STANDALONE (But Spin-off from The Forbidden Men Series)
Contemporary Adult Romance
Orginally published 28 Dec 2021
111,730 words, 356 pages
3-Flame Sensuality Rating
Lucy Gamble, Knocked Up by Dying Man She Gave Sympathy Sex, Now Moving on to His Big Brother.
Have you ever tried to come up with a headline for your life? Well, mine’s so cringeworthy I can’t believe it’s actually my story...or a hundred percent true.
But honestly, how could I say no to the one-night-stand when he begged? Only a monster could deny someone their dying wish, right?
I mean, okay, getting pregnant from the encounter was a regrettable, irresponsible mistake; I can fully admit that.
Turning to his brother, however, was never part of the plan. Initially, I didn’t even like the guy.
Except Vaughn Merrill is a force to be reckoned with. He’s determined to be an “involved” uncle, and no matter how much I tell him he doesn’t have to be so helpful, he’s just so freaking helpful.
Plus not at all the ass I assumed he was. Then there’s this massive pain and grief and loneliness I see in his eyes. I just want to hug him constantly and give him the sense of family he so desperately needs.
So really, can you blame me for falling for the one man I know I shouldn’t?
The scuffle of shoes on a nearby sidewalk had me unclenching my jaw and opening my eyes. I lifted my head from the backrest of the driver’s seat and glanced out the passenger side window I had rolled down.
But it wasn't Duke.
Sighing, I shifted my gaze to the building I'd been parked at the curb in front of for the last fifteen minutes, and after giving it an impatient scowl, my brother still did not emerge. He knew I was out here, too. I’d texted to let him know.
The annoying little shit was trying to force me to go in there and fetch him like some kind of disapproving father. But I wasn’t going to do it. Not this time. If he wanted to be late for his appointment, we’d be late for his damn appointment.
And then I’d be late getting back to work after my lunch break.
I drummed my fingers restlessly on the steering wheel.
A dog barked in the distance.
All the while, the main doors to Beriss International remained closed.
Seriously, if we missed this appointment, we might lose out on a golden opportunity to try a new medicine Duke’s doctor had been raving about. And I couldn’t allow us to do that, not when it might mean the difference between having an irritating, ungrateful, thoughtless younger brother in my life or having no one at all.
Depending on the outcome of his latest test results, his very existence could depend on this one appointment.
“Dammit,” I muttered, grinding my teeth as I began to think about that fact again.
I hated wondering about his life expectancy, though, so I shoved my mind back into irritation mode, which wasn’t too hard because I did truly detest how he always forced me to be the overbearing asshole in every situation.
But if he didn’t get his infuriating hide out here in the next two seconds, I was going in there and dragging him out by the scruff of the neck.
And... Time was up. I reached for the door handle just as the entrance to the building opened.
Oh, thank God. The pipsqueak was going to be responsible for once in his life.
Except, what do you know, it wasn’t Duke who exited. Because, of course, it wouldn't be.
“Dickhead,” I hissed to the absent man as I scowled at the woman who strolled outside instead, casually swinging a sack lunch at her side.
He was honestly going to make me get out of this car and track him down.
I exhaled roughly, seeking patience, while the woman with the lunch veered off the sidewalk and stepped onto the grass.
Blinking, I watched her near a picnic table.
Instead of sitting down, facing it, however, she climbed up so she could perch herself on the table surface with her feet planted on the bench as she faced the street. Then she plunked her sack down next to her and opened the top before drawing out a bottle of water. After unscrewing the top, she took a healthy drink and then set it on her other side.
She seemed to have a system going as she extracted a napkin and unfolded it to drape over her lap. Next came a sandwich housed in a clear bag. After unzipping that, she freed one diagonal half and began to eat.
