ER nurse Lauren Carson is sick of men and wants nothing more than to return to her regularly scheduled life of junk food, television, sleep, and work. Sergeant Anthony Miles is used to life-threatening situations. But the latest threat to his life isn’t a unit of enemy soldiers. No, she’s far more dangerous. Can Lauren and Anthony get beyond the scars of their pasts to create a new future together?
“Are you even listening?”
“No.” Lauren shook her head very slowly, to reinforce her answer. She knew her best friend meant well, but she was way past wanting to be fixed up. Again. This was the second time in a month Char had “found” the perfect man for her. The last man was a math teacher. Doug had been very nice, but not the man for her. She was certain there was some nice English professor out there somewhere who would scoop him up and take him home. It wouldn’t be her.
“Besides, you need a roof and he lays roofs. Or whatever they call putting on…roofs.” Char waved her hand in the air as if that made things a hell of a lot clearer. “That is such an odd word when you repeat it so many times in a row.”
“Roof?” Lauren repeated as she cocked her head and scrunched up her face at her friend. “Have you been talking this whole time?”
“Thanks for listening this whole time. And yes, roof. It’s an odd word, am I right?”
“Time to switch to water, Char.”
“This is water.” She held up her wine glass with a clear liquid in it. “I’m on call this week. You know I can’t drink the good stuff.”
“Char, I know you’re looking out for me—you always do—but whatever it is you’re talking about, be it roofs or men, count me out.”
“But Anthony is a great guy! I’ve met him a few times and he’s always so funny. And hot. He’s more hot than he is funny.” Char waggled her eyebrows, licked her finger, and touched it to her butt as she made a sizzling sound. “You need to give him a chance. You’ll thank me someday.”
“Doubtful,” Lauren drawled. “Is he hot like the math teacher was?”
Char smirked and pointed her finger at Lauren. “Noo. And don’t be angry about that. You would have loved Doug come tax season.”
Lauren couldn’t hide her smile as she looked at her friend. “No more chances, Char. I’m fresh out. I want to return to my regularly scheduled life of junk food, television, sleep, and work. In that order.”
“He’s a sergeant in the Army. That shows dependability, my friend. And we all know how much you like dependable men.”
“I also like kittens and puppies, but you don’t see me dating them.” Lauren sipped her rum drink and looked at her watch. Damn, had she really only been here thirty minutes? It felt like hours. And where had Todd disappeared to? He should be here entertaining Char so she didn’t get into mischief…like playing matchmaker. She glanced back at Char. They’d been instant friends since nursing school and she was more like a sister than a friend. But at times like this, she really wished Char would just let her be single. Her ex-husband, Robert, had done a lot of damage to her ego and her trust. Besides, there were no men her type to be found.
Lauren liked the rugged, outdoorsy type of man and they had to be honest or what good were they? Besides, a man would only interfere with her well-balanced life style. She worked whatever shift she wanted. She ate when she wanted. And she had the entire queen size bed to herself. Win, win situation.
“Char, sweetie, you know I love you, but—”
“There’s always a ‘but’,” Char grumbled.
“But…no one interests me. Ever.”
“He was divorced a while ago, so no ex-wife to worry about. That’s good, no baggage.”
“Yes baggage.” Lauren pressed her lips together.
“How about we agree that he’ll have some baggage, but hopefully not a lot?”
Lauren grunted. “You’re going to be the death of me.”
“What I’m hearing is ‘Thank you very much for your diligent efforts at finding me Mr. Right, Charlotte Reese’.”
“You need your hearing checked.”
“Anyhow, here’s the part that makes all your arguments insignificant. He does home repairs on the side to help his brother’s construction business. You need a roof and a man. I’ve delivered both to you in one nice, tight, sexy package.” Char’s face was the picture of satisfaction.
Lauren sighed and sipped her drink before turning to Char. “Look, I don’t hold the ex-wife against him. We all have a past and if he’s as sexy as you say, I’m sure he has a ton of women after him. Which, in my book, is a strike against him. I’m too old for drama. As far as the new roof is concerned, it couldn’t hurt to have him and his brother take a look. After all, I believe in helping the small businessman when I can.” However, what she absolutely did not want was to be fixed up with some hot guy with women chasing him and the ego that always went with that. She wanted to dislike him already. And of course, he probably loved the female attention. They always did.
