Don’t Tempt Me
the most recent release of the story Don't Tempt Me
July 26, 2016
Love comes along when it’s least wanted in Lori Foster’s irresistible new novel of opposites attracting
Jason Guthrie has no time for entanglements—between helping out his widowed brother and teenage nephew and getting his hometown back on its feet, his days are spoken for. But his nights are another story… And when his lovely new neighbor, Honor Brown, reluctantly accepts his help in remodeling her house, Jason finds himself wishing his handyman skills could knock down the defenses she keeps building around herself.
Martial arts teacher Sullivan Dean knows real danger when he sees it—even when it takes the form of the gorgeous blonde helping her friend move in across the street. After putting his wayward past behind him to focus on teaching control to troubled kids, Sullivan has learned to avoid party girls like Lexie Perkins. But Sullivan can’t seem to keep his hands off the real woman behind that flirty charm—or keep his heart from landing at her feet…
“Foster deftly balances primary and secondary love stories about overcoming first impressions, unfair assumptions and bad timing. The large supporting cast is well developed and distinctive”
Don't Tempt Me is part of the Guthrie Brother series.
The full series includes the following stories:
- Don't Tempt Me
- Worth the Wait
This story is included in the following editions. Click any cover to see which editions are still available to purchase:
This story is included in the following editions. Click any cover to see which editions are still available to purchase:
Driving the rented moving van was a heck of a lot harder than Honor Brown had counted on. Not since high school had she driven a stick shift. More than ten years later, she’d clearly lost the gift. Wincing as she ground the gears, she ignored her friend Lexie, who rode shotgun and was having a grand time at her expense.
After they bounced over yet another pothole, Lexie groaned. “I feel like we’re killing this truck.”
Maybe because they were.
While staring out the window to check out the new neighborhood, Lexie propped her naked feet on the dash and balanced a frosty can of cola on her midriff. “There are a lot of trees.”
“I know. And they’re so big.”
“Throwing shade everywhere.” She turned toward Honor. “You realize most of these houses look like a flashback to the sixties.”
“It’s the landscaping.” And the cracked sidewalks and, yes, all those mature trees. “I’ll have to redo my entire yard.” Wrinkling her nose, she added, “It’s mostly overgrown and pretty…messy.” A grave understatement. The little patch of lawn in front of the house she’d bought held only weeds and dead bushes and debris. But who cared? She could buy shrubs someday, put in some flowers, maybe a bird fountain, too.
The backyard was bigger, she reminded herself. Though just as messy, it supposedly led to a wonderful creek. There were beautiful trees that were strong and healthy and only needed to be trimmed.
The most important thing was that she’d be on her own, and closer to her grandfather’s facility. Since she visited him once a day, sometimes more often, the convenience would be a godsend.
“How is your grandfather?”
Bless Lexie for always reading her so easily. Honor showed her gratitude with a quick smile, but the smile was sad at best. “Every time I see him, he’s a little worse. I just need to make sure he stays as comfortable as possible.”
Lexie put a hand on her shoulder to show her commiseration. “I don’t suppose the angry mob is helping much?”
Angry mob was one of Lexie’s many derogatory terms for Honor’s relatives. Given the general attitude of her two aunts, her cousin and sometimes her great-aunt, she wasn’t far off the mark. “They’re all busy, and upset with things, and—”
“You’re a good person, Honor. You know that, right?”
And that was her code for bullshit. Honor sighed. “I try, but I swear, sometimes my patience isn’t what it should be.”
“Your patience is exceptional. They’re just evil.”
“Old,” Honor corrected.
“Hon-or,” Lexie drawled in that chiding way she had that drew out the syllables of her name. “Stop defending them.”
Was that what she’d been doing? Maybe. Mostly just to keep the peace, though. This was a momentous day and she wanted it to stay happy and upbeat, not get dragged down with worries and animosity.
They turned the corner on the quaint, older street and Honor could finally see the beautiful, wonderful, life-altering home she’d purchased thanks to the Ashwood, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce’s new mission—to rehab the town of Clearbrook through initiatives around marketing, business attraction and retention efforts.
