13. 1

I stare out the passenger window at the tree-lined street. It’s weird… because I haven’t stepped foot out of the city in five years. I’m used to the concrete jungle, not this fall oasis where the leaves are just starting to get a touch of color and the air is refreshingly crisp in the morning.

Flynn is driving me to his cousin’s house in Englewood, New Jersey. I’m apparently starting a new job today, brought about by the generosity of Nix and Flynn Caldwell. I’m torn, because on the one hand, I want to be elated that I’ll have a way to make money. But on the other hand, I’m feeling like a failure that this job was sort of handed to me.

Flynn’s line—beggars can’t be choosers—flits through my mind and I sigh inwardly. I suppose I need to swallow a bit of my pride and go ahead and look at the bright side of things. So I’m telling the new Rowan to suck it up and be nothing but appreciative of this job.

The old Rowan still exists though, because Flynn and I had a knock-down, drag-out fight last night about him driving me here. I insisted I could take public transit. I even showed him on the computer a nice little route that, between the bus and subway, I could make it in just a little over an hour and a half. Flynn then promptly pulled up driving directions on Google Maps and showed me how he could have me there in about forty-five minutes by his car. Then we got into a major pissing contest about it, but he eventually won by telling me he wanted to visit his parents while Nix showed me the ropes.

“Are you still pissed at me?” Flynn asks with a good-natured attitude.

“Yup. Leave me alone.” I try to sound harsh but truth be told, I’m really not pissed at him anymore. I find it very difficult to hold strong against his wit and charm.

Flynn reaches over and tugs on the end of my hair. “You’re cute when you’re mad.”

I lean my head to the right, dislodging his hand from my hair. Not because I’m mad, but because his touch affects me too much.

“Am not mad.”

“Are, too. Admit it. You don’t like the fact I won our argument.”

I turn my head toward him and he takes his eyes off the road for a second to return my gaze. I shoot him my best fuck-off glare but he only laughs at me. His dimple pops out, his eyes crinkle up at the corners, and I think he may be the most gorgeous man alive.

Seriously.

I turn my head to look back out the passenger window, not because I’m mad, but because of the smile that is involuntarily creeping onto my face.

Damn that Flynn Caldwell and his devious charm.

1

Nix’s fianc?e greets us at the door, telling us that Nix is doing some welding in his shop and that she’ll be teaching me the ropes. Emily Burnham is a pretty cool chick. She clearly comes from money, and I make that snap judgment based on the designer clothes she’s wearing and the expensive salon cut of her hair. I had those same things once upon a time, and I can honestly say I don’t miss it. The price that came with having those luxuries just wasn’t worth it to me.

Still, the one thing Emily Burnham is not, is snobbish. She immediately hugs me when Flynn introduces us, then coos over me like a mother hen for the ordeal I’d been through recently. Once that is out of the way, she eagerly takes me out back to show me Nix’s shop, and I throw a casual wave to Flynn as he gets back in his car to go visit his mom and dad.

I follow Emily to a workshop in the backyard. We enter and I immediately take in the surroundings. It’s lit with bright overhead, fluorescent bulbs and it’s neatly organized. The walls sport shelving stacked with various tools and implements that I have no idea what they do. In the corner, there is a tattered recliner and a mini-fridge. In another corner, there is a desk with a laptop, and I’m guessing it’s Emily’s workspace because it’s adorned with framed photos of her and Nix, as well as a vase of flowers. She girled the space up a bit.

“So, this is where you’ll work,” she says as she walks to the desk. “Flynn said you’re pretty computer savvy.”

I nod. “Yeah. I don’t own one but I use the one at the public library a lot.”

“Well, it’s mostly bookkeeping and tracking supply orders. Pretty basic software like QuickBooks and Excel. I’ll be able to teach you everything today, so consider this just an orientation.”

Emily boots the laptop up and drags a short stool from the large workbench that takes up the middle of the room. “Sit here and just watch. I’ll go through everything and then let you try some invoices. The password to log on is badthings.”

“Bad things?” I ask.

Emily gives a very un-lady-like snicker. “Yeah… I was singing the song Bad Things by Jace Everett when Nix and I had our first kiss. It seemed appropriate.”

I take the seat and peer over her shoulder as she explains how to keep Nix organized and his business running smoothly. It only takes her about an hour to show me the basics and, admittedly, it doesn’t look too hard. I’m pretty good with numbers and I expect after I do a few invoices myself, I’ll be working with no problems.

A door that sits on the far side of the room opens, and I get my first look at who I assume is Nix Caldwell. He gives me a quick glance and takes off his work gloves, throwing them on a nearby shelf. Without a word of greeting, he heads to the sink and washes his hands. Emily is engrossed on the computer and doesn’t seem to notice he’s entered.

