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Resisting the Hero
An Accidentally in Love Novel
By Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Cindi Madsen
All rights reserved.
The bar was bursting with guys tonight — seriously, it was like Muscles R Us up in here, all filled-out chests and bulging arms with biceps upon biceps. Under other circumstances, Faith might take a moment to enjoy the view. But right now, she was looking for one particular meathead, and she happened to be related to him. Anger had been building the entire four-hour drive from Atlanta, and now it pulsed through her like the loud music, wanting to be set free.
Of all the stupidest, craziest, good-way-to-get-himself-killed moves. It was no wonder her brother hadn't told her what he was up to until she was on her way back to North Carolina, hours away from moving in with him and his family. Then Kaleb had thrown it out, all his words strung together. "By the way, I completed the SWAT program today and am a certified operator now. There's a party at the Rusty Anchor to celebrate, so you should swing by if you get into town in time."
And when Faith had opened her mouth to ask if he were serious, he'd said he had to go and hung up. But he'd later texted a picture of himself holding a certificate, his wife and daughter by his side, and told her the party was at seven. Like she'd actually want to celebrate something that would put him in even more danger than his current police job.
How can he do this to his family? His pregnant wife? His little girl? After all, Kaleb had seen firsthand what could happen in this line of work. He'd promised that he'd choose the safer path in his career. Faith hadn't wanted him to go into law enforcement in the first place, but no, he had to go and try to be a hero anyway. And now he was taking it to another level by joining a SWAT team? Why couldn't he let someone else's brother be a hero? Her family had given enough.
Faith scanned the room as she moved farther into it, taking a second to look from face to face. Finding her brother in a place she used to frequent ought to be easy, but the lights were dimmed, and there were so many guys, all dressed similarly in black T-shirts. Several had swat emblazoned on their chests in white, and others bore cornelius sheriff's department in smaller letters over their shirt pocket.
Faith tipped onto her toes — this would be a lot easier if everyone here wasn't at least a foot taller than she was.
A guy approached her, beer bottle in one hand, smiling at her in that way guys do when they think they're good-looking enough to smile and get anything they want. "My friend and I were just talking about what a sausage fest this was, and then you came in." He ran his appraising gaze down her body, lingering on the V of her neckline.
Faith crossed her arms. "That works out, because I'm here for a weenie roast."
He put a protective hand over his package — probably without realizing he was doing it — but his smile widened. "Oh yeah. You're definitely coming to get a drink with me." He reached for her hand, but she jerked it away.
"I'm actually looking for Kaleb Fitzpatrick," she said as cheers erupted over in the bar area, swallowing up her words.
Big and Beefy glanced toward the noise and then returned his attention to her and leaned down. "Fitzpatrick, you say?" This close, it was impossible not to notice just how good-looking he was. His almost black hair was disheveled in a careless way, he had thick, dark eyebrows, and his eyes were a strange shade of gray that had to be a trick of the light. One corner of his mouth turned up, as if he knew she liked what she saw. So maybe she did, but it wasn't like she'd go for a guy like him. The only thing worse than a guy with a hero complex was one who also had a huge ego.
"Do you know where he is or not?" she asked.
Despite the impatience she'd purposely put into her voice, the amusement in his features only grew. "Trust me, I'm more fun," he said, taking cocky to the next level with a simple eyebrow raise.
She blew out a breath. "Obviously you think pretty highly of yourself, but trust me, you don't wanna mess with me tonight."
He reached out and flicked the ends of her hair. "Actually, the very reason I came over here was to mess with you."
Faith made an extra-large eye roll. "Seriously, you're gonna have to do better than that."
Someone bumped into her from behind, causing her to stumble into the guy she'd been trying to break free from. He gripped her upper arms, his cold beer bottle pressing against her skin on one side as her hands braced against his chest, which she couldn't help but notice was rock solid.
The guy smelled like beer and broken promises, and still her heart fluttered the tiniest bit, the traitorous stirrings of attraction going through her gut. Breath caught in her throat, she froze in place instead of pushing away like she should.
Then she spotted her brother and her momentarily missing common sense started working again. She pulled back from Big and Beefy as Kaleb approached.
"Hey," Kaleb said, raising his voice over the din of multiple conversations and music. "Glad you could make it."
Faith clenched her fists, her earlier anger rising up again now that her brother was in front of her. "Well, you'll change your mind about that in about a second, because I came here to talk some sense into you, not congratulate you on being a well-trained idiot."
"Jeez, back down, girl," Big and Beefy said.
"Stay out of it," she shot back at him, then returned her gaze to Kaleb. "Why wasn't it enough to just be a cop? I don't understand why you'd need to go and join a SWAT team on top of it."
