Here’s the first part of Wild Engagement! I’m still revising and editing the rest, but you have five chapters to read at your leisure!
While Becca might be a kickass lawyer who could win, win, and win some more, she sucked pretty hard at socializing these days.
Knight’s Landing wasn’t nearly as fun of a bar as The A-Hole back in Huntwood, but it was Tacoma’s best pub for the after-work crowd. On a Friday evening, it was buzzing with conversation. Becca felt a headache forming, but tonight was a night to celebrate. She and her firm had just taken down Cory Bernall, and he’d be paying Becca’s best friend, Summer, back every penny he’d stolen from her, along with a hefty extra bit for damages.
That asshole could afford it. He hadn’t even needed Summer’s money—that was the worst part of this whole case. He’d just taken her identity and spent from credit cards in her name for fun. He hadn’t even felt bad about it, either.
Well, now he would. Or if he didn’t feel bad, at least he’d feel it in his giant trust fund.
Amanda, Becca’s partner at the law firm, bought a round of drinks for everyone who’d helped work the case. Becca took a couple of sips of her margarita, but she had to drive back to Huntwood tonight, and she didn’t want to get too buzzed or too sleepy.
“You look tired,” Amanda said, sitting down at Becca’s side. “And coming from me, that’s saying something.”
“How is little Joseph?” Becca asked.
“He’s about the cutest thing in the world. Here.” Amanda took out her phone and scrolled through a couple of photos of a sleeping three-month-old.
Becca sighed. He was adorable.
Amanda continued, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You just wrapped up this case, and you did a fucking awesome job. You also kept the firm going while I was on an extended maternity leave. Postpartum depression was the worst, and you gave me all the time I needed.”
Becca reached over and squeezed Amanda’s hand. They weren’t usually very touchy-feely or affectionate, but the past few months had brought them together even more as friends than partners. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Besides, we hired Marco, and he’s taken up a ton of slack.”
“Exactly,” Amanda said with a decisive nod. “Which is why we’ll be completely okay while you take off the next couple of weeks.”
“Take off the next—what?”
Amanda smiled. “You don’t have anything coming up, and what work there is, Marco and I can handle in your absence.”
Becca made a scoffing sound. “I can’t just…take off for two weeks. I’ve got nowhere to go.”
“Maybe not. But you need the time. You’re tired, and I can tell your heart’s hurting. Is it still about Summer?”
Becca stared into her drink, afraid to meet Amanda’s eyes. “A little. It’s hard to feel close to her lately. It’s like she’s hiding something.”
“Maybe it’s time you figured that out,” Amanda said. “I’m giving you the space and time to do that.”
Becca wanted to argue, but if she was honest with herself, she needed a break. She’d felt good taking over while Amanda was gone, but if she didn’t get some downtime, she was going to burn out. She’d seen it happen to better lawyers than herself.
“Okay,” she said, smacking the table with her palm. “Okay. Two weeks off. I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do with myself, but I’ll take the time.”
“Excellent,” Amanda said. “Now, if you do want to hook up with the new intern, I think he’s into you. If you don’t want to hook up with him…”
“I can’t hook up with an intern,” Becca said, shocked. “Besides, he’s a baby.”
“He’s twenty-two, you’re twenty-eight.” Amanda shrugged. “Not that big of a difference, and even then, I’m not gonna judge.”
Becca actually considered it. It had been that long since she’d spent the night with a guy. Sure, she collected numbers when she went out, she enjoyed a little flirtation. But nothing ever happened between her and whatever guy to make her think she was ready for getting naked with them. And she definitely knew she wasn’t ready for the final step—marriage—so getting invested in something and getting attached to someone just didn’t feel like it was right for her anymore.
“Are you holding a torch for Grant?” Amanda said. “You know he’d want you to be happy.”
“He told me so,” Becca said, nodding. “And I would find someone else to mess around with, except I just don’t want to.”