Supposedly they’d run off the crime element, cleaned up the streets and, luckily for her, offered special financing on run-down houses with the agreement that the owners would improve the property in a timely manner. She could hardly wait to get started.
Funds would now be limited for a while, but a lot of what needed to be done required time and energy more than cash. Somehow, in the middle of the craziness called her life, she’d manage to find some of both.
“Dear God,” Lexie muttered, losing her amusement. Her feet dropped to the floor and she leaned forward as far as the seat belt would let her. “Please tell me that’s not it.”
“It is,” Honor confirmed with pride. Sure, it was a little rough, the lawn overgrown, the landscaping obliterated. But now it was hers. Lexie might not see the possibilities—but Honor most definitely did. “All it needs is some TLC and love.”
“Or maybe a…demolition?”
“Don’t be dramatic.” With a frown, Honor added, “I wanted you to be happy for me.”
“I know, and I am. I just don’t see why you always want to do things the hard way.” Going quiet, Lexie drew in a breath and straightened her shoulders. “I’ll help. With everything. No, don’t argue. I can’t claim I’m strong and I’ll admit I’ve never remodeled anything. Honestly I’ve never held a hammer. But I’m here for you.”
“Between dating and working and shopping, you mean?” Honor loved Lexie like a sister, but their social calendars, as well as their motivations, were as different as night and day.
As they neared the house, three men stepped out from the garage next door. They’d obviously been working. One held a motor of some sort while the other gestured toward it. The tallest nodded as he cleaned his hands on a towel.
“Oh, hey.” Lexie perked up. “What’s this? Man candy? Very sexy man candy.” She rounded on Honor. “You’ve been holding out!”
Repeatedly glancing at them, Honor shook her head. Nope, no holding out. This was the first time she’d laid eyes on the men. Fact—because if she’d seen them, she sure as heck would have remembered.
“Oh, please, please, please,” Lexie whispered. “Let them be single.”
The guys looked up as the truck drew nearer.
Wiggling her fingers in a wave and grinning hugely, Lexie said, “Okay, so maybe Clearbrook has some appeal after all.”
Flustered with all three men staring at her, Honor accidentally ran over the curb as she maneuvered the truck to the front of her house. Worse, she hit a garbage can and it clattered to the street with nerve-wracking noise.
“Oh, crap.” The truck stopped with bone-jarring impact, and she sat there, stock-still, embarrassed and hoping beyond hope that the men went about their business and ignored her.
“Good going on killing the trash can,” Lexie said with enthusiasm. “That got their attention.”
“I don’t want their attention,” Honor groaned.
Laughing at her, Lexie said, “Relax. They were already looking.”
What a way to make a first impression. Casting a glare at her friend, Honor said, “Shush it. And for heaven’s sake, stop staring!”
“Too late.” Lexie quickly fluffed her short pale blond hair and adjusted the V-neck of her shirt, tugging it a tad lower. “They’re coming this way.”
“Oh God.” After a deep breath, Honor put the truck in park, turned it off, and—okay, she needed one more breath. “Roll up your window. Pretend you don’t see them. Maybe if we rush into the house real fast, they’ll leave us alo—”
Cringing, Honor glanced toward Lexie—and found all three men peering into the truck at them. They were each so tall they had to duck down to see in. One guy wore a T-shirt, one a polo, and the other wore no shirt at all.
Combined they gave the impression of masculine curiosity, dark hair and beard shadow. Two of them grinned, and those grins had definite impact.
But the intense expression on the shirtless one about stole Honor’s breath.
She blinked and stared, blinked and stared. Repeat.
The youngest of the three, the one in a T-shirt, laughed. “Busted. No sneaking off now.”
“Colt,” the unsmiling man said in a low, deep voice that teased over her nerve endings and made her heart race. “Pick up the can and spilled garbage, will you?”
Colt grinned. “Yes, sir.” And off he went—with Lexie craning her neck to track him.
The smiling guy propped a shoulder against the side of the window frame and crossed his arms over his chest. With a warning in his tone, said, “He’s seventeen.”
“Who?” Lexie asked.
“My son.” He nodded toward Colt. “Just so you know.”
