Page 14

“She did,” he said. “She never believed in sugarcoating the bad in the world.” He pulled cheese and apples from the fridge and set them on the counter. “And I already knew the world was a rough place. Being scrawny and white had some serious downsides in Uganda and parts of South America. I learned to be tough early on.”

“You got in fights?”

He laughed a little. “More like I got beat up a lot.”

“Oh, Wyatt,” she murmured. “No.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t a surprise. I was almost always the wrong color, and then there was Darcy and her big mouth—which got us in a lot of trouble.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “But I don’t like your parents very much.”

“It wasn’t all bad.” He’d been helping himself to the pantry, opening cupboards, perusing the shelves. He added peanut butter to his growing pile, and then tortillas. “I learned how to fight dirty, and to run real fast. Oh, and if all else failed, I was a pretty damn smooth talker when I needed to be.”

This was true. She had firsthand experience at what a smooth talker he was. In bed, she’d do just about anything he asked, and all because he had a way of asking . . . She shook that off and looked at him.

His grin went wicked. “I don’t know what you were just thinking about,” he said. “But keep thinking it.”

She rolled her eyes.

He found a pan and put it on the stove top. In five minutes he’d made two grilled quesadillas, cut up the apples, and spread peanut butter on them. “Not fancy,” he said. “But high in protein, anyway.”

Q-Tip magically reappeared when the food was ready. “Meow.”

Wyatt smiled and crouched low to meet her, scratching her beneath her chin.

“Careful,” Emily said. “She usually bites after about five seconds—”

Q-Tip rubbed her face on Wyatt’s thigh and began to purr.

“Cats like me,” he said.

Yeah, and dogs. And women . . .

They sat at the table, Wyatt with his long legs spread out, nearly touching hers. “Eating peanut butter always reminds me of my mom,” she said into the comfortable silence.

He licked peanut butter from his thumb. The sucking sound made her ni**les go hard. “She like peanut butter?”

“She loved the stuff. We’d watch reruns of Friends and eat right out of the jar with wooden spoons.”

“Was she sick for a long time?” he asked.

“Unfortunately. She got an MS diagnosis when I was ten. She didn’t pass away until right before I left for vet school. She fought the good fight.”

“How does your dad do without her?”

“He pretends to be fine, but I think he’s struggling. It’ll be better when I’m back in L.A. and can do more than just send money.”

“You send him money?”

She shrugged. How had they gotten here? “Sometimes.”

“And your sister,” he said. “You helping support her, too?”

“She just got a job at a local construction company,” she said. “So she’ll be pulling her own weight now.”

Hopefully . . .

“So you’re the mom, the sister, the provider, everything,” he said, nodding. “Explains a lot.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

He leaned in and gently tugged on a strand of her hair. “Don’t get all defensive.”

“Too late.”

He smiled, like she was amusing him. “It means,” he said patiently, “that I get now why you’re a little . . .”

She narrowed her eyes. “What?”


“I am not . . . anal.”

He picked up her cell phone from the table. Swiped his thumb across the screen and hit calendar.

“Hey,” she said.

He turned the screen so she could see, not that she needed to. The Plan—really just the calendar date with two entries:

— 341 days left in Sunshine

— Check your bid on Wyatt

He arched a brow at her. “Bid on me?”

“Lilah’s doing that auction.”

“You bid on me?”

“Well, yes,” she said. “But only because I felt bad for you. Dell had way more bids.”

He laughed. At her, of course. Dammit. “I forgot about that thing.” He pulled out his own phone, and after a minute of wild thumbing, he set it on the table, looking smug.

“What?” she asked.

“I bid on you, too.”

Oh good Lord. “You shouldn’t have. I was outbid on you by Cassandra, and I don’t intend to put in another.” She snatched up her phone, and rising to her feet, she shoved it in a drawer. “And so I like to be organized, so what?” When she turned back, she nearly plowed into him.

He stroked a finger over her temple, down to her jaw, then back to her chin to hold her gaze in his. “Sometimes the best things are unplanned,” he said quietly.

Her gaze dropped to his mouth. It was a really great mouth, and the problem was that now she knew exactly what he could do with it.

He paused then closed his eyes a moment. Finally he took their dishes to the sink. When he’d rinsed them and slid them into the dishwasher, he turned to her. “It’s late.”

“I know.”

He came toward her, took her hand, and led her down the hallway. The first bedroom had posters of half-naked women on the walls.

“Sara’s room,” she said.

He tugged her to the last bedroom without comment, pulled back her covers and turned to her expectantly.

She climbed into bed, and then gaped when he started out of the room. “Wait— You’re . . . going?”

“To the couch,” he said.

“But . . . why?”

“I’m not leaving you alone if you’re still scared.”

This left her torn. She wasn’t still scared. In fact, she was convinced she’d completely overreacted. But if she told him so, he’d leave. “What if I said I wasn’t sure what I was?”

He came back to the bed and looked down at her from fathomless, dark eyes. “I’d help you decide.”

Liking the sound of that, she opened the covers and scooted over.

Gaze still on hers, he bent and swooped up the cat at his feet and gently set her outside the bedroom and shut the door.

“Meow!” sounded from the hallway.

“One female at a time,” Wyatt told her, and kicked off his battered sneakers.

Emily’s pulse kicked.

He reached over his head and pulled off his sweatshirt.

And then his T-shirt, which said: To Save Time, Let’s Assume I Am Never Wrong.

She laughed, and then held her breath, hoping his cargo pants were next because, though she loved how he filled them out, she loved, even more, how he looked without them.

