FBI Agent Walker Reeves came to Sweetwater, Oregon looking to settle a vendetta. His career is in shambles after years spent tracking down the Hanover brothers. He hopes to tie them to the schemes of their father Charlie—the same man who ruined Walker’s life. Unfortunately, Walker’s desire for revenge blinds him to the one chance at happiness he’ll ever get…
Even knowing that her friends would worry, art store-owner Mallory Able took a risk sleeping with Walker. She succumbed to his craving for control in the bedroom, but when reality got too tough for Walker, he bolted and left her in ruins. Now he’s returned. If Walker wants her back, he’s going to have to do some smooth talking both in and out the bedroom. And this time Mallory is in charge…
Includes a preview of No Turning Back
Praise for HelenKay Dimon
“Sharp writing and sexy romance sizzle.”—Chicago Tribune
“So smart, sexy, and fast-paced, I devour her stories.”—Lori Foster, New York Times bestselling author
“I’m really enjoying these Hanover brothers. The first book is very good, and this one is even better."—The Good, The Bad and The Unread
"Fun, sexy, with a touch of angst. This small town setting is perfect for these hot heroes and strong heroines."—Novel Thoughts&Book Talk
"This author did it again. She wrote and amazing sequel for her first book in this series. It was completely a page turner. She always leaves you wanting more."—Under The Covers Book Blog
"If you enjoy a well-written story filled with a gossipy town, a trio of scorned but sexy brothers, and a heroine who does some honest to goodness growing up—you've found your next read!"—Red Hot Books
HelenKay Dimon is the bestselling, award-winning author of No Turning Back, A Simple Twist of Fate, and Long Way Home, among other novels. Her books have been featured at E! Online and in the Chicago Tribune, and been named “Red-Hot Reads” in Cosmopolitan magazine. When not writing, she teaches fiction and romance writing at MiraCosta College and UCSD.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Mallory Able stood at the cash register and looked out the front windows of her shop to the main street beyond. An hour passed and still she waited . . . and waited. Customers came in and out all day but she stood watch for one in particular. Not even a customer, really. The guy who slept with her, made her believe then slinked away before the sheets cooled.
Walker Reeves, all buttoned up and proper in his dark business suits. All hot and naughty underneath. A gigantic jackass.
If the rumors were true he’d walked back into town the night before. Not that he called her or anything. But she’d been engaged in a mental countdown to their inevitable meeting ever since. The plan was simple: spot him then punch him. Some of the gnawing in her gut subsided whenever she visualized following through on that.
But so far the only people in the store belonged there. Female customers sat around the long table that ran the length of the open middle area of Gossamer, her arts and crafts shop. Thanks to the scrapbooking class, supplies covered every inch of the scarred wood top. The chatter rose and fell along with the laughter and exchange of gossip. The women passed a coffeepot around and told stories. Others mingled in the book aisles.
On any other day Mallory would have loved the activity, sat back and enjoyed the warmth and welcoming atmosphere she’d created. After a lifetime of living on the fringes and feeling left out, Gossamer gave her a purpose. A home.
Thinking about Walker gave her a headache. Conjuring up the memories of those months together caused a few others parts of her to hurt, too. She refused to let that pain swamp her.
He wanted out of whatever they had together, fine. But he should have walked out like a man, telling her it was over and saving her some dignity. Instead, he went with hiding and failing to return her calls for a month.
The chimes at the top of the door signaled a newcomer. Mallory held her breath as her gaze zipped to the entrance. Maybe he’d finally crawled back . . . but no.
A breeze ushered in Grace Pruitt, Mallory’s newest friend and one of Sweetwater, Oregon’s most recent residents. And a constant reminder of Walker. They’d once worked together at the FBI and shared a bond. After he left town so abruptly, Grace had stood up for Walker and apologized for his behavior. But as the days passed without a word even she stopped trying to defend him. Which was good, because Mallory’s patience for hearing about what a good guy he was had run out on about day three after his departure.
The bright sunshine warmed the cool nip of the early fall wind and put a rosy glow on Grace’s cheeks. So did nearly five months of pregnancy.
Mallory was half surprised Grace wandered in alone. These days Callen Hanover, her boyfriend and the baby’s father, stuck close. The overprotective thing wasn’t new for the guy but even Mallory, who shared a difficult history with Callen, had to admit seeing him all twisted up and rushing around to watch over Grace at every turn was kind of cute.
So was the thing where he proposed to Grace and she told him “not yet.” Mallory loved that part. Sure, Callen had lived through a lot of crap thanks to Charlie Hanover, his con-man father, but the guy tended to get all bossy. Seeing him brought to his knees by Grace . . . well, that was just about the only thing that made Mallory smile these days.
