Authors: Jessica Clare
She was glad he was here, though. Not only was he helping with Daphne, but this would give her time to spend with him, too. She'd been dreaming of the day they would finally reunite, and though she hadn't planned it quite like this, she couldn't be sorry for it. Today, she resolved, she was going to spend at her sister's side.
And if Cade was there, too, even better.
She'd let them sleep for now, though, and she'd make breakfast. Audrey passed through the living room on silent, careful feet, and then headed through the swinging door into the kitchen.
The sight that greeted her there made her stop in her tracks.
His massive back was turned to her, muscles rippling and shoulders moving as Reese reached for something in one of the cabinets. The sleep pants he wore were hideously checkered, but they were also incredibly tight across his firm ass and low enough that they showed the indent of his lower backÂ .Â .Â . and the fact that he wasn't wearing underwear. His feet were bare.
He turned and glanced at her as she stood in the doorway, petrified, and he gave her another one of those lazy, smug smiles. “Good morning,” he whispered. His gaze seemed to pause at her mouth, then took in her tightly bound-up hair, and the smile grew amused. “Armoring up for battle?”
“Don't be ridiculous,” she whispered back. “I came in here to make breakfast. I didn't realize anyone else was in here. What are you doing in here?”
“You,” he told her with a point of the potato peeler in his hand, “are not getting anywhere near this food. Not after last night's debacle.”
She padded to his side, crossing her arms over her chest, and studied the counter space in front of him. There was a bowl of beaten eggs, another bowl full of pancake batter, and he had a stack of washed potatoes in front of him. “What's all this? Don't tell me you've decided to cook?”
“Someone's got to do it,” he said with a lopsided grin. “And those two in the living room look like they had a rough night.”
“They do,” she admitted. “I feel bad that it's not me out there.”
“I don't,” he told her. “You were busy keeping me occupied.”
She smacked his arm and picked up one of the potatoes. “You want me to peel these?”
“I don't know.” He leaned against the counter and gazed down at her. “Think you'll mess it up?”
She glared at him. “I have some skill, you know.”
“Oh, I know that,” he drawled, and it made a blush creep up her cheeks. She bit her lip when that crazy flutter began in her belly again. “But I was talking about potatoes.”
She rolled her eyes and took the peeler from him, then grabbed a few potatoes and headed over to the garbage can. “I'll peel while you cook.”
“Suit yourself,” he told her, handing her the rest of the potatoes. He pulled out a skillet and set it on the stove top, then began to flip a few of the dials with the casual expertise of someone who had cooked plenty of meals. He whistled quietly under his breath and headed to the refrigerator, then bent over, his pants nearly splitting at the movement.
Audrey froze at the sight of his ass in the air, the pants pulled impossibly tight against his skin. She could practically run a ruler down the cleft of his ass. And it was a rather fine ass. She gaped at it a moment more, then forced herself to focus on the potatoes when he straightened and turned around with a package of bacon in his hand. She gave one of the potatoes a few awkward scrapes.
“Were you checking out my ass, Audrey?”
She sighed heavily. “You were sticking it in the air, Reese. It's hard not to.”
“Did you like what you saw?”
“No,” she said in her best prissy voice. “You have cellulite.”
He laughed softly at that. “You're such a liar. Your face is all red.”
She glared at him and scraped the potato a little harder.
He pulled out a knife from a nearby block and gestured at her. “Try and leave a little of the potato there for the actual pan.”
She glanced down at the potato in her hand and noticed she was gouging half of it away with her angry scrapes.
She finished peeling it and tossed it on the counter with an irritated look at him, then grabbed the next one. “So you're leaving today?”
“Nah.” He laid a couple of strips of bacon in the pan. “I needed a vacation, and that hasn't changed even though Camilla left.”
She began to scrape the next potato angrily. “You weren't invited.”
“Actually,” he said in a lazy voice. “I was.” He finished laying bacon in the pan and then closed it up, returning it to the fridge. “Just because you didn't invite me doesn't mean I'm not welcome here.”
“My sister's trying to get clean. She doesn't need someone like you disturbing her.”
