The legal papers sat on
my car's front seat, and as much as I tried to ignore them, they wouldn't go
Only twenty-eight and
divorced. How sad is that? my brain commented, and I had to agree.
The one thing I'd thought I'd done right in my life—marry my high school
sweetheart—had come to a bitter end.
Deep in self-pity, I tossed
the papers into the back seat of my car and headed inside my favorite local coffee
shop. I almost wished I'd just gone through a chain with a drive through,
instead of The Bean Counter, but with a name like that, they had my loyalty
My head was in such a state
that I tripped over the cute sandals I'd dug out of the back of my closet in
honor of the beautiful spring day. The toe caught the curb and I almost went
down, flailing like a fool on the sidewalk.
muttered, then glanced around nervously to see if anyone had heard me. My nan
always told me I had no filter, just said the first thing that popped into my
"Stubborn, too," my
gramps would always add.
My gramps had tried to warn
me, I realized as I headed inside The Bean Counter. He'd told me Chad was no
good, we'd butted heads over it, and in the end I'd walked out on him and Nan,
and eloped with Chad at twenty.
Eight years later, I had
divorce papers and a broken heart. The thing I regretted most was that Gramps
had died before he could say, 'I told you so.'
I pushed the shop door a
little too hard and to my horror it swung out and hit a man standing in line at
the counter. It wasn't totally my fault, the shop was small, and the waiting
man had shoulders and biceps roughly the size of Alaska.
He turned to see who'd hit
him, his mirrored shades angling to me, and the sight of this hunky hulk, six
foot amazing and one hundred percent muscle, sent the thoughts of my ex clean
out of my head.
brain said, adding, Don't do anything stupid.
I shot the man a winning
smile, and the corner of his mouth turned up in return. My brain was still
crowing a point for me when my sandal, sticking to its course of sabotage,
decided to trip me again.
Of course the hunky hulk
caught me, and I got a close up of his awesome, bulging muscles under beautiful
"Oh, my god," I
breathed. "Your muscles have muscles."
My brain gasped in horror.
The wrinkles around the
mirrored shades crinkled.
brain hissed. To my horror, my mouth kept talking.
"I mean, you look like
you could pick up my car and throw it. I can barely get down to the gym."
Shut up, shut up. My face
turned bright red under the perusal of mirrored shades.
My coffee shop savior set me
on my feet, one large hand at the small of my back to steady me. The sunglasses
swept up and down and I froze, knowing he was checking me out.
Hunky hulk grinned. My knees
went weak and I almost started drooling. Not to mention the state of my
panties… I mentally added laundry to the list of things to do today.
He turned to the barista.
"Whatever she wants, I'm buying." Muscles stepped aside and the
barista, who also looked a little dazed at the spectacular sight of her
customer, transferred a wide-eyed gaze to me.
My tongue chose that moment to
trip over itself.
"Go ahead, order
something," the hunk commanded softly, his voice deep and gentle at the
He flashed that white,
My brain stopped scolding me
and swooned. Luckily, I'd ordered the same drink for fifteen years. I turned
and parroted it to the barista, who looked like she'd just fallen in lust. Both
hers and my cheeks were pink.
His hand still hovering on my
back, Mr. Muscles added his order, dropped a bill on the counter, and escorted
me to the side to wait for our drinks.
The barista called after him,
asking if he wanted change, and he shook his head with a smile. Her cheeks
flushed further and she tucked a coy strand of hair behind her ear.
For a second my heart sank.
Barista girl was tall and thin and looked like the sort of girl who'd flirt
with a muscled stud muffin like this. But then the hunky hulk transferred his
gaze to me.
Chiseled jaw, full lips and a
slight smile: my body did the math and the tally was yummy.
Please don't let me say
"You didn't have to do
that," I told him.
"I know," he said in
that deep purr. "I wanted to."
He kept his hand at my back,
no longer touching me but close enough for me to feel its warmth, as if I might
fall over at any time. Which I might, and not just because of my stupid
sandals. Maybe he was just used to women swooning with lust thirty seconds
after they'd met him, but his protective stance reminded me of the way my
gramps used to escort my nan around, treating her like she was the most
precious thing in the world.
"Um, so I would tell you
that I don't always say the first thing that pops into my head, but I do, all
the time. My nan says I have two ears and one mouth to listen twice and speak
The slight smile deepened to a
grin. "Worked out for you today."
"I'm having a rough
week," I confessed. "I'm just got served the papers for my divorce
after a year's separation." My brain cringed, but Muscles didn't seem put
off by the mention of my ex.
He cocked his head.
"Sorry to hear that."
"Don't be. I'm trying to
tell myself it's a good thing. He…" cheated on me for years, emotionally
and verbally abused me, lied behind my back… "needed to go."
Shut up, Cassie, shut
up. Just stop talking.
"Then I'm glad he's
gone." The rumble in his voice turned dark.
I searched for a witty and
charming way to change the subject from my pathetic life, and noticed a tattoo
just under his sleeve.
"That's a cute dog,"
I said, then silently cursed myself. Under the script 'Devil Dog' was a
growling bulldog with a cigar in its mouth. The exact opposite of cute.
"Well, maybe cute isn't the right word."
My brain gave up trying to get
me to shut up and decided I should just move to Alaska.
Muscles grinned down at me
like I was the cutest thing he'd ever seen. It was an amazing sight, this big,
rough man with a little crinkle at the side of his mouth and eyes, total
attention on me.
It was a little off-putting.
"Sorry," I gasped, a
little out of breath. "I really shouldn't talk in the morning before I've
"You're all right,
A happy feeling curled through
me at his gentle rumble. I glanced at the tattoo again and noticed the scrawl
"The Marines! My gramps
was a Marine. Now I know where you got all those muscles." The way he held
himself looked familiar, reminding me of the easy poise my gramps always had. I
could totally imagine him in uniform… and out of it.
Stop staring, Cassie. I
couldn't help it, though. The man, who I'd mentally started calling 'Devil
Dog', was the finest specimen of manhood I'd ever seen. After a few seconds of
study, I noted his hair was a bit too long for an active soldier.
"Are you off duty?"
"Out two years ago.
"Oh," I said,
casting about for something to say. "You look pretty healthy to me."
"Got hurt on tour.
"That's too bad. I bet
they need guys like you over there."
A flicker of pain crossed his
face and he angled his body away from mine. Embarrassment flooded through me
like cold fire. I'd finally put my foot in my mouth, and the vibe I got from
Devil Dog was that he'd rather be anywhere but here.
Well, that's that, my
brain said sadly. It was fun while it lasted. The rest of my body wept.
The barista set our drinks on
the counter, prompting my escape.
"I'm sorry. Like I said—I
shouldn't talk before caffeine… or ever. That was really rude, and…
sorry." Grabbing my coffee, I dashed out the door.