Page 2


Oh yeah, this is going to be fun.


Chapter 2


Gwen


Hanging up the phone, I make some notes about a new case on the legal pad in front of me. It’s weird being here in the office alone, but it feels good. It’s nice to know my brother trusts me to handle his business while he’s touring the country with Layla. He was hesitant to leave me alone, especially when I told him I had finally bitten the bullet and filed for divorce. After a few weeks with nothing but positive news from my lawyer that William isn’t contesting anything and that he’s being very cooperative, I shoved Brady out the door and assured him I would call if there were any problems.


The bell dings above the front door and I don’t look up from my notes, but I do glance at the clock on the desk phone. One of our regular clients, Allison Kinter, was supposed to be here forty-five minutes ago for a follow-up meeting. I can’t stand the woman. Every other week she’s in here complaining that her husband is cheating on her. And every other week, we find absolutely nothing to support that claim, much to her annoyance. She’s pushy, condescending and reminds me too much of my mother.


“You’re late,” I state in annoyance, scribbling one last thing on the page.


“I’m sorry, darlin’. If I would have known you were sitting here anxiously awaiting my arrival I would have got here earlier.”


My head whips up at the sound of the gravely, masculine voice with a tiny hint of southern drawl that under normal circumstances would make my insides melt. Unfortunately, that voice belongs to a man whose ego far outweighs his good looks. Southern gentleman he is not.


“Get out,” I demand, standing up from my chair and crossing my arms in front of me.


Austin perches his hip on the edge of my desk and smiles at me. “Now, don’t be like that. I know you’ve missed me.”


I roll my eyes at his audacity. It’s really sad that a man this good looking is such a pompous ass. He’s easily six-foot-three and two hundred pounds of athletic muscle. His sandy brown hair is cut military short and his bright blue eyes sparkle as he smiles at me.


“I’ve missed you just about as much as I’ve missed chlamydia,” I state dryly.


He laughs and looks away from me, flipping through some of the files on top of my desk. I don’t know what it is about this man that turns me into such a bitch. Oh, wait, yes I do. I only spent three days with him a month ago, but I learned enough about him in those few days to make me want to stay far away from him. His blatant attempts at flirting and the charm he turns up so high it gives me a headache reeks of arrogance and a man used to always getting what he wants. I spent ten miserable years with a man like that and I’ll never make that same mistake again. William was charming and flirtatious too – until something set him off and my body became a punching bag.


Getting my head out of my ass, I pull my gaze away from the muscles flexing in the bicep of his arm he’s using to hold himself up on my desk. Reaching over, I smack his hand and gather up all of the files. I quickly shove them in my top drawer, slam it shut with a bang and glare at him.


What the hell is he doing here anyway? The last I heard from Brady, he jetted off in the middle of the night for some emergency mission and had no clue when he’d be back stateside. I kind of hoped after our few encounters that he would fall victim to a rabid camel attack in Siberia, or wherever the hell he went.


“Brady’s not here. You can go now.”


Turning away from him, I walk over to the small kitchen counter on the far side of the office and pour myself a much needed, strong cup of coffee.


“Well, lucky for you, I’m not here to see Brady. I’m here for you.”


Just the way he says those words makes my gut clench. I’m not sure if it’s in annoyance or lust. Either idea pisses me off. My track record with men, well one man, is rife with misery and pain. Just the idea that I would want someone at all, especially someone like Austin Conrad, is enough to make me stack up a million more bricks into the solid wall I’ve already surrounded myself with. It’s absolutely absurd that I would find anything about him even remotely attractive.


Cradling the warm mug in my hand, I turn around and lean against the counter. “There’s no reason for you to be here for me. So, like I said, you can go now.”


Austin slides off of my desk, sticks his hands into the front pocket of his jeans and casually walks up to me. He doesn’t stop until our toes are touching and I can smell just a hint of his spicy aftershave. The creases at the corners of his eyes stand out as he smiles down at me. If I could move away from him, I would. But as it is, the edge of the counter is already pressing harshly into my back. He’s too close, too large and he smells too good.


