Authors: Kristen Proby
He stops in the doorway and drops his head, as if in defeat, and then turns to me, his eyes sad. “I shouldn’t, Bryn. The girls are here.”
“We’re not naked. The girls will be fine. We’ll probably be up before them anyway.”
He props his hands on his hips and lowers his gaze.
“I’m afraid of hurting you in my sleep,” he admits, his voice a hoarse whisper.
“What?” I ask and instinctively move to him, wrap my arms around his waist and pull him against me. “You’d never hurt me.”
“Not intentionally, not ever.” He cradles my face in his palms and gazes down at me intently. “But when the nightmares come, I get pretty violent, Bryn.”
“I’ll be fine.”
He shakes his head, but I hold on tight.
“If you abandon me now, after the battle we just went through together, I’ll kick your ass.”
His lips twitch before he rests them on my forehead and takes a deep breath.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
He laces his fingers with mine and leads me over to the bed, tucks us both in, and pulls me against him, my back to his front.
“Thank you, Caleb. For everything.”
I hear him sigh before he leans over and kisses the sensitive skin beneath my ear.
“Good night, Legs.”
“Good morning!” Nat announces and kisses my cheek as she moves past me into my living room.
“Morning, sunshine.” Meg grins and kisses my other cheek.
“You two are entirely too chipper for eight thirty in the morning.” I shut and lock the door, as Caleb has instructed over and over again, and lead the girls into the kitchen.
“Oh good, you have creamer,” Meg murmurs as she digs in my fridge.
“I bought it just for you.” I grin over at the pretty auburn-haired woman and then hug Natalie, wrapping my arms around her shoulders and holding her tight. “How are you, little mama?”
“Good.” She grins and hugs me back. “I’m hardly sick at all with this one.” She covers her still-flat belly with her hand and rubs in a clockwise circle.
“You could have brought Livie with you,” I mention as we all fill our mugs and sit at the table.
This is our weekly coffee date. I don’t have to be to work until ten, so we usually meet for a quick cup of something hot and gossip. “Jules stuck at work?”
“Luke loves his mornings with Liv, so they’re good.” Nat waves me off. “And, yes, Jules is in early-morning meetings.”
“Stacy is home with two sick kids.” I grimace and take a sip of hot coffee, leaning my elbows on the table.
“How are yours?” Meg asks and joins us.
“Much better, thank God. They finally went back to school this morning.” It’s been a week since the girls were sick. “As much as I love them, I was about to put them up for adoption if they didn’t go back to school soon.”
“Good morning, ladies.” Caleb saunters into the kitchen, wearing a dark blue Navy T-shirt and black shorts. He smiles at the girls and then turns that smile on me, his eyes warm and tender, as though he’s remembering every little amazingly sexy thing he did to me this morning.
“Good morning,” we all respond in unison.
“What are you up to?” Meg asks.
“I’m gonna work out for a while out back.” He grins at Natalie. “Thanks for letting me install the equipment.”
Natalie smiles and shrugs. “No problem.”
Nat offered her Alki Beach house to the girls and me right after Jules moved out to live with Nate, and I couldn’t love her more for it. It meant that I didn’t have to put my name on a lease anywhere, and the girls and I don’t have to live with my folks.
Caleb offers us a mock salute and leaves through the back door to the fenced yard behind the house, where he’s set up all sorts of odd equipment to work out with.
“How are things with him?” Meg asks and gestures to the back door with her head.
“Fine.” I shrug and take a sip of coffee.
“Are you sleeping with him yet?” Nat asks casually, and I gape at her.
“No,” I lie and take another sip of coffee. “He’s here to protect the girls and me.”
“Right.” Meg rolls her eyes and pushes out of her chair to refill our mugs. “That’s why he looks at you like he wants to rip your clothes off and do you here on the kitchen table.”
It’s fun when he does me on the kitchen table.
But I simply shake my head and laugh.
“Deny it if you want to.” Meg smirks and glances out the back window. “Damn,” she whispers.
“What is it?” Nat asks and rises from the table to see what Meg is looking at. Her eyes widen, and she glances back at me and then outside again. “Holy shit.”
I know exactly what they’re watching.
And, yes, he is a sight to behold.
