Head Over Heels
“If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” Chloe Traeger
It wasn’t often that Chloe Traeger beat her sisters into the kitchen in the morning, but with Tara and Maddie currently sleeping with the town’s two hottest hotties, it’d been only a matter of time.
And in the name of fairness, Chloe hadn’t actually gotten to bed yet, but that was just a technicality. With a wide yawn, she started the coffee. Then gathering what she needed, she hopped up onto the counter – hissing in pain from her throbbing legs. The quiet in the kitchen soothed her as she mixed ingredients together for her natural antibacterial cream. Given how loudly she lived her life, the silence was a nice start to the day.
Especially today, which promised to get crazy quickly, though not much could out-crazy last night. Later in the afternoon, she’d be doing her esthetician thing at a high-end spa in Seattle, but first she had to put in some time here in Lucky Harbor at the B&B that she ran with her sisters.
The fact that her days were centering around work instead of play had her shaking her head with a rueful smile. Oh, how things change. Only a year ago, she’d been free as a bird, roaming happily from spa to spa at will, with no real ties. Then she and the half-sisters she’d never really known had inherited a dilapidated, falling-down-on-its-axis beach inn. With absolutely no knowledge of what to do with it.
Hard to believe how far they’d come. They’d renovated, turned the place into a thriving B&B, and now Chloe, Tara, and Maddie were real sisters instead of strangers. Friends, even.
Well, okay, so they were still working on the friends part, but they hadn’t fought all week. Progress, right? And the fact that Chloe had been gone for four of the past seven days working at a five-star hotel spa in Arizona instead of here in Washington didn’t count.
Chloe looked down at the organic lavender oil she’d just “borrowed” from Tara’s stash for her cream and winced.
Probably she could work harder on the friend thing…
Out the window, waves pounded the rocky shore in the purple light of dawn as she yawned again and stirred the softened beeswax and lanolin together with the lavender oil. When she was done, she carefully poured the cream into a sterile bottle. Then, still sitting on the counter, she tugged the legs of her sweat bottoms up to her knees, cringing in pain as she began to apply the antiseptic to the two long gashes on each of her calves. She was still sucking in a pained breath when the back door opened.
Sheriff Sawyer Thompson.
He practically had to duck to come in. He was in uniform, gun at his hip, expression dialed to Dirty Harry, and just looking at him had something pinging low in Chloe’s belly.
He didn’t appear to have the same reaction to her, of course. Nothing rippled Sawyer’s implacable calm or got past that tough exterior. And he did have a hell of an exterior. At six feet three inches, he was built like a linebacker. But in a stunning defiance of physics, he usually had a way of moving all those mouth-watering muscles with an easy, male, fluid grace that would make an extreme fighter jealous.
Stupid muscles, Chloe thought as something deep within her tightened again from just looking at him. Some complicated combination of annoyance and reluctant lust. Last she’d checked, they had developed a sort of uneasy truce, meaning he lived by his rules and she lived by hers. Mostly this meant two different roads to the same conclusion, but there’d been some … misunderstandings.
Not wanting to explain last night — which would undoubtedly lead to another misunderstanding — she quickly yanked her sweat pants legs down to hide her injuries, shooting him the most professional smile in her repertoire. “Sheriff,” she said smoothly.
The guarded expression that he wore as purposefully as he did the gun at his hip slipped for a single beat as he looked around. “Just you this morning?”
“Yep.” Her smile turned genuine as Chloe enjoyed achieving what few could. She’d knocked that blank expression right off his face. She knew that was because he hadn’t been expecting her. It was usually Tara who made the coffee every morning, coffee so amazing that Sawyer routinely stopped by on his way to work for a cup instead of facing the station’s crap.
“Tara’s not out of Ford’s bed yet,” she informed him.
The mention of his best friend and Chloe’s sister in bed together made him grimace. Or more likely, it was Chloe’s bluntness. In either case, he recovered and strode to the coffee maker, his gait oddly measured, as if he was as tired-to-the-bone as she.
The county police and sheriff departments played weekly baseball games against the firefighters and paramedics, and they’d had one last night. Maybe Sawyer had played too hard. Maybe he’d had a hot date after. Given how women tried to get pulled over by him just to get face time, it was possible. After all, according to Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page, phone calls to the county dispatch made by females between the ages of twenty-one and forty went up substantially whenever Sawyer was on duty.
His utility belt gleamed in the bright overhead light. His uniform shirt was wrinkled in the back and damp with sweat. She was wondering about that when he turned to her, gesturing to the coffee pot questioningly.
Heaven forbid the man waste a single word. “Help yourself,” she said. “I just made it.”
That made him pause. “You poison it?”
From her perch on the counter, she smiled. “Maybe.”
With a small head shake, Sawyer reached into the cupboard for the to-go mugs Tara kept there for him.
“You’re feeling brave then,” she noted.
He lifted a broad-as-a-mountain shoulder as he poured, then pointed to her own mug steaming on the counter at her side. “You’re drinking it. You’re a lot of things, Chloe, but crazy isn’t one of them.”
She suspected one of those ‘things’ was a big pain in his very fine ass but she shrugged.
