“Luke, Jaxon, cool it, would you? Grab me a diaper and some wipes,” Knox said, hoisting the baby up higher in his grasp.
“Oh f**k. Do you smell that?” The taller of the two boys rose to his feet, sniffing the air. “We’ve got a code green!”
“Don’t curse around Bailee, you dipshit.” The slightly shorter boy rose from the couch and shoved the other in the shoulder.
I cleared my throat and four sets of expressive brown eyes swung over to mine.
“McKenna?” Knox asked, his eyebrows rising. “What are you doing here?”
A bundle of nerves rose in my stomach and lodged in my throat. The grand plan I’d hatched about coming here to face him suddenly felt immature and idiotic. He had his own life and responsibilities, and here I was tracking him down like a schoolgirl with a crush.
“I—” My voice squeaked and I started again. “I just wanted to apologize for earlier.” I held up his notebook. “And return this to you.”
His eyes searched mine and his face softened. The little girl in his arms let out a short cry, pulling our gazes apart. “It’s okay, baby girl.” He bounced the little thing on his hip to quiet her like he’d done it a million times before.
“These are my brothers. Tucker.” He pointed to the little boy on the floor. “Jaxon and Luke.” Jaxon was the next tallest after Knox, probably six feet and had longish hair that hung in his eyes, and Luke was just a fraction shorter. “And this is Bailee.” He looked down at the little girl in his arms, but offered no further explanation.
“Guys, will one of you change Bailee so McKenna and I can go talk?”
“Hi, I’m Luke.” The shorter boy offered me his hand and I shook it. His entire hand closed around mine. I’d guess that he and Jaxon were both in high school, and I also guessed with their thick hair and gorgeous eyes fringed in dark lashes, they were both popular with the girls. Just like their older brother.
“Hi, Luke. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Who are you?” Jaxon asked, his mouth in a crooked grin as he looked me up and down.
“I’m a…friend of your brother’s.”
“Knox doesn’t have friends who are girls,” he challenged.
My mouth hung open. I was clueless about how to respond.
Knox stepped between us. “Enough, guys. Go take care of Bailee.” After handing the baby off to Luke, Knox turned to fully face me. I took in his chest-hugging thermal tee, dark denim, and bare feet. It was a side of him I wouldn’t have guessed at. Softer, paternal. It made my stomach tighten. I was used to things in my life being neat and orderly; I liked knowing what to expect. Knox challenged everything I thought I knew, and left me wanting to piece it all together.
“Join me in the kitchen?” he asked.
“Sure.” I waited for him to lead the way. I should have felt intimidated around him, with his broad shoulders and height, but I didn’t. Seeing him around his brothers made me feel completely comfortable.
His jaw tensed as he noticed the boys still watching us. “On second thought, there’s too many little ears down here. Are you okay if we go upstairs?” His dark honey eyes latched on to mine and I was rendered speechless. Join him in his bedroom? I should probably say no. But my head bobbed up and down in a nod.
Knox motioned me in front of him and I started up the stairs.
I could feel his hot gaze on my backside the entire way up the stairs. I wanted to spin around and catch him looking, but then what would I say? Like what you see? I wasn’t that brazen, so I continued climbing while my body heated under his stare that I could feel all the way to my core.
When we reached the second floor, his hand went to my lower back with a feather-light touch to silently guide me, indicating that I should continue up the third flight of stairs to the attic. From the way his fingertips lightly raked against my spine, I could tell he knew his way around a woman’s body. The thought both excited and frustrated me. How many women had he led up these stairs in the exact same manner?
I desperately needed to keep my perspective about why I was here. To help him as a member of my group. That was all. Right, McKenna, that’s why you haven’t stopped thinking about him once…and bussed it across the city just to return a notebook.
When we reached the third floor, the wooden planks creaked as I crossed the large bedroom, light streaming in on both sides from dormer windows set deeply into the vaulted ceiling. His bedroom was set up more like a mini apartment, with a sofa and TV on one side of the room, and queen-sized bed at the far end where the ceilings pitched their lowest.
I couldn’t help but notice the half-empty bottle of whiskey on his bedside table, and the hole punched through the wall a few feet from his bed. A pang of unease about being up here alone with him sliced right through my middle. I didn’t know him. Not at all. Yet here I was, alone in his bedroom. I’d never been so reckless and inquisitive, but something about Knox’s quiet intensity pushed me outside my comfort zone. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about this troubled, beautiful man.
He motioned me over to the sofa and I sat down, my back straight as an arrow with the notebook resting in my lap. I wondered if his bedroom was where Knox took his conquests. I knew the darker side of this addiction and the impulsive behaviors that drove people to sex in public restrooms, alleyways, backseats of cars, and all sorts of strange places. But I didn’t like the idea that Knox’s attic bedroom, where I currently sat with him, might also be the place he lost himself in other women.
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