“How do you ever get anything done around here?” Meg asks as I rise and lean against the sliding glass door, coffee cradled in my hands, and watch the sexy man in my backyard. “I’d just stand around and watch him all day.”
“Uh, Meg.” I glance over at her and laugh. “You have one of these at home,” I remind her, referring to Caleb’s pro-football star brother, Will, who is also Meg’s live-in boyfriend.
“And it’s a good thing he’s gone most of the day or I wouldn’t get anything done either.”
“It’s starting to rain,” Nat observes, but it doesn’t seem to faze Caleb.
He lifts two thick, heavy ropes in both of his hands. The ends are attached to Nat’s photo studio out back. With a firm grip on the ropes, he begins to quickly wave them up and down, the rain pounding down on him, causing his shirt to cling to every muscle as they flex and move with the motion of the exercise.
“Hot damn,” Nat whispers, and I silently agree. He continues to pump his arms furiously, effortlessly. “What does that exercise do?” Nat asks.
“Works his arms, back and abdomen, and it’s cardio, too,” Meg responds and takes a sip of coffee.
Just then, Caleb drops the ropes, bends down to grab a medicine ball and lowers his tall body to the sit-up position.
“Maybe he’ll bend over again,” I murmur, earning giggles from the other two women.
“It’s a good thing Jules isn’t here,” Nat mutters and licks her lips as Caleb holds the medicine ball in front of him, sits at a forty-five-degree angle, and twists from his left to his right, over and over again. “She’d never let us watch him like this.”
“Jesus, that medicine ball is fifty pounds,” Meg whispers, amazed.
“Watch this part,” I urge them as Caleb tosses the ball to the side like it’s a beach ball and assumes the push-up position and begins to easily execute more than a hundred push-ups in two minutes.
“Why aren’t you sleeping with him again?” Meg asks, and I choke on my coffee.
“I might be,” I whisper and feel their astonished gazes on me, but I avoid them. “Don’t you dare breathe a word of that to anyone.”
“Who can blame you?” Nat asks just as Caleb stands and returns to the ropes. “Look at those back muscles.”
“Look at that ass,” Meg counters.
“You should see it naked,” I respond, and we all giggle again.
“Should I be grossed out by this?” Nat asks, tilting her head to the side. “He’s practically my brother.”
your brother, Nat,” I remind her with a grin. “And the Montgomery men are freaking hot.”
“That’s no lie,” Meg agrees. “Aren’t you going to be late for work?” she asks me.
“I have a few minutes,” I murmur and feel the familiar pull low in my belly as I watch Caleb lie on the ground again to do more sit-ups.
It would be the perfect position for me to ride him. I might have to suggest that tonight.
“He’s hardly panting,” I observe. “What kind of physical training must he go through to work that hard and have it hardly faze him?”
“Oh girl, you have no idea the rigorous training they go through to become SEALs. It’s not natural.” Nat shudders. “All of the boys have always been athletic.”
“Obviously,” I murmur sarcastically. “It’s a bit intimidating.”
“Caleb can be the scariest person on Earth if he’s pissed off,” Nat informs us, her eyes still glued to him. “He’s just big and strong, and damn intimidating.”
“You should see him with the girls.” I grin, remembering our movie night last week. “He’s funny and sweet.”
I realize the room has gone dead silent. I look at my friends to find them looking at each other and then staring at me. “What?”
“You’ve got it bad,” Nat remarks and snickers. “Welcome to the club.”
“The ‘I Love a Hot Man’ club, sweetheart.” Meg laughs and salutes me with her mug just as Caleb approaches the sliding door, frowning at me.
I step back in surprise as the girls giggle.
“What’s wrong?” Caleb asks, his hair and clothes soaked and a little muddy from the rain and grass.
“Nothing,” I reply and shrug.
He narrows his eyes at me, watching me closely, and then turns his gaze to Nat and Meg.
“What’s going on with you guys?”
“Nothing at all,” Nat replies with a huge grin. “Just girl talk.”
“Uh huh.” He props his hands on his lean hips and watches all three of us for a moment and then shrugs and saunters to the fridge to get a cold bottle of water. “We have to leave soon,” he reminds me.