“Sorry, no can do. Your brother told me to look out for you while he’s gone, so that’s what I’m going to do.”


The anger rolls through me and I clench so tightly to the coffee mug that I’m surprised it doesn’t shatter in my hand, dousing both of us in scalding hot liquid. So much for Brady trusting me to run the business and take care of myself.


“I don’t need you, or anyone to babysit me. I’m a grown ass woman and can handle things just fine on my own,” I tell him with barely concealed fury.


Austin leans in as close as he can with my hands holding the coffee cup between us. I can feel the heat from his body and I have to tamp down the need to drop the cup and touch him.


Jesus, what the hell is wrong with me? This man is off limits, and not just because he’s a jerk.


“Oh believe me, it’s quite obvious just how grown you are,” he tells me quietly, his eyes traveling down the front of my body.


It’s disgusting and dirty. And it makes me weak in the knees.


God dammit, get a grip, Gwen!


Sliding along the edge of the counter, I move away from him and back to my desk. I need distance from this infuriating man. It’s impossible for him to be serious for one second.


“Brady is blindly in love and obviously wasn’t thinking straight when he called you. Don’t worry, I’ll tell him you stopped by. Now leave. I have work to do.”


I hear Austin sigh from behind me and hope that he’s finally gotten the hint that I don’t want him here. I mean really, do I need to spell it out for him? He needs to go away before I do something stupid. Signing those divorce papers lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. Not having William track me down and threaten me like he would have done in the past has given me a false sense of security. It’s made me feel like I might finally be able to move forward and be happy again. Of course the first man I’ve had any real contact with since I left William in the middle of the night all those months ago, aside from my brother or a client, had to be this infuriating man who gets under my skin.


“Now Gwen, you know how much it turns me on when you’re so demanding,” Austin chuckles. “Let’s just call a truce here, okay? My best friend asked me for a favor and I never tell one of my brothers ‘no’. I’m in between missions and there’s nothing more I’d like than to keep an eye on you.”


Austin mirrors my earlier pose and leans his back against the edge of the counter, staring me down.


“Look, I get that you Navy SEALS are a determined bunch and that’s lovely, very helpful for people who actually need it. But you’re not needed or wanted here. End of story,” I tell him.


The teasing look in his eyes is immediately gone, replaced by a hint of annoyance.


“Listen, princess, I don’t know what kind of trivial shit you have going on in your life and frankly, I don’t care. But your brother seems to be worried about you. The work he does here can be dangerous. You should know that by now. Even though your attitude could cut a man off at the knees, a single, vulnerable woman like yourself doesn’t need to be within ten feet of danger.”


The fact that he called me princess is enough to raise my hackles, but then to add in the part about my ‘trivial shit’ pushes me over the edge. Single, vulnerable woman… are you kidding me? He has no fucking idea what my life has been like or the danger I’ve been around and survived. Without warning, a particularly chilling memory surfaces and my hands begin to shake.


I put on the finishing touches of my make-up and surveyed myself in the mirror. The little black dress William bought me the previous week fits me like a glove and shows off my curves. I’ve pulled my long, blonde hair up into a sleek twist, just the way he likes it. Glancing at the clock on our nightstand, I see that I’m ready in record time and hurry out of our bedroom and down the staircase. William and I haven’t had an evening out alone together in quite some time. Even though this is a work function for him, it’s still nice to get dressed up and go out on the town with my husband. He’d been so stressed at work and on edge since the baby was born, I think this will be good for us.


As I walk down off of the bottom step, William looked up from the table in the foyer where he sorted through the day’s mail. The smile on my face died when I saw the look in his eyes.


“What the fuck are you wearing?” he asked angrily.


