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Excerpt for The Warrior's Whisper by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 Dania Voss



ISBN: 978-1-77339-793-1


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Karyn White



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.





DEDICATION


Many thanks to Stacey and everyone at Evernight Publishing. You have been a joy to work with. I would also like to acknowledge the Evernight author community as a whole—you are an amazing group of talented, supportive, and crazy fun people. I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know you over the last several months. I am honored to be a part of this family.

To all the men and women in uniform past, present, and future as well as their families—thank you for your service and sacrifice.



THE WARRIOR’S WHISPER


Windy City Nights, 1


Dania Voss


Copyright © 2018


Chapter One


Feeling smothered and struggling to breathe, Heath Jackson bolted upright, damp with sweat and chilled. It was still dark. He scrambled, reaching over to his left in desperate search of his small tactical knife and fell, hitting the ground with a thud.

He needed to assess the situation immediately, or lives would be lost, but he was disoriented and his head felt heavy. He shook it, needing his brain to stop rattling in around in his skull and swiped angrily at the tears streaming down his face.

He didn’t have time for this shit; he needed his weapon. Needed to act. Now. His Marine unit was depending on him. Some of his unit brothers were just kids at only nineteen and twenty years old, and Taliban insurgents and IEDs, improvised explosive devices, were everywhere.

Fumbling around on the ground frantically looking for his knife and breathing in as much air as he could, he was confused. What kind of terrain was this? It wasn’t sand. Or dirt. What the hell?

As light streamed into view he panicked. Where was his knife? He needed his damn knife! Someone was calling his name, but the sound was cut off, significantly muted and difficult to make out.

“Heath! Heath!”

He looked up toward the door, breathing heavily, heart racing. He clenched his fists, since he didn’t have his knife, ready to attack.

A figure loomed in the doorway, wearing boxers. The man looked familiar, but he didn’t think he should be in Sangin, Afghanistan. He was fairly certain he wasn’t military.

“It’s Jake! It’s Jake!”

Heath pressed his hands against his head, willing it to feel right again. Jake? He knew that name. Where did he know that name from?

“Heath! It’s Jake! It’s Jake! Your best friend Jake!”

“Jake? What are you doing here? I can’t find my knife! I can’t protect you! The Taliban!” Why were sounds so damned muted? He needed to protect his friend. Jake. He’d known Jake since they were little boys. And he wasn’t a soldier. Hadn’t been trained. Heath needed to protect him or he’d die. He couldn’t lose another friend on the battlefield.

“You’re home! You’re safe! You’re home! There’s no Taliban! Just us! We’re safe! We’re safe!”

Home? Heath felt around the ground again. Not sand or dirt. Carpeting. He was touching carpeting. He pulled in a few more deep breaths, glancing around, slowly reorienting himself. His bedroom. He was in his bedroom, not Sangin, Afghanistan. He’d had another combat nightmare. And today of all days. Shit.

What was Jake doing gesturing with his hands like that and pointing?

“Put your hearing aids in!”

Heath’s stomach sank. Sign language. Jake was signing. Why? Because he’d lost about seventy percent of his hearing on October 13th, 2010, because of all those fucking IEDs. So many IEDs, every-fucking-where. His family and close friends had learned how to sign—because of him. Damn it.

He turned to his nightstand where his hearing aids and knife sat, exactly where he’d placed them the night before. He slipped his hearing aids in and grabbed his knife, the cool metal in his hand comforting him. Jake cautiously stepped further into the room but didn’t crowd him, knowing Heath didn’t like to be touched after a combat nightmare.

“You with me, buddy?” Jake asked tentatively.

Heath blew out a breath and got up off the floor and sat on the edge of his bed. He nodded, embarrassed Jake had to see him at his worst. Normally when he woke up from a nightmare, he was alone. Always alone. Even with Jake but a few feet away, he still felt that way.

He gripped his knife so hard his skin turned white. “I should check—”

Jake held up a hand. “I already checked the house. We’re alone. The alarm is still engaged. None of the entry points have been breached. We’re good.”

