Authors: Jaci Burton
BRADY WASN'T SURE
what had been bothering Megan earlier, but whatever it was, she'd either brushed it off or was hiding it well, because all through dinner she smiled and laughed and seemed to have a great time.
When the waiter brought her a slice of chocolate cake with a lit candle on top, her eyes widened in surprise.
“Cake? Really? For me?” she asked.
“Someone told me it was your birthday,” the waiter said.
Megan slid her glance over at Sam.
“Don't look at me,” Sam said, then eyed Brady.
Megan turned her attention to Brady. “You did this?”
He shrugged. “I might have mentioned it.”
“Make a wish and blow out the candle before it melts wax all over that decadent-looking cake,” Chelsea said.
“Thank you.” Megan grasped his arm and he saw the warmth in her eyes, as if people didn't do this for her very often.
He knew these people at the table were her friends, and he'd wager they celebrated her birthday with her every
year. So maybe it was guys who didn't treat her like she was special.
Which sucked. Because she looked happy as hell right now as she closed her eyes, took in a breath, then blew out her candle.
“You're all going to have to help me eat this, because I'm already stuffed from that magnificent steak, and this is the biggest slice of cake I've ever seen.”
The waiter had brought several plates, so Megan cut off a few pieces.
Chelsea declined, but Reid said he'd have a piece, as did Carter, who was going to share his with Molly.
“You want some of mine?” Megan asked Brady.
“I wouldn't say no to a bite.”
She handed him a fork. “You'd better eat more than a bite. I wasn't joking when I said I was full. You saw that steak I ate, right?”
He took the fork she gave him and slid it into the cake. “But you liked the steak?”
“It melted in my mouth. It was perfect.”
He tasted it. “This is pretty good, too. Not as good as the stuff you make. Don't tell the waiter I said that.”
She smiled and took a bite of the cake. “It's very good. And thank you for the compliment.”
“So we got you something,” Sam said, pulling a card out of her purse. “It's from all of us girls, including Des and Emma, and Jane, too, who are sorry they couldn't be here tonight. Jane's on vacation with Will right now, as you know, and Des and Emma's absences are for obvious reasons.”
“You got me a gift?” Megan took the card, then grinned when she opened it. “A spa day? That's amazing.”
“You need one,” Chelsea said. “You never pamper yourself. So on one of your days off, you book the spa day and you get a massage and a mani-pedi and have your hair and makeup done.”
Megan looked up from the card. “Wow. Thank you allâso much.”
“You're welcome.” Sam grinned. “Can I also say I'm a wee bit jealous, because a full spa day sounds like a real treat right now?”
Megan held the card against her chest. “I'm so going to enjoy this. It's just what I need. I love you all so much.”
“We love you, too, honey,” Molly said.
They all finished their desserts, then paid for dinner. Outside, Megan said her good-byes with hugs and thanks for everyone, and then she and Brady headed back to Hope.
“Would you like to come to my place for coffee?” she asked.
“Actually, I need to check on Roxie.”
“Okay. Some other time then.”
He could tell she was disappointed, but he had no intention of ending their night just yet. He stopped at the auto shop. “I was thinking you could come up to my place. Not as fancy as yours, but I know Roxie would like to see you.”
“Oh. Sure. I'd like that.”
He led her up the back stairs, where his apartment was located. As usual when Roxie heard him coming, she started barking.
“Is that your alarm system?”
He put the key in the door. “Yeah. She's very effective. No break-ins. I'm sure would-be burglars are terrified when they hear her tiny, little bark.”
Her lips lifted as she listened to Roxie's puppy bark. “I know I would be.”
He opened the door, and Roxie took several steps back, her tail wagging like crazy.
“Yes, you're such a good girl,” Brady said. “And I'll bet you'd like to go outside, wouldn't you?”
He grabbed the leash off the hook on the wall by the door. “I'll just be a minute. There's water and beer in the refrigerator. Some soda, maybe. I could make some coffee.”