Sawyer leaned his big frame against the counter to study her. Quiet. Speculative.
Undoubtedly, people caved when he did this, rushing to fill the silence. But silence had never bothered Chloe. No, what bothered her was the way she felt when he looked at her like that. For one thing, his eyes were mesmerizing. They were the color of melting milk chocolate but sometimes, like now, the tiny gold flecks in them sparked like fire. His hair was brown too, the sort that contained every hue under the sun and could never be replicated in a salon. At the moment, it was on the wrong side of his last cut and in a state of dishevelment, falling over his forehead in front and nearly to his collar in back. The lines in his face were drawn tight with exhaustion, and she realized that he probably hadn’t been headed in for his shift as she’d assumed, but just finishing one. Which meant that he’d been out all night too, fighting crime like a super hero.
And yet somehow, he still managed to smell good. Guy good. She didn’t understand it, but everything about him reminded her that she was a woman.
And that she hadn’t had sex in far too long. “Seems a little early, even for you,” she noted.
“Could say the same to you.”
Something in his voice caused the first little niggle of suspicion in her brain and put her on alert. “Got a lot of things to mix up for the day spa I’m running later,” she said.
His eyes never wavered from hers. “Or?”
Crap. Crap, she’d underestimated him. He was onto her, and the nerves quivered in her belly. “Or what?” she asked casually, shifting to get down off the counter, not looking forward to the pain at the contact. But Sawyer moved before she could, blocking her escape. His hips wedged between her legs, one hand on her thigh, the other on her opposite ankle, holding her in place.
“Romantic,” she said dryly, even as her heart began to pound. “But I should get breakfast first, don’t you think?”
“You’re bleeding through your sweatpants.” He shoved the sweats back up her legs to her knees, careful to avoid the wounds. As his eyes fixed on the deep gashes, the only sign he gave that he felt anything was the bunching of his jaw.
Chloe tried to pull free, but he was twice her size and tightened his grip on her thigh. “Hold still.” He looked over the injuries, expression grim. “Explain.”
“Um, I fell getting out of bed?”
He lifted his head and pinned her with his sharp gaze. “Try again, without the question mark.”
“I fell hiking.”
“Yeah,” he said. “And I have some swamp land to sell you.”
“Hey, I could be telling the truth.”
“You don’t hike, Chloe. It aggravates your asthma.”
Actually, as it was turning out, living aggravated her asthma.
Sawyer bent to look more closely, pushing her hand away when she tried to block his view. “Steel,” he said. “Steel fencing, I’m guessing. Probably rusted.”
Her heart stopped. He knew. It seemed impossible — she’d been so careful — but he knew.
“You need a tetanus shot.” He straightened his big frame but didn’t move or let her go. “And a keeper too,” he added tightly. “Where are the dogs, Chloe?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Except that she did. She knew because she’d spent the long hours of the night with her best friend Lance, procuring the very six dogs he’d just mentioned.
AKA stealing them.
But in her defense, it had been a matter of life and death. The young pit bulls belonged to a guy named Nick Raybo, who’d planned on fighting them for sport. What Chloe and Lance had done had undoubtedly saved the dogs’ lives, but had also been good old-fashioned breaking and entering. And since B&E wasn’t exactly legal …
Sawyer waited her out, and for the record, he was good at it. As big and bad as he was, he had more patience than Job, a result no doubt of his years behind the badge and hearing every outrageous story under the sun. And like probably thousands before her, Chloe caved like a cheap suitcase. “The dogs are with Lance,” she said on a sigh.
He stared at her for one stunned beat. “Jesus, Chloe.”
“They were going to die!”
His expression still said one-hundred-percent cop but there was a very slight softening in his tone. “You should have called me,” he said.
Maybe, she thought. “And you would have done what? They hadn’t begun the fighting yet so you couldn’t have taken the dogs off the property. And they were going to fight them tonight, Sawyer.” Even now it made her feel sick. “They were going to pit them against each other. To the death.” Her voice cracked a little on that but he didn’t comment as he once again bent his head and studied the gouges on her legs.
He’d been right about how she’d gotten them. It’d happened when she’d crawled beneath the fence behind Lance as they’d made their escape. She held her breath, not knowing what Sawyer might do. He could arrest her, certainly. But he didn’t reach for his cuffs or cite her Miranda rights, both good signs in her book.
“These are deep,” was all he said.
She let out a breath. “They’re not so bad.”
“You clean them out?” He ran a long, callused finger down her calf alongside one particularly nasty gash, and she shivered. Not from pain. Maybe it was her exhaustion, or hell, maybe it was just from having him stand so close, but the stoic, tough-guy thing was sort of doing it for her this morning. He was a little on edge and sweaty, and a whole lot hot and sexy, and utterly without her permission, her brain rolled out a “Stern Cop And The Bad Girl” fantasy …
She blinked away the image of him frisking her. “Yeah?”
His expression a little wary now, he repeated himself. “Did you clean these out?”