There was no way in hell she was going down that road again. Robert had loved women and women had loved him right back. Since the divorce four years ago, she had sworn off relationships, and Char had honored that. Until recently. Lauren didn’t mind being alone. That was the only sure way to prevent pain. It was safe. A small voice asked if she really wanted to be safe the rest of her life. She knew taking a risk led to great things sometimes. Lauren sighed and massaged her temples, what she wouldn’t give to be home in her sweats watching television. A million dollars. She’d give exactly One. Million. Dollars.
She picked at the label on the water bottle sitting on the bar in front of her, peeling the edge back a bit then smoothing it out. “No talk of roofs or men, please, Char. Let’s just enjoy our girls’ night out—even though you brought Todd—and our delicious appetizers.”
“I brought Todd to introduce you to Anthony. As for the appetizers, they’re boxed, frozen, and reheated. ‘Delicious’ wasn’t in the description and it sure as hell isn’t in the taste.”
Lauren held up a limp zucchini plank, waving it in the air like a white flag of surrender. “Truce?”
Her friend smiled back in lieu of a response.
Char meant well and Lauren loved her for that. She was already starting to feel more relaxed just clearing the air about these stupid fix ups. Until she heard the next words out of Charlotte’s mouth.
“He’s headed this way!” Char snatched the offered plank and bit into it, smiling broadly. “Now make yourself presentable.” She pointed to Lauren’s hair and make-up.
Lauren had very little time to react. Exactly five seconds later, Todd, Char’s boyfriend, tapped her on the shoulder. She considered not turning around. She considered excusing herself. She considered finding a new best friend. In the end, she pasted a polite smile on her face, slowly rose from her chair, and turned to face Todd and his friend Anthony. She immediately came face-to-chest with a navy blue polo shirt. A few blond chest hairs peeked out from the neck opening where it wasn’t buttoned.
She tipped her head back so she could see the face that went with that chest. The man had the clearest shade of blue eyes she had ever seen. Were they blue or were they silver? It didn’t matter much; they were breathtaking. She decided she liked those eyes and the face that went with them. A lot. And currently, those breathtaking eyes were watching her with obvious humor. The mountain of a man in front of her, probably over six feet by a few inches, with the build of the Norse God, Thor, was standing so close to her it made her hair tingle and her breathing shallow. One side of his mouth curled up in a half smile. It was pleasantly unnerving. And decidedly wicked. She managed an open-mouthed stare, and that was about the extent of it. Her brain said, “Hello”. She wasn’t completely convinced her mouth did, however. Who cared if she seemed rude? All she wanted him for was his roofing skills. Even her inner voice cocked an eyebrow at that little fib.
Lauren allowed herself the pleasure of perusing his body, slowly and methodically. He had the typical buzz cut many men did, but his was on the longer side. It looked light brown, but it would have to be longer for her to be positive of the color. Which—again—didn’t matter, because she’d never run her fingers through his hair. Or grab that hair in the heat of the moment and demand more of…something.
She wanted to stop, she truly did. That was before she noticed his sexy ears. Her inner voice suggested nibbling on those lobes in the throes of passion. It wasn’t an altogether bad idea, she conceded. He had broad shoulders that called to the woman in her. Her mind flooded with images of her hands caressing those shoulders as his muscles bulged beneath her touch. Then she’d let her hands slowly inch down his chest, ripple by delicious ripple. She’d bet money his stomach was equally as rigid, with an ample supply of muscle to go around. Did this man live at the gym?
She made a mental note of the tight, trim waist, faded jeans, and work boots, in case she needed that information someday. She swallowed and blinked. He certainly had the “V” shape of the well-honed body down to a science.
Lauren lifted her eyes back to his, feeling guilty for doing exactly what women complained about men doing. Ogling. It was wrong. She was wrong to have done it. That acknowledgement did nothing to decrease the pleasure she received, however. She noticed a small smirk playing at his lips. Typical hot, egotistical, hot, arrogant, hot man, she grumbled to herself.
“Are you finished?” The low rumble of words was meant for her ears only.
She nodded, watching those damn eyes sparkle. She quickly shifted her look toward Todd and Char. He may have caught her in a moment of weakness, but that didn’t mean she had to massage his ego any further.
“Lauren, this is Anthony. Anthony, this is Lauren,” Todd said.