“And that’s fine, too,” Amanda said. Then she looked past Becca and giggled. “Then again, the intern is staring at you, so hooking up with him would be super easy. A sure bet.”
Shaking her head and smiling, Becca said, “Nope. He works with me and he’s a baby.”
“Speaking of babies…” Amanda said, looking at her watch. “Kelly’s gonna be so ready to pass him back to me when I get home. I’ll be heading out soon, too.”
Becca hugged her, set down some extra cash to contribute to the tip, and made her way out of the bar. The April evening was cool, and she wished she’d brought a heavier jacket with her. It didn’t take too long for her car’s heater to blast welcome warmth against her face, though.
The highway back toward Huntwood was relatively empty for a Friday night, and she played talk radio even though she wasn’t listening to it. Two weeks off, huh? She didn’t know what she was going to do, rattling around in that big old mountain home she and Grant had bought together. She liked the place, but it was so freaking empty sometimes. That empty house was one reason it had been so easy to pick up all the extra work while Amanda was on maternity leave.
Soon she turned off the highway to take the twisty road to Huntwood. Her car’s headlights illuminated the trees pressing in over the two lanes, making it look like she was in a long, tall corridor of evergreens. She was glad the snow had all melted off—driving in wintry conditions made her extremely nervous. When Grant had been alive, he’d even driven her to and from work in the winter.
He was a good man, Grant. If he were still alive, he’d already be planning a two-week vacation to somewhere warm and sunny, somewhere he could golf and Becca could lie out in the sun, flipping through the kinds of sexy magazines her colleagues at the office would be shocked to see her reading. Hot men and smutty stories.
She realized with a pang that her subscriptions had run out long ago. Grant had always renewed them for her.
Suddenly, a dog streaked across the road. Becca pushed on the brakes, determined not to panic. When she was a teenager, she’d nearly driven into the side of the mountain while swerving for a squirrel—that had taught her an important lesson.
The dog was huge, and even braking for it wasn’t enough. Becca shrieked. The dog glanced off the hood of her car and disappeared.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck. I hit a dog.” She gripped the steering wheel and stopped the car. The dog was nowhere in sight, not slumped on the side of the road in a heap like she’d expected. She took deep breaths. Had it really been a dog? What if it was a deer? Or a coyote, or wolf?
Getting out of the car and putting herself near an injured wild animal was a terrible idea.
But if that was someone’s pet…could she live with herself, not knowing?
She could call the Huntwood police. She knew a few people at the station and they might make fun of her, but whatever. Better than leaving someone’s injured pet on the side of the road.
Where was the poor thing? Had she not really hit it? No, that had been a definite thump as it bounced off her car. She cringed, replaying it in her head.
Maybe it hadn’t been hurt that bad, and it had run off to lick its wounds in peace.
Or maybe even now it was limping home and it would be picked off by one of the mountain lions that roamed the area.
She had to call someone. Grabbing her purse from the passenger seat, she searched for her phone. But her phone was nowhere in her purse, and nowhere on the seats or the floor of her car. She must have left it at the bar in Tacoma. She bit back a curse.
Just then, a hand slapped up against the outside of the passenger window. She shrieked, dropped her purse, and started screaming.
The hand disappeared and she heard someone say, “Calm the fuck down, lady, I just need a pair of pants and a ride into town.”
Oh hell no. She put the car in gear and started to drive.
She was afraid to look, but she looked anyway. A naked man stood on the side of the road. His shoulder was bleeding.
She should help him. That would be the best thing to do. The Good Samaritan kind of thing. Help people who need it.
But this was the twenty-first century, and she’d seen enough news stories to know this situation didn’t often work out well.
Still, he looked utterly helpless there, on the side of the road. And had she hit this man and her brain had just told her it was a dog? Wouldn’t the responsible thing be to stop and help him? Otherwise, if she’d hit him, this would be a hit and run. She certainly didn’t need that on her record. She could even see the local newspaper headline: Hoity-Toity Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Hit and Run.
“Shit shitty shit,” she said.
