Read Wild Child (Rock Royalty #6) Online

Authors: Christie Ridgway

Tags: #contemporary

Wild Child (Rock Royalty #6) (9 page)

BOOK: Wild Child (Rock Royalty #6)
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If Brody had ever wanted to fall in love, it would be with this house.

Ash, using the beam from her cell, bounded over the bridge. Then she had the door open, and light came to life all around the house. Fairy ones twinkled in the trees, and warm washes of it illuminated the house from the ground level upward. A stained-glass lantern by the entry spilled fractured color over Ash, standing on the threshold.

Transfixed, Brody approached the magical dwelling. The rain had stopped, and water dripped from the surrounding trees and the deep eaves.

“See?” Ash said, retreating inside, handing him his coat and then shedding her own. “I’ll be fine.”

She continued down a short hallway, flipping switches as she went. Brody took in everything…and the fact that this quirky house was in serious need of repair. Its windows were worse than the roadhouse’s, judging by the pots and pans set below them to capture drips. Water must be leaking in around their frames. He shuddered to think of the state of the roof.

In a kitchen with mismatched appliances of indeterminate age, she slung her raincoat over a chair painted ochre pulled up to a scarred table.

“I lived here until I was ten.”

She swiped up a tea kettle and moved to fill it from a faucet over a stained farmhouse sink.

“Then, um, our parents divorced.” Her hands paused. “I moved north with my mother. My dad and sister stayed here.”

“You came back when they passed,” he said quietly, to spare her having to make that explanation. “Gus told me about the car accident.”

She nodded. “My dad had a girlfriend. They had a place together closer to Malibu. But my…Brae was living here.”

Glancing around, Brody took in the rotting frame of the back door, the cracked window panes bandaged with duct tape, the vent hood over the range that looked ready to fall on Ash’s head.

“This was the only place that ever felt like home,” she whispered, and he suspected she didn’t realize she’d uttered the words out loud.

The only place that ever felt like home.

And yet…she hadn’t been staying here? The house was nearly as convenient to the roadhouse as the trailer.

He looked about him again, noting more signs of disrepair. For all its playful quirkiness, the place also had a fragile air about it, like the wrong sigh or a loud voice might cause it to collapse.

Willie’s song, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” came into his head. God, he wanted to patch this place up so it could soar again. Fly like an angel. Or a bright-winged butterfly. His hands itched for tools.

His gaze continued to roam the space, then snagged on a photo perched on a windowsill. It drew him to it, and even before he could quite tell exactly what he was seeing, his heart thumped dangerously within the tightening confines of his ribs.

He reached for the picture, his hand shaking. Two barefooted little girls stood ankle-deep in the creek outside the house. They wore matching cotton floral-printed dresses, and their pale hair fell in waves to their waists. Small Alices-in-Topanga-Wonderland.

Two girls. Identical in every way.

Identical twins.

“Ashlynn and Braelynn,” Ash said.

His fingers tightened on the frame as he glanced over at her. Her beautiful face gave nothing away—but it didn’t need to. Like him, she was a twin.

She’d lost the other half of herself. Her reflection, her shadow, her double.

Yet all the descriptors used to define the relationship never quite captured the reality. In Brody’s experience, he and his brother were not two pieces of a whole. Instead, he’d found that twinship afforded both of them double-insulated walls against life’s slings and arrows.

Losing that…

Brody could only imagine it would feel as if one stood alone facing a dark chasm, bracing against a driving wind without the certainty that another stood shoulder-to-shoulder beside you.

Like very few others—maybe no one else in her acquaintance, he realized—he could understand what had been taken from her. Though he ached wrapping his mind around it, Brody could grasp how deeply one would be affected by the death of a twin.

God, no wonder they’d been drawn to each other that night.

And he’d never be able to forget her if he left things like this—her livelihood and her shelter in a shambles when she’d already suffered such a profound bereavement.

So he’d bring over his tools. Handle this personally. Not only would he fix the roadhouse, he’d get Ash’s home into shape, too.

Make them all better.

With her life shored up, he’d be able to walk away from her. He’d move on to a tempest-free world and a drama-free woman who would keep him steadied forever.

