Authors: Jaci Burton
“Love you, too. Bye.”
She hung up. “It's a boy.”
Brady's lips curved. “Good. Everyone's okay?”
“Are you going over to the hospital?”
She shook her head. “Not tonight. I will in the morning. I'm sure Emma is exhausted, and tonight is for family.”
She could tell the atmosphere had changed. He didn't move back to pull her back into his arms. If anything, he was making sure to keep a certain amount of distance between them.
“So, it's getting late,” he said.
“So it is.”
“I should go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I think that would be for the best.”
She wasn't going to force him into her bed if that's not what he wanted. But she sure was disappointed in the abrupt turnaround. “Okay.”
She walked him to her front door. “Thanks for coming with me tonight.”
He turned to her and smiled. “I had a good time. I'll see you later, Megan.”
“Sure. See you, Brady.”
She closed the door and shook her head.
One minute he was hot and passionate and ready to take her to bed. The next it was like he couldn't get out of her house fast enough.
She did not understand Brady Conners at all.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
BRADY LET THE
cool April wind blow against his face. It wasn't a long ride back to his apartment, but he wanted some cruising time, so he chose back roads, taking an indirect route. It was quiet and peaceful this late at night, with few cars on the road.
Just the way he liked it. Alone on the road. Just him, the bike, and his thoughts.
He was glad Molly had called, breaking the spell Megan had weaved over him.
What the hell had he been thinking? If they hadn't been interrupted by that phone call, he'd have taken Megan to bed.
And then what? Entanglements, awkwardness, and likely she'd hate him in the morning when he told her there'd be no next time.
He enjoyed sex as much as the next guy, but Megan seemed like a relationship type of woman, not the one-night-stand kind. And he preferred sex to be uncomplicated, so he generally chose women who wanted a good time with no strings and no promises of tomorrows.
He was going to have to be a lot more careful around Megan in the future, because not only was she smart and pretty, she was also sweet and kind, and the last damn thing he wanted to do was hurt her.
He pushed the throttle on his Harley as he hit a straightaway, enjoying the speed and freedom a quiet, dark road afforded him.
Maybe the cold air slashing along his face would cool down the heat within him. Because no matter how hard he tried to shut off the images in his head, he could still feel the way Megan's body moved against his, could still taste the lush softness of her mouth, could still remember the sweetness of her scent, and could still recall the wide-eyed surprise in her eyes when he'd kissed her.
When he'd kissed her, she'd fallen so eagerly into his embrace, had given as well as she'd received. He could
already envision how it would go with her, how she'd be his match in bed. He could already imagine her sweet mouth wrapped around hisâ
Dammit. No amount of late-night, cold-air rides on his bike were gonna cool him down tonight.
Megan made him hot. He was going to think about her all night long.
ON SATURDAYS, MEGAN
opened the bakery an hour later than on weekdays and closed at noon. There were always crowds in the morning. Families with kids coming in to get baked goods, people buying donuts for sporting events, couples grabbing breakfast goods and coffee to start off their weekend. She was always happy to see everyone, and her shop was constantly full until closing. The atmosphere was fun and upbeat and a little chaotic. She loved the weekend energy.
But today she was anxious to get to the hospital to see Emma and Luke and the baby, so after she cleaned up and closed down the shop, she hustled home to take a quick shower and change clothes.
The first thing she did before heading over to the hospital was drop by Emma and Luke's house. Since she had the code to their garage, she ducked inside and left them a gift of confections on the counter. She'd also baked them a casserole early this morning, so she tucked that away in their freezer. She left a note on the counter letting them know the casserole was there, then headed out to the hospital in Tulsa.
She couldn't wait to see little baby McCormack, and when she got to the room, she heard laughing, so she knew Emma was awake. Still, she knocked softly on the partially open door.
“Come on in,” Molly answered.
She pushed the door open and walked in. Emma was sitting up in bed, looking utterly beautiful for someone who had just given birth the night before. Her long blond hair was pulled up in a high ponytail, her cheeks were pink, and Luke sat on the edge of the bed next to her. Molly and Carter were there, along with Sam and Reid and Logan and Des.
