Fucking hell, this is the second time I’ve ended up on the floor because of a damned dog! I pushed up off the floor, scowled at Brandon who was laughing his ass off on the bed, still, and took off after the dog, yelling for him to come.

I chased the little black furball around the living room and through the kitchen before he headed back down the hallway to the bedroom, remote still clenched in his jaws, and jumped onto the bed, finally dropping it into Brandon’s outstretched hand.

I skidded to a halt in the doorway just in time to see this, scowling at Brandon’s face-splitting grin. I walked to the bed and scooped up the pup, whispering ‘traitor’ in his ear as I sat down.

Brandon stretched and yawned behind me, still grinning as he reached out and pulled me back against him. We cuddled like that for a moment, the three of us, until the puppy wiggled to be let down. I held him a little tighter to me and sat back up.

“Well, I guess I’m up for the day,” I said as I got off the bed. “I’m gonna take him outside real quick. Want some coffee?” I asked Brandon.

He hadn’t moved from the bed, just laid there on his back, arms outspread, towel dangerously loose around his hips. He yawned and scratched at his belly lazily. “Sure, but since I can’t get you back in bed with me, I’ll just get up with you.”

“Okay.” I turned away to hide the gigantic grin that lit up my face at his words, those crazy ass butterflies turning into a tornado inside me as my heart flipped. No, he didn’t say anything special, or cutesy, or even hot for that matter. But he admitted that he wanted me again and that was huge given the fact that he’d used the ‘friend’ speech on me not too long ago.

I let Grady out into the backyard, grateful that it was completely fenced in, and let him run wild while I made a couple cups of coffee. I took them out onto the back porch with me and sat, cradling my cup in my hands as I watched the puppy chase a bird along the fence line.

Brandon came out and sat beside me, having pulled on a pair of jeans and nothing else. Bare chested and bare foot…holy hell, I wanted nothing more than to kneel at the altar of Sinfully Sexy Ass Men and thank the Chief of Staff for such a glorious bounty of hotness. We drank our coffee in the sunlight, watching the gamboling pup with amusement as he chased anything that moved, or even looked like it would move, including his tail.

After a while, Brandon stood and stretched, kissing me on the head as he took his empty cup inside. I followed him, calling for Grady and bringing him inside with me. I dug out some of his toys and he pounced on them delightedly, falling for the distraction just like I’d hoped.

Brandon had disappeared down the hallway again, I’m assuming to get dressed. “You have a lot of appointments today?” I called to him.

He walked into the living room where I was standing, still pulling his shirt over his head so his words were muffled at first. “Yeah, I have quite a few, and of course we take walk-ins if we can. Why?”

I shrugged. “No real reason, I’ve just been actually contemplating getting another tattoo.”

His eyebrows rose and he gave me a quizzical look. “Really? That’d be…wait, another? You said another tattoo?” he asked.

I nodded and then regretted mentioning it to him as he approached me playfully, hands going to the tie of my robe and pulling. He was grinning and waggling his eyebrows at me, but I couldn’t help the panic that bubbled up. I was naked under my robe and it was pure daylight! I forced a laugh and slapped his hands away, hoping to put him off without offending him, or making him think I was hiding something from him. Which I was, but…

He pulled his hands back and his face closed up, eyes going cloudy and dark. He shut me out as I watched, all playfulness gone, the tender man of last night a memory.

I swallowed hard, my heart sinking to the floor. I felt like an asshole, but there was just too much that no one knew and things about me that I wasn’t ready to share, not even with the man I was falling for. And crap on a cracker, I was falling for him hard.

“Ummm…so maybe I could set something up with you? Would you tattoo me?” I asked, forcing a light tone and trying to salvage any tiny little piece of the morning I could.

He nodded sharply and replied, “Yeah. Just let me know when you’re ready. I’ll see you later, I’ve gotta get to the shop.” He turned on his heel and within moments, his boots were on, keys in hand, and he was gone.

I sank onto the couch, a sick feeling in my stomach. And that feeling was fear that I’d just fucked things up before they’d even had a chance to really get going.

My phone rang about twenty minutes later. I’d missed it by the time I got back to the bedroom where it was still plugged into my charger, even though I’d run like mad, hoping it was Brandon. I picked it up to see who it was and couldn’t help the sigh of disappointment that escaped as I noticed it was Emma who’d called.

I walked back out to the living room and sat, watching Grady play with his toys on the carpet while I called her back.

She answered without preamble, asking, “What the hell did you do to Brandon?”

“He-uh-whuh…Ex-Excuse me?” I stuttered, taken aback by her no-nonsense, but still friendly tone.

“He was at your house last night, he said he was just gonna stay there for a while since Luke and I like to play slap and tickle a little too much, and now he comes stomping in this morning and about bites my head off when I mention your name. So, again, what the hell did you do to him?” she asked briskly.

I finally found my voice. “I didn’t do anything, Emma…” I said, hesitantly. Okay, so that was a little fib, but it’s not like I could tell her, ‘oh, I just pissed him off because I wouldn’t let him see me naked after he fucked the living daylights out of me all night long,’ you know?

She snorted. “Yeah, and I’m the friggin’ Pope.” After a lengthy sigh, she said, wryly, “Why don’t you come down here and talk to him, then? Fix whatever might be wrong because, honey, he’s in a piss poor mood and I’m pregnant. That’s a bad combination.”

“I can’t come down there. Allie dumped Grady at my house this morning in a drive-by-drop-off on her way to Cincinnati with Jacks. He woke me up standing on my chest.”

Emma was quiet for a moment. “She did what?” she asked, laughing. “That sneaky little bitch. She didn’t go to Cincinnati with Jacks. She’s at home!”

“What do you mean, she’s at home?” I asked her, incredulously.

Emma’s laughter rang out through the phone, the clear, gleeful sound making me smile.

“Grady got ahold of two of Jackson’s shoes and chewed them up. And not of the same pair, either! He was threatening to do bad things to the poor little thing and Allie was so worried she must have snuck him out to your house away from Jacks!” Emma was laughing harder now.

“Oh, my God…she- wait, what? Jackson was threatening to do bad things? Like what?” I was genuinely taken aback by that because I knew my brother and he’d never hurt a hair on an animal’s head, let alone his Grady. He loves that dog! “He wouldn’t hurt Grady!”

“Allie said he threatened to…” she dropped her voice and whispered in mock fear/affront, “make him an outside dog!”

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