Excerpt for The Torn Series by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





THE TORN SERIES

A. F. Crowell

PRAISE FOR THE TORN SERIES


Pushed

“A.F. Crowell writes a sassy and intriguing story of lust, love, and heartbreak that will leave readers begging for more!”

USA Today Bestselling Author J.C. Valentine


Pulled


“This series has been amazing. READ this book. This is one of those stories that you will fall in love with and be thinking about it for days, weeks, months to come.”

Christy, Radical Reads Book Blog


Torn


“This book has it all. I highly recommend it. Five stars should say it all. Truly worth reading. It’s on my read again, and again list.”

Isabel, BookGirl


Ripped


“AF Crowell’s character’s from this series have gotten under my skin. I love these people, I feel like they are my friends that I can call up and have over for dinner.”

Beth, White Hot Reads


Gutted


“Two passionate people will show you how hard their love and loyalty is for one another. We knew this would be one heck of a story but never did I imagine it would be EPIC. You must read the Torn Series…it it will leave you torn with each book, but nevertheless it will make you a fan of each character.”

Bookaholic and More


www.BOROUGHSPUBLISHINGGROUP.com

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, business establishments or persons, living or dead, is coincidental. Boroughs Publishing Group does not have any control over and does not assume responsibility for author or third-party websites, blogs or critiques or their content.

THE TORN SERIES

Copyright © 2017 A.F. Crowell

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. Unless specifically noted, no part of this publication may be reproduced, scanned, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Boroughs Publishing Group. The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or by any other means without the permission of Boroughs Publishing Group is illegal and punishable by law. Participation in the piracy of copyrighted materials violates the author’s rights.

ISBN 978-1-948029-06-3





UNTO OBLIVION

Nurse Leila Matthews has seen it all, or so she thought until this morning. Into the chaos of her trauma ward walked a man more intense than anything she has ever known. His smile tore away all her defenses, and his kiss ignited flames damped for far too long—and a knowledge that such dangerous ripples are only the beginning.

Brody Davis is anything but safe. Wealthy, handsome, and unrepentantly single, the billionaire’s first priority is himself…and the pleasure of every woman he’s sure to leave. Yet his best friend’s baby sister is temptation itself. If any female could make him stay, it would be Leila, whose sweet lips and sweeter flesh push him to be better than he believes he can. He desires a quick conquest. The battle for Leila’s heart is yet to be fought. And he is not the only combatant.






PUSHED

A. F. Crowell

The Torn – Book One






To Mark, James & Chase

Thank you for supporting this crazy dream of mine. Love y’all!




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Wow, where do I begin?

First I need to thank my husband Mark and my boys. Thanks for being patient while I hid in the bedroom, stole the couch in the living room, and worked countless hours on this book. I hope that all of the quick dinners will be worth it. I love y’all to the moon and back 555!!!!

To Barb and Lois, the two best friends a girl could ask for. Thank you both for reading the first few chapters and encouraging me to keep writing. Lois, girl, I don’t know how I would have gotten through this without bouncing ideas off of you and using you as my sounding board.

And to my Momma… Are there even words?! Probably not, but I’m going to try. Thank you for the countless emails and Facebook posts about writing your own books. Thank you for being my Beta reader. I appreciate you asking about the progress without pushing. Thank you for believing in me and supporting this dream, a dream I never knew I had or even wanted. Oh, and for reading 50 first. LOL!

Thank you to Boroughs Publishing Group for taking a chance on me. And to poor Michelle, my amazing editor. I swear I will get better as I go.

And to anyone who may read this, thank you, too. I never thought in a million years that I would write a book, but throughout the creative process I discovered that I really enjoy it—even if the characters don’t listen and hijack the story!

Thank you!






PUSHED


Chapter One: Leila

The ER was relatively quiet for a Friday at 4:45 a.m., especially since it had been raining for the better part of the humid summer night. I was a four-year veteran of the Shock Trauma Center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Over the years I have seen it all, so nothing surprised or rattled me anymore.

Well, nothing until this Friday morning.

I was changing my scrub top for the first time that shift when a call came in from paramedics in route. I caught only the last few words, “GSW to the chest with massive blood loss, five minutes out.”

Adrenaline started to pump through my veins, as it did every time they had a ballistics trauma in route. In the back of my mind, I cursed myself for being excited at someone else’s horrible misfortune. But this is my job and I’m damn good at it. My best friend, partner in crime and fellow trauma RN, Barb Kelly, walked up to me as I was entering the locker room.

