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“I will tell you that the congregation will want to host a light meal directly after the service.”


“Casper was very well-liked with the members of the congregation. They’ll want to share their condolences with you.”

None of Casper’s sons knew what to say to that.

The pastor left, and Brandt, Tell and Dalton stared at one another. Tell looked around and rubbed the back of his neck as if spooked by something. “Do you ever get the feeling you’re in a parallel universe?”

“Yeah. And on that note, let’s get outta here.”

Rory showed up at Dalton’s house right after work. She didn’t mention the half-empty bottle of Laphroaig on the coffee table in his living room. Nor did she mention the fact he stared blankly at the TV that wasn’t on. She just crawled into his lap and wrapped herself around him.

Despite him dosing himself with scotch, his body was nowhere near relaxed. She ran her hands through his hair. “Hey.”

Dalton came out of his haze enough to say, “Hey,” and kiss the top of her head.

She was at a loss for what to say, so she just stayed close. Whether he needed or appreciated her gentle touches wasn’t the point; she just wanted him to know she was there.

After a bit he sighed. “Did you want a drink?”

“No.” She got in his face. “Maybe I’ll just get a little taste from you.” She pressed her lips to his. Licking and teasing until his mouth opened and her tongue snuck inside.

Rory moaned softly at the smoky mix of scotch and Dalton. She sought out every taste, keeping the kiss easy.

His hands slid up her back and curled over her shoulders, pulling her closer so they were chest to chest. Then those wonderfully rough-skinned, highly skilled hands were in her hair.

The man had such a thing for her hair.

The kiss didn’t catch fire; it stayed on the sweet side, the comforting side. The I-love-you-and-I-don’t-know-how-to-help-you side.

Dalton moved his lips to her ear. “I’m glad you’re here, Rory.”

She angled back to look into his eyes. “Is there anything I can do?”

“I’d ask you to get drunk with me, but I hit it a little hard earlier so I’m done for the night.”

“Are you hungry? I could make you something to eat.”

He smoothed the strands of hair he’d tangled up. “Come to think of it, I haven’t eaten all day.”

“Let me fix you a quick sandwich.”

“I’d like that.” He didn’t loosen his hold on her so she waited. “Can you stick around a little longer after that?”

“Of course.” She left a lingering kiss on his lips before she retreated to the kitchen.

Her stomach growled so she made an extra grilled cheese sandwich for herself. She heated up a can of tomato soup, found the crackers and set everything on the table.

She draped her arms around his neck from behind and kissed his temple. “Soup’s on.”

Dalton ate most of the meal. He didn’t speak besides to tell her thanks for cooking for him a couple of times.

Rory couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so helpless. But she wouldn’t push him to talk even when she wanted to know everything running through his brain. Every weight on his heart.

He stood. “I’m gonna hit the shower.” His gaze swept over the stove and returned to her. “Don’t even think about doin’ them dishes.”

“Quit bossing me around and take your shower.”

As soon as she heard the water kick on, she loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen. She poured him a glass of iced tea and left it on the coffee table next to the scotch.

She didn’t have a change of clothes and she’d worn her uniform long enough, so she grabbed a pair of Dalton’s athletic shorts, a sleeveless T-shirt and a pair of socks. She was in her bra and panties when he walked into the bedroom, holding a towel around his waist.

A little drool might’ve slipped out the corner of her mouth. As many times as she’d seen his sculpted body, as many times as she’d had her hands and mouth all over those cut muscles and pressed herself that warm male skin, she should be used to the rolling wave of lust whenever she caught sight of him nude.

But she hoped she’d never get used to it. Never take for granted this sexy hunk of man was with her. And if he had his way, he’d be with her for the long haul. Rory had started to believe that might actually be possible for them.

Then he dropped the towel and that tight round butt was within reach.

Under normal circumstances she’d play grab ass with him. Scrape her nails down his back while her mouth attacked the back of his neck. Or she’d drop to her knees.

Rory did none of those things. “I borrowed some clothes if that’s okay.”

Dalton spared her a glance. “Anything I have is yours, so no worries.” He slipped on a pair of flannel pants—he’d gone commando, no surprise—and a white T-shirt.