The guy was still standing there.
It would be stupid to stop. She knew that. She knew it would be the epitome of idiocy to let this guy get into her car.
Then she laughed. It wasn’t like he was hiding a weapon. Where would he hide it? Up his butt? Still, better safe than sorry—he could have friends waiting nearby. Naked ones. She tried not to laugh harder, but couldn’t help herself. She put the car in reverse and drove backward until she was next to him. She rolled the passenger window down a tiny crack.
The guy walked up to the car and peered in. He had dark brown eyes and a bit of stubble on his strong jaw. In another situation, she might have even thought him handsome with his messy brown hair that gave him a devil-may-care look. He said, “Hey.”
The dude was naked. On the side of the road late at night. Who the holy hell could say “hey” at a time like this?
Becca shook it off. “Did I hit you with my car?”
“Yeah. Glanced off my shoulder.” His voice was deep, melodic. It reminded her of fine whiskey and dark chocolate. He continued, “I rolled, and I’ll be fine. I could use a ride, though. I’m going to Huntwood—the direction you’re headed.”
She’d been going at least thirty-five, possibly forty miles per hour. “You should have several broken bones.”
“I’ll be okay,” he said.
“Where are your clothes?”
He looked around. “It’s a long story. Basically, I was out for a walk in the woods. Can you give me a ride?”
Who walked around in the woods, naked? She didn’t trust this guy for a second.
“Sure, I can give you a ride,” she said. She popped the trunk. “But you’re riding in the back.”
He shrugged and went for the back seat. The door was locked. He gave her an exasperated look.
“No, the way back,” Becca said. “I don’t know you and I don’t trust you and you don’t have a fucking article of clothing on.”
“How do I know you’re not going to take me back to your house, dump me in the basement, and murder me?” he asked.
“I just won’t,” she said.
“I can’t believe this,” he muttered.
“I can’t believe you’re out here without any clothes, and you’re not dying after I hit you with my car.”
“Speaking of that, do you have any pants I can borrow?”
“There’s a duffel bag in the trunk with my exercise clothes.” She smirked. “You’d look good in my tight gym pants.” From where he was standing at the car door, Becca couldn’t see the lower half of him, but if the muscles on the upper half were anything to go by, the bottom half would look awesome encased in tight exercise pants. Gym rat, she pegged him. Gym rat who had messily-spiky brown hair that looked like he’d just woken up after a night of fun.
And his deep brown eyes, so serious as they gazed at her, made her want to melt. Who was this guy? Sexy and sweet?
And…totally naked on the side of the road. Wow, she thought. It had been way too long since she’d gotten laid.
She tried not to watch from the side mirror as he walked to the trunk. She tried not to check out his rather perfect ass.
He must have found the duffel, because a second later he showed up on her side of the car, and when she looked down, he was indeed wearing her tight exercise pants. If the situation hadn’t been so bizarre, she’d have laughed instead of smirked.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll get in the trunk now.”
He looked like he expected her to change her mind. Um, nope. She’d read about crimes so heinous she hadn’t been able to sleep at night. She was never going to stop at another rest area for as long as she lived, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to let some strange man into her car.
Huntwood was just five or ten miles away. Becca was careful to go easy on the turns, although she had a feeling he was packed so tightly inside, he couldn’t have rolled anywhere even if he’d tried to.
She hadn’t asked him where in Huntwood he needed to be, so she stopped in the middle of town, on Main Street, and popped her trunk. Her car moved slightly as he got out, and then suddenly he was at her window.
He gave her a smile. “Thanks for the ride.”
What a lunatic. A lunatic who walked around naked in the woods. She gave him a finger wave. “Good luck.”
He grinned, as if he could read her thoughts. “See you around.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” she muttered, speeding down Main Street and to the far edge of town.
Didn’t matter how sexy he was—if he was the type to go around naked and get hit by cars on lonely forest highways, he wasn’t the type for her.
