*2014 Golden Heart® Finalist.
Cates Brothers Series — Book 1
When an Army nurse’s life is shattered by war, it takes the love of an old flame to help her put all the pieces back together.
Delaney Lyons returns from Afghanistan with a Purple Heart, a prosthetic foot and survivor’s guilt. She’d rather have just bought the T-shirt. After months of physical therapy and pain, she withdraws to her apartment. She wants to be left alone. Her worried sister talks small town cop Quinn Cates, who once carried a torch for Delaney, into bringing Delaney home. Delaney figures she’ll go through the motions of rehab again, and after a few weeks, when her sister stops worrying, she can escape back to her solitary life.
What she doesn’t figure on? Quinn getting in her space and under her skin on a regular basis. Between his hot glances and bad-boy grins, she isn’t sure if she wants to lick his chiseled muscles or hit him with a dumbbell. Solution: Label the dangerous man “off limits” and ignore him. But the darn man practically dares her to commit to rehab. Can she find the strength to try again, or will she miss her last chance to grasp her life back?
Off limits? Not bloody likely. Quinn Cates went to the trouble of kidnapping Delaney’s ornery behind back home–he isn’t going to let them miss their second chance at lust…love…whatever. Sparks fly as Quinn’s brothers get involved while the town grapevine calls the play-by-play.
Copyright © Lee Kilraine
Quinn looked up at the third-floor windows of Delaney’s apartment building. Don’t make it complicated. You moved on years ago. Go in. Help. Get out. Simple. He walked over to the building’s entrance, punched in the entry code Greer had given him, and took the stairs up rather than wait for the elevator.
“Delaney?” Quinn called out as he opened the door to Delaney’s apartment. At first glance, the apartment looked vacant. But the key Greer had given him worked, so it had to be Delaney’s place. Metal blinds, lowered over a single window to block the light, dimmed the small living room. A few broken slats created spaces for the setting sun to force its way through. Dust motes floated in slow motion in the narrow sun rays.
A love seat, wingback chair, and coffee table, all various shades of brown, took up most of the space. There were no pictures on the walls, no knickknacks on the table or pillows on the couch. Beyond the living room, a bright fluorescent light shone behind a pass-through window. The apartment was quiet except for the hum of the light. He knew he needed to pull it together when the thought Don’t go toward the light flashed through his mind.
Greer’s a worrier. Delaney’s probably fine. When was she not fine, even with everything she’d had to deal with growing up, right? Keep it simple. Assess. Help. Get out.
“Delaney?” He walked toward the light until he stood in the kitchen doorway—where he found Delaney. She was sitting on the chipped and yellowed linoleum floor with her back against a kitchen cabinet. She wore a grey T-shirt and dark grey baggy sweatpants with the tips of neon-green running shoes peeking out. Huh. Kind of hard to assess the weight loss Greer had mentioned when she was wearing clothes that looked like Shaq could borrow them. She had scraped her honey-blond hair into a messy-looking bun and stabbed a silver teaspoon through it. Her face seemed to be all sharp cheekbones and big golden-brown eyes. Her delicate nose was red and running. The perfect ivory skin etched in his memory was today a mess of patchy blotches and tear tracks.
“Delaney, it’s Quinn Cates. Your sister Greer sent me.”
“Greer? You’re not Greer. Greer has much prettier hair. And you’re very . . .” Delaney tilted her head all the way back, looking up the long length of him until her head hit the cabinet behind her. “Ouch . . . big. What are you, about twelve feet tall?”
“Delaney, what are you doing?” Quinn stepped into the kitchen and did a quick visual inventory for pills and alcohol.
“I’m trying to stop the pain.”
Stepping around a collection of wineglasses and coffee cups on the floor, Quinn crouched next to her. He grabbed the prescription bottle beside her hip while trying to lift her face to check her pupils, but she batted his hand away.
“Delaney, these are . . . prescription vitamins? Is this what you took?” After he noted the bottle was full, his eyes did a quick scan of the countertops and small pine kitchen table for any more prescription bottles.
“Because, you know, I hurt. I still hurt so bad and it seems like it’s been forever.”
“Delaney!” Quinn reached out and turned her face to look into his. “Delaney Lyons, did you take any pain pills? Any narcotics?”
“Oh, hell, no. Those things mess you up. I stopped taking those weeks ago.” She tried to bat his hand away again.