Grace stripped off her scarf as she walked. Her long auburn hair bounced around her shoulders and her skin shined all pink and healthy, likely from a severe case of happiness. She was tall and beautiful. Except for an adorable belly bulge that looked like she swallowed a basketball, she looked long and lean. Enough to turn more than one male head in Sweetwater. Something else Mallory found amusing since Callen did not.
The thin jacket stayed on and Grace rubbed her hands together as if it were ten degrees outside. Probably had more to do with the fact she wore a skirt and cowboy boots than the fifty-degree temps.
“Half of Sweetwater is in here.” Grace smiled as she dumped her bag on the counter and rested her palms on either side of it.
“The female half.” Moving here after college had been a risk but it had paid off. Mallory owned a business and slowly, month by month, year after year, more people in town and the surrounding county viewed Gossamer as a comfortable place to gather. Finally, Mallory fit in somewhere.
Grace waved to two older women sitting at the end of the long table. The same two women who spent most of their afternoons hanging out in Gossamer, listening to conversations and buying something here and there.
“I don’t know a lot of men around here who like to scrapbook,” she said.
“But they are as good at gossiping as any woman I know.” As far as Mallory could tell that affliction was going around. “Which is why you’re here, I’m guessing.”
“I’m here because Callen turned in time to see my boot slip on the bottom step at the house this morning and threatened to carry me everywhere for the next four months.” Grace shook her head as she pointed to the tea collection on the coffee and snack counter behind Mallory. “The man is going to coddle me to death.”
If any man could do it, it would be Callen Hanover. Mallory would put money on that.
She grabbed the canister of loose peach tea, Grace’s favorite, and put it all together. Filled the French press and let it steep before pressing the plunger down. “He’s an interesting mix of bossy and caring.”
Grace rolled her eyes as she sat on the stool on the opposite side of the counter. “He’s lost his mind.”
Love did that to a man, or so Mallory heard. “That, too.”
Tall, handsome, devoted, and up until a month ago as broken a man as Mallory had ever seen. Callen spent most of his childhood being dragged around by his idiot father, separated from the woman he thought was his mother and from his brothers, Declan and Beckett, who everyone referred to as Beck. The life put a chip on Callen’s shoulder that they’d all been taking shots at ever since he landed in Sweetwater to claim the falling-down mansion of a house he and his brothers inherited from their paternal grandmother.
Now that Mallory knew Callen’s big secret, that he and Walker were also brothers, that they shared the same birth parents even though they never shared a life or knew about each other growing up, the pieces fell together in Mallory’s head. Everything made sense even though she had to hear the news from third parties since Callen hadn’t known and Walker never bothered to tell her.
Yeah, no doubt about it. Callen and Walker were two controlling and mysterious peas in a dysfunctional pod.
Lucky her for getting mixed up with this family. That would teach her to get reeled in by dark hair, dark brown eyes and a dark, brooding personality. Walker Reeves . . . just thinking about him made her hands curl into fists.
Rather than come out hitting, Mallory poured Grace’s tea and pushed the mug in front of her. Grace sat quietly and stared. Wore one of those knowing smiles that had Mallory bracing for battle. She sensed the next few minutes could get tense and frustrating.
Grace stirred her tea. Made a big show of banging the spoon on the side of her mug after adding a little honey. “While we’re talking about Walker—”
Here we go. “We’re not.”
“I know. Leah told me.” Leah Baron, Mallory’s best friend since college and the sole reason Mallory had gotten tied up with the Hanover clan and, by extension, Walker. She wondered if it would be easier to move than try to separate from the weird family dynamic happening at Shadow Hill, the Hanovers’ inherited house.
She also made a mental note never to get mixed up with a family that owned a house with a name. Because, really, who named a house? That would be like her calling the mobile home she once lived in ‘Stella.’ Just plain weird.
“Nobody has actually seen Walker. Leah heard from someone at the grocery store who heard from someone at Rosie’s Diner.” Grace described the chain in a singsongy voice. “And the list goes on.”
Including the ten customers who came into the store and dropped annoying hints in Mallory’s lap. “The Sweetwater grapevine at work. Gotta love small towns.”
“So . . . ?” Grace took a sip of tea.
With her friend pregnant or not, Mallory was not playing this game. “No.”
“What kind of answer is that?”
Since Grace once worked as an FBI agent and Walker still supposedly did, Mallory would not take the bait. Entering into a question-and-answer game with this crowd would only lead to trouble, and she’d had enough of that for a lifetime.
“I refuse to talk about him, think about him. Wait for him.” When Grace smiled Mallory worried she’d oversold her case. “What’s with that face?”
