Authors: Desiree Holt,Allie Standifer
Biting her lip, she picked up the phone to call in reinforcements.
Desiree Holt & Allie Standifer
“You threw River out of your house?” Kasey’s eyes went wide at the information Kendra shared.
“Look.” Kendra poured herself another cup of coffee. “I invited you here for moral support. Not to give a blow-by-blow report of this morning’s activities.”
She leaned against the counter, her soft cotton pants and t-shirt rubbing over her way-too-sensitive skin. Damn that River anyway. Before him she’d never noticed the way her clothes touched her body.
“There was blowing involved?” Kira asked, looking very interested for a supposed celibate.
“I am not going to talk about anything River and I did last night…or this morning.”
Her cousins hooted with laughter over their coffee and muffins. Kendra just stood there, foot tapping, waiting for the hilarity to die down.
“You two through?” Why had she ever thought these two would be anything but a pain in her ass? When she called Kasey this morning, her older cousin sounded concerned and sympathetic. Now Kendra felt like a 1-900 phone sex operator.
Wiping a tear from her eye Kira stood up and crossed the floor. She gave Kendra a supportive hug before topping off her mug. “I guess I wouldn’t think it was so funny if this was happening to me. Which is why I’m never having sex again. The whole born-again virgin thing has a lot going for it. For one thing I don’t ever have to put up with this shit again.”
Ken wanted to argue, but couldn’t think of a negative word to say against the plan.
If she’d kept her legs crossed none of this would be happening. Then again she never would have had the out-of-this-world experience of being in River’s arms.
A little pain was worth the thrill and perfection of the single night and this morning.
“It’s not River’s fault.”
Kira raised a single brow. “Then who do we blame?”
“Crap.” She rubbed the ache in her forehead. “Do we have to blame someone?”
“Yes, we must place the blame in order to plan revenge.” Kasey carelessly tossed back the rest of her coffee and joined the other two women at the sink.
“This is crazy,” Ken protested. “I just want to find a way to stop the insanity. You two are here digging for ways to make it worse. This is not helpful.”
“You said you wanted to talk when you called,” Kasey pointed out with a bland expression on her pretty face. “You said nothing about wanting help. Help is something totally different from regular conversation.”
Ken’s gut churned and she knew those two were up to something, but she couldn’t figure out what. “Look, here it is in a nutshell. I hooked up with River last night. We had sex. I left. He followed me home. We had sex again. We fought and he stormed out of the house. Somehow that turned out to be a big mistake. Maybe he’s not like the other idiots I dated. So now help me fix it. Okay?”
Kira and Kasey turned their heads to stare at each other then back at her.
“I’m not sure what there is to fix. You wanted River gone. He’s gone. The only thing left is to shoot him and I really don’t want to piss Sky off that badly before we’re even married.” Kasey nibbled her lip as she slid her shoe back and forth across the wooden floor.
“Kase, get a grip.” Kira shoved her sister in the arm. “No one wants to kill River.
No one is planning on killing the poor man. Geez, you write too many romances. Get your head out of your books and join us here in planet reality.”
“What?” Kasey stumbled from the push, but righted herself quickly. “I’m just saying Ken got what she wanted. River’s gone end of story. Is it time for cake yet?”
Desiree Holt & Allie Standifer
“But I didn’t get what I wanted or at least I don’t feel good about what I had.” The more she talked about it the more confused she grew. River looked and sounded mad when she’d mentioned the whole bed-hopping thing. She was pretty sure steam had been coming from his ears when she’d mentioned the “rare fat chick” type comment.
“I need chocolate,” she wailed out loud as her brain continued to circle around everything that had happened since she’d met River last night. “How can it be less than twenty-four hours since we met? I have to date most men months before they drive me this crazy.”
A soft hand against her shoulder stopped Kendra’s agitated movements. “Ken, have you ever thought that all this stuff with River is bothering you so much because he means so much? You’ve never lost sleep or your cool over any man, but River’s in your life for a day and you’ve already hopped in bed with him twice. Not to mention hitting your stash of chocolate pretty hard.”
