Animal magnetism, p.20
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       Animal Magnetism, p.20
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         Part #1 of Animal Magnetism series by Jill Shalvis

  encourage her. The last time he’d smiled at her she’d come by every single day for two weeks.

  “Sorry for the delay, guys,” he said to the room at large. “I’ll go get cleaned up and be right back.” He went into his office, and Lorraine sat with a huff.

  Brady’s gaze tracked directly to Lilah, and a little frisson of anticipation danced down her spine. At the same moment, the ferret decided he was bored and leapt out of his owner’s hands to playfully bump its head to Lorraine’s son’s leg.

  The boy went berserk, tipping his head back and screaming bloody murder.

  The ferret dove beneath his owner’s chair, then peeked out, eyes bright, staring at the incredibly loud little human.

  Brady was the closest to the kid. “Are you hurt?”

  He only screamed louder. A few of the people waiting put fingers in their ears.

  Brady craned his neck and eyed the waiting room, clearly trying to figure out who the boy belonged to.

  Lorraine was filing her nails.

  “Hey,” Brady said to the boy. “Only people who are bleeding out get to scream like that. Are you bleeding out?”

  The boy stopped screaming to stare at him wide-eyed and openmouthed.

  “Are you?”

  Probably having no idea what “bleeding out” even meant, the boy shook his head.

  “Good.” With a nod, Brady rose to his feet and headed toward the stairs but not before giving Lilah a look that had Jade fanning herself.

  “Good Lord,” Jade whispered. “Dr. Death is hot.”

  “Hot,” one of the women agreed from the first chair across the desk. “He makes me sweat in interesting places.”

  Every other woman in the room nodded.

  “Did you see the look he sent you?” Jade asked Lilah. She gulped down some of her ice water. “If he ever looked at me like that, my panties would just go whoosh, up in flames.”

  Lilah could understand that. Her panties did the same. It did something to her to watch Brady deal with silly women who got too attached to every animal to cross their paths with the same aplomb he handled a screaming kid, even though he clearly wasn’t sure what to make of any of it. Which didn’t stop him from living his life the way he wanted to.

  She admired that and thought maybe she could get better at doing the same.

  Ten minutes later, he came back down the stairs wearing fresh clothes, hair still damp from his shower. He headed out the door, and she followed. “You brought me breakfast.”

  He looked at her, eyes warm and assessing. “You looked a quart low last night. Thought maybe you could use the pick-me-up.”

  “I was, and did,” she said. “Why didn’t you sleep with me?”

  They’d crossed the yard and were heading toward Smitty’s, where the Bell 47 was tied down.

  “Sleeping with you is . . . ” He hesitated.

  “What?”

  At the chopper, he turned to face her. At the confused, defensive look on her face, a faint smile crossed his lips. “Amazing.” Then he shocked her by leaning in to kiss her.

  When she sucked in an aroused breath, he slid his tongue against hers and melted all her bones. “And,” he added, “confusing.”

  “Confusing. What’s confusing?”

  “You.” He ran a hand over the chopper’s steel body, making Lilah remember, vividly, what it felt like to have those hands stroking her.

  “Okay,” she said. “Now I’m confused.”

  He turned to face her. “You wanted fun and easy. A light relationship, with an expiration date.”

  “I did.”

  “So this is me, trying to give you what you want.”

  “Sometimes,” she said slowly, “what a woman wants is complicated.”

  “No shit.” He let out a breath. “I’m just trying like hell to be a good guy here and make sure no one gets hurt.”

  “Who’s going to get hurt?” But she already knew the answer to that, of course.

  She was going to get hurt.

  He stroked a strand of hair from her temple, and then ran his finger over her jaw, across her lower lip until it trembled open for him.

  And then he leaned in and kissed her again, with such heat and hunger and desire that she was clinging to him, shaking, by the time he pulled back. All she could do was blink up at him, realizing just how right he was to try to hold back. Because suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly at all, she was wanting a lot more than the easy fun she’d promised him.

  She struggled to get a handle on herself. Was she so obvious in her feelings for him that he had to worry about her? Yeah. Yeah, she was. She didn’t have his seasoned inscrutable mask to hide her emotions. “Maybe it’s going to be you who gets hurt,” she finally said. “I’m pretty damn unforgettable, you know.”