“I know.” I nod and watch as he saunters out of the room toward the stairway to go up and shower.
Natalie suddenly pulls me in for a long, hard hug. “Good luck,” she whispers and then pulls back.
“Have a good day at the office, dear.” Meg grins.
I love my job. Not only because I’m good at it, but because it’s fun, and I feel like I’m part of a family.
Isaac Montgomery owns this construction business. He is married to Stacy, my first cousin, although she and I were really raised more like sisters. Since leaving Chicago, Isaac has not only looked out for me, but has given me this job in his office, paying me under the table to help in my need to disappear.
Thank God for them.
In the past year, I’ve not only cleaned up Isaac’s accounts and maintained his billing and payroll, but I’ve blended into the camaraderie of the guys who work for him.
Of course, there is harmless flirting and teasing, but at the end of the day, I know the guys all have my back, and they’re fun to joke with when they come into my office with questions about their checks or benefits, or just to chat before they head out to a job site.
But a new guy, Levi Jackson, creeps me the hell out.
He’s never done anything inappropriate, but the way he watches me and the tone of his voice when he speaks to me give me the shivers.
And not in a good way.
He’s a good-looking guy, and probably used to snagging any woman he sets his sights on, if she doesn’t pick up on the creepy factor.
I have a sick feeling in my gut that he’s set his sights on me.
So not gonna happen.
I find myself avoiding eye contact with him, walking past him quickly and generally avoiding him as much as possible. I’d tell him to fuck right off, but he hasn’t done anything to warrant it.
Except give me the creeps.
Isaac shares the office with me but is out with the crews most of the time, leaving the office duties to me, which suits us both just fine. He’s outside instructing a crew on a new project, and I can hear his no-nonsense voice as I check company e-mail.
The front door opens and closes, the hinges groaning loudly.
“We are a construction company,” I remark loudly. “Can’t you oil those damn hinges?”
“I think I’d have to have the boss approve that first.”
My head snaps up in surprise. I was expecting Isaac, but instead, Levi is approaching my desk, a smirk on his face.
“Sorry, I thought you were Isaac,” I respond politely. “What can I do for you?”
“I have a question about the insurance benefits.” He moves around my desk to lean a hip against the edge at my side.
Way too close for comfort.
“I explained the insurance to you last week, Levi.”
He smiles and shrugs, crosses his arms over his chest and leans back a bit, watching me. “I’m slow.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Maybe I just want to come in here and talk to a pretty lady.” He smiles, like he’s trying to pick me up in a bar, and it makes my stomach roll.
“Levi, I’m not interested. If you have questions about payroll or insurance, fine, but I’m too busy to chitchat and am not interested in your come-ons.”
I stand and try to move around him to the center of the office, but he blocks my path and deliberately brushes his arm against my breast.
“You know,” he murmurs and reaches out to run the back of his index finger down my arm, “you don’t look like you belong to a cop.”
What the fuck? How does he know about Jeff? Who the hell is this guy?
I jerk away just as Isaac walks through the office door.
“I don’t belong to a cop,” I reply, my voice ice-cold.
“What the hell are you doing?” Isaac asks, his voice calm, but his blue eyes pissed off.
“I was just asking Brynna some questions about my insurance.”
“He was just leaving,” I announce and glare up at Levi. “If you have any more questions, take them directly to Isaac.”
He holds his hands up as if in surrender and backs away from me. “Sorry to bother you.”
“Get to work,” Isaac snarls.
Levi hurries out the door, slamming it shut behind him, and Isaac turns his cold gaze to me.
“What was that about?”
“Nothing I can’t handle.” I sigh as I sink down in my chair and return to my e-mail, willing my rolling stomach to settle. Dear God, I just want to throw up. I feel like I need a long, hot shower to try to erase the feel of his touch.
Isaac braces his hands on my desk and leans down toward me. “Don’t bullshit me.”
“Levi came on to me.” I shrug and offer Isaac what I hope is a confident smile, but it slips as I’m still shaking from Levi’s cop comment. “Except, why would he say that about me belonging to a cop?”
“He must have seen Matt pick you up yesterday.” Isaac shrugs, as though that explains it all, and it does, thank God. I’ve never mentioned anything about my past before.