Emma smiled when she saw her. “Hi, Megan.”
“If it's too crowded in here I can come back another time.”
“Don't be silly. There's plenty of space. I booked a private room, knowing that with all the McCormacksâas well as my friendsâI'd likely need it.”
As Megan got closer to Emma, her chest tightened at the sight of the newborn cradled in Emma's arms. Luke got up and Molly made space so she could give Emma a kiss on the cheek. “Congratulations to both of you.”
“Thank you. We're over the moon about this little guy. And he came out pretty fast, so I'm grateful for that.”
She looked down at the baby. He was beautiful, with his round face, pink cheeks, perfect cherub lips, and wisps of brown hair. He was asleep, making sucking motions with his lips.
“Oh, Emma, he's gorgeous.”
Emma's gaze met hers. “He is, isn't he?”
Megan looked from Emma to Luke. “You both did a really great job.”
Luke beamed a grin. “We did, didn't we?”
“Have you chosen a name?”
Emma nodded. “Michael John McCormack.”
“John is my middle name,” Luke said.
Megan smiled. “It's perfect. Michael suits him.”
“We think so.”
“Take a seat, Megan,” Luke said, grabbing a chair for her and putting it next to Des's chair. “I think I need some fresh air.”
“I'll go with you,” Logan said.
“Me, too,” Carter said.
“Time for the men to flee so we can talk childbirth and girl things,” Emma said with a laugh.
“You know it.” Luke leaned over and brushed his lips against hers. “You need anything?”
Emma laid her palm against Luke's cheek. “You've already given me everything I could ever want.”
Luke lingered, staring at Emma.
“Come on, Luke,” Logan said. “Before you get her pregnant again.”
Emma laughed. “Uh, not yet, please. I need at least a little recovery time.”
The guys walked out and closed the door. Des leaned back in the most comfortable cushioned chair in the room.
“How are you doing?” Megan asked Des.
“Unfortunately, still pregnant, as you can see.” Des rested her hands on her rounded belly. “But now I have a gorgeous new nephew, so I'm going to suffer in relative silence.”
Emma laughed. “Your time will come soon enough.”
“How was labor for you?” Megan asked.
“Fast, once I got here. It seems like I was barely situated in my room before he was ready to make his appearance.”
“Typical McCormack men,” Sam said. “A decided lack of patience.”
“This is true,” Emma said.
“I'm glad it all worked out,” Megan said, “and he's obviously gorgeous.”
“Thank you. Would you like to hold him?” Emma asked her.
“I would love to.”
She went and thoroughly washed and dried her hands, used hand sanitizer, and then scooped the adorable bundle from Emma's arms.
She looked down at Michael, who was still sound
asleep, and a sudden pang of something magical struck her. He was so small, and he smelled amazing. There was something about the scent of newborn babies that was so perfectâa combination of baby powder and heaven.
She wanted a baby. No, she wanted what her friends had. Someone who loved her unconditionally. And then a baby.
She sighed, then looked over at Emma, who was smiling at her.
Emma nodded. “I never knew I could love someone like this. But one look at him, and I was a goner.”
Emma directed Megan to lay Michael in his bassinet, which was next to her bed. She did, then took a seat.
“The party last night was fun,” Megan said.
“It was. And how did things go with you and Brady?” Emma asked.
“Oh, well. That was interesting.”
,” Sam said.
“He came back to my place with me and we had dessert. And then he kissed me and things got even more interesting.”
“Do define this
thing in a lot more detail, honey,” Des said.
“Well, it was about to get
interesting, but then Molly called saying Emma had given birth, and for some reason that put a stop to things.”
Emma frowned. “Leave it me to put a stop to sex by popping a baby out at the most inopportune time.”
Megan laughed. “I don't think it was your fault, Emma. I think it's more Brady's reluctance to enter a relationship.”
“I don't think having sex signifies a relationship, does it?” Molly asked.
“In his mind, I have a feeling he sees me as some kind of homespun bakery girl who's looking for a husband and a happily-ever-after.”
“Well you're definitely not a homespun bakery girl,” Des said. “But are you looking for a husband and a happily-ever-after?”