"Actually," Big and Beefy said, taking a sip from his beer, "that was my idea. Thought we could use more of an adventure."
She narrowed her eyes on him.
"Faith," Kaleb said, "Connor didn't mean —"
"You're the one who talked him into this?" She jabbed his chest with a finger. "Maybe you want to go throwing yourself in danger at every turn, but my brother has a little girl and a baby on the way. He has a wife to take care of. I know your type; you don't think of anyone else but yourself. And you" — she spun back to Kaleb — "you know the risks. How can you be such an idiot?" She hated the tears stinging her eyes. She blinked them back, refusing to lose it in the middle of the Rusty Anchor.
Big and Beefy — Connor, apparently — put his hand on her shoulder. "You need to relax. He's a hero."
"I wish he was a coward," she spat. All the heat seeped out of her, followed immediately by an overwhelming sense of failure. She wasn't sure what she thought would happen. Maybe that she'd yell and Kaleb would say he wasn't actually going to go through with it. Or that he'd at least acknowledge he was breaking promises. "Fine. Go celebrate. Just don't expect me to congratulate you." The hours in the car caught up to her all at once. Her eyes burned, her muscles were tight, and she needed something to eat, preferably with someone she didn't want to punch in the face. "I'm guessing Anna's around here somewhere."
Kaleb pointed over his shoulder. "Back corner in a booth." As Faith started away, he reached out and gave her arm a gentle squeeze. "It's going to be okay, Faithie. Going through the program means I'm better trained, and it's not like there's a lot of crime here. I just want to be prepared if there is. And the pay is better. I've got to think about that now that I'm going to have two kids to take care of."
A tight band formed around Faith's chest. "None of that will matter if you die before you get to see them grow up." She walked past him, trying to shove back her emotions so she could go find her pregnant sister-in-law and try to be strong for her. This was one of the reasons Faith had chosen to go to college a couple states over. She knew she was a bit irrational about her brother's career choice, but she couldn't help it.
And coming back had just brought up all the memories she wasn't ready to face.
* * *
Connor watched the short, curvy blonde walk away from him and Kaleb. "That's your sister? She's dramatic. And kind of a —"
"Don't finish that." Kaleb smacked the back of Connor's head. "And stop checking out her ass."
Connor took one last glance. When he'd seen Faith walk into the bar, he couldn't look away. A moment before, he and Sullivan had been in a friendly argument over the tall brunette across the bar — Sullivan thought she was eyeing him, when she was clearly flirting with Connor — but then Faith had come in, and he was out of his seat before any of the other guys could hit on her. He hadn't expected her to be so damn prickly. As she'd been yelling, though, he'd had the strangest urge to kiss her so she'd shut up. Well, and so he could kiss her. But there were plenty of other girls out there — no way he'd want to deal with that emotional hurricane.
Although, it was kind of fun getting a rise out of her. In fact, it was the least bored he'd been with a woman in a while, which was sad but true. And for all her talk, she was about to be putty in his hands before her brother showed up.
Kaleb cleared his throat.
Connor slowly pulled his gaze off Faith and shook his fuzzy head. "Give me a break — I'm drunk."
"Just go point your wasted self at someone else. She's already pissed off and going to be impossible to deal with. I don't need you adding to the mess."
Connor raised his hands, palms up. "I got it. Leave your sister alone. Now, let's go get another drink." Whether Faith liked it or not, they were celebrating. And they were heroes. The training had been killer — obstacle courses, shooting drills, sleep deprivation — and they'd survived. Together. Kaleb was one of his best friends, and his wife, Anna, was cool, too, which was why he liked hanging at their place so much — their house felt like his second home. As chill as Anna usually was, though, Connor could tell she hadn't been thrilled about the SWAT thing, either.
Just another reason why he was in no hurry to settle down.
* * *
Faith slid into the back booth where Anna was seated. The table hid the bottom half of her belly, but the top was clearly rounded, and her sister-in-law had that pregnant-lady glow people talked about.
Faith glanced out at the rowdy sea of guys filling the bar and then back at Anna. "I don't want to stress you out, but how are you not freaking out about Kaleb doing this?"
Anna shrugged. "I wasn't exactly happy about it at first, but we discussed all the pros and cons and why he wanted to do it. Plus, I've had longer than a day to process it. I told him to tell you earlier, and even thought about doing so myself, but I didn't want to get in the middle of it."
Faith gritted her teeth. Of course Kaleb had waited to tell her, because he'd known how upset she'd be. She and Kaleb were both stubborn, and they'd fought plenty growing up. But they were also close, and if anyone messed with her, he made sure it never happened again. He'd always taken care of her and even let her boss him around a bit. Too bad he'd grown out of that, because she'd really like to force him to change careers.