Jaw dropping, Lexie took another look. “No way. Does Clearbrook have testosterone in the water or something? He looks at least twenty-one.”
Shrugging a thick shoulder, the guy said, “True enough.”
Heat shot into Honor’s cheeks. This situation just kept getting worse and worse. Not only had she taken out their can and been overheard conspiring to avoid them, but now Lexie gawked at an underage kid, never mind that the “kid” did look a whole lot older.
“As his dad,” the man continued, “it keeps me on my toes.”
“You sure you’re his dad?” Lexie looked back and forth between both men. “Because he looks more like—”
“My brother,” he interrupted. “I know. Jason got Dad’s eyes, and so did Colt.”
Brothers? Honor took another look—and caught Shirtless looking back. She swallowed.
“Bet your dad’s a stud, too, huh?”
After winking at Honor, Colt’s father met Lexie’s gaze. “We all inherited his features.”
True, Honor thought. Though the one talking appeared just under six feet, and Colt had to be at least six-three, they shared similar features and overall coloring. Only the eye color was different, with the father’s eyes pale blue instead of the rich dark brown of his son and brother. The shape was the same though, and they each had ridiculously long, dreamy black lashes.
Without really thinking about it, Honor said, “You don’t look old enough to be his dad.”
He shrugged. “I was just out of high school. Call it a youthful indiscretion that I’ve never regretted.”
Honor smiled, enjoying his pride in Colt—until she realized that his brother’s eyes had narrowed, not with menace, but with new awareness as he stared at her mouth.
She couldn’t recall the last time a man had looked at her like that. Might’ve been, oh…never.
It unnerved her and she started to squirm in her seat. These days she appeared more haggard than usual. Because of the move, she hadn’t bothered with any makeup, not that she ever wore that much anyway. But she’d also stuck her hair in a sloppy ponytail, pulled on one of her oldest T-shirts and stepped into the jeans with holes in the knees. Lack of sleep and an overly busy schedule kept dark circles under her eyes.
She tried to concentrate on Colt’s father, but couldn’t. She glanced at his brother again, and her gaze got caught in his. Something, challenge or maybe interest, kicked up the corner of his mouth in a nearly indiscernible way. But she saw it.
Shoot, she felt it.
Breathless, Honor forced herself to look at Colt’s dad. “So, um, you have a beautiful home. I noticed it when I was here before with my Realtor.”
Snorting as if that was somehow ridiculous, he said, “It’s not mine. Jason owns it.”
“Do tell,” Lexie said.
“I’m Hogan Guthrie. Jason is my overly serious brother.”
Hogan the blue-eyed dad, Colt the mature-looking son and Jason…the far-too-hot shirtless hunk. As she committed the names to memory, Honor glanced at each of them, but repeatedly got drawn back to Jason.
The sun highlighted the cut of his cheekbones, the straight line of his nose and across those sleek, hard shoulders. Why didn’t he put on a shirt? She couldn’t quite keep her gaze from his chest, noting he had just the right amount of dark chest hair going from one well-defined pec to the other, then bisecting his body downward…
It wouldn’t kill the man to pull up his well-worn jeans, either. Being healthy and female and, okay, more than a little sex starved, she automatically tracked the treasure trail leading down his abdomen to inside those low-slung jeans…
“Hogan and Colt live here, too,” Jason said while silently accepting her scrutiny.
Busted again. She cleared her throat and got her eyes to focus back on his face. “I see.” To Hogan, she asked, “You and your wife are in the neighborhood?”
Pushing away from the truck, Hogan said, “Colt’s mother is gone.”
That left her floundering. Did he mean…dead? Should she give condolences?
Or maybe he meant she’d moved away.
“For now,” Hogan continued, “we live with Jason.”
Oh. With him. In the same house.
All three of them—right next door to her.
Saving her from the awkward silence, Lexie took over. “I’m Lexie Perkins, and the new homeowner here is Honor Brown.” Then to Jason, she added, “You’re going to make her faint if you don’t let up.”
“Lexie!” Horrified, Honor felt so much heat in her face it nearly singed her. She’d gag her friend if she didn’t stop with the outrageous behavior.
Jason cocked a brow but didn’t look away.
