Love Brewing (Love Brothers #3)

BOOK: Love Brewing (Love Brothers #3)
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Love Brewing

 

Love Brothers series

Book 3

 

By

Liz Crowe

 

Love Brewing

Love Brothers Book 3

Copyright © 2015 by Liz Crowe

Cover Art and Design by Fiona Jayde

All rights reserved.

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced

in any form without permission.

For more information:
Liz Crowe

[email protected]

www.lizcrowe.com

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. They may not be re-sold or given away, except as provided in promotions sponsored by the author.

 

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If you are reading this book and you did not purchase
it, win this copy during a promotion or, if not purchased specifically for your
use only, then please delete this copy and notify Liz (
[email protected]
).

 

We encourage you to purchase your own copy and support
the author's hard work in their craft.

Author Acknowledgements

 

 

The self-publishing journey is one of many mistakes,
stumbles, prayers, and curses. Liz would like to thank the following people for
tolerating her during the process of creating this series for their patience,
ability to listen at 5 a.m., and direct assistance making The Love Brothers
idea a reality:

Jessica Warth

Jen Deck Ryan

Dave Bardallis

Valerie Mann

Colleen Snibson

And the group of early Liz readers who helped whip these
boys into shape with her.

 

Go Cards.

Chapter One

 

 

Now

Diana patted Pepper’s flank as she released him into the
paddock then leaned against the barn door, relishing the soreness in her
muscles. The sun burned a white hole in the light-blue late summer sky. Smells
of her childhood filled her nose, smoothing her edges.

A bit of coolness in the air, heralding the coming seasonal
transition, sent a shiver of anticipation down her spine. Masie, the pregnant
cow, uttered a low moo, snapping Diana out of daydreaming about her favorite
season—the hunting kind. It brought her long to-do list flashing across her
brain, reminding her she still had to finish mucking out the rest of the barn.
The garden was in desperate need of weeding, too. The last of her tomatoes were
due in and her sister had already sent three texts that morning about the
chicken salad Diana still had to make and get over to the shop.

With a heavy sigh, she let the light wind cool her skin. Her
arms burned and her thighs shook in a wholly welcome, familiar way, post long
ride. She dropped onto the overturned bucket from the horse’s cool-and-wash.

“Go on, get out there, ya big baby.”

She smiled when the huge animal nuzzled her shoulder before
he trotted away obediently, sticking his nose into the water trough, tail
flicking lazily, indicating satisfaction with the morning’s proceedings. Bees
buzzed, the cow made another lowing sound, late season locusts hummed, and the
sun heated her skin. Drifting, her mind calm and free of Jen’s endless demands
and catering menus she let the sweet sounds and distinct odors of her family’s
farm soothe her.

When the horse whinnied and snorted, Diana ignored it and
stretched her legs out. One of the dogs let out a loud bark then the other two
joined in. They sounded delighted, so Diana figured that her sister must have
arrived in the catering van to pick up the chicken salad—the one Diana hadn’t
even started yet.

Deciding to pretend she was alone a minute longer and enjoy
the peace and quiet she always found in the barn, Diana closed her eyes.

“Hey.” A distressingly familiar male voice hit her ears.
“Um...Diana?”

She blew out a breath, unwilling to acknowledge how much she
would have given at one point in her life to hear that voice say her name
again.

“What do you want?”

“Just a place to crash. Hide a bit, I don’t know.”

“Why now? I thought you and your folks were gettin’ on like
a house afire.” She tried to keep the anger out of her words, but it was nearly
impossible.

“Diana. Please.”

She opened her eyes and observed the man she’d loved as long
as she could recall. Dominic Love stood in front of her dressed in, of all
things, a pair of dress pants and crumpled, long-sleeved shirt. A red tie hung
loose around his neck. He had his blond hair scraped back and tied at his nape
so she could see he’d added more body art. He stood still, hands tucked in his
trouser pockets, his expression scarily blank.

She rose and smacked the dust off her ass then stood, arms
crossed, willing him not to be there, not to tempt her, because God help her
still loved the man, despite how badly he’d treated her.

“I am not letting you back in my bed, Dom.”

When the corner of his full lips lifted in a smirk, she
imagined how satisfying it would feel to smack it off his face—with a blunt
instrument.

