The Marine's Red Hot Homecoming (2 page)

BOOK: The Marine's Red Hot Homecoming
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“We may not live in a mansion, but the apartment upstairs is convenient to the shop and the parks. Plus, it’s reasonably priced.” She raised her chin ever so slightly. “Thanks to your father’s financial backing for the historic district’s restoration, I expect Harmony Landing to do better this year than last. So no. We don’t need your money, unless you decide to pull the plug on the project.”

Late morning sun reflected off the glass shelves in Hannah’s shop and highlighted her long honey-blonde hair. Her hazel eyes remained locked on his, unwavering and still as mesmerizing as the night he’d caved to their sensual promises. A night he’d never forgotten and that had played a front row show in his dreams while he’d been under cover in Afghanistan.

He tamped down the memory. What had happened between them two years ago had been a deviation from his standard operating procedure whenever he was around her. His
resist the girl-next-door at all costs
mantra had gone AWOL because of drinking too much alcohol, midnight confessions, and a healthy dose of serious kick-ass sexual attraction.

Then he’d been angry, upset with his father for fucking around on his mother again. No way would he takeover the helm of their multi-billion-dollar conglomerate of companies if it meant turning into a carbon copy of the man. A part of him, the part that had always been attracted to the innate goodness in Hannah, nearly caved. But she’d given him an ultimatum when she’d made it very clear that she’d never hook up with him permanently if he stayed in the Marines.

The Marine Corps were his out. His career. More family to him than his own.

How could he convince her that he wasn’t like her ex? That he was worth taking a shot on one more time, especially now that they’d made a child together? Sure, his father had felt forced, tricked into marriage by his mother’s pregnancy. Everyone, especially Caleb, had paid the price of his father’s bitterness. But he wasn’t anything like his dear old man.

Even if he did stay in the Marines to go back overseas after his father returned to takeover the helm of their conglomerate, he could be the right man for Hannah if she’d get over her no-more-military-guys mindset.

He held her gaze, willing her to budge just an inch. “I’m not the kind of jerk who uses coercion to get his way.” No way would he be like Brandon. He had to start proving to her right now that he was worth taking a shot on regardless of his commitment to the Marines.

“Good to know.”

He heard the relief in her voice and remembered the why behind it. Her ex-boyfriend had used every trick in the book to manipulate her after he’d returned from his tour of duty. Post traumatic stress disorder drove Brandon’s actions, but her ex refused to get help. Finally, he’d hooked his SUV around a tree, nearly killing himself and Hannah in the process. Only then had she gotten the courage to leave. Even now the story she had told him rattled around his brain like scattershot. He wanted to kill the bastard, but it was enough to know that she’d escaped and no longer let anyone push her around. But she’d sworn off military men, and had tried unsuccessfully to stop Caleb from leaving for his last tour of duty.

Unfortunately, that made convincing her to accept his shot gun proposal null and void.

For now.

Gently, he pressed on, determined to make sure he didn’t lose everything to her strong will. “You won’t accept my money or a wedding ring because I’m a Marine.” He shoved the contracts back into the cylinder. “That sucks, but I am not going to change who I am for anyone, not even you. Do you plan to use that against me where our son is concerned?” No one, not even the man she would eventually call her husband, could deny him his son.

She chewed her lower lip. A slow, primitive drum beat the blood through his veins. It pulsed low, hot, and hard. God, he so wanted to nibble it himself. Did she still taste as good as she smelled—sweet as ripe peaches picked straight from the grove?

Her pupils widened, her chest rose and fell quickly, drawing his attention to her breasts. Her coral V-neck shirt hugged them to perfection and man, oh man, she still had all the right curves in all the right places. His pants grew uncomfortably tight. Shit. He was hot for her, but this time alcohol had no part in the heat between them. He’d always been aware of Hannah—first as an outgoing little kid who constantly needed rescuing. Then he’d been super attracted to her as someone who had seemed to grow into an All-American sexy woman overnight. Too bad she’d lost
that
kind of interest in him.

