Read Two in the Afternoon Online
Authors: Cora Cade
Tags: #military;stalker;Delta Force;Army;Ranger;military;pub;small town;red hair;fling
en it comes to hand-to-heart combat, no hold is barred.
A Day of Pleasure, Book 2
Molly Ryan survived one attack, and she's not about to be a sitting duck for another. With her attacker harassing her from his jail cell, she packs up her life in Chicago, follows her Delta Force brother to North Carolina and gets work in a pub.
Men in uniform are definitely off her menu, but her boss's friend, Army Ranger Callum Eversman, is one hot hunk she'd like to sample.
Home on a two-week furlough, Cal has agreed to watch over Molly as a favor to fellow Ranger Noah Harper. Accomplishing his mission without her noticing? That's going to be tough, as any idiot can see their sparks of attraction from a mile away.
Despite her hands-off-military-men policy, Molly is tempted to indulge, just this once, in a no-strings-attached fling. No dating, no kissy face, no hearts involved. But when her past threatens her future, there's only one man to turn to. The one who'll risk everythingâbody, heart, and soulâto protect her.
Warning: Contains an Army Ranger with a gruff exterior and heart of gold, a heroine with a sassy attitude, and some hot borderline-public sex.
Two in the Afternoon
For Matt. Forever.
For my soul sisters. For your never ending support, for your unflagging faith, and for keeping shit real. Thank you for being my chosen family.
Propping her bare feet on the edge of the ancient desk, Molly Ryan took a well-deserved pull of her beer. Before dropping her head back to ease the tension in her shoulders she closed her aching eyes and sighed heavily. It was nearly two in the afternoon, which meant she'd been locked in the pub's office for roughly six hours, getting caught up on the weekly invoicing, payroll and upcoming supply orders.
The office had no window to enjoy the lake view, but she knew it was a glorious, sunny summer day. It was well worth the sacrifice of her Sunday off to know that she'd put a major dent in her work week, though. With Noah and Tennyson off on their honeymoon for the next two weeks, they'd left Molly in charge of more than just her normal duties.
Managing a busy pub like the Drunken Duck was enough work, but taking on Noah's responsibilities as owner added a little more tension to her shoulders. To be fair, it was a challenge she was more than up for. Noah had left his brother, Chris, as her second in command for the duration, giving plenty of help.
She heard the service door open down the hall. Undoubtedly it was Chris to check in with her. He had a normal work week as an architect and helped out in the evenings and weekends as needed. He was likely stopping after seeing her sporty red coupe in the empty parking lot.
“Hey, Mr. Sexy Pants, I'm in the office. Bring me another beer on your way!” She couldn't help teasing him. He'd spent the previous night fighting off advances from Lexie, his latest crazy chick, as Tenn would call her. At one point Lexie had cornered Chris next to the bar, put a slim hand down the front of his tuxedo pants, and called him Mr. Sexy Pants loud enough for half the bar to hear. Watching Chris turn ten shades of red while attempting to pull the tenacious girl's hand from his pants had caused Molly to fall off her bar stool in hysterical laughter. Even after landing squarely on her ass and spilling her scotch down the front of her bridesmaid dress, effectively ruining it, she still couldn't stop laughing.
As the office door opened behind her, she pushed off from the desk. The movement sent the chair whirling around, making the tiny room spin in a quick half turn.
“Heyâ¦ Oh.” Well, that wasn't Chris standing in her doorway. Where Chris was leanly muscled, this guy looked like a hulking linebacker, with heavily muscled arms and a chest broad enough to block the sun. He had a black duffel bag slung over one shoulder, exposing the underside of a thick biceps and a heavy tribal tattoo ending at the elbow.
Intensity pulsed off of him. Light mocha skin, a smoothly shaved head, and steely gray eyes, he exuded a quiet watchfulness that was at odds with his stern demeanor. He had an obvious perpetual scowl set on his face. A face, upon closer inspection, that had a full mouth and broad features and a light scar running across his left cheek, just under the eye.