I glanced nervously down at myself, checking to make sure I didn’t get any make-up powder on the front of the dress and that I wore matching shoes. Since I gave birth to Emma three months ago, I had been a little scatterbrained.


“It-it’s the dress you got me. Don’t you like it?” I questioned.


He tossed the mail down on top of the table and stalked over to me. “Your tits are hanging out. Do you want all of my colleagues to think you’re a whore? Jesus, it’s like you don’t even have a fucking brain sometimes.”


With a shaking hand, I reached up and pressed my palm over the miniscule bit of cleavage that can be seen peeking out from the top of the dress.


It’s always best not to say anything when William’s in one of his moods. I should know this by now, but I couldn’t help myself. I needed to know why he was so angry.


“I’m not showing that much. This dress is very conservative compared to what the other wives will be wearing.”


The punch to my stomach is quick and takes my breath away. Bending over, I clutched my hands around my middle and struggled to get air into my lungs while trying not to cry. William hated it when I cried.


“Go upstairs and change. Make it fast. We’re going to be late now because of you.”


“Gwen. Hey, GWEN!”


The sound of my name pulls me back from the past and I blink my eyes into focus. Austin has moved from his spot leaning against the counter and is back in my personal space. The concern on his face is evident and I look down at my hands when I feel something hot and wet on them.


The coffee. Shit, I spilled the coffee.


Austin gently reaches out and pulls the now half-empty mug out of my shaking hands, placing it on my desk.


“Where did you go just now?” he asks quietly, pulling tissues out of the box on my desk and wiping the spilled coffee off my hands.


I stare in wonder as he softly pats my hands. It’s been so long since someone took care of me. It’s also been a while since I had one of those awful memories. I pushed them all away as soon as I arrived at Brady’s house that night so many months ago. I wouldn’t let myself think about them. I was broken enough; thinking about all of the ways I was a fool would just make things worse.


Five minutes in Austin’s company and I’m reliving the past. I angrily yank my hands out of his grasp and finish wiping my hands off on my own.


“It’s fine. I don’t need your help.”


Stepping away from him, I walk over to the garbage can and toss the tissues away.


“You just spaced out and spilled hot coffee all over yourself. Stop being so damn stubborn,” he replies.


Before I can come up with a good insult that will finally make him leave me the hell alone, the bell above the door dings again and the one word that makes everything better is shouted from across the room.


“Mommy!”


Chapter 3


Austin


I probably shouldn’t have called her a princess. That was a dick move, but she’s really pissing me off. Why is it so hard for her to just accept the fact that Brady wants me here and I’m not going anywhere? Who knows what the fuck made her zone out, her hands shake and had her spilling hot coffee over herself. All that irritability bottled up in her tiny, well-endowed body probably short-circuted her brain. Remind me never to call her any names again. Next time she might throw that cup at my head.


Before I can try to reason with her again, my eyes widen in surprise as a mini version of Gwen comes racing into the office and throws herself at the woman whose ass I’d been staring at when she bent over to throw away the kleenex.


“Hi baby! How was your day?” Gwen asks the little girl as she scoops her up in her arms and peppers her face with kisses.


An older woman, I didn’t even notice following behind the girl, stands off to the side with a pink backpack in her hands.


“I colored you a picture at Miss Karen’s and I got to watch a princess movie!” the girl replies excitedly.


Gwen holds onto her tightly and then turns to the woman. “Thanks for dropping her off, Karen.”


“No problem. I’ll see you tomorrow,” the woman replies before setting the backpack down on the floor. “Bye, Emma!”


The girl turns in Gwen’s arms and waves. “Bye, Miss Karen!”


As the woman leaves, Gwen sets the girl down and she immediately walks over to me.


“Who are you?” she asks, looking up at me.


“I was just going to ask you the same thing.”


I look over at Gwen with my eyebrow raised. How in the hell did Brady never mention his sister had a kid? I don’t like kids. They’re small and they talk too much.

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