She snapped her fingers. “Hello? Could you get your brain back into the custody game? Of course I want you to be part of Jason’s life—whenever you decide to park your boots in our neck of the woods, that is. I’ve got all the necessary paperwork ready for you to sign now that you’re here. We’ll hammer out the agreement together. Does that work for you?”

She’d never accept him for who he was today. His old man hadn’t wanted him either. He’d long ago given up seeking his father’s approval, but he couldn’t let her go without trying to convince her that they could have a future together. He gripped the cylinder’s handle and cleared his throat. “Absolutely,” he said.

“I’ll have my lawyer, Everest, draw up an agreement this afternoon.”

“Besides child support and equal billing in the parenting department, is there anything you do want?” Like a different kind of reunion? One where the fact that he’d chosen to remain a Marine didn’t overshadow her opinion of him?

“Actually, yes.”

He ignored his randy hormones’ booyahs and ordered his current state of arousal to stand down. Hannah had every right to wait for the kind of man who would be there for her no matter how much he wanted her again. He had to respect her for taking such a strong position.

“Name them,” he said. Because he’d do anything to make sure his son grew up with the knowledge that his father loved him even if he couldn’t convince Hannah to marry him.

“You have to maintain a residence in Sweetbriar Springs that you’ll use between your tours of duty instead of living like a nomad on a motorcycle and crashing anywhere but in your family’s home.”

“Done.” He had already rented a mountain house north of Sweetbriar Springs. No way was he staying in that mausoleum his parents lived in. The wealth that had built that place had never been able to make it a home. Not when his father continuously screwed around on his mother. But then his folks would never have gotten hitched if not for Caleb’s conception.

Something his father liked to rub in his face every chance he got, and something Caleb blamed himself for whenever he heard his mother crying behind her closed bedroom door. The marriage had been empty from the get-go. Which gave Hannah ample reason to say no to him beyond her personal experience with her ex boyfriend.

She had seen firsthand how his father’s absences, cruel words, and constant demands for perfection from his first born, unwanted son had driven Caleb to act out. Until he’d finally hooked up with the Marines.

“I also expect us to have family time,” she said. “Jason’s got a lot of people who care about him, including his grandparents.”

If only the family time included some couple time. But he simply nodded. “Sure, your...”

She raised her palm to stop him from speaking. “Both sets. Yourparents love our son. If Steven hadn’t had the stroke, he’d be the one playing at the park with him instead of my babysitter, Lori.”

Shock reverberated against his breastbone and he rolled back on his heels. “You’ve got to be kidding.” Steven Gibson had always loomed larger than life to Caleb. Constantly traveling, relentlessly brusque when he had returned home from his business trips, and tireless in his pursuit of the almighty dollar along with all the sexy side perks that being on the road had brought him. “My dad only knows one speed. Work.”

“You’d be surprised what a grandchild can do to change a person.” Hannah touched his arm. “Now that he’s had this scare he might slow down even more. You’ll have a tough choice to make.”

A new zip of awareness zinged through him. She was way too close for comfort. “First off. Nothing scares my father.” Though Steven lay half paralyzed in a rehab center in Asheville, and unable to speak a coherent sentence, one thing about his dear old dad hadn’t changed. When He’d visited his father two days ago the glint of steel in Steven’s clear blue eyes challenged Caleb, which brought out the irrational urge to rebel again.

But rebellion was for kids. Caleb had long ago given up acting like a prick to get the old man’s attention. He broke away from her reassuring hand. “Second of all. I don’t plan on staying longer than it takes to get him back into the CEO’s chair where he belongs.” He’d come home to run Gibson Technologies for his mother. And to preserve the company’s vast financial legacy for his younger brothers while they finished up their boot camp training period.

“I hate that you’re going back, but I’m not surprised,” she said. “But you know what they say about fourth tours.”

Concern underscored her firm tone. He didn’t like hearing either emotion and fought to reassure her, and maybe himself, too. “I’m not planning on coming home in a body bag. So you and Jason are permanently stuck with me.”

She blinked and inhaled a sharp breath. “Good to hear, but you can’t guarantee that promise. You know damn well that there are other issues that people drag home from the fields of battle. For every family that stands together, there’s two that fall apart.”