“Hey Lei, did you hear there is a GSW in route?” she asked with a little too much enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I was just gonna change really quick, it’s still five minutes out. My last case was this huge biker with a superficial laceration and damn if he wasn’t a big baby. The guy jumped at the sight of the lidocaine and knocked over the Betadine, which of course spilled all over me.” Pulling the wet scrub top over my head, I tossed it in my locker.

Barb glanced over her shoulder, heading to the bathroom. “See ya in there. Oh hey, did they announce which trauma room they are putting him in?”

Talking through fabric as I pulled on a clean ceil blue scrub top, I told her, “Nah, I wasn’t really paying too much attention. All I heard was GSW and I knew I had to change quickly so I could be the first one in there and beat you. I haven’t had my adrenaline fix tonight. And before you ask, no, the big biker baby does not count.” I stuck my tongue out at her with a giggle.

Barb chuckled and rolled her eyes as she closed the door to the bathroom. “Well, let me know which room. There is enough to go around.”

I shook my head and started out the locker room door back to the pit to see where the charge nurse had assigned the incoming trauma. On the way down the hall, the call came overhead, “Incoming GSW two minutes out trauma three.”

Damn, that was on the other side of the ER.

“Well, there is no way in hell I am running down the hall in my Danskos,” I muttered under my breath. The last thing I needed to do was the Dansko roll on the way to the only really good trauma of the night. They are great shoes if you’re on your feet for twelve hours at a time, but definitely not for running. I picked up the pace, careful not to fall, but enough to beat Barb there. That’ll teach her to stop to pee.

I reached trauma three with time to spare and went about setting up the room just so. Then I gowned up, got on my gloves and ear loop mask, then put on a pair of glasses. Ten hours into my last twelve-hour shift for a week and this case was probably going to take me right to the end of shift.

The overhead speaker called out again, “Leila Matthews please call three-four-seven-six.”

UGH. Who the hell wanted me right now?

I was on my way to the nurse’s station to answer the page, when I heard the paramedics calling out vitals and running down the hall with the trauma. As I rounded the corner back into the trauma corridor, I saw way too many cops for a single GSW.

My heart started pounding as it always did when I saw that many cops in the ER clumped together; it meant the GSW was an officer.

Silently, I said a prayer for the fallen officer. As I approached the room and pushed my way through the army of men, I could hear Dr. Miller hollering out orders.

“Page the trauma surgeon on call STAT. And call the OR and get a room ready now!”


Chapter Two: Leila

I made my way into trauma three to see Mary and Derrick rushing around working on the patient. I ran straight to the phone on the wall and paged Dr. Drake Thomas to the ER. I called up to the OR and had them start prepping a room the way Drake required for GSWs. As I turned back around, my whole world stopped and the bottom dropped out.

No way. This couldn’t be happening. I rushed to the side of the stretcher and gasped in horror. “Drew, oh my God, Drew. Talk to me Drew, can you hear me?”

Mary looked up at me. “Leila, what the hell? Do you know this officer?”

Tears were streaking down my face. “This is my brother. Drew.” Turning my attention back to him, I grabbed his hand. “Drew, can you hear me? Please open your eyes.”

Derrick came around the stretcher, grabbed me and tried to pull me back, but I fought out of his grasp.

“Leila, you can’t stay in here, you know this. He’s your brother. You’ve gotta step aside. Let us help him. We’ve got this. You know we’ll do everything we can to save him, but you gotta go.”

Turning around, Derrick got the attention of one of the SWAT officers that came in with Drew. “Hey man, can ya please get her out of here, she doesn’t need to see this.”

Jasper Smith, sergeant of the narcotics unit, stepped forward and scooped me up in a hug, and guided me to the glass front door that was swung wide-open. “Leila, I tried to reach you in route before we got here. I didn’t want you finding out like this.”

Jasper was a fifteen-year veteran of the North Charleston Police Department and had kept an eye out for Drew over the last ten years. Jasper had been Drew’s sergeant when he started with NCPD, at the ripe old age of twenty-one. Drew eventually moved out of Narcotics to the K-9 unit and now onto the SWAT team, but they stayed close. Jasper and his wife, Donna, had Drew and I over for many Sunday dinners. They didn’t have any children of their own. So after Mom died, they sort of became our surrogate parents.