Was Kasey right? She thought back to her first glimpse of River’s sexy muscled body and her underwear dampened. Shit, she really did have it bad for him. Did it matter? Should she let it matter? Sean had acted in love with her at first too and that certainly hadn’t led to a happily ever after.
“Sweetie, it’s all a matter of trust. No one can tell you what to do or how to feel.
This time everything’s in your hands.” Kasey patted her on the back and stepped away.
“What if I’ve ruined it already? You didn’t see his face when he stormed out of here. I’ve never seen anyone look that pissed.” The more she thought about it the more giving River time to cool off looked to be the best idea. But what if he didn’t want anything to do with her after that?
“I’ll take care of River. You take care of yourself, and Ken,” Kasey said, her smooth tone dropping to a low pitch, “don’t fuck him over. River’s actually one of the last few decent men around and I’d hate to see him change because my cousin turned into a wimp.”
“And that’s round three folks,” Kira cheerfully jumped in her arms outstretched.
“Kasey, why don’t you head out? Go find River and see where his head’s at. I’ll take yellowbelly here and beat some courage into her. Have your man call for a date or something. She’ll be ready by tonight.”
Kasey said nothing for several long minutes. Finally she gave a short nod and turned on her heel and left.
The two remaining women let out a long breath.
“You know that present I wanted?”
Suspicious, Ken nodded her head. “Yes, you mentioned it on the answering machine this morning.”
“After defusing that little bomb I want to double my order.”
“Come on, I need a donut.” Kendra grabbed her keys and hustled out the door.
Even if her world were falling apart, chocolate and cake could at least make her feel better about the destruction.
* * * * *
“I don’t want to talk about it, Kasey,” River said, stepping through the doorway of his home. A home that felt empty now that Reed had moved out and in with Halli.
The Brody family homestead was built for a family. Without one the halls echoed and the living room felt empty. Maybe he should think about getting a dog. Dogs were great company. They never talked back, never worried about water weight and most important never asked their owners if a pair of jeans made their ass look fat.
Like a spastic puppy Sky’s fiancé trailed after River. Her mouth never stopped moving.
“Look. I know Ken seemed like a bitch, but she’s really not that bad. She had a rough breakup and the guy was a complete asshole. He’d beaten her down—”
Desiree Holt & Allie Standifer
River whirled around fury sparking off him like live wires. “He touched her?” Such a thing went beyond his imagining. He might get mad, maybe hit a wall or two, but he’d never, ever touch a woman with that kind of anger sizzling through his veins.
“What?” Kasey stepped back from whatever she must have seen on his face. “No, I mean he mentally kicked her down until there was barely anything left. Kira and I finally stepped in when Sean demanded she change her will leaving him as the sole beneficiary.”
“What the hell?” River stared.
“Not that she had that much to leave him anyway. But we got her away, picked her back up and have pretty much bullied her into living ever since. But trust me on this.”
Kasey narrowed her usually sparkling green eyes until only slits were visible. “If that bastard had laid a finger on her you’d never find a trace of him.”
At her venomous words River felt the anger boiling inside him settle to a low simmer. “Fine, but she doesn’t want me in her life, Kase. Kendra pretty much threw me out of her door this morning.”
And didn’t that just eat away at him. He’d fallen head over heels in love with this impossibly beautiful woman and she couldn’t stand to be around him.
“Look. I know it’s not any of my business, except Kendra’s my favorite cousin and you’re going to be my brother-in-law, so yep, I guess it is my business.”
River looked down at the mouthy redhead. “Is there a point to this or are you torturing me for shits and giggles?”
He pretended to wince when she punched his arm then Kasey got on with her agenda. “Kendra’s been hurt more and deeper than anything you and I could understand. So here’s the deal. If you want her, really want her, with rings, kids and the minivan, then you need to fight face to face.”
He could picture Kasey’s words so easily. Coming home after his shift to find Kendra with a baby on her hip, a smile on her face and takeout on the counter. Yeah, he wanted it fucking complications and all.
