Smoke and embers, p.12

Smoke and Embers, страница 12

 

Smoke and Embers
 

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  She pleaded with the older man. “And if I was not fully aware of what I was signing, how will that impact this situation?”

  “Mrs. Harris, I’m going to be upfront with you. If you contest your signature, or the fact that you were unaware of what you were signing, it will cause a delay in our payments. The courts will get involved and there is no telling how long it will take to get the situation resolved. And in the end, after all the legal expenses you will incur, you will come out worse than what we can do for you right now.”

  “Damn that man.” Her phone buzzed, she glanced at it in her purse and saw it was Mike calling her. Damn that man also. She ignored it. “Okay, let’s say I leave that alone, where do we stand for me to rebuild?”

  He hit some more keys on his computer and showed her the screen once again. “After we pay off the mortgage, you will have some left over. Unfortunately, it will not be enough to totally rebuild, but if we can get the appraisal up a little, you shouldn’t have to borrow too much to get yourself back up and running.”

  “Wow. That’s a lot to process. Is it okay if I get back with you in a day or two?” She would run this information by her dad as well as Graeme.

  “Certainly. We can’t do anything until we have the official fire report back. So you go ahead and take care of whatever personal items in the house that you want to keep. And check with the captain, but I believe you have the go ahead to use that little cottage however you want. We have that as a separate unit and that portion is not included in the mortgage.”

  “Well that’s one good thing.” She stood to leave, shaking his hand and thanking him for his time.

  Brooke walked out into the afternoon sunshine. She had a lot to think about, but in the meantime she planned to pack up what was in the kitchen and move her small amount of things into the guest cottage. Her dad would have a fit when she told him she was moving, but she needed her own space. It was time to get her life on an even keel in preparation for the baby. Hopefully he would understand.

  ****

  Mike sat at the bar at Tucker’s and downed half of the beer Graeme placed in front of him.

  “Where the hell have you been? No one has seen or heard from you in two days.” Graeme wiped the bar down.

  “Man, I feel like I’ve been to hell and back. I found that bastard that Kyle was messed up with.” He recounted the story to Graeme.

  With the handful of names and numbers found in Kyle’s wallet and cell phone, and with the help of Marcus, it didn’t take Mike long to find Jeremy in Jackson, Mississippi. He easily identified the short, bald man. When he left the bar alone, Mike followed him. He had seen the man before with Kyle, only at the time Mike had no idea who or what he was about. He also had a strong suspicion that this was the guy snooping around Brooke’s place.

  Walking the streets of Jackson after midnight was not his idea of a good time, but if he didn’t get answers he was going to go insane. He had to make sure Brooke was safe. Especially now. Mike crossed the street behind Jeremy. When the man walked between two buildings, Mike grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him down the backstreet before Jeremy had a chance to fight back. Halfway down the dark alley, he slammed him against the brick wall of a building.

  “What the hell?” Jeremy groaned.

  “Shut the fuck up and listen to me. I don’t know who you are working for, but you better get word back to him that if he doesn’t leave Brooke alone, you all will pay.” Spittle flew from his mouth. His anger had gotten the best of him.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Jeremy’s voice squeaked out. He twisted his arm trying to get out of Mike’s hold.

  “The hell you don’t. I know you were working with Kyle. Which means you are involved in the threats against Brooke, the fire at her house, and probably Kyle’s death.”

  “That was an accident. He wasn’t supposed to die.”

  Jeremy jerked one of his arms free and slammed it into Mike’s face. For a small man, he sure packed one hell of a punch. The impact threw Mike off balance for a second. He regained his posture, planted his feet firmly, and punched Jeremy in the gut. The man doubled over, grabbing at his stomach. Mike grabbed his arms, twisting one behind his back and planting Jeremy’s face in the brick.

  “Well he did die. Get a message to your boss. Leave Brooke alone. Whatever Kyle owed him, consider it paid in full. Otherwise you all will have the roof fall in on your little underground world.”

