yes! I’ve been having so much fun I didn’t even realize it was so late. Dinner sounds amazing. What did you have in mind?”
“How about we go to my uncle’s place? He owns a beer joint with some of the best food in Boston.”
Giggling, Harmony said, “Sounds like we found our place for dinner. I can’t wait to see it.”
Laughing, I remembered Harmony’s comment about Irish guys. “Oh, I can’t wait for them to see you.”
Grabbing her hand, I called for a taxi. Taking a quick look at her Yankees gear, I cursed myself for not being able to get it off her by lunchtime. I’d tried a few times to get her to buy another shirt. I even bet her once or twice on something and if I won, she had to change. Nothing had worked. I silently said a prayer everyone would take it easy on my girl.
Glancing at Harmony, I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “John’s Place on Broad Street.”
The taxi drove to the financial district as Preston and the taxi driver talked about baseball. Rolling my eyes, I let out a sigh. I never understood why everyone was so crazy about the Red Sox. I think that was the main reason I became a Yankees fan. Because Jake drove me mad with all the Red Sox shit.
The taxi pulled up and parked as Preston paid him and grabbed the two shopping bags. Reaching his hand into the cab, he helped me out.
I wondered if Preston was always such a gentleman, or was it just that he was trying to give me a nice day? My eyes traveled down his well-toned body. Twenty-three. He sure seemed mature for being just twenty-three. Licking my lips, I wondered how good a kisser he was.
Oh, holy hell. I needed to stop this and stop it now.
Taking a few steps down the street, Preston turned and said, “We’re here.”
Glancing to my right, I saw an Irish pub and that was it. “Where is it?”
Pointing to the pub, Preston smiled bigger.
Oh, holy hell. Was Ward an Irish name? One more look at the door caused me to let out a gasp. I was in for a serious shit storm.
Walking closer to the door, I read the sign out loud. “Red Sox fans only.” I jerked my head back to Preston, who threw his head back and laughed.
“Ah hell, this should be interesting. Come on, Harmony, this Irish boy wants to introduce you to some friends.”
No. No. No. No
. Grabbing his arm, I glared at Preston with what I was hoping was a horrified look on my face. “Preston! I’m wearing Yankees stuff.”
Tapping my nose with his finger, he chuckled as he said, “I think you’re just pretty enough for them to let it slide.”
My mouth dropped open as Preston pulled the door open. Standing my ground, I refused to move. One quick push by Preston and I was stumbling into the pub. Everyone turned and looked at me. Smiles instantly turned to frowns.
Oh shit. Please let me be pretty enough. Please, dear God, let me be pretty enough.
There was a tall man standing behind the bar. His blue eyes pierced mine and I immediately saw the resemblance to Preston. “Preston, what have you brought us this evening? I’m guessing she didn’t see the sign on the door.”
I could see the papers now.
YOUNG GIRL THROWN OUT OF PUB FOR WEARING YANKEES SHIRT AND CAP.
The Irish are supposed to be friendly. Aren’t they?
Grabbing Preston’s arm, I pulled him down to me. “Ward is not
Laughing, he said, “No, it’s not. It’s British. This is my mother’s brother. Last name is Flanagan. Actually, their parents changed it to Flanagan when they came to America. It was originally O’Flannagain.”
Shaking my head and letting out a faint whimper, I said, “Oh Lord. I’m never going to forgive you for this, Preston.”
Wrapping his arm around my waist, he pulled me closer to him and whispered, “Harmony Banks, by eight o’clock this evening, I promise I will have converted you to a Sox fan.”
My breathing began to pick up as Preston held me close to his body. I didn’t like the way my body reacted to Preston. Okay, that’s a lie. I liked it way more than I should have.
“What if you fail, Mr. Ward?”
Giving me a wicked smile, he moved his lips to my ear and whispered, “Then I’m totally at your mercy, Ms. Banks.”
Closing my eyes, I took in the feel of his hot breath on my neck. I found myself clutching his shirt as I whispered back, “You have to be a Yankees fan for a whole season.”
Preston’s lips grazed my neck as he whispered, “Deal.”
And just like that, he let me go and walked up to the bar as I stood there trying to understand what had just happened to me. Closing my eyes, I took in a deep breath and blew it out. I was about to turn around when Preston said, “Take it easy on my girl, she’s been misled.”
“My girl.” God, how I like the sound of that.
Shaking it off, I pushed the feelings away and spun around as I plastered on my best smile. The one I had to wear when I attended all the stupid business parties with Trey or my parents.