That provided Heath with some level of comfort. But he felt like an idiot. “I’m sorry I woke you. This is an important day, and I’ve already ruined it.”

Jake scoffed, shaking his head. “You didn’t ruin anything. I was already up. I’m kind of wound up, you know?” Jake’s smile lit up his face, and he couldn’t help but smile back.

Heath stood and went to his friend. A man he considered a little brother after decades of friendship. He hugged Jake tight, finally feeling more like himself. When Jake hugged him back, he laughed.

“Of course I know. My little brother’s getting married today. You’ve earned the right to be wound up,” Heath said as he ended their embrace.

“Hell, yeah. I know it’s all supposed to be about the bride today, but I’m psyched. If you’re … all right, I’m going to shower up and see about some breakfast.” Jake’s hopeful expression made him feel like a fool. It was his friend’s wedding day, and he was worried about his mental state. Heath was supposed to be helping him today, not the other way around.

“I’m going to be fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll get ready and help with breakfast.”

Jake nodded and left his room, whistling happily as he went. When he heard Jake close the hallway bathroom door, Heath grabbed his cell phone from the nightstand and speed dialed the only person nearby who understood what he’d gone through because he’d been with him when it had all gone to shit.

“Hey, brother.” Rocco Moretti, former Marine Gunnery Sergeant, answered on the second ring.

“I had another one, today of all fucking days.” He sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. “Are they ever going to stop?”

Rocco grunted. Heath had met the Italian-American when Rocco’s unit had joined Heath’s in Sangin three weeks before Heath was injured. After discovering they were both from the Chicagoland area with Heath from Elmhurst and Rocco’s family from nearby Lombard and Villa Park, they’d become fast friends. They’d stayed close even after being discharged a short time after the battle that had taken much of Heath’s hearing and ended his military career.

“I doubt it, but I hope over time we’ll have fewer of them,” Rocco offered.

Heath closed his eyes and rolled his shoulders. “Just once, I’d like for the dream to end without seeing Jones, Williams, and Coleman blown to shit right in front of us.”

Rocco sighed over the line. “Your mind’s not going to let you rewrite history, brother.”

He knew Rocco was right, but he still wished things were different. He despised the feeling of helplessness that came over him at times for not being able to save his fallen brothers.

“Need me to come over?”

Heath stood and stretched. He’d be all right. He had to be. He needed to be at his best for Jake today and the entire weekend.

“No, I’m all right. Jake was already up. He’s taking a shower, and then we’re making breakfast.” His stomach growled as if on cue.

“My brother emailed me some research he did on what he says are effective non-medical PTSD treatments. I haven’t really gone over it yet, but I’ll email it to you.”

He knew Rocco’s younger brother Massimo meant well. He was a good guy and just wanted to help. Were these treatments actually effective though? Who knew? “Sure, thanks.”

“Good. I’ll see you later at church. And no Catholic jokes. I’ll be fine in a Lutheran church,” he warned.

Heath couldn’t help himself. He had to ask. “So, who are you wearing today? Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana?” He chuckled when Rocco didn’t answer right away. Women swooned over the olive-skinned, brown-eyed man, especially when he dressed to the nines in an Italian designer suit, silk tie, and leather shoes. And when he spoke in his family’s native tongue, you’d think he’d just arrived from Catania, Sicily where the Moretti side of the family was from.

Stronzo.”

He full out laughed, fairly certain stronzo wasn’t an Italian designer. More than likely a curse word. “I’ve never heard of that label. Are they a new Italian designer? Someone I should know about?”

Stronzo means asshole, you asshole. And you fucking know my cousins get my suits, ties, and shoes at a big discount. It wouldn’t hurt for you to step up your game every once in a while, brother.”

Still laughing, Heath made one last dig. “I’ll keep that in mind, brother. You still haven’t answered the question though.”

“Armani,” Rocco replied with a smile in his voice and disconnected the call.

