We stayed and visited with the happy little family a while longer before Brandon said he wanted to go check in at the shop with T.J. to see how things were going. T.J. had been a lifesaver the past week, taking over the shop and running it almost as if Luke and Brandon had been there the whole time.

Both Brandon and Luke had commented on how impressed they were by their strong, silent new friend. In a short amount of time, they’d come to trust him implicitly, and he’d become one of us, part of the group. In the back of my mind, though, the thought still floats around that he’s got a story, that one, and I’d love to figure it out.

We left the hospital and Brandon dropped me off at my brother’s house to spend some time with them while he checked in on the shop. I let myself in with the key they’d given me a while back, hurrying to the alarm pad to key in the code so the alarm wouldn’t go off. The house was strangely silent.

I walked into the living room and bit my lip to keep from laughing at the sight. Grady was lying on the floor beside the bassinet where the baby was sleeping, his tail thumping softly on the rug, but he didn’t get up to greet me. My mom was curled up in the chair beside the bassinet, reading a book on her Kindle and shushing me quietly with a finger to her lips.  Jackson and Allie were on opposite ends of the couch, each sprawled out and sleeping like the dead, mouths open, snoring…it wasn’t pretty.

My mom sat her kindle down and motioned me into the kitchen with her, so we could talk quietly. We chatted for a while, mostly about the babies, until my phone chimed in my pocket. It was Brandon, letting me know he was getting ready to leave the shop to come get me. I texted him back to let him know that everyone was sleeping and agreed to meet him outside.

Half an hour later, I was standing in my kitchen, trying to make sense of the chaos…

Brandon was no help whatsoever. He was standing there laughing uncontrollably.

My eyes shot daggers as I glared in his direction, my palm itching to smack the grin off his face. I don’t think I would have been so upset, but this was my coffee we were talking about, here…my COFFEE!

Every single K-Cup I owned, that I pop into my Keurig every morning to make sure I have the necessary caffeine in my veins, was strewn across the kitchen floor. And every single one of them had puncture holes in the tops and sides. Little puncture holes that matched up perfectly to the pearly white canine teeth currently staring at me from the mouth of the blonde puppy sitting across the room, smirking at me. Of course, those pearly whites were suspiciously decorated with tiny black dots, which were identical to the coffee grounds peppering my floor from where they’d been shaken free.

Doug was nowhere to be found, I’m assuming to make sure the blame was placed directly on the coffee murderer in front of me. Nothing else was disturbed, not the soap, not my shoes, not anything else.

Just my coffee.


Chapter 18

I paused in my efforts to rid my flower beds of weeds, wiping my forehead with the hem of my tank as I looked around. Brandon was mowing the grass, shirtless, so of course I took a moment longer to stare at the smorgasboard of hotness before my eyes. God, he was so hot…and holy mother of toe-curling orgasms, the man had the stamina of a horse. The things he could do with those hands and that mouth…

He caught my eye and shook his head, smiling at me knowingly, as he turned to make another swipe through the grass. He disappeared beside the garage and I shook my head at my thoughts, smiling as I started pulling weeds again.

It’d been a month since the babies were born and since everything had settled back to normal. Or at least to the new normal, anyway.

We’d gotten word from the police that they had a lead on Greg out in Texas. Not sure what he would be doing there, but good riddance. Mom had finally flown home, but she’d decided that she didn’t want to be there when her kids and new grandbaby are here, so she planned to sell the house in California and find something here in Phillus.

She still gets a kick out of the welcome sign every time she sees that it’s been painted over again. Now the kids are getting creative; instead of just changing it to Phallus, they’ve started using phrases, the latest being, ‘Phillus Up.’

Brandon keeps swearing that he’s going to come up with something good to change it to and go do it himself. I just tell him that if he gets arrested and has to spend the night in jail, I’m not bailing his ass out.

I shifted, leaning forward on my knees to reach a weed that was closer to the bush under the living room window. A glint caught my eye and I moved closer to see what it was. As soon as the object came into focus, I jerked back on a gasp, stumbled to my feet, and looked around fearfully, my heart pounding out of my chest.

Brandon came back around the side of the house on the mower and, when he caught sight of me, he turned it off and was at my side in an instant. “Chloe, what’s wrong? You’re white as a ghost, baby, talk to me.”

“He’s been here,” I whispered, my eyes still darting around, scanning the houses around us.

Brandon grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me gently until my eyes met his. “What do you mean, he’s been here?”

I pointed to the bush. “Don’t touch it! We have to call the cops…he’s been here. He’s been watching and he left me something to let me know it. The ring he gave me when he proposed…it’s hanging on the branch there.”

Brandon moved closer to see and swore when he saw the diamond winking in the sunlight. “C’mon,” he said brusquely, pulling me with him into the house. He strode directly to the counter where he’d left his phone and grabbed it, wasting no time in dealing with the police. No, he went straight to a detective and called Noah, Emma’s brother-in-law.

“Noah…not good at the moment, man. Listen, I need you to come over here. That fucking bastard has been lurking around the house.” He listened for a minute, grunting and nodding in assent, I’m assuming, to whatever Noah was saying. “Yup. Later.”

He shoved his phone in his pockets and turned to me. “He’s on his way out here. I’m gonna go put the mower away and clean up the weeds you tossed, but you sit tight.” He kissed my lips briefly and went outside, leaving me standing alone in the kitchen.

I leaned against the counter and put a hand to my head, realizing belatedly that it was shaking. I took a deep breath and let it out, giving myself a pep talk. ‘Nothing is going to happen, Chloe. Brandon and everybody, they’re all here for you and YOU aren’t that girl anymore. So calm the fuck down.’

I heard the door slam again and Brandon was back in front of me, pulling me into his arms so that my cheek was pressed to his bare, sweaty chest. I really wouldn’t have minded it, in fact, it felt pretty welcome to me, but he had bits of grass stuck all over him and those didn’t feel very nice sticking to my face.

I pushed away a little to look up at him and he chuckled, brushing the grass off my face. “Sorry. I forgot.”

I smiled faintly and shrugged it off. I opened my mouth to say something but didn’t get a chance as someone pounded on the door. Brandon went to the door, checking to make sure it was Noah before he opened it.

He clapped Noah on the shoulder as he came inside. “Thanks for coming so quick, man. You must have run every light from the precinct to here.”

Tags: J.M. Stone Skin Deep Young Adult
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