I took a deep breath to try to regain my composure, but failed miserably and ended up rattling off questions like an interrogator. “Jasper, what the hell happened? How did this happen? I talked to Drew before my shift and he said it was gonna be a quiet night. Y’all only had one warrant to serve and it would be a piece of cake.” Fisting Jasper’s shirt, I cried, “How’d he get shot?”

Standing back, Jasper scrubbed his hand down his face. “We got shitty intel and…I don’t know. It’s like they knew we were comin’ or somethin’. We always hit these houses at crazy hours, when most people are sleeping, so we’ve got the element of surprise. But these fuckers were waitin’ in the house for us.”

Shaking my head, I couldn’t process what he was saying. “I have to find out what’s going on with Drew.” I turned and stalked back toward trauma three and was met just outside of the door by Barb.

“Oh no, don’t tell me I missed all of the fun. The patient didn’t come in DOA did he?” Barb joked, and then stopped. “Wait. Leila, what the hell is going on? Why are you out here?”

“Barb, you have to get in there. You have to help him,” I demanded.

“Leila, you aren’t makin’ any sense. What’re you talkin’ about? Help who? Why aren’t you in there?” Barb started to rush down the hall, getting closer to the room.

“It’s Drew. Drew is the GSW. Oh God, Barb, it’s bad. It’s so bad. Please. You’ve gotta get in there,” I pleaded with her.

Barb stopped short of the doors, turned back to me to say, “I promise, I’ll do everything I can,” then sprinted into the room.

“Barb, wait. I want an…update.” But it was too late, the door was closed and the curtain drawn. Now I had to wait, something I didn’t do well under ordinary circumstances. Being on this side of the door was a horror I had never contemplated.

Pacing the corridor, I thought of the times I came out here myself telling patients’ families to have a seat and someone would be out shortly with an update. Heaven help the person that tried to say that to me right now. Chances were good I’d punch them in the throat if they did. I really didn’t know the extent of Drew’s injuries, but I knew enough to surmise they were bad. Really bad.

Standing across the hall from Drew’s room, I shed my gear, then leaned back against the wall and slid down until I clutched my knees to my chest. Dear God. This was not happening.

Our father walked out on us when I was nine years old, then my mom was killed in a drunk driving accident two weeks before my eighteenth birthday. There was no way God would be cruel enough to take Drew from me too. Silently, I prayed to the heavens above not to take the only family I had left. Drew wasn’t just my brother, he’s my rock. He has always been there for me, even when I didn’t want him to be.

Pulled from my thoughts as a strong, hand landed on my shoulder, I looked up from my not so comfy spot on the floor to see Bobby Gray, Drew’s best friend and partner. He held out a calloused hand to help me up from the floor.

Wrapping his strong tatted arms around me, he pulled me into a tight hug and whispered, “I am so sorry Lei. What can I do?”

Tears threatened yet again, but I pushed them down. “There’s nothin’ we can do. They won’t let me in there with him. They haven’t even come out to tell me anythin’. I don’t know what to do right now…damn it. Please tell me y’all got the asshole who did this.”

“Yeah, we did babe. Drew actually got him. Clean shot right between the eyes. Dead before his sorry piece of shit body hit the floor.” Whispering so quietly I could just barely hear him, Bobby added, “’Tween me and you, I put another one in ’em just for good measure. Seems like he deserved it.”

Bobby released me just as the curtain and door to Drew’s room flew open. Barb was perched on top of Drew, counting out chest compressions as they ran down the hall toward the elevators that went up to the OR. Dr. Miller nodded once, signaling me to walk with him.

“Leila, quickly. We’re lookin’ at a single GSW, left chest with hemothorax. We got a chest tube in and are movin’ to the OR. I’m not gonna lie, it’s bad, but we’ve seen worse cases come in and walk out. Drake’s on and Barb said she is staying with him. I’m gonna go up and assist. And before you ask, he’s not regained consciousness. I’ll send you a text in a while to update you,” he said hastily looking back toward me while still moving toward the elevator.

In the blink of an eye, he was gone and my heart sunk. Although I was surrounded by a truckload of officers I considered friends, I felt hopelessly alone.

I couldn’t lose my brother.

