Take Two Copyright © 2014 by Nancy Corrigan All Rights Are Reserved.
Out of all the bars in Pennsylvania, she had to walk into this one.
With his thumbs in his pockets, Kyle Sander leaned against the rear wall of the bar. Unless she looked directly at him, she wouldn’t see him. The broken jukebox to his right blocked him from her view. He couldn’t spend all night here, though. He had places to go. Things to do. None of those involved talking to Ms. Ronnie Axel, heir to the Axel fortune.
What was she even doing here? She should be surrounded by her pretty boys and the precious artwork she loved so much. The only thing resembling art in this joint was the reproduction gas pump a couple of feet away from him.
As for model-worthy men? Yeah. Not happening.
The guys in Sander’s Valley dressed like he did—ripped jeans, work boots, and a white T-shirt. It was the attire of a blue-collar worker. Nobody would mistake him as anything else. He had the calluses and scars to prove it. Manual labor left its mark on a man. It didn’t matter if he owned his construction company or not. He swung a hammer along with his crew.
He craned his head to catch another glimpse of Veronica Gwendolyn Axel, Ronnie to her friends. She stood near the bar, one hand on her hip, the other holding a slim phone to her ear. He didn’t need to see her face. Her voice was one he’d never forget. Not rich and sultry, but rough and commanding. She sounded like someone who’d smoked a couple of packs a day for years. Not Ronnie, though. Hers was natural. So was her platinum hair. He could attest to that.
With her back to him, he had a perfect view of her ass. A clingy skirt caressed her rounded cheeks. It didn’t leave much to the imagination. Heels added height to her short frame and defined her legs. He let his gaze caress her curves the way he’d once licked them before focusing on her neck. Slender and pale, it still lured him the way it had in high school.
One more slow perusal and he decided the years apart had been good to her. Real good. His dick approved of the curvy, compact package she’d become. The rest of him, on the other hand, wanted no part of her.
“Lurking in the shadows?” Wyn asked. “Who’d you piss off now?”
Kyle dropped his head against the wall and met his brother’s gaze. Dark brown hair and eyes, a little scruff on his face, and a cleft in his chin—he could’ve been Kyle’s twin. Two years separated them, making Wyn the baby at twenty-five. Mama still called him her baby boy too. It amused Kyle every time. Wyn towered over all of the Sander brothers.
“Nobody.” Kyle cracked his jaw. “At least no one that I know of.”
“Then what’s the deal?”
Wyn’s brows shot up. “Your Ronnie?”
Kyle rolled his eyes. “She hasn’t been mine since we were seventeen.”
Wyn peered over his shoulder. He gave a low whistle. “Damn, the years have been good to her.”
“Not too hard to keep her looks when she has the Axel family checkbook at her fingertips. She’s probably got a personal trainer and a plastic surgeon on speed dial.”
Wyn gave him a knowing look. “Still bitter after a decade? Come on, bro. I thought you’d gotten over her.”
Kyle had convinced himself he had until she’d walked into this bar looking like a goddamn wet dream. He shrugged. “I did. Just stating the facts.”
Wyn propped his elbow on the jukebox and perused her as thoroughly as Kyle had. Kyle bit back the jealousy he had no reason to feel and focused on the wall in front of him. If he caught a look of lust in Wyn’s eyes, Kyle didn’t trust himself not to knock it off his brother’s face.
“What do you think she’s doing here?” Wyn asked. “Her dad died years ago.”
Kyle’s family and the rest of Sander’s Valley had attended her old man’s funeral. It had been beautiful. She’d bought the best casket, filled the place with flowers, and topped his grave with the biggest headpiece in the cemetery. The only thing she hadn’t done was show up.
He crossed his arms over his chest and faced Wyn. “No clue, but let’s hope it’s a quick visit.”
“You’re not going to at least say hi?”
Kyle snorted. “Fuck no. I’m going to lay low until she’s gone.”
No way in hell did he want her to find out she’d been right. That he hadn’t done jack shit with his life. He was in debt up to his eyeballs with a struggling business. He had no wife, no kids, and no plans for any in the future. Only thing waiting for him at home was Mindy, the cat who’d decided he belonged to her, and a sink full of dirty dishes.
His gaze drifted to Ronnie. Damn if he could help it. He’d been head over heels in love with the girl. The woman, though, reawakened his floundering sex drive. His dick twitched just remembering what it’d been like to dip into her sweet sex. She’d been his first lover. He’d sworn she’d be his last. Then she’d upped and left without a good-bye.