“Is that why you’re dressed like that?” Grace asked the question while peeking over the rim of the mug.
Mallory made a show of looking down, but she already knew what she wore today. Knew because she’d tried on approximately half of her closet before settling on the V-neck purple sweater, black skirt and leggings. The outfit hugged her frame but managed to hide her lifetime love affair with french fries. Sucking in her stomach helped with that, too.
She tried to play it cool. Smoothed a hand over her hair and stopped when her bangle bracelets clanked in her ear. “It’s just a shirt.”
“Honey, that sweater is hot and we both know it.” Grace a waved a hand in front of her. “It shows off those amazing boobs and your tiny waist.”
Tiny? Not a word Mallory would ever use to describe her body. Chunky and in a battle to the death with gravity, but not small. She’d always been described as having a pretty face, which she took to mean the rest of her needed some work.
“I think pregnancy is making you horny,” she mumbled half under her breath as two women came in and passed close to the counter before heading for the knitting section.
“No question about that.” Grace lowered the mug and it thudded against the counter. “Poor Callen.”
Mallory recognized that smile. Leah wore it when she started sleeping with Declan, Callen’s middle brother. Hell, Mallory saw it on her own face in the mirror after her first night with Walker . . . the dumbass.
Still, she had barely recovered from Callen’s tendency to force people to do what he wanted. Last thing she needed was a mental image of him naked. Good-looking or not, that guy didn’t light her fire, and besides, she would never poach. “I’m begging you to never tell me about your sex life with Callen.”
“He loves you, too.”
“He tolerates me.” And he was starting to grow on her. Mallory no longer saw him as a guy who always had to get his way and would do anything to be right. Now she viewed him as a guy desperate to hold on to his family. Not an easy feat when secret after secret kept getting dumped at his feet, including the one that sent Walker scurrying away.
Grace reached for a second shot of honey. “Callen has threatened to beat up Walker on your behalf.”
“They’re brothers now.” That piece was part of the nightmarish mess that kept unraveling.
“Technically they always were but that doesn’t seem to change Callen’s mind one bit. He’s ticked-off that Walker left town without talking with you.”
Okay, that was kind of . . . sweet. Also a little upsetting. “How does Callen know Walker left without a word?”
Grace bit her lower lip. “Um . . .”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” The whole damn town knew she’d been dumped by Walker on his way out of town. Mallory hated that. She didn’t understand the broadcast of information either, since they’d kept their relationship quiet for a long time and it only got out around the time Walker left town. One more request from him that she’d honored back then and it bit her in the ass now as she became the topic of gossip and sympathetic stares.
The man made her stupid. Hot, bothered, lonely and stupid.
“Walker is probably staying at the Severn Motel.” More clanging as Grace kept stirring that damn spoon.
Mallory thought about grabbing the mug but figured manhandling a pregnant woman was not exactly a great image for the owner of Gossamer. “Maybe.”
“You’re not going over?”
Her temper flared up out of nowhere. One minute she drew in deep breaths, staying calm and refusing to take the bait. The next her brain felt like it was on fire. “To beg him to come back?”
Grace snorted. “To kick his ass.”
And like that, the heat in Mallory’s cheeks vanished and the breath of indignation left her lungs. Leave it to Grace to put the world back into perspective. “Tough talk from the pregnant lady.”
“I love Walker but that man is in need of a serious ass-kicking.”
No question about that. “Agreed.”
“And I think you’re just the woman to do it.”
A second round of agreement caught in Mallory’s throat. No, she knew that tone. Grace could lead a person right to where she wanted them. Mallory blamed all that damn FBI training.
Time for a reality check. “Sounds like you’re matchmaking. You’re not saying it but I sense it lingering inside you somewhere.”
Grace shook her head. Made a face. Even adding in a pfft. “Never.”
Okay, yeah. The act wasn’t even a little believable. Grace’s voice went too high and her eye contact faltered.
Looked like the last stab at a reality check wasn’t strong enough, so Mallory tried again. “Good, because we’re over. There is no Walker and Mallory happy ending here.”
Yet Mallory sensed she hadn’t won that round at all. “I need you to hear me. I’m done with the Hanovers.”
Grace nodded. “Right.”
Despite the words coming out of Grace’s mouth, this was not going well. Mallory put her hands on the counter and leaned in close, keeping her voice low so her customers couldn’t hear. Not easy since several women were openly staring now. “Stop that, Grace.”
She had a two-fisted grip on the mug that should have cracked the ceramic in two. “My only advice would be—”
“I don’t want to hear it.” But part of her did, and Mallory hated herself for that.