Opening her door and getting out, Honor circled the back of the big truck instead of the front, because it gave her a few seconds more to compose herself.
Her neighbor’s house was to her right, twice the size of the one she’d just bought and with a well-trimmed yard, a big front porch and a massive garage in the back. Through open barn doors she saw a lot of tools and some sort of workbench.
Their driveways ran alongside each other, hers to the right of her house, his to the left of his, with only about fifteen feet separating them. His was concrete, hers gravel. His led to the garage and hers led to…weeds and refuse.
He must hate having such a disreputable mess next to his very nice home. She’d have her work cut out for her, but she decided she’d make repairs to the outside first.
Knowing she’d stalled too long, Honor emerged to the other side of the truck where both men and Lexie chatted about something.
With his attention finally off her, Honor felt free to look him over in more detail. While Hogan and Colt both had their dark hair neatly trimmed, Jason’s was a little too long and unruly, the wavy ends flipping in all directions as if he’d combed it only with fingers, and not any time recently. Pronounced beard shadow made her think he hadn’t shaved for a few days. When he smiled at something Lexie said, his teeth looked incredibly white against his tanned face. Little lines fanned out from the corners of his eyes.
He wasn’t muscle bound like a bodybuilder, but strength showed in his wide shoulders, furry chest and flat abdomen. He was a little sweaty, and so attractive she felt warmer just looking at him.
She hadn’t been following the conversation, so it took her off guard when they all turned to her.
“I’m so sorry about your can,” Honor blurted.
He stared down at her, first at her eyes, then at her mouth. “It survived.”
Getting closer to the men emphasized the differences in their sizes. At five-six, Honor was a whole lot shorter than all of them. “I can buy you a new one.” Although, truth be told, she was pretty tapped at the moment. Hopefully he wouldn’t want it replaced today.
“It’s a decade old and has been beat up before.”
“Then I should at least help Colt pick up—”
“He’s done,” Hogan told her. “Now he’s just texting friends.”
“Girlfriends, I bet,” Lexie said.
But Hogan shook his head. “He misses our old neighborhood. He hasn’t quite settled in here yet.”
Honor looked and sure enough, Colt stood beside the can, his thumbs working over a cell phone.
Jason held out a hand. “So we’re neighbors?”
Her toes curled in her shoes and her pulse fluttered. Trying to hide her reaction at the prospect of touching him, she smiled. “Seems so.”
His large, work-rough hand took her much smaller one, and she froze.
Good grief, you’d think I’d never been touched before.
With her voice too high, Honor asked, “Will I be meeting your wife?”
“Not married.” He released her slowly. “You?”
“We’re both single,” Lexie offered fast.
Jason glanced at the truck with yet another frown. “You’re both moving in?”
“Just me.” New enthusiasm bubbled up. And her palm still tingled from his touch. “Lexie insisted on coming along to help with the heavy things.”
Dubious, both he and Hogan glanced at Lexie.
“I’m having second thoughts,” Lexie said. “I mean…is that place habitable?”
“I’d say no,” Jason answered, his fingers rubbing the whiskers on his jaw. “But here you are.” He stepped around Honor and opened the back of the truck to see her small sofa and chairs, little dinette set, bedroom furniture, plants and a whole lot of boxes.
Behind him, Hogan laughed. “So you two were going to unload all this?”
Lexie elbowed her way past him. “Why not? We got it in there.”
A partial truth. She and Lexie had loaded all the boxes, but her old roommates had supplied their boyfriends to get the heavier stuff inside. They’d tired of her constant late-night runs and were probably happy to see her go. Lending a hand only helped speed up the process.
“No way,” Colt said as he rejoined them. “You’re both so little.”
“I have a furniture dolly.” Honor pointed at the folding metal moving contraption in the corner of the truck that she had hoped would make it easier to get everything unloaded. “The truck rental place recommended it, and it really did come in handy.” When moving the boxes.
Hands on his hips, Jason studied everything. “The dolly won’t help you with a couch.”
“We could do it,” Colt said.
Incredibly he sounded hopeful. But Honor had just met them all. No way could she ask for their help and she didn’t want Colt putting his uncle on the spot. “It’s fine, really.” Having no real idea, she swore, “We can get it all, no problem.”
