Don't you love a growly hero?
I was on edge. There was a break-in at Easton’s ReSail store, similar to the others in the area. I didn’t like not making headway on the investigation.
I needed to talk to Remi and tell her how important it was that she remember to arm her alarm system and that she walk with someone for her deposits in the evening.
Glancing at my phone for the time, I saw it was ten. Her store closed at six. Knowing she was probably home by now, I pulled the address from her police report and headed over there.
Parking near her place, I told myself I was doing what I would do with any other victim of a crime. I planned to talk to Max, too.
The door to her apartment was located on the side of the Java Coffee building. Pushing the button for the intercom, I questioned whether I should be here. I wouldn’t drop in at Max’s home this late.
“Yes?” Her voice came over the intercom before I could change my mind. If I thought she sounded husky, it had to be my overactive imagination.
“It’s Colton. I need to talk to you.”
Before I could add it was official police business, the buzzer sounded. Was she always this accommodating? Did she let in every guy who dropped by?
Irritation pricked my spine as I climbed the narrow stairs and knocked on her door.
Opening the door, I said, “Please tell me you don’t leave your door—”
I stopped in my tracks because she was leaning over in tiny shorts so small, they barely covered her ass. Part of my brain registered that she was gathering her long mane of blonde hair into a ponytail. When she straightened, wrapping a band around it, my mouth was dry for a different reason. She wore a lace top that revealed everything. A deep purple bra, bare skin, and the curve of her breasts.
I forgot what I’d asked.
She shot me an exasperated look. “The door downstairs is locked.”
I snapped my mouth shut. I couldn’t argue with her, not when the lace of her top did nothing to hide her body. It only enhanced her ample breasts and toned stomach. I should have told her to cover up, but I couldn’t look away. I felt good about my decision to drop by late.
She stood in front of me, her hands on her hips. “You said you needed to talk to me?”
She seemed unaffected, prancing around in front of me, wearing basically nothing. Was she doing it on purpose? I cleared my throat. “Easton’s shop was broken into.”
Her face fell. “Another break-in?”
I nodded, still incapable of full sentences.
“Is he okay?”
“Yeah, he wasn’t there.”
“He had an alarm?”
“That’s good he wasn’t hurt. Was anything taken?”
“Not that he’s aware of. He’s going to take some inventory to make sure. He didn’t keep cash in the store, especially with the other burglaries.”
“You think all three break-ins are related?”
I swallowed, struggling to maintain my focus on her face. “Until I have evidence otherwise.”
Her tongue darted out to lick her lips. “Any new leads?”
I was losing the fight; my gaze drifted down over the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips, wondering if she wore panties under those tiny shorts. “Nothing, unfortunately.”
“He didn’t have cameras?”
I sighed, leaning a hip against her kitchen counter while she moved around, grabbing a glass from an upper cabinet. Her lace top slipped up, revealing an enticing sliver of skin above her shorts.
When Remi looked over at me, I forced my eyes to her face. “Cameras are expensive.”
“Is it something the city could put in?”
“If they have the money, the means, and the right motivation.” Dealing with the mayor and the city council on anything took a lesson in patience.
“I would think a string of break-ins would be enough.”
“Nothing taken. No one was hurt.”
She filled her glass with water. “Did you want anything to drink?”
I almost said no, but my mouth was dry. “Water’s fine. Thank you.”
We fell silent while she got me the water, moving close to hand it to me. She looked up at me from under her lashes. “Do you always make late-night house calls?”
Clearing my throat again, I said, “Almost never.”
“Honest”—she laughed—“I like that.”
I nodded. “I’m always honest.”
She sobered. “I bet you are.”
“You don’t like liars.”
She shrugged. “Who does?”
I wondered if it had something to do with her past or if it was a recent boyfriend or friend that had her appreciating honesty. “Some people feel the need.”
“With me, what you see is what you get. I don’t play games.”
What you see is what you get. Gorgeous curves covered by black lace.
She’d always been in the periphery when I was dating Delilah. I’d kept thinking of her as Delilah’s little sister so I wouldn’t see her as more.
Seeing her in her apartment, that black lace had blown all my careful thoughts out of the water.