“Have I disturbed her at all? Has she indicated to you that I'm making her unhappy? Oh, that's right. You wouldn't know that because you've been too busy mooning after Cade and spending time with me to bother with her.”
Audrey's wild scrapes took on a furious edge. “That's not it at all. Iâouch!” A sharp burst of pain blossomed in her finger and blood welled. She'd missed the potato and scraped her finger.
Reese gave a sigh and plucked the potato from her hand, tossing it in the sink. “Did you have to go and hurt yourself?”
Before she could protest, he grabbed her by the waist and hauled her onto the counter next to the sink, as if she weighed nothing. Her jaw dropped. Daphne was the lightweight. Audrey wasÂ .Â .Â . well, Audrey was solid at the most flattering of terms. But he'd picked her up like she was nothing. When he tugged her hand free from the fist she'd clenched it in, she allowed him to examine her wound, staring at him in dazed confusion.
He calmly turned on the water and ran her finger under the tap, fingers on her wrist. With his free hand, he pulled open a drawer and grabbed a box of Band-Aids, tugging one out. “This is why I'm not letting you cook, Audrey,” he said, his voice teasing. “You have a nasty temper and you don't concentrate when you're mad.” He glanced up at her through surprisingly thick lashes. “And around me, you seem to always be mad.”
“Am not,” she said in a soft voice, but he did have a point. She worked so hard to be controlled and efficient in all areas of her life, but this man seemed to undo all her efforts in the blink of an eye.
He turned off the water. Another drop of blood welled up on her finger even as he grabbed the Band-Aid from the counter. “It's still bleeding,” she pointed out.
Reese leaned in and swiped his tongue over the small wound, licking it clean, and then slid the Band-Aid over it while she sat, frozen and in shock. Heat pulsed low in her belly at that small, impulsive gesture. She squeezed her thighs tight again.
“You shouldn't have done that,” she breathed, surprised at how husky her voice was.
He glanced over at her, his gaze moving to her mouth, then back to her eyes. “Why is that?”
“I could have a disease.”
That cocky grin spread across his face again. “You? Miss Proper? Miss Not a Hair Out of Place? I imagine you'd be Ms. Safety in the bedroom.”
He made her sound so boring. For some reason, it bothered her. “You don't know what I'm like in the bedroom,” she blurted. A split-second later, she was horrified that those words had come out of her mouth.
“I'd like to learn,” Reese told her, leaning close. His warm, musky scent filled her nostrils and her breathing started to speed up as he moved in. She thought for a moment he was going to kiss her, or touch her, or something, and that fluttering in her belly went wild with need, her pulse pounding at a spot between her legs that made her entire body ache.
But all he did was offer her a hand to help her down from the counter. She took it, hopped down, and then looked up at him in confusion.
“Bacon's burning,” is all he said, turning back to the stove. “Why don't you set the table? Less chance to injure yourself.”
And when he gave her his backâand that tight buttâshe found she wanted to kick him all over again. Preferably in that tight butt.
Breakfast was incredible. By the time Audrey had finished setting the table, Reese had arrived out of the kitchen with a plate full of perfectly cooked baconâburning, her assâa stack of fluffy pancakes, and the most perfectly cooked scrambled eggs she'd ever seen. There was a plate of dry toast and a pot of coffee on a potholder, and everything looked and smelled amazing. Audrey was impressed. How did such an arrogant, good-looking jerk turn out to be such a domestic when it came to the kitchen? He put her attempts to shame. She'd have to find out; there was more going on beneath the surface than she'd realized when it came to Reese Durham.
She forgot all of that, however, when Daphne and Cade appeared in the doorway. Her twin looked greenish beneath her pale skin and her hair was a tangled mess. Daphne's mouth was pressed tight, and without the thick fake lashes and heavy eye makeup, she looked wan and tired and far too old for her age. Audrey immediately rushed to her side, wrapping an arm around her waist. “How are you feeling?”
Daphne pushed her away irritably. “I'm fine. Leave me alone. Christ, you're hovering.”
