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Authors: Melinda Leigh

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BOOK: She Can Scream
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“Can I help with anything else?” he asked.

“No, you’ve been a huge help already,” Gran said.

“OK, then. I’m headed back to fix your fence. I have to pick Brooke and her kids up at school later too.” Luke kissed her on the cheek. “Do you have your cell?”

Gran pulled the smartphone he’d given her for Christmas last year out of her sweater pocket. “Of course. I’m going to take some pictures today for the church’s Facebook page. See if we can drum up some more volunteers.” She coughed into her sleeve.

“Call me if you need anything.” Luke grinned. His gran wasn’t the type to let technology skip ahead of her. “And don’t tire yourself out.”

“Bah. I’m fine.”

He drove back to Gran’s house and let himself in. In the detached garage, he grabbed an old wooden toolbox, and went back outside. He reattached a few sagging pickets and then moved
around to the porch to fix the loose steps. Both the porch and the fence would need painting in the spring. Would Gran be able to manage that on her own? He pulled out his phone to set a reminder in his calendar app for April. He stopped. Should he need an electronic memo to take care of his grandmother?

No. From now on, he’d visit her every single time he was back in the States, and he’d call her every couple of days no matter where he was or what he was doing. It wasn’t likely he’d be back for Thanksgiving, but Christmas was a possibility. What was he thinking? He should be here for Christmas with Gran no matter what.

He felt like his world was shifting. Everything that had been a priority three months ago now seemed trivial.

A glance at his phone display told him he had several hours until he needed to pick Brooke up from the school. He drove to her house and used his key to unlock her door. He stepped through the doorway. His foot caught, and he tripped.

The dog yelped. Luke caught his balance with a hand on the doorjamb. “Sorry.” Sunshine got up and wagged her tail. He scratched her behind the ears. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

She stretched and yawned.

“You look OK, but this isn’t the best spot for a nap.” The rank odor drifted up to his nose. He straightened. “You really do need a bath.” Maybe he’d do it tomorrow. Brooke loved that dog. Wait. Was he thinking about bathing the dog to impress her? And what was with this sudden urge to do things for her? Whatever. He was overanalyzing, as usual. Sunshine was too heavy for Brooke to lift, even after her knee healed. How hard could it be to wash a dog?

He started checking the windows in the basement, one big open space with a cracked concrete floor. The washer and dryer
were on the near wall. Boxes, some labeled, some not, lined metal shelves on the opposite side. The middle of the space was clear, and a large padded exercise mat occupied the center. Next to it, a heavy bag, the kind that professional fighters used, hung from the rafters. The skinny windows were locked.

The first floor was as secure as possible, considering the big expanses of windows. Luke went upstairs. The kids’ bedroom windows were secure and anyone who broke in would likely break his neck tripping over mounds of dirty laundry. Luke paused at the doorway to the next room. Brooke wasn’t much neater than her kids. The hamper overflowed. Books and papers cluttered her nightstand. A few pairs of shoes had been kicked into the corner. Luke lingered by the unmade bed, a sudden vision of Brooke rising sleepily from the twisted sheets, her hair tousled, eyes heavy with desire.

Whoa! Hold the phone.

Not cool. Not cool at all. Damn Wade for putting the idea of Luke and Brooke as a couple in his head. He got back to business. Opening the blinds, he checked the lock on the window. A movement outside caught his eye. A black pickup cruised past much too slowly to be normal traffic. The vehicle stopped next to the mailbox. The driver seemed to be leaning across the passenger seat. The afternoon sun glared off the windshield, and all Luke could see was a shadow. He needed a better angle to read the license plate. He went downstairs and tried the living room window. Damn, he still couldn’t read it. The driver must have seen his movement. The truck roared down the street.

Luke rubbed the quivering hair on the back of his neck. Should he call the police? And tell them what? A black pickup truck, probably an American make, drove by Brooke’s house too slowly? Right. Ridiculous.