Walking toward the bar, Preston introduced me to everyone. Of course he saved the best for last.
“Uncle John, this is my friend Harmony Banks. Harmony, this is John, my favorite uncle ever.”
Reaching his hand across the bar, he gave me the sweetest smile. “Don’t let this little bastard fool ya. I’m his only uncle. Your brother is Jake?”
My mouth dropped open as I looked at Preston. Shrugging, he winked.
“I take it my big brother has graced your pub before?”
“Yes, he has, pretty lady. I might add when he comes in he has his lucky Sox T-shirt on.”
Rolling my eyes, I moaned. Then it hit me. Turning to Preston, I gasped, “Please tell me you’re not—” Watching the smile spread across Preston’s face, I knew my answer before he even said it.
“It’s my socks.”
My whole body slumped. “Preston, why? I was really starting to think we had a good BFF thing going.”
Preston’s smile faded but just for a brief second before he smiled bigger and lifted up his jeans’ legs to reveal the nasty socks he hadn’t changed since the Sox started their season.
Sitting on the barstool, I mumbled to myself, “And to think I let you stay in my house.”
John and Preston both laughed. Pointing at me, John said, “You’re lucky you’re so pretty and that my boy Preston is friends with you. Otherwise, your little ass would be sitting out on the street right now.”
Biting on my lower lip, I held up my hands and said, “
are the Yankees?”
Those sitting around us erupted into laughter as Preston gave me a smile that melted my insides.
Preston took the liberty of ordering our food. We started with Irish spring rolls that were to die for. Preston ordered me the Irish sampler that consisted of Guinness beef stew, shepherd’s pie, and country cottage pie. Preston ordered bangers and mash, which was Irish sausage with mashed potatoes topped with the most amazing brown gravy I’d ever had. Then of course there were the Irish baked beans. I’d never eaten such amazing food in my life.
By the time I was finished eating, I could barely move. My stomach muscles were also sore from laughing so hard. Preston was truly in his environment in this pub. I could not only see it in his face, but hear it in his laughter. This was home to him. When one of the patrons asked Preston to hop up and play the fiddle, I was stunned to hear how good he was.
“His mum and dad are truly proud of that boy,” John said with a smile.
Watching Preston, I realized it was the first time I’d seen such a gleam in his eyes. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him on the fiddle with a bunch of crazy, Red Sox–loving Irishmen singing along to something he was playing.
“He seems to be at home here,” I said as I turned back to look at John.
John was looking at Preston with such a loving look. “He wants this place. Always has.”
Pulling my head back in shock, I asked, “What do you mean he wants this place?”
John shook his head and laughed. “Preston must have been about ten years old when he stood on this bar…almost in the exact location you’re sitting…and he proclaimed that he was going to run this pub someday.”
Letting out a chuckle, I looked over at Preston. My smile faded some. “I thought he loved being a firefighter.” Preston looked up at me right then and smiled the biggest smile I thought I’d ever seen. My smile back to him was so natural. We hadn’t really known each other all that long, but it was important for me to know Preston was happy. I saw the sadness in his eyes and I knew from talking to Jake that Preston was having a very hard time dealing with TJ’s death and the confusion about where he saw his future going.
John’s voice pulled me from my thoughts and I jumped slightly. “That boy loves firefighting. It’s in his blood. Firefighting goes back four generations on his daddy’s side of the family.”
“But his dream is to own a pub?” I asked, glancing back at John.
“Not just any pub, darlin’. This pub.”
Tilting my head, I looked into John’s eyes. “Why doesn’t he work here?”
Shrugging his shoulders, he made a face. “That’s something you’d have to ask him. He used to work here but then stopped when he started dating that Sherry girl.” Leaning in closer, he used his finger to motion me in closer. “According to his momma, Sherry thought it was beneath Preston to work here. Even more so, she thought he should be working like his older brother Weston, doing banking and shit.” Shaking his head, John looked back at Preston, who was now standing there talking to a few people. “Nah, not my Preston. Out of all my sister’s kids, Preston, I think, has the strongest flow of Irish blood moving through those veins of his.”
Preston walked back over and sat down. “Man, oh man, that was some fun shit.”
“Language, Preston James Ward.”
Giggling, I looked at Preston. “You’re in trouble now. The middle name was used.”
Preston rolled his eyes as he downed his beer. The way his lips wrapped around the bottle was almost sinful. Chewing on my bottom lip, I fought the pull in my lower stomach. I wasn’t sure why Preston looked extra hot, but he did and I needed to look away.
