Authors: Miller,Cassie-Ann L.
Daniel grunts heavily as I maneuver the barbell out of his hands and ease it into the rack behind him.
“You’re a fucking beast, D,” I say as I toss a towel over at him and it lands on his chest. Daniel is just an inch or so shorter than I am and we have a similar build. Throw in his explosive temper and he’s got the potential to be a monster under the right circumstances.
He gives me a haughty grin. “I know it, man. I know it.” He sits up on the bench and wipes his forehead with the towel before taking a long drink of water. “You’re in pretty good shape, too.”
I sink onto the bench across from him and pick up some free weights. “Not much else to do in jail.”
A sympathetic look colors my best friend’s face. “It’s really fucked up what happened to you, bro. I wish there was something more I could have done to get you out of there sooner.”
I shake my head. “Don’t sweat it. You helped me as much as you could have, given the circumstances and I appreciate that. You hooked me up with one of the best criminal defense attorneys in California and you rented me a place to stay once I got out. You’re the best friend a guy can ask for.”
Daniel slings his sweaty towel at me. “Don’t get all emotional on me, Keeland. Please. You sound like you’re about to start ovulating.” His deep, gruff laugh fills the bustling gym. It’s barely 6 a.m. but since this is one of only two gyms in Reyfield, it’s already really busy.
I swat the disgusting towel away mid-air. Daniel wants to downplay the importance of the role he played in getting me out of jail and helping me get back on my feet, but I’m serious about how much I appreciate his friendship. “Look – I just want to make sure you know that I’m real grateful for you. I made a big mistake. I trusted the wrong person and she betrayed me. And I paid the price. But it’s good to know that you had my back, man. Helps me keep a little bit of faith in humanity.”
Daniel nods solemnly, pounding a fist against his chest in a show of solidarity.
He twists the cap of his water bottle back and forth as I do a few curls in silence. Then, he looks at me. “So, how are you liking the house, by the way? Is my sister giving you a hard time over there?”
I fumble with the weight at the mention Sammie. “I’m enjoying the house. And Sammie’s been great.”
He cocks an eyebrow at me. “Sammie’s been great? I thought she hated you.”
I clear my throat and lean over to the rack beside me to pick up a heavier dumbbell. “Nah, she’s cool.” I hesitate before giving him this next piece of information. “Actually, she’s been helping me with my accounting.”
Daniel wears an incredulous expression. “She’s been
you? As I said, I thought she hated you.”
I lift my shoulder. “She needed some extra money and I needed bookkeeping services.”
I feel guilty about neglecting to give Daniel the full picture. But I know that he would smash my face in with a dumbbell if he knew about the sexy show that his sister put on for me in front of her bedroom window the other night or that she’s all I think about when I jerk off each morning.
Daniel coughs out a laugh. “Well, stranger things have happened, I guess. But I’ve got to say that I’m surprised.” He looks thoughtful for a moment. “Did you tell her about your time in jail?”
My insides tighten at the question. “No. It’s not something that I just broadcast to everyone. And Sammie and I aren’t actually sitting around, braiding each other’s hair and confessing our deepest secrets to each other. She’s really professional about her work.”
He nods in understanding. “Right.” Amusement pops into his eyes. “Yeah – the one good thing about hanging out with my boring sister is that she’s sure to keep you out of trouble.” He chuckles to himself as his gaze moves to the clock hanging above the door. “Shit. Look at the time. I’ve gotta get going, man.”
“Yeah. Me, too.” I grab my towel and follow him to the locker room, my heart pounding the whole way.
Daniel has no idea that his goody-two-shoes, little sister is a world of trouble just waiting to happen.
The sodden lawn slops under my boots as I track up the back steps. I peek into the kitchen window and see Sammie at the table, hard at work. She’s wearing a floral blouse and navy blue slacks. Her hair is pinned up, away from her face and she has on those nerdy glasses that make her look super smart.
She was serious about treating this gig professionally.