Feeling a little lighter emotionally, Heath tossed his phone back on the nightstand and tugged on a pair of track pants. On the first floor of his townhouse he found Jake in a t-shirt and jeans working on breakfast. Orange juice had been poured and sausage links were sizzling in a skillet. From the looks of it Jake had settled on ham and cheese omelets for breakfast on his wedding day. That worked for Heath.

“What can I do to help?” he asked not wanting to leave all the work to the groom.

“Everything’s just about ready. Go ahead and toast up the bread. White for me.”

With multi-grain and white toast ready, preserves and butter laid out, Heath waited in his chair for Jake to bring everything he’d prepared to the table. It smelled delicious. He was starving and ready to for a more positive, upbeat rest of the day.

Today was a day for celebration, love, and family. Good food, good drink, and dancing. Not for nightmares.

They dug into their breakfasts with gusto. Heath was happy for Jake. His fiancée, Cassie, was a wonderful woman. And one who had endured a long courtship until Jake felt he could support them on his salary alone if she wanted to stay home after they started a family.

“Look, Jake, I’m sorry—” Heath began before Jake put his hand up to stop him.

“Don’t, okay? There’s no reason to apologize. I’m sorry you still get those nightmares. I just wish there was something I could do to help.” Jake continued eating his breakfast.

Heath nodded and followed suit. He wished something could be done, too. Sleeping pills, even at their lowest dosage, left him too out of it in the morning, although usually nightmare-free. He needed to be sharp at the office, especially now. He’d figure something out. At least he hoped he would. Nightmares were only a part of his struggles since being discharged. Maybe some of the PTSD treatments Rocco’s brother researched would offer some relief.

Jake finished off his orange juice and regarded him seriously. Uh oh.

“You know, it’s about time you settled down, don’t you think? I mean, you’re not getting any younger.”

Heath snorted. “Why is it every time someone gets married, they want everyone around them to get paired up?” He was only thirty-five, not an old man by any means. It wasn’t his age that prevented Heath from settling down.

No. There were his issues since being discharged, which were no laughing matter and a lot to ask any woman to deal with. It was that and the fact the only woman who he’d ever consider being serious with, couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be his. Jake, even though he didn’t know it, was one of the reasons why.

“Because we want everyone to be as happy as we are. To have someone who loves them to come home to, share their life with, build a family with. Grow old together. Don’t you want that? Maybe a couple mini-Heaths running around?” Jake stood from the table, rinsed his plate, the pans he’d used, the serving dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher. He leaned against the counter and studied him intently.

Heath wanted all those things. He just didn’t believe he’d ever get them, especially not now after going through hell in Afghanistan. The shit, as his military brothers referred to it. It wasn’t easy to explain it to a civilian who hadn’t lived through it. And he certainly wouldn’t share the gruesome details of his time in the Marines with his friend on his wedding day.

“Yes, I have thought about it. Of course. But wives don’t just fall out of the sky, you know? And right now, I’m not in the best frame of mind for a serious relationship.” And the woman I want is off limits because she’s your little sister Leah and she works for me, too.

Jake smiled, seeming to contemplate what he’d just said. He didn’t look convinced though. “Maybe. But you never know. There’ll be a lot of single ladies at the wedding, and you never know what could happen,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.

“Really? You’re pushing wedding hookups now?” Heath stood, nudged Jake away from the sink, rinsed his breakfast plate and added it to the other dishes in the dishwasher.

Jake shrugged, still smiling like an idiot. “You never know. Sometimes hookups, at a wedding or somewhere else, can become something more. Keep an open mind, that’s all I’m saying.”

Heath chuckled at Jake’s enthusiasm and optimism. “I will. You have my word.”

“Great. I’m going to see what’s on. We still have a few hours before we need to head to the church.” Jake left the room, leaving Heath alone with his thoughts.