The man rocked a plain white tee like no one’s business. She could see the muscles in back ripple. The flex of his arms showed off those biceps, triceps and forearms. Not to mention his shoulders seemed nearly as wide as the doorframe.

“While I love how you’re lookin’ at me, sugarplum, I don’t think I’m up to takin’ you for a tumble.”

She saw he’d been watching her in the mirror. “I was just admiring you.” She walked to him and wrapped her arms around his middle, resting her chin on his shoulder. “No pressure to get naked with me. But I won’t hide my lustful thoughts from you either.”

Dalton lightly brushed his lips over hers, and said, “I love you. It’s there. All the time. Like your lust. And I won’t hide it from you or anyone else either.” He planted a chaste kiss on her forehead and grabbed her hand. “Watch some mindless TV with me?”


In the living room he flipped on the TV and stretched out on the couch. He patted the cushion and she stretched out in front of him so their bodies touched from head to toe.

He wasn’t the guy who clicked through channels. He picked a channel and stayed there. Some sitcom was on but Rory had no idea which one and she doubted Dalton would know either.

Talk to me. Please.

Rory felt his lips on her crown. The random kisses and constant caresses were the only sign of normalcy in him. She had no idea how much time had passed and she’d started to drift off when he spoke.

“The funeral is Friday.”

Her tongue seemed frozen.

“Will you come with me?” he asked softly.

“Of course.”

“Did that just sound like I asked you on a date to my father’s funeral?”

“No.” Rory rolled over and looked into his eyes, repeating, “No. We’re beyond dating anyway.” She placed her hand on his heart and snuggled into him.

A moment later he said, “It was seriously fuckin’ bizarre today. Even now I can’t believe it’s happening.” He talked in a monotone, detailing the events. She remained still, tucked against him, her thumb sweeping back and forth over his pectoral.

“After the meeting with the pastor at the apartment we went to the funeral home.” A shudder worked through him. “Creepy fuckin’ place. Since my dad had made arrangements beforehand, it was just some weird formality. Like if there were additional charges who’d pay for them and all that bullshit. I mean, what kind of charges can a dead guy rack up?”

She barely stopped herself from flinching at his flip response.

“So then this mortician asks if we want to see him, since there wouldn’t be visitation.”

“What’d you say?”

“Brandt turned green like he was gonna pass out. Tell shook his head. But I…” He swallowed hard. “I said yes.”

Oh, baby, no.

“Sounds fuckin’ horrible, but I had to see him for myself. That he really was dead, not just playin’ some big goddamned joke on us, to see if we’d mourn him when he was gone. And how fuckin’ pathetic is it that’s even a possibility? That he’s such a mean bastard he might actually do something like that?” He took a breath and exhaled with frustration. “So I followed the guy back to the viewing room or whatever the fuck it was. And it smelled…” Dalton shuddered again. “I don’t even wanna talk about or think about that. Anyway, there he was, on a steel table, just like on TV, with a sheet covering him. Only part of him I could see was his head. And even though I felt like I was gonna throw the fuck up, I got close enough to look at him. Really look at his face. His skin was this pasty gray, but it was him. The only thing I could think of was he carried that goddamned sneer of his into death. So I got the hell outta there. I don’t even remember what I said to Brandt and Tell. I just know when they dropped me off the first thing I did was crack open the scotch.”

“I think it’s good you got a final look at him. You’ll never have to wonder.”

“Except wonder what the fuck is wrong with me.”


“I felt nothin’ when I looked at him, Rory. Nothin’. Not sadness or anger or even relief. What kind of cold bastard does that make me?”

Her heart was breaking for him but she managed to keep her voice from cracking. “Sweetheart, you’re in shock, okay? Give yourself a break. It’s only been about twelve hours since you found out.”

“So this next stage. Am I supposed to cry?”

Tread lightly. “I think so. Why?”

“What if I don’t? Does that make me an unfeeling bastard? Especially when after Luke died and all that shit went down I swore the man would never make me cry again.”

“Everyone grieves in a different way. You won’t grieve for him like you did your brother. And your brothers won’t grieve the same way you do either.”

He remained quiet, but tense. The way he rubbed her back fluctuated, too, between lazy and fast. Then he quit touching her entirely.