Brad was waiting for Emily on the front steps when she parked his pickup. It was his brand new truck, a Dodge Ram with all the bells and whistles, and it had taken her some time to get used to driving it. Now that she had, she never wanted to drive the average, boring minivan everyone seemed to drive ever again. Brad complained endlessly about banging his knees when getting into the truck because she’d forget to move the seat back to accommodate his long legs each and every time.
As she walked around the front of the truck, he raised an eyebrow. He was leaning against the white pillar of the porch, holding a mug of coffee, wearing a red T-shirt, his faded blue jeans, and his cowboy boots, the ones he wore every day. He was the best-looking man Emily had ever seen.
“You’re never going to drive that thing I bought you, are you?” Brad said, gesturing to the gray minivan, still shiny and new. She didn’t think it had moved in a month.
She took a look at it before glancing back over to the shiny black truck and shaking her head. “No. I like the truck better.”
He had the most amazing smile. It started in his eyes and reached out to her, and it still had the ability to curl her toes. She started up the steps, and he opened his arms to her. This was her spot, beside him, and he didn’t have to say a word as she slid right into his arms and snuggled against him. Breathing in his scent, male and earthy, always settled her when she was feeling lost and out of sorts—like today. She ran her hands around his waist, feeling the tightness of the muscles on his back, and she leaned in against the hard pillow of his chest. His arm was so steady and strong around her, and she listened as he took a swallow of coffee.
“So the kids are at school. All disasters have been averted, and there’s peace and quiet now in your domain. So what do you think you’re going to do with all your free time, Mrs. Friessen?”
She loved the way he teased, but he didn’t have a clue what it took to run this house or raise his kids. Free time—was he kidding? “Trevor’s birthday is coming up. He’ll be the big thirteen. Any ideas on what we should do?”
“I can’t believe how big he’s getting,” he replied, and she looked up at him. For a minute, there had been a shadow in his voice, but then it was gone, as if he needed to hide it from her. She wondered for a moment whether he was thinking of Trevor’s mother, the woman who’d abandoned him, the woman who’d tried to destroy what Emily and Brad had. She wanted to kick herself every time thoughts of Crystal slipped into her mind. Brad’s ex-wife was a darkness in the light and the only person who could threaten her happiness.
“He’s looking more and more like you every day,” she said. “He has your nose, your jaw, and the way he’s filling out, he’s already taller than me.” But he had his mother’s eyes, and his lips, the way he tightened them when he was angry, was all Crystal. She couldn’t say that to Brad, though she knew he could see it too. “He’s trying to sound like you. His voice is changing, and it’s so cute when he uses that deep voice and tries to sound just like you. He looks up to you so much, Brad.”
She could see the pride in his smile as he replied, “How about a party for him? We’ll invite the family. Mom and Dad would love to come, and I spoke with Neil this morning when you took the kids to school.”
She pulled away, wondering why he appeared bothered. “And what?” She nudged him with her arm around his waist.
He squinted as if the sun was shining in his eyes as he stared out to the yard, then shook his head. “Don’t know what’s going on with him.”
Emily tapped her fingers on Brad’s chest. “Can you share a little bit more? How’s Candy—and Cat, the little girl they adopted, is she done with her surgeries? Come on, fill me in.”
Brad actually squeezed her closer. “They have a baby. He called to tell me.”
This time, she pulled away and took a step back. “Wow, I didn’t expect that. After everything they went through with that surrogate, it just about ended their marriage. Tell me more. A baby? Wow.”
“Yeah, wow is right. It’s a boy, and he’s three months old now.”
The way Brad said it, she knew there was way more, and something about it was bothering him. “They just adopted him, or is it…?” She didn’t finish. Brad was shaking his head, clearly irritated with his brother.
“He’s had the baby three months and is just telling me now. Apparently Mom and Dad just found out, too. And, yes, Neil and Candy are still in Arizona with no plans to go back to Cancun.”
Okay, that was odd. Wanting a baby so desperately had nearly torn Neil and Candy apart, and Neil had struggled like no man she’d ever seen when he realized Candy couldn’t have children. She had wondered whether they’d make it or if he’d walk away. Some men just couldn’t live with not having a child of their own, and she believed Neil was one of them. “Didn’t you just talk to your brother last month?”
“Yes, and he didn’t say one word about the baby. He sounded distracted, a little standoffish, but he said he had a lot on his mind with his resort. Things weren’t going well. I thought he’d just overextended himself, and I offered to step in, but he said he’d be okay. I don’t know what’s going on with him.”
“Maybe I should give Candy a call,” Emily said. She was about to go, but Brad held tight.
“Maybe you shouldn’t. If there’s something going on…well, I know my brother well. There’s definitely something, and he doesn’t need you and me sticking our noses in and stirring things up. Besides, I kind of went ahead and asked them to come out for Trevor’s birthday. I’ll feel him out then, sit down with him.”