He watched her watching him, and no one spoke for a moment. Molly belatedly realized she was sitting in front of a ridiculously hot stranger in her pajamas. Not even her cute pajamas. When she'd rolled out of bed after a night of just a little too much scotch and not enough sleep, she hadn't even considered running into anyone. Her apartment was three blocks away, the pub was closed every Sunday, and most of the town was also recovering from Noah and Tenn's wedding reception.
Who was this guy, and where had he come from? And could she keep him?
If the vixen in black pajama bottoms with pink skulls was Noah's new bride, then Cal was in a lot of trouble. It went against his code to covet a fellow soldier's woman. But he was hard-pressed to take his eyes off the petite beauty with a shock of unruly auburn hair and a full, pouty mouth. She darted her tongue across a lush bottom lip, causing his libido to stand at attention.
It was well past time to stop cataloging every attribute of the woman before him, especially if she was Noah's. “I'm looking for Noah Harper. Is he around?”
“Noah?” She shook her head, as if clearing it, before going on. “He's not in, but I'm the manager of the Drunken Duck. Can I help you?”
It was relief, first and foremost, that washed over him. Cal was grateful he'd had a chance to speak with Noah earlier in the week. Molly wasn't Noah's wife, but the woman he was here to look after.
As she stood, she unfolded her tiny frame from the office chair and stood before him with a hand outstretched. “I'm Molly Ryan.”
Her pert breasts were free under her pink tank top and as she stood, he got a brief glimpse of her rosy-tipped nipples, causing an immediate reaction below his belt. He was going to hell. At any moment a bolt of lightning would reach down from the heavens and take his horny ass out of the picture permanently.
He now sported a painful hard-on and dropped his duffel to his waist in an effort to hide the evidence before taking her hand. “Callum Eversman, ma'am. Noah was expecting me on Friday, but my flight was delayed overseas.”
“Oh! I'm so sorry, I thought you were here on pub business. Noah said you'd be here this week and you'd be staying with us for a while. He was sorry you missed the wedding, but the apartment is ready for you. Let me take you on up so you can get settled.” She slipped her bare feet into a worn pair of flip-flops before waving him back into the hall.
He followed Molly down the hall into the actual pub. Cal took in the highlights of the place. It was an English-style pub with a gleaming mahogany bar running the length of one wall and a wall of windows along another, offering a magnificent view of the lake outside. He could definitely see why Noah had been ready to leave the Rangers behind to start a new life here. It was a peaceful and warm place, this small town on the lake. After more than ten years in the military, even Cal thought it was the kind of place one settled down in. Not that he was ready to settle down, but he was looking forward to a respite, away from the military life.
Molly crossed the room, weaving through the old-fashioned pub-style chairs and tables toward a thick oak door with a deadbolt. The door was unlocked, and she pulled it open and waved him forward.
He climbed the stairs, noting her soft padding behind him. Had she ushered him in first to check him out from behind? Seemed like wishful thinking on his part. Only a guy would pull a move like that.
Molly's gaze was riveted to Callum Eversman's ass, in rugged khaki shorts, as he climbed the stairs in front of her. The man was built like a brick house. His white tee pulled across broad shoulders, tapered to a lean waist and ended just below the belt of his khakis. Framing a perfectly delectable male ass. His thighs and calves were heavy with muscle, and Molly immediately questioned if other parts of his anatomy were as thick as the rest of him.
When he reached the top, he turned to wait as she climbed the remaining stairs. If she'd had any chest she'd have thought he was eyeing her breasts, but she barely needed a bra on any given day. What was there to watch?
She brushed by him at the top of the landing, placing a soft hand to his chest as she squeezed by. There was a brief moment where time stood still, and her entire body began to sizzle from the sweep of her breasts against his chest. The man was pure electricity.
Reaching for the final door leading into the apartment caused her hip to graze against the front of his khakis. He gave a low groan. After pushing the door open, she turned to make room for him to enter the apartment. He had his duffel bag strategically placed in front of him again. If she didn't know better, she'd think he was hiding an erection.
Molly quirked an eyebrow at his back as he placed his duffel on the floor next to the door but didn't turn around to face her.