No one ever said falling in love would be easy, right?
“What do I need to do?” he asked, resignation and determination filling his voice.
Kasey gleefully rubbed her hands together like a demented evil minion. “Leave it all to me, River. All I need you to do is call Ken up for dinner. Tell her you’ll pick her up at six thirty. Dress in a suit and tie.”
“Kasey, suddenly I’m feeling a little bit uneasy with this.”
“Because you’re in charge.”
* * * * *
Kendra carefully flipped her cell phone closed. “I agreed to have dinner with him.”
“That’s good, right?” Kira asked, cleaning up the donut evidence from the table and counters. “We talked about this, Ken. If you don’t let go of the past, Sean’s going to own and dominate your future. He was an asshole. It’s time to get over it and him.”
“You’d think it’d be easier, huh? I mean logically I know everything he said was crap, but I still can’t help but feel maybe he was right on some points.”
“Then you’re stupid and you don’t deserve River. Cut him loose and let him find some other woman who won’t be afraid to open her future to him.” Kira stuffed boxes into the black trashcan with an angry shove.
“Whoa, don’t get all warrior woman on me.” Kendra backed up in an act of mock fear, her hands raised, palms out. “I’m just thinking out loud anyway. It helps me sound the crap from the truth. Crap always sounds stupid aloud and truth never changes, right?”
“Something like that, I’d guess. Now let’s talk about clothes. What are you wearing? How slutty and will underwear be involved?”
Kendra looked over at her cousin with her curly brown hair and whiskey colored eyes. “You know, for someone on a sexual high horse you sure are pushy with my love life.”
Desiree Holt & Allie Standifer
Kira only laughed and maneuvered Kendra down the hall to the bedroom. “You know what they say, ‘Those that can, do. Those that can’t teach.’ So call me Yoda and follow my wisdom, grasshopper.”
Kendra giggled and allowed herself to be prodded and pushed by a cousin who danced too close to the insanity branch in their family tree.
Maybe her family was right. Sean had controlled her life too often and too long.
River deserved a chance and she owed it to them both to give him one.
* * * * *
Low music played through a discreet sound system as River toyed with his glass of white wine. The empty dinner plates had been taken away, dessert refused and now an awkward lull fell over the table.
He couldn’t believe this was him sitting across from a beautiful woman with his tongue tangled in knots and his brain scrambled with need and desire. He never had trouble wooing women, then again no other woman had ever mattered as much as this one.
“Thanks for agreeing to come tonight.” His voice sounded too stiff and formal.
“Thank you for asking me.” Kendra sounded just as uncomfortable as he did.
Crap, why wasn’t this working?
“Kendra, I feel like an idiot sitting here walking a verbal minefield. Let’s get our cards on the table.” He signaled for another bottle of wine and turned back to his date.
“The first time I saw your face my heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe, my pulse went all freaky and black spots danced in front of my eyes.” He reached across the white linen tablecloth and clasped her hand in his. “You had me even before hello, Kendra. I love everything about you without even knowing what it all is. You smile at me and I feel like the most important man on earth. A single touch from you has me going from zero to sixty in half a second.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but River plodded ahead, his words riding over her. “I know you’re a glass artist, Kasey told me. She also showed me the website and I think your work is amazing and a little scary. But it doesn’t matter because I admire it. I respect you and your art. You are the one person I want to come home to. The one I want to bitch, laugh and moan over my day or my cases or even my family. With you in my life I can face anything. With you in my arms I can conquer everything.”
Kendra hadn’t bolted from the table and River took that as a good sign. He slowly let the air out of his lungs and laid all the rest of his cards on the table.
“I fell in love with you before I even knew your name, Kendra. Please let me into your life. Lean on me when things get crazy, I’ll hold you close and keep you safe. I see my future in your eyes so please don’t turn away from me.”
He finally stopped for a breath, poured wine for both of them and took a healthy gulp of his. Her face gave nothing away. He had absolutely no idea what she was thinking or what would happen next. But he couldn’t have opened his heart any more than he did. Now it was up to her.