I don’t know what it was about her but even the way she ate managed to mesmerize me. It reminded me of a hungry kid delighting in a slice of cold, juicy watermelon on a hot day. Holding it with both hands, she sank her teeth directly in that best center part, then she arched her back and stretched her legs out in front of her—probably curling her toes inside her dark shoes as she went. When she began to sway slightly back and forth, I swear I heard muted humming coming from her direction, and I leaned toward the window, straining until I made out the melody of the Harry Potter theme song.
Damn, but I was reasonably sure I’d never seen anyone enjoy a sandwich as much as she seemed to be enjoying that one.
A jealous ache tightened its way across my chest. She emanated such peace and contentment that I momentarily wished I were her, just sitting there, eating a sandwich in the pleasant silence with no worries at all.
No cancer to think about, or doctor’s appointment to schedule, or bills to stress over. No annoying younger brother I had to strongarm to do everything.
Yeah, that would be the life, wouldn’t it?
A gentle breeze drifted by, coaxing the woman to reach up and comb a piece of hair out of her face with her fingertips and tuck it behind her ear, where a silver dangling earring glinted in the sunlight. I swallowed, reluctantly acknowledging just how attractive she was.
Somewhere in my age range but probably a couple of years younger, she was slender and leggy with a wholesome, serene way about her. Her hair was dark and board straight with the top part tied back save for two long bangs that hung down, framing either side of her oval-shaped face. I was too far away to catch her eye color or any other details; I just knew I liked what I saw, and the tightening that gripped me next occurred further down, closer to the groin area.
I shifted in my seat, tearing my attention away from her and growing uncomfortable by the impact she had on me. But then temptation drew me back, and I looked over again.
As she began to tear off the crust of her bread, I sniffed in amusement, smiling because Duke refused to eat the crust on his sandwiches too.
I didn’t realize she had other plans for her crust, however, until she spoke.
“There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you were even coming today.”
Frowning, I glanced around, wondering who she was talking to. But then she tossed the bread onto the ground in front of her, and I finally noticed a small brown squirrel darting over the grass and leaves to approach her. As soon as the morsel of food landed, the furball snagged it up and hurried off again, scurrying up a tree.
She laughed, and my skin prickled with awareness. I liked her laugh.
Longing filled my veins, and I no longer wished I were her but instead I wished I was sitting on that table beside her, eating the other half of her sandwich and chuckling as we bumped our shoulders against each other and watched the squirrel together.
I bet she smelled amazing. I inhaled deeply as if trying to breathe her in from here.
When a tingling spread over my scalp and then rushed down the center of my spine where it settled in deep, I knew I was taking the daydream too far. But I kept watching her anyway, captivated by the stranger who had no idea I was even—
“Jesus.” I jumped out of my skin as a familiar face appeared in the opening of the passenger side window, completely blocking my view of the brunette.
“Whatcha doing?” he asked with way too much cheer.
“Duke,” I scolded, pressing a hand to my heart and scowling when he merely laughed at my reaction. “Yeah, you’re so hilarious,” I added dryly, reaching forward to start the engine of the car. “Now get in. We’re already late.”
Still snickering over the mini scare he’d given me, Duke opened the door and slid into the passenger seat. “Well, excuse me for working,” he spouted back cattily.
I snorted. Working, my ass. I’d believe that when I saw it. I had a feeling Duke hadn’t completed a full day of work in the eight months he’d been employed at the advertising firm he was at now. It just wasn’t in his chemical makeup.
But I think it made him feel normal to play at having a job, so I said nothing as I rolled up the power windows.
Before I pulled away from the curb, however, I cast one last glance toward the woman.
She was feeding another squirrel. Or maybe it was the same squirrel. Either way, she was paying no attention to us, too absorbed in her task to notice my black Dodge Charger barely twenty yards away. I smiled slightly as I shifted into drive and entered traffic and started us down the street.
And at that moment, I couldn’t even be irritated by just how far behind schedule we were running or be worried about what Duke’s test results might say. A bit of her peace seemed to fill me, and I found myself beginning to hum the Harry Potter theme song under my own breath.