The Whisper Hollow Series – Book 2
Ronnie Noel Hilt sat on a barstool swirling a straw around in her Blue Bahama Breeze. The sugared rim crumbled along the counter of Lucky’s Bar. It’s a hole in the wall but it’s her twin sister Reagan’s favorite place. That’s who she was supposed to be meeting along with her younger sister Candace.
They’d been too busy for each other lately. Candace with her new job at the Animal Clinic, and Reagan with wedding planning and picking up extra shifts at Snips Salon and Day Spa where she worked as a cosmetologist. She’d been working twice as much lately in order to help throw her future step-daughter Chloe a sweet sixteen party.
Ronnie had just received two back-to-back cancelation text messages, from first Candace and then from Reagan. They were bailing on her … again.
Ronnie felt lonely and disappointed. She’d skipped lunch and dinner so she could afford to drink tonight. So she immediately signaled for the bartender to bring her another drink even though the one in front of her wasn’t even close to being finished.
The amount of alcohol she planned on consuming would require her to work out for the vast majority of tomorrow, but—so be it. Tomorrow was supposed to be reserved for brunch and mani-pedis with the girls, but she figured they were going to bail on her again anyway. It had certainly been the pattern as of late. Ronnie and Reagan hadn’t even had a second to celebrate their birthday together yet.
Ronnie had a perfectly fulfilling life being a very good, much sought after financial analyst. She had a beautiful shabby chic home. And besides this sudden inability to get together with her sisters, she did all right on the friend front.
She had a very regimented and happy life. She was successful and talented—beautiful in a petite athletic way. With her long, wavy blonde hair, hazel eyes, her fit and trim body and a cool as ice veneer, she didn’t hurt too badly for male companionship. She was single because she wanted to be, not because she couldn’t hook a man. She could hook a man all right. She just hadn’t found any worth keeping.
But something was off. Something had been off ever since Reagan had gone and fallen in love. It had left Ronnie feeling a little aimless. She didn’t like things to change. She wasn’t a fan of the unknown. She liked to be in charge.
Ronnie was floating and felt herself clinging to everything with white knuckles to stay grounded and centered. With the dynamic of her sisterhood and her twinhood being tested she felt more out of control than she’d felt in a very long time.
With everything weighing on her, she was determined to have a good time tonight. She had plans of enjoying the feel of this small town bar and this unnaturally blue-colored drink and forgetting she’d been stood up by the two people she cared about the most … again.
Just as she had set out to do just that, she felt someone come up behind her.
“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this … alone?”
She turned around on her stool and wasn’t surprised to find Joe Aarons, but was surprised by the sudden goose bumps running down her arms at his whisper. All right, she lied. Maybe she hurt a little in the romance department. Obviously, her body had slipped into the first rung of desperation if it’d reacted to the Joe Aarons of the world. “Probably the same thing a guy like you is doing in a place like this … alone.”
He laughed as he eased himself into the stool beside her.
It wasn’t that Joe wasn’t good-looking, because at six-foot-something with those wide as a house shoulders, long legs moving at their own easy pace, a body as hard and defined and as ridged as steel, strawberry-kissed blond hair, and warm chocolate-brown eyes, he wasn’t difficult to look at. He just wasn’t Ronnie’s type.
Ronnie didn’t waste time on guys who didn’t match up well with her Perfect Man List. Joe was basically the opposite of what she looked for. For starters, Joe’s job was just too dangerous and too uncertain. She liked stable men, the kind of men who were solid and dependable. Those attributes were just the tip of the iceberg, though.
Over the last several months of running into Reagan’s fiancé, and his best friends Joe and Tad, she had come to know them fairly well. And Joe was basically her walking, talking anti-Mr. Perfect.
“Taking the edge off?” Joe raised his eyebrow and aimed it at her two melting brilliantly Blue Bahama Breezes.
“Something like that.” Ronnie leaned in and licked some sugar off her rim. When his gaze darkened and fell to her tongue tracing the edge of the glass, a spike of awareness rippled through her. She swallowed hard and looked away, pressing the cold drink to the rushing pulse at the inside of her wrist. She honestly did not try to seduce him but things like this happened every time they were together.