He slid her a look, and she smiled innocently, but clearly she needed to have her hormone levels checked when she got her tetanus booster for this injury because she was way too aware of the heat and strength of him emanating through his uniform. Not to mention the matching heat washing through her, which was especially annoying because she had a personal decree that she never dated uptight, unbending men — particularly ones with badges.
The back door opened and Chloe jumped. Not Sawyer. Nothing ruffled him. Hell, he probably had sex without getting ruffled.
No, she thought, glancing up into his eyes. That wasn’t true. Sawyer would have no qualms about getting ruffled, and a little shiver racked her body just as her sister Maddie walked into the kitchen, followed by her fiancé, Jax.
Not too long ago, both Tara and Chloe had nicknamed Maddie The Mouse, but she’d outgrown that moniker in spades since coming to Lucky Harbor. Now Maddie took one look at Sawyer wedged between Chloe’s thighs and stopped short so fast that Jax plowed into the back of her. “What’s this?” she demanded.
Chloe couldn’t blame anyone for the shock, as typically she and Sawyer didn’t share space well. In fact, usually when forced into close proximity, they resembled two tigers circling each other, teeth bared.
“Whatever it is,” Jax said, taking in the scene. “It looks like fun.” Jax was tall, lean, and on a mission as he poured himself a coffee and came directly toward Chloe, reaching for the drawer beneath her right thigh. “Can you move her leg?” he asked Sawyer. “I need a spoon, man.”
Mouth still agog, Maddie plopped down into a chair. She waggled a finger between Chloe and Sawyer. “So you two are …?”
“No!” Chloe said and shoved at Sawyer, who still didn’t budge, damn him. The two-hundred-plus lug was bent over her left calf again –the worst one — his hair brushing the insides of her thighs. She told herself not to think about how the silky strands would feel on her bare skin, but she totally did, and shivered again.
Sawyer looked up at her and she did her best to look cold instead of turned on. “You might actually need stitches,” he said.
With a horrified gasp, Maddie hopped up to come look. Seconds later, Chloe had her sister, her sister’s fiancé, and the man she didn’t quite know how to categorize at all, standing far too close, staring at her injuries. She tried to close her legs but couldn’t and tossed up her hands. “They’re just scratches!”
“Oh, Chloe,” Maddie murmured, concern creasing her brow. “Honey, you should have called me. What happened, and where else are you hurt?”
Sawyer’s gaze ran over Chloe’s entire body now, as if he could see through her sweats. A very naughty part of her brain considered telling him that the scratches went all the way up just so he’d demand a more thorough inspection.
Bad, bad brain. Because at just the thought, her chest tightened, and she had to reach for her inhaler, thanks to the asthma that always kept her slightly breathless.
And sexless. “It’s nothing,” she said. “I’m fine, alright? Back up.”
Sawyer gave Jax a light shove away from her. “She and Lance rescued six dogs from the McCarthy place last night,” he said to Maddie, ratting Chloe out without qualm.
Maddie shook her head, clearly horrified. “Chloe. God. That was … crazy dangerous.”
Hearing the worry in her voice had guilt tugging at Chloe. She couldn’t believe how much she’d grown to care about the two strangers that were her half-sisters, or for that matter, about Lucky Harbor and the people in it. The fact that she’d let down her guard enough to care at all was new.
For most of her childhood, it had been just Chloe and her mom, and the lessons had been clear: connections weren’t meant to last past the overnight camping pass. Only traditionalists let themselves get trapped by things like boring relationships or full-time jobs. The special people were destined to spread their wings and live life fully and freely.
Like Chloe and Phoebe.
“Raybo is crazy,” Maddie said, moving to get coffee. “It could have gotten ugly.”
Chloe wished Sawyer would move too and gave him a nudge with her foot. Actually, it might have been more like a kick. Didn’t matter, he was a mountain and didn’t move.
“It’s awfully hot in here,” Maddie said and opened the window.
“It’s called sexual tension.” Jax sent an eyebrow wriggle in Sawyer’s and Chloe’s direction.
Humor from the Peanut Gallery.
Sawyer sent Jax the sort of long, level look that undoubtedly had bad guys losing control of their bowels, but Jax just smiled. “If I was going to make that move on a woman, I’d at least have bought her breakfast first.”
Chloe nodded. “That’s what I said.”
Maddie plopped into Jax’s lap to cuddle up to him. “You made plenty of moves on me before you ever bought me breakfast.”
“I’m not making moves,” Sawyer said. Maddie and Jax stared pointedly at his position between Chloe’s thighs. He lifted his hands from her as if he’d been burned, backing up with his hands in the air. “Okay, I’m going to bed now. Alone.”
“You know what your problem is?” Jax asked. “You don’t know how to have fun. Haven’t for a long time.”
“Does this…” Sawyer pointed in the general vicinity of Chloe’s lower body, “look anything like fun to you?”
Jax choked back a snort, and even Maddie bit her lower lip to hide a smile.
“Jesus,” Sawyer said with a small head shake. “You know what I mean.”
Yeah. He’d meant the sorry mess Chloe had made of her legs, as well as the risks she’d taken last night, but she said “hey” anyway in token protest. Because dammit, her lower half could be lots of fun.
If she ever got to use it, that is.