But he slid onto the bed with his pants still on.

“You forgot something,” she said.

He pulled her into him and tucked her face into the crook of his neck. “I’m giving you a chance to make sure.”

“You can’t do that with your pants off?”

“Not around you. You’ll act first, think later.”

She laughed and gave him a shove, but didn’t budge him. After a beat, he rolled to his back so that she was sprawled over the top of him. His hands immediately slid to her ass.

“Tell me the truth,” he said, his voice rumbling through his chest and through hers. “You really still scared, or did you just hope to lure me into sleeping with you?”

She bit her lower lip.

He looked into her eyes and laughed softly. “Emily.”

“I can’t help it! We have all this stupid, ridiculous chemistry! And have you seen yourself?” She lifted her weight off him with her arms and glanced down at his bare, beautiful, chiseled torso. “You’re a little bit hard to ignore, Wyatt.”

With a groan, he closed his eyes but—she couldn’t help but notice—he kept his hands on her ass. “You shouldn’t tell me this stuff, Emily.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll take advantage.”

She paused for a long beat then nipped his chin as she pulled off his glasses. “I wouldn’t mind,” she said.

He swore low and rough, sounding deliciously strained. It was a thrill, as was the erection he had pressed between her legs. “Would it help if I told you I totally lied about being scared?” she whispered, and kissed one corner of his mouth.

His hands tightened on her. Squeezed. “From the get-go?”

“No,” she said. “Just from the time you showed up at my door and made me forget my troubles.”

He was still for a beat, and then he rolled again, pinning her beneath him, his hands stretching her arms above her head. His muscled thigh spread her legs, holding her open so that he could rest between them.

“Ding, ding, was that the right answer?” she whispered hopefully. Breathlessly.

He was laughing when he let go of her long enough to divest himself of his pants, produce a condom—thank God someone was thinking clearly!—and set it on the nightstand. “Just in case,” he said.

“I love just in case,” she said.

He laughed again, and kissed her.

She reached for the condom, and in the next moment he slid into her, and suddenly neither of them were laughing . . .


The next day Emily staggered home after twelve straight hours of being on her feet. A really rewarding twelve hours though, and she felt good about the animals she’d seen and treated, and in two cases, saved.


She scooped up Q-Tip, gave her the allowed five second cuddle, and set her down before getting bit. She dropped her bag, kicked off her shoes at the front door, and followed her nose, which was twitching at the amazing scent coming from the kitchen.

Sara was there, still dressed in her construction gear, which today consisted of a man’s large T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, a black sports bra beneath, and a pair of guy’s cargo shorts. Oh, and steel-toed shit-kickers.

“I could kiss you,” Emily told her.

“Because I cleaned the place?”

“Because you’re cooking dinner.”

“Would you feel less like kissing me if I said I used your debit card to buy the groceries?” Sara asked. “Because my entire paycheck went to college debt.”

Emily sighed. She was tired of always being broke, but it was a way of life. She sniffed and nearly moaned as she headed toward the stove, shedding her scarf and sweater on the table. “I’m torn between feeling really guilty, and incredibly grateful.”

“Why the guilt? Because you’re a total slob who had shit all over this house, including two weeks of laundry that I finally did for you? Laundry that included a pair of torn panties stuffed into your jeans back pocket?”

Emily went still. “That’s old news.”

“And the whisker burn on your throat? Or the sound of a man walking down the hallway this morning, swearing when he tripped over Q-Tip somewhere around the crack of dawn?”

Emily grabbed the scarf and put it back around her neck, ears burning. Not such old news. . . “Let’s talk about you. Why are you becoming Miss Sara Homemaker all of a sudden, cooking and doing laundry?”

Sara pointed a wooden spatula at her. “Don’t make me hurt you. Grab a plate.”

“You didn’t have to do this,” Emily said, taking out two plates and silverware. “I take it you haven’t heard from Rayna.”

Sara sighed. “I wouldn’t know.”


“I sort of blocked her phone number so she can’t call or text me.”

Emily stared at her. “Why?”

“Self-preservation,” Sara said. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to fall completely in love with someone, and then have them accidentally squash you like a grape? She seriously has no clue why I broke up with her.”

“And why did you break up with her?”

Sara went mum.

Emily sighed. They’d been doing this for a month now.

“Look,” Sara finally said, “it doesn’t matter why. What matters is that she was okay with me breaking up with her. So okay with it that she wanted to remain friends.”

“But that’s nice, isn’t it?” Emily asked. She took in Sara’s glare. “Okay, so not nice?”

“The f-word? Are you kidding me? I gave her the best two years of my life.” Sara picked up the pan, and with a jerk of her wrist, flipped a crepe and then slammed the pan back down on the stove. “Whatever. It’s done. I’m over her.”

“Clearly. Maybe if you told me why you broke up with her—”

“Bring it up again and no crepes for you.” Sara expertly deposited the crepe onto a plate and poured more batter into the pan. “So back to the torn panties and the man in our house.”

“I’m pleading the fifth,” Emily said.

“So I suppose you don’t want to discuss the whisker burn on your throat then, either.”

Emily tightened her scarf. “Don’t make me block your texts and calls.”

Sara’s sharp gaze landed on her. “That bad?”

More like that good. . . “Um . . .”

Sara studied her for a heartbeat, and then smiled. “You’ve extended the one-night stand. Nice.”

Emily plopped to a chair, set her elbows on the table, and dropped her forehead into her hands. “No. Not nice.”