She had to answer that question honestly. “Eventually,
yes. But I wouldn't mind a little sex to start out with. I don't necessarily want to marry every guy I sleep with.”
“Brady would be a fun guy to have sex withâthat's for sure,” Emma said. “Not that I'm at all thinking about sex at the moment.”
Megan laughed. “No, I'm sure you're not. And I agree. He's definitely hot and sexy.”
“I believe you mentioned to me sometime last year that you'd like to slather him up with butter and lick him all over,” Sam said. “Or something along those lines.”
Her lips curved. “Yes. I do believe I said something like that.”
“So go get yourself some,” Sam said. “And if he's nothing more than a hot spring fling, then that's a good starting point.”
“True. But he has to be willing.”
“I'd say, based upon what happened in your kitchen last night,” Sam said, “he's more than willing to at least take you to bed.”
Emma nodded. “I think you have all our votes that Brady is hot and sex-worthy. Go for it, Megan. Just don't get your heart involved if you think he's not ready for a relationship.”
“Thanks, everyone. I'll keep that in mind.”
She had a lot to think about. As if Brady wasn't already first and foremost on her mind.
And her friends were right. She had to keep her heart out of the equation where he was concerned, because someone like Brady could definitely break it.
IT HAD BEEN
a grueling day. Brady was sweaty and damn tired. He'd worked on a wreck all day, a particularly tough one. Why the owner's insurance company hadn't totaled this car was beyond his ability to comprehend, but then again, it wasn't his job to understand. It was his job to fix the damn car.
He'd smoothed out the dents in both the front and rear quarter panels and applied primer. He'd already done the front hood and put on the new bumper and doors. Tomorrow, he'd paint.
By the time he was finished, this baby would look brand-new. Or as brand-new as an almost-totaled car could look.
He closed his part of the shop and had Roxie on the leash. He was headed toward his apartment when he ran into Carter.
“How'd it go on that hot mess of a Dodge today?” Carter asked.
“It was rough, but it should be ready for paint tomorrow.”
Carter nodded. “Knew you could fix it.”
“They should have junked it.”
“You know that and I know that, but when an insurance company won't total a vehicle, it's up to us to make it run again for the customer. We had to replace several engine parts. It'll end up costing them more in repairs than if they had replaced it. But we can only do what the insurance company wants. And in the end, the client will get back a well-running vehicle that will probably look better than it did before the accident.”
“You've got that right.”
“Hey, a bunch of us are meeting at Bash's bar. Care to join us?”
His first instinct was to say no. But he was beat after today, and he could really use a beer. “Sure. I need a shower first.”
“Okay. Meet you there?”
He went upstairs and, after taking Roxie for a short walk, spent several minutes under the hot water, scrubbing off the dust and primer from the day. Then he changed into clean clothes and climbed on his bike for the short ride to Bash's bar.
It was crowded for a weeknight, but then again, it was Bash's bar, a hot-ticket item in a small town like Hope. Sports were always on the bar's TVs, and now that Bash was also serving food, people could stop in and grab something to eat, catch a game on TV, or play pool.
Brady spotted Carter and the guys at one of the larger tables in the corner. Carter waved him over and he grabbed a seat. Along with Carter were Reid McCormack, Deacon Fox, and Zach Powers, a high school teacher and the new football coach.
“Luke was going to join us, but the baby was fussy and he said Emma was having some kind of new-mother meltdown, so he thought it was more prudent to head home and help take care of Michael,” Carter said.
“Probably a wise idea.”
“Molly's going to be here as well. And I think Chelsea will, too.”
“I have no problem with women,” Deacon said. “Though your women are already taken.”
“Damn straight they are,” Carter said. “You'll have to find your own.”
“Not really looking for one of my own. Just someone to pass the time with,” Deacon said, lifting his beer to his lips.
“Haven't seen you out with anyone lately,” Reid said.
“That's because I've been too busy on my off time building your damn house, McCormack.”
“Suck it, Fox. And no one asked you to build my house.”
“As I recall, you did.”
“You guys whine as much as my football players,” Zach said.
“Are you gonna make us do push-ups now, Coach?” Reid asked with a grin.