“Hanover men aren’t easy to walk away from.”
Mallory forced her hands to loosen their death grip on the edge of the counter. It took another second to stop digging her fingernails into the already scarred wood. “Walker isn’t a Hanover.”
Grace made a face. One that said “get real” without actually using the words. “From everything I’ve seen—the stubbornness, the hotness, the unresolved emotional issues—that man is all Hanover.”
Those traits did sound familiar. “None of what you just described is a plus in my book.”
“Yeah, well. Enjoy the ride.”
“I’m not riding Walker Reeves.” Mallory didn’t realize she’d yelled that until the entire store turned to face her. She spied some skeptical looks, including one from Grace. “Well, I’m not riding him anymore.”
And with that she tripled her embarrassment. Mallory decided to blame Walker for that, too.
Walker Reeves looked up from his seat in the back booth of Rosie’s Diner, the one hidden in the corner and blocked from the view of most of the restaurant, and did a double take. Two men he did not want to face right now headed straight toward him.
It was as if he had a homing beacon in his ass. There was just no other explanation for the Hanover brothers tracking him down so easily. Except possibly the fact Walker had the worst fucking luck of any human alive.
Before he could get up and stalk out, which was exactly what he planned to do, Declan and Callen pinned him down. Callen slid into the booth across from Walker. In the next second, Walker got shoved further into the corner by Declan who took the seat next to him in the fake leather booth.
“Hello.” Declan offered the greeting as he scanned Walker’s plate of half-eaten food.
Wanting to be clear on his position and how much he hated their company, Walker went with jaw-clenched threatening. Even slammed his open palm against the tabletop and watched the water glass jump.
Callen rolled his eyes. “Are you done being dramatic?”
Not even close. Walker was just getting started. “How is it possible I’ve been in town less than a day and I run into you two?”
Declan shrugged. “Luck.”
“About eight people live in this town, so the odds were good,” Callen said at the same time.
Declan reached over and took one of the forgotten chips off Walker’s plate. After two seconds of munching, he continued his annoying conversation with Callen. “More like a thousand people live here, but it does have the feel of a small hunting party sometimes.”
They didn’t need him for this talk and Walker wanted to be anywhere else right now, so he jumped to the point. “What do you two want?”
Declan stretched an arm in front of Walker and grabbed a napkin out of the holder on the far inside end of the table. “Now that we’re related—”
“Don’t do that.” Walker hated that phrase and the openness with which they accepted his biological connection to them, or seemed to.
Being a Hanover by blood but not in name had haunted Walker’s entire life and here these two sat, taking the news in stride. The reaction wasn’t normal. Kind of ticked Walker off, too.
“As your brothers we thought we’d help you,” Callen said.
This topic—anything relating to their idiot father or bloodlines—needed to stop. Walker had known the truth for years. He was the first-born son of Charlie Hanover, not Callen. He and Callen shared two parents and Beck and Declan were their half-brothers. As far as gene pools went, theirs qualified more as a cesspool.
The bottom-line reality had hit Walker long ago and colored every choice he ever made. He was the one son Charlie refused to acknowledge or claim. The one they all left behind and ignored.
Now it was his turn to shove people off. “Go away.”
“That’s not going to work.” Declan rolled his used napkin into a ball and threw it on Walker’s plate.
He hated to ask, but it wasn’t in Walker’s nature to let information sit out there without charging after it. “I give up. What?”
“This.” Declan waved his hand between Walker and Callen. “The ducking and grumbling. That’s Cal’s thing. You’ll have to find something else.”
“Thanks, man,” Callen mumbled under his breath.
They talked and Walker’s confusion grew. They should hate him. That he could handle. Mutual hatred. But this, the ongoing chatter and act where they had some sort of connection, didn’t compute for him at all. “What are you two talking about?”
Declan stared at another chip but didn’t pick it up. “You’re in trouble.”
No kidding. “Want to be more specific?”
Callen shot Walker a stop-being-an-asshole glare. “Women.”
“You lost me.” But they actually hadn’t. They’d hunted him down at the diner for whatever reason and now they were moving in for the kill. Thanks to the seating arrangement, Walker couldn’t escape unless he planned to climb under the table. A tempting thought.
At least if he got out of there he could find the one person in this town he did want to talk to. Mallory, the woman he pictured every time he closed his eyes. Curvy and hot with long black hair and big green eyes. She was full of life and energy, all artsy and sexy in those short skirts and motorcycle boots. She didn’t back down or take his shit. She liked to push him around even as she met him touch for touch in the bedroom.