“Better make it a tall one.” Joe signaled to the bartender.
Ronnie took in the tightness of Joe’s shoulders, the dampened hair at his temples, and the bead of sweat trailing down the back of his neck past the collar of his shirt. Judging by the way his police uniform clung to his skin and the exhaustion in his brow, she knew he’d just gotten off his shift.
“A hard day of writing parking tickets, Officer?” Ronnie flipped her long golden hair over her shoulder and shot him a tongue-in-cheek smile.
He sent her his signature Joe grin. “Yeah, I think I’m coming down with a case of carpal tunnel.” He nodded his thanks at the bartender who sat his tall frosted mug of beer down in front of him.
She stopped sipping long enough to say to him from around her straw, “That’s not from the ticket writing.”
Joe looked so surprised Ronnie thought for a moment he might spit out his beer, but thankfully he swallowed. He leaned in real close and trailed a finger down the exposed skin of her arm. “Oh, honey.” His deep timbre of a voice slipped over her like warm velvet, tripping something deep in her gut. “I rarely have to do that myself.”
She shot him an unimpressed glance. He sat back in his seat, took a swing of beer, and smirked. She rolled her eyes at him. “I doubt that’s true.”
“Oh it is,” he assured her with a cocky wink. “There’s an opening in the schedule tonight, though… I could pencil you in.”
A laugh escaped Ronnie’s throat. “Joe, there is absolutely no way, not even if hell froze over and we were the last two people on earth, not even if there was a gun held to my head.” Her gaze fell to the holster at his hip. A cool tremor ran through her. “Would I ever agree to sleep with you.”
Joe then leaned forward, invading her space again. “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough.” He waited until Ronnie had brought her gaze back to his face. “There wouldn’t be any sleeping involved.”
* * * *
Ronnie cringed as she woke up. Instantly, the world began spinning before she even opened her eyes, along with the boom-boom-boom in her head. She knew without a doubt she’d had several too many Blue Bahama Breezes last night.
When she opened her eyes and found herself in a strange bed, she knew again, without a doubt, she’d had far too much to drink. When she couldn’t remember who she’d gone home with the night before, she vowed to never ever drink again. Looking over beside her, she took note that whoever it was had a great back—muscular and solid. Also, they had a great ass; firm and powerful legs with big strong thighs.
Her body had been rubbed red with whisker burn. There was a delightful tenderness between her legs, which told her that even if she couldn’t remember what happened last night, her body sure did. Seeing the rear end of this man had her blood thrumming quickly through her hung-over veins. It’d been his hair color which slowed her heart and caused horror and bile to rise up in her throat.
She lay there afraid to move and wake him up, and afraid she’d move and not wake up. Desperately she wished for this to be a dream. This did not happen to Ronnie Hilt. Joe rolled to face her. His sleepy lidded gaze fell over her body. Ronnie clutched the sheets to her chin.
“What the hell happened last night?”
Joe lifted himself up by his elbow. “Looks like hell froze over.” His easy, relaxed face cracked into a grin.
“Don’t you smirk at me.”
“Aw, come on, honey.” He scooted a little closer. She moved away from him and his morning erection he immodestly brandished. “It’s cute you put up a little fight, only to crumble like coffee cake at my first real advance.” He looked at her with those heavy-lidded chocolate eyes and scooted closer to her again.
Losing ground made her realize she’d obviously already lost her mind. “Stay back.” She held her hand out and touched his chest. Dear God——his skin felt hot and hard. A remembered flash of something came to her from last night, and she gasped. “We didn’t really have sex in the back of a cruiser last night.”
Joe’s eyes darkened. “Honey, that was all your doing.”
Ronnie inwardly cringed as she vaguely remembered begging him to pull over because she couldn’t hold out for the five minute drive to his house.
“And then on the floor in the foyer, and eventually we obviously made it to the bed.” Joe’s voice sounded rough and sexy with sleep as he came at her with this morning’s version of an anaconda. When Joe tried to advance on her again, she scooted way back.
