Takes over where Already Taken left off. From Maura’s POV.
The minute he came to the door with my brother, I knew Nolan Hunter would have an important place in my life. I hadn’t expected the buzz-cut, tightly muscled, contained look to do anything for me. But, with just that one look, I had to remind myself I was already engaged. I’d made a promise and it was one I needed to keep. Maybe, at long last, my dad would actually be proud of me for something. Who knew it would take marrying a business associate to hopefully accomplish that.
I really thought he was going to kiss my hand, the way he was holding it. But, his gaze caught on the diamond on my finger. The thing was huge. It would be a little hard to miss. And he released my hand. “Come inside,” I told them then glanced at Mark as I stepped back. “Dad’s been waiting for you to get here.”
My brother’s face closed up at that. “What level of asshole is he at today?”
My lips thinned at this. The two of them had never gotten along, and I always seemed to get pulled into the middle. No matter how hard I tried to stay off to the side. “That’s no way to talk about our father, Mark. And in front of a guest,” I added, shifting to look at Nolan again. I only saw concern in his warm, brown eyes. It wasn’t something I was used to seeing from people who came to visit.
“Oh, Nolan knows all the wonderful things about our dear father,” Mark said, sarcasm dripping in his voice. “I guess I might as well go face the music. Will you show Nolan to the guest room?”
“Of course.” But, I watched Mark walk down the hallway to Dad’s office first. He looked like he was prepared to face a firing squad.
“He has told me.” Nolan’s voice was soft as he spoke. “And he told me that even though you act cold, you’re the one that took care of him growing up. I think you both have your defense mechanisms for dealing with…things.”
My laugh felt bitter. “You can say what you’re really thinking. You mean dealing with our dysfunctional family.”
I glanced back over at him and saw a sad smile playing around his lips. “Yeah, that. All families have their level of dysfunction. Even my close-knit one.”
“You know, you don’t talk like a soldier,” I said as I led him to the stairs to go up to the bedrooms.
“Well, I’m a Marine, not just a soldier,” he said with a playful grin. “But, exactly how should a soldier talk?”
I could barely hold back my own teasing grin. “You know, short words interspersed with lots of grunts.”
His low chuckle swept through me, making me feel things I really shouldn’t. “Well, then,” he said, “it’s probably a good thing I started out as a psychology major so I could dispel some of the stereotypes of soldier talk.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that. He grinned back at me as I pushed open the door to the guest room. “Here you go. I hope you enjoy your stay with us.”
He took my hand again. Why did he have to keep doing that? “Thank you. I’m sure it will be my pleasure.”
My cheeks warmed, but I quickly turned around and hurried back downstairs. I thought maybe we could be friends if I could only keep these traitorous feelings under wraps. I’d always been able to before. I’d been taught by a master after all, my own mother.
When I stepped into the kitchen, Evan was already there waiting. He wrapped an arm around my waist and pulled me up tight against him. I stiffened slight then forced myself to relax. There was nothing wrong with my fiancè touching me, as he’d been sure to point out before.
“You get the jarheads settled?”
I bristled at the term, but there was no point starting a fight over it. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m all yours now.”
“For the rest of our lives.”
For the first time, I wondered if this was more of a curse than a promise. But, it was too late to wonder about that. And it was a ridiculous thought, because I knew Evan loved me. He’d promised me he always would. How could I do any less?