Page 13

Yeah, she was coming back to them.

He turned and bumped right into Zoe.

His older sister was, hands on hips, staring at them. “You guys are pretty late.”

“Yeah,” Darcy said from the couch, eyes already closed. “That’s all on me.”

“How can that be, you didn’t have your car.”

Darcy huffed out a laugh. “If you don’t think I can f**k things up with or without wheels, you’ve not been paying attention.”

Zoe turned to Wyatt. “What the hell happened?”

“Don’t bitch at him,” Darcy said.

Wyatt felt the knot that was always in his chest lately, loosen very slightly. Darcy opened her eyes and flashed him a smile that was so brief he might have imagined it.

Then she closed her eyes again and turned over.

Zoe stared down at her and then nudged Wyatt hard with her shoulder.

Her version of a long, hard hug.


Emily got home late. She parked in the driveway and got out, hesitating when she heard that odd sort of howling she’d heard several times now. Not a coyote, she thought.

A dog. And it sounded like it was in pain.

Unable to take it, she was going to have to check it out. It wasn’t quite dusk, but getting there, so she grabbed the flashlight she kept in her car and walked down the street about twenty yards toward the sound, moving faster when she heard it again.

Where was it? She walked a little farther, searching. The houses here were spread out, many of them small ranches with horses and other livestock in the back. She saw nothing odd.

Nor did she hear the cry again.

She kept walking. As the last of the sun sank over the horizon, she came to the last house on the block.

It was a ranch style like the others, with acreage behind it. All the lights were on and there were a handful of trucks in the driveway. As she stood there, the front door opened and a man appeared in the doorway.

She couldn’t make out his features, but lifted a hand and waved, anyway.

He was still for a beat and then returned the wave.

“Did you hear an injured animal?” she called out.

But the guy had already turned back inside the house, shutting the door.

Frustrated and tired, and no longer hearing anything, she turned back and walked home. It was Sara’s boxing night—she’d signed up for lessons at the gym and wouldn’t be back until late. So as she entered the house, she was immediately accosted by Q-Tip.


“Let me guess,” Emily said, dropping her purse and crouching to pet the cat. “You’re hungry.”

Q-Tip bit her ankle.

Emily hissed out a breath and stood up. “I’m changing your name to Satan.” She headed toward the kitchen to feed them both.

“Meow,” Q-Tip said, and ran between Emily’s legs, nearly killing them both.

After feeding the cat, Emily studied the sad contents of the fridge in order to feed herself. Nothing called to her, so she grabbed her purse, and headed back outside.

A quick drive-through would have to do, which she wished she would’ve thought of before getting all the way home—

She stopped, startled by a sudden flash of light that came around the side of her house.

Flight or fight? Flight. Always flight.

Slightly closer to the house than her car, she ran back up the walk while fumbling with her keys at the same time. “Come on, come on,” she whispered on the porch, and finally got the key into the lock, shoving open the front door. Shutting it hard behind her, she hit the lock.

And then the dead bolt.


“Shh.” Emily rush to the living room window. Still in the dark, she peered out.



“I already fed you,” she whispered, staring out the window.

Q-Tip rubbed her face against the ankle she’d bitten only a few moments before. Happily fed, she was feeling friendly now. Emily appreciated that but she couldn’t concentrate on anything but the light. She could see it again, farther away, maybe twenty-five yards. But it was on the other side of her house now, like maybe whoever held the flashlight had seen her coming and retreated behind the house, and then come out on the other side.


Then she heard the distant rumble of a truck engine starting, and headlights appeared, crawling down the street toward her, and she sucked in a breath. When the truck pulled into her driveway, she held that breath and shoved her hand into her pocket, finding the familiar and comforting weight of her phone. Should she call the police? She didn’t recognize the truck, and was so frazzled she couldn’t have said if it was one she’d just seen in her neighbor’s driveway.

It idled in her driveway for the longest ten seconds of her life before slowly pulling back out and driving off.

And then nothing.

At her feet, Q-Tip pulled out the last trick in her arsenal. She began to purr, gazing up at Emily innocently.

In the still of the night, with the only sounds now the rumbly purring and Emily’s own escalated breathing, her cell phone rang, startling her into near cardiac arrest. She answered while still staring out the window into the dark night. “Hello,” she whispered.

“Hey,” Wyatt said. “About tomorrow’s schedule—I’m on surgery detail, so we’re going to start half an hour earlier—” He paused. “You okay? You’re breathing like you’ve been running.”

“Yeah, I’m okay. Gotta question for you, what do you know about the local police response time?”

“Where are you?” he immediately asked.

“At home. I—” She heard the ding-ding-ding of a vehicle door opening, and blinked. “What are you doing?”

“Heading your way,” he said.

“No, don’t. I’m fine.” She moved into the kitchen, with Q-Tip following right on her heels. Emily passed by her bowl and Q-Tip stared at her balefully. “I’m just wondering,” Emily said into the phone. “Being out here in the boondocks and all, how 911 works.”

“The same as in L.A.,” he said. “Fast and accurately. Emily, what’s going on?”

It was his no-fucking-around voice, the one that both animals and people never failed to respond to. It would have taken a stronger woman than she to disobey his unsaid command to Speak, now. “When I went out to my car,” she said, “I saw a glimpse of a beam of light, like from a flashlight, on the side of the house. Except there’s nothing back there. I mean, our yard isn’t fenced in, so really, I guess it could be anyone out for a walk, but—”

“But who walks after dark in someone else’s yard,” he finished. “You inside with the door locked?”