He wanted her until he could taste it and that driving need sent him into a panic. That was his only excuse for fucking it all up. That and practice. He tended to fuck things up in his private life far too often.
As if he read Walker’s mind, Callen launched into the new topic. “You were sleeping with Mallory then left town.”
“How is that your business?” Walker craved privacy. Mallory had honored that but these two appeared ready to bulldoze over every firm wall he’d set up to keep people out.
“Leah is going to kill you. Since I’m her boyfriend I’ll be obligated to help and then clean up the aftermath.” Declan made a tsk-tsking sound. “I’m really not in the mood to bury your body.”
“And Sophie and Grace plan to help Mallory. I think even Mom would join in.” Callen leaned in closer. “That should scare the hell out of you, by the way.”
Mom. Not his mom. Not really Callen’s either, but Walker didn’t drop that reminder. Regardless of the gene-pool confusion this was not his problem. “I’m not afraid of your women.”
Callen shook his head. “Oh, you poor dumb bastard.”
A part of Walker did wonder if he could take on all of the women and win. More than once he’d walked into Gossamer and gotten backed down by a group of females hovering around the room. FBI training taught him to plan for every contingency, but nothing had prepared him for Mallory or the way she fought. Add in her friends and a man did have a hell of a climb.
Not that he’d admit that out loud. No, he chose the pontificating asshole route instead. “Mallory will understand what I did and why.”
“So, you’re going to play the role of the stupid Hanover brother.” Callen motioned for the waitress. “Interesting choice.”
Okay, that went too far. “Excuse me?”
Callen waited until the waitress delivered glasses of water and menus. “Beck is the lawyer with the big brain. Declan is the rational one who people listen to and generally like for some reason.”
Having compiled thick files on every member of the family, Walker thought those tags sounded about right. Still . . . “What are you?”
“Cal here? He’s the dictatorial pain in the ass who thinks he knows what’s best for everyone else.” Declan suggested as he paged through the plastic-coated menu.
“That’s probably not that far off.” Callen didn’t bother with food. He crossed his arms in front of him and leaned on the table. “But we should get back to the main topic. Do you think Mallory Able is going to welcome you back into her bed without making you crawl first?”
Just thinking about Mallory in bed had Walker sweating. “Let’s pretend I’m willing to talk about this, which I’m not.”
Declan kept flipping pages. “Uh-huh.”
“Mallory and I had an understanding . . .” Walker’s confidence faltered. “Stop shaking your head at me, Callen. I am three seconds away from smashing my fist into your skull.”
Declan finally looked up. “He has that effect on everyone, your girlfriend Mallory especially.”
The amusement in Declan’s voice had Walker jumping on the defensive. “She’s not my—”
Callen snorted. “Well, she’s not now. You fucked that up.”
“That’s not true.” Walker refused to let that be true. Yes, he didn’t handle Mallory as well as he should have. He’d admit to that, but he did have something with her and there was no way he would let that slip away without a fight.
“Dude, she usually hates me, and right now there is no question I rank above you,” Callen said.
“I had to leave town for a few days.” Walker justified and explained even though the words rang hollow inside him.
Declan finally lowered the menu. “Twenty-eight.”
Walker had no idea what question Declan was answering. “What?”
“You were gone twenty-eight days.”
“We can count.” Callen winked. “Unfortunately for you, big man, so can Mallory.”
Before Walker could catch his breath, Declan was off again. “Did you call her while you were gone?”
Anxiety started whirling in Walker’s gut. He went from worrying about Mallory’s reaction to dreading it. She was not a woman you crossed, and he’d done it more than once.
Well, shit. “Again, not your business.”
“So, no.” Callen shook his head. “Douche move.”
“Yeah, she is going to make you pay for that,” Declan said while staring off into space.
Walker took the opportunity to make a point. The one where he was done talking and certainly had no intention of discussing his personal life with these two. “We didn’t have anything serious between us.”
Declan closed one eye and made a face that looked a lot like a pained wince. “Does she know that?”
“I do now.” Mallory’s voice vibrated with fury. So did her body as she stood at the end of the booth and glared the males and half the diner into a startled silence.
Damn it. She came out of nowhere. He’d been so focused on staying on his game with Declan and Callen that Walker missed her sneaking in the diner. Talk about an FBI training misfire. No wonder some people thought he’d become too obsessed with the Hanovers and should hand in his badge.
He tried to stand up then remembered his position smashed in the corner of the booth made that impossible. “Mallory.”
Callen’s eyes bulged. “Sweet damn.”
“I almost feel bad for him,” Declan said.
Mallory’s hand sliced through the air and those sexy bracelets of hers jingled. “Don’t.”