Ignoring her protests, Jason squinted from the sun and asked Colt, “You didn’t make plans?”
“With who? I don’t know anyone here.”
Honor felt for the young man. She’d been uprooted once herself, and it had sucked. “How long have you lived here?”
“About a month.” He held his arms out wide. “But the only people around are ancient.”
“You’ll meet younger people when school starts.” Hogan viewed the contents of the truck with a critical eye. “We were supposed to be helping your uncle with that—”
Jason cut him off, saying, “I need to buy a new part anyway.” His gaze went from the truck to the front of her house. “Before we can get started, though, we need to clear a path.”
“No, really,” Honor tried again, horrified by the idea of imposing on them. “I don’t need—”
“The mower won’t make it.” Colt gave her yard quick scrutiny. “But I could break out the Bush Hog.”
Hogan agreed. “Wouldn’t take too long to clear the front. The back would be a job, though.”
“Save it for another day,” Jason said. “I doubt that back door opens anyway.”
As the three men talked about a game plan, Honor turned to stare helplessly at Lexie.
Her friend thrust a fist in the air. “Take-charge men,” she whispered. “Lucky you.”
“Yes,” Lexie insisted. “You can.”
Overwhelmed, Honor shook her head and, raising her voice to be heard, addressed the men. “Really, this is not necessary.”
“We don’t mind,” Colt told her, and he headed off for the garage.
Apparently to get the Bush Hog…whatever that was.
“Got a key?” Hogan rubbed his hands together. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
Lexie leaned in close to whisper, “One step at a time, remember? Trust me on this.”
Honor wanted to resist. First impressions mattered, and theirs would be that she couldn’t handle her own move. They were strangers, and they owed her nothing.
But Lexie was excited for the help, and Colt seemed so anxious to dig in. But Jason…Her gaze skipped to him and she found his expression now masked, impossible to read.
His words, though, were pretty plain.
He held out a hand, palm up, for the key. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can be done.”
Within an hour they had the front yard cleared, with a path created in the backyard so she could at least get to her driveway. Not that it would matter if he couldn’t get that warped door repaired, but she’d been resistant enough that he didn’t want to push things. Honor Brown already looked plenty confused by their willingness to pitch in.
Confused, and somehow worried.
Colt could work on the rest of the yard later. Once the worst of it was thinned out, she might be able to keep it in shape with a regular mower.
Only he hadn’t seen one in her truck.
Everything else had been in there, though. Furniture, clothes, dishware and a few decorations.
She was average height for a woman, slight of build, but she worked tirelessly beside them, insisting on carrying in boxes that strained her shoulders despite the fact that he, Hogan or Colt could have carried three without a problem.
The mid-June day was sunny and hot and as they worked, sweat beaded on her smooth cheeks, and little wisps of her honey-blond hair clung to her temples and the nape of her neck.
He couldn’t help noticing that on her, the overheated look was sexy as hell. He wasn’t a man obsessed with sex 24/7, but seeing her now, all warm and dewy, especially with the satisfied way she smiled while working…well, hell, he was only human and he couldn’t help that his thoughts veered to carnal activities—the best way he knew to work up a sweat.
In many ways, Honor Brown seemed naive and innocent. But there was something about her determination that obliterated that impression. He had the feeling that when necessary, she could hold her own. For sure whenever one of them tried to relieve her of a load, her big brown eyes turned defiant.
That, too, was somehow a turn-on.
Her slightly taller, blonder, much bolder friend, Lexie, showed she had more sense by staying inside and unpacking what they carried in.
It surprised Jason when he saw the inside of the place. It was still a pit, but a much cleaner pit than the last time he’d seen it a few months ago. Cobwebs, dead bugs, broken furniture and dirt were now gone. Apparently Honor had been over one day last week to scrub it out. How he’d missed her, he had no idea. Must’ve been when he and Colt had gone off fishing, and Hogan was meeting with his lawyer.
By dinnertime they had everything unloaded and most of the big items reassembled and situated, including mismatched bedroom pieces, a stack washer and dryer and shelving in the small living room.