Nick watched her drive away. He was sure he looked like an idiot wearing her gym pants, but it was better than wandering around Huntwood completely naked while he tried to find Hayley Jaynes.
Hayley Jaynes. The woman who had rocked his world. Eyes the color of a pale winter sky, hair the color of burnished gold.
He’d worked hard on that description, even written it down. Of course, his notebook was far away, along with all his other things, left in the locker he’d stowed them in at the bus station in Seattle.
There was an even smaller sack with a single change of clothes and a toothbrush, which he’d carried in his mouth while in wolf form on his way here. Those things were in his motel room. When that woman had clipped him with her car, he’d been trying to follow a scent that he thought could be Hayley, and he hadn’t been paying the slightest amount of attention to his surroundings. Injured, he’d shifted back to human to speed the healing, but then it was too soon for him to shift back to wolf. And spring in these mountains was fucking cold.
Walking back to his motel, he thought the lines about Hayley again, trying to commit them to memory so he could tell her when he finally saw her in person. Eyes the color of a pale sky. Not green like those of the woman who’d just given him a ride.
He was sure Hayley was here, though. This was the place she’d always talked about. He walked back to his motel, rubbing his injured shoulder. It was sore, but nothing was broken. Someone would have to hit him a lot harder if they wanted to destroy him.
Back at the motel, Nick bent over by one of the large planters lining the front. The bright geraniums in them were cheerfully taken care of. He reached down along the side and found his key card. As he stood in front of his room, waiting for the light on the door to turn green, an older man stepped out of the room next to his. He looked Nick up and down before hurrying on his way.
“What?” Nick called. “These are nice pants.”
They smelled good, too, despite coming from the woman’s gym duffel.
Once inside his room, he left the pants on and lay back on the too-soft mattress and stared at the ceiling. Tomorrow he’d resume his search for Hayley. She lived here, he just knew it. And when he found her, he’d be able to solve the much larger problem chasing him from Wisconsin.
Becca rolled over in bed, satisfied after a long round of lovemaking…with herself. She’d gotten quite good at it over the past three years, since Grant had died. There’d been guys she met and dated, but nobody she was quite willing to let into her home or her heart. So now, she knew exactly how to get herself off, whether she wanted a long, leisurely session including more than one toy, or a quick, single vibrator tension-reliever before falling asleep after a long day spent as a prosecuting attorney.
She looked at her bedside clock. It was only seven a.m. and she had a long day of nothing ahead of her.
“Two weeks of this?” she muttered, looking around the empty room.
Figuring she could skip the gym after the leisurely “workout” she’d given herself, she showered, got dressed in a pair of comfy jeans and a sweater, and walked downstairs.
Coffee, a couple of eggs, and the newspaper she had delivered on principle, more than any desire to actually read it. Today, though, she read nearly every page. By the end, she knew why she hated the newspaper. The world was freaking depressing.
It was Saturday, and she usually cleaned house on Saturdays. She washed and put away her dishes, then went to tackle the table in her entryway, where she dumped mail after work each day. She shuffled through the stack, separating out bills from junk mail and catalogs.
One piece of mail didn’t fit into any of those piles. Her name and address had been hand-written, and the return address was here in Huntwood. Intrigued, she opened the envelope.
The card inside had been decorated with pink and blue balloons, and the text made her laugh.
Come to Hayley and Marius’s Motherfuckin’ Baby Shower!
Becca hadn’t spent a ton of time with Hayley, but one didn’t need more than three minutes to be exposed to Hayley’s creative potty mouth. Still snickering, Becca opened up the card to read the details.
Next Saturday. It would mean spending more time with Summer and her new besties, but Becca would have to be a special kind of asshole to lie and say she couldn’t make it.
Still, she’d be a third wheel, or rather, a seventh wheel, coming without a date. Those six never invited other friends; that was a special hell reserved only for Becca. If it had been Summer’s party, maybe Summer’s friend, Luke, would have been invited, or Summer’s coworkers. But this was Hayley, and her circle of friends pretty much ended with Summer and Eleanor and their significant others.