Had I not known that Flynn and Nix were cousins, I would have pegged them as brothers. They have the same dark brown hair and hazel eyes, although his have a bit more green in them, but they also have the same nose and lips. Nix’s attitude seems a bit surly from the start, so I’ll have to wonder if he has dimples when he smiles.

If he smiles.

“Hey, babe… remind me what account I put this invoice under from Shogran Motors.”

Apparently, Emily did notice he walked into the room because she never even pulls her nose away from the computer to ask that question.

Nix turns away from the sink and he now has a smile on his face that is so warm and tender, I actually swallow a tiny lump in my throat. The smile isn’t for me though… it’s directed straight at Emily and he walks toward her without ever taking his eyes from her back.

I watch as Nix walks up behind Emily, bends over, and wraps his arms around her shoulders, crossing them over her chest. He leans his chin on top of her head and looks at the computer screen. “Put it under the account labeled ‘Kit Vendor’.”

Emily taps a few strokes on the keyboard and I follow her progress on the screen, making a mental note to myself to do the same the next time I get that invoice to enter.

“Thanks,” Emily says as she tilts her head back so she can see Nix. “You are an amazing man.”

Nix leans over and gives her a swift kiss on her lips. “I know. You lucked out with me.”

I’m almost embarrassed that I’m watching this interplay between them. I’ve never been an openly affectionate person and this display makes me a little uncomfortable, and just a little bit envious. I try to imagine Flynn wrapping his arms around me like that… leaning his body into mine… giving me a tender kiss. Just the thought causes a longing to rise up in me, but I quickly push it back down. I’ve struggled with my feelings for Flynn and it helped having him gone the last three days. The alone time helped me to refocus and I kept repeating the mantra, “Flynn and I are better off as friends” as much as possible. I hoped that by repeating it, it would sink in and I would accept it.

Emily stands up from the chair, dislodging herself from Nix’s embrace. “Nix… meet Rowan. Rowan… meet Nix.”

Nix straightens and leans a hip on the edge of the desk. He doesn’t reach out to shake my hand and he certainly doesn’t offer me a hug the way Emily did, which is just fine by me. Her hug weirded me out just a bit. Rather, Nix crosses his arms over his chest and gives me a quick once-over. I see distrust in his eyes and I have to wonder what I’ve done this early on in our relationship to earn that look.

“So… what’s your story, Rowan?”

His words seem pleasant enough but his body language doesn’t compute. Shrugging my shoulders, I tell him, “Not much of a story. Just an out-of-work girl looking for a job.”

My answer is evasive and Nix knows it is. The look of distrust in his eyes magnifies more. “Where are you from?”

“Brooklyn,” I tell him.

“And before that?”

“Texas… Lewisville to be exact.”

“Why did you come to New York?”

“Just wanted to see the world… got sidetracked by the glitz of The Big Apple.”

“Family still there?”

“To my knowledge,” I answer, starting to get irritated by his questions.

“To your knowledge? You don’t know?”

Okay… I’ve had it with his nosiness. “Is this a job interview because I was under the impression I already had the job?”

Glancing at Emily, I can see she’s worried by the way I snapped at Nix. By all appearances, he was making casual conversation, but I know he’s rooting around because he’s skeptical of me.

Nix just casually shrugs his shoulders, completely at ease with my bitchy attitude. “You have the job. I was just curious, is all. You start tomorrow… eight to five with an hour for lunch. You’re more than welcome to eat with me in the house if I’m here. If I’m gone, you’re on your own but there’s sodas in that fridge. And don’t be late.”

I’m not sure I like Nix very much… or at all. But he is now my employer, and he’s my new bud and roommate’s cousin, so I try to play nice. “Got it. Anything else you need to show me, Emily? Because if not, I think I got it.”

Emily pulls her puzzled gaze from Nix and looks at me. “That’s it. I’ll show you Nix’s stockroom and then we can go in the house and have a drink while we wait for Flynn to come back.”

Nix doesn’t say another word, just turns around and heads back through the door from which he had just exited a few moments ago.

“I’m sorry,” Emily says. “Nix wasn’t being nosy; he was just trying to get to know you.”

Yeah, those are one in the same, I think to myself.

“No problem,” I assure her. And it isn’t a problem. I’m pretty sure I put Nix in his place and he’ll be avoiding share time with me from now on.

1

Flynn takes me out to dinner, to celebrate, he says, for getting a job. He’s in good spirits the entire time and it eventually rubs off on me. It’s so hard for me to maintain my surly distance when he’s constantly smiling and joking around with me. He’s like a drug that makes me happy, and once again, I offer up a small prayer of thanks for bringing him into my life.