  “You are,” he agreed so softly that she had to strain to hear him, and even then, she wasn’t sure if he’d really said it or if she just wanted him to.

  Sixteen

  Several mornings later, Brady drove into town. His plans included something hot for breakfast and caffeine, since he’d stayed up until all hours, restless.

  Sleepless.

  He and Twinkles had ended up going for a long drive, his mind free. No, that wasn’t exactly true. His mind hadn’t been free at all. He’d ended up sitting at the lake’s edge, he and the dog, staring out at the supposedly magical waters. On his way home, the truck had taken him to Lilah’s cabin.

  Fucking truck.

  Because there’d been a light on, he’d gotten out and knocked. When she hadn’t answered, he’d looked into the window and seen her at her table, head down on her books, fast asleep.

  Again.

  He couldn’t have altered what he’d done next even if he’d had to walk through an enemy camp to do it. Breaking in was no problem. Nor was being silent as he did so.

  He’d been trained by the good ol’ US of A.

  For the second time that week, he’d carried Lilah to bed without waking her—and just how many times was she going to work herself into such exhaustion that he could even do that? Still, he savored the task and the silence of the night all around them for long moments before forcing himself to leave instead of climbing into bed with her.

  He’d headed back out into the dark night from which he’d come, letting his eyes and ears search out anything that didn’t belong. But this wasn’t some third-world country, and he wasn’t searching out some foreign operative. Unfortunately, old habits were hard to break, and at his core he was still a soldier.

  But all had been as it should be, leaving him no choice but to go.

  Now it was morning, and in the light of day he could only shake his head at himself. He was doing just that when a dented red Jeep pulled in behind him at 7-Eleven.

  Familiar denim-clad legs and a set of scuffed boots appeared at his side.

  Lilah shoved her sunglasses to the top of her head and grinned at him. “You’ll notice I didn’t rear-end you.”

  “I did notice.” He looked down at the duck on the leash. “Abigail.”

  “Quack,” Abigail said.

  “Funny thing about last night,” Lilah told Brady. “I fell asleep studying and woke up in bed. What do you think about that?”

  “I think you need more sleep.”

  “I can sleep after midterms. I’m looking for breakfast. You?”

  “Definitely.” They walked into the convenience store together.

  “Lilah Anne Young,” the woman behind the register said. She was possibly a hundred years old, with an unlit cigarette hanging out of her mouth. “What did I tell you about that duck?”

  Lilah smiled. “To cook her at three hundred and fifty for an hour and a half before eating?”

  The woman cackled. “Yeah, and don’t forget the pepper.” She turned her sharp eye on Brady. “Morning, Dr. Death.”

  Lilah snickered and he sent her a quelling look that only made her snicker again. She had a bran muffin in her hand that he knew she would never eat and
was looking over the drink choices when a guy walked up to her and slipped his arms around her waist as if she was his, whispering something in her ear.

  Whatever he said made Lilah smile and lean back into him a minute before turning in his arms and giving him a hug that was warm and familiar and made Brady grind his back teeth together.

  It was ten full seconds before the fucker took his hands off her, which Brady knew because he counted.

  Lilah hadn’t objected. Nope, she’d cupped the guy’s face and grinned up into it. “When did you get back?”

  “Late last night. Come on, I’ll take you out for a real breakfast.”

  “Hey, Ian,” the lady behind the counter called out. “Nice that you’re back, but don’t you be taking my paying customers elsewhere.”

  Brady decided it was a damn good time to come up behind Lilah, leaving just enough room for maybe a single sheet of paper to fit between them.

  Ian took a long look at him, and from over Lilah’s head, Brady looked right back.

  Lilah craned her neck and gave Brady a what-the-hell-are-you-doing expression, but he ignored it.

  “Ian,” Lilah said with a little shake of her head, “this is Brady Miller. Brady, Ian runs an outfitter company out of Sunshine.” Lilah turned back to Ian. “And sorry, no breakfast date today. I already have one.” Again she looked at Brady, brows up, like yes, I’m still having breakfast with you even though you are a dumbass.

  Fine. He was a dumbass. He could live with that.

  “You want to explain that back there?” Lilah asked when they were outside on the sidewalk a few minutes later, with Abigail at their feet fussing with her feathers.

