He frowned, but nodded.


Even if he couldn’t tell, her pajama top stuck to her back and breasts. After pulling out a thinner, cotton set, she shut the bathroom door behind her and stripped. The cool air rushing over her body was a welcome relief. She turned on the faucet then splashed cold water on her face, which helped even more. Once she’d cooled down, she tugged on her clothes.


After opening the door she found Braden in the same position she’d left him. “Thanks. I didn’t want to come out to an empty room.”


“Is there anything you want to talk about?” He shifted against the sheets to face her as she sat in front of him.


“No. I think I’m okay now. I’ve had some pretty bad nightmares before but that one ranked in the top three.” She didn’t know if it was because it had been so vivid or because Braden had been dead. Before she could change her mind, she blurted out the question weighing most on her mind. “Would you stay with me?” When his eyebrows rose, she could feel her cheeks heat up. So much for wanting to keep things professional. “Never mind. I’m sorry. That was totally—”


“I’ll stay.” The command in those two words left no room for argument.


Not that she planned to argue.


He walked around the bed and slid under the covers, but lay on his back without turning toward her. He didn’t try to make conversation, but that was fine with her. She only cared that he stayed.


When her head fell against the pillow, the rest of her body became acutely aware that a hot man was inches away and half naked. Suddenly she was too warm to sleep. Trying not to make too much noise, she pushed the comforter off but kept the sheet pulled up.


Even though she was thankful he was there, Braden’s spicy, male scent enveloped her, reminding her of what she wanted but couldn’t have. She turned on her side, hoping to block him out. It didn’t work.


Her entire body tingled as she remembered their brief kisses.


“You still awake?” His deep voice sounded over pronounced in the quiet room.


“Yeah,” she whispered.


Before she realized what he was doing, he draped a heavy arm over her waist and spooned her back into his chest. “I’m right here, Lilly. Nothing’s going to happen.”


Despite the horrifying nightmare and the fact that her mind was working overtime, her body still craved sleep. For the first time in a while she actually felt safe. Closing her eyes to the sound of Braden’s steady breathing and the feel of his strong arms, she let the blackness of sleep overtake her.


Braden shifted against the sheets, trying not to jostle Lilly too much as he glanced at the clock. It was almost seven. He’d dozed off for about an hour after her nightmare. Holding her in his arms had been torture enough, but he’d managed to control himself. Though he wasn’t sure how. When she’d thrown a leg and arm across his stomach and chest however, he’d woken up. And he’d been up ever since.


In more ways than one.


Now he had an erection that wouldn’t quit and the one woman he couldn’t have grinding up against his side. Talk about a nightmare. If only he hadn’t been stupid enough to kiss her. His life would be a hell of a lot less complicated. Now he knew that fire they’d once shared was still there. Not only was it there, but it was a lot hotter than before. He was ten kinds of stupid to even contemplate getting involved with her again.


Lilly was nothing but quicksand for a man like him. It would be so easy to sink back into the feelings he’d once had for her, but if he allowed himself to travel down that road, there’d be no turning back. He’d lost her once, but he’d never forgotten her. Going to war hadn’t erased her memory. Neither had his years in college.


She was always there. Always at the back of his mind. And now she was stretched out across his body and he was primed to go. Each second they spent together he could feel his resolve weakening. He really must be a masochist to contemplate getting involved with her again.


When she stirred, he rubbed a hand over her back, hoping to wake her. This was more than a mortal man should have to tolerate. “Lilly?”


She mumbled something against his chest, but didn’t open her eyes. When the doorbell sounded, he jerked upright.


Lilly rolled over without opening her eyes. “Did I just dream the doorbell rang?”


He brushed a strand of her dark hair out of her eyes and his abdomen tightened. Lying here like this made him want to dream that second chances were possible. “No dream. Stay here. I’ll check it out.”


She muttered something under her breath, then rolled onto her side and clutched a pillow. When the ding sounded again, he picked up his gun from the nightstand then rushed back to his room. After tossing on a sweater and jeans he bounded down the stairs two at a time. Who the hell would be here this early if it wasn’t an emergency?


Gun in hand, he glanced through the peephole. Immediately he dropped his arm and tucked his gun into the back of his pants. “Hold on.” He turned off the alarm, then opened the front door.