A wedding hookup? There was no harm in it, he supposed. It would be a great way to end a day that began like shit. Balls deep in some pretty girl after all the wedding festivities were over. He could think of worse ways to end the day. The only problem was— he wanted to hookup with Leah. I want more than just a hookup.

“Never going to happen, pal,” he mumbled to himself. He set off for his en-suite bathroom upstairs while Jake was busy flipping through channels on his big screen TV in the living room.

He stripped down in the bathroom and shaved before stepping under the hot shower spray. Heath was anxious to wash away the ugly start to the morning and move on. He was determined to be upbeat and enthusiastic, like Jake. For Jake. He deserved that from him, and he’d get it.

As he washed his hair he thought about what Jake had said about hooking up tonight. Not a bad idea, but when his thoughts wandered to Leah as they often did, he got hard. He’d jerked off to visions of the dark-haired, curvy beauty countless times. Every time he felt like he was betraying his friend, and every time he felt guilty because she was ten years his junior. He’d known her since the day she was born and had regarded her more like a younger sister than anything else.

Until she’d grown up.

Adjusting the shower temperature to cold, he willed his erection away. No way in hell would he stroke his dick to thoughts of Leah with her brother nearby. He wasn’t that much of an asshole.

Once he was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans and ready to go, he grabbed the garment bag with his black tails and went back downstairs to join Jake. He found him on the couch watching 27 Dresses. He tossed the garment bag on the loveseat and shook his head, sitting down beside Jake on the couch.

“Really, man?”

Jake shrugged, not seeming bothered. “Not much else was on and I’m getting married today. Just keeping things light.”

Heath was on board with keeping things light after the disaster from earlier this morning. They watched the movie and bullshitted around until their ride to church arrived.

It was a perfect day for a wedding he thought, as they stepped outside to their waiting black stretch limousine. He lifted his face to the sky, enjoying the warm June sun shining down on him. After a couple deep breaths, he felt recharged and energized. It was going to be a great day, he’d make sure of it.

Jake shook his head, glancing at the open limo car door, the dark-suited driver standing beside it waiting on them to get inside. “Luke went all out, huh,” he said as he got inside.

Heath followed him in, and the door thunked closed. “Come on. It’s your wedding day. Give him a break.”

He and Jake settled in for the short ride to Grace of God Lutheran Church on Kenilworth. “You ever think when Luke’s family moved into the house between ours he’d become the star pitcher for the Chicago Cobras, one of the best pitchers in the majors, and a celebrity on top of it?” Jake asked as he glanced out the window.

He scoffed and shook his head. “How could I? He was only two years old when we met him. All I thought at the time was he had such golden blond hair and the cutest dimples I’d ever seen at the age of seven. You were only four yourself.”

Christ. Luke was thirty now. He’d known him and Jake for nearly three decades. Maybe Jake was right. He wasn’t getting any younger and seriously needed to think about the future. He wished things weren’t fucked up in so many ways. It would make everything a lot easier.

“Yeah, I know. And the Stryker family was so down to earth, considering they owned the team and so much real estate in Chicago and the nearby suburbs.”

Heath was a “money guy” but didn’t make a habit of trying to figure out his friend’s net worth, although he had a fairly good idea. Luke was closing in on billionaire status before he even assumed ownership of the team when he retired from baseball in the next couple of years.

Jake was out of the limo just as it came to a stop in front of Grace of God. The man was excited, that was for certain. Heath didn’t blame him one bit. He hurried to catch up with him inside and came to a stop right behind him mid-way up the aisle. The inside of the church was barren. Shit.

“Hello, guys!” a dark-haired man wearing a grey skinny suit chirped as he stepped into the church from a side door. Why was he so chipper when the church wasn’t ready yet?

Heath sidestepped Jake and got in the man’s face. “What’s going on? Where are the flowers? If you fu—flub this up for Jake and Cassie we’re going to have a big problem. This is unacceptable.” If they weren’t in a church he’d rip this guy a new asshole.

The jerk just smiled and glanced over to Jake. “This must be Heath, the Marine?”

