Page 31 of Tripping on a Halo

He reached down and pulled me up to my feet. “If you’ve done this much research, then you know I’m trustworthy enough to take care of you.”

“But…” I protested, my hands scrambling for his neck as he bent down and scooped me up. “Wait, what are you doing?”

“Carrying you inside. You can’t track all of this shit through your house.” He looked concerned, and I couldn’t believe he was carrying me with such ease. I wasn’t exactly a porterhouse, but I was a well-rounded girl. He should have grunted a little when lifting me up. The muscles in his neck should be flexing from the weight. Ansley’s husband once put me on his shoulders during a chicken fight, and he flushed tomato red, his knees wobbling under the strain.

But Declan was smiling down at me, and close enough to kiss. That realization made me remember my embarrassing pillage of his mouth and I looked away, distracting myself with looking for my purse. I spotted it on its side near the column, half its contents spilling out, including a maxi pad big enough to act as a Titanic life raft. I forced my features to remain calm. “The keys are in my purse.”

He kept me in his arms, one under my knees, the other supporting my back, and did a squat, his hand awkwardly shuffling through the brown tote.

I groaned. “Let me.” I reached over, my elbow almost taking out his cheek, and grabbed my purse, bringing it to my chest and rummaging through it like a raccoon going through trash. I found my keys and sorted through them, finding the one covered in a sunflower print and holding it up. “Here. Please don’t kill me. And if you do, take my body with you. I have serious fears of my pig eating me.”

His grinned dropped. “That’s morbid.”

“It’s a side effect of nervousness. Trust me, I get a lot worse.” One side effect of constantly stressing over a man’s untimely death—my walking encyclopedia of macabre possibilities.

“I’m not going to kill you.” He worked the key into the lock and turned it, pushing open the door with his foot.

“Light switch is on the left.” I reached over, dropping my purse on the entrance table and returned my hands to their proper place around his neck. It was pretty romantic, him bringing me over the threshold. If I was in a wedding dress and he loved me, this would be the conclusion of every dream I’d ever had. Of course, I wasn’t in a wedding dress. I was in a potato, so we could stab that fantasy in the eye and move on.

He swung the door shut, the impact loud. From down the hall, I heard a crashing sound—Mr. Oinks falling off the couch—then the click of his hooves as he nosed his way out the door and down the hall toward us, grunting with excitement. Fun fact: pigs have horrible vision. He was almost on top of us before he realized that I was suspended in Declan’s arms, a turn of events that had him scrambling backward, an alarmed squeal coming out.

“Oh God,” Declan said. “The pig lives with you?”

“Of course he does,” I said indignantly. Leaning forward, I cooed at Mr. Oinks. “It’s okay, buddy. Everything’s just fine.” I straightened. “Just ignore him. You can put me down, you know. My floors have seen worse. They can handle it.”

“Nah.” His hands tightened. “Where’s the bathroom?”

I considered the possibility of him cleaning my foot in the powder room and dismissed it. “Down the hall to the left. The double doors.”

My bedroom wasn’t prepared for entrance. The bed was unmade, the television still on, my discarded outfits slung over every surface. He breezed through without comment, nudging open the bathroom door with his knee and bringing me into the master bath. Mr. Oinks followed, grunting in pleasure when Declan carefully set me on the edge of the garden tub. His tail wiggled and I leaned down, scratching his ears. “Good boy.”

Declan rolled up his sleeves and turned the bathtub’s handles, his forearms flexing from the motion. Water spewed out of the faucet and he reached out, testing the temperature. I was reminded suddenly of Joel, the plumber, and how he’d dragged his wet fingers across Bethany’s lips. A whimper involuntarily slipped out. He glanced over, his brows knitting in question, and I coughed. “Sorry. I just bumped the cut.”

He nodded, all business, completely unaware of the arousalfest that was doing jumping jacks in my panties. Pulling me closer to the edge of the tub, he knelt and lifted up my left foot.

“I can do this,” I blushed. “I mean, thank you, but you don’t have to—”

“I want to,” he interrupted me. “It’s the least I can do for a woman who took the trouble to dig up my college transcript.” He glanced over at me and grinned, and my libido really couldn’t handle this image. His strong build, kneeling before me. Those capable hands on my foot. His hair still tousled from our kiss, those perfect teeth exposed as he grinned. He had a few days of scruff on his face, and that, paired with the tan skin and the white button-up, was the most delicious thing I’d ever seen. No wonder the universe needed me to protect him. Men like this had to be preserved, be kept safe, had to grow up and father a dozen more mini-Declans to preserve—