Mustering courage I didn’t feel, I gestured to the crowd. “Hey, y’all don’t need to sit around here and wait. I’ll tell Bobby as soon as I have an update. Ya know, it’s probably gonna be hours before Drew comes out of surgery and the waiting room up there isn’t very big. Go on home. Bobby’ll send out a text as soon as we know more.”

Heads nodded in agreement and after a few mumbles, the SWAT guys slowly filed out of the corridor. Everyone left, except for the two who I knew wouldn’t budge. Bobby and Jasper. They were family.

Jasper walked over, draped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me toward the elevator. “He’s gonna be okay sweet pea.”

Bobby shook hands with the last few guys as they were leaving then turned to follow us up to the waiting room to wait for news about Drew.


Chapter Three: Leila

More than two and a half hours had passed, and several of the nurses and techs from the ER stopped by to ask about Drew. I must have heard a half dozen times that I needed to go downstairs and take a break or go get something to eat. Politely, I shook my head and told every one of them I would not leave until I knew Drew was okay.

After I had paced the same pattern around the chairs in the waiting room for what seemed like the hundredth time, I heard a smooth, deep voice ask about Drew. I turned toward the information desk, set just inside of the surgical waiting room, to see a man I’d never met. He was dressed in a sharp, custom-tailored suit. Cautiously, I moved toward the desk. When he turned to face me, I stopped dead in my tracks.

Holy. Shit. He was fucking hot with a capital H.

A face defined by a strong, chiseled jaw, he had sensual, full lips and dark unruly waves adorned his head. At least six-two, maybe even three, he was a hell of a lot taller than my five-foot-three-inch frame. He sported a subtle scruff that screamed sex god, and had piercing baby blues to complete the devastating package. Then, as if all that wasn’t enough, he gave me a rock star smile when I started toward him.

That smile could melt the panties off a lesbian.

Shit. I could feel all of the blood rushing to my face. Oh great, now would be the time my body betrayed my completely inappropriate lustful and wicked thoughts. There were several very bad things I wanted to do to Mr. Blue Eyes and a few he could do to me.

Damn it Leila! Stop drooling over the man candy. Your brother is fighting for his life.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhear you ask about Drew Matthews. Who are you?” I tilted my head.

Glancing down at my badge, Blue Eyes smiled softly and held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Brody. Brody Davis. You must be Drew’s baby sister, Leila.”

I hesitated before shaking his large, beautifully manicured hand. Squinting, thinking back to a few of Drew’s comments over the years, I remembered hearing the name Brody on several occasions. “Yeah, I’m Drew’s sister. How’d you know Drew was here?”

Brody stared down at me. “I happened to be watching the news while running at the gym. It said that Drew was shot while serving a narcotics warrant with SWAT this morning. I’m terribly sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances.”

Finally releasing my hand, he stepped back then undid the button holding his sleek, black, designer suit jacket closed. “How is he? I mean, do you have any idea how it’s going in there? Have they said anything?” I could hear warmth and compassion in his questions.

Touched by his obvious concern, I answered honestly. “It’s really bad. He has a hemothorax and they put in a chest tube. A friend of mine, Drake Thomas, the surgeon working on Drew, is the best. My BFF, Barb, is the RN who went up from the ER with him. Someone’s supposed to text me, but I still haven’t heard anything.” I stopped abruptly and pinched my nose between my thumb and middle finger. “Oh God, listen to me ramblin’ on. You must think I’m crazy.”

Half smiling, Brody reached out and rubbed his hand down my right shoulder. “No, I don’t think you’re crazy. I do, however, think you’re stressed and probably need to sit down and take a deep breath.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that? I’m fine. I don’t want to sit down. I don’t want to take a deep breath. I don’t want coffee or something to eat. I just want to know what’s going on with my brother. Is that too much to ask?” I shouted, flailing my arms about like a damn lunatic.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I was so embarrassed I dropped down to one of the chairs and buried my face in my hands. “Oh shit. Brody, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to totally flip out on you. It’s just I am so…” Scared. But no way am I admitting that to anyone. “…worried. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. Everyone keeps tellin’ me to go eat, or go take a walk or a nap.”

“I think you’re entitled to have a small meltdown, all things considered. If you weren’t a little frazzled I’d be worried.” He took the seat next to mine. “Would you mind if I waited here with you for a while?”

“Of course not, please feel free. And don’t take it personally if I get up and start pacin’. I just can’t seem to make myself relax.”

