“Working hard, huh?” the stranger asked as Brooke quickly navigated to the red x and clicked out of the screen.
She looked up at him with a guilty smile.
“Oh—yeah— It’s—uh—research for a class. Gender Studies. I’m in college, but I’m just filling in for my mom. This isn’t my normal job. I also work part-time at a hardware store—”
Shut up, Brooke. He doesn’t need your life story.
“So yeah—um—if you take a seat, Mr. Lawson will be right with you, Mr—”
“Anderson. Josiah Anderson. And you are?”
“Mitchell. Brooke Mitchell.”
He chuckled softly before moving toward the corner of the room and planting himself on the squeaky leather couch.
He must think I’m such an idiot.
I AM such an idiot!
Brooke locked eyes with her computer screen and pretended to busy herself with work.
But she found she could still smell him—even from this distance.
His scent was an intoxicating blend of pine and leather.
She yearned to be beside him, to bury her nose in his chest, to take a long, deep sniff of that natural, manly musk.
Half-way through typing a completely fake email to no one in particular, Brooke heard the front door open again.
Her eyes darted up to find a red-faced young man in a cheap, rumpled suit.
Lucas Lawson Jr.
Oblivious to the guest in the corner, Lucas made a beeline for Brooke.
“Hey sexy lady,” was his greeting this morning…and every morning that she filled in for her mother at the front desk.
“Good morning, Lucas,” she replied.
She hated dignifying him with a response, but he was one of her bosses. She felt she had no choice but to keep things civil.
“You gonna take me up on that date anytime soon?” Lucas asked. “I can get us a reservation at Il Tiato. That’s right. The owner is a personal friend.”
“No, thank you,” she replied through gritted teeth, for what felt like the millionth time.
“Come on. We’ll have fun. You don’t wear a shirt like that to the office unless you’re looking to get my attention.”
Brooke’s breath started to contract. She couldn’t catch a break with the men in this town.
They were always taking advantage of her kindness—always making false assumptions about her.
“Please, just let me get back to work,” she pleaded, turning again toward her computer.
“Don’t avoid me. When I see something I want, I—”
I always find a way to get it.
She had heard this speech before, but something stopped him from finishing his diatribe this time around.
When Brooke looked up at him, she saw a large, strong hand resting on Lucas Lawson’s shoulder.
He couldn’t stand another minute watching this weasel flirt with Brooke.
Flirt? More like harass her from across the desk.
Josiah felt a sudden animalistic urge to protect her. His perpetually short fuse was about to blow.
Before he could stop himself, he was back on his feet, holding the creep’s shoulder in his grasp.
“You know,” he said, his voice slow and steady. “I was taught to respect a woman when she says ‘no.’”
“Is that so?” Lucas asked. He didn’t even bother to look at Josiah, and his tone conveyed utter disinterest.
“Oh yeah,” Josiah said.
“Well,” Lucas snickered, finally turning around, “I was taught to mind my own busin—”
He trailed off as soon as he saw the giant standing behind him. In an instant, all the color drained from his face, and his lip, once curled with a sneer, began to quiver.
Josiah wanted to shove him to the ground. To unleash just a little bit of the anger that was always simmering beneath the surface since Misty had died.
No! Breathe. Stay calm.
Instead of wailing on Lucas, he just tightened his grip ever so slightly and enjoyed watching the fear mount in Lucas’s eyes.
“Why don’t you get to work and stop bothering her. Yes?”
“Don’t tell me what to do. This is my office,” Lucas huffed under the weight of Josiah’s arm.
Just then, a door behind Brooke’s desk flew open, and the elder Mr. Lawson appeared. He gaped at the scene in front of him.
“Actually,” the stout, world-worn man corrected, “this is my office. What is going on here?”
“Dad, call the police. This lowlife is assaulting me.”
“Mr. Lawson, this is Josiah Anderson,” Brooke interjected.
Josiah wanted her to say his name again. The sound of it coming out of her mouth unknotted all the tension in his body.
He pulled away from Lucas and reached a hand toward Mr. Lawson, who shook it.
“Pleasure to meet you, Josiah. Thank you for making the journey.”
“Dad!?” Lucas whined. “What are you doing??”
“Son. It’s already noon. You’re three hours late. Stop bothering Mr. Anderson and do your job.”
Lucas slinked off, and Mr. Lawson cleared his throat.
“Sorry about all that. Find the Anderson/Tucker file for me, Brooke. Mr. Anderson, come with me, please.”
As Josiah followed Mr. Lawson into his office, he smiled at Brooke one final time, wishing that he was headed into a private room with her instead.
It’s not wrong for me to feel this way, right? Josiah thought as he followed Lawson into the office. ~After all, it’s been three years. I’m allowed to be attracted to other women.~
He nodded to himself.
Especially beautiful women like that.
He imagined this woman letting him push her down onto her desk, pressing his lips against hers, and ripping open her blouse to reveal her bare chest to him.
He felt his pants grow tighter as he fantasized about leaving a trail of kisses down her neck, each one eliciting a soft mew of pleasure.
No! Stop! I can’t feel this way. Not after Misty.
But there was something about this girl Brooke—some spark that made him feel different.
In the three years since Misty’s death, no woman had gotten as strong of a reaction from him as this girl Brooke.
That is to say, no woman had turned him on so much that he’d imagined them riding him while he rode his Harley.
