Brodie couldn’t get to sleep because of bloody Bain and all his talk of Katya being sexier than ever. He had eyes, damn it, and he didn’t need his brother pointing out how good she looked. He could see it for himself. Age had made her sexier. Honed her beauty. Given her confidence. Not that Kat had needed more confidence, especially when it came to touching him. He groaned, rolled over yet again and punched his pillow to make it softer, then grumbled when it didn’t work.
Sexual peak? Aye, he wished he’d never heard those words come out of his brother’s mouth. What did it mean, anyway? That she’d want more sex? She’d wanted a helluva lot when they were teens, any more than that could kill a man…but, what a way to go. Brodie well remembered the fun they’d had learning about sex together. They’d laughed and panted their way through every stage of the process, from fumbling in the dark behind the Savage shed to trying to make love in the shower without slipping and breaking their necks. Good times…
It took a second for him to realize he was grinning at the memories. Damn it! He had to stop thinking about Katya and sex. He rolled onto his back and looked down his body at his painfully hard erection, tenting the sheet. This wasn’t good.
“You’re a fool,” he told his dick. “This is just conditioning. You’re conditioned to be on alert around her and don’t realize things have changed. It’s pathetic.”
Almost as pathetic as a thirty-year-old man talking to his dick.
His head fell back onto his lumpy pillow. This couldn’t go on. The situation with the land had to be sorted so they could go their separate ways and put some distance between them. Sure, Invertary was small, but they could live their lives in different corners, only nodding to one another when they met in the street. Couldn’t they?
One thing was for sure: there would be no sleep until he’d dealt with the situation. Throwing back the sheet, he climbed out of bed. Jeans and an old cable knit jumper later and he was on the road to Katya’s parents’ house. Which, of course, brought back more memories of them sneaking around. His dick liked those memories. His dick was an idiot