Okay, corner or not he had to move. Scrambling on the seat to get out, Walker ran right into a solid wall of Declan. He pushed and shoved and tried to move the guy out of the way.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Declan said in a low, barely audible voice.
Rather than fight it, Walker sat back with a harsh exhale and stared up at Mallory. “We need to talk.”
“You need to go to hell.”
Even the waitress openly gawked now. She stood a few feet behind Mallory and eyed Walker up with a “you’re dead” smirk. The low rumble of diner conversation had stopped and more than one head turned to watch the showdown.
“Don’t do this. Not here.” Not quite ready to give up on privacy, Walker lowered his voice and pointed at Declan and Callen. “Not in front of them.”
Declan snorted. “As if we’re the problem.”
Callen shook his head as he shot Walker a mixed look of disappointment and disbelief. “You can’t be this much of an idiot.”
“Have we established that? Because he really seems to suck at this.” Declan’s gaze switched from Walker to Callen. “Like, worse than you.”
If he didn’t put a stop to it, the annoying banter would keep going round and round, and Walker couldn’t tolerate that. Because nothing they said washed the grim expression off Mallory’s usually sunny face.
“Again, go the fuck away,” he said, wondering what words he should use to show just how serious he was about the order.
Before they could move Mallory jumped in. “They can stay.”
“See? She likes us,” Declan said.
That could not be true. Walker refused to believe it. “God, why?”
He’d barely talked about the Hanover brothers with her, though he’d been tempted. She had intel but he honored that line and did not cross it . . . mostly because she’d threatened to kick him out of her bed if he used her.
“I consider them family.” The words shot out of her.
“Even me?” Callen asked.
“Believe it or not, yes.”
The words sliced right into Walker. He felt every syllable like a body blow. But he guessed that was the point. Unleashed, Mallory’s anger was a wild thing. It sucked up all the oxygen in the room and spit out fireballs that had him ducking.
This wasn’t the first time in the months they’d known each other that he’d pissed her off. But it was the first time the divide between them stretched so wide that he wondered if he could cross it.
Declan let out a long breath as he sat back hard against the booth. “Uh-oh.”
Something in his voice caught Walker’s attention and had him taking his gaze off Mallory, but only for a second. “What?”
Callen looked from Mallory to Walker and back again. “Something bad is about to happen.”
“How can you—”
“From now on you can find someone else who likes to play your little games in bed.” She practically shouted the comment.
An angry flush heated his face. Walker wasn’t a prude but, damn, there were some things that did not need a general announcement to the good people of Sweetwater. “Mallory, that’s enough.”
She put both hands on the edge of the table and Callen and Declan jerked back to stay out of her way. Not that it looked as if she saw them. No, her unblinking stare never wavered. “Yeah, Walker it is. I am done with you.”
The whole conversation had spun out of control. Something about her made his common sense snap and his good judgment take a hike. He’d been trained to calm hostile situations, but she went off and he followed.
Not this time. “We can talk about this later. I’ll come to your place.”
“We’re done talking, touching, having sex.” She glanced in the direction of his lap. “You should get used to using your own hand.”
“Whoa.” Declan more mouthed the word than said it.
Walker only heard the comment because the entire diner had gone quiet. Grown men rushed to get out of Mallory’s way as she stalked to the door. Nobody ate a bite, and the joint force of everyone’s glare had Walker’s insides ticking with the need to storm out after her.
And he would have, if Declan hadn’t still blocked his path. This time Walker didn’t even try to move the guy. No, for some reason he decided sitting there and watching out the window as Mallory walked down the street, drawing stares as she went, seemed like a smart move.
Declan cleared his throat. “Well, that was embarrassing.”
“What kind of kinky shit do you do in bed?” Callen asked.
With his patience expired and his energy gone, Walker barely had the brain cells left to fight back. “I’m going to shoot both of you.”
This time Callen smiled. “A totally rational response.”
Normally any comment from Callen would have pissed Walker off but his mind clicked a step or two behind. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t jumpstart his thinking and work through what to do next. “She is really ticked off.”
“He’s finally getting it.” Declan picked up his water glass and downed the rest of it. When he signaled for the waitress for a refill, she shook her head and walked in the opposite direction.
Walker assumed that slight was really meant for him, though he didn’t totally get why. “How can Mallory not understand that I needed to step away for a few days?”
“Again, twenty-eight,” Declan said as he stole Callen’s water glass.
The first time was annoying. The second reminder sent Walker’s temper spiking. “What are you, a fucking calendar?”
“Okay, stop. Both of you.” Callen took his glass back and set it as far away from Declan as possible before turning to Walker. “Did you come back to town for her?”