Joe reached for her but she swatted at his hands, only to realize too late he had just been attempting to save her from the fall. All she’d allowed him to save was the sheet. When she fell onto the carpet off Joe’s unusually high bed, she landed in a naked heap of regret.
Joe leaned back, completely comfortable in his skin. He didn’t attempt to conceal a single tanned, gorgeous, all-wrong-for-her stitch of himself. He let out a slow, low whistle when she stood up in, embarrassingly, nothing at all.
“Shut up.” She had ideas of covering herself up, but the horrible pounding of her head took sudden precedence as she cupped her face and covered her eyes, trying to get her bearings. She waited for the world to quit spinning.
“Hung-over?” She heard the squeak of the bed and the rustle of sheets, and before she could react she felt his hands on her hips as he moved past her. “I’ve got just the thing for that. How do you take your coffee?”
“To go.” She finally regained some dignity when Joe left the room. She began looking around for last night’s outfit. She had a massive hangover and had no idea where to even begin looking for her clothes.
Joe came back in a matter of minutes. All of her falsely mustered dignity slipped away when he found her on all fours searching for her panties under his bed. Joe’s gaze felt hot as it roamed all over her naked body.
“Mmm, that’s one position we didn’t get around to trying.”
Ronnie rose too quickly in unbridled anger, making her world spin. She would have fallen back down if Joe hadn’t reached out to steady her. He pulled her firmly up against his hard chest, and she instantly turned hot. Her skin flamed, and she wanted so badly to blame it on the alcohol, but she knew in her heart of hearts, her body had made an unauthorized decision to react wildly to Joe’s naked body.
“Are you all right?” Joe’s voice softened, and that was the last straw.
Regaining control of herself, Ronnie pushed him away. “I’m fine. I just—I just can’t seem to find—”
But there he stood, unabashedly naked and holding a pile of her clothes. Damn it. She wanted to be mad but he’d just saved her some face. Now she didn’t have to scurry all about his house to pick up her lost clothing.
“Thanks.” She grumbled while taking the clothes from him.
“Anytime.” Joe’s lips quirked into a smug little grin. Ronnie’s blood pressure skyrocketed just looking at him. Before she could demand he wipe the smirk off his face, he left her alone again to get dressed.
By the time she’d emerged fully clothed in last night’s outfit, she found Joe in the kitchen in nothing but all his naked glory, frying up some eggs. The smell hit her first, knocking her on her figurative ass. She was seriously hung-over.
Candace, the most health conscious of the three of them after shedding sixty pounds immediately following her last summer of humiliation at camp, always said greasy food did the trick. Reagan’s answer to every problem life threw at her was ice cream, but all Ronnie wanted this morning was the rewind button on that coveted remote lost somewhere in the couch cushion of life.
“Made you some coffee.” Joe pointed with his spatula at a steaming mug of coffee on his kitchen counter. It sounded surprisingly tolerable. Ronnie wrapped her hands around the mug and blew into the steaming recesses before taking a sip. “How do you like your eggs?”
“Unfertilized,” Ronnie joked, and Joe tipped his head back and laughed, showcasing his sexy neck. She really must not be feeling well … since when did she find necks to be sexy? But it wasn’t just the neck—he had huge ropey muscles and a smile that made something deep within her belly flutter.
“There’s aspirin in the cupboard too.” He motioned behind himself to a skinny cupboard that was probably supposed to be used for spices, not to be used as a medicine cabinet. “Help yourself.”
“Listen, Joe.” His gaze came up from the pan and a serious expression fell over his face. “I can’t stay for breakfast.” She began scouting the house for her shoes.
“Don’t.” He shook his head at her.
“Don’t what?” She took a nice long drink of caffeinated heaven.
He just leveled his gaze on her, and she strangely couldn’t return the look, not when he had his x-ray vision turned to pulverize. “Run.”
“I’m not running,” Ronnie said a little too defensively. “I’m just being realistic here.”
“What’s not realistic about this?” He came toward her, completely abandoning the eggs in the pan.
