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GIVE AND TAKE is a 2019 RITA® Finalist.
Thorne Brother Series — Book 2.
Six Brothers Construction was built to reunite a family and heal a painful past. So far it’s opened to rave reviews. But the youngest sibling is about to discover that the right woman can shake even a rock-solid foundation . . .
Wyatt Thorne was so traumatized by his mother’s abandonment he didn’t speak until he was six. At 26, he’s still the quiet type—strong and silent, most comfortable with a hammer in his hand and work to do. But the reassuring rhythm of his life is interrupted when his brother Beckett decides to pay forward their unused office space to a needy start-up. Enter Rhia Hollis, flighty, impulsive, and outspoken—everything that drives Wyatt crazy. Only this time in the sexiest, most irresistible way . . .
Rhia is determined to disprove her reckless, party girl image by making her new company, Seize the Day, the premier event planning firm in Raleigh. She has big dreams, and the Thornes’ offer of a free command center is a huge help. But Wyatt’s gruff, stubborn resistance to her presence is an annoying hindrance. They’re as different as night and day, yet when they begin to meet in the middle, the sparks fly hot. Is this a case of opposites’ distraction—or the beginning of a beautiful long-term project? . . .
Copyright © Lee Kilraine
I sat at my desk as misgivings settled heavy in my gut. That my reasoning of selecting Rhia as the “Pay it Forward” applicant who’d blend quietly and seamlessly into our office was looking wrong. I’d totally misread Rhia at the expo. Because from what I’d seen at the party, the woman who I’d pegged for shy, quiet, and low-key was nothing of the kind.
She sure wasn’t shy when she practically ripped my belt off me to avoid a wardrobe malfunction. And what kind of event planner hires an unreliable clown for a kid’s birthday party and has to put on an emergency performance?
You know what? I simply wouldn’t think about it. I’d let my brothers deal with her. I was going to focus on my goal of finishing all the parts of the ARE and become a fully licensed architect. I was going to think positive and hope my first impression of Rhia was the correct one. Either way, Rhia Hollis was not going to sidetrack me.
My office door opened and my brother Beck walked in. He was on his phone, and his forehead wore that bunched up crease when he was in his I-can-solve-anything crisis mode.
“Sam… Sam, listen to me, babe.” Beck held one finger up to me while he finished talking. “Don’t worry. Go ahead and talk with your insurance guy and call me back. We’ve already figured out a solution, right? No, Wyatt’s going to be fine. No, he won’t be mad at you. Don’t worry. Babe, we’ve got this. I promise Wyatt won’t be mad. Call me back when the insurance guy leaves. This’ll turn out fine.”
Beck hung up, scraped a hand through his dirty blond hair, and exhaled a loud breath.
“Wyatt…” He wasn’t looking at me. In fact, he’d walked right past my desk and over to the large conference table in the middle of the room and started dragging it up against the far wall.
“Beck?” I stood, moving around my desk, not liking what I was seeing. “What am I about to be mad at Sam for?”
Before he answered, Eli and Gray entered carrying a desk between them. A white, feminine desk.
“Whoa, wait.” I shook my head and moved quickly to block them from moving the desk farther into the room. “What’s going on? Whose desk is this, and why are you putting it in my office?”
My answer breezed through the office door.
“What a lovely office. And very spacious. Downright huge even.” Rhia Hollis sort of bounced in, energy and light personified. Between her auburn hair, her bright whatever-the-color-those pants were, and her happy, sparkling smile, she was a glowing, shiny object in my purposefully designed neutral office.
It was like watching a butterfly flit around the stark canvas of my life as she walked around my office, casing the whole room. From the wide windows, to the bookshelves, even opening one of the two storage closets. She even inspected my desk, moving my task lamp over about three inches and running her fingers along the polished oak edge.
“This is great. And it’ll be so much fun! Thank you, Wyatt.”
Fun? Thank you, Wyatt? No. I didn’t sign up for this. It was bad enough we had to use my office for meetings, but this—this sharing an office with a talking rainbow…no.
I gave her a nod when she turned her smile my way. Yeah, this wasn’t looking good. I shifted my gaze to my brother. “Uh…Beck? Is there something you need to tell me?”
“Rhia! While Wyatt and Beck figure out the best configuration for your desks, let’s go get the first load of boxes from your car.” Gray moved quickly, taking her by the elbow to lead her from the room. And that had better not be a smirk on his face, although who was I kidding?
Eli looked at me, frowned, and followed on their heels.