  “Explain what?” he asked, leading her to one of the three small tables out front, where they sat to eat.

  “The Neanderthal routine.”

  Ian came out of the store with a bag, stopping to squeeze Lilah’s shoulder and give her another kiss on the cheek.

  Brady considered his options. More Neanderthal-ness or play it cool. He went with cool because the poor bastard was clearly just another besotted fool. Probably another ex, which was baffling all in itself. For Brady, when things were over, they were over. He watched until Ian had walked away and shook his head.

  “What,” she said. “He’s a friend.”

  “Another ex?”

  She shook her head. “It never got that far.”

  Best thing he’d heard all morning. “And yet he’s still in your orbit. You have us all just circling you, you realize that, right? Just hoping for a piece of you.”

  She stared at him, then laughed. “It’s not like that.”

  “It’s exactly like that. We’re all pathetic.” He playfully tugged a strand of her hair. “Willing to take any piece of you we can get.”

  “Yeah?” She cocked her head and studied him, amused. “Which piece would you want?”

  Any piece you’d give me . . . “Guess.”

  Her smile went a little naughty. “Well, I do have a few pieces you especially like . . .”

  There were more than few actually, but he shook his head. This time he wanted something she wasn’t offering. Something he wasn’t even sure he wanted to admit to yearning for.

  A piece of her heart.

  Just a little piece so that when he left and felt the pain of the separation, he’d know someone else felt it, too. “Dell’s hinting around about me staying longer,” he said out of the blue, and sipped his coffee to shut himself up.

  She choked on hers. “Did you tell him that you don’t do ‘stay’?”

  “I did.”

  Her smile slowly faded. “Don’t tell me. Just thinking about it has you rushing out of here.”

  He took her hand. “Oddly enough, I don’t feel much like rushing.”

  She nodded, face solemn now. “So . . . how much longer?”

  He ran his thumb over her knuckles, scraped from her latest plumbing misadventure. “Eager to get rid of me, Lilah?”

  She squeezed his fingers. “Maybe I just want to make sure you get that piece of me that you want.”

  All of them, he thought, revising her earlier statement. I want all of your pieces.

  Several days later a situation came up about a hundred miles north. A pack of three dogs were making pests of themselves on a small ranch owned by an older couple who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, take over the responsibility of placing the animals. If Lilah didn’t go get the dogs, they’d be euthanized.

  She was just getting into her Jeep when her passenger door opened. Twinkles leapt into the back and then Brady folded his long body into the front seat next to her. He put on his seat belt and lowered his sunglasses over his eyes before he turned and looked at her.

  She stared at him while Twinkles leaned forward and licked her ear in greeting. “What’s up?”

  Brady shrugged. “I thought about offering to fly you, but I didn’t have any wine to ply you with.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you fly better when you’re wasted.”

  She rolled her eyes. “I mean, why are you here? In my Jeep?”

  “Now see,” he said all long-limbed grace and testosterone. “That hurts. Maybe I just want to hang out with you.”

  She stared at him. “Dell kicked you out of Belle Haven today.” She laughed. “He did, didn’t he, Dr. . . . Death?”

  Brady swore and slouched in the seat, six feet of dark, brooding ’tude. “He said that they had some big rancher head honcho coming by today and that he and Adam couldn’t afford to have him catch wind of the Dr. Death thing.”

  Lilah grinned. “Well, lucky for you, I’m not nearly so selective.” She hit the gas and they took off. Brady was quiet but there was no denying he was nice company and even nicer to look at. Halfway there, she had to stop for fuel. Brady pumped the gas while she headed into the convenience store, coming out arms loaded. “Got us some goodies.”

  He took the bags from her and the driver’s spot.

  “You’re a control freak,” she said.

  “I like to drive.”

  “Control. Freak.”

  He didn’t bother denying that. He searched through the bag and gave a very male sound of satisfaction as he pulled out a loaded hot dog.

  Lilah tossed Twinkles a doggie bone and pulled out the nachos for herself. “I know the way to your good side,” she said to Brady.

  “I’ll show you a better way later.”

  She smiled. The truth was, he could show her anything he wanted. “Uh-huh. Promises, promises.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “That I’m thinking you’re all talk and no go.”

  He slid her a look.

  She nodded.

 
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