Jesus, how could he just walk around like that? Rippling. Naked. Intimidating. “What is realistic about this, Joe?”
“I like you. You like me. Let’s start there.” He kept coming closer, and she found herself backed right up against the refrigerator. She figured the only thing keeping him at bay was the fear of the steaming cup of coffee she kept between them getting dumped and scalding his already hot body.
“Uh—no. Last night I had some kind of crazy mental breakdown. It was a onetime thing—”
He gave her an earth-shatteringly sexy grin making her stupid whore knees knock. Who did her body think it was, anyway? It was not ever, under any circumstances, to find this man desirable again. But then it went and quivered every time he winked. Disgusting.
“Technically, three times … or several times if we’re counting your orga—”
“We’re not. It was a one night thing and there will be no repeats.” Ronnie skirted out away from him.
“Why? Last night was—” His gaze scooped her up from head to toe. “Amazing.”
Damn his grin. “It wasn’t that amazing.”
“Really?” he asked, and she made the mistake of setting down her coffee.
“Yes, really.” Now nothing stopped him from blocking her in against the wall again. He had a one-track mind and it was fixed on her. Even the eggs had started to burn on the stove but he paid them no attention. He didn’t even seem to mind if he charred the pan.
“Then this should have no effect on you.” He dipped his head.
“This,” he whispered against her lips. She kept her lips tight so he would have a hard time getting a good kiss out of her. But as soon as he leaned that all-male rigid body against hers, she melted against his skin.
Ronnie accidentally let out a sigh. Joe took the time to swoop his tongue into her mouth, and the instant it found her tongue her knees let loose. Joe caught her, making a sexy little noise in the back of his throat that sounded like half a laugh and half a moan.
The second she found herself wanting to follow him there, he pulled away from her lips. Thank God. She really wanted some fresh air and she really wanted some space because she ridiculously thought she needed one more kiss like that.
“Nothing.” Damn her voice for being husky. She cleared her throat. She tried again. “Nothing.”
“Nothing, huh?” Joe grinned. When Ronnie nodded stubbornly, he moved away from her and back to the stove, taking the burnt eggs right over to the sink. “I’ll see you around, then.”
Ronnie breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed her purse and headed for the door. “We’re not going to tell any—”
Before she could finish her sentence Joe zipped his lips shut. He furrowed his brow and had pulled his cheeks tight with attitude, and she was suddenly overcome with a fiercer need to leave as quickly as possible. Seeing him standing there mad at her and still completely naked made her hungry for a round of very rough angry sex.
When did Ronnie Hilt ever want rough angry sex?
She needed to leave now. “Good,” she said before walking out the door.
The cold late January wind hit her immediately and she breathed in some of that fresh snowy air. She made it almost all the way down the walkway before coming to the realization she wasn’t wearing her shoes. After debating about walking all the way home with no shoes on, and weighing the risk of frostbite against facing Joe again, humiliation won out over amputation.
“Aw, hell.” She cursed to herself and turned back for his door. She knocked three times and pinched the bridge of her nose. On the bright side—after this—things could really only go in one direction. She just wasn’t sure which direction that would be.
He opened the door wearing a pair of low—low, low-slung black basketball shorts.
Dear God, it was almost more lethal than him wearing nothing at all.
In his hands were her heels. “You felt nothing, huh?”
She took the shoes from his hands and slid them on her feet. “Yeah—uh—thanks.” She waved and walked away. She needed a brick wall she could beat her head against. The only way this could get worse was if her sisters caught wind of this. She spun around and caught him still watching her, leaning easily against the doorjamb. “You tell anyone and you die.”
“Did you just make a threat on my life, Ronnie Hilt?” But he grinned, and she hated that he got to be the one looking like the cat that got the cream.
“What, Officer? Are you going to cuff and frisk me?” She’d meant it as a joke, but Joe’s sense of humor was apparently on hiatus this morning.
The smile left his lips and his dark eyes became even darker. “Don’t tempt me.”
Heat shot through her system all the way down to her numb cold toes. She heeded his warning and got the hell out of there before she tempted herself anymore.