“Yes. I ran in here, and when I looked out the window, the light had switched to the other side of the house. Only I didn’t pass anyone, so they had to have changed directions to come out the other way. I can’t think of why a casual walker would do that. It’s probably nothing . . .”

“Doesn’t feel like nothing,” he said.

“No. And then there was a truck. It pulled into our driveway, sat for a minute, and left.”

“Doesn’t sound like someone just out for an evening stroll.”

“No. But they’re gone.” She pressed her forehead to the window. “I’m fine now.”

“So you don’t want company.”

The house was dark and warm. Sara was gone for the night. If Wyatt came over, it wouldn’t be to guard her body. It would be to worship her body, and no one did that better than him. Even the thought made her weak. “No,” she said. “I don’t need company.”

Q-Tip, who’d given up on getting more food and was back to staring at Emily, seemed to smirk.

Emily rolled her eyes at the cat.

“Need and want are two different things,” Wyatt said.

“In this case, there’s neither,” she said.

“Liar. Double check your locks, Emily.”

“I will,” she promised, and disconnected. And then she did just that, checked the locks and shut all the shades while she was at it.

And then she turned on every light in the place.

Next up was a very hot, very long shower, and when she got out she put on her Mickey Mouse pj’s. She’d lost her appetite, so dinner was off the table.


She scooped Q-Tip up and gave her a nuzzle, which the cat allowed for exactly five seconds before demanding to be set back down.

The knock on the front door nearly had Emily’s heart leaping right out of her ribcage. Q-Tip hissed and took off, disappearing down the hall just as a text came through.

It’s me.

Wyatt. Oh God. Her heart knocked against her ribs again, for a very different reason now.

Let me in.

She stared down at herself, winced, and then thumbed her response: You sound like the Big Bad Wolf.

His response was immediate: Yes. Let me in and I’ll show you what pretty eyes and teeth I have.

She laughed in spite of herself and opened the front door. Wyatt’s arms were up, braced on the threshold above, eyes dark and serious. “Are we going to be stupid?” she whispered.

“Define stupid.”

“Anything that involves either one of us exposing our favorite body parts.” Or their hearts . . .

“I’m going to want to hear about your favorite body part,” he said. “In great detail.”

She felt herself flush. “I’m wearing my birth control pj’s.” Which was a relief. They’d keep her from doing anything stupid.

He took in her Mickey Mouse pj’s, and exaggeratedly waggled a brow.

She laughed. “You can’t possibly find this look attractive.”

His expression said he found everything she wore attractive, and especially everything she didn’t wear, and little tendrils of heat slid through her belly.

And lower.

Wyatt followed her inside, turning to shut, lock, and bolt the door. Then he moved to her living room window, nudging aside the shades to look out into the night. “Is this where you saw the truck pull into your driveway?”


“He see you watching him?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I had the lights off.”

Wyatt stayed like that for another moment then turned to her. “Nothing since?”


“Where’s your sister?”

“Boxing lessons,” she said.

“With AJ?”

“Yes. How did you know that?”

“AJ’s got the only gym in town,” he said. “He’s a good friend.”

Emily frowned. “I hope she doesn’t hurt him. She doesn’t know her own strength.”

Wyatt laughed. “AJ’s ex-navy, tough as hell. No one gets the drop on AJ.” He moved to the kitchen and looked out that window as well. “I walked the perimeter of your house and didn’t see anything,” he said. “Your closest neighbor isn’t all that close, and that house is dark and locked up tighter than a drum.”

“It wasn’t a little while ago. There were trucks in the driveway.”

“Nothing there now.” He turned and looked at her. “You still scared?”

“Unnerved, maybe,” she said. “Not scared.” Not with Wyatt standing there, strong and watching her back.

He studied her a beat, then crooked his finger at her in the universal “come here” gesture. She didn’t even hesitate and when she got close, he tugged her into him. She burrowed deep, sighing as his arms tightened on her. Cheek to his chest, absorbing the comforting steady beat of his heart, she said, “I’m being silly, it was probably just someone who was lost.”

“It’s not silly to feel threatened,” he said, his voice rumbling against her ear. “You’re holding your breath. Breathe, Em.”

She let out a long, shuddery breath and a low, embarrassed laugh when her stomach grumbled. “Sorry.”

“You eat?”

“Not yet.”

He pulled back, grabbed her hand, and headed to the kitchen. “Dinner, then. I’m starving.”

“There’s not a lot of food in the house right now. I was actually going out to get some when I got spooked. I’ve got take-out menus to the places in town that deliver.”

“That’s a whopping total of two.” He shook his head. “Trust me,” he said, heading to her fridge. “I can make a meal out of anything.”


“Yeah,” he said. “Lived all over the world, remember? I was a professional latchkey kid. My sisters and I learned early on to make do with whatever was out there. And trust me, there was a lot of out there stuff. You know what I missed most about the States?”

Fascinated by the way his shirt stretched taut across the broad width of his shoulders as he bent low to survey the contents of the fridge drawers, not to mention how the material delineated the flex and pull of his back muscles, she took a moment to answer. “What did you miss most?”

Still crouched low, he craned his neck and flashed her a grin. “Big Macs.”

She laughed. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I told my mom once that I was going to run away. I was going to catch a train, plane, boat, whatever it took to come back here, and get a Big Mac.”

“What did she say?”

“She said that as I was a scrawny, white boy all of eight years old, I wouldn’t like the jobs I’d qualify for in order to be able to buy a plane ticket.”

“She did not tell that to an eight-year-old!”