She looked at the details again. The party was going to be at The A-Hole, of all places, and in the evening. She wished she could come up with a date to bring along, so that when everyone else got all wrapped up in each other, she’d have someone to at least exchange commiserating looks with. Her mind immediately went back to the man she’d picked up on the side of the road yesterday. He was certainly yummy.
Yeah, she was definitely desperate if she was thinking about going out with naked strays.
Before she could second-guess herself, she sent Hayley a text informing her she would be at the party. Then she found a baby site online and ordered several picture books along with a blanket advertised as “the softest blanket in the world.” She opted for the two-day shipping and boom. There was no going back now.
While she cleaned the downstairs bathroom, Becca thought about babies, and marriage. None of that was in her future. After Summer had gotten engaged, she’d asked Becca whether she ever thought she’d get married again.
“Nope,” Becca had said with a burst of laughter. “Once was plenty for me. I loved Grant and I’m sure I could love again, but I don’t need all the trappings of marriage.”
“What about kids, though?” Summer asked.
Becca shook her head. “You know, I would’ve started a family with Grant, but now I’m just not interested. I know it sounds callous, but I just don’t like being around children that much.”
“It doesn’t sound callous,” Summer said. “It just sounds like you. Practical.”
And the conversation had ended, much to Becca’s relief. Because it had stung, a little. Becca wasn’t ready to admit it to herself, but she wouldn’t have minded another chance, someday. Maybe babies weren’t in her future, but another chance at love, to recreate something like what she’d had with Grant. Not the same thing, because it could never be the same. No one could replace Grant.
But the chance to share her days and nights with someone she loved?
She was kidding herself if she thought she didn’t want the chance for that.
When Nick woke up the next morning, his shoulder was good as new. That didn’t stop him from thinking about the woman who’d hit him with her car. Her straight blond hair and those mesmerizing eyes, not quite blue, not quite green. The swell of her breasts, barely visible beneath the silk shirt and blazer she’d been wearing. He shook the mental image away. Mystery vehicular assault woman was not the reason he was in Huntwood. He was here for one woman, and one woman only. Hayley Jaynes.
Nick knew she had to be here, somewhere, in Huntwood. She’d mentioned it that night three years ago. “Where’s home?” he’d asked, stroking her thigh after they’d made love.
“Huntwood,” she’d said. “It’s a tiny town in Washington. But I can’t ever go back.”
He’d turned her over and stared into her eyes. “I believe that you will, someday.”
Of course, he hadn’t anticipated her disappearing the next morning without giving him her phone number. Remembering his disappointment made him scowl, so he got up fast to shower and get back to searching the town for his long-lost mate.
Standing inside a funny, old-school looking diner, Nick heard her laugh before he smelled her. Hayley. Her laugh was like her voice, low and throaty. Sexy without any effort at all.
He rushed forward, feeling like something wasn’t quite right. He tried to remember the lines he’d written about her, but instead of her pale blue eyes, all he could picture were the sea-green eyes of that strange woman who’d made him ride in her trunk.
Hilarious, he thought, making him squeeze into the trunk. But he hadn’t blamed her. He’d been a naked stranger on a dark road. She’d wanted to help him, but not at any risk, and really, the trunk had been a pretty ingenious solution.
He stopped midstride. What was he doing in this diner? Oh, right. Hayley.
She laughed again. He couldn’t see her companion, but he wasn’t worried. Obviously, Nick and Hayley were fated mates, so even if she was on a casual date with some other guy, she’d be ending it as soon as she saw that Nick was here.
He wondered if her heart had been aching as much as his since their night together back in Wisconsin. Obviously, he wouldn’t have wanted her to feel the same painful yearning he had suffered, but he hoped it had at least affected her, and that she’d yearned for him in her own way.
As he approached her table, he saw that she was, indeed, with another guy. Her back was to Nick, so Nick had more view of the guy than he had of Hayley. The guy had dark hair, dark eyes. Nick flared his nostrils. It wasn’t one of her brothers—this guy was a bear, not a mountain lion.