“Do you mind if I use the restroom?” He was pointing at the small bathroom a few feet away. The apartment only had two rooms, aside from the great room. There was a small bathroom, an oversized master bedroom, and the rest of the space resembled a loft, with high ceilings and a small deck that overlooked the lake.
“Sure. I'll just set the air conditioning a little cooler, since someone's living up here again.”
She watched his back as he retreated into the bathroom before heading over to the thermostat.
Cal splashed cool water on his face and willed his body under control. Molly Ryan was a firecracker, all combustible heat with an innocent package. If Noah hadn't already explained the situation, Cal would have been out there, luring her into bed. It had been a long twelve months since he'd been stateside and even longer since the last time he'd had a warm, naked woman under him.
He was only half hard now, so it was time to get out there, get the tour, and hustle her out of the apartment before he made a liar out of himself. He'd promised Noah he'd keep an eye on Molly until his leave was upâand nothing more, since she was practically a sister to Noah. Molly Ryan, in all of her delectable glory, was off-limits.
Exiting the bathroom, he found her peering out of the small window in the kitchen area. A frown marred her features and she was chewing on her bottom lip. As quietly as possible he pulled up behind her and took in the scene below. Earlier, he'd parked his basic black truck next to a little red coupe, which he assumed was hers. Now there was another car in the lot, a dark blue sedan with heavily tinted windows, parked in the far corner near the exit. “Something to be concerned about?”
She jumped and whirled around, dropping the edge of the curtain in the process. It fluttered into place, but not before he saw the blue sedan pull out of the lot.
“Oh. Sorry, just a strange car in the lot.” She left the window and put a good four feet between them before reaching into a kitchen drawer and pulling out a set of keys. “Here are the keys to the service door of the pub and the dead bolt at the bottom of the stairs. The pub is open every day, except Sunday, from eleven to two. The floors are sound-proofed, so it stays pretty quiet up here. Noah stocked the fridge and pantry when he knew you were coming. Both my number and Noah's brother's numbers are on the fridge if you need anything.”
He'd have to call Chris, Noah's brother, as soon he could. They'd shared a few emails, nothing much, but Noah had made sure they'd been introduced before Cal's visit. She chattered on about the details of the apartment but he couldn't absorb what she was saying when she was so obviously rattled. Her gaze scanned her surroundings, cataloging what had to be familiar territory. When a car door slammed outside, she faltered over her words and jerked her eyes to the kitchen window again.
Cal placed a hand on her back to offer a soothing touch. She leaned in before catching herself and stepping away quickly.
“Well, I'd better get going. You probably want to relax and get settled in.”
“Are you okay?” Cal knew Noah's gut instinct was dead on again. Something definitely had Molly spooked, and he was suddenly glad she was off limits. He needed his full attention on what was going on. Not wrapped up in thoughts of Molly naked and needy beneath him.
Before she could answer, they heard the service door bang shut and a voice call out, “Oh, Molly. My darling scotch-swilling leprechaun, get your perky little ass out here.”
As she smiled, Callum's face set in mulish lines. “Someone you know?”
Instead of answering him, she called down to the pub with, “Hey, Mr. Sexy Pants, we're upstairs.” From the doorway, she threw over her shoulder, “It's Noah's brother, Chris.”
When she said his name, Chris's face appeared at the bottom of the stairs. “Who's this âwe' you speak of? You got a hot date up there? And it's not me?” He began climbing the stairs. “You wound me, leprechaun.”
At the top of the stairs, he took a quick look around, gave a casual peck to Molly's cheek, then put a blatantly territorial arm around her shoulders. Giving him a scowl, she made introductions between the two men, who stared at each other like a pair of junkyard dogs.
Well, that was interesting. There was obviously too much testosterone in the room, since Chris had never, in the seven months she'd been in town, shown any interest in her. They had a sibling-style relationship, lots of teasing, some rough-housing, and a sincere respect for one another. The kind of friendship that made her miss her brother, but Chris was an excellent stand-in. Loyal, protective and always quick with a quip.