“Not asking for that…yet.”

“Go to hell.” She brushed by him, forcing him out of her
brain. He snagged her arm and held on tight.

“I’m already there, babe, trust me. I swear I just need a
friend right now and someplace to lay low. I’ll help around the place, you know
that.”

As if on cue, the horse bumped Dom’s shoulder, shoving the
man forward. The grip on her arm tightened and Dom leaned in close. She yanked
away from him, keeping her gaze on the far horizon and her mind on the fact
that if she went with her gut right then, she’d pull him back into her life, no
questions asked.

“You can sleep out here.”

He let go. “Thanks, babe.”

She clenched her jaw. “Stop calling me
babe
, you
shit-heel, motherfucking, selfish, cheating asshole.”

“Okay,” he muttered, but his eyes were bright in a way she
knew well.

She walked away, letting the memory of their last, and she
believed final, fight fill her mind, fueling her fury as she put one boot in
front of the other, placing as much distance as she could between them.

The dogs circled her legs, escorting her
en masse
to
the door. It slammed, cutting off their nervous whines and snuffling, leaving
her standing in the middle of her outdated, overworked kitchen. Usually being
in this room helped her forget all the crap going on in the real world while
she transformed the various vegetables from her large garden and the meats
she’d either hunted or raised herself into meals fit for a five-star
restaurant.

She shook her head. There were no
five-star-restaurants
in her universe and there never had been. Even thinking those three words in
that order caused heat to rise up her neck and into her face at the memory of
her ex-husband—the man who’d swooped in right after Dominic’s last rejection of
her and convinced her that he would open the restaurant of her dreams, using
the inheritance money she’d saved.

Yeah, that had worked out not-so-well.

Men.

Stupid, lying, cheating men.

Stupid me and my stupid need to have one nearby all the
stupid time.

Her hand landed on something substantial and her fingers
curled around it. She picked up the cast iron pan slowly, contemplating it for
a split second, recalling she’d left it out to use for frying bacon. With a
noise between a grunt and a yell, she put every bit of long-forgotten
frustration into the effort to fling the pan at the door. At the last second
she worried she might hit one of the dogs.

But there was no canine yip of pain. They’d vacated her
immediate area, likely sensing the temper eruption on her horizon before she
did. It did bust a satisfying hole through the screen at the top of the door
and hit the back porch railing with a musical
clang
that echoed back to
her still burning ears.

She blew her hair out of her eyes, ready to tackle the next
thing on her long to-do list—this time free of any memory of her last disaster
of a relationship. That loser—now officially her ex-husband—had been floating
through, setting up some chain restaurant over in Lexington. Memories of his
handsome face and lying mouth rolled through her head even as she tried to halt
them.

A real five-star restaurant, Di
, he’d liked to say,
usually when they were naked. That and,
You should try it
, and,
I
could use thirty thousand of your dollars to make it work
, plus,
let’s
get married!

And they were naked a lot.

Diana groaned and leaned over the sink for a few seconds
then straightened. She had too much to do. There was no time for that kind of
useless reminiscing. Damn Dominic Love to hell and back for showing up and
sending her into this tailspin.

She grabbed her mother’s soup pot, slammed it into the sink
and starting filling it from the leaky tap. A breeze lifted the lace curtains
at the window, stirring the hair around her face. She smelled the rain a few
seconds before it let loose, pounding onto the grass between the kitchen window
and the barn. Squinting through the sheeting water she spotted Dominic standing
in the middle of the paddock, seemingly impervious to the deluge.

Pepper trotted over to see what could possibly make the
tall, yellow-haired male human stand in the rain like an idiot. When Dom didn’t
respond to nudging, the animal gave every appearance of shrugging and glancing
in her direction with a
whattaya gonna
do
look before getting
under cover in the barn.

Within a very few minutes, Dom’s drenched dress shirt clung
to him. She watched, gape-jawed and shivering as he yanked his hair from its
tie and shook it free, turning his face to take the full force of the
increasing downpour, arms outstretched as if preparing for crucifixion. Then he
seemed to disappear in the space of a blink. She turned off the tap, which was
overflowing the pot by then anyway, and ran out the door.