“I'm fine right now. Thanks.”
“I'll be right back.”
He took Roxie for a quick walk outside, only tonight Roxie wanted to stop and sniff every damn blade of grass.
“Really?” he asked after he'd walked around the yard out back with her for the fifth time.
She looked up at him as if to say, “Look, dude. You left me in the house all night. So suck it up and let's go another round.”
They went another round, and finally she did what needed to be done, so they went back upstairs.
Megan was on his beat-up, old brown sofa. She'd fixed herself a glass of ice water and kicked off her shoes.
After Brady detached Roxie's leash and pulled off her harness, Roxie went running over to her, so Megan leaned down and picked her up.
“How's Miss Roxie tonight?” Megan asked, cuddling her close to her chest. “You are just so adorable.”
“And she knows it, too.”
Megan looked up at him. “She should feel loved. Hey, did you ever get any response about her?”
He went to the refrigerator to grab a bottle of water, then came and sat down beside her on the sofa. “No. I put up some posters with a picture of her around the outside of the shop and down the street. The vet's office hasn't had a response either.”
“I guess she's yours, then.”
“So far. We'll see.” He wouldn't admit this to anyone, but he'd have a really hard time giving her up. She'd even wrangled her way into sleeping in his bed once in a while.
“Like you'd give her up.”
“Okay, maybe not.”
“Now you have to make her a biker dog.”
His lips curved. “Bash mentioned that, too. I'll have to get her some gear. Probably not in time for the event this weekend.”
She cocked a brow. “You have an event this weekend?”
“A poker run for charity.”
“It's a domestic abuse charity. They run it every year and it always raises a lot of money.”
“That sounds great. I haven't been on a bike sinceâ”
He waited, but she didn't finish. He knew why.
“Since you dated my brother?”
“It's okay to talk about him.”
“That didn't go so well the last time.”
“I know. And I'm sorry about that. I didn't know the two of you had gone out, and I was surprised to hear it. To hear his name mentioned. I didn't handle it well. I apologize for how I reacted to it. But I'm okay with you talking about him.”
She didn't look like she believed him. He couldn't blame her for that. His reactions since Kurt's death had been all over the place. Mostly from polite nods to sullen silences. He was going to have to make a concerted effort to get past it.
Plus, for some reason he wanted to know more about Megan's relationship with his brother. “So tell me about you and Kurt.”
“We had fun together. He was nice to me. He took me on bike rides.” She smiled. “He liked being outdoors.”
“Yeah, he did. He always wanted to be on his bike. Got him in a lot of trouble when he was in school.”
Roxie had fallen asleep in Megan's lap, so Megan leaned back against the sofa, propping her head in her hand. “He told me some stories about how he'd cut out of last period so he could meet friends for rides on his Harley.”
“The funny thing was, I'd want to go with him and he'd bitch at me about staying in class. He wouldn't let me cut with him. Pissed me off.”
She laughed. “Well, at least he wasn't dragging you into his truancy.”
“He probably figured one of us getting in trouble with our parents was enough.”
“I was always the good girl in school. I can't imagine the wrath my parents would have brought down on me if I'd ever gotten in trouble.”
He wanted to know more about her childhoodâand the lack of birthdays. “Tell me about your growing-up years. What the hell is it with your parents and birthdays?”
“Oh. My father is a scientist and my mother a physician. They groomed me to be intelligent and thoughtful and not fall prey to frivolous childhood things. It's not like they didn't celebrate my birthday, it was just always veryÂ .Â .Â . low-key. Gifts were typically textbooks that would further my intellectual education. I'd ask for a doll or a cookbook or an Easy-Bake Oven, and I'd get a microscope or a robot-building kit.”
“Sounds like they weren't listening to your needs.”