I’m no psychologist but the girl has a serious type A personality. Organizing receipts and creating spreadsheets seem to be her aphrodisiac. The way she slides her tongue across her lips as she concentrates on the documents in front of her, it’s foreplay and she doesn’t even know it.
And who am I to get in the way of her bliss? Hell, that’s why I’m here to bring her yet another box of receipts.
“Knock, knock,” I say as I push the sliding door open and kick off my boots on the mat. She glances up at me and she almost smiles. Almost.
We’re making progress.
She holds up an index finger and glances quickly at the clock on the stove before scribbling a note into her time sheet.
Yes, she’s using a time sheet.
She waves a credit card statement in my direction. “This is your business credit card? There’s tons of personal expenses on it.”
I set the teeming banker’s box down on the floor and take the statement from her hands. Sure enough there are charges to clothing stores and nightclubs and even a damned casino on the statement. I scrub my palm over the back of my neck. “I’ll have to talk to Maxwell about this.”
One of her eyebrows darts up judgmentally. “For someone who own a business, you really don’t know very much about its operations,” she remarks.
It sucks to have her thinking that I’ve been lackadaisical about my business but I can’t tell her the truth. The reason my business got so out of control is because I spent the past three years rotting away behind bars thanks to a no-good woman who betrayed me.
Whoa. Why the hell did Rhys just pop into my head right now?
It must be my subconscious trying to remind me that I need to stamp out these feelings I’m feeling for Sammie. As much as I want to shove all these papers off of the table and bend her over, doggy-style, I can’t do that. I can’t fuck my best friend’s little sister. I gave Daniel my word. And besides, I have too much baggage. My life is too messy to drag Sammie into the middle of it.
She adjusts her glasses on the bridge of her nose. “Okay, since you’re here, I might as well give you a list of questions that you’re going to have to ask Maxwell so that I can prepare the balance sheet.” She shoves a pen and a pad out to me and nods towards the empty chair across from her.
She’s bossy. And I think I like it.
She starts talking a mile a minute and I’m struggling to keep up as my pen moves feverishly across the paper. She's so fucking smart. It’s hot. Sitting here listening to her talk about p&l statements and ROIs and gross sales is getting me hard as nails...
Or maybe it’s just the fact that I
haven’t gotten laid. My body literally wants nothing to do with any woman other than Sammie Trotten.
Shit – I’m so screwed.
When she’s finished listing her questions, I pick up my notes and pad over to the door. “I’ll call Maxwell for answers right away.”
“Okay,” she says aloofly, her eyes glued to the spreadsheet in front of her.
I stand there for a moment, just to admire her, just to appreciate the woman she’s become. She's strong and she's mouthy and I respect that and I'm starting to realize that I wouldn't change her if I could.
She gives me a quick, sidelong glimpse, her focus still on the spreadsheet. “Anything else?”
I feel one corner of my mouth tilt up. “Nah. Nothing else,” I say as I step out into the drizzle. “Have a nice day, Sammie.”
I cuddle Sebastian The Pooh close to my chest and use my free hand to bring the bottle to his lips. But instead of latching onto the silicone nipple, he just throws his head back and wails harder.
“Shhh, baby, shhhh,” I say, flinching at the desperation in my tone. I bounce both legs trying to establish a soothing motion. That should help him go to sleep. At least that’s what the mother in the YouTube video playing on my computer promised.
But it doesn’t seem to be working. The baby is red and squirmy in my arms as he continues to bawl so hard that I’m scared his little lungs might collapse.
How the hell does Gracie do this every single day?
When I’d volunteered to babysit my nephew so his parents could attend a couples’ counseling session, I’d had no idea what I’d signed up for. I mean how hard could it be? The baby cries, you feed him, you love him, then he falls asleep.
I glance at the clock on the corner of my computer screen. Daniel texted me two hours ago to ask if I could watch the baby for just a little while longer so that he and Gracie could go to dinner. I’d agreed. Things had been going reasonably well at that point. Sebastian had still been sleeping soundly, as he had been when his parents dropped him off. But then…he woke up…with a vengeance. The poor little thing has been crying for nearly 45 minutes with no signs of relenting.
