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Authors: Marie Harte

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult

The Troublemaker Next Door (18 page)

BOOK: The Troublemaker Next Door
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After a few moments, she started to feel the cold under her breasts, the stretch of her legs, and the rasp of his jeans against her ass.

“Hold on.” Flynn withdrew and helped her stand. “You okay?” He turned her in his arms and kissed her. But the kiss deepened as they held each other. When he pulled away, his eyes shone with emotion. “Once isn’t enough.”

“No.” And she feared it would never be enough. Not with Flynn.

He disposed of the condom and tugged her with him. “Come on. We’re just getting started.”

Two hours later, pleasantly sore and unable to think about Flynn without feeling him inside her, Maddie lay alone in her bed at home and stared at the ceiling. She should have been too tired to do more than sleep, but her brain wouldn’t stop spinning.

Tonight, having sex with Flynn had satisfied every cell in her body. And it had turned her into a whimpering, begging woman unable to do more than cry his name. Sex had never been so good. And she’d never, ever, felt so tuned to a partner. She wanted Flynn. She liked Flynn. She thought about him all the time.

She had a very bad feeling she might be falling in love with him. A sure path that led to disaster. What to do about him remained the question. She fell asleep with worry on her mind and an ache in her heart.

***

The next two weeks passed in a blur. Maddie had two houses to work with. One she finished in no time. The furniture and color palette actually worked with the house, but the design and layout needed work. Easy. The other house needed a lot more labor, as well as time she didn’t have.

She’d had to put off two arranged outings with Flynn, and she refused to allow herself to miss him.

Gratified by her choice to remain independent, she couldn’t figure out why she felt so annoyed with everyone and everything.

When Kim and Robin threatened to kick her ass if she didn’t go out and get hammered before coming back to their furniture shop, Maddie figured she’d better get a handle on herself. Robin really would kick her ass and not feel bad about it.

She moped around the house, unable to start anything with Vanessa, who was working late, or Abby, who’d gone grocery shopping. Maddie fell onto the plush chair and turned around, so that her bare feet touched the wall above the cushions and her head dragged on the floor, the rest of her body seated upside-down on the thick leather seat.

The blood rushed to her head, and she pondered her current circumstances. Not being with Flynn was so damn difficult. He hadn’t been a prick when she’d canceled on him, taking her refusals with good humor. He refused to yell or fight with her. Then again, maybe he didn’t really miss her. Maybe he was glad to take a break from her. Had she become the clingy one in their pseudo-relationship?

The idea didn’t sit well. After all her warnings and caution, to then be the one to turn around and be ultra-needy went against the grain. She had never, ever, been the one left behind. Hell, Maddie made it a point to stand strong. She did the walking away, not the other way around.

“Hello?”

The familiar voice instantly made her happy.

Which annoyed her.

“Don’t you ever knock?”

An upside-down Flynn regarded her with bemusement. “Is this some kinky version of yoga? Because if so, sign me up.”

She realized his focus had shifted to her midriff, currently bared by her gaping shirt. On a muttered curse, she sat up and tugged it down. “What are you doing here?” Inwardly she cringed. Great. Now she sounded like a shrew. And with her hair all over the place, she probably looked like a witch.

Flynn blinked at her. “Ah, wow. This is probably a bad idea. I’m sorry. I’ll go.”

“No, wait.” She stumbled over her feet to stop him and a felt like a complete idiot. Go, stay. No wonder the guy wanted to rush from the house. She didn’t even like herself. “I’m sorry. It’s been a rough few days.”

He gave her a sympathetic nod. “Sorry. I know you probably want to relax, and I’m bugging you. It’s just…”

Flynn looked haggard, now that she took a good look at him. “What’s wrong?” She grabbed his arm, relieved to feel his solid strength beneath her fingers.

“It’s Colin.”

“What? Is he okay?” The little guy had such a special place in the McCauleys’ hearts.