She shrugged. “My grandmother took care of that. She loved to bake, so I spent a lot of time with her. I live in her house, actually. She left it to me when she died, along with a decent inheritance. I redid the kitchen with the retro mint green oven because I love vintage things. And I had to have the oversized island so I'd have extra space for cooking prep. I bought the bakery with the money my grandmother left me after she passed away.”
He laid his arm behind hers on the sofa and toyed with the ends of her hair. “Then I'm glad you had your grandmother to see to it that your dreams were fulfilled.”
She smiled. “Me, too.”
“And what about your parents? How do they feel about you owning the bakery?”
She shrugged. “We don't talk much anymore. They moved to California when I graduated high school. I didn't move with them. I loved Hope and decided to stay here with my grandmother.”
“That must have been hard on all of you.”
“We weren't close. I think they were disappointed in my lack of interest in their interests. And I was disappointed in their constant attempts to mold me into a version of themselves. So we were all better off without each other.”
“I'm sorry about your parents.”
“I'm over it.”
He didn't think she was over it. How could anyone ever get over having parents who didn't love you, who couldn't
appreciate your value? He saw the sadness in her eyes. “Are you?”
“Okay, maybe not. But I don't want to talk about my parents anymore.”
He understood wanting to bury the painful parts of one's past. He was a master at it. “Then let's talk about your birthday today. You need a present.”
“I got a present. I have a spa day to look forward to.”
“Oh, but that's from your girlfriends. I didn't give you a gift.”
“Yes, you did. You took me out for an amazing steak dinner. Have I mentioned to you how much I love steak?”
“You haven't, but now I know. Have I mentioned how much I appreciate a woman who can appreciate a good steak?”
“You haven't. But now I know.”
He liked this woman. That knowledge sent warning bells clanging off in his head. But tonight he wasn't going to think about himself. Tonight was all about Megan. “Yeah, steak is fine and all, and so is that spa thing, but what you really need is a good shoulder rub. You seem a little tense.”
He caught the slight raise of her brows. “Do I?”
“Yeah. Turn around.”
She gently laid Roxie down on the sofa, then shifted. “Gladly. I'll never turn down a good shoulder massage.”
He had to admit he liked putting his hands on her. Her muscles were soft and pliant, and she relaxed when he massaged her shoulders.
“Mmm. Keep doing that. It feels good.”
The sound of her voice and the way she moaned when he pressed in on her muscles made him hard. And all he was doing was touching her shoulders.
He wanted more than that. He leaned in to whisper in her ear, breathing in her scent.
“Why is it that you always smell like powdered sugar and cookies?”
She half turned to look at him. “Is that bad?”
“Hell no, it isn't bad. It makes me want to lick every part of you.”
He felt her body tremble. “Oh. That definitely isn't bad.”
She turned around and laid her hand on his thigh, which didn't do much to tamp down the steely quaking of his dick.
He leaned in to kiss her.
And then her phone ringtone went off.
She frowned. “Kind of late for that.”
“Do you need to get it?”
She shook her head. “Probably not. Well, maybe I should.”
He leaned back. “Go ahead.”
She fished in her bag for her phone, then pressed the button. “Hey, Sam, what's up?”
She listened, smiling. “Really. She must be over the moon. I know she didn't want to wait much longer.”
Her gaze met Brady's as she listened further. “Keep me updated, okay? Thanks.”
She hung up. “Des is having her baby.”
“I kind of figured that out from your side of the conversation.”
She looked down at her phone as if she was thinking, and he felt the shift in the atmosphere. All that warmth between them from earlier had gone away.
“Megan, do you want to go home?”
She looked around, hesitating before she nodded. “Uh, probably. I have to be at the bakery pretty early tomorrow.”
He was surprised by how disappointed he was. “Sure. I'll drive you home.”
When they got to her house, Brady walked her to the front door, where she turned around and faced him.
“Thank you for taking me to dinner tonight.”
Then she grabbed the front of his shirt and tugged him close. “At some point, people will stop interrupting us by having babies and calling, and then maybe we'll be able to see what could happen between us.”