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Iâve got a secret.
No one knows how I blow off steam, and thatâs how I like it. Most of the time, Iâm happy just being part of a big family in a small town. And those times I need to get away are mine and mine alone.
My secret stays safe until I meet her â the woman who simultaneously pisses me off and turns me on. She seems like a wallflower at first, but it turns out thereâs a lot more to her than I realized. Despite her hidden strength, she has a vulnerability I canât resist.
As we open up to each other, I realize sheâs starting to mean everything to me. She doesnât feel the same way, but that wonât stop me from doing whatever it takes to keep her safe â even if it means exposing my secret to her. Iâm in way over my head, and all I can hope is that someday, sheâll feel the same way about me.
The moment I saw her, my gut shouldâve told me I was looking at a truly amazing woman. That behind the frumpy faÃ§ade was a smart, sexy gem Iâd be damned lucky for even a chance with. But I didnât get it. There was no gut feeling, no magnetic pull, so I was my usual dismissive, arrogant self. And damn, would I regret it later.
My brother Reed grinned at me with amusement as I set a box on the ground.
âThat one too heavy for you, princess?â he asked. âNeed me to get it?â
âFuck off,â I growled. âI was just losing my grip.â
I picked up the box and followed him through a side entrance to Grieves House, the mansion Reed and his wife Ivy had bought last year and renovated into a home for pregnant teenagers. We were moving in the belongings of Ivyâs friend April, who was the new house mom here.
âThis one says âmiscellaneous odds and endsâ,â I said, lowering my brows as I read the neat, feminine print on the box. âWho spends this much time labeling boxes when theyâre moving? I just throw my shit in boxes and then dig through âem when I need something âtil theyâre all unpacked.â
âJust set it by the closet down in her bedroom,â Reed said. âApril and Ivy will be back soon and we can ask her if she wants anything moved.â
I grunted and headed for the door to the basement. âWhereâd they go?â
âTo the diner. Ivy was anxious to introduce April to Margie and Gene.â He opened the basement door for me. âYouâve met April, right?â
I headed down the stairs with him behind me, answering when weâd made it to the largest bedroom in the recently finished basement.
âI saw her at your wedding but never talked to her.â
Reed rolled his eyes with disapproval. âThatâs because you brought Marcie Lawson to our wedding. She wore a skin-tight leopard print dress and hot pink heels.â
âDid she?â I scrunched my face in thought. âHuh. I donât even remember getting her out of that dress after the reception, but I know I did.â
âThatâs because you were drunk.â
I arched my brows at him. âYou know what I didnât get her out of? The shoes. That, I remember.â
âAprilâs most definitely in a classier league than Marcie. Sheâs a great person. Pretty, too. You guys should go on a double date with me and Ivy.â
I made a low sound of doubt in my throat. âSheâs not my type, man. I wouldnât want to hurt her feelings.â
âYouâre typeâs a whore, Mason. And youâre thirty years old. When are you gonna grow up?â
I shrugged. âDidnât think I had to since you and Austin and Kyle are all married with kids. Mom and Dad got the grandkids they wanted.â
âI donât want you to consider April for Mom and Dadâs sake. Youâd be surprised how great it is to date a woman you can have an intelligent conversation with.â
âIâm sure Aprilâs nice,â I said, running a hand through my hair. âAnd I know I could stand to choose women with â¦ more substance. But I have to feel an attraction, you know? And sheâs â¦ I donât know, kinda mousy. With the glasses and cardigan and long skirt. She looks like a librarian. You know how I am. Iâd run over her before she even saw me coming.â
Reed nodded slightly in acknowledgement. âSheâs actually quite pretty. Youâd know if youâd paid attention to someone other than Marcie at our wedding. But I guess youâre right. I donât want you hurting her or using her.â
My skin tingled with defensiveness. âHey, Iâve never used a woman who didnât want to be used.â
My brother gave a doubtful groan and we silently agreed to disagree. The older we got, the less we came to blows over our differences. I missed the old days, when weâd always settled things with our fists.