Heart pounding, ears ringing with well-remembered panic over
what she might find, she took the expanse of grass between house and paddock in
a few long strides. In her fury at how casually he’d sauntered back into her
life that morning, she hadn’t thought to study his eyes very closely. Diana had
memorized long ago how Dominic’s deep-brown gaze took a particular edge, a kind
of sharp, distinctive sparkle, when he hovered on the verge of a breakdown.

The rain soaked all the way to her skin by the time she
rounded the post at the paddock. At a burst of lightening, she flinched and
started counting, only getting to three seconds before the ear-splitting
thunderclap. She squinted, seeking a prone, muddy Dominic. But the paddock was
empty.

Cursing, she glanced back at the house. It was pretty well
futile to run back now that she’d gotten drenched. She mirrored Dom’s earlier
stance, letting the rain pound against her cheeks, forehead, and lips.
Lightning flashed. Thunder followed. Laughter bubbled up from her throat, only
getting louder as she realized what an utter whack job she must be, out there,
cackling and drinking rain.

Chapter Two

 

 

Then

“Shh…Seriously, shut up already. I’m trying to concentrate.”

Dominic couldn’t stop staring at the girl. But since the
only way he could get her attention was to be a pest—on top of accompanying her
on an ass-crack-of-dawn hunting trip—he had to content himself with gazing at
her as she looked out across the winter-bare forest.

“Hunting is the most boring thing ever.” He heard the pout
in his voice but he didn’t care at this point.

Diana shushed him again with a sharp smack to the back of
his head. When he uttered a soft curse, she put a finger to her lips and
pointed. Mesmerized by her lips and that finger, he followed it and saw the
six-point buck, poking its nose into a pile of brush about a hundred yards to
their north. Dom shivered at the expression in Diana’s bright blue eyes. He
gulped and tried to focus on the task. But he’d been sitting in the damned
blind with her since 4:30 that morning. His legs were cramped, his ass numb,
and he’d not been able to convince her to use their mutual, preferably naked
bodies to keep things warmer and more interesting.

“I’m over this,” he whispered, still unable to tear his gaze
from her profile as she lifted the gun to her shoulder and closed one eye.

“Be quiet, Dom. I mean it. And don’t move. I think he’s
spotted us.”

Dominic looked through the binoculars. The buck had raised
its massive head. The nose he’d had buried in leaves twitched. The muscles in
the animal’s massive flanks quivered as he prepared to leap out of Diana’s
range.

Dom was torn. On the one hand, he wanted her to bag the damn
thing. A good shot might make her happy enough to let him kiss her again. That
one time a few nights ago, albeit under the influence of some of his brother’s
weed, had sent him barreling headlong down a path of Diana Brantley obsession.

He observed the buck while listening to Diana’s shallow
breathing next to him, sensing her tension and excitement as if it were his
own.

On the other hand, a buck that big would be a bloody mess
and she’d be occupied the rest of the day and night getting it dressed. Her
father would help her of course, but Diana liked to deal with her own kills.
Dom had known that for years, ever since she’d bagged her first one when they’d
gone out as twelve-year-olds with her half-drunk daddy and his pals. Diana
Brantley got worked up over slaughtering perfectly nice animals like some girls
did over the latest boy band or a new pair of fancy shoes. Dom lowered the
binocs.

“Do it now. He’s about to bolt.” He spoke even as the shot
split the cold morning air. The buck dropped like a stone. Diana yelped and
smacked Dom’s shoulder. He turned to her, hopeful she’d hug him, which would
put him that much closer to her. Her ear-to-ear grin was unbelievably gorgeous,
and her long blonde hair coming loose from under the camouflage cap, sky-blue
eyes sparkling, those lips….he cursed, noting that she’d scrambled down the
ladder while he’d been fantasizing about another kiss. Ears still ringing from
the gunshot, he followed her down to the forest floor.

 

Now

“You’re crazier’n a whole house of bedbugs,” Dominic called
out from the depths of the barn as he watched Diana stumble in, water sluicing
off her hair and skin. The slowness had returned. A familiar, burdensome
lethargy had firm hold of his all his limbs, even his throat, making his
normally light drawl slow and slurred as if he were still drunk. All the booze
he had consumed over the last two days didn’t help. Neither did the fact he’d been
off his antidepressants for so long. His brain urged him forward, telling him
to go to her, take her in his arms, let her soothe him and make it better like
she’d done so many times before.