Hurt, Audrey took a step backward and glanced at Cade, who seemed tired but gave her a gentle smile. “Thanks for cooking breakfast, Audrey. You really outdid yourself.”
Before she could finish her protest, Reese came up behind her and smacked her on the shoulder. “She did a terrific job, didn't she? I woke up this morning and there she was, hard at work, slaving over the stove.”
Audrey cast him a withering look, but he only grinned down at her. Now what was he up to?
Daphne slumped into the nearest seat, then pressed a hand to her mouth. “I can't eat any of this. It's making my stomach turn.”
“You should eat something,” Audrey protested, anxiousness stirring through her. Daphne did look rather ill.
“I'll eat once I get my next pill,” Daphne said, and gave Cade a hopeful look.
He checked his watch, then shook his head. “Not for another twelve hours. Sorry.”
Daphne's mouth twisted and she pushed the plate in front of her away. “I'll eat in twelve hours, then.”
“Daphne,” Audrey began.
“You're not my mother, Aud. Shut up already.”
Reese stepped forward and, to Audrey's surprise, he plunked down a mug in front of Daphne and filled it with black coffee. He tossed two pieces of dry toast onto her plate and pointed at it. “I'm not your mother, either, but you're going to eat that.” He pointed at the coffee. “And you're going to drink that. And you're going to shut up about it.”
Silence filled the room, and then Cade cleared his throat. “Well, the rest of us can eat, at least.” He pulled out the chair next to Daphne.
Reese patted the chair next to where Audrey hovered, on the opposite side of her twin. “Why don't you sit here next to Audrey, Cade? She'd probably like that.”
Audrey glared at Reese.
Why not be totally obvious about her crush?
Cade grinned at her. “I was thinking she'd probably want to sit next to you, Reese.”
Oh, my God. Surely he didn't think she was interested in Reese. That was her worst nightmare come to life. “I can assure you that sitting next to Reese is the last thing I want.”
“In that case,” Cade said, pulling out Audrey's chair for her. She sat and gave him a radiant smile. He was such a wonderful man.
Daphne snorted and picked up one of the wedges of dry toast, nibbling on the corner and giving Reese a hateful look as he sat down next to her.
And that was how their first meal together at the cabin proceeded. Daphne picking at her food, Cade seated next to Audrey and keeping up the bulk of the conversation, expertly involving all parties so no one would feel left out, and Reese sitting across from her and giving her smug smiles as she ate the delicious breakfast he'd cooked and claimed she was responsible for.
It was a rather messy dynamic, Audrey thought to herself. And she imagined it was only going to get messier.
Out of guilt, Audrey stuck close to Daphne's side all day. She helped her twin take a shower since Daphne felt too weak to stand up on her own, and when Daphne took a nap and then threw up on their shared blankets, Audrey immediately changed the bed and did the laundry without a word of protest. Daphne, on the other hand, was surly and unpleasant to Audrey at all times, which only made Audrey want to try harder to please Daphne. She knew this was hard on Daphne, and she was there to help her get through it.
So she picked up after Daphne, and made her twin toast when she needed it, and read a book in the room while Daphne was sleeping. When Daphne was awake and throwing up, Audrey changed out her bucket, wiped her brow, and unpacked their things, keeping busy.
In a word, she hovered.
It wasn't that she thought Daphne would appreciate it. She didn't. It wasn't that Daphne needed her. She didn't, really. It was guilt, pure and simple, that kept her glued to Daphne's side.
She felt guilty about a lot of things. She felt guilty that Daphne was so sick and she'd pawned her off on Cade last night. She felt guilty that Daphne resented her. She felt guilty that she should have been concentrating on getting her twin better instead of her crush on Cade.
And she really, really felt guilty about last night's kiss with Reese. Or this morning, when he'd lifted her onto the counter and then licked her finger. She felt horribly guilty about how turned on those two simple things had made her.
She was in love with Cade. She was here for Daphne.
So why was she so utterly focused on Reese Durham? She didn't even like the man. He was a jerk and a playerâtwo things that she despised. He was her opposite in every way. He'd blackmailed her into kissing him, for pete's sake.