My eyes moved down to his lips as I watched him talking to his uncle.
Look away, Harmony.
His jaw clenched and I knew he was agitated. I’d seen him do the same thing earlier today when his friend at the station started flirting with me. I hadn’t thought anything of it until Preston came storming out of his captain’s office. I saw it all over his face. Worry…or maybe it was jealousy. I wasn’t sure because he kept making sure he told people I was just his friend.
Preston licked his lips and a small moan slipped from my lips as I quickly looked away.
“You okay, Harmony? Are you feeling okay?”
Glancing back at him, I scrunched up my nose and said, “Yeah, why?”
Preston looked confused as he said, “Nothing, I thought I heard you moan.”
My eyes caught Preston’s and we were both lost in our stare.
John slammed his hand down on the bar and Preston and I both jumped. “Who wants dessert?”
I tried like hell to look away, but Preston’s green eyes held mine. Then he smiled that smile I was quickly finding myself longing for. “I’ve got dessert covered, Uncle John.”
Lifting my eyebrows, I narrowed my eyes at Preston and said, “Oh, really?”
His smile grew bigger and his eyes danced with excitement. It didn’t take long for that excitement to pass over to me. All kinds of thoughts entered my mind as to what I hoped dessert would be.
Ugh. Stop this, Harmony. You’re just friends.
John laughed when Preston turned and looked at him. “I’m going to guess you gave your cousin a call.”
Slipping off the barstool, Preston nodded. “Yes, sir, I did.”
Looking between both men, I asked, “Wait. What’s dessert going to be that you had to call in a favor? Your last favor was pretty big, Preston.”
Preston reached over and pulled my baseball cap down over my eyes as he said, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head, Yankees girl. I’ve got this.”
Pushing the cap up, I decided I wanted to be surprised so I let it drop.
After saying goodbye to John and the rest of the patrons of the pub, Preston and I headed outside, where he flagged down a cab.
Once we slipped into the cab, Preston handed the driver a note. Turning and looking at Preston, he smiled and nodded.
“Damn you, Preston. Note passing?”
Giving me a wink, Preston said, “It’s a surprise, Harmony. Now close your eyes and don’t open them or I’ll put a blindfold on you.”
My mouth parted slightly and I tried like hell not to let my imagination go wild, but it was too late. Dropping my head back, I closed my eyes and pictured Preston tying a blindfold on me. My hands slowly made their way down his strong, fit abs, shaking with anticipation at what surprise was beneath his pants.
“Good God, stop this, Harmony.”
Warm breath hit my neck and goosebumps covered my entire body. “Stop what?” Preston whispered.
“What?” I asked as I kept my head back and my eyes closed.
“You told yourself to stop. What are you wanting to stop?”
Shit! Shit! Shit! I can’t tell Preston I was telling myself to stop thinking naughty thoughts about him.
“Um…I was going to press you for more information but decided to just let it go.”
I jumped when I felt Preston’s hand touch the side of my face. Tingles engulfed my entire face as he slowly ran the back of his hand down my face. “That’s probably a good idea, Harmony.”
I immediately felt the loss of his warmth when he pulled his hand away.
Focus on your breathing, Harmony. Slowly breathe in and slowly breathe out.
My body quickly relaxed as I felt myself slipping off into sleep. For the first time in a long while, I felt completely safe just knowing Preston was next to me.
My body was being moved and I had no desire to open my eyes. I knew Preston was carrying me and I knew the moment he knew I was awake he’d put me down.
I heard a voice I didn’t recognize talking to Preston. “Dude, did you knock her out just to get her in here?”
Preston chuckled and it moved through my entire body. Allowing myself this one time to enjoy the way Preston made me feel, I let the feeling rush through my body.
“No, asshole. She fell asleep. Is it all set up?” Snuggling my face further into his chest, I took a deep breath.
Jesus, what does this guy wear as cologne? It’s driving me insane.
“You doubt me, baby cousin? I’m not the one who needs to impress a girl. And may I point out she’s wearing Yankees shit. I shouldn’t even let you put her down on the sacred ground.”
“Fuck you, Kyle.”
Smiling, I took notice of how Preston was willing to defend me even though I was wearing New York Yankees stuff. Deciding I should probably get out of Preston’s arms before I grew to love it, I lifted my head and looked into his eyes.
Oh shit. Maybe I should have kept pretending to be asleep.
The way he was looking at me had my heart dropping into my stomach. I’d never had anyone look at me the way he was looking at me. My heart began racing as I lost myself in his smile. “Hey,” I whispered.