Just above the sound of Sebastian’s wails, I hear the chime of the doorbell.
Relief washes over me. “Thank god,” I mumble into the baby’s ear. “Your mommy and daddy are back.”
I get up off of the couch and pad over to the door. Balancing Sebastian in one arm, I pull the door open.
But it’s not Daniel and Gracie standing on the front porch. It’s Keeland.
"I can hear him yelling all the way from my kitchen," he says.
He doesn’t wait for an invitation to come in. He just kicks off his shoes and strolls past me, into the living room.
I follow him, rocking Sebastian vigorously as I go. “Sorry for the disturbance but he's a baby. You can't just press a button and turn him off like your fancy motorcycle or your pickup truck.”
Or your feelings for me
He looks at me with resentful eyes. “You really think that little of me? I wasn't asking you to do that. I was offering to let me help." He pushes back the sleeves of his Henley and stretches his thick, colorful forearms out to me.
I eye him suspiciously, snuggling my nephew closer to my chest. “What do you know about babies?”
“Well, you’re not vague at all,” I say sarcastically as he eases the baby out of my arms. But the position he assumes automatically convinces me that he might not be bullshitting me after all. He cradles Sebastian’s head in the crook of his arm and uses his free arm to stroke the baby’s chest in a soothing rhythm. He holds Sebastian close and shushes into his ear while bouncing on the spot.
He glances at me over his shoulder. “Maybe he needs to be swaddled.”
I stare at him, puzzled. “He needs a swa-
“He needs to be swaddled,” Keeland repeats as he moves into the kitchen. “For small babies like this, swaddling reminds them of being in their mother’s womb. Just bring his diaper bag in here.” The baby’s cries have already subsided from loud, pleading wails to a soft, tearless whimper.
I do as I’m told, swiping the pale blue diaper bag from the foot of the couch. I set it down on the kitchen table and open it wide. Keeland snuggles Sebastian with one arm and uses the other to reach in and grab a small mat, diapers and wipes.
I stand off to the side and watch as he sets Sebastian down on the mat to change his diaper. “Wow — I don’t call you Mr. Pooh for nothing,” I say peering over Keeland’s shoulder at the turmoil in the baby’s soiled diaper.
Then, Keeland takes a thin, cotton blanket, folds it into a triangle and sets the baby down in the middle. He wraps Sebastian up tight like a little burrito.
“What are you doing?” I panic. “You’re going to suffocate him!”
Keeland gives me a scolding stare. “Shh…” he says in a whisper. “You’ll get him all anxious again.”
I watch as Keeland holds Sebastian close and rocks him, shushing quietly into his ear. Within minutes, Mr. Pooh’s eyes flutter shut and his breathing evens out.
“He’s sleeping?” I whisper, grinning at Keeland in awe.
He grins back with a nod, mouthing the word ‘yes’. Then, he looks away from me and stares down into Sebastian’s face. His eyes are full of tenderness and affection, a stark contrast to his rough, rugged bad boy exterior.
You hear that crack-pop-boom?
That's the sound of my ovaries exploding because seeing Keeland Masters with a baby wrapped up in his strong, tatted arms is beyond sexy. I've never seriously entertained the thought of procreating. The idea of popping a tiny human being out of my body has never appealed to me but the visual in front of me has me second-guessing my position…
Snap out of it, Samantha!
I remind myself that this man does not deserve my…swoony-ness. He’s a jerk. And I hate him.
He walks into the living room and sets the baby down in the Moses basket on the carpet. He sits on floor and continues to stroke Sebastian’s chest.
“That was amazing,” I say in a hushed voice, sinking down onto the carpet next to him.
He shrugs and gives me a smug wink. “What can I say? I’ve got the magic touch…You should give it a shot some time.”
Shaking my head, I ignore his suggestive remark and veer the conversation elsewhere. “Where did you learn that?”
I can see the trepidation on his face even in the low-lit living room, but then, he says, “I dated a girl who had a baby.”