At that moment, as I took my phone out of the front pocket of my scrubs, the waiting room door opened and in walked Drake. The look on his face did not help the uneasy tension that had settled in my gut. Brody stood up beside me; without realizing it, I reached for Brody’s hand. Jasper and Bobby crossed the waiting room in a flash to hear the news.

“Hey Lei.” Drake approached and pulled me close, kissing the top of my head before releasing me. Looking down, silently he sought permission to speak freely.

“Hey Drake.” Introducing the men, I indicated, “This is Brody, a friend of Drew’s,” tipping my head toward Bobby and Jasper, “and Bobby and Jasper work with Drew. It’s okay, you can talk in front of them.”

Drake nodded. “We were able to get the bleeding under control and he’s stable, for now. But I wasn’t able to get the bullet out. There was just too much blood in the field to visualize it when we first got in there. My main focus was to repair all the damage and stopping the bleed. I’m gonna send Drew down for a CT, to get a better idea of where the bullet is. We’ll probably have to take him back in to remove it in a day or two.” Drake paused and pulled me to the side. “After CT, he’ll be moved up to ICU. You should probably go get something to eat and take a break for a while. I know you worked downstairs all last night. You have to be exhausted.”

“I’ll be okay. I just wanna see Drew,” I pleaded. “Just for a minute.”

“Leila, you know it’s gonna be a few more hours before he’s settled. He’s gotta be moved from recovery to CT, then up to ICU. Let us take care of him. I know that’s especially hard for you to do.” He squeezed my hand. “Listen you can’t help him if you’re run down.”

“I have to agree with him sweetheart.” Jasper stepped forward. “You need to recharge your batteries. Go home, change, eat and then you can come back.”

Bobby’s phone started to ring. “Gray…. I’m still at the hospital with Drew’s sister. Can’t it wait? I understand that IAB wants their statement. You can’t hold them off for an hour or two? No, Sergeant, I get it. I’ll be there in ten.” Ending the call, Bobby walked back over to us. “Lei, I’m sorry. I have to go to the station. You’ll call me if anything changes?”

“Of course.”

“Jasper, any chance you’re goin’ to the station? I rode in with Drew in the ambulance,” Bobby asked after hugging me goodbye.

“Yeah, I have to drive past there, I can drop you off. Leila, do you want me to run you to your place after I drop Gray off?”

Brody was only three feet away and came over. “I can take Leila.” he turned to me. “Why don’t you let me take you to get a quick bite, then I’ll bring you right back. Promise.”

I started to disagree when Drake chimed in. “Good idea. Leila let Brody take you to get somethin’ to eat. He can even stop by your house and you can take a quick shower, change clothes and deal with Ruger.”

I sighed, signaling my annoyance, knowing I wasn’t going to win this fight. Especially not with Drake, who was just about as stubborn as I was.

Drake waved me off. “I can tell you’re gonna be a brat about this, but stop your poutin’ and let Brody take you out of here for a little while. I’d do it myself, but I’m on call for another six hours.” Drake looked down at his watch. “Okay, it’s almost eight a.m. now and I am officially banning you from ICU until eleven a.m. And before you even think about callin’ anyone who you might know up there, I will be callin’ in favors of my own just to keep you out.”

With a lazy smile Drake, pulled me into a hug. “Drew is gonna need for you to be at the top of your game and that means takin’ care of yourself.”

As a nurse, I knew what I needed to do, but as a little sister, I was terrified of losing my brother. Huffing once, I finally gave in.

“Okay, okay I’ll leave…for a little while, but I’ll be back at eleven and I will see my brother.” Turning to Brody. “I have to run down to the ER locker room and grab my stuff. Can I meet ya down at the entrance to the ER?”

Brody grinned and nodded. “Of course, I’ll pull my car around and meet you outside.”

Brody turned on his heel, tucked his hands into his pockets and headed toward the elevators. I couldn’t help but watch as he exited the room. Everything about him captured and piqued my interest. I was starting to understand why I had only heard stories about this handsome stranger and why Drew kept him away. Brody was the type of guy I didn’t need in my life, if the stories Drew shared were true. I wasn’t looking to get married any time soon, but I wasn’t about a few random hook ups either. The vibe coming from Brody screamed player with no remorse.

Right then and there, I resolved to just enjoy the view.