“Seriously, Beck. What’s the deal?” I walked over to my desk and slid the lamp back where it belonged before moving over to the windows to look into the front parking lot at Gray and Rhia. “Shit. She’s got a bright orange floor lamp with feathers on the shade. You had better have a damn good reason for this or I quit.”
“There was an electrical fire at Sam’s office last night.”
“Oh, shit.” I whipped my head around to see Beck’s face. Beck and Sam had been dating for over six months, and all of us loved her. Loved that she’d gotten Beck to stop worrying so much and enjoy life. Of course, the fact that she helped save our company had been a sweet side benefit. “She and Margo are okay, right? I mean, you were just talking to Sam on the phone.”
“Yeah.” Beck ran a shaky hand across his forehead. “Thank God it happened on a night they weren’t burning the midnight oil. The other good news is it wasn’t the main structure, so their actual office is fine. The fire started in the building they’d rented next to it for their new boutique.”
“I’m glad they’re fine.” It could have been much worse. And my hands were a little shaky to think of that. “Why in the hell would Sam think I’d be mad at her?”
“Because you’re going to have to share your office with Rhia,” Beck said.
I’d already figured that out, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. Eli walked in carrying the bright orange, feathered floor lamp, and I could guarantee I hated the idea.
“You know I love Sam. I’d do anything for her, but answer me this—if her office is fine—why the office shuffle?” My gaze followed Gray as he walked in carrying posters of the pink and glittery variety. Which I could let Rhia know needed to go right back out to her car because I already had tasteful black-and-white photos of iconic buildings hanging on my office walls.
“They were all set to move their inventory into the new addition and open it to the public. Between the fire and the water damage from the fire crew—it’ll be delayed. I told Sam she could move all her inventory into the extra office.” Beck hit me with his gaze, and I could see he was still shook up over the whole thing.
Right. I needed to shut up and deal with it. For Sam and Beck, I could handle sharing my office for what, a few weeks? A month. “Any word from the fire inspector on how much damage yet? You know, how long it might take to get in there and rebuild?”
“Not sure yet, but I’m heading over there now. I know this isn’t ideal. Sam told me to give you a hug for being such a sweetheart. Those were her words—not mine.” He clapped a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “There you go.”
“Tell Sam I’m not mad,” I said.
“He’s mad,” Gray said on his way in with another load of boxes.
“I’m not mad, but just out of curiosity, what’s wrong with your office, Gray?” Everyone knew Gray was more outgoing and friendlier than I was. He actually enjoyed talking and people. Thrived on it even. Unlike me.
“No can do, Wy. I see more clients than everyone, since they come into my office to make their color and materials selections. Plus, honestly, you put me and an attractive woman in an office together on a long-term basis, and let’s just say, the fraternization rules will be out the window.”
“I’m sorry, Gray, but if you’re talking about me, I’m afraid you’re not my type.” Rhia walked right by him, carrying a stack of vibrantly hued pillows. “Plus, I don’t get involved with men prettier than I am. Nothing personal, I just don’t like to fight for my time in the mirror each morning.”
Eli laughed. Beck snickered. I would have grinned if I weren’t dealing with this new office arrangement.
“Oooh, she’s good,” Gray said, turning to Rhia with a smile and a nod. “You’re good.”
“Oh, Wyatt, I almost forgot!” Rhia rooted around a large yellow canvas purse hanging from her shoulder. “Aha! Here it is. Your belt. You rushed off and forgot it. Thanks, you know, for everything.”
All my brothers froze, and all eyes focused on the belt in Rhia’s hand. My belt. Their eyes shot my way. Then their gazes whipped over to Rhia and then back to me.
“Oh, whoa,” Rhia said with an awkward laugh. “This isn’t what it looks like. He didn’t—Wyatt didn’t—pffft, no. Your brother is a gentleman. Thanks to him, I kept my pants on.”
“That’s our Wyatt. A human prophylactic.”
“Oh, you’re a hoot, Gray.” I took my belt from Rhia, promising myself I’d never do a good deed for a damsel in distress again. Not when she was dressed in a clown suit and had aqua eyes I couldn’t say no to. Not with my brothers around.
“I’m heading over to Sam’s to check out the damage while the insurance adjuster is with her. So… Are you good, Wyatt?” The sharp edge of stress in Beck’s voice was a sure sign there was only one correct answer here.
“I’m good, Beck. We’ll make this work. Go help Sam.”
He was out the door before I finished my sentence, leaving me with my new office-mate and a feeling of foreboding that life as I knew it was about to change.