  “Let me go.” Jeremy twisted his body, trying to break free of Mike’s hold.

  “Understood?” Mike pressed him harder into the wall.

  “Got it.”

  Mike slammed his beer bottle down on the bar. “Dammit, Graeme, if they threaten her one more time I’m going to lose it.”

  “I know where you’re coming from. When those bastards had Abby, I nearly went crazy.” Graeme opened another beer for each of them.

  “I guess Abby told you that Brooke is pregnant.” Mike’s hand tightened on the bottle.

  Graeme slowly nodded. “Yeah she did. She also told me that you haven’t said five words to Brooke since you found out.”

  “Not so true. She won’t take my calls.”

  “Make her listen. She needs to know you are there for her. She’s not like your ex.”

  “Don’t go there.” His words were a warning to drop the subject. He didn’t want to discuss this with his friend. He was still trying to process the fact that Brooke was going to have his baby. A baby he’d always wanted and was once cheated of. How did he know she wouldn’t rob him of that joy as well? It was best that he didn’t allow himself to get attached. That was the only way to protect his heart.

  Graeme stood to tend to arriving customers and slapped Mike on the back. “Brooke is a good woman.”

  “I know that, man. I just don’t know that I can give Brooke and a baby what they deserve.” Mike stared into his drink.

  “Where the hell is that talk coming from? I guess you don’t realize that since the fire Brooke has been walking around like a zombie. She’s put up a good front, but not having you there with her has taken its toll. You are what she deserves. And wants.” Graeme stood, nodding an acknowledgement to a customer.

  Mike finished his beer, his thoughts on one person. Brooke. Could Graeme be right? God knew, Mike wanted Brooke more than anything. She filled a spot in his life no one ever had. Her warmth, smile, and strong will made her a person to be proud of.

  He had been such an ass toward her since the fire. She thought he wasn’t happy about the pregnancy. Hell, he was so damned tickled, he didn’t know how to act. The fact that Brooke was carrying his child made it all the more special. Deep down, he knew she would never terminate the pregnancy like his ex. No, Brooke would raise and love the child with all she had. And dammit, he wanted to be there with her. All he had to do was apologize and convince her to let him in.

  Chapter Fifteen

  Brooke sat on the floor of the kitchen, pots and pans scattered all around her. The boxes were filling up fast. Thankfully she would be able to save almost all of her kitchen items. Besides smoke soot needing to be washed off, there wasn’t much damage. Even the cabinets may be able to be salvaged if there wasn’t enough money for new ones. She had to cut corners wherever she could.

  Her dad took the news pretty good that she was not going to stay with him any longer. He said he completely understood her need to settle in the guest house. His concern was for her and his grandbaby’s safety, so she promised him she would keep an extra eye out for any danger. Chief Colby would be the first person she would call. He was only a few minutes away from the beach.

  Standing in the middle of the floor, surveying her progress, she sighed and grabbed another box to pack dishes in. What she wouldn’t do for a glass of wine. It would hit the spot on calming her nerves. But she couldn’t indulge that desire. Well, maybe one glass. The doctor did okay that. The sound of footsteps trudging through the burned debris behind her startled her. She turned, not
sure who she was expecting to see.

  Hard, green eyes pinned her to the spot where she stood next to the island counter. The devil should not be carrying a stuffed teddy bear and a bouquet of orange lilies, but this one was. She looked from the plush toy to the man’s arms wrapped around it. The fresh fragrance of the flowers was a welcome scent compared to the musty soot she had been breathing in all afternoon.

  Her rattled emotions could not deal with Mike. She turned away from him and began packing her red dishes into the box, carefully wrapping each plate. The guest cottage was fully stocked and there was no telling how long these would have to stay in storage. To make sure they were protected, she lined each box with bubble wrap.

  She sensed his presence behind her.

  “Brooke.” His voice was raw.

  “What Mike?” She turned to face him, dropping the last plate into the box with a pop.