“Well, I'm out of here for the day. Bo's waiting for me out at the farm. Noah and Tenn's flight left a few hours ago. He's probably ready for some company.”
“I thought they were going to drop him off before they left for the airport?”
“They were running late and Tenn thought it might be better for me to stay there, since he's still pretty skittish. It's later than I thought, he's probably ready to go out by now.” Turning to Callum, she said, “The number on the fridge is my cell, so you'll be able to get me wherever I am. Which is usually here at the pub, but I'll be spending the next two weeks at the farm until Noah and Tenn get back.”
She watched Chris and Callum share a meaningful look that made no sense to her before she turned on her heel and practically ran down the stairs. She was very glad to put some distance between her and Callum before she burst into flames.
As Molly flew down the stairs like her ass was on fire, Callum took in Noah's brother. He was a slightly smaller version of Noah, with lean muscles and the same dark hair and blue eyes that the ladies loved so much. Cal wondered if Molly found this pretty boy attractive, which put a scowl on his face immediately. Not that it mattered. The little pixie that had just bolted out the door might set off all of his protective instincts, but he was here to do a job.
“Do they teach you that in the Army? Because Noah used to walk around looking like a damn thundercloud too.”
In response, Cal grunted and walked over to the fridge. Pulling out two cold bottles of beer, he offered one up to Chris. “Fill me in.”
“A man of few words. No wonder my brother called you. He's never got anything to say that isn't absolutely necessary.”
Cal put his bottle up in salute. They clinked necks, making Chris grin.
“Well, you've met Molly. Who's like family, so hands off.”
Cal raised a brow in question.
“Oh, for fuck's sake, man, I wasn't born yesterday.”
“Understood. Hands off Molly.”
Before going on, Chris gave him a glare then said, “She's been on edge for the last few weeks. There's a blue sedan with tinted windows hanging around. No one ever gets out of it or stays for very long. In a town full of tourists, they stand out, though. She's aware of it but won't talk about it.”
“Noah said she could handle herself. Like she's had some training somewhere.”
“Yeah, she took me down a few weeks ago without hesitation or breaking a sweat. She did it on instinct. Again, she won't discuss it, but Noah said she's got no breaks in her job history and nothing in her background check that sent up any flags.”
“So, no formal military training then. What about her family?”
“None she speaks of.”
“I take it Noah's wife doesn't know something is going on? Otherwise she wouldn't have asked Molly to stay alone at the farm.” Chris nodded, and Cal continued. “Any chance you can stay with her at the farm?”
Chris gave a small chuckle before saying, “No way in hell. If she knew that I was watching out for her, she'd kick my ass and then make it more difficult to keep an eye on her. She's not the kind of woman to ask for help. Or accept it. Our goal is to be as low key as possible. You've got Noah's gig while he's off gallivanting with his wife. Pub detail while Molly's on the clock. I can handle evenings and such when I'm not at work myself.”
The apartment phone rang, splitting the air with enough force to have both men glancing at the wall. “It's probably Noah, checking in. He thought you would be in today.”
Cal took another long pull of his beer before answering the phone. The Harper brothers seemed pretty in sync, and it made Cal think of his sister. He should call her and tell her he was in the states before he shipped out again.
“Cal, it's Noah. Glad you made it in. We've got a problem with the plan.”
“Gathered that. Molly just left for the farm.”
“Damn. I don't want Tenn worrying while we're away, or I would have clued her in. Is Chris around?”
“Standing in front of me.”
“Good. Let him know that favor I called in came through. About a year ago, Molly filed assault charges on some guy.”
Cal took a deep breath and growled out, “Let me put you on speaker. It'll be easier if Chris and I hear this at the same time.”
Setting the cordless phone down on the counter with the speaker button lit, he said, “You're go.”
It was easier if he treated this like another mission, made it less personal, but he was already invested. His life as an Army Ranger meant a rigid code of honor, a fact he readily accepted and relished. He wasn't the kind of man that would ever walk away from someone in danger, let alone a tiny woman who set all of his protective instincts off like a three-alarm fire. Nobody would be laying another hand on Molly if Cal had anything to say about.