“I’m watching him tonight while Mike is doing some work with my dad. Problem is, he’s misplaced his favorite stuffed animal, and I don’t know what to do to help him. I was stupid and offered to get help to find the thing, which helped calm him down a little. He’s freaking out. Is Abby here? I’ll even take Vanessa.”

“Wow. You must be desperate.”

“I am.” They both heard Colin whine across the yard for Uncle Flynn. “I’ll just tell him no one was home. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure we’ll find the thing.”

“No, wait. I’ll help.” Glad for the excuse, she looked for her shoes.

“You don’t have to.” Now Flynn seemed uneasy. The poor guy. A bitchy girlfriend—
friend
, she reminded herself, who happens to be a girl—and a crying nephew. She found her shoes stuffed under the leather chair. “Let’s go.”

Twenty minutes later, they still hadn’t found Colin’s Ubie. Named after the man who’d given it to him, the bear supposedly had a cute smile and the same coloring as the leather sofa. Colin frantically darted all over the house trying to find it, with Flynn hard on his heels.

It would have been comical if the little guy didn’t look so stressed out about it.

“When is Mike coming home?” she said under her breath.

“Another hour.” Flynn sighed. “Go on home, Maddie. I’m sorry for bothering you.”

She felt terrible. He looked so put out. When Flynn cared, he really cared. “You love Colin so much. You’re such a great uncle.” She surrendered to impulse and hugged him. Strong, capable Flynn, putty in the hands of a small boy hankering for his bear.

“I found it! I found it, Uncle Flynn!” Colin raced through the house carrying a rugged bear. His joy promptly faded when he looked at them hugging. Then he burst into tears.

Astounded, Maddie hurried to his side and crouched down. “Colin. Are you okay?”

He nodded and threw his arms around her neck, shocking her.

She hadn’t held a small child in years, not since she’d accompanied Abby home one Christmas and picked up her niece. Colin was a lot bigger than a baby. He smelled like popcorn and chocolate. His arms were surprisingly strong for a child his size.

“He wants you to pick him up,” Flynn whispered. He tugged Ubie from Colin’s hands.

She struggled under his weight but stood with him, and he immediately locked his legs around her waist. She patted his back, whispering words of comfort until his sniffles quieted.

“Want to sit on the couch with him? He likes that. We can turn on his favorite movie,” Flynn offered.

She nodded and sat down on the couch with the little boy in her arms. He pillowed his head on her chest, and the strangest tug of longing hit her. She looked down at his mussed black hair and stroked it, taken with the silky softness. His lashes looked long and thick against the pale lids of his eyes. So innocent, so precious.

Flynn sat next to her. “Want me to take him?”

She couldn’t speak. Instead, she shook her head and tightened her arms around the boy. When Flynn put an arm around her shoulders, she didn’t protest. And before she knew it, she laid her head against his chest, comforted by the surety of him. The love he had for his nephew brought tears to her eyes, piercing the part of her that secretly wished he had more to spare.

She watched the television with a quiet joy, absorbed in the boy, the man, and the animated movie with an odd mix of affection, desire, and security. She wondered if Mike knew what a treasure he had in his family, and especially in the brother who would do anything for his nephew.

Chapter 17

Flynn should have felt worse about what he’d done, but he was a man at the end of his rope. For five bucks, a pack of Raisinets, and Jiffy Pop, Colin had done the McCauley name proud. He’d given Flynn just enough time to tear Maddie away from her bad mood and give him the attention he’d needed. The kid’s tears had been an added, if not necessary, bonus. That hadn’t been in the script, but trust Colin to show off. The boy had a lot more in common with Brody than Mike wanted to think.

Now the little dork lay nestled in Maddie’s arms looking way too content with himself. Jealous, Flynn forced himself to behave. Christ, could the woman be any more perfect for him? He could tell she didn’t have a lot of experience with kids. She’d held Colin with an endearing awkwardness. God knew the kid weighed a ton for someone so young. But she’d held on tight, not letting go, showing an instinctive need to protect that called to Flynn. He wanted to be more than her lover and friend. He wanted Maddie as his wife.
Good
God, I mean it. I love her.