  “These are for you and I brought this for the baby.” He set the flowers and the bear on the counter next to the half-full box.

  “Don’t waste your time, effort, or money. I don’t need your help with any of this.” One thing she would not allow would be for him to pop in and out of their lives when the whim hit him. It was all or nothing.

  “Help with what?” His jaw clenched. He advanced around the counter toward her. She backed up until her back was against the refrigerator. “Raising our baby?”

  In an instant, the struggles of the last several months fell on Brooke’s head. She couldn’t stop the rambling. “Kyle’s accidental death, the pervert that attacked me on the beach, strange letters, the weirdo checking out my bed and breakfast, the gun toting man, the fire, and the insurance roadblocks. Not to mention the unexpected pregnancy.” Which resulted from one unmentionable encounter with the sexy as hell fire captain. In the perfect world, any woman could handle all of this. But as everyone knows, this world was not perfect.

  If only he wouldn’t look at her with those damn green eyes. They pierced her heart like no other. She wouldn’t allow him to get to her. If he wanted anything to do with her or their baby, he would’ve been there before then.

  “Baby let me help you.” He stepped closer until he was standing beside her. He brushed her hair out of her face. She backed away.

  “Help me? You were so angry in the hospital when I told you I was pregnant. That didn’t sound to me like you want to help.”

  “Whoa. Hold on a minute. You were so out of it because of the medication, you misunderstood my reaction.”

  “And.” Brooke sucked in a deep breath. Her anxiety level had reached its peak. She continued her rant without giving him a chance to explain. “You can’t even stick around to know what’s going on. Where have you been? You find out I’m pregnant and you go radio silent. I don’t need that kind of rejection.”

  “How do you even know I left town? The only person I told was…Colby…son of a bitch.”

  “Colby said you went to search for the guys who did this.” She swept her hand in the air, indicating the burnt house. “Don’t do that. Let the proper authorities handle it. You fight fires, not thugs.”

  He advanced toward her. “You just don’t get it, do you?”

  His stare stopped her from moving farther away. The vein in his neck twitched. He raised a hand and Brooke screeched, sinking into the corner.

  “What the hell?” Any compassion she may have seen in his eyes was replaced by anger. “Brooke, don’t back away from me.”

  He reached out to her, but she shrank farther into the smoke scarred walls, sliding down onto the floor. She braced herself for the blow. “No.”

  “Damn you, Kyle. What the hell did you do?” Raw emotion echoed in the open area.

  “Stop.” She put her hands up to block her face.

  The next thing she felt was strong arms pulling her into comfort. His soft words sank into her head. “Calm down and look at me.”

  “You were going to hit me. You raised your hand.”

  A chuckle rumbled through his chest, vibrating against her. “No, I was about to pull my own damn hair out. I would never hit you. Ever.” He stroked her arms and back, his touch relieving some of her stress. He framed her face with his hands, his thumb stroking her bottom lip. “Look at me. He hit you?”

  She nodded. “Once.” His look of disbelief said he didn’t believe that. “I swear it was only one time. I told him if it ever happened again I would blow his little fantasy world all to shit.”

  Mike laughed. “Good for you. But you should’ve exposed him anyway.”

  “I know.”

  Mike caressed her cheek. His hands swept across her skin from her face to her belly. He splayed his hands across her abdomen. “Our baby.” He kissed her neck. Shivers shot through her, ending just below where his hands rested.

  She covered his hands with her own. “Ours. I wanted to tell you in person, but it was late when you got home from training. And then the fire.” She quivered remembering the torture of that night.

  “Shh. It’s okay.” His calloused hands stroked her cheek.

  She took his hands in hers and placed them all on her belly again. “I know this was not planned, and if you aren’t ready for it, I understand. I can take care of this little one on my own if I need to. I don’t want you to feel trapped in any way.”

  “Is that what you think?”

  She stiffened in his embrace. “Well, you have been avoiding me.”

  Laughter echoed throughout the open room. “Who has been avoiding who? I’ve tried to talk to you every day, except for when I was out of town. You, ma’am, have been pushing me away. And I am not going to allow that any longer.”