“All right, listen up. July of last year, Molly filed charges on Harrison Pratt. The file states she was assaulted after leaving her shift as the manager at a high-end bar in Chicago. Turns out this prick has a history of assault on women, almost all of them waitresses or bartenders, and always after they turn him down.”
“Rape?” It was said matter-of-factly, but there was a quiet tension behind the word spoken by Chris, whose jaw was pulled tight, his entire being emanating rage. He suddenly looked like Noah, with a warrior's quality that hadn't been there a few minutes before.
“Attempted. But Molly beat the shit out of him. Broke his nose, his cheek bone, and did some major damage to his testicles. In the process she broke her hand, probably on his face, but he managed to do some damage of his own. He had a knife, and she took some damage to her legs and chest. Left some scars, according to the report.” Even through the tinny speaker Cal could hear the rigidity in Noah's delivery as he gave them the cold hard facts.
“Tell me this bastard is someone's bitch in jail right now.” Chris's words came out in a hiss.
“He is.” There was a chorus of grunts from Chris and Cal at the same time. “But it turns out Pratt's dad is a judge, and he's well connected. Molly left Chicago after the sentencing, but not before filing harassment charges that never went anywhere. Seems Pratt had ties with some shady people and is none too happy about his jail time. He had some goons tailing her, making life damn uncomfortable for her.”
Noah didn't need any further prodding to fill in the details on Pratt. “Nothing concrete on the goons. My gut tells me he's sent someone to harass her. He's pissed. Molly was the first woman to press charges and stick with it. From what my buddy in the CPD says, this guy is known for intimidation. Molly's case went the farthest because she wouldn't back down.”
“That's my girl.” This from Chris, who looked like he could spit nails at the moment.
“One more thing. Molly's got a brother.”
“Where the hell is he then?” Again, from Chris. But asking aloud exactly what Cal was thinking.
“He's Delta Force.” Noah paused, and Cal spent a moment offering up his respect for Molly's brother. Delta Force was primarily a counter-terrorism unit. Most of their time was spent behind enemy lines, and they were some tough sons-of-bitches. “He's been deployed for the last seven months, undisclosed location. Within days of his deployment, she packed up her life and came our way. He's based out of Ft. Bragg, so she's only about an hour away from him once he gets home.”
“Well, that answers why she's so damn tough,” Cal said.
Chris nodded in agreement at the quietly spoken words.
“Chris, you've got to keep her close. I've got a bad feeling about her being alone at the farm. If Pratt's men are biding their time, waiting for her to be exposed, this is the time they'll strike. And Cal, I need you to stay on top of her while she's at the pub. With the tourist season in full swing, there won't be many regulars in, so everyone is a suspect. This Pratt guy is well connected and has the means to pay some heavyweight goons to keep an eye on Molly. Keep me updated and if you need me, just call the cell.”
Chris scowled at the phone. “Noah, we've got this covered. You'd better be showing Tenn a good time on her honeymoon, or I'll kick your ass when you get back.”
“No worries, little brother. I know how to keep Tenn happy.”
“God, you're a pig. Tell my woman I said hello.” Chris disconnected the line before Noah could reply. Obviously there was some history between the brothers and Tenn. Life wasn't going to be boring while Cal was tucked away in the middle of nowhere.
“We need a plan. Molly needs to be under constant surveillance.”
“Do you ever speak non-G.I. Joe?”
Cal offered up a scowl, but it was weak. Chris had a way of keeping the mood light without resorting to stupidity. He could appreciate that skill, even if he couldn't mimic it. “Only when I've had too much to drink.” They both took a pull of their beer with a smile. “I can handle recon here at the pub, but outside of that I'm pretty limited. She's going to get suspicious if I'm always dogging her heels.”
“The upside is she's almost always here. The downside is she'll be alone at night, instead of tucked safely into her apartment building with twenty other tenants. Let's give her a call and drag her out to dinner tonight. We need to keep her close as long as possible.”
Cal offered up his bottle again and they clinked solidly in affirmation.