Authors: Melissa Schroeder
We’ll see,” was all her father would say.
He had been vague about his conversations with Joe the last few weeks. She’d tried to get more out of him, but Hammond Miller was a typical SEAL.
He stopped when they arrived at the gate to the ranch, which was open.
Eli stood on the front lanai of the house and watched Hammond Miller park the rental car. He had offered to pick them up at the airport, but Miller had insisted that Eli had too much on his plate to handle. He watched as Miller unfolded himself from the car and smiled. Joe had genuinely liked Miller. He had said he was a good guy, a good father and even more importantly, he had been a fine Navy officer. But, what was gaining his attention wasn’t the man…but the woman with him.
The pictures Joe had of Crysta Miller hadn’t done the woman justice. She was tall…like her father, her skin a softer shade of mocha than his. A wealth of curly hair was tied at the nape of her neck but a few springy tendrils had escaped. She leaned back into the car to grab her purse and Eli had to force himself to look away. The woman had a world-class ass on her.
Eli St. John, I presume,” Miller said as he approached him.
Eli pushed himself away from the post and walked down the steps. “Yes, sir.”
Please, call me Hammond, or better yet, Ham. Neither of us are in the service anymore.”
So, Joe had told him he had been in SARS. Eli should have figured he’d do that.
I’d like you to meet my daughter, Crysta.”
She stepped up beside her father and Eli was jolted again. She had a face that could stop traffic. It was an old adage, but it was true. Blue eyes that curved up slightly at the edges stood out on a heart-shaped face. Her skin was so smooth his fingers itched to touch it.
Ms. Miller,” he said and dipped his hat.
She laughed. “Oh, my, what a nice greeting, but just call me Crysta. I haven’t been Ms. Miller since I stopped teaching last spring.”
He nodded. “I’m sure you two would like to get settled.”
Ham smiled. “Yes. It’s a long trip from DC to here.”
How would you know, Dad? You slept for eight hours,” Crysta said as she turned to get things out of the car and stopped. His men were already pulling things out. She hurried forward and grabbed a box. “I’ll take care of this.”
She made the mistake of smiling at Mike, one of the younger men he’d hired recently. Mike said nothing and Eli figured it was because the kid couldn’t. There probably wasn’t any blood left in his brain.
Crysta seemed oblivious though. She returned to stand beside her father and smiled. “Ready when you are.”
* * * *
Crysta stepped into the kitchen and sighed. Lord, it was a work of art. Long counters lined each one of the walls; there was a six-burner gas stove, and an island with a separate sink and pot rack hanging over it. Joe had always said Crysta got her love of cooking from him and the kitchen proved that.
I take it you couldn’t get rest?” Eli said. She turned and looked at him, trying her best to hide her reaction. The man was a tall drink of…well, not water. That was too bland for the delicious package of Eli St. John. He was taller than she was by a good three or four inches, had the sexy weathered look that cowboys had, and he never really smiled with those full lips of his. Add in that damned Aussie accent, and she was barely keeping her tongue in her mouth.
What?” she asked when he kept staring at her.
The kitchen, you approve?”
She nodded. “Love it.”
She walked around and looked at the fixtures. It was pretty evident that Joe hadn’t spared any expense.
That’s right. You teach this kind of stuff.”
She slanted him a look then turned her attention back to stove. She’d kill to have a professional grade stovetop at home. “I taught. I resigned last spring.”
There was a beat of silence. “Joe didn’t tell me that.”
She laughed. “I doubt all my happenings were so interesting that Joe would report them to you.”
When he said nothing, she turned to face him. Nothing. No expression. Joe had said Eli had been Special Forces and apparently they were all the same. Her father, Joe and Eli were good at hiding their feelings.
So, when is everything going on today?”
The memorial service is in a couple of hours. We thought to do it up on the hill.”
She smiled. “Oh, Joe would have liked that.”
His lips curved slightly. “Yeah he would.”
More than likely he would have wanted to sit in the audience and hear all the gossip people were saying about him.”
Eli nodded. “Then, we will be in the library here for the reading of the will.”
She nodded and then her stomach rumbled. Her face heated. “Do you think I could rummage in your refrigerator? They fed us on the plane, but my metabolism is kind of…well, my father said he could feed an entire battle group on what I eat in a week.”
There’s no cook that’ll come in here and yell at me?”
He chuckled. “No. We have a cook for the men, out in their quarters. Joe and I did for ourselves.”
She nodded and opened the fridge. It was stocked full of fruits and vegetables. She decided the best thing to have would be a salad.
You do know there will be a meal served at the memorial, right?” Eli asked as he filled his coffee cup.
Crysta laughed. “I told you I have a high metabolism. It’s probably the reason I learned to cook at an early age.”
Along with not having a mother.”
She looked up at him surprised. “I guess Joe told you?”
He nodded. “Most everyone in the community knows his sister is dead.”
She didn’t know what community Eli was talking about, but she figured it really wasn’t any of her business and let it go.