Chapter Four: Leila

I entered the locker room, which, thankfully, was empty. I was not in the mood to answer any questions or have to put on a fake-ass smile. I changed out of my scrubs and threw on a pair of khaki shorts and plain white ribbed tank top. I shoved my Danskos in the locker, pulled out my favorite tan flip-flops and grabbed my striped handbag. Even at 8:00 in the morning, Charleston was hot. According to the weather app on my phone, it was already eighty-seven degrees, but with the humidity it felt more like Hell.

I left the locker room and made a beeline for the exit. As the doors slid open, I was hit with a blast of hot, muggy air and the sight of Brody on his phone. It had stopped raining, but the humidity was off the charts ridiculous. He was leaning against a palladium silver GL550 Mercedes SUV and hadn’t noticed me yet, so I took the opportunity to gawk at this magnificent man. Damn, he really was gorgeous. The slight breeze caught his thick, chocolate brown locks, whipping them across his brow. Turning into the wind, he saw me as I stood near the ER doors. He ended the call as I approached and opened the passenger door with a devilish grin.

“So what would you like to do first? Breakfast or shower?” He paused and a flash of panic zinged through his sapphire eyes. “Sorry, that didn’t come out right. I mean, do you want to get something to eat or go to your house so you can shower and change clothes.”

“Shower. I live over on East Bay.”

I felt the heat rise to my cheeks as I imagined Brody sneaking into my shower, pushing me up against the cold travertine and glass tiles, taking my mouth, and then moving slowing down my neck to my breasts. I was shaken from my little fantasy as we neared my condo. I pointed out a spot to park that was within walking distance.

*****

Brody

I was out of the SUV and opening her door before she could even pick up her handbag. I held out my hand to assist her from the car. The electricity that slid between us caught me completely off guard. I dropped her hand like it was on fire.

Thankfully, Leila didn’t seem to notice. I wasn’t sure why it freaked me out as much as it did, but I was trying to ignore the impulse to hop back in the car and haul ass out of there. I had to push my own self-preservation aside and remember Leila needed me. Drew needed me. Drew is one of my only true friends, I couldn’t let him down. Drew always talked about how much he loved his little sister and how she depended on him.

Leila unlocked the front door to her condo and ushered me through into the living room. From another room I heard a deep, daunting barking. Hmm, she must have a dog and from the sounds of it, a rather large one.

As Leila put her purse down on the beige leather sectional, she turned to me. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Coffee or a bottle of water would be great, if you have it,” I replied, still feeling like I needed to get away from her.

“I’ve got bottled water in the fridge. Make yourself at home. I’ll try to hurry, I just need to let Ruger into the back.” She tossed the TV remote to me. “All the ESPNs start somewhere in the two hundreds.” She turned to the wrought iron staircase and made it up three steps before my voice stopped her in her tracks.

“What makes you think I want to watch ESPN? What if I wanted to watch CNN or something a little more stimulating?”

*****

Leila

Oh, Mr. Davis. I know the game you’re playing and I won’t be falling prey.

“I’m sure you’ll find somethin’ to amuse yourself with. I’ll be back in a few.” I let Ruger, my 100-pound German shepherd, out of his crate in the downstairs guest room and opened the door to the small fenced area I called a backyard. It was the size of my bedroom, but it worked when I didn’t have time to walk him. After allowing him to take care of business, I sat on the floor by his crate for a few minutes to give him some loving.

“I know buddy, I hate to put you right back in there but I don’t know when I will be home and I don’t need you cleaning out the fridge again. Your vet is already fussin’ at me about your weight.” I opened the crate door and he stalked in. “There’s a good boy. I’ll see you soon.” I closed and locked crate, knowing we didn’t have time to introduce Brody to Ruger. If I just let him roam the house like normal, chances are Brody would be pinned up against the front door by his throat or crotch. Ruger retired from the NCPD K-9 force and now was exceedingly protective of me.

I climbed the rest of the stairs to the master bedroom and shut the door. Quickly, I stripped my clothes off and started toward the bathroom, stopping to turn on the stereo. No matter how bad my day was, I always found music to help me weather the storm and today’s storm was a hurricane.