Chapter 5

 

Mid-Sunday morning, Ashlynn sat at the kitchen table in the old house and called Marcy. The first thing she told her best friend about was the night before’s vandalism at the trailer.

“Oh my God,” Marcy said, and Ashlynn could picture her eyes rounding beneath the bangs of her pixie cut, “Weren’t you scared?”

“Brody was with me.” At the time she’d been irritated that he’d followed her from the roadhouse, but now she couldn’t help being glad.

“Remind me who Brody is. One of the other bartenders or the cook or…”

“He’s the man I slept with the first week of my return.”

Ashlynn toyed with the half-filled mug of tea in front of her. She’d confessed—not all, but enough—the day after it happened.

“Ooooh. When you were letting your free spirit fly.”

Ashlynn found herself smiling. Her friend had a way of taking the tawdry out of things. “That sounds better than calling it that time I got drunk and fell into bed for a random hook-up.”

“You say ‘random hook-up’ like it’s a bad thing,” Marcy complained.

Ashlynn smiled again. “I never had a one-night stand before…Well, I guess there was Lowell Thomas sophomore year.”

“That doesn’t count, since you didn’t intend doing ol’ Lowell only that one time.”

Frowning, Ashlynn spun her mug in a circle. “You’re right. I thought we were destined for a grand romance. I fell hard for his pretty face.”

“Yeah, it blinded you. Because everybody else knew he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, but for as much tail as he could get. I heard he got crabs senior year. Serves him right.”

Ashlynn squirmed in her chair and gathered the folds of her oversized hand-knit sweater closer around her. The rain had let up, but the skies were overcast and there was a decided dampness in the air.

“Ew. I guess I’m glad he dumped me by breakfast.”

“Ash, understand this. You never had him for dinner or even for dessert. He was a fly-by. A fly-by doesn’t dump. Neither does a one-night stand, for that matter. There’s nothing to terminate because the end is implicit.”

“I suppose you’re right about that, too. I don’t feel as if Brody dumped me.”

The weird silence on the other end of the call made Ash nervous.

“Um, Marcy?”

“But that ‘fly-by’ or ‘one-night’ stand or whatever you want to call it happens to be back, right, Ash? There was no actual termination? This Brody’s in your life again?”

She thought of his hand on her face the night before, and a little shiver tickled her spine. His palm had been warm. Callused. From work, she supposed.

Ashlynn cleared her throat. “He’s a contractor. My second-in-command Gus knows him.” Kind of. “So he stopped by to talk about my, uh, needs.”

Marcy chuckled. “I love that. Arrives late at night to talk about your ‘needs.’”

“I’m serious!” Ashlynn protested. “And he has a girlfriend…or at least someone he’s dating regularly.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, oh.”

“Well,” Marcy said in a practical tone. “Then if it feels awkward to have him around, despite his good intentions and even his girlfriend, you don’t have to contract with him to do the work.”

But somehow over mugs of tea last night he’d talked her into letting his company do that very thing. Though exhausted and stressed, she’d been impressed by his no-nonsense proposal—and the fact that the numbers he’d quoted had been more than fair. She guessed he was giving her quite a deal. At the time she’d been grateful instead of concerned.

“He’s, um, kind of a force of nature.”

“Force of nature?” Marcy’s voice turned perky again. “Do tell! I didn’t get any juicy details during your morning after-admission.”

“It was the talk of shame, after all,” Ashlynn reminded her.

Her friend laughed. “I hear something in your voice, Ash. Is this Brody another pretty face?”

She thought of his chiseled jaw, the slash of his dark eyebrows, those blue eyes that had stolen their color from a summer day.

“Understatement.”

And those innocuous two words—“pretty face”—couldn’t begin to cover the breadth of his shoulders, the heavy muscles of his arms and chest, the effortless ease with which he positioned her. Under him. On her belly. Kneeling between his spread thighs.

Oh, God.

Once again, she squirmed in her chair.

“If that dating relationship of his isn’t exclusive, you could always sleep with him again if you wanted to,” Marcy said. “After all, a woman has all kinds of needs.”

Bite your tongue.