This was not a conversation he wanted to have. Not one he could have, because all the explanations and comebacks jammed in his throat. “I, uh . . . sure, in part.”
Callen leaned in with his fingers behind his ear. “What was that?”
They weren’t going to stop. They refused to move and kept asking questions. Walker knew the only way to bring this to a close was to play the game.
“I came back because Beck called me, insisting he has a business proposition.” A cryptic message about reaching out and giving him what he’d been searching for.
Since he’d been hunting down Charlie’s stolen goods and looking for reasons to arrest Callen, Walker doubted that’s what Beck meant. But with his job inches away from being lost and his mind in free fall ever since he stood in the side yard of Shadow Hill a month ago and admitted to the whole Hanover clan that Charlie was his father and that he and Callen shared a birth mother as well, Walker was out of choices.
That would teach him to use his forced leave of absence to travel to Sweetwater and keep the hunt going. In hindsight, he should have been clear that he was actually on a leave of absence when he started asking questions in town. Now the police chief and the Hanovers knew all about his work problems, and his boss wanted him gone. Yeah, this time he’d managed to blow up his work life to match the chaos of his private one.
Declan nodded. “Beck was talking about a proposition that will save your job.”
“My job is fine.” The response was automatic. Not believable and not true.
“You’re delusional.” Callen knocked a fist against the table. “Hey, I guess that does mean we’re related.”
Before Walker could comment on how much he hated statements like that, Declan launched into a new series of questions. “So you didn’t even come back to Sweetwater for Mallory?”
That sounded so wrong. In many ways it was. Walker had missed the hell out of her. Thought about her. Imagined touching her, running his fingers through that soft hair and over that silky skin.
But drilling down to the truth, Beck’s call brought him back. Walker had assumed his relationship with Mallory would be the easy part. Looked like he got that exactly wrong. “I expected to . . . you know. Talk to her and get everything right back on track.” Pick up right where they left off.
“You mean sex.” Declan interpreted as if he’d heard Walker’s thoughts. “Let’s examine this.”
Not that the denial stopped Declan. “You left her without talking to her, lied to her about who you are and now come back without warning her first.”
Callen leaned in on both elbows. “Then there’s the part where he apparently likes funky shit in bed.”
All three older men at the next table turned around and stared at Walker on that one. The waitress who’d finally been headed to their table with a water pitcher did another turnaround and walked the other way. If she heard Declan’s groan, she didn’t let on.
This was just fucking fantastic. “Can you keep your voice down?”
Callen didn’t bother to hide his amusement. “Probably but yelling that was more fun.”
“You made all of those mistakes, did all of that, but still think you don’t need to crawl and beg?” Still not waiting for an answer, Declan turned to Callen. “He really is a dumb bastard.”
The name-calling could stop any time now. But rather than let them know it bugged him, because that would guarantee they prolonged the torture, Walker tried another tack. “Once she calms down we can have a rational discussion.”
Declan’s mouth dropped open. “Are you kidding?”
“Can we be there for that?” Callen asked at the same time.
The double-team was getting old. Walker grabbed for his last ounce of patience. “Why?”
“Admittedly we’re not close, but I think it might take at least two of us to keep her from killing you.” Callen made a face that suggested he doubted the saving could be done at all. “We’ll need reinforcements, but since pretty much every woman in town is on her side we might not be able to save you. Though I’m not convinced you’re worth saving. I’m tempted to kick your ass over this Mallory situation.”
“You two have a weird relationship,” Declan said.
“Right now it makes more sense than the one Walker has with her.”
“True.” Declan nodded. “Walker is a dead man.”
Walker refused to believe his relationship with Mallory had reached that point. He’d kept things from her and sucked at communication but . . . the pitying expressions Declan and Callen kept throwing made something inside Walker shrivel. “Things are not that bad between us.”
“What did you hear her say a few minutes ago?” Declan scoffed. “Because I heard a really angry woman blow you off.”
Callen interrupted right before Walker could answer. “She also mentioned something about you using your hand.”
“She didn’t say anything that can’t be taken back.” Walker said the words but he wasn’t sure he believed them.
Callen slumped back in his seat, all signs of pity gone. “This is going to be fun to watch.”
“You’re not watching anything.” This talk in the diner was almost too much for Walker to stand. Anything more would send him hurtling over the edge.
Declan nodded. “Oh, yeah we are.”
Time to lay down the law, and Walker had the badge to do it. At least for now. “I don’t want you there, or anywhere near me.”
“Tough.” That’s it. One word was all Callen said. He just dropped it and sat there, baiting, as if pushing for Walker to challenge him.