Okay, he thought to himself. This could get awkward, but not a big deal. A woman as attractive as Hayley was bound to have unwanted guys sniffing around her. As Nick sniffed to get a sense of the guy, his nostrils also filled with Hayley’s scent.
She smelled just as great as before. It was a sweeter scent than the woman in the car—the woman in the car had smelled more like sandalwood.
Bear Man stiffened and his face went blank as Nick approached.
Hayley’s laughter abruptly stopped. “What’s wrong?”
Bear Man stood up…and up…and up. Nick gulped. What the hell? Why was she dating Goliath?
“What do you want, wolf?” the man asked in a low voice.
Hayley spun in her seat. Nick drank in the beauty of her face, which was a little fuller than it had been the last time he’d seen her. He watched as her expression transformed from the initial wariness, to confusion, and then, too slow for Nick’s liking, to recognition.
“Hi, Hayley,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“Oh…I know you,” she said slowly. “Hang on, Marius, don’t get your claws out yet. I know this guy.”
“Yeah,” Nick said, nodding.
“I thought so.” She smiled briefly. “Marius, this is…shitknockers, I’m sorry.”
She didn’t remember his name? All the air went out of Nick’s lungs.
“Nick,” he said. “Nick Gaines.”
“Right, Nick,” Hayley agreed.
As if he needed fucking confirmation on his own name.
Bear Man, Marius, stared him down.
“Nick and I…” Hayley stopped, looking from Nick and back to Marius. “Nick and I had sex in…where was it? Idaho?”
“Wisconsin,” Nick said in a strangled voice. “My apartment in Joynston, Wisconsin.”
Bear Man, Marius, whatever, held out a giant paw. “I’d say it’s nice to meet you,” he said, “but this is fucking weird.”
Nick didn’t need to ask why it was weird, because just then, Hayley slid out of the booth. As she turned, her belly preceded her.
Hayley, Nick’s mate, was pregnant.
And he might have been mistaken, but the small scar peeking from the side of her collar looked a lot like a mate mark.
“Holy shit,” he said.
“Have lunch with us,” Hayley said. “We can catch up.”
Marius gave her an incredulous look, and Nick had to hold back a laugh.
“Nah, uh, that’s okay,” Nick said. As hilarious as Marius’s face was, Nick felt like his heart was being ripped out and stomped on and the blood and sinew were spattering all over the black and white fifties style floor of the diner. How had he been so completely wrong about Hayley being his mate? This was so fucked up. So, so fucked up. “I should get going, actually…”
Hayley grabbed his arm. “Stay for lunch,” she said. “Please.”
He looked at where she touched him. The zing of attraction he’d felt with her before wasn’t there anymore.
He’d come all this way and searched for so long, only to learn that the spell had been broken.
His first instinct was to turn around and walk right back out of that cafe and right back out of town. But then he remembered what was waiting for him in Wisconsin. So when Hayley sat back down, he let her pull him down into the booth next to her.
And if the giant bear’s sour look was anything, it sure as hell was amusing. That right there was reason enough to hang around.
He thought again about the problem he’d run from. “I’d like to stay a couple weeks,” he said to Hayley. “With your pride’s permission, of course.”
He hoped Marius wasn’t the guy in charge.
“We’ll ask Will,” she said. “My oldest brother, the alpha. I’m sure he’ll let you stay.”
By the end of the week, Nick had found a place to stay and he had work painting the new houses built for the Dark Pines Pride. Three houses, all situated on expansive property bordering a pretty mountain lake. He could understand why Hayley had been so homesick when she’d hooked up with Nick back in Wisconsin. Already he was getting attached to this territory, and he didn’t even belong here.
And yet the Jaynes siblings and their mates (other than Marius) seemed more than fine with him lingering on their territory. “We know what it’s like to wander for too long,” Will had said, shaking Nick’s hand. “As long as you don’t make any trouble”—at that, his gaze flicked to Hayley and Marius before returning to Nick—“you’re welcome to stick around for a while.”