“I might if you don't stop bitching at each other.”
Brady shook his head, smiled, and went to the bar to grab a beer from Bash.
Bash slid the beer across to him. “You're all freshly showered. Got a hot date tonight?”
“No. Just had a rough day. You wouldn't have wanted me shaking off dust in your bar, would you?”
Bash shrugged. “Wouldn't be the worst thing that's gotten dumped on my floor.”
Bash's dog, Lou, came running over, so Brady picked her up and petted her.
“She likes you,” Bash said, grinning. “And she's a pretty good judge of character, so you're okay in my book.”
Brady laughed. “Thanks.”
Bash looked around the bar. “Where's your dog? She's welcome to join you. We've set up a fenced-in play area out back for people who want to bring their dogs in to hang out with Lou.”
“I rode my bike, so I didn't bring her along.”
Bash leaned his hands on the bar. “I guess you need to
get her used to riding on your bike. Then you can bring her places with you.”
He hadn't thought of that. He'd been on a lot of rides with other bikers who brought their little dogs with them. He could make that work. “I'll have to do that.”
Bash's lips curved. “She'd look cute in dog goggles.”
Brady laughed. “Yeah, she would.”
They chatted about the baseball game for a few minutes, but then Bash had to tend to a customer, so Brady took his beer and headed back to the table, surprised to see that in the short time he'd been talking with Bash their group had expanded. Molly, Sam, and Megan had appeared, and Chelsea was walking past him on her way to the bar.
“Hey, Brady,” Chelsea said, giving him a friendly smile.
He made his way over to the table.
“Saved you a seat,” Molly said.
He noticed that the seat Molly had saved him was right next to Megan's.
Damn, she looked pretty. She wore tight, dark jeans, some kind of heels, and a white button-down shirt. Her hair was loose, and he wanted to sit down and run his fingers through it.
Hell, that's not all he wanted to do.
He smiled at her. “How's it going, Megan?”
She smiled back. “Pretty good, Brady. How was your day?”
“Intense. Which is why I'm here tonight having a cocktail.”
“And because it's her birthday,” Sam said.
Brady's brows rose. “It's your birthday?”
She looked down at her lap, then back up at him. “It is.”
“Happy birthday, Megan.”
He liked the blush of pink on her cheeks, as if she didn't want to make a fuss about her birthday.
He threw his arm over the back of her chair. “Did you make yourself a cake today?”
Her lips curved. “I did not.”
“I can't believe that. You, the queen of everything sweet.”
Her gaze snapped to his. “Are you making fun of me?”
He leaned back and gave her a look. “Why would you think that?”
“IÂ .Â .Â . don't know. I'm sorry. I'm in a weird mood today.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear, and he could tell something was bothering her.
“That was meant as a compliment, Megan.”
“I know it was. I'm sorry.” She waved her hand back and forth. “I told you. Weird mood.” She polished off whatever she was drinking in two strong swallows. “We should have more drinks.”
He pulled her empty glass from the table. “I'll get that.”
But he was already off to the bar. He needed a minute to try to figure out what was going on with Megan.
He set the empty glass down.
“Let's do another round for the table,” he said to Bash.
“Got it. I'll have the waitress bring those by,” Bash said.
He nodded, then leaned against the bar top, ostensibly to catch one of the games on TV. But his gaze kept drifting to the table. Megan was in conversation with Sam, Chelsea, and Molly, though she was mostly listening while the rest of them talked.
So today was her birthday. Shouldn't she be animated and excited and feeling like the center of attention?
feel like the center of attention tonight. She gave so much to everyone around her. She should be made to feel special on her birthday.
He went back to the table and sat.
The waitress came by with the drinks for everyone.
“Compliments of Brady,” she said as she handed them out.
Brady stood. “On her birthday, let's all drink to Megan, who does so much for everyone else.”
They all held up their drinks. “To Megan,” everyone said.
Megan blushed while they all toasted her and drank.
“Thank you all so much. This makes me feel very special.”
“You should feel special, honey,” Sam said. “We all love you.”
Brady noticed the tears well up in her eyes. “I love you all, too.”