My eyebrows jump in surprise. “A baby? A
He gives me an impish, one-sided grin. “Yup.”
He shakes his head. “Nope. She was pregnant when we met.”
I think my jaw just hit the carpet. “You picked up a pregnant girl?”
Keeland is quiet for a while, seemingly caught in his own thoughts. “I loved that kid like he was my own.”
“You must have really loved his mom, too. Taking on a baby is a big responsibility.”
When he speaks again, I’m not sure if he’s really talking to me or if he’s just vocalizing his internal dialogue. “I thought I loved her. I proposed to her…We planned a wedding…I look back now and I realize that I probably just needed a family, some stability. I moved around my whole life. Maybe I just wanted roots. Maybe that’s why I got involved with Rhys.”
Rhys. That’s the name of the girl from his Facebook page. The tattooed blonde with a pierced tongue and a bad attitude.
“Stability?” I say. “I never pegged you as the type of guy who’d want to settle down. Especially in your 20s.”
He looks at me with a quirked eyebrow. “Why? Because of my stunning good looks and bad boy charm?” he asks facetiously.
I ignore his comment, fighting a smile away from my lips. Instead, I ask, "How did you meet her? Rhys?”
He gives me his best shame-face. I’ve got to admit — it’s a really handsome shame-face.
“Do you really want to know?" he asks.
I laugh. “After seeing the facial expression you just made, now I
want to know."
He exhales roughly. "She came to my tattoo shop for a nipple piercing."
I collapse against the side of the couch, howling with laughter.
The baby startles. “Shhh,” Keeland scolds, nudging me in the shoulder.
“Oh my god,” I whisper, struggling to breathe as I clasp my hand over my mouth. “She came to you for a nipple piercing? I can just imagine you telling your future kids that story. 'Daddy, how did you meet Mommy?', 'Well son, Mommy came to me — while she was pregnant — to get her nipples pierced and I just knew she was the one."
He starts laughing too, absorbing the utter ridiculousness of the situation. "Actually it was more like, 'Son, once I saw your mother’s perky tits, I knew I had to come all over them.'"
"Eww. Gross." And the harder I laugh, the harder he laughs. And then, tears are streaking down my face.
Sebastian stirs and Keeland strokes his tummy, helping him to settle again. “But in all seriousness,” he whispers. “She wasn’t showing yet when we met. And by the time she told me that she was pregnant and I realized that those gorgeous tits were the result of the crazy pregnancy hormones flooding her body, I kind of just wanted to be there for her, for
I stare at him, softening just a bit. “Wow. That’s really honorable,” I murmur. I’m truly impressed that Keeland stepped up to the plate to take care of a responsibility that he could have easily walked away from. Now, I’m having second thoughts about all the judgments I’ve made against him. Maybe if I look beyond my rage for a fraction of a second, I might discover that Keeland Masters is somebody I could actually
Then, he turns the tables on me. “So, when was the last time
had a boyfriend?”
I sigh ruefully. “I guess that would be Lenny. Almost two years ago.”
? Seriously?” he asks, incredulous.
It’s my turn to nudge him in the shoulder. “Met him at the library when I was living in Chicago. He helped me study for my CPA exam. Against my better judgment,
I let him move in with me after my roommate abandoned me in the middle of the lease. Big mistake. He had the personality of a potted plant and he would constantly leave his wet bath towel on my leather sectional, so it really wasn't hard to let him go when I found out he was cheating on me.”
“A guy named
cheated on you?" Keeland asks with furrowed brows.
I release a thick breath. I’m silent for a moment as I stew in my shame. Then, I chuckle. "And Daniel came all the way down to the city to kick his ass. The moving truck was just peeling away from the curb in front of my building when my brother pulled up in his full-size Mercedes with his cap on backwards and his baseball bat.”
Keeland laughs, too. “Lenny…” He shakes his head sympathetically. “There’s no way some guy named Lenny is good in bed.”
I lean back against the side of the couch. "Sex is overrated."
“Psh. Whaaattt?” He looks at me like I just sprouted a second head.