If he couldn’t convince Maddie to give him a real chance at togetherness, he didn’t know what he’d do. He couldn’t eat. He had trouble sleeping. His brothers kept making fun of him. His mother had watched him with that knowing eye the last two Sundays. Hell, even being the recipient of Maddie’s wrath earlier hadn’t dissuaded him from caring. She turned him on. Big time.

He grazed her neck and stroked her hair.

She still held Colin tight, but a glance at the little faker showed him ready to rouse. Kid had a hard time missing his video games, even for a con as well played as this.

“I’m going to put him to bed.” Seven o’clock, but hopefully she wouldn’t realize how early it was. “He’ll be more comfortable in his room.”

Her arms tightened around Colin. Oh hell. She didn’t want to give him up. The woman who claimed to not want anything to do with a relationship held onto his nephew, looking like she’d cry if he pried the kid from her arms.

In a softer voice, he said, “It’s okay, Maddie. I’ll take care of him.”

She looked at Colin again before meeting Flynn’s gaze. “Oh. Right. Sure.” She pulled the little guy away from her chest and held him to Flynn.

He lifted Colin up and squeezed him to make sure the kid remained quiet. Once down the hall and in Colin’s room, he closed the door behind them. “Colin, here’s an extra five. You earned it.”

He noted the empty box of candy but saw Colin had half a bowl of uneaten popcorn. “Look, you have maybe another forty-five minutes before your dad gets back. If he knows I gave you this crap, I’m toast.”

Colin nodded. He knew the score. “So did it work? My crying was pretty good, right? And freaking out about Ubie?”

“Outstanding.” Flynn ruffled his hair. “Remember, this stays between you and me. Just play your game, quietly, and give me some time with Maddie. Then I’ll send her home and you and I’ll wait for your dad. None the wiser,” he warned.

Colin nodded, too happy to play his video games and eat in his room to object. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Stick a needle in my eye,” they said together with a grin.

Flynn turned to the door. His hand on the knob, he paused when Colin called his name. “Yeah?”

“I like Maddie. She’s soft. Not like Gramma. Different.”

The kid had no idea. “Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “So you think I should try to keep her?”

Colin nodded.

“Then you can’t tell, okay?”

Colin crossed his heart again.

Flynn put a finger to his lips, waited until Colin nodded, then walked out of the room and closed the door behind him. He rejoined Maddie, who stared unseeingly at the television.

“You okay?”

She gasped. “Oh wow. I didn’t see you there. Is the little guy all right?”

“As rain.” He sat down next to her. “I can’t thank you enough, Maddie. He seemed to calm down with you here.”

She gave him a shy grin, and his heart tumbled and broke at her feet.

I
am
so
fucked
. “So, um, I know you’ve been busy and all, but would you like to play cards tonight?”

“What kind of cards?”

“Ever played cribbage? It’s fun and perfect for two people. It’s mostly a numbers game. Runs and pairs, numbers that add to fifteen.”
Or
my
personal
version
of
sixty-nine, if I get really lucky.

“Sure.” Her enthusiasm pleased him. “I guess I should let you go.” She stood. He stood with her.

“I’ll bring the cards and the cribbage board over when Mike gets home.” He stepped closer. Without asking, not wanting her to say no, he kissed her. Her lips felt so soft, so welcoming. The breath they shared meant everything to him. More than sexual, her touch soothed him, filling that void he hadn’t been aware stood empty. He caged her in his arms, feeling protective, unsure about their future yet wanting it with his last breath.

He let her go when she stepped back. Their eyes met. Hers light brown, questioning. He could only imagine what she saw in his. Likely a nightmare.

She took a deep breath and let it out. “I’ll see you soon.” She walked to the door, looked at him again and waved, then left.