Dad’s a good cook, but as he moved up through the ranks in the Navy, he had less and less time at home. Being an only child, I learned to fend for myself.”
She thought Eli would leave, but instead, he slipped into one of the chairs at the breakfast bar across the counter from her. Part of her wished he would leave her alone. She was tired and her nerves were frayed. She had too much coffee on the plane. Never before had she been this super sensitive to a man’s movements-unless it was her Dom. And she hadn’t had one since she’d broken off her engagement.
Still, she was sick enough that a part of her wanted him to stay. He was mysterious, which she liked. Men with deep dark secrets always intrigued her. It had been her downfall with Ted. He’d had secrets, one of which turned out to be that he was fucking his administrative assistant.
She brushed that thought away. She glanced at Eli and found him watching her. It was so…dominating the way he watched her. If he was into play, he was definitely a Dom.
Do not go there, Crysta. No playing for you
Another reason she was interested in him was his relationship with Joe. Her uncle had admired Eli.
Must have been a lonely upbringing.”
It took her a second to remember what they had been talking about. She shrugged. “My Grandma Bessie was with us. She’s the one who taught me to cook. Dad was deployed a lot, of course. After Mom died, there was talk of him leaving the Navy, but my grandmother wouldn’t hear of it. She decided to stay on with us.”
She glanced up. “When mom got sick, she came.”
Oh.” He said it as if he didn’t understand. He might not. She didn’t know much about Joe’s partner, but Joe had said he didn’t have any extended family. To a woman who grew up with a large family—not to mention the military family for backup—it was a foreign concept.
Would you like some salad?” she asked.
No. I need to get out and check on a few things. You be sure to let me know if you need anything.”
The way he said it made her think it was a double entendre. His expression gave nothing away and Crysta figured the jet lag was starting to get to her.
Thanks,” she said.
He picked up his cowboy hat and left without another word. The long, slow walk was so stereotypical of a cowboy, she wanted to laugh, but she didn’t. He was dressed in jeans, and she couldn’t help but admire the way they cupped his ass so wonderfully. Did he wear leather? God, he would be gorgeous in leather pants. She could just imagine seeing those long strong fingers wrapped around the end of a crop.
The screen door slammed, breaking her daydream. She shivered and tried to get that image out of her mind. It wouldn’t be smart to get all googly-eyed over a man like that. Besides, he had been like a son to her uncle. He’d always said that St John and she would get along well. Crysta didn’t know what her uncle had been talking about, but she doubted St John and she had much in common. He was quiet while Crysta well…wasn’t.
With a sigh, she decided not to worry about it. She was on the Big Island for a short while to honor her uncle and spread her mother’s ashes. Then, she would return to DC and sort out her life.
The memorial service had been uneventful, which would have disappointed Joe. Eli shifted from one foot to the other knowing it would tell people he was uncomfortable, but he didn’t care at the moment. He didn’t go for big family get-togethers. Growing up in foster care like he did, Eli hadn’t had much to do with these kinds of things.
Joe would have been happy with the attendance. Several folks from the mainland had come and even Micah Ross made the hop over from Oahu to pay his respects. Eli knew with the new baby keeping him up at nights, making the trip was probably hard on him. Ross offered him a firm handshake.
Sorry to hear about Joe.”
Appreciate you coming,” he said as he took a sip of his beer. One thing he enjoyed about Joe was the things he had insisted on for the service. He’d made it mandatory they have beer.
No problem. Dee wanted to come, but she’s asleep on her feet so I told her to stay home. Oh, and there’s a package of cinnamon rolls that Cynthia sent over. She said they were your favorite.”
They were and it was just like one of the women in the group to remember. It was an odd position he was in with the Rough ‘n Ready group. Micah owned the popular BDSM club on Oahu with his friend Evan Chambers. The quasi family he had built with his friends and their extended family was endearing and confusing at the same time. The women now treated him like a big brother and at one time he would have been irritated. Now, he was amused most of the time.
For a man who never wanted family ties, Eli was finding himself all but shackled to people in Hawaii.
You didn’t eat any, did you?” he asked.
Micah gave him a look of mock innocence. “Now why would you say that, my friend?”
Before he could answer, he felt the fine hairs on the back of his neck stir. It wasn’t the type of feeling that warned him of an attack. Worse, it was the type of feeling that warned him of a woman. Micah’s attention moved beyond his shoulder and Eli saw him offer one of those rare smiles he only gave women.
He knew without a doubt it was Crysta. She stepped up beside Eli. The scent of her hit him without warning. It was subtle, something sweet but not too sweet, with a hint of musk. He tightened his hand around the beer bottle.
Micah this is Crysta Miller. Crysta this is Micah Ross.”
I’m really sorry about your uncle.”
Her eyes softened. “Thank you.” Then she cocked her head to the side and studied Micah. “Your name sounds familiar but I don’t think Joe ever mentioned you. You’ve never spent any time in DC have you?” Crysta asked.
Before Micah could answer, Eli said, “He’s married.”