Nick had promised not to make trouble. The spell had truly been broken between him and Hayley, if there had even been a spell to begin with. Sure, she was pretty and funny, but he didn’t feel that magical pull to her anymore. And obviously the only magical pull she felt was to that giant goon, Marius.
As the week went by, he found himself included in family dinners and pride runs. And he had to admit, it was pretty fucking cool.
Even though his time here had to be short, he was going to make the most of it.
On Saturday, Becca could think of at least seven things that she’d rather do than go to Hayley’s baby shower. While she got dressed in the skinny jeans and long gray sweater she’d wear, she listed them in her head.
One: clean the downstairs bathroom again, even though nobody had been over to use it.
Two: curse her way through trying to bake macarons.
Three: beg Amanda to let her go back to work a week early.
Four: get a bikini wax even though she’d just had one last week.
Five: read Moby Dick from start to finish.
Six: hide underneath her bed and eat botched macarons.
Seven: drive to the mall in Tacoma and try on bathing suits.
She looked at herself in the mirror and shook her head. She was being childish. If they really didn’t want her at the baby shower, they wouldn’t have invited her. And by keeping herself away from them, for instance, by missing the Licorice Fiddles Christmas show last December, she was only hurting her own chances of keeping her friendship with Summer.
The thing was, she loathed dishonesty. And something wasn’t quite right with Summer, ever since she’d started dating Jackson. Becca didn’t think Jackson was abusive or anything like that. It was more that Summer had become more secretive. She wasn’t telling Becca everything like she used to. And that hurt.
Tonight wasn’t about Becca and Summer, though. It was about the little baby who’d soon be coming into this world. Becca resolved to focus on the baby. The books and blanket she had ordered were all set to go—she’d wrapped them in beautiful paper decorated with ducklings and added a card that said, “Welcome, little one—I can’t wait to meet you. With all my love, Becca.”
She found a parking spot close to The A-Hole and went inside, the packages under her arm. It wasn’t hard to find her friends—they’d parked at their usual table in the far corner and they were laughing and talking, like usual. One big happy family.
Sighing, she made her way toward them. Summer turned and saw Becca. She stood up. “Hey, girl!”
“Hey yourself.” Becca’s smile was real. She’d genuinely been missing Summer. She turned to greet everyone else, her gaze lingering on Hayley. “You look great, mama.”
“Thanks,” Hayley said.
Becca waved at Eleanor and the guys, then set the gifts down in the middle of the table with the others. “Looks like this baby’s getting quite the haul,” she said with a laugh. The presents were stacked on the table to the point where it would be hard to see across, and there were more gifts waiting in the corner behind the table.
“Good thing we brought my truck,” Marius said, sounding amused. “Although I might have to leave Hayley here so I can get all the gifts home.”
Hayley swatted him.
“Hang on, one more coming in,” a deep voice said from behind Becca.
She turned around and nearly bumped into him.
Hot Naked Crazy Guy, the one she’d picked up on the highway, was standing very close to her—so close she could see the dark chocolate brown of his eyes and smell the faint trace of spicy cologne he wore. She wondered what that cologne was called, but had a feeling it might have “panty-melting” in the name somewhere. He’d looked good all roughed up on the highway without any clothes on. But he looked even better up close where she could touch and smell him.
“You,” Becca said. “You know these people?”
“Oh, do you know Nick?” Hayley asked, her voice intrigued.
“Not really,” Becca said, suddenly breathless. She tried to take a step back, but she was pinned between him and the edge of the table.
Smirking, he reached around her to drop a gift on the pile. Then he faced her directly. Holding out a hand, he said, “Hi, I’m Nick Gaines.”
“Becca Van Housen.”