Her couch, which had been the first thing put in the truck so was the last thing out, still had a secondhand sale tag on it. So she’d bought used furniture? Didn’t matter to him—except that she was clearly stretching her budget, and given the costs inherent in buying a rehab house, that didn’t bode well for anyone.
The fact that she was so attractive didn’t help much, either.
As he and Hogan moved the couch in front of a clean but curtainless window, Jason looked to the kitchen, where he could just see Honor on tiptoe unloading a variety of dishes into a cabinet. Her profile was even more mouthwatering than the head-on view.
Snug, faded jeans hugged a perfectly plump ass. Her stretched-out posture showed the rise of her breasts and the dip of her waist. With every movement she made, her ponytail bounced.
Honor Brown was petite without being skinny, stacked without being flagrant about it and a true natural beauty, though she seemed unaware. Her tawny blond hair almost exactly matched her golden brown eyes, eyes shades lighter than his. Eyes that drew him in, especially when she looked at him with a mix of curiosity and awareness.
Several times he’d seen her yawn, but not once had she slowed down. The way she moved, how she blushed…her smile. He liked it all. He liked her. Too much.
She definitely shouldn’t be here.
She must have felt him looking—again—because she went still, then glanced his way. For a second their gazes held before, once more, she looked him over. And damn, he liked that, too. The girl had a hungry way of devouring him with those whiskey-colored eyes.
Hogan stepped between them as he set out a lamp, unwrapped a decorative dish and tossed a throw pillow onto the couch.
That broke the spell. “Oh, you don’t have to do that.” Setting aside a plate and hurrying into her small living room, Honor said, “Just leave everything and I’ll arrange it later.”
“We’re here,” Hogan said, carrying a box of books to a squat bookcase. “Might as well get it set up where you want it.”
Fluttering around, fretting, she said, “Oh, but…you guys have already done so much and it’s getting late and honestly I can get this all done myself, so—”
“I’m only here temporarily,” Hogan explained. “But for now, we’re neighbors. Besides, we didn’t have anything else to do today.”
“And I brought food,” Colt said as he walked back in the front door with two boxes of pizza and a twelve-pack of Coke.
Honor’s shoulders slumped. “I’ve worked you all through dinnertime.”
That made Colt laugh. “Pretty sure we insisted.”
“They did.” Eyeing the pizzas with greed, Lexie said, “Those are mighty big pies.”
“Yes, ma’am. Enough for all of us.”
“You’re a good boy, Colt.”
The banter between Lexie and Colt only seemed to rattle Honor more. She made a beeline for her purse on the kitchen table. “I’ll pay you for it. How much—”
“No,” Jason said before Colt or Hogan could speak. The firm refusal stopped her in her tracks.
Softening things, his brother explained, “Jason gets a deal because the pizza girl is hung up on him.”
Honor swiveled around and stared. “Pizza girl?”
“True story,” Colt said. “But I’d call her a woman, not a girl.”
“Only because she’s too old for you.” Hogan said to the ladies, “She’s early twenties, and real cute.”
Jason rolled his eyes. The pizza girl—emphasis on girl—was pretty enough, but he wasn’t interested. She might be too old for Colt, but she was definitely too young for him. “Everyone’s hungry, so let’s eat.”
Honor looked around her house. “It was super nice of you to go get food—”
“Because I’m starved,” Lexie said.
“—but there’s nowhere here to sit, much less eat.”
Colt hitched his chin toward the back of the house. “I cleared a path for you over to our backyard. We have a picnic table. Let’s go there.”
She stared at Colt, wanting to refuse but unsure how to deny a seventeen-year-old boy. Using her wrist to brush bangs out of her eyes, she waffled. “But—”
“No buts,” Hogan said. “You don’t want to be unneighborly, do you?”
Jason didn’t mind Colt urging her, but what was Hogan’s endgame? “You guys go on. Get out some paper plates and stuff. I’ll help her finish in the kitchen and we’ll be right over.”
After a long speculative look, Hogan’s mouth lifted in a sly grin. “Sure.” Then to Lexie, “You coming?”
Lexie looked to Honor. “Do you mind? Or was there something else I could do?”
