Page 17

“So the answer’s yes.”

Like a moth to the flame, she turned back. “Yes what?”

“Yes, you’ve been burned.”

His hand came up and cupped her jaw, his long fingers sinking into her hair. “It’s because we’re all assholes,” he said.

“The entire male race?” she asked, meaning to tease, but her voice came out soft and a little shaky.

“Every last one of us.” His gaze dropped to her mouth as the pad of his thumb gently rasped over her lower lip. “Remember that on this new lease on life you’re going for.”

Since she doubted she could speak, she nodded. And then, before she could do something really dumb, like let the vodka talk her into kissing him, she backed away, turned, and headed up the stairs.

At the top, she moved to her bedroom door, looked into the cold, empty room, and then turned back and . . . tripped over Oreo, who’d followed her. “That’s it,” she said. “There’re too many men in this house.” She crouched low to love up on the sweet, sleepy dog. “And one of you is nosy, mysterious, and smarter than the average bear, yes he is.”

Had she been burned by a man?

Hell yes. Not that she was going to talk about that.

Ever.

“We’re not going to like him,” she whispered nose to nose with Oreo. “You hear me? No more melting over him, either of us. I’d ask you to shake on it but you don’t have opposable thumbs.”

“Would you like me to shake on it?” came the low, amused male voice behind her.

She grimaced to herself and rose, turning to face Parker. “Okay, new rule. Wear a bell or stop sneaking up on me.”

He smiled easily. “You’ve got a lot of rules. You should know, I’m not much of a rule follower.”

“Try real hard,” she suggested.

“I will if you will.”

She stared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean? You have rules for me?”

“Only one. And it’s easy,” he said. “No W’s.”

“W’s?” she repeated.

“We’re coexisting here in this house for the duration, right?” he asked.

“Right,” she said slowly.

“So let’s do just that, in the moment,” he said. “No wondering, wishing, or worrying.”

She stared at him some more. “I don’t understand.” But she did. She understood exactly even before he stepped into her, before her heart kicked into gear, before he gently pushed her up against the wall and then not-so-gently kissed her.

Heat swamped her because, holy cow, this was not like when she’d sweetly, chastely kissed him on his first day here.

Not. Even. Close.

Of their own accord, her hands slid up his chest and fisted in his shirt to hold on tight for the ride—and it was a ride. A helpless moan clawed its way out of her throat, but just as it was getting good, really really good, Parker broke away.

Stepping back, he looked deep into her eyes. Apparently he saw something he liked because he smiled. “I’d suggest rule number two be that you try to keep your hands—and mouth—off me,” he said. “But as it turns out, I like both of those things very much.”

It was official. She really was going to have to kill Wyatt for asking to let Parker stay in her home. And then Darcy just on principle. And then Parker himself.

Slowly.

Sure she’d go to prison for it, and she looked horrible in orange, but she felt it would be worth it. Especially when, with a soft laugh, he vanished into his room.

Nine

Zoe was still a little mad at herself when her alarm went off two hours after she’d finally crawled into bed. She stared up at the ceiling wondering what had possessed her to stay up until three in the morning on a workday.

Idiocy, that’s what.

And okay, maybe a little misguided lust.

Misguided, because hot as Mr. Mysterious was, she wasn’t going there, not with him—no matter how much she might secretly want to.

She blamed the vodka for that. Surely it had been the over-imbibing that had made him seem sexier than he really was, not to mention made that kiss seem like the very best kiss of her entire life.

Stupid vodka. Why couldn’t the alcohol have made her forget the taste of Parker, the heat he’d generated, the way his hard body had fit against her softer one?

Instead, it was making her replay the entire scene every two seconds.

Don’t think about it now, she ordered herself. Yeah, right. She’d have better luck attempting not to draw air into her lungs. Racing around her room to gather clothes, she headed to the bathroom, this time pausing outside the door to listen carefully before she barged in. The other shower had been fixed, so he’d probably be using that one. She still knocked twice to make certain before entering, rushing through her morning routine, forgoing makeup and hairstyling to be on time.

So she was doubly mad when she finally arrived at the airport only to find that her morning flight lesson had been cancelled.

Now she looked like crap and she had nothing to do for three hours.

Parker had tried to go to bed, but after that kiss with Zoe he was way too keyed up to sleep and gave up after an hour. Instead he changed into running clothes and hit the streets.

Running cleared his mind. Not that he’d been up to running since nearly being killed by Carver, but he thought today felt like a good day to get back to it.

A few minutes in he was doubting that thanks to the fact that each step jarred his ribs and made him want to go crying to his mama.

The sun wouldn’t rise for another hour. The air was high-altitude dry and a perfect-for-running fifty degrees. Probably later it would be a scorcher, but for now he had the cool predawn air and the world to himself, it seemed. The only sounds came from a high wind rustling the pines that were gently swaying like hundred-foot-tall ghosts and the sound of his feet hitting the pavement.

When he came to a bridge he stopped in the middle and pretended to look down at the river beneath moving slow and meanderingly. Breathing hard, hurting like hell, he gulped for breath. After a few minutes, still not ready to continue, he pulled his phone from his running shorts pocket. Accessing his camera, he focused it on the last of the moon seemingly sinking into the water with the blue glow gliding over the rocky riverbed.

He sent the pic to Amory, thumbing in a quick miss you. When he got a ping that told him the message had been sent, he shoved the phone back into his pocket and forced himself to keep going.

As Sharon had pointed out, he needed to get back to lean, mean fighting shape for the job. He’d worked his ass off to climb the ranks. He wasn’t going to let anyone think he wasn’t able to get back to it. And if a small part of him realized that in pushing himself so hard to become something important, to make something of himself, he’d instead become a workaholic like the workaholic parents he resented, he ignored it.

His phone buzzed an incoming text. He was smiling as he pulled it back out of his pocket, already formulating his teasing response about Amory being up so early.

She loved when he sent her pics and stories. A late-in-life baby, she’d been born with Down syndrome when Parker had been twelve. Their parents had qualified for state funding and had gotten help, and they’d been lucky enough to have that help genuinely love and care for Amory. But this had created an unexpected problem. Amory had been overprotected and overshielded from normal life at every turn.

Source: www_Novel12_Com