She stepped into the shadows by the door and leaned against the wall. He couldn’t see her face in the dim light, but the silvery glow from the beer sign next to her showed off her chest. The light-gray button-down top complimented her black business skirt. He’d bet she’d worn a jacket earlier in the day too.
She slid her foot out of her shoe and rubbed at her arch. Her skirt rode up with the move, giving him a peek of her hot-pink panties.
He cursed, and his cock thickened impossibly more.
“Ronnie’s fucking hot.” Wyn glanced at him and smirked. “I wonder if she’s married.”
“Don’t know. Don’t care.”
“Good. Then I’m sure you won’t mind if I look her up while she’s home.”
Kyle was in Wyn’s face a second later. “Touch her and Mama won’t be able to call you her handsome little boy anymore.”
“Is that right?” Wyn narrowed his eyes, challenging Kyle exactly as he had when they were kids, right before they started pummeling each other. “You sure you’re over her?”
“Yep. I’m not a fool, you know. I tangled with the little rich girl once. I have no plans to repeat that mistake.” Actually, it’d been more than once. A hell of a lot more than once.
Kyle’s gaze drifted to her again. He felt like a damn addict needing another fix. Just one more peek.
Her drink sat at the bar, but she was nowhere in sight. He scanned the room. She’d disappeared.
His heart took up an erratic beat. “Do you see Ronnie?”
Wyn stepped next to him. After a moment, he muttered, “Nope, and the Carson twins are gone too.”
“Fuck.” Kyle ran toward the door, pushing through the crowd. The Carson twins were nothing but trouble. They’d been arrested more times than he could count. Not a damn thing ever happened to them either. They were given warnings and let go. Of course, that was what happened when their family ran the town. It had only been named after Kyle’s.
Kyle stumbled outside and scanned the sidewalk. Nothing caught his eye. He glanced from the alley to the abandoned metal shop across the street. Both would be perfect spots to take Ronnie if they’d meant her harm.
Maybe he was overreacting, but he’d always had a weird sixth sense where Ronnie was concerned. A few times over the years, he’d almost called her, just to make sure she was okay. He’d always resisted, knowing his voice wouldn’t have been welcomed. Tonight he didn’t bother worrying about what she wanted. She’d walked back into his town. Rules were different.
He debated a second more and darted down the alley.
A roughened feminine voice reached his ears. He followed the sound to the rear of the bar. Jeff, the stockier of the twins, had his hands planted on the wall by Ronnie’s face. John, the thinner one, leaned next to them but spun at Kyle’s approach.
He glanced between the two kids, twenty-one and stupid as bricks. “Let her go.”
Jeff jumped back and raised his hands. “Chill, Kyle. The lady and I were just talking.”
Kyle cut a glance at Ronnie. “Son of a bitch.”
She stared at him, wide-eyed. The shocked look registered, but he dismissed it. The ugly bruises on her face stopped his heart. Brown with green-and-black streaks, the worst blemish on her cheek told a story he’d learn if it was the last thing he did. Whoever had hurt her would pay for it. First, he had to deal with Fucktards one and two.
Kyle walked toward them, hands clenched at his side. “Doesn’t look like she wants to talk to you, Jeff.”
Jeff grinned. “Sure she does. She even asked us for help.”
“Really?” Kyle raised a brow. “That true, Ronnie?”
She shoved away from them. “Yeah, but it’s obvious they’re not willing to give it.”
“Oh, I would’ve given it to you good, babe.” Jeff made his way to his brother. “But we gotta go. See you around.”
Kyle followed their retreating backs with his gaze and resisted the urge to go after them. They disappeared around the corner, and he turned his attention to Ronnie.
“What’s wrong with you? Coming out here alone with them? That’s asking for trouble.” He wanted to shake her, pull her close, and kiss her plump lips. He settled for glaring at her. “They could’ve robbed you. Maybe raped you.”
“Nah, they’re just horny kids. All I had to do was scream, and they would’ve run.” She raised her gaze to his. The bruises on her face twisted his gut, but her hazel eyes mesmerized him, exactly as they had a lifetime ago. His words got stuck in his throat. Finally, she shook her head, breaking the spell she’d cast over him. “Ten minutes in town and I run into you. Talk about luck.”
“Good luck, I’d say.” He motioned toward the bruise on her cheek. “What happened?”
She folded her arms under her breasts. “Armed robbery.”
She lied. He could see it in her eyes. He stepped closer. “Don’t bother lying to me, Ronnie. I know you too well. What really happened?”
“I haven’t seen you in years, Kyle. You don’t know me anymore.”