Looking through the iPod playlist, I finally settled on a little Counting Crows “Raining in Baltimore.” Fitting song, it matched my sorrowful mood. I reached in and turned the shower on until the water was steaming up the glass shower door. Tossing fresh towels over the towel bar, I stepped into the shower and let the hot water sluice over my face and down my body. A quick shampoo, then I scrubbed my body with the coconut lime bodywash. As I rinsed the conditioner from my hair, the weight of the day came crashing down on top of me. Falling to my knees, the storm clouds broke loose and, as I knelt on the shower floor, I sobbed uncontrollably, finally letting go of all of the grief and worry I worked so hard to hide from everyone.

Without warning, the door flew open and a frantic Brody searched the bathroom until his gaze found me. In a ball. On the shower floor. Naked.

Oh fuck me running. Could this day get any worse?

“Are you okay?” He turned his head slightly, but I noticed him peeking out the corner of his eye. “Sorry I just burst in, but I heard a loud thud and thought you were hurt.”

Mortified at Brody seeing me naked and sobbing on the floor of my shower, I reached out and ripped a towel off the bar to cover myself.

“I’m fine.” Yeah, right. “I’m gonna get dressed and I’ll be down in a minute.”

*****

Brody

I hesitated for a split second, before walking out the bathroom, descending the stairs back to the living room, then plopping down on the couch. The image of her naked in the bathroom was seared into my brain. Dear God, the things I want to do to her. I imagine wrapping my arms around her and pulling her to me; kissing her breathless and sucking on her perfect, pink nipples.

Jesus, my friend was fighting for his life and here I was lusting after the man’s sister. I raked my hand through my hair, disgusted with myself. “Ugh, what is wrong with me?”

“Sorry, what was that?” Leila was standing at the top of the stairs. She had thrown on a pair of tight white capris, a tank top and her tan flip-flops. She left her hair wet, but pulled it back on top of her head. “I thought I heard you say something.”

“Oh…no. I was just thinking out loud. You all set? Ready to go?” I was itching to get out of there. The longer we stayed, the harder it was going to be to stop myself from throwing her over my shoulder and carrying her back upstairs. I stood and nonchalantly adjusted the bulge in my suit pants, hoping Leila hadn’t noticed how hard she made me by just walking into the room.

“Uh, yeah, give me just a minute. I want to grab a sweatshirt for tonight. The ICU tends to be a little chilly. I’m gonna let Ruger out one last time.” She ran back upstairs.

I headed back to the kitchen to grab another bottle of water. By the time I returned to the living room, Leila was back. She was holding a grey sweatshirt with SWAT imprinted in yellow on the back. It must have been Drew’s because it looked way too large to be hers.

She looked down at her watch and groaned. Shaking her head, she asked, “What the hell am I supposed to do for two hours?”

“Well, we could go get something to eat if you are hungry?”

“I am a little hungry, but I really don’t feel like goin’ out. I’ll just throw something together here. Are you hungry?” She tossed the sweatshirt on the couch.

“Actually, I am. I didn’t have a chance to eat before coming to check on Drew. How about I cook for you? You have to be exhausted. I could throw something together. You have the basics in the fridge, right? Eggs, butter, bacon? I saw some bread on the counter. I make a pretty mean bacon, egg and cheese sandwich,” I said with utter confidence.

“Oh, you do, do you? Hmm, that does sound pretty good, but I can cook. You don’t have to cook for me.” She smiled sweetly.

“No, really, I insist. It’s no trouble and like you said, you’re tired. This way you can sit down and relax like that doctor what’s his name said.” I didn’t wait for her to answer before opening the fridge, and taking the all of the ingredients. “Where are your frying pan and utensils?”

“Frying pans are in the island and the spatula is in the canister next to the stove. Anything I can do to help?” She pointed around the kitchen as she spoke.

I looked across the island as she sat down on one of the swivel barstools, staring briefly at her natural beauty. “Sure. You can just sit there and look gorgeous.” Leila blushed three different shades of crimson, which made me even harder.

“Wow, that’s gotta be one of the corniest lines ever.” She shook her head.

“Okay in all seriousness, you could tell me what happened upstairs earlier. I’m sorry to have all but knocked down your door without permission, but I seriously freaked when I heard that noise. I just needed to make sure you weren’t injured.”

Drawing in a deep breath, she looked at her hand and starting picking her cuticle.

“Sorry, I had a slight meltdown. But don’t worry, it won’t happen again. It’s just that I was finally alone and it all hit me so hard. I guess I wasn’t ready for it. I’m sorry you had to see me like that.”