As attractive as she found him, as much as she couldn’t forget his mouth, his tongue, their frantic hands on each other’s skin, and the burst and pleasure-flash of the orgasms, there’d also been, finally, that devastating sense of intimacy. During the last round, as dawn had stolen into the bedroom, she’d climaxed with his gaze on her face, hiding nothing as the sharp sweetness that gathered like hot needles at her ankles and then the back of her knees rocketed to her sex where it pulsed in searing waves of excruciating bliss.

It had felt so good it hurt.

And the pain had broken open her heart, releasing tears and grief and a black wave of devastating poison…all that she’d fucked a stranger to forget.

“It
is
kind of awkward,” she said now. “So I’m going to…”
Resist what fascinates me.
“Make sure to keep everything strictly professional. Not personal at all.”

Marcy signed off with the instruction to let her know the results of her new resolve.

Ashlynn ended the call and while contemplating her next move, she heard the crunch of car tires on the graveled parking area alongside the house. Her heart jolted. Vandals?

Hurrying to the nearest window, she nearly tripped over a bowl set out to catch the leaks, and she cursed under her breath as rainwater sloshed over her stocking feet. Her fingers curled over her phone and she pressed herself to the wall beside the glass, then turned her head to peer out.

Darn! That looked like Brody’s vehicle. Squinting, she tried identifying the figure in the driver’s seat. Who else would show up in an expensive black SUV? It must be him.

Okay, okay
, she thought, willing herself to calm. This was fine. A good opportunity to make very clear that they had a strictly business relationship and nothing more.

Or
, she thought, watching him climb out of the car,
I can just pretend I’m not here
.

His long legs strode across the bridge. He wore dark jeans, and underneath a gray hoodie was a waffle-weave Henley that some woman must have bought for him because no man had the patience to search for a shirt that was the exact same shade of blue as his eyes. He’d probably done that female a good turn too—stopped to scoop up her fallen purse or carried her packages to her car—and she’d gone shopping for him instead of stupidly hiding away and peering at him from around a curtain.

Brae would have rushed his way to greet him with a grateful kiss.

So Ashlynn forced herself to step toward the entry, albeit at a slower pace, though she had the door open even as he mounted the last porch step.

He smiled at her, looking rested and muscled and so sexy-handsome that she felt her own lips curve in response.

Resist him
, she reminded her silly heart, the one knocking against her ribs as if to get nearer to him.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, holding tight to the door and crossing the toes of one foot over the other, feeling the dampness of the wet socks.

Someone had hand-knit the pair as well, and she wore them with the matching cream-colored sweater and a pair of old jeans with ripped knees. The cool air kissed her bare skin there and she shivered, then pulled at the sweater’s neckline that had slipped to reveal her naked shoulder and a shell-pink bra strap.

Brody’s gaze flicked down her body then back to her face. “You didn’t call.”

“Oh.”

Ashlynn tried shrugging off the pinch of guilt. Before leaving the night before, he’d given her his card and asked her to phone him in the morning.
I want to know how you’re doing. I want to know what the Sheriff’s people say.

She’d had the presence of mind not to share her own number, but not the common sense to call him as he’d asked—thus precipitating this visit. It was hard to be mad at someone who was kind enough to worry about her.

“You didn’t need to drive all the way here.”

“I had to check on a job in Malibu and this was on the way back.” Studying her face, he shoved his hands into his pockets. “You look tired. Did you contact law enforcement?”

“I met with a deputy at the trailer an hour ago.”

“And?”

The destruction looked even worse in the light of day. “I made a report. They’re sending someone out to take fingerprints.”

“You explained about the kids you turned away?”

“If they
were
kids. But I told him about the disgruntled would-be customers anyway. Five young males in sweatshirts and ball caps. Not much of a description.”

Brody didn’t look happy.

“Yeah.” Withdrawing one hand from his pocket, he rubbed his knuckles against the fine grit of whiskers on his jaw.

Ashlynn looked away before she could start wondering what that manly stubble would feel like against the tender skin of her neck. Or her breast.

“Well. Um. Don’t let me keep you.”

Instead of taking the hint, he moved closer and she smelled him—masculine soap and fresh air.

“Ash.”

BOOK: Wild Child (Rock Royalty #6)
11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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