He supposed she was right. He’d thought they’d spend their life together. She’d proved him wrong. Still, she drew him like no other woman ever had.
He brushed a finger over her bruised skin. “Come on, doll. Talk to me.”
She grinned. “I always loved that nickname, you know.”
He matched her smile, couldn’t help it. “And you’re changing the subject.”
“Armed robbery, like I said. I really don’t want to talk about it.” She snatched her purse from where it had fallen on the ground and pulled a hundred-dollar bill from her wallet. She held it out to him.
He glanced from it to her face. “If that’s for saving you, keep it. I don’t want your money. Never did.”
She rolled her eyes. “Please, Kyle. I didn’t come back to this shithole town to fight with you. I was wondering if you could go back into the bar and pay for my drink. I’d rather not go in there again.”
He worked his jaw and fought his irrational anger. It wasn’t her fault he’d reacted like a jerk, but he’d always hated the fact that she had more money. Everyone, including her mother, had thought he was after her fortune. He’d only ever wanted her.
He took the cash and crumpled it in his hands. “Why did you?”
Her expression closed off. “The robbery scared me. I needed some time to regroup, so I got in my car and drove.” She shrugged. “I ended up here.”
He considered grilling her about it but decided against it. The stubborn look she wore warned him it’d be useless. He smoothed out the bill and motioned toward the mouth of the alley. “Wait by the front door, and I’ll bring your change out. Okay?”
She stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his cheek. “My hero. Thank you, Kyle.”
One kiss. Hell, it didn’t even qualify as a kiss, but it ripped down a decade of animosity he’d held for Ronnie. He glanced at her hand. No ring. Didn’t mean anything, but it gave him the opening he needed.
He settled his hands on her hips. “Are you still single, doll?”
“Yes.” She stepped back. His hands fell from her sides. “But I’m not staying long. A few hours at the most, and then I’m going home.”
He wanted to argue that she was home but held his tongue. “Why did you drive all the way to Pennsylvania if you’re not even spending a day here?”
“I’ll tell you after you pay for my drink. I don’t want them to think I just left.”
He nodded and led her to the front of the bar, a hand at her lower back exactly how he used to walk with her. Memories rushed up and added to the lust seeing her again brought.
He caged her against the wall, one hand on her hip, the other flattened on the brick by her face. “You’ll be here when I come back, right?”
“I stopped for a reason.” Her voice lowered. Wrapped around him. He could almost imagine they were behind his dad’s barn, hiding from his brothers so they could make out.
“And that was?”
“Engine trouble. The Shelby’s not cut out for long trips. She needs some tender loving care.”
He brushed his lips over the bruise on her face. “I’d say your car’s not the only one.”
“I’m fine. My doctor gave me a clean bill of health.”
His breathing quickened along with hers. “But did he kiss your boo-boos?”
“Are you fishing for information?” She laid her fingertips against his throat. His pulse raced. “Looking to see who’s been in my bed?”
He told himself he didn’t care. A few lousy minutes in her presence and he was that kid again, ready to take on anyone to keep her.
“I suppose I am.” Why play games? He’d done that once already with her. It had only pushed her away.
“Who’s been in yours?”
Was that a tinge of jealousy in her voice? Lips pressed to the spot right below her ear, he grinned and enjoyed her shiver in response. She’d always been so damn sensitive. It was nice to know he could still hit her trigger points. “Didn’t think you cared. You did leave me all alone.”
“I don’t. Just curious. I know how the local girls are, willing to jump their competition and rough them up. When one of them slaps on the label of ‘mine,’ they don’t give up their man too easily.”
“You didn’t have a problem with it.” Dammit. He’d told himself he wouldn’t bring it up. The resentment was rooted deep, however.
She skimmed her hand up his spine. He arched into her on a groan, pushing his cock into her belly. She sucked in a breath but didn’t ease away. Nope, the little siren sifted her fingers into his hair and stepped closer.
“I’m not a local, never was.”
Guess she was still a fan of games. Shame too. He’d hoped she would’ve grown up.
“And all those years you lived here meant nothing, huh?”
“Summers.” She caught one of his short curls and toyed with it, rubbing the strands between her thumb and forefinger. He barely stifled a groan. “I spent my summers here, a whole two and a half months out of the year. That doesn’t qualify me as a local girl.”
Summer vacation had meant a hell of a lot more than no school for him. He could still remember the waiting, the freaking yearning for her. The rest of the year had been pure torture.
“And how is your mama?”
She tensed, fingers stilled and breath caught.
Concern rushed up. “Ronnie?”