Her pupils looked normal. “Is that all you took?”
“Nope. I had some wine.” She looked at the floor around her and counted the number of wineglasses. “It appears I’ve had six, six glasses of wine. Whoa. I sound like The Count.” Hiccup.
“Are you sure, Delaney?” The wineglasses were lined up in a row, as if she’d poured them all and then had drunk her way down the line.
“No. Lemme count again. One, two—” She stopped counting to massage her left leg above the knee. Clenching her jaw tight, she released a low moan and looked up at the ceiling. “God, if it would just stop for an hour . . . five minutes even . . .” Delaney looked back at Quinn. “Is five freaking minutes too long to ask?”
Quinn looked at Delaney, very pale but still beautiful, and watched pain, anger, and then finally sadness chase each other across her face.
She looked back down at the floor with a sigh. “Oh my, look at all the coffee cups. I remember. I drank the coffee to stop the spinning.”
“Yeah. Side effect of my no-pain method.”
“Gotcha. How are the spinning and the pain right now?”
“Oh, well, not bad ’cause I stopped the spinning with doughnuts.” She grabbed a doughnut out of the box on the floor. Breaking it in half, she reached up and pulled the spoon out of her bun and started eating the jelly from the center of the doughnut.
“And the pain?”
Delaney looked back up. “No. No matter what I do—I can’t stop the pain,” she whispered. Hiccup.
“What about the vitamins?”
“That’s for the osteoporosis and scurvy.” Delaney’s eyes teared up quickly as a sob rolled up from her chest. “Only now I don’t need as much anymore.”
With tears running down her cheeks, Delaney dropped her doughnut and spoon into the box, reached out, and grabbed Quinn by the sleeve. She pulled him forward enough to rub her tears and runny nose on his sleeve. “When I was little, when Greer was born, I knew exactly what to do. Take care of Greer. Protect her.”
“You did a good job.”
“I had to. Then she grew up and didn’t need me, so I left and made a new life. I had a plan, but—” Delaney scrubbed her hands over her face and shook her head. “Funny how one second can change your life, you know? Boom. So now I want to be left alone. Why won’t Greer understand that?”
“She’s worried about you.”
“I told her I was fine.”
“You don’t look fine.” Quinn watched the tears run silently down her face, realizing in all the years he’d known Delaney he’d never seen her cry before.
“Of course I’m not fine. My life makes no sense anymore. And I’m tired of trying to make it make sense, you know? I just want to be left alone. That’s all.”
“Yes?” She sniffed and blinked tear-filled eyes up to his face.
“It’s time to come home. Greer sent me to get you.” He used the bottom of his shirt to finish wiping her tears away.
She looked up at him in confusion. “One of the many Cates brothers. In high school, you couldn’t sneeze without spraying a Cates brother. One of you was always at the principal’s office. Was that you? You look like the bad boy of the bunch.”
Quinn quirked an eyebrow at her, wondering what game she was playing. She damn well knew who he was. “No, that was Tynan.”
“The one who cheated off my chemistry tests?”
“The one who dated the student teacher?”
“What? Seriously? Had to be Tynan.”
She studied him, tilting her head different angles. “Hmmm, not Tynan, and not the super hot one, or that other one the girls nicknamed Mr. Darcy, and definitely not old what’s-his-name. That makes you the one who dated all those perky cheerleaders. Quinlan.” She poked him in the chest with her finger.
“Guilty.” He stood up and took a step back, rubbing his chest where she’d poked him.
“You don’t say. Of what?”
“Nothing.” Guilty of being stupid if he let her touch get to him again. He’d gotten over her five years ago. He was not taking that road again.
“Don’t poker up on me now. Go ahead and confess. It’s a few years too late, but . . . No? Fine. I’ll go first. I confess I’m pretty sure I made out with one of you Cates boys, but I’m not sure which one.”
Quinn crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. “How could you not be sure which one of us you made out with?”
“Well, you all looked a lot alike. You know, tall, square jaw, and dark hair. You know what you needed? Name tags. If you Cates brothers had worn name tags, then I’d remember which one.”
Quinn grunted. “I think I might be insulted.”
“Why? Was it you?” She stared at his lips as if this would reveal the truth.
“I don’t kiss and tell.”
“See, you don’t even know. I told you y’all needed name tags.”
“I’d say you need some more coffee.”