He imagined Brooke in bed again, but this time the shadow of an intruder fell across her tousled head. She bolted to a sitting position and screamed. The scene shifted to Sherry bleeding out in front of him. He closed his eyes, willing it away.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
He needed to banish his flashbacks, not give them a life of their own.

Luke wasn’t in Manila, and Brooke wasn’t Sherry.

Tentatively, he looked back down at the floor. The image was gone. Brooke’s hardwood needed a good cleaning, but no blood puddled on its planks.

Sweat broke out on Luke’s forehead. He pulled at the neck of his T-shirt. It wasn’t tight, but he was too aware of the fabric encircling the base of his neck. His pulse shifted up a gear. No. He couldn’t be having a panic attack. He wasn’t anywhere near a skyscraper. Was he getting worse? Had his mental health improvement not been a real recovery, but a remission? A cancer that could return at any future time. Obsessing about a future he couldn’t control wasn’t healthy. He’d paid a therapist a lot of money to hammer that into his brain.

Breathing through his nose, he rushed from the room. He shut the door behind him and leaned on it.

He shouldn’t have promised Wade he’d watch over his sister. Obviously, three months wasn’t enough time to truly put the trauma behind him. Not only was the weight of his new responsibility taking its toll, but how the hell was he going to protect Brooke if he freaked out at the thought of her in danger?

He knew only one thing for certain. He couldn’t let his involvement with Brooke grow any deeper.

The final bell pealed through Brooke’s classroom, eliciting groans from the six students who hadn’t finished their tests. The rest of the kids were ready as runners at the starting block. Chairs scraped as they hustled for the door. The harried stragglers slapped their tests on the corner of her desk as they rushed for the exit. She shoved tests that needed grading into her briefcase, slung the strap over her shoulder, and limped toward the door. Now to make her escape before Tony could show up and offer his assistance.

“Brooke, let me carry that for you.”

Shoot. Too late. He must have let his class go early to have gotten here so quickly. Not a good sign.

“Ah, thanks.” Not.

He reached for the strap. His finger lingered on her shoulder. She rocked back to move out from under his touch. Impatience narrowed his eyes, but he smiled over it.

Brooke started for the door. The sooner she could get out of here the better.

Tony fell into step beside her. “I’m worried about you all alone in that big house.”

“I don’t live alone. I have two kids.”

“But there’s no man in the house.”

“We’re fine. Thanks for your concern.”

“I’m serious, Brooke. Why don’t I stay at your house for a few days? You could use someone to take care of you.”

Yeah. That was not happening. Tony’s industrial-strength Velcro attachment to her already gave her the willies. Yesterday, he’d been merely irritating. Last night’s attack had intensified his behavior. Was he worried or just weird?

“That’s very sweet of you, Tony. But I can take care of myself. I have sturdy locks, and remember, I teach girls to defend themselves all the time.”

Tony gave her a doubtful glance. “You’re still a woman.”

“Well, I can’t dispute that.” Brooke paused at an intersection then threaded her way through the sea of moving bodies.

Another wave of irritation passed over his face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that as a sexist statement, only that women are more vulnerable than men.”

A fact that was making her increasingly uncomfortable with Tony’s dogged pursuit. Brooke was probably being overly sensitive, but in case he was unstable, Brooke trod lightly. It did not seem wise to provoke a possible nut today. “You’re right, Tony. I’m sorry for snapping. My knee hurts, and I’m cranky.”

They passed the cafeteria and turned down the hall that led to the main office. The cinder block walls shifted from blue to yellow. Dozens of sneakers squeaked on the scuffed linoleum.

“Exactly why I should come home with you. I could take care of you.”

Beams of sun shone through the glass exit doors. Freedom! “Thanks for the offer, but I have to say no. It wouldn’t be professional. We’re colleagues. We wouldn’t want to damage our reputations.”

“You have a point. But I’d take that risk to protect you.”

Sheesh.
She couldn’t win here. Thankfully, her son was waiting by the office.

“I’ll take that.” Chris relieved Tony of her briefcase.

