Except he didn’t. He didn’t have shit.
Her pale eyes lifted, and locked on his own in the mirror. As her lids flared, he knew there was too much hunger showing on his face and he hated the position he was putting her in. But he had run out of patience, out of pride, out of sanity.
All he was, as he stood behind her, was need.
Anne’s chest rose and fell as she took a deep breath. “You need to measure me,” she said in a low voice.
Oh, I am, he thought, as his stare drifted down her body.
Her head shook back and forth, but she didn’t step away and she didn’t stop looking at him. “This can’t happen.”
It sounded like she was trying to convince herself, and he took that as a good sign.
“Yes,” he growled. “It can—”
“I can’t pretend anymore. It’s killing me, Anne.”
The shock on her face was open to interpretation: Was it because he’d offended her? Or was it because she’d been fighting the attraction, too?
“How we doing in there?” Mike said from the far side of the curtain.
Talk about shattering a moment.
Without any prompting, Danny measured those shoulders, noted the number, and then went around and got down on his knees. Lifting his eyes, he stared up her body.
“I won’t fuck you over,” he said. “I promise.”
Annoyance crossed her face. “I won’t let anyone fuck me over, so don’t worry about that.”
You’re so hot, he thought.
But he didn’t want to press his luck. “I can do this measurement for you. And I won’t get—you know, inappropriate.”
“Little late for that,” she muttered. But then she widened her stance. “If that hand of yours goes anywhere it shouldn’t, you’re going to get put on disability. Permanently.”
As a wave of lust shot through him, Danny swayed, but caught his balance. “Put your heel on the end.”
Tucking the tape under her running shoe, he stretched the length up inch by inch, passing her tight calves, and her knees, and the teardrops of her thigh muscles.
Inside her legs . . . inside, toward her . . .
Anne stepped back. “Let’s just estimate that. What have you got so far?”
His brain lagged in translating. “Ah. . .”
After he reported some sort of number, she said, “Tack on another three and call it a day.”
“What about your waist? Or your hips, I think it is.”
“I’ll do that.” She snatched the tape and put it around her pelvis. “Thirty-six. And waist is . . . twenty-six.”
“I’ll take these out to Mike,” he said. “And we’ll see what we got.”
As he stepped out of Shag-la-la, Danny was breathing too deep and his head was ten-beers-in fuzzy. Then he doubled back and leaned through the curtain again.
Anne was staring at herself in the floor-length mirror, her brows down tight, her arms wrapped around her waist. When she saw him, she jumped.
“Did we forget something?”
He lowered his lids. “You’re going to the bachelor party, right? Because that’s in the job description of a groomsmen, straight up.”
At eight o’clock, Anne stepped out of her house and locked the door. Shoving her hands in the pockets of her Patagonia parka, she blew out a breath and watched the white cloud disperse into the dark night. Her street was quiet, which was why she chose to live on it. The neighborhood was made up of young families with kids who went to bed early and retirees who kept the same schedule for different reasons—
As a stretch limo turned onto her street, its bumping din was an out-of-place that made her add another regret to her list for the weekend.
And that was before Moose popped out of the sunroof, a beer in each hand. “Siiiiiiiissssssssssssssssssttttttttttterrrrrrrrrrr!”
Everyone at the damn firehouse had a nickname, and she’d gotten hers because she was the chief’s frickin’ sister.
It was just another example of the legacy that hung over her: her father, Tom, Sr., a supposed hero in the department until his death, and then her brother, Tom, Jr., a ball-busting badass who made dealing with a kraken seem like a cakewalk.
The limo lurched to a halt at the end of her driveway, and she hustled down to it on the theory that the faster she got in, the quicker her neighbors would be left in peace.
“What’s going on, groomsman!” Moose hollered. “We gonna do this or what!”
The rear door opened, and old-school Stones blared as Danny vacated the interior and stretched to his full height. She was surprised to see him in slacks and a button-down. He was usually in an NBFD wardrobe whether he was on or off duty.
“Hey,” he said as she came up to him. “I talked to Moose. No strippers. Deandra put her foot down. So we’re just going to hang at the Local.”
The Local was the firefighter union’s meeting hall, and not a place anyone would ever jump naked out of a cake.
Anne shrugged. “I can always Uber home if I don’t like what’s going on. Moose needs to do Moose without regard to me.”
On that note, she ducked down and leaned in. A cheer rose up, eclipsing the rock and roll.
Everyone she expected was there: Jack and Mick, Moose and Danny’s roommates, who were on the SWAT team; Patrick “Duff” Duffy, the 499’s resident golden boy; Deshaun Lewis, the engineer, and his cousin, Ty, who was on Search and Rescue; and Emilio Chavez, who was another member of the 499 crew.
If you counted Danny and the groom, it was well over seventeen hundred pounds of muscle, and she wondered how the limo’s suspension was handling the load.
“How we doing, boys?” she said as she shuffled herself in.
All kinds of “fuckin’ great” rippled around while she parked it in the only vacant space, between Duff and Jack. As a beer was passed her way, Danny squeezed his heft in and pointed at Duff.
“What?” the blond guy asked.
“Move. You’re in my seat.”
The chatter died down, and Anne had to admit she was surprised, too. But Danny was not joking.
“Come on, Dannyboy, what—”
Duff got up grousing. “Whose lap am I in then?”
“Mine!” Moose said as he patted his knees. “Last night as a single bastard, I want to live it up!”
“Well, if you put it like that.” Duff changed the song. “I might as well put on a show.”
Danny sat down next to her as a hush fell over the crew, and then—
Of course, Anne thought. Like a Virgin.
As the song started, Duff looked over his shoulder at Moose and blew him a kiss. “ ’Cuz I ain’t never did this before.”
“That’s J. Cole,” Deshaun said. “Not Madonna.”
“Don’t interrupt the art, my dude.” Duff extended himself out the sunroof and went full-on Pavarotti. “I made it throuuuugh the wiiiiiiiiiiiildernesssssssssssssssss, somehow I maaaaaaade it throoooooooooooooooooooooough . . .”
Duff had a beautiful face and a great body, but dear Lord in Heaven above, he moved like a white boy who’d had both his legs recently broken. And his singing? Not only was he not a candidate for The Voice, she imagined dogs all over town were looking for noise-canceling headphones.
“So how you been, Anne?” Jack asked her while Moose slapped that ass.
As Danny’s roommate looked over at her, she was happy for the distraction and struck by how handsome he was. He had a military haircut that was so tight, his scalp showed around his ears, and he was in all black, from the slacks to the button-down. Heavily muscled, just like Mick, he had the air she had come to associate with trained killers: He was totally calm, as if he knew, from firsthand experience, that he could handle anything that might come his way.
“Good,” she answered. “You?”
Duff tackled the chorus like only a tone deaf, half-drunken, former linebacker could: all volume, no pitch, desecration all around.
“I got teargassed today in training.” Jack wiped his face. “My eyes are still stinging. So if I tear up?”