Screw this, he didn’t care they were in a church. “What difference does being a Marine make? We’re talking about flowers. Missing flowers and whatever else Cassie and Jake wanted for the ceremony.”

Jake placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He knew Jake had to be upset. They had a plan for today, and Chicago’s premiere event planners Hailey’s Events was doing a shit job.

“Let Joe explain what’s going on. I’m sure everything’s fine, right, Joe?” Jake didn’t sound so sure. He just hoped everything was fine.

Joe, AKA skinny suit jerk, took a deep breath and nodded. “First off, thank you for your service, Heath.”

Heath sighed. He didn’t need to be thanked. People thought they were being thoughtful and patriotic when they said that. Truth was, they’d never know what it was like to serve, especially in combat. What active military, veterans, and their families needed were programs and support for their physical and psychological injuries, housing and job programs. Assistance for their homeless.

He nodded, not wanting to get into it. The man was trying to be nice. It wasn’t his fault service members, veterans, and their families needed much more than kind words.

“I know emotions are high, but trust me. We are the best in the business. You’re both a little early. The florists are on their way, due in the next few minutes. Hannah, the owner’s daughter, is finishing up in Fellowship Hall setting up refreshments your guests will enjoy after the ceremony. I assure you both, everything will be exactly the way you planned it and on schedule.”

“Thank you,” he and Jake said in unison. It would be all right.

“Why don’t I show you to the room where you’ll get dressed?” Joe offered, still upbeat and friendly.

Heath handed Jake his garment bag. He needed a moment. “Can you take this for me? I’m going to sit a minute, if that’s all right.”

Jake took his garment bag with an understanding smile on his face. “No problem, man. I’ll be back in a few.”

He sat down in one of the pews to his left and leaned back, looking up. The church’s entire domed ceiling was painted with various biblical scenes. Whoever conceived of this vision for the ceiling was a true artist. The artwork was awe-inspiring, spiritual, and calming.

Still leaning back, he closed his eyes, allowing the church’s soothing calm to wash over him. He slowly breathed in and out, each breath settling him down closer to where to he needed to be.

Lord, care for the souls of the fallen who fought bravely but paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Bless the families and loved ones they left behind. Continue to watch over those currently serving and those who will serve in the future. I ask and pray for everlasting peace. One life lost is one too many. Thank you for your continued blessings and for bringing Cassie to Jake. Bless their marriage and future family.

Before he could finish, he sensed Jake just as he sat down beside him. It would be all right. He’d have more time before they went to the reception later.

“I just got a text from Rocco. He’s on point for Dixon-Shaw for Luke’s security today. They’ll be here soon,” Jake informed him happily.

That made sense since he and Luke had become close friends. Jake, too, for that matter. Heath and Rocco had reconnected after they were discharged from the Marines and his brood had welcomed and accepted the Italian as a member of their family.

Suddenly the church was bustling with floral workers carrying various tools of their trade, white and cornflower blue ribbons—and flowers, so many flowers.

“See? Told you they’d be here on time,” Heath teased Jake and stood up. They needed to clear out and get out of the way.

Jake chuckled, shaking his head. “Yeah, you told me so. Just before you almost ripped poor Joe’s head off.”

Heath got irritated more easily now since getting injured and could overreact at times. “Well—I probably wouldn’t have hurt him,” he said, trying to make light of his behavior earlier. “But you have to admit, you were a little nervous when we walked in and you saw how bare the church was.”

Jake shrugged. “I was, I won’t deny it. But I would have waited for Joe to explain before blowing a gasket. Just saying.”

Of course Jake was right. Heath knew that. But he couldn’t do anything about it right now. He’d apologize to Joe later. It was the least he could do.

Jake stood and snapped a few pictures of the organized chaos on his cell phone before leading them through various corridors toward the back of the church to the room where they’d get dressed.