Walker didn’t make him wait. The shields rose inside as fury washed over him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Declan slapped Walker on the shoulder. “Welcome to the family.”
Callen had to wait all day to get Grace alone. He blamed Walker. Biological brother or not, the guy needed a shitload of help in the female department. Callen hardly considered himself an expert when it came to the women in town, or any women, but at least he was smart enough to know when to duck. Walker seemed to lack that gene.
Grace rested her head on his shoulder as her arms wrapped around his waist. “I could sleep for a month.”
Not exactly Callen’s plans for the evening. “Well, that’s a shame.”
She laughed, and the light, happy sound vibrated against his chest. “I’m assuming you had something different in mind for tonight.”
“I’m fine just holding you.” And that was the truth. Being with her trumped everything else. He loved her more with each day, and seeing her grow bigger, watching that belly pop out, filled him with a protectiveness he’d never expected.
“That sort of romantic talk is going to get you just about anything you want.”
He smiled against her hair. The scent of her shampoo filled his head as his hand wandered down to the small of her back.
They stood in the middle of the kitchen at Shadow Hill, just in front of the butcher block island. The rain had moved in and stopped Callen’s outside work. Climbing up on the roof didn’t shake him but Grace had pulled into the driveway, seen him and had a fit. He decided that was a good sign for their future. Not wanting him to break his neck was a huge step forward from where they were a month ago.
After messing up so big with her, not trusting her and abandoning her at the beginning of her pregnancy, he’d turned a corner. He hadn’t known about the baby because he’d made it impossible for her to tell him right away. He got that now.
They’d moved on and through the long desperate days to get to a great place, which was why he proposed. One day soon she’d say yes, but he had to fully earn her trust back first. He got that, too.
The back door banged open and Mallory’s frustrated voice rang out. “Break it up.”
Before the identity of the intruder registered in Callen’s brain, he’d spun around and pushed Grace behind him. Seeing Mallory standing there with her hands balled into fists, Callen knew his daily dealing with a Walker issue had not ended.
A cool wind blew through the room and Grace shivered behind him. “Could you close the door?” Callen asked.
Mallory didn’t break eye contact as she kicked her leg behind her. The door slammed shut a second later.
“Oh, Callen.” Grace’s hand curled around his arm as she moved next to him. “What did you do?”
“This time? Nothing.” He conducted a mental run through the diner incident and didn’t flinch. No, this one was all on Walker.
Mallory stepped further into the room and leaned back against the white farmhouse sink. “You were laughing it up with Walker in the diner.”
“Callen.” Grace’s hold tightened.
This was bad. One woman looked at him without blinking for what seemed like ten minutes. Another had a death grip on his forearm. Usually he deserved the wrath. Not today.
“Okay, wait.” He held up a hand as if that would stop Hurricane Mallory. “That didn’t happen.”
She folded her arms across her stomach. “Explain.”
Callen eyed up Mallory then glanced at Grace as he dropped his voice to a whisper. “She’s scary.”
With a kiss on his cheek, Grace circled around him and sat at the head of the kitchen table. “That’s what I like about her.” She patted the wooden top as if welcoming Mallory to join her. When that didn’t happen, Grace pointed. “Sit. Now.”
The order wasn’t directed at him but he followed it. Sat down and waited for Mallory to take the seat across from him before offering an explanation.
“Declan and I saw Walker in the diner. We went in to . . .” Okay, yeah, this is where the conversation could go sideways on him. Callen stopped talking but from Grace’s raised eyebrow he knew he’d put on the brakes too late.
“What?” she asked.
There was no way to pretty it up now, so Callen didn’t try. “Give him shit about what a mess his life is.”
Grace frowned. “Was that necessary?”
Some of the tension eased from Mallory’s shoulders as she leaned back in her chair. “I’m actually fine with that. Walker deserves to get hit with a load of shit.”
A rush of relief hit Callen out of nowhere. He’d wrangled with gritty construction workers in his past and fought with shitty bosses, all while spending far too many hours in dive bars during his life. None of that knocked him off stride, but the women in the room had the power to do just that.
“Honestly?” He hoped the next two minutes wouldn’t result in him getting his ass kicked for being too paternalistic or controlling or something. “We were letting him know that you would probably kill him over his behavior.”
“You think I’m overreacting.” Mallory’s voice still vibrated with what sounded like fury.
“No even a little.” And he didn’t. He’d watched Mallory and Walker circle each other not realizing they were in some sort of relationship. That piece of covert information made Walker’s decision-making seem even worse. “I offered to inflict some pain on your behalf.”
Mallory’s shoulders fell the rest of the way back to normal. “That’s sweet of you.”
Grace frowned. “Is it?”