Remi was gorgeous. Smoking hot.
She was probably sweet and kind, but all I could focus on was the swirls of black lace and the tease of bare skin underneath. I had to know if she was wearing purple lace underwear to match her bra or nothing at all.
Remi stepped back, and I drank the water like I was in the desert and hadn’t seen water for days. Draining the glass, I set it on the counter.
I needed to focus. Remi was a victim of a crime. I was here to keep her updated on the investigation. Not add thoughts of her bare skin to my spank bank.
“You see anything suspicious at your store? Someone new coming in, asking questions, being overly observant?”
She slowly shook her head. “I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary. I’m not sure I would notice if it was.”
I wasn’t sure she would either. That’s why I worried more about her.
Remi moved to her small loveseat, sitting with her leg tucked under her, the sweating glass in her hands. “I have you to thank, though.”
I followed her into the living room, hovering by the doorway. “For what?”
“You made me realize I was marketing to women when I need to be thinking about the other half of the market I’ve neglected.”
“How did I do that?” I racked my brain, thinking of the moment when I’d alluded to that.
“It wasn’t anything you said necessarily, but you were reluctant to take a bottled juice to work. As if you would be embarrassed to be seen with one.”
“I never said that. I said the guys wouldn’t let me hear the end of it, but they act like kids. I wouldn’t change your business model based on those idiots.”
“It wasn’t even what you said. I sensed that you were uncomfortable.”
“Maybe you’re not as unobservant as you think.”
She smiled, and it made me wonder if she was just more observant when it came to me. As soon as the thought entered my head, I dismissed it. I was her sister’s ex. She didn’t think of me any other way. Not when she seemingly brought her sister up every time we saw each other.
“I don’t know about that, but I made a list of places that cater to men. Health clubs and hotels.”
“You want to add juice bars to gyms?”
“Maybe…or just sell my bottled juices at the counter. I’d share a percentage of the sales with the gym. It’s passive income like what I have at Ava’s bakery.”
I sat next to her because the small sofa was the only chair besides a large bean bag in the corner. “That’s a good idea. You looking to expand your business?”
“I’m always thinking of ways to avoid being a fad. I don’t want to be known for juice cleanses or diet drinks. I’ve thought about adding my juices to the yoga retreats or events going on, too.”
“You have a good business mind.”
A flash of hurt crossed her face. “Try not to act so surprised.”
Scrambling, I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything—”
She held up a hand. “It’s okay. I know what people think of me. I’m flighty. Distracted. Weird even.”
“I don’t think that.” I worried she was inattentive to where she parked her car and her personal safety. But I never thought she was stupid. “I’ve always thought you were smart.”
“Do you know how I got started?”
“No.” I assumed she’d gotten a business loan, or her parents helped.
“I did pop-ups at farmers’ markets for a long time. Making and creating the juice myself. Then I got a bit of a following, and I started a weekly juice club, offering packages and meal plans for the week. But it was the cleanses that were the most popular.”
“What you don’t want to be known for?”
She smiled as if pleased I’d been listening. “Exactly. Eventually, I had enough members that opening a storefront made sense. I could produce more juice there than in my apartment.”
“You still have the memberships?”
“It’s my bread and butter. People want a little health coaching with their juice. They want to feel like what they’re doing is healthy, helping their body.”
“You believe in the whole mind-body experience.”
I’d noticed the yoga mat on the wood floor in front of the TV. I didn’t get the impression she’d placed it there for a workout. It was always there. Like at any moment, she’d fall into a downward dog position. The thought of her ass in the air, her head down, had my cock jerking in my pants.
She smiled. “Absolutely. I practice it myself. Yoga and meditation.”
“I get working out. But not so much meditation.”
“Clearing your mind, even for a few minutes, does wonders.”
“I’ll have to trust you on that one.”
“Will you try it sometime?”
“What? Meditation?” The thought made my skin crawl. How would I stop my brain from running through my to-do list, my list of responsibilities, cases, and my schedule? How did one think of nothing for several minutes? It sounded impossible.
She reached over, picking up my hand and turning it over, running her fingers over my palm. “I’d be there. Helping you.”