After taking a sip of his drink, Flynn looks at me. “So, I wanted to ask…what was the deal with you and Juice? How did you end up with someone like him?”

I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. I knew he was bad news but I was drawn to him. It was part of the rebel that still existed inside of me, I guess. And knowing I wouldn’t ever be good enough for someone better than a guy like him, I sort of just settled.”

“Now, that’s just not true. You could have anyone you wanted,” Flynn says with admonishment. “But he definitely wasn’t good enough for you.”

“It took me a while to figure that out. Plus, he just became so possessive. When I tried to leave, I didn’t even have any grand plan. I just quietly packed a bag, hooked Capone’s leash on, and tried to sneak out of the house. He wasn’t as sound asleep as I thought he was.”

“And that’s when he chained you up?”

“Yeah… but after I told him that I would just leave again the next opportunity I got. Dumb move on my part, I suppose, but I never thought he’d keep me prisoner.”

“Was he on drugs or something?”

“Actually, no,” I tell him. “I tried to stay pretty removed from his drug deals, but from what I did see… at that level, you don’t really use the stuff yourself. He treated it very much like a business and I guess you got to have a sharp mind to be successful at it.”

“And stay one step ahead of the cops.”

“That is definitely a good reason not to let your mind get clouded with that shit.”

Flynn gives me a knowing look. “You’ve overcome a lot, Rowan. I’m proud of you.”

My insides warm from his words… the first time anyone has said that to me. They are said with such sincerity, I have no doubt he truly means it.

When we get back to the apartment, Flynn offers to take Capone for his evening walk and I acquiesce, wanting nothing more than a long, hot shower and to get to bed so I can be fresh for my first day of work tomorrow. I let the hot water soak into me as I reflect over the day.

Nix is certainly a piece of work but I really like Emily. I think in my old world, she and I probably would have been friends. In my new world, I’ve only just accepted Flynn as a friend and that’s enough for me right now.

When I finish the shower, I dress in the t-shirt and shorts that Flynn had given me my first night here. I’ve commandeered them as my pajamas but he hasn’t asked for them back so I’m not going to worry about it. Besides… I like wearing Flynn’s clothes to bed. It’s a way to be close to him without really being physically close to him. It’s a way to touch him without ruining our friendship.

I step out of the bathroom, running my fingers through my wet hair. In the kitchen, I grab a bottle of water and twist the cap off, taking a long swallow. Glancing over, I see Flynn left his breakfast dishes in the sink so I put the bottle down and start to wash them.

“You don’t have to do it.” Flynn’s voice washes over me, warm, comforting, and even exhilarating. I hate that my body reacts to him this way.

I turn around and give him a casual shrug. He’s standing in the doorway with Capone beside him. “No biggie. But tomorrow, once I start working, we’re sharing in the cleaning duties, fifty-fifty, right?”

“Right,” he assures me. “But will you still clean the toilet? That gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

Rinsing the last plate and wiping it down, I turn around to him. “Seriously? You get freaked out over a toilet? You’re a freakin’ firefighter. Aren’t you supposed to be all macho or something?”

Flynn puts on his most hurt look and places a closed fist on his chest. “You wound me, Rowan. You seriously wound me.”

I lean my hip against the kitchen sink, rolling my eyes at him. “I seriously doubt that wounded you.”

“It did,” he proclaims as he walks to the kitchen sink. Pulling a glass out of the cupboard, he fills it with water and takes a sip. “And when people make fun of me, I tend to retaliate, so I’d be careful if I were you.”

His tone is light and teasing and I instantly smile at him. I fucking just can’t help myself. With a laugh, I playfully punch him on the arm. “Oooohh… I’m so scared. What could you possibly say to me that would wound me?”

Swallowing the last of his water, he sets the glass in the sink and turns the water on. He picks up the sprayer and starts rinsing the glass out. “Well, on occasion… well, really only once before, when someone dared to question my masculinity… I did a little something like this…”

Without warning, Flynn turns the sprayer my way and sprays me right in the face. I’m so stunned, I can’t even react, and he takes the opportunity to wave the sprayer up and down, soaking my entire shirt in the process. Capone sees the water flying and scurries out of the war zone with his tail tucked between his legs.

I finally snap out of it and my first thought is payback. I lunge for him and wrap my hands around his, trying to wrestle the sprayer from his grip. He starts laughing and raises his hands higher, now spraying water down on the top of my head.

“I’m a firefighter. Look at me!” he exclaims as water rains all around me.

I shriek in mock outrage, and decide I’ll never be strong enough to rip it away from him, so I go in for a secondary attack. I drop my arms to his waist and, taking a big gamble, I start to tickle him. I have no clue if he’s ticklish or not, but if he is, the sprayer… and thus victory, will be mine.