The sudden sheen in her eyes nearly undid him. Memories of the night he’d caved to her not-so-secret crush on him slipped through his mental guard. He had wanted to comfort Hannah after she had told him about her craptastic ex-boyfriend’s bullshit behavior. The bastard had been a jerk toward her inside and outside the bedroom after he’d returned from a tour in Iraq. When she’d gone to him two weeks before his cousin Kennedy’s wedding to Zach Tanner, he’d heard everything she’d said about how her ex had self destructed. He’d hugged her, hoping to reassure her that she’d be okay. But Caleb’s attraction to Hannah had grown over the years, and his brotherly-style hug had quickly transformed into so much more.

What had happened between them had been amazing. Explosive and emotionally intense. He had wanted to believe in the trust she’d given, the love that had been whispered in the dark. But she only whispered those words to try to hold him in Sweetbriar Springs. She’d attempted to stop him from going overseas, and had asked him to examine why he really wanted to risk his neck for his country when he had the chance to run his family’s multi-billion-dollar conglomerate of companies’ legacy.

Hannah once had the power to render him weak. Now, standing in front of her and reading the unspoken concern in her answering gaze, a part of him yearned to make her realize he was the man she could count on to be there for her in the future. But he’d blown it when he’d left her after that night. By the time his cousin got hitched to Zach, he’d already signed on for another dangerous mission with the Marines. One that would keep him in deep cover for two years with no way for anyone to contact him unless it was his commanding officer.

Even now he didn’t intend to stay stateside when he returned to Sweetbriar Springs to takeover Gibson Technologies’ helm while his father recuperated. But he’d make every effort to change her mind about being hooked up with him.

###

Hannah waited several tense beats for Caleb to speak, her throat tight and her heart thumping against her sternum. How could he act glib and nonchalant about the reality of the dangers facing him overseas?

He looked away, then back into her eyes. “I can guarantee that our son will always have my protection and support whether I’m dead or alive. I’ll make sure my lawyers cover all the financial bases.”

“Funny.” She hugged her waist. “You never wanted the Gibson money or the responsibilities that went with it. I remember you vehemently denying your birthright two years ago.”

“What I didn’t want was to become a carbon copy of my father. Still don’t.” He scrubbed his hand through his close-cropped military hair. “But Jason should have what he rightfully deserves. No way will he be denied his birthright.”

God. Her chest ached, and the ball in her esophagus grew larger. His focus on the financial practicalities rather than the emotional ramifications contradicted his claim that he refused to walk in his father’s footsteps. Which, the more she’d thought about it over the past two years, she realized Caleb taking off for Afghanistan instead of facing his father head on mirrored his father’s behavior. Yet another reminder that she’d made the right decision to reject his ridiculous offer of marriage.

“The only thing Jason needs is you,” she said. The only thing she had ever wished for was for Caleb to return her love. But school girl crushes and memories of one incredible night of passion were no longer motivating her. She wasn’t about to ask him to give up a career that clearly defined him as a man. Not again. “I’ll text Lori to tell her we’re heading to the park.” Only her son’s welfare mattered now.

His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Sounds good.” He took one step back, turning to walk to the door.

She withdrew her iPhone from her back pocket to quickly contact her babysitter, then sent a message to her assistant to come in before her regularly scheduled time so she could leave the shop with Caleb and finally introduce Jason to his father. “We’ll go as soon as my assistant manager gets here.”

Hannah moved around him, briefly brushing against his powerful backside. A shiver of longing tripped along her spine. Oh, how she wanted him, then and now. She shook her head to scoot the ridiculous thought out of her sex-starved mind. No way that was ever going to happen again.

“How long will that take?”

Impatience, maybe something more, made his voice sound gravelly. “About fifteen minutes.” She folded her step stool, walked to the backroom door and pointed to a metal carafe on a table next to the store’s front window display. “Help yourself to some herbal tea while you wait.”

As she opened the door and stepped inside the sanctuary of her office area, Hannah promised herself she’d focus all her energy on figuring out how to get this stubborn man to realize how much his leaving again would impact their little boy. Not on how incredible it would be to surrender to Caleb’s fierce possession, or to possess in return.

BOOK: The Marine's Red Hot Homecoming
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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