No sign of her daughter. “Where’s Haley?”

Chris held the main door open. “Out in the car with Luke.”

Tony stiffened.

“Thanks for the help.” Brooke smiled at Tony, then turned and hobbled outside.
Please don’t follow.
Ack. He was right behind her. Lord, he was harder to get rid of than lice in a kindergarten class.

“You’re welcome.” Tony’s voice sounded strained, as if he were forcing the words through his teeth.

Luke’s silver sedan idled at the curb. He got out of the car and came around to open the passenger door. His scrutiny sliced through Tony’s arrogance with the subtlety of an axe, and the possessiveness in his demeanor filled Brooke with guilty pleasure. What was wrong with her? She should not be enjoying any of this.

Luke held out a hand, but his green eyes flickered with irritation as they locked on Tony. “Luke Holloway.”

“Tony Grassi. I teach history. How do you know Brooke?” Tony stared down his nose at Luke’s hand, but he shook it. What, no knuckle-crushing contest? Not that it would be much of a contest. Luke’s body was rock hard and just thinking about it made Brooke’s hands itch to touch him, while Tony looked like he confined his heavy lifting to General MacArthur’s autobiography. It’d be like watching a panther eat a house cat.

“I’m an old friend.” Luke gave Brooke a heated glance, hot enough to disperse a delicious flush across her skin. “Let’s get you home. You should get off that leg.” He claimed her elbow with a firm grip. She eased onto the seat and swung her leg under the dash. Luke closed the car door.

As the car pulled away from the curb, Brooke looked out the window. Tony was standing in front of the office, his posture rigid. Was he angry or hurt? Probably both. Guilt and worry badgered Brooke. She tried to brush it away. She hadn’t done anything to lead him on. If anything, she’d done everything to discourage him over the past couple of weeks. Why was he so hung up on her? Was Tony lonely or obsessive?

She turned forward as the car pulled out into the exit lane, but she still could feel Tony watching them. “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?” Luke asked with mock innocence.

“Act like we’re involved.”

“I have no idea what you mean.” Luke’s face split in a feral grin. The masculine glint in his eyes made Brooke’s toes curl inside her practical pumps. What the hell was that all about? She squirmed.

Luke turned onto the main road. “Come on, your body language couldn’t have been more obvious. If you could have run away from that guy, you would have.”

“Tony’s harmless.” Probably. Brooke sank lower into the plush leather. Low-grade pressure built in her forehead. “He’s just—”

“Jealous? Possessive?” Luke suggested.

Ugh.
Brooke closed her eyes without responding.

“He’s a creeper,” Haley chimed in. “What were you thinking when you went out with him?”

“I did not go out with him!” Brooke massaged her temples. “We grabbed a bite after a PTA meeting. Once!”

Once was more than enough.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Luke gripped the wheel tighter. Brooke had dated that oddball? Luke had done business on four continents. He’d learned to read body language like written text. The history teacher had been jealous as hell.

What happened to Luke’s determination to protect Brooke without any further involvement?

It’s not like she was
his.

Luke rubbed the center of his chest, where a completely irrational turmoil churned like a tropical depression forming in the Caribbean. Brooke set off more than his protective instincts. His desires went beyond keeping her safe. Seeing another man’s interest in her hollowed him out just as seeing the evidence of her marriage to another man had all those years ago. He’d been blatantly rude to the history teacher, and worse, he didn’t feel a single ounce of regret. Given the chance, he’d do it again.

Get a grip
. In six days, he’d be back in New York. But what if she was still in danger? What then? He squashed the thought. There was no point worrying about something that was out of his control.

A few minutes later, Luke turned at Brooke’s mailbox and parked in front of the house. Everyone piled out. The kids left the front door yawning. Sunshine trotted out to the car. Luke leaned down to scratch her head. The dog arched her back. Nails dug
into the ground as she stretched, then she ambled out onto the front lawn to sniff the grass.

BOOK: She Can Scream
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