When her hand touched his, the contact zinged through her body. What the hell was this? She was an adult and she was perfectly capable of shaking hands with a handsome man without getting all flustered. But her face felt too hot and her mouth dry and her stomach loopy and her nipples, well, they apparently had minds of their own because she could feel them stiffening against the lace of her bra.
“I’m gonna grab something to drink,” she said loudly and abruptly. “Go ahead with the gifts, Hayley; I’ll be right back.”
She sidestepped Nick and rushed to the bar. Ross, the bartender, came over to her right away, despite the busyness of The A-Hole. Becca always tipped him really well.
“What can I get you?” he asked.
“Something strong,” she said, before she remembered she was driving and she didn’t want to stay long. “Wait, no. I have to drive. A mojito, please, and don’t make it too strong.”
“You got it.”
As Ross stepped away, Becca felt Nick at her side. She didn’t know how she knew it was him, because she was very carefully not looking in his direction. It was more like her body was aware of him more than any part of her brain.
Behind her, she could hear the Jaynes group laughing. Were they laughing at her? Could her bizarre reaction to Nick have been noticeable? Ugh, she hoped not. How embarrassing. Bad enough she’d bolted like that.
“Funny how you gave me a ride last week, but I never learned your name.” His voice was low and soft. Like his touch, it zinged through her body.
“Nothing funny about that night at all,” Becca said, trying to match her voice to his. Level, even. Unperturbed. “I hit you with my car. You were strangely unaffected, and I gave you a ride to town. I was hoping to never see you again.”
“But you thought of me,” he said, his voice amused.
She might have gotten herself off to a mini fantasy of what could have happened between them if he’d ridden in the passenger seat and she’d parked somewhere remote…. “Not really,” she said.
He chuckled. “That’s a lie.”
It was a lie, and the fact he knew it bothered Becca just as much as the fact she’d told a lie. Not that she’d ever admit to touching herself to thoughts of him, but she could have gotten around that somehow.
“I’m happy to run into you again,” he said. “I didn’t know you were friends with this crowd.”
“Just…peripherally,” she said. “Summer was my best friend, and now she’s related to Hayley. I’m sure they were just—” She stopped herself. She didn’t know this guy, and unloading about all the interpersonal drama wasn’t smart. And Becca was smart. She knew how to hold back, she knew how to be tactful. “Smart” and “tactful” were practically in her job description.
“Hey,” he said, reaching for her arm.
Before he could make contact, Ross returned with Becca’s drink. He glowered at Nick. “This guy bothering you, Becca?”
“We’re okay,” she said. She was definitely bothered, but not in the way Ross seemed concerned about. “I’d like to get him a drink. Nick?”
“A beer, please,” Nick said, sounding surprised. “A session IPA, if you have one.”
“Sure thing,” Ross said. He returned a few seconds later with Nick’s beer.
Becca set a twenty on the bar and grabbed her mojito.
Nick tilted his glass toward her. “Cheers,” he said, “to unexpected meetings.”
Becca watched him raise his glass to his lips. “You mean the kind of unexpected meetings that involve vehicular manslaughter?”
He swallowed quickly, his eyes watering, and then he laughed. “Something like that. Should we get back to the baby shower?”
“Oh…right,” she said. She’d gotten wrapped up in Nick—staring at him, smelling him, flirting with him—and she’d forgotten why they were both at The A-Hole to begin with.
They walked back to the corner table. Summer grabbed a chair from the table behind her and pulled it over for Becca to sit next to her. Becca contained her smile when Nick grabbed another chair and brought it next to hers.
“Everybody got their liquor?” Hayley asked.
Everyone raised their glasses. Hayley raised her milkshake.
“All right,” she said. “Bring on the baby’s presents.”
While everyone ooh-ed and ahh-ed over onesies and tiny shoes, Becca was hyperconscious of the man seated next to her. His spicy scent—she couldn’t quite place it, but she knew she loved it. It took all her self-control not to scoot closer to him.
Dangerous territory, she realized. But she still couldn’t make herself move away.
Copyright 2018 Liza Street. All rights reserved.
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