She turned away from him and wrung the water out of her hair
in silence. Not that he blamed her. His head pounded. His throat closed with
remorse at his view of Diana’s tall, slim, well-remembered perfection.

The sudden lightning bolt memory of Kent Lowery’s expression
when he’d spotted Dom standing in a pew, yelling like some kind of jilted,
romance-novel diva at that horror of a wedding brought back nauseating
dizziness. Dom took the memory of his former lover, shoved it down to the barn
floor, covered it with some mental dirt and relegated it to the realm of “never
again.”

He stayed seated as Diana took off her shirt and jeans right
in front of him before she grabbed a towel off a nail and used it to dry her
hair without a lick of modesty in her plain bra and miniscule panties.

Something warm and furry bumped his leg. He scratched the
dog behind her ears, refocusing his attention outdoors. The rain had
intensified, hammering the barn roof. The light and thunder show accompanying
it provided a magnificent soundtrack to his inner turmoil. He wished he had the
capacity to be impressed by anything anymore.

Kent.

Dom shook his head, and willed everything about that man and
that part of his life out of his head. He, Dominic Sean Love, was not that guy.
He was. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t be. Not and still remain a part of the Love
family inner circle. It had been…what? A whim, a personal dare, boredom getting
the better or him. Logging onto that illicit, explicit dating site late one
sleepless night had been a buzz. But of course, what had he done? Gone and
fallen for a man.

A distressingly familiar set of options popped into his
brain. All the years he had spent as a boy and a teenager bouncing between
mind-numbing rage, paralyzing depression, and fits of mania had worn a groove
in him. He slid into it now, caressed its edges, got comfortable inside its
well-worn contours. The usual mental whispers about guns versus ropes versus
pills versus slamming his car into the rock wall at the corner of Hunter Road
and Highway Twelve accompanied it.

Which one would be the least upsetting to his mother?

He’d thought about those options so many times, and they
snuck back in now as he sat in Diana’s barn while the good Lord dumped water
and showed off with His lights and noise felt, surprisingly, sort of nice—like
a warm bed and a soft pillow after a long day of work. Which, as he well knew
from his time spent in talk therapy, was
not good
.

He kept scratching the ears on the wet dog in front of him,
blinking slowly, trying to process why he’d even come here.

What had he been thinking? Better yet, what sort of mess had
he left behind?

He wished he could talk to his older brother, Kieran. They’d
gotten close in the last months since Dom had required a rather alarming rescue
from a jail down in Georgia and Kieran had shown up, very few questions asked.
But no, his brother had his own issues and likely at that very moment was busy
trying to convince his old high school girlfriend to marry him, even as she
processed being jilted at the altar by a different man.

He attempted to banish all the mental images of Kent for the
zillionth time.

“What are you gonna do for dry clothes?” Diana asked,
interrupting his pity party.

He shrugged and kept his gaze fixed on the view of rain,
skipping the torture of seeing her near-nakedness. “Your garden looks like shit.
When’s the last time you bothered to pull weeds?”

She snorted. He smiled. He used to love it when she’d do
that. He’d honestly had no intention of showing up there today. The Brantley
farm remained way off the beaten track, if the track around Lucasville could be
considered
beaten
in any way. When he’d raced out of the stifling-hot
church sanctuary and hotwired Kieran’s car, he’d driven off without a single
thought in his addled head other than escape.

But when he’d finally released his death grip on the
steering wheel a few days later, he’d been facing the old two-story farmhouse
where he’d lost his virginity—not to Diana, but to her sister Jen, an older
version of the girl he’d been hanging with since God was a boy. The whooshing
sound deafening him for the last couple of days had receded ever so slightly
when he’d arrived even though he’d not been welcome anywhere near the place in
years. He groaned and ran a palm across his wet face.

You earned the reception you received, numbnuts.

As if on cue, the dog whined and bumped his leg with her
huge muzzle.

“Bossy bitch.” He gave her another scratch. The animal gazed
at him adoringly. Yeah, dogs always did love him. He glanced up and spotted
Diana tugging on a shirt that looked way too big for her, that sent a thrill of
something he didn’t want to acknowledge as jealousy down his spine.