In truth, no woman had gotten any real reaction from him.
He couldn’t describe what that thing was, but he knew it.
He’d seen it in Misty the first time they’d met.
And he hadn’t seen it since her death.
If he was being really and truly honest with himself, it was something that he’d never thought he’d see again.
“Have a seat,” Mr. Lawson said, breaking Josiah out of his trance.
The four wooden legs creaked under Josiah’s weight.
He paid the chair’s protests no mind, though. He was too caught up contemplating his attraction to Brooke.
As soon as he and Lawson were seated, Brooke entered, a file in hand, and laid it down on the desk.
As she bent over, Josiah couldn’t help but stare at the smooth curve of her backside.
Sensing his gaze, Brooke glanced back at Josiah and flashed him a quick smile before exiting the room and pulling the door shut behind her.
“I’m sorry for my outburst,” Lawson began, “but it’s been a difficult two weeks here. Your in-laws, their deaths took a real toll on me.”
“You knew them?” Josiah asked.
“Leon and I went to school together. Played on the same lacrosse team. We’ve been friends ever since," Lawson said.
“I was one of the first people he told after he got his diagnosis,” he continued, “and I was one of the first to find out it was over. I never would have imagined she’d be gone so soon too, though.”
Josiah shook his head.
“I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry. I had a lot of respect for Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.”
Lawson smiled. “Believe me, Mr. Anderson, they knew that. And they had the utmost respect for you too. Which brings me to why I called you here…”
He opened up the file Brooke brought him.
“When Misty died, Leon adjusted his will so that everything she stood to inherit would be passed on to you.”
It took Josiah a moment to respond because he was caught so off guard by the word “everything.” It was a concept almost too big for him to grasp.
I must have heard wrong.
“Me?” he eventually asked, frowning with confusion.
“That’s right.” Lawson nodded.
Josiah shook his head in disbelief. This had to be a joke. There was no way that the Tuckers would leave “everything” to him.
“But…why? I don’t understand.”
“They loved Misty more than anything. Misty loved you more than anything.” Lawson shrugged.
“What about Andrew? He’s their son. I’m just—”
Am I even still considered their son-in-law now that Misty is dead?
“Andrew…” Lawson said wistfully. “Let’s just say he didn’t quite get along with his parents. Leon didn’t want to leave his son any more than was necessary.”
Josiah barely suppressed a laugh.
“Are you serious?”
“Oh yes!” Lawson nodded. “I shouldn’t be saying this, but Andrew’s had gambling problems for many years now.”
“He’s well over six figures in debt—but that stays between you and me,” Lawson said, catching himself. “Leon told me that in confidence.”
“Which is why Leon decided to leave you this.”
He slid Josiah the file, and Josiah frowned as he flipped through it.
He looked up at Lawson, eyes wide with disbelief.
“Leon always thought you had a good head on your shoulders. So he decided to leave you his two businesses, Rose’s Café and Tucker’s Motorcycle Shop.”
Josiah sat back, taking in the information. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Two businesses? I've now got two businesses to run in Bracketville? How? I can barely keep the club together as it is.
Josiah couldn’t even begin to organize his spiraling thoughts.
“Wow. I… I don’t know what to say.”
“You’re unhappy with this arrangement?” Lawson asked, tilting his head to one side.
“No, no,” Josiah said quickly, even though, internally, he wanted to shout yes. “I’m honestly overwhelmed that Mr. Tucker trusted me enough to leave this to me. But, well, I wasn’t planning on staying.”
“I mean, I’ve got my own organization to run,” Josiah continued. “And I’d rather not be away from it for too long.”
Lawson considered Josiah’s words before continuing.
“Well, before you make a decision, why not visit the businesses? Just to see what they’re like.”
Inspect them? Hmm. How long would that take? Not too long, I hope. I mean, this is a small town, after all.
Josiah nodded. “All right. I think I can do that.”
Lawson’s face broke into a huge grin.
He stood up, as did Josiah.
“I think you’ll be very impressed with both,” Lawson said, opening the door. “Rose’s is the best place to eat in town. Though I can’t say I like the manager—”
Mr. Lawson continued talking, but Josiah had stopped paying attention the second he stepped foot into the lobby.
Josiah stormed over to Lucas who had returned, once more, to Brooke’s desk.
“Are you really so stupid that you need a learn a lesson twice? ’Cause I can teach it to you again. Harder this time.”
“Oh, I’m so scared,” Lucas tried, and failed, to say sarcastically.
“Lucas, please don’t embarrass the firm in front of our new client,” Mr. Lawson said. “We will now be representing Mr. Anderson.”
Josiah grinned as an idea came to him. “Actually, you’re going to personally handle my case, so I will know if you’re doing your job, or if you need another reminder.”
He clenched his fists to let Lucas know just what kind of “reminder” he should be anticipating.
“And as for you,” Josiah said, turning to Brooke, “Would you like to get some food with me later? Turns out, I own a restaurant.”
Brooke’s eyes widened with disbelief. She blushed and looked down.
Suddenly, Josiah was struck with doubt. Was he doing the same thing Lucas had done moments before?
Was he just another guy bothering Brooke while she tried to work? Leering at her perfect face and form?
His stomach tightened as he waited for her response, wishing he’d never had the nerve to ask her in the first place.