Faith picked up the flip chart on the table with all the drinks and started turning the pages without really looking at the brews it bragged about. "If anything bad goes down, he's now the first line of defense. That's got to worry you at least a little."
"Of course it does. But I've never seen him so happy. He's proud that he made it through. I'm proud of him, too."
Faith reached the end of the drink menu and then shoved it aside. "If it were the guy I loved ... I couldn't do it."
"Oh, never say never," Anna said.
"I'm saying it. Never. I'm going to find a nice nerdy guy to settle down with. Whether it's math or science or just an obsessive amount of Star Wars gear and love for role-playing games, I don't care. I'm not even giving a second glance at law enforcement or military guys."
Anna cracked a smile. "Then you better not look around. Being surrounded by all these ripped guys only makes me feel even more whalelike." She put a hand on the top of her belly.
"You look great, and I can't wait to meet the little guy." Faith scooted forward and put her hand on her sister-in-law's tummy, hoping to feel her nephew moving around. "I am happy about that part of living closer. And I can't wait to see Ella."
"She's been talking for weeks about you coming to live with us."
Faith pictured her little niece — chubby cheeks, strawberry-blond curls, and the same green eyes Faith and Kaleb had gotten from their dad. She'd wrapped Faith around her finger from day one.
"And how are you doing with ... everything?" Anna asked.
Everything. AKA, the fact that she'd dumped her savings into a down payment on a condo so she and Jeff could move in together, only to discover him cheating on her in their brand-new bed, forcing her to rearrange all of her plans. "I'm just glad everything's finally taken care of. The title's signed over, and after the attorney fees, I should slowly get my money back, one payment from the jackass at a time." Faith folded her arms on the table. "I appreciate you letting me stay with you while I look for a new place. It should be two months, three tops."
"You're welcome to stay as long as you need. It'll be nice to have someone around to talk to. Kaleb's gone a lot, and as much as I love Ella, she's not the best conversationalist. Unless you want to discuss princesses or cartoons." Anna shook her head. "I don't know how she got to be so girlie."
Anna was a T-shirt-and-jeans type girl. Somehow Ella came out with a love for all things frilly and pink. A waitress came by and Faith ordered a burger and fries, the same thing she'd always ordered here. The same thing Dad had always ordered here. It was too packed to get a good look around, but she saw enough to know that the place was still the same. They probably even had Dad's picture and the framed article about him hanging on the wall behind the bar. It'd hurt Faith to see it, but it'd hurt even more if it weren't there.
She'd be tempted to go check it out, but Kaleb and that Connor guy were at the bar, and she wasn't sure she was ready to dive into the past anyway. So she talked to Anna while she waited for her food and all through her meal. She could almost block out the reason she was in the Rusty Anchor and just focus on how nice it was to be back in Cornelius. But of course then she'd see a guy with a stupid SWAT shirt and get mad and scared all over again.
Maybe coming back was a mistake. But after everything had fallen apart in Atlanta — leaving her feeling like a crushed fool, as well as low on funds — she'd needed an escape. Dr. Schaeffer's call asking if she wanted a spot in the predoctoral clinical psychology internship he was heading up was too good an offer to refuse.
After the waitress took away her empty plate, Kaleb showed up. He scooted into the booth next to his wife and leaned back, his eyes on Faith. "You still pissed?"
Faith sighed. "Not pissed so much anymore. Just ... I don't like it. I'm never going to be happy about you being a cop, and this is a whole new level of scary for me."
"I understand, I do. When Dad died ..." Kaleb glanced at the bar area and she could see the way his throat was working. It made a lump rise in her own. "I want him to be proud of me. And I want to keep people safe. My wife ..." He put his hand on Anna's stomach. "My kids. You." He exhaled. "Just try to understand."
The big, puppy-dog eyes he flashed at her made it impossible to stay mad. At him, anyway. She caught sight of Connor seated at the bar and decided to aim all her anger his way. At least then she'd have someone to blame.
"I'll try. That's the best I can do right now." Faith rolled her neck from side to side, still stiff and tired from her day. "How long do we have to stay and watch all the cavemen congratulate themselves?"
Kaleb laughed. "We can go home right now." He looked at Anna, who nodded, and then they got up and started out of the bar.
Faith swore she could feel someone looking at her, so she glanced over her shoulder.
Connor was staring right at her. He raised his beer and winked.
What a conceited —
Excerpted from Resisting the Hero by Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2014 Cindi Madsen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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