She took several more swallows of her drink.
Yeah, something was up with her.
“Have you had dinner yet?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I had a muffin before I closed the shop.”
He rolled his eyes. “That's not dinner. How about a nice juicy steak?”
She sighed. “That does sound nice.”
“Wait right here. I'll be back shortly. I'm going to get my truck.”
She reached out for his arm. “Brady, you don't have toâ”
“I want to.” He looked around the table. “I'm heading out to get my truck. Then I'm taking Megan out for a steak dinner. Anyone who cares to join us is welcome.”
“I like steak,” Reid said.
“You like food,” Sam said.
Reid grinned. “This is true.”
“You all decide. I'll be back in a few.”
He leaned over and looked at Megan. “Don't move.”
She smiled. “I'm not going anywhere.”
He went over to the bar and signaled for Bash. When Bash came over, he said, “Can you get someone to cover the bar for you? We're taking Megan out for a steak dinner for her birthday. I have to go get my truck.”
Bash grinned. “I think I can manage that.”
Brady left and rode his bike back to the auto shop. Roxie
greeted him with a few barks and wiggles, so he ran her outside so she could stretch her legs and do her business, then he went back upstairs, grabbed his truck keys, and drove back over to the bar.
“Deacon had to leave, and so did Zach,” Bash said. “But the rest of us are all about steak dinners.”
“Good. Let's go eat.”
“Got a place in mind, Brady?” Reid asked.
“Yeah. I thought we'd hit up Mahogany.”
“Oh, I'm not dressed for that,” Megan said, looking down at her outfit.
He cocked his head to the side. “First, you look hot. Second, you don't have to dress up.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, you don't. Oil tycoons have been in there in jeans and cowboy hats.”
“And you know this becauseÂ .Â .Â .”
“Because I know. Trust me on this. Now come on. We're having steak at Mahogany.”
She pursed her lips, finally nodding. “Okay.”
They went outside to the parking lot. He held the passenger door for Megan while she slid into the truck, then he went around to the other side and got in, and they headed out of the parking lot.
“This is really nice of you, Brady, but totally unnecessary.”
“You have to eat, don't you?”
“And it's your birthday, so you should be treated to something special.”
“I don't need special.”
He slid her a glance. “Why not?”
“Because it's just another day.”
“Who told you that?”
Megan decided she should probably just shut up and appreciate the fact that Brady was being nice to her on her birthday. All her friends were, and that was sweet.
“Oh, no one. I just didn't want anyone to feel like they had to make a fuss over me.”
“What if I want to make a fuss?”
She felt herself grow warm. “Well, thanks.”
Her parents had never made a big deal over her on her birthday, even when she was a little girl. They had told her it was a day to evaluate the past year, and strive to do better the next, not to eat cake and expect to be coddled. One scientist and the other a doctor, her parents had bought her science books and microscopes for her birthday, not dolls and Dr. Seuss.
Her parents had put the
“You're awfully quiet over there.”
“Oh, am I? Just, you know, thinking.”
“Wanna tell me what you're thinking about?”
“My childhood birthdays.”
His lips curved. “Reminiscing about the good old days of birthday cake and ice cream?”
“Hmm. Not exactly. My parents didn't believe in birthday cake and ice cream.”
He frowned. “What? Why not?”
“TheyÂ .Â .Â . I don't know. They're weird.”
He pulled onto the highway. “Care to expand on that?”
“Not particularly.” She never talked about her parents or her childhood. She'd grown up in Hope, and after her parents had left, she'd stayed.
When he pulled into the restaurant parking lot and turned off the engine, Brady picked up her hand. “I know all about not wanting to talk about things. But if you change your mind, I'll listen.”
He got out of the truck and went over to let Megan out. She took his outstretched hand.
“This is really nice of you. I'm sure all you wanted to do was grab some beers with the guys and hang out at the bar tonight, not take me to dinner.”
He slid his arm around her waist. “I'm having steak
tonight. And celebrating your birthday. Trust me, Meganâthis is right where I want to be.”
It sure beat the heck out of her spending the night at home in her pajamas, eating something she'd baked for herself.
So she was all in on this birthday shindig.