Half an hour later, he and Colin waited for Mike on the couch. They watched some lame show while debating Colin’s aptitude for the theater. Three more times the kid had cried on command, put on an angry face, or looked pitiful. Mike really had his hands full with this one.

They’d finished the popcorn and some juice. Colin didn’t need to go to bed until nine, so Flynn wasn’t breaking any rules by letting him stay up. Mike entered the house at eight-thirty looking majorly pissed.

He gave Colin a hug and a kiss on top of his head. “Colin, buddy, go put your PJs on. I need to talk to Uncle Flynn.”

Colin glanced from his dad to Flynn and made a face.

Flynn snorted. “Go on, you monster. Let your dad yell at me without an audience.” He knew damn well the kid would linger in the hallway eavesdropping.

The minute Colin left, Mike hauled him to his feet by the collar of his shirt. “Hey.”

“What the fuck did you say to Mom?”

“Ah, what?”

“Don’t pull this shit with me.” Mike lowered his voice. “Mom just spent the last hour grilling me about
Abby
. What the hell? She told me you had second thoughts about the last time you’d talked to her.
The
last
time?
That you had fucking concerns about my relationship with women and that with Abby here, I might be confusing the past with the present.”

The truth—Flynn
was
concerned. Okay, it hadn’t exactly been fair to sic their mother on Mike, but if she’d gotten him to open up, the tiny lie had been worth the effort. Not to mention Flynn had gotten some quality time with Maddie, as well as an invitation to her place. A win-win.

He dodged Mike’s fist and shoved his brother back. The ox. “Look, I thought I was sharing some personal feelings with Mom. I had no idea she’d narc on me and pull you into this.” Well, at least the part about her telling on Flynn.

“For the last time, I loved Lea,” Mike rasped. “She’s dead, and no one’s bringing her back. Abby is nice, she’s our neighbor, and that’s
all
she is. I know it. Colin knows it. Abby knows it. Now leave it alone.”

It felt good to hear Mike admit it. He never said Lea’s name unless pressed. But Flynn had the smallest niggle of doubt that maybe Abby’s resemblance hurt Mike more than he’d let on. But no, his older brother just looked mad as hell, not hurt.

“Good to hear, buddy.” He ducked another punch. “Hey. I was concerned. And you never talk about her. Colin asks stuff, you know?”

Mike paused. “He does?”

“Yeah. Like what Lea was like, how the two of you used to act, how you met. I tell him the truth. About how annoying and gross it was when you were kissing. Or how much he reminds me of her sometimes.” Flynn knew none of this was easy on his brother. “He needs to hear it from you too, Mike. The picture on his bed stand is great, but the kid misses his mom.”

“He never knew her.” Mike coughed and looked away, and Flynn felt like an ass for forcing this. But hell, someone needed to talk to Mike about his avoidance. He didn’t know why his mother never pushed it.

“Yeah, but
you
knew her. Show him it’s okay to laugh about her. You say you’re over her passing, but it’s been almost six years and you still aren’t. Maybe talking about her will help.” He couldn’t imagine what Mike had gone through when Lea had died, and he’d been there. What if it had been Maddie? Flynn had this huge ball of tangled feeling for her, and they were still in the infancy of their relationship. Not married yet, not with a child on the way.

The thought struck him between the eyes.

Not married.
Yet.

“Dude? I’m not going to hit you again,” Mike said gruffly. “You look ill. Relax. I’m not that mad. Anymore. I’ll talk to Colin,” his voice rose, “who should be getting ready for bed.”

They both heard scrambling and a door slam.

“Bed, right. Hey, I need to borrow the cribbage board. I’ll see you later. Sorry about Mom.”

Mike sighed. “Yeah, right. But don’t think I don’t know you’re scamming on the redhead. I’ll take it out of you later.”

Not willing to risk his good fortune, Flynn grabbed the board and the cards and bolted.