A tingling heat swept over her from her sandaled feet to the crown of her head. Oh, God. She had to look at him again.
“Nice to meet you.” She managed a polite nod while pressing her lips together and holding her gaze on his chin. The chin that had a delectable dimple planted squarely in the middle of it.
She felt like a curtsy may be in order. The heat of her body increased by another degree or two. Anthony nodded. Once. He nodded precisely once, all the while looking amused. Why wouldn’t he be amused—she was practically drooling. He probably felt like tonight’s menu special. Hell, he didn’t need her telling him that whatever he’d been doing at the gym was working. The guy probably loved looking at himself as much as women loved looking at him.
She would not compete with other women for a place in a man’s heart, and she sure as hell wouldn’t compete with his ego.
“Yes, same here.” His voice was gruff as he extended his hand toward her.
Lauren mumbled as she gathered her wits and pushed away the weak, horny female that had suddenly reared its ugly head. She glanced at his still extended hand then placed her much smaller one in what she could only describe as a paw. The thing was huge. He had a strong grip that swallowed her entire hand.
Lauren forced herself to concentrate on a much safer subject than his body. That would be her roof. Yes, much safer. But before she could open her mouth to speak, he grabbed at his back pocket and pulled out his cell. He glanced at the screen. His brows dipped together and those lips tugged down toward that blasted dimple. Holding up the phone, he shook his head. “I have to take this.”
“Oh, absolutely.” Lauren responded quickly, nodding. It was a sad day indeed when Lauren Carson let a gorgeous man turn her brain to mush. Yet, here she stood nodding like a fool. What did she care if he answered his phone instead of talking to her? Some men, usually the hot ones, were naturally rude. Hence, why she stayed away from them. All of them.
She watched Todd’s rude friend walk away. He had a nice, long, confident stride. Lauren arched one dark eyebrow in appreciation. He was rude and dimply and built like a skyscraper. He also looked just as hot coming as he did going. She reluctantly offered up a small thank you to the Army for keeping their men in such great shape. Lauren decided she should probably get more serious about her gym membership.
“Well, that went well,” Todd said dryly.
Char looked at Anthony’s retreating back, and then turned to Lauren, her blonde ponytail whipping from side to side with the movement.
“Another one down? What did you say?” Her face was the perfect blend of confusion and frustration. “We leave you alone for two minutes and this is what you do?”
“I have more practice these days. It gets easier by the day.” Lauren rolled her eyes. This one, however, she really hadn’t wanted to scare away. At least not as fast as she normally did. “He said he had a call he needed to take.” She hoped it was the truth. Eh, it probably wasn’t. He was too hot and too all male to worry about such things as trivial as honesty and politeness.
“Before we left I saw you blushing and near speechless. If you ask me, you were smitten. Do we have a winner?” Todd turned to Char and wrapped a meaty arm around her shoulder, giving her a squeeze. “Just like the day you met me, huh, Char?”
Char patted his arm reassuringly. “Not now. Lauren and I need to talk and you need to get to Anthony and find out why that call was so important that he ran out of here.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Lauren shook her head. “that would only make me look pathetic.”
“After the way you checked him out, I doubt that’s possible.” Todd finished his last swig of beer, handed the bottle to Char, and announced he would be back with Anthony in tow in a matter of minutes. No matter what it took.
“Oh great, drag him back kicking and screaming, Todd. That would be perfect,” Lauren yelled after him.
He waved his hand over his head in acknowledgement. This had to be the worst impression she had ever made on anyone. And he caught her…checking him out. The heat of the blush returned. It might not be so bad if he didn’t come back, she decided.
It wasn’t that she was opposed to relationships completely. She had to admit, there was a slight chance she could be persuaded to date a caring, faithful, committed, non-rude man. They just didn’t exist. Honestly, he was the first man in years that even so much as piqued her interest. Then again, that man probably piqued a lot of women’s interest.
Her inner voice reminded her that she did everything except take a bite out of him when she met him. Yeah, that was bad. To complicate matters further, something about him, maybe the look in his eyes, seemed to connect with her. It was weird, like an instant attraction she couldn’t explain. Could “friends at first sight” be a thing? She glanced toward the door. Yes. Maybe it was something that happened to strangers and that was the only reason she was so intrigued by him.
Intrigued is one way of putting it.
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