His gut took a punch from the quivering in her voice. He eased back and peered into her face. Sorrow didn’t show in her eyes. Fear did. “What happened?”
“She was murdered.”
He hadn’t been expecting that. Of course, nobody ever planned for violence to strike their family. Bad stuff happened to other people’s loved ones. “They catch the guy?”
Her careful response stirred his instincts. “What are you hiding?”
“Nothing. It’s an active criminal investigation, and I was told not to discuss the details with strangers. I shouldn’t have even mentioned it.”
“Strangers?” Damn that hurt. It shouldn’t, but it did. “Is that what I am to you?”
Her gaze mapped his face before settling on his mouth. “Yes. You’re not the boy I once loved, nor am I the same girl.”
“Bullshit, Ronnie. I might’ve changed, but not when it comes to your safety. You know I’d take on the damn world to protect you. Doesn’t matter if we’re lovers, friends, or strangers.”
On a sigh, she closed her eyes.
Hell no, he wasn’t about to let her dismiss him. He cupped her face in his hands. “Look at me.”
She cracked her eyelids and peered at him from under her long lashes. Her hazel eyes hypnotized him. For a moment all he could do was stare into them. A lifetime of broken promises hung between them. He shook off the sensation and focused on the woman he held, not the girl he’d planned to marry.
“What’s really going on? Your mom’s killed, and you show up bruised on some secret mission that brings you to Sander’s Valley in the middle of the night.”
“Enough.” She pushed against his chest. He stepped back, not because he wanted to but because he didn’t have the right to touch her anymore. “I didn’t come back to argue with you.”
“Why did you?”
“At the moment, I’m not so sure.” She motioned in the direction of the door. “Are you going to pay for my drink or not?”
“Yeah. Wait for me, okay?”
Her phone rang. She nodded as she pulled it out and answered.
He turned his back on her and slipped inside. Wyn stood next to the door, arms crossed and anger tightening his features. Kyle followed the direction of his stare to where the Carson twins sat, a girl between them.
Wyn jerked his chin in their direction. “What’s wrong with them? Girls flock to the fuckers.”
The Carson family had money, something the rest of the town lacked. Kyle didn’t bother stating the truth Wyn knew and settled on one less likely to irritate his brother. “They’re out for fun. Look, can you call Levi or Jack for a ride home? My plans might’ve changed.”
A smile replaced the tight press of Wyn’s lips. “You took my advice and talked to her?”
“Your advice, right.” Kyle shook his head. Kid always liked to think he was right. “So, can you?”
Wyn shrugged. “Sure.”
“Great.” Kyle made his way to the bar and paid for Ronnie’s drink. With his change in hand, he turned and smacked into Wyn.
Wyn held out a foil packet. A shit-eating grin spread on his face. “Figure you might need this. The one in your wallet’s so old it’ll probably crumble sliding over your dick.”
“It hasn’t been that long.”
“A year isn’t a big deal. Besides, I have no intention of tangling with Ronnie again. I just want to talk to her, find out what her deal is.”
Wyn chuckled. “Talk, huh? I remember how you and Ronnie liked to talk. I stumbled upon the two of you talking enough damn times, you know.” He waved the condom in Kyle’s face. “Take it. Better prepared than not.”
Kyle snatched the packet and slid it into his back pocket, only because he didn’t bother carrying one anymore. That and he could see Jimmy, the bar’s owner and his dad’s best friend, on his tiptoes in the rear corner of the room, squinting at them. Kyle didn’t need his dad to get a report of his son’s activities.
“Now out of my way before she thinks I ditched her.”
Wyn stepped to the side. “Sex, Kyle. Don’t make it out to be anything more.”
Kyle let the slamming door answer his brother. He didn’t need the reminder that Ronnie was only passing through.
The sounds of the bar cut off. An empty sidewalk greeted him. No Ronnie. He scanned the road. Cars lined it. He didn’t see her classic ’65 Shelby, the one her daddy had given her on her sixteenth birthday, among the pickups and dented sedans. Jimmy’s Place didn’t have a parking lot. It was a double-block row home converted into a tavern.
Not ready to admit the obvious, he jogged down the alley and followed the loop it made back to the main road. He walked the block, scanned the next two, and then returned to the bar’s entrance.
“She left me.” Too damn annoyed at himself for falling for her ploy, he leaned against the brick and went over their brief encounter. He cursed. “And she never answered my questions.”
He propped a foot against the wall and crossed his arms. At least he didn’t have to worry about getting attached to her again. Except, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever let her go, not where it counted. No matter—she’d taken the choice out of his hands. Just like last time.
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