Heath was ready to get the show on the road. Support one of his closest friends on his wedding day. Eat, drink, and be merry. And if he played his cards right, a wedding night hookup. He tried to ignore the knot in his stomach at the thought of Leah hooking up tonight with some random wedding guest. But what could he do? He had no claim over her and never would.

Jake led them through a room doorway, and he welcomed the sight of Luke placing his garment bag on a table next to theirs. The pitcher’s million-dollar dimpled smile always felt like old times.

“There he is! Mr. Big Time professional athlete.” The gang was back together. It was exactly what Heath’s soul needed.

“Well, you know me. Places to go, people to see,” Luke teased back.

Jake hugged Luke tight, seemingly overcome with emotion. “It’s good to see you, man. I’m so glad you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t miss today for the world, even though I couldn’t be here for the rehearsal.”

Heath waited for the groom to finish greeting Luke, anxious for a minute with the man himself. It was Jake’s day, and he wouldn’t stand in the way.

“So, I hear you’re gracing us with your presence through the weekend,” Heath joked. There would be plenty of time to catch up.

“You heard right, big brother. Don’t you feel lucky,” Luke kidded back.

Jake ended their embrace and clapped Luke on the back near his shoulder. Not hard in Heath’s opinion, but the star pitcher visibly winced. Damn it. Something was wrong with his pitching arm.


Chapter Two


Leah waited impatiently in the vestibule of Grace of God Lutheran Church for her older brother Jake’s wedding ceremony to begin. After seven long years, he was marrying Cassie Jayne and had a baby on the way. That little tidbit of information was supposed to remain a secret until Cassie passed her first trimester.

She hoped Jake realized what a lucky man he was. How many women as amazing as Cassie would wait that long to get married? Not many, that was for damn sure.

You would. You’ve waited all your life for Heath, and you’re still waiting.

She sighed and shook her head. Pathetic, that’s what she was. Waiting on a man who saw her as nothing but his friend’s little sister and his employee.

Even though she was Jake’s younger sister, she was not a little girl. Not anymore. She was a twenty-five-year-old woman, a Northwestern University graduate with a finance degree, a kick-ass financial analyst for the Chicago Cobras and a pretty amazing chick if she did say so herself.

If Heath hadn’t known her since the day she was born, she knew in her heart and soul he would see her as a woman. A woman that belonged to him. Always had and always would. As pathetic as she felt waiting for Jake’s wedding ceremony to begin, she knew without a doubt Heath had ruined her for every other man even though they’d never been together romantically.

How sad was that? Heath still called her “little girl” away from the office, like he did when she was. That needed to stop.

She had selected her white lacey lingerie and matching white lace-topped thigh-highs with care and purpose. Her high heels completed her look. At only five feet five her heels gave her a little extra height to Heath’s six feet three sexy, muscular, tattooed frame.

She wasn’t sure how yet, but Leah’s intention was for Heath to get more than a peek at what was under her bridesmaid dress. She wasn’t naturally flirty and wasn’t very sexually experienced. Like a fool, feeling like she was betraying Heath, she’d only had sex with two men, and those men had left her unsatisfied and wanting Heath all the more.

This weekend though, Leah was determined to go from wanting her gorgeous hunk of a Marine to having him. The first step to making that happen was her appearance, and she was certain she’d impress. Her hair and makeup were flawless, thanks to stylist Madison Roth, and her cornflower blue bridesmaid dress fit perfectly, with the bodice showcasing the girls nicely.

Mostly, Heath regarded her as family. He’d taught her how to tie her shoes, for Pete’s sake. But she had caught him checking her out a couple of times, his gaze lingering on her breasts. Heath liked her breasts? If she had her way this weekend, he’d have an all access pass to breasts, and whatever else he wanted. And that meant she would have access to all of him, too.

She wanted access to everything Heath—those beautiful hazel eyes that were more green than brown, his sculpted six pack, strong, protective arms that could easily carry her curves anywhere he wanted and what she knew would be an impressive cock. Thinking of him naked and hers for the taking had her heart racing and tingling all over.