The minute my fingertips dig into skin, he jerks almost convulsively. The sprayer drops but I can’t make a grab for it because Flynn now has my hands in his and he’s trying to push me away. He’s now laughing hysterically while I try to tickle him and we are now engaged in a battle to keep my fingertips away from his stomach. As we push and pull against each other, both of us out of breath from laughing, our feet start slipping and sliding on the wet linoleum.

My eyes lock with his, just for a brief moment, and I see pure happiness and joy radiating from his face. Then our feet fly out from under us and we start a free-fall to the kitchen floor. I’m not sure if it’s his firefighting skills, or he’s just a damn good rescuer, but Flynn’s arms wrap around my waist and he manages to turn both of our bodies so he’s underneath me as we go down. We land with a jarring thud, with Flynn taking the impact from the floor and my body on top of his. He winces and exhales loudly.

“Oh, shit,” I say. “Your ribs.”

I sit up immediately and straddle his thighs, my knees coming to rest against the wet floor on either side of him. I carefully lift his shirt up from the hem, revealing his torso. The purple bruise on his ribs is fading and is now a lovely yellow-green. I skim my fingers lightly over it. “Does it hurt?”

His voice comes out gruff. “Not in the slightest.”

I move my eyes to his and they are filled with such intensity and longing, my heart stops cold in my chest. When it resumes its life beat, it starts hammering so hard I think I can hear it.

“Flynn,” I say, but then I trail off, words failing me.

“Kiss me, Rowan.” His hands come up and rest warmly on my thighs. His gaze travels down briefly to my chest and I glance down to see what has caught his attention. My shirt is soaked through and my nipples are pushing hard against the material. When I look back at Flynn, he runs his tongue over his bottom lip while he stares at my breasts.

When he looks back to my eyes, he merely says, “Please” and it’s all over for me. I lean forward, bringing my hands to cradle his face. When my lips meet his, his mouth is already open and waiting and my tongue dives straight in. The kiss is instantly molten and desire rockets through my body.

Proving that Flynn’s workouts clearly focus on strong abs, he sits straight up, bringing my weight up with him. Without breaking the kiss, he wraps my legs around his waist and pushes me down onto his lap. I’m met with the thick bulge that is pressing against his fly and I can’t stop myself when my hips move to run myself against his hardness.

Flynn answers my move by gripping my waist and pushing me down even harder against him, all the while ravaging my mouth. My head is spinning, lost in the sensation of this kiss, the way our hips moving against each other causes moisture to flood between my legs.

Tearing his lips off mine, Flynn pushes his nose into my neck and whispers his lips against me, “Fuck, Rowan… I want you so bad. Tell me you want me to.”

Somewhere—deep down in my brain—something is yelling at me to stop. I push it away from me, refusing to listen. My body is taking over and my brain has no business butting in.

“I do,” is all I say and then he’s kissing me again.

Flynn’s hands grab the bottom of my shirt and he peels it upward. Our faces break apart so he can get the offending material up and over my head. He throws it carelessly aside but rather than kissing me again, he merely leans back and looks at my breasts. Bringing his hand up, he lightly runs his knuckles over the swells and valley. “Christ… you’re perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

His voice is so reverent I have to close my eyes so I can just revel in it for a moment. No man has ever looked at me with such worship.

My eyes snap open when I realize Flynn has leaned forward and flicked his tongue over my nipple. I gasp in surprise and pleasure. He peeks up at me with a mischievous smile, his hazel eyes barely showing through his lashes, and places his lips back against my breast.

“You’re so responsive,” he says, while his lips graze my skin. It causes a ripple of pleasure to shoot through me. I’ve never been this reactive with a man before, but with the barest of touches or a few sensual words, my body almost explodes in pleasure.

I remember the dream I had about Flynn—the orgasm that fired through me with him just kissing behind my knee, and I realize that I’m responsive to Flynn because there is a deeper connection there than any I’ve ever felt before.

It is born of a relationship that was forged under very unique circumstances, and then cemented due to the fact that Flynn is a genuine soul. He’s been about the most perfect friend I could ever wish for.

And that thought douses me with cold water. Because it all comes flooding back to me. Flynn is my friend, and that is all I want him to be.

Right?

Yes, right. That is all he can be. If we make this sexual, then friendship is excluded. I think that is the way things work, at least to my limited knowledge.

Even though Flynn’s mouth is working at my nipple and I want nothing more than him to fuck me into oblivion, the voice in my head is now screaming so loud, I can’t ignore it.

Grabbing Flynn’s head, I gently push him away.

“I’m sorry,” I say, as I scrabble up from his lap. Grabbing my t-shirt, I hold it in front of me. I look down into Flynn’s confused expression. “I can’t do this.”

Then I turn and run for my bedroom.

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