“I don’t know.”
She laughed, and the sound had my heart skipping a beat. “We’ll try it. Not today. You’re not ready.”
“Are you saying I’m too stiff?” I shrugged my shoulders in an effort to loosen up.
She shrugged. “Anyone can meditate, but it takes practice to clear the mind. You can do it on your own or guided by someone.”
“I think I prefer guided.” If she were the one guiding me. Would she sit nearby, her voice urging me to relax? Or would she touch me?
I wasn’t sure I could relax the way she wanted if she was nearby. I’d be thinking of other things. Inappropriate ways to be sweaty and clear the mind. Gripping her hips while taking her from behind.
How had my brain gone from meditation to sweaty sex with Remi? It had to be her state of undress. The casual way she slipped under my skin when I least expected it. No one had accomplished that before.
After I’d dated Delilah, the women I’d gone out with had all been a way to pass the time. No one was serious. Even if I wanted a fling or a one-night thing with Remi, she wasn’t the type of girl I could do that with. Not when I’d dated her sister. She wasn’t a girl I wouldn’t see again.
“I think it would be good for you.”
Did she know what I was thinking? That sex with her would be amazing?
“You know. Meditation.”
“Right.” Because she wasn’t having naughty thoughts about me. I hadn’t shown up at her house shirtless with my muscles on display. I was completely covered with my uniform, still wearing my bulletproof vest.
Even if I wanted to lose myself in the moment, it would take me so long to get out of my uniform, I’d remember why getting involved with Remi was a bad idea.
She laughed again. “The look on your face.”
“I’m not a yoga-meditation kind of guy.”
She sobered. “Yeah. That’s clear.”
What did she think of me, and why did I care?
“It’s not a bad thing. You probably have to be strung tight for your job. Hold yourself together. Always on guard. But wouldn’t it feel good to let it go? To clear your mind of everything. Get in touch with yourself.” The passion for that lifestyle was evident on her face. She believed it worked, and she wanted to help me.
“I don’t know about getting in touch with myself”—that sounded like some crazy mumbo jumbo—“but clearing my mind and relaxing sounds nice.”
She smiled softly. “Whenever you want to try, let me know.”
Something warm settled in my chest. It felt a lot like longing for something more meaningful. I might take her up on it, not just for the elusive relaxation she talked about, but to be near her. To feel some of the positivity she did.
“I might take you up on it.” I stood, moving toward the door. I needed to get out of here before she had me on that yoga mat, guiding me into position with her touch, and I lost all sense of control.
“Anytime, Officer.” Her voice was light, teasing.
Did she feel the same attraction, or did she think of me only as her sister’s ex? I couldn’t form a response. I was too caught up in what the hell I was doing here and where my mind was going.
“Thanks for stopping by,” she murmured as she reached past me to open the door.
“Be careful. Let me know if you see anything out of the ordinary.” I infused my cop tone into my words.
A slow smile spread over her face. “Oh, I will.”
I stood on the landing in front of her door, my brain misfiring as I took her in. “You always wear that lace top to answer the door?”
She looked down and then grinned. “I kind of forgot I was wearing it.” She tipped her head to the side, considering me. “Why, does it bother you?”
What could I say to that? It makes me hot?
She preferred honesty, but I couldn’t give it to her.
I shook my head, leaving before I pulled her against me, feeling her soft curves pressed against my hard ones.
The tinkle of her laugh followed me as I jogged down her stairs.
She was as complicated as the lace patterns on her shirt. Beautiful and sweet, intricate and detailed, covered and bare. Teasing with a hint of the promise of things to come. She was a temptation. One I’d give in to if I weren’t careful.
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Lawyer Emily Holcomb is up for partner just as she’s becoming a household name after her appearance on a blockbuster TV cooking show. Extroverted Emily only has to wrap up a mammoth real estate deal in tiny Black Duck, West Virginia, and her dream career will be secured. But Liam Thomas is determined to see Emily fail. As the reluctant mayor of Black Duck, the calm, reserved mountain man has a town to protect from invading corporate interests. How can these star-crossed lovers remain true to themselves and the people who depend on them when they can’t even agree on what to eat for dinner?