“I am not sorry at all for seeing you like that. It’s okay.”

Leila hid her face in her hands at my comment.

“Leila, you don’t have to be so strong all of the time. You’re allowed to be scared and even freak out a little. Maybe next time you can lean on me. I’ve got some pretty wide shoulders.” I grinned.

She turned on the stool, ignoring the comment. “Since we are gonna stay in, I’m gonna let Ruger out. Just don’t run from him and you’ll be fine.”

Wait, what? Don’t run? Why would I run? Fuck me, this can’t be good.

Two minutes later, she came back with a large tan and black shepherd at her heel. He hesitated at the sight of me and growled.

“Pfui,” she commanded in a deep, stern voice, and he quieted. “Platzbleib Ruger. Brody walk over to me, he’s not gonna hurt you. I just put him in a down stay, he won’t move.”

“He’s not going to use me as a chew toy, right?”

She laughed as the dog cocked his head and whined a little, as if to say “Really?”

“No, just stand next to me. Ruger fuss.” He trotted over to us. “Good boy.”

She reached down and scratched the underside of his neck. I reached down and let him sniff me, then rubbed his head. He couldn’t seem to care less. He walked back over and lay in his large, downy bed.

*****

Leila

If he flexed his muscles like that one more time I could not, and would not, be held liable for what I did. Doesn’t he see me drooling over here? His witty comments were definitely helping to lighten my mood. Oh, and how could I forget the cheesy pickup lines?

“Thanks Brody, I appreciate the offer. I lean on Drew. He’s been my rock. Oh God, I don’t know what I will do if I lose him.” Great and here were my tears again. “I can’t lose him, he’s all I have left.”

Brody came around the island and enveloped me in a comforting hug. “It’s gonna be okay. Drew is a fighter and he’s one of the toughest guys I know. He’s gonna make it through this, but he’ll need you to help him.”

Holding me for another second, Brody slowly pulled back, and then paused when he was a few inches away. I looked up at him as he gently wiped away my tears. Our gazes locked, and I thought he might kiss me when I smelled the eggs and looked toward the stove.

“Uhh, you might want to flip those eggs, ’cause I think they’re burning.” I tried to suppress a chuckle.

Brody pulled away and rushed back to the stove. “Shit, I think you’re right…damn it. Maybe we should just run down to the deli, grab something and bring it back. That way you don’t really have to face anyone and you’ll get a sandwich that’s not extra crispy. PS, I’m totally blaming that on you.”

“Me? I didn’t burn the eggs.” I looked at him, feigning disbelief and shock, while holding a hand to my chest.

“Yes, you, it’s your fault. You distracted me,” he said with a flirtatious smile.

“Really? And just how did I distract you?” I asked, having a damn good idea where this was going, but kept playing the game.

“Oh, don’t pretend like you don’t know. Looking up at me with those gorgeous brown eyes and chewing on your bottom lip. It’s enough to make even a monk want to tackle you.” Brody watched my eyes widen in surprise. “What? Don’t tell me you don’t know how beautiful you are. You’re easily the most gorgeous woman on the east coast.”

This time I didn’t have to feign shock, because I knew he was totally bullshitting me. Don’t get me wrong, I knew if I took the time to do my hair and makeup, maybe I could pull off pretty. He was laying it on awfully thick. “Wow, I have to hand it to Drew, he was right.”

Looking confused he asked, “Right about what exactly?”

“The fact that you think you can smooth talk your way out of or into anything you think you want. Applause, applause, that was smooth, but I’m most certainly not the most gorgeous woman on the east coast, let alone in Charleston. You, obviously, have not seen me in the dead of summer or just after it’s rained. My hair looks like Simba when he jumps out of the water and shakes off.”

“Wait, what? Who the hell’s Simba?” he asked, totally befuddled by my reference. It didn’t go unnoticed that he didn’t deny or defend his Rico Suave nature. Nice dodge.

“Are you kiddin’ me? Simba. From The Lion King.” Brody stood there still looking at me like I had three heads. “It’s a Disney movie and a Broadway play.”

He squinted his eyes and then nodded. “Oh, right, that cartoon movie about the lions. Anyway, let’s go get something to eat and we can talk on the way. It’s already nine-thirty. Do you want to walk or would you prefer to ride?” Brody asked, opening the door for me while I grabbed my keys and purse.


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