Immediately Honor shooed her away. “Go, sit. I’ll only be five minutes.” Unfortunately, the second the others were gone, she tried to shoo him away, too. “Really, Jason, I’ve got it. There isn’t that much more to do.”
Jason took in all the still-full boxes, the stacked kitchen, and shook his head. “Looks like a lot to me.”
“Everything I need right away is unpacked. I’ll get my bed together and then do the rest of it little by little. I promise, it won’t be a problem.”
He studied her and saw her cheeks go warm again. The woman blushed far too easily. Walking past her without a word, he entered the kitchen and picked up where she’d left off.
And he didn’t have to go on tiptoe to do it.
From behind him, she said low, “This is ridiculous.”
“What’s that?” He didn’t pause in unloading plates to the bottom shelf where she could better reach them, and putting serving bowls and platters toward the top.
“I don’t even know you people.”
Over his shoulder, he took in her disgruntled and confused expression. “Around here, neighbors help neighbors. When Sullivan Dean moved in across the street, we did the same thing. Few months ago Nathan Hawley moved in on the other side of me, and we lent a hand.” He shrugged, broke down the now empty box and put it on the stack of cardboard by the back door.
“I haven’t met them yet.”
“You will.” And though it shouldn’t, that bothered him. Both Sullivan and Nathan were single. Neither seemed to be on the prowl, but with a lady like Honor, who knew? “Clearbrook has a lot of community stuff. Volleyball, barbecues, that sort of thing. You’ll meet everyone in no time.”
Edging back into the kitchen but keeping some distance between them, she started folding dishrags into a drawer. “You’ve had a lot of people moving in?”
“Houses around here stayed empty until the city decided to revamp things.”
“Are you new to the neighborhood?”
“Grew up here, actually.” He found another empty box, and another after that, breaking each one down so the cardboard made a nice flat stack. “The house used to be our dad’s. When the area deteriorated, he saw no reason to keep maintaining the property. About eight years ago he decided he’d enjoy Florida, so I bought it from him.”
“Wow. You must’ve been pretty young.”
“Twenty-four. Old enough to know what I wanted.” He’d always loved the house and the memories that came with it. Before his mom died, it was a home. After that…both his dad and the house fell apart. “It needed some work, so I got a good deal, and Dad got the cash he needed to relocate.” These days, his father rarely visited any memories that reminded him of his deceased wife—including his sons and grandson.
“Win-win,” Honor said.
“Right.” Leaning back on the counter, he watched her close one drawer, then begin filling another with place mats, oven mitts and such. “So…no man in your life to help you get moved in?” Her friend Lexie had already announced neither of them was married, but a woman Honor’s age, looking the way she looked, surely had a guy or two hanging around.
As if the question threw her, she paused, searched for what to say and in the end just shook her head.
Unbelievable. Was that a recent occurrence? A divorce, or a breakup of another kind? Or maybe she was more like the other blonde, Lexie, than he’d first thought. “What about a brother? Your dad?”
She concentrated on the drawer. “No.”
That didn’t feel right. “No one but your friend Lexie?”
Her face flushed, but this time it was with uncertainty. “Why do you ask?”
She thought he was being nosy. Or maybe she thought he was hitting on her.
The truth was probably a mix of both. “You being here alone…it’s not a great idea.”
Like a challenge, she said, “I already had new locks put on the doors.”
His mouth quirked, but he didn’t want her to think he was laughing at her, so he tipped up his chin, scratched the beard stubble underneath and decided on a few facts. “Last week, two blocks from here, some punks broke into an older man’s house. Beat him up, robbed him. Less than a month before that a woman got jumped in her own front yard, middle of the day. Luckily Nathan was around and he stopped them before she was seriously hurt.”
“Nathan, your neighbor?”
That was the part she found interesting? “Yeah, he’s the sheriff.” Continuing, he told her, “In the past two months people around here have had their cars jacked, been robbed, assaulted—”
“Your neighbor—our neighbor—is the sheriff?”
Jason stared at her. “You’re not listening to the important part.”
She waved a hand. “I get it. There are still some criminal activities. But the area is on the upswing, right? They’re fixing up the park, new businesses are moving in and they’re even going to reopen the old neighborhood pool—”
“Which is right across from a cemetery.”