Before she lost herself in a Heath fantasy, she turned at the sound of heels clicking on the slate vestibule floor with Hannah Hailey rushing toward them. A serious expression was on the event planner’s face.

Hannah came to a stop in front of Cassie. “I hope you don’t mind, but there’s a little last-minute change in the procession.”

Leah wasn’t concerned about what the little change was because all she saw were Heath and Luke striding toward them. Her reaction to Heath was always the same. Her body went up in flames. Even at the office, which was more than a little embarrassing. Shit, but she had it bad for the man.

Leah couldn’t help but notice Abbey’s reaction to seeing Luke Stryker, the Chicago Cobras’ star pitcher after ten years. Just as she expected: anger and longing. Abbey was Cassie’s younger sister and Luke’s ex.

There was no time to worry about those two. Leah focused on a certain delectable, former Marine and groomsman looking much too tempting in his black tails. The tuxedo jacket fit perfectly across Heath’s broad shoulders and the cornflower blue bowtie, vest, and boutonniere complemented his dark blond hair and warm complexion.

Oblivious to everything and everyone else around her, she stood mesmerized as Heath approached her, wearing that sexy, smirky grin that always caused her body to react. Even with high heels she still had to crane her neck to look him in the eyes.

Her body lit up as he made slow work of sensually appraising her from head to toe. His nostrils flared, and she thought she saw lust in his greenish gaze. Her mouth went dry. Was he turned on? By her?

Heath gazed down at her so intensely she’d bet he could see through to her soul. “There’s been a change of plans, little girl. Luke and I are walking you ladies down the aisle instead of standing up front with Jake.”

Heath’s deep, sexy baritone had her stomach doing flips even though he’d called her “little girl”. She would show him otherwise. Walking with him at the beginning of the ceremony was more than fine with her. The closer they were to each other the better.

Cassie turned to her and Abbey. “What do you two think? Wouldn’t it be nice to walk down the aisle with these two handsome men?”

“I think that’s a great idea,” Leah blurted out. She looked up at Heath and flashed him an enthusiastic smile.

Feeling encouraged by Heath’s reaction to her, when it was time for everyone to take their places, she took him by the hand and led him to their place in front of the closed vestibule doors. She hated letting go of his large strong hand to hook arms with him, but she had no choice. He glanced at her longingly before turning to face front.

Leah floated on air as he led her toward the altar and a waiting Jake, who was wearing a black top hat. She had to admit, he didn’t look half bad and was sort of fun. She doubted Cassie would mind.

Before letting her go so they could each take their places, Heath whispered, “Until later, little girl.”

Later? What did he mean? Leah could think of so many things she’d like to do later and none of them had to do with the wedding.

She leaned in close to Abbey after she took her place next to her. It looked like Luke had whispered something to Abbey, but she was having none of it. “What was that? And oh my God, does Luke look hot in his tux. Not as hot as Heath of course, but still.”

Abbey glared back at her. She wasn’t stupid. Abbey still had feelings for Luke, but probably didn’t want to. “It’s nothing. Luke’s just being a jerk. I don’t care how he looks or what he does. I’m going to enjoy this weekend, and he can go suck it for all I care.”

Leah giggled and glanced at Heath, who was staring right back at her with lust in his eyes. “I’d like to suck a few things on Heath, that’s for sure.”

Abbey chuckled quietly. “Shhh, we’re in a church”

“Makes no difference to me. I’d suck Heath in a church, near a church…” Leah now focused on later thanks to Heath’s comment. And on sucking thanks to Abbey’s. “Later” couldn’t arrive soon enough.

Leah panicked when Jake took off toward Cassie and her father Phil thinking he’d changed his mind about getting married. It turned out Jake was so emotional seeing Cassie in her wedding dress he’d wanted to lead her to the altar himself.

The rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch. Leah, Abbey, and many of the guests got misty-eyed when Jake kissed his bride. She’d never seen her big brother happier. She was thrilled for them both and for the little niece or nephew who was on the way.


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