A noise comes. A shadow rears up in the dark. I scream.
“What the hell?”
Panic claws my chest and I scream again, reaching blindly for something to fight him off. Squatters and junkies and all kinds of dangerous men fill my mind as my hand closes around something solid on the hall table and I swing with everything I’ve got.
“Goddamn!” The figure reels back, stumbling against the wall.
“Get away from me!” I cry, shaking. My heart is racing so fast I think it might beat right out of my chest. I grip the object in my hand tighter. “Don’t touch me!”
“I’m not trying to touch you!” the man roars, angry. “I just want to know what you’re doing breaking into my goddamn house!”
The light flips on. I reel back, blinded by the sudden glare, but as the daze clears and my eyes flick back into focus, I see the man in front of me for the first time.
I stop breathing.
He’s half-naked, that’s the first thing I notice. Jesus, his body is like nothing I’ve ever seen before: tanned bronze and chiseled like a Greek god, but not like the guys I’ve dated, all waxed and pumped from hours at a fancy gym. This guy is real, raw, all muscle and power, with a web of dark tattoos snaking over the bicep of his right arm. I feel a flush roll through me, hot with prickling awareness, but I can’t look away as I take in his tight, sculpted six-pack abs, and the trail of dark hair leading down to the waistband of his navy briefs…
“Don’t mind me, darlin’,” his voice comes. “Any time you’re done looking…”
I snap my eyes up to his face, blushing. Then I look at him for real and it all clicks into place.
“Oh.” My heart clenches in my chest as I recognize him for the first time. “It’s you.”
Unshaven face. Messy bronzed bed-head hair. And a pair of stormy ocean-blue eyes scowling at me like I’m the last person on earth he wants to see.
And, I can say, the feeling is entirely mutual.
“It’s me,” Garrett Sawyer agrees in a low, Southern drawl. He strides over and snatches the vase from my hand, setting it down on the table with a thud. “Now, you want to tell me what the hell you’re doing creeping around my house at three in the goddamn morning?”
I catch my breath, the flush of desire mingling with irritation. I nearly had a heart attack trying to get in here, and he’s the one with an attitude?
“It’s not your house,” I snap, my heart still racing. “It’s mine.”
“Well, if you wanna get technical, it belongs to Emerson,” Garrett corrects me, glaring. “But I’m the only one here with permission to stay.”
“Why do you need a place?” I try to pull myself together, smoothing back my hair and yanking down my dress. “Don’t you live above that dirty old bar?”
“Nah.” Garrett paces closer, his full lips stretching into a lazy grin. “Usually I just go straight out back and roll around in the filth like a pig.”
His smile is heart-stopping, a whiskey smile, honeyed and dangerous and just inches away from me now. Despite my irritation, I feel another wave of heat roll through me, automatically rising to his nearness like a magnet spinning off its axis to find true north.
I ignore the kick of my pulse and fold my arms across my chest. “You’re disgusting,” I retort, ignoring the shiver in my bloodstream.
“And you’re trespassing.” His gaze hungrily drifts over my body. I glance down, and see the rip has torn the skirt to the top of my thigh. I blush, yanking it shut.
“Look, I’m tired, OK?” I exclaim, self-conscious. “I’ve been driving all night, I didn’t know anyone would be here. I just need a place to sleep. Can we save all your territorial bullshit for the morning?”
Garrett raises an eyebrow at me, like he’s amused. I brace myself for more arguing, but instead, he gives a casual shrug. “Why not?”
I exhale with relief. “I’ve got a suitcase out front,” I tell him.
He smirks. “Then you better go get it. Spare bedroom upstairs, I’m sure you know the way.”
My mouth drops open, but before I can complain, there’s a noise from above us.
“Garrett?” a female voice sounds, and then a woman appears at the top of the stairs. She’s wearing an oversized T-shirt that barely skims her tanned thighs, her dark hair mussed up, makeup smudged around her eyes. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing, honey,” Garrett calls up to her. “Go back to sleep.”
“But it’s cold.” The woman pouts suggestively. “I need you to come keep me warm.”
I roll my eyes, watching as Garrett flashes her one of his easy grins. “I’ll be right up, sugar. And then I want my T-shirt back.”
“Come and get it.” The woman giggles, then disappears back to the bedroom, leaving us alone in the foyer again.
“Honey?” I challenge him. “Sugar? Why not just admit you don’t even know her name?”
Garrett smirks at me. “Sure I do. It’s Lauren, or Laurie. Or maybe it was Lorna…” He frowns, pretending to think, and even though I know he’s just doing it to get a rise out of me, I can’t help but make a dismissive snort.
“Must be true love.”
Garrett narrows his eyes. “What I do with my life is none of your goddamn business. So why don’t you quit bitching and let me get back to sleep.”
I blink, thrown by the sudden change in his tone. “I’m not the one standing around giving me a hard time,” I retort. “I’d be asleep by now if you hadn’t come prowling around, trying to play hero.”
“Whatever you say, darlin’.” Garrett turns away and starts climbing the stairs. Then he pauses, turning back to me with a wicked grin, and says, “But you might want to wear earplugs. Lorna likes it loud."
Melody Grace is the USA Today bestselling author of UNBROKEN and UNTOUCHED. A small-town girl turned SoCal beach-lover, she spent years with her nose in a book before deciding it was time to write them for herself. She loves bad boys, good books, and pistachio-flavored ice-cream.
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