  He stood. He was going to walk away. She had pushed him too far with her independent outburst. Without a word, he bent down, scooped her up, and carried her out of the kitchen to the guest cottage. Brooke tried to rein in her heart, which had suddenly started beating crazily. Mike carried her inside, kicked the front door shut, and didn’t stop until he laid her on the bed.

  A few artificial rose petals fluttered around on the comforter. Brooke had left them for her guests, but they never had the chance to enjoy them. Days later, the sweet scent tingled Brooke’s nose, igniting the fire inside her.

  Mike stretched out on the bed next to her. He touched her stomach, his eyes glazing over. “This may not have been planned, but he or she is not an accident. You don’t know how thrilled I am for you to be carrying my child. Brooke…” He closed his eyes.

  She touched his cheek. “What? Talk to me.”

  He pulled her hand away from his face, pinned it on the pillow beneath her, and stared into her soul. “Enough talking for now. Let me love you.”

  His lips covered hers, cutting off anything she may have thought about saying. Lips touched her neck, her back arched, giving him full access. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer. She needed him.

  He stood next to the bed, slid the sandals off her feet, kissing her toes until they curled. His fingers slipped into the waistband of her shorts, popping the button open. He pulled them off, tossed them aside, and gazed down at her. Brooke had never seen green eyes so sexually intense. They made her want to whisper dirty secrets in his ear.

  He started at her feet, kissing every inch of her until he reached her shirt. He stripped it off, discarding it. The cool air from the ceiling fan breezed over her bare skin. His hands cupped her breasts through the lacy bra. She placed her hands on top of his, linking their fingers together. He smiled that crooked smile.

  “I’m going to make you feel my love, make you weak for only me.” His voice was full of raw emotion.

  She inhaled deeply, Black Ice teasing her nose. Damn, the man always smelled delicious. Brooke stood beside the bed next to him. She stood on tiptoes, brushed her lips over his, and then cradled his face with her hands. She ran her finger over his lips. Her body shuddered when he sucked her fingers into his mouth, his tongue teasing her flesh. He reached his hand up and pulled her hair. “Ow,” she murmur
ed.

  “You like rough?” He tugged a little harder.

  “Ummm…I like that.” Excitement soared through her veins.

  She trailed her fingers down his chest. Tugging, she untucked his shirt from his jeans and pulled it over his head. She caressed his chest, splaying her fingers over his heated skin. Rock hard muscles twitched beneath her hands. He was breathing hard, much like herself. She was empowered seeing the effect her touch had on this man. He brushed her hands to the side long enough to remove the rest of their clothing.

  “Soft and slow this time for you baby.”

  “Gentle, but make me scream.” His grin told her all she needed to know. “I want you to hear me yell your name.”

  “Damn, you’re killing me.”

  He laid her back on the bed, his hands explored, making her hotter. The sun streaming in through the windows cast a warm, sensual glow on his body. His eyes held her captive as he slid his hands up her legs, over the sensitive skin of her thighs, across her stomach. Tears welled up in her eyes when he leaned over and kissed where their baby was safe and secure.

  He wiped away the wetness from her cheeks, then continued worshiping her body. Hot skin slid over hot skin. Sweat mixed with heavy breathing. Rough hands teased her nipples, turning them into buds ready for his warm lips. The pleasure soared to her core, she was wet and ready for him.

  He towered above her, kissed her deeply, and pressed her hands into the pillows next to her head, intertwining their fingers together. The simple restraint thrilled her. She could pull her hands away at any time, but she wanted to be his captive; wanted him to have his way with her.

  Their gazes locked. Brooke inhaled sharply when he completed her. This ride was like no other. And far from the first time they were together. Mike made love to her slow, intense, and profoundly satisfying. He held her hands tightly and thrust deeper, giving her all of himself just as she gave him everything that she was, the intensity building until they both came and she screamed his name.

 
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