“Took you long enough,” his grandmother, Alma Donnelly, huffed as she brushed past him, a covered dish in hand.


“What are you doing here?”


“There’s more in the car. Help an old lady out,” she demanded over her shoulder as she headed toward the kitchen.


Sighing, he did as ordered. In the back seat of her four door sedan he found ten covered casserole dishes. He let out a whistle as he picked up a couple of them. A few trips later, they’d gotten everything inside and he’d locked the front door. So far Lilly hadn’t come down and he doubted she’d even stirred.


“What are you doing here so early?” he asked his grandmother.


She lifted a gray eyebrow and smirked. “I could ask you the same thing.”


He bit back a defensive answer. It wouldn’t matter if he told his grandmother that Lilly was under his protective custody. She’d still assume there was more going on. “Did you cook all this?”


“All the ladies in my Sunday school class baked for the wake tomorrow. With the exception of those two,” she pointed to two green ovular shaped dishes covered in tin foil, “the rest of this doesn’t need to be refrigerated. We’ll bring the warm stuff tomorrow.”


Damn, the wake was tomorrow. It’s not that he’d forgotten exactly, but with everything happening, it hadn’t been high on his list of priorities. “Thanks for bringing this by. I know Lilly will appreciate it.”


“Morning, Alma.” Lilly’s sleep laden voice caused him to turn toward the arched entryway.


“Morning, honey. It’s been too long.” His grandmother covered the distance between them and enveloped Lilly in a giant hug.


Braden couldn’t help but smile at the sight of them. As he prepared coffee, he didn’t bother asking if Lilly wanted a drink as the two women chatted behind him.


“How long are you staying in town?” his grandmother asked.


There was a slight pause, then Lilly answered. “A few weeks. Maybe longer.”


“You’ll have to get Braden here back in church while you’re here.”


Lilly cleared her throat. “He’s a busy man with a lot of responsibilities.”


“That’s no excuse…Listen, honey, I’m so sorry about Debra. Everyone’s going to miss her.”


“Thank you. And thank you for all the food. I don’t know what I would have done without you.” The sincerity in Lilly’s voice was obvious.


“Don’t you worry about a thing. As long as you prepare the coffee and tea tomorrow, the ladies and I will bring the rest of the food. I hate to leave all this and run, but I’ve got some errands to take care of.”


He suppressed a tired grin and walked her to the door. After a peck on the cheek, she hurried toward her car.


“That woman has more energy than a two year old. I can’t believe she brought all this food over so early,” Lilly said, as he walked back in.


“Tell me about it.” Instead of sitting down at the table, he kept his distance and leaned against the sink. “Any more nightmares?”


A faint blush spread across her cheekbones as she shook her head. “No…thanks for staying with me last night.”


Unable to answer, he simply nodded.


“Do you think it’ll be weird having a wake without my aunt’s ashes?”


His hand jerked at Lilly’s left field question, causing him to almost spill his coffee. “No, people only care about paying their respects.”


She bit her bottom lip as she stared into her mug. He started to respond when his phone buzzed in his pocket. “Now what,” he muttered.


When he saw the number he frowned. He didn’t recognize it, but it was a D.C. area code. “Sheriff Donnelly.”


“Sheriff, this is Special Agent Levenson. There’s been a slight delay.”


Braden rubbed a hand over his face and bit back a groan. “What kind of delay?”


“A week at least. I’m on my way to Texas as we speak,” the agent said.


“Bigger case?” It was impossible to keep the annoyance out of his voice.


“Higher body count. From my report, it looks like your guy is killing about every three and half months. I hate to sound crass, but it’s not a priority right now.”


“I called months ago.” Something the other man no doubt knew.


“Listen, we’re not trying to jerk you guys around. That’s why I’m calling personally. I don’t make these decisions, but I understand your frustration.” There was a trace of remorse in Levenson’s voice.


Arguing would be pointless. “I appreciate the call.”


“I’ll be in touch soon.”


As soon as they disconnected, he looked at Lilly and shook his head.


She pushed back her chair and stood. “The FBI isn’t coming, are they?”


He gritted his teeth. “No.”


“We’ve got a good lead and I should be hearing back from my contact soon. You can do this without them, Braden.”

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