***

Maddie typed in the office she presently shared with Abby, comfortably ensconced at the small desk now organized and outfitted with her own all-in-one printer/fax/copier, laptop, and electronic filing system. She had a stack of books in the bookcase behind her, as well as a rolling file cabinet holding receipts, schedule books, and other odds and ends.

Empowered, organized, and overworked. Pleasantly tired from the many jobs she’d been working on the last three weeks, she couldn’t have been happier with her new life. Hampton’s Designs had become a distant memory, especially since she’d given her version of her treatment at the place to a lawyer needing testimony on behalf of
another
woman Fred had apparently harassed.

She no longer feared losing money with her staging business. She had her own crew, a rhythm of sorts, new contacts through Linda, and a few other real estate firms looking to take advantage of her services. Apparently, Grace, her Howe Street client, had a big mouth, and she’d told all her friends how well Maddie had worked on her house.

Keeping busy wasn’t a problem. Managing Flynn was. They spent all their time together.

Sometimes in the evenings they took walks through different parks, always holding hands. They’d gone miniature golfing. Watched a few movies. She’d laughingly enjoyed bowling with him and his idiot brothers. And one Saturday, she’d given up a spa day with her friends to go to a ball game with him. Even more shocking, she’d had fun listening to his witty remarks and watching the game.

He was constantly surprising her by bringing her coffee or lunch when he had the chance, making her whole day brighter with just a glimpse of his smile. She’d never been with a man who seemed to like her so much, who made her like
herself
so much. With Flynn, Maddie saw herself as a strong woman worthy of admiration—for more than her looks.

And their relationship showed no sign of slowing down. He didn’t react if she had to cancel on him, other than to show regret. He’d been busy himself, getting more work because of the jobs he’d done up north. She didn’t like him spending so much time away from her, and that worried her.

Oddly enough, the times spent at her house, they didn’t have sex. Whether he thought she might be embarrassed around her friends or he was, she didn’t know. She only knew it bothered her that they had boundaries between them.

Boundaries
you
put
up
first
.

“Hey, anybody home?”

Her heart raced. Flynn had arrived. She had butterflies thinking about taking that next step with him. For now, best to keep to what she and Flynn did best. Have fun and have sex.

“In here.”

He opened the screen door she’d kept unlocked for him and eventually found her in the office. “Hey, beautiful.” He smiled at Abby, then turned a feigned surprised look her way. “Oh, and you too, Maddie.”

She poked him in the stomach.

Abby snickered. She twirled in her chair to face them. “I told you he had taste. Now shoo, you two. I’m working and I need the quiet. Go pal around outside or upstairs. Whatever.”

Flynn dragged Maddie from her desk. As if he had to try that hard.

“Where’s Vanessa?” He wore that wary look on his face he usually had regarding her cousin.

It didn’t help that Vanessa had nearly bashed his head in with a baseball bat the first night Flynn had slept over. But in the dark, she’d had a right to be afraid.

“She’s hanging with Cam, I think,” Abby called from behind them.

“Cam?” Flynn frowned. “I thought he was out of town.”

“I guess not.” Maddie didn’t pull her hand from his, warm at the feel of his calloused fingers cupping hers with a gentleness he seemed to hold just for her.

“I don’t know if I like the thought of your cousin corrupting my brother.”

She laughed. “You’re kidding, right? Vanessa’s tough, but I doubt anything can scare a McCauley.”

The intense look he gave her scalded her to her toes. “You’d be surprised.”

She increased the wattage of her smile, pleased when he blinked. “Speaking of surprises, I have a few for you tonight. Want to go for a walk first?”

He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Together?”

“Yes, together, you moron.”

He squeezed her hand. “Do I have to let you go?”

“Do you want to?” she teased, feeling very unlike herself.

He pulled her in close and kissed her with one of his trademark bone-melting embraces. She shivered when he pulled away, as always, aware of the powerful muscles that surrounded her. Part of the thrill with Flynn was that he could so easily dominate her. Physically. Yet he left the control in her hands, unless they made love.

BOOK: The Troublemaker Next Door
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