You have less than no place being jealous of anything
about her
.

She glared at him as she buttoned the light-blue, obviously
man-sized shirt. He had to concentrate on not blinking too fast at the onrush
of memories threatening to mow him down.

“Put on a few pounds, eh, Di?” he asked, leaning against the
rough barn wall. The dog crawled up onto the hay bale and laid her head in his
lap. Damn thing must weigh over eighty pounds and smelled like rancid pond
water, but Dom didn’t care.

“Fuck you.” Diana turned away and gave him a lovely rear
view. “Come up to the house and get some dry clothes on.” She crossed her arms
in that…man’s shirt, her legs bare and beautiful. He set his jaw against the
alarming urge to weep.

“I missed you and your ladylike ways.” He resumed his study
of the rain pounding against the window. “Ow!” The towel pop flicked his neck,
then his thigh. “Damn girl, you on your period or what?” He rubbed his leg and
noted that he was, indeed, soaked through and could use a change of clothes.
Too bad he hadn’t thought of that when running away from what remained of his
former life about forty-eight drunken and half-forgotten hours ago.

“Your sorry-ass, crybaby-ing is breakin’ my heart.”

Anger burned every inch of his skin. But in her deep-blue
comforting gaze, he was reminded why he’d shown up there, on what could be
labeled as the worst, lowest moment of his sorry-ass thirty-some years.

“How’d marriage work out for ya?” He shoved the dog off his
lap and got to his feet, wincing at the stiffness in his neck and back from
sleeping in the car.

“How d’you think? I mean, I’m sure it was the talk of the
town.” She clenched her fists, keeping her distance. Dom wanted so badly to
close that gap, to feel her skin, taste her lips. But he rose, keeping the four
or so feet between them, the dogs milling around their ankles making worried
noises. An errant drop of water fell from a lock of hair into his eye. The
moment was unbelievably fraught with old, stale emotion and he cursed under his
breath for causing her pain again. And again.

“Well, I guess the guy was lucky to escape with his balls
intact.” He regarded her, drawing on all his reserves to remain calm. “You’re
still as ugly as homemade sin,” he lied.

Diana smiled and shook her head. Dom exhaled with relief.

It’s on now. She’ll let me stay, at least for a while.

“Aw, bless your heart.” She cocked one hip. “You always did
think the sun rose everyday to hear you crow.”

“But it does, darlin’,” he said, stretching and noting how
her gaze flickered up and down his torso. Unable to help it, he ran both hands
down his wet shirt to his legs.

“So help me to God, Dominic Sean Love, if you touch your
crotch and think I’m gonna fall out over that, you are dumber’n a bag of
hammers.” She raised one eyebrow, putting him firmly in his place.

His skin burned and the whooshing sound returned, along with
a crippling nausea. “You win. I got nuthin’.”

Her face fell. “I hate you.”

“With good reason. Diana, I swear, I just need a few days, I
think. Gotta lay low, out of Papa Love’s line of sight.”

“What happened?”

“I, um, don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Wow. If you aren’t braggin’ then there must be a dead body
somewhere.”

“Can I stay? Please?” His pulse raced and his stomach
churned. He hated his own guts so much right then it hurt his very soul.

She headed out of the barn door into the now drippy paddock.
“Come up to the house and get some clothes. They’re still in the dresser. You
know what room.” Her voice faded as she headed to the side porch.

He deflated, his normally strong legs weakening even
further.
Thank the Lord for well-placed hay bales.
After a few minutes,
he got up, still shaky, and walked through the paddock, across the soggy grass
and up to the porch. Diana blocked the kitchen door.

“You aren’t allowed to touch me, Dominic, do you understand
that? I really don’t want you to even look at me. But I know that much can’t be
helped.”

He hesitated at the lower step, already feeling at home
there in ways he didn’t deserve. At that moment, for some reason, touching
Diana had become his number one priority. She let out a loud yelp of anger,
shocking him since he didn’t think he’d moved, much less said anything.

“God
damn
it. All you
ever
want is whatever you
can’t have.” She whirled away from him, leaving him on the porch, surrounded by
her passel of mutts.

BOOK: Love Brewing (Love Brothers #3)
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