That slowed her down, but only for a heartbeat. “That’s just because the cemetery expanded, right? And now it’d be too expensive to move the pool. I’m sure it won’t bother most people. Definitely won’t bother me.”
She’d done her research. Or maybe Realtors had their pitches down. “The key point here is that it’s a work in progress. They’re still fixing up the park, too many businesses are pending and the pool probably won’t be ready until mid-July, if then.” He took a step closer. “Right now, this week, the area is not safe for a woman alone.”
Agitated, she glared at him. “So I should what? Not stay in my own house? My first house? Should I put it right back on the market? Lose the opportunity of a lifetime?” She took a step closer, too. “Rhetorical questions, because I can assure you, I’m here to stay.”
Jason stared at her earnest face, taking in each appealing feature. On top of soulful eyes, a lush mouth and a fine body, she had guts. And damn it, he liked that, too. “Get a dog. And a shotgun.” He reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, then found a business card. “And if anything spooks you, anything at all, call.”
“I’m not helpless. I can take care of myself.”
She said that so defiantly that he almost smiled. “Sure. But if you just need a hand with something, any heavy lifting, we’re right next door.”
“Muscle for hire?”
The smile cracked, and from that came a laugh. “You do seem to pick and choose what you hear and don’t hear.”
She looked at his mouth, and sighed. “I heard all of it. I’ll consider the dog once I have the yard ready. I don’t know enough about guns to get one.”
“I imagine Nathan could teach you.”
“Three guys right next door, and a sheriff next door to them. How much safer could it get?”
She was cute when she teased. Maybe he should tell her about Sullivan across the street. Talk about a badass…but no. He wasn’t going to do Sullivan’s work for him.
“The other side of your property butts up to woods. No lights. Wild animals.”
She scoffed. “Wild animals, huh?”
“Middle of the night, when you hear noises you don’t recognize, or maybe even gunfire nearby, no one is going to seem close enough.”
“Now you’re just trying to scare me.”
True. She needed to stay alert. Because he watched her, he could almost see her thinking as she put the business card on the refrigerator with a flower-shaped magnet. She turned pensive, too quiet.
“I mean it,” he said, drawing her out again. “If you need anything—”
“No.” All too serious, she laced her fingers together and looked up at him. “You’re really nice. I mean…really nice. All of you are. And I appreciate it. What we got done today would have taken me at least a week on my own. I’d been hopeful of just getting unloaded and getting my bed together so I’d have a place to sleep tonight.”
His thoughts veered in directions that they shouldn’t, thoughts that included her and a bed. Fewer clothes. Less talk.
“Before buying the house, I lived with roommates. Four of us in a small apartment. And before that I lived with a relative.”
Relative—not parents? He wondered about that, but then she continued explaining.
“I’m happy to be on my own. You don’t have to worry that I’ll impose on you, not for any reason.” She rocked to her heels a little, her fingers laced tightly, looking uncertain, self-conscious. “I’m grateful for the offer of a helping hand, and as reassuring as it is to know there’s backup so close by, I want to do this, the rest of it, on my own. It’s important to me.”
Yeah, it had been important to him, too, so he understood. But understanding and believing she could do it were two different things. She lacked muscles, yet much of what needed to be done would be labor intensive, work that included heavy lifting, pulling, and endurance. Given her clumsiness with the dolly, he doubted she knew her way around the toolshed. What her house needed would require more than a hammer or a screwdriver.
To be sure, he asked, “You have experience with remodeling?”
“No. But I’m not dumb. I can read instructions.”
Instructions wouldn’t really cut it, but rather than belabor the point, he merely nodded. “Let’s go eat.” He’d be glad to get that part of it over with. Whether his brother or nephew realized it, Honor Brown was going to be trouble. With her next door, their peaceful bachelor existence would soon be shot to hell.
Honor bit her lip. Her gaze dipped down to his chest, then shot back to his face. Her eyes were big and innocent when she said, “Only if you put on a shirt. Because otherwise, I just can’t do it.”
Jason sighed. And so it began.
End of Excerpt