“You already invited people to a party we didn’t even plan or decide on until a few moments ago?”
“They’re not people, Emily. They’re family.” He said it a little sharply.
“What if I’d said no to the party?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Seriously, Em? You’re the one always pushing for the family, for get-togethers, going outside of our comfort zone, and—what was your quote?—‘thinking outside the box’ for Trevor. Besides, when have you ever put up a wall in my family? I just figured a party would be great. Trevor can practice all he’s learned, and you know how well he does around my family. You weren’t considering saying no, were you?”
It irritated her, at times, how well he understood her—which was silly, because having a man like him was all she’d ever dreamed of. “No, but you phoned your brother and went ahead and invited him.” She said it about the same time she felt all the wind go out of her accusation. “He called you, didn’t he?”
Of course, and it had probably just come up. She rested her head against him again. “Well, it’ll be nice to see the baby and Cat and Candy again. They are coming, right?” She tilted her head up.
He smiled again. “Yeah.”
He dumped out the rest of his coffee and ran his hand over her bottom, squeezing. She loved when he did that. “What do you say I finally take you upstairs for that good morning?” he asked.
She must have appeared shocked, as he mocked her by widening his eyes and mouth. He leaned in with a wicked smile and kissed her, jamming his hands in her hair, holding her as if he had every right to take her whenever and wherever he wanted. She loved the taste of him and how he knew just how to touch her, what to do to her, to have her screaming his name. She heard something shatter, but she barely registered the noise as he lifted her. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms linked around his neck, her breasts pressed against him. She wanted to tear his shirt off and feel him skin to skin, and she felt naughty and free. She couldn’t believe what they were about to do in the middle of the day.
She giggled as he pulled open the door, holding her to him and lifting his head just enough that she could see the fire and heat in his eyes, as if she was the only one who could stoke this passion in him. She could feel all his hardness and knew how much he wanted her as he pressed into her.
“So, no kids home…we can have animal sex. Maybe this is good,” she said without thinking. He grinned again—wickedly. She kissed him deeper this time, tasting him. “And how long until your brother comes?”
He moved his lips down her neck, kissing and biting and then running his tongue over the tender skin. She was about to rip off her sweater and her T-shirt before he could take another step. “A couple days,” he replied.
That stomped out the fire Brad had stoked in her. She thought of the mess in the spare room, where she had started cleaning out their junk last week. There was a mountain of work to get this house organized and rooms made up for his family. She swatted his shoulder and pushed away until he set her down.
“Two days, are you kidding me?” she said. “I can’t have the house ready and make plans for Trevor’s party that quickly. Why so soon? Trevor’s birthday isn’t for a week.”
He actually went to reach for her again, but she swatted his hand away.
“Are you planning on helping me clean up?” she said, though it was a stupid question. Even if he did offer, he was the last person she wanted helping her organize. That was when they argued—Which could be fun, she thought, especially the making-up part—because his idea of cleaning and tidying was shoving everything into a closet and shutting the door. As he always said, “It’s out of the way.” No, hell no! She wanted to get rid of what they didn’t need and find a better place for everything they were keeping.
“What’s wrong with the place? It’s neat and tidy.” He gestured around the entryway.
“There’s no place for your brother and Candy to sleep. They have a baby now, so you have to set up the crib again, which I’m pretty sure is still in pieces out in the barn from when you took it apart. Let’s see…Cat can bunk in with Becky, because she has her daybed with a trundle underneath, but where will everyone else go? You’re also planning on inviting your mom and dad. Need I say more?”
There was a knock at the back door. Then it opened, and there were heavy footsteps on the wood floor. “Hey, boss, we ran out of the de-wormer for the cows, and it looks like the extra bottle in the tack room was an empty someone shoved back in the box!” their foreman called out as he walked across the floor, his boots scraping the hardwood. Cliff poked his head through the archway into the living room. “Do you want me to run into town to get more, or do you want to do it?”
Brad actually reached into Emily’s pocket and took his truck keys. “No, I’ll go.”
“Right-o,” Cliff said before heading back out the door, slamming it behind him.
Brad looked miserable for a moment, sliding his hand under her chin and holding her face still. “Tonight, you’re going to make this up to me, my cold morning and this lost opportunity, so don’t you dare overdo it today.” Then he kissed her again, hard and possessively, sliding his tongue into her mouth, tasting her, before pulling away, leaving her breathless and shaky. Brad held up his keys. “And I’m taking my truck,” he stated before starting out the front door.
She watched him walk away, her husband in his faded Levi’s…with the most amazing ass she’d ever seen. She leaned against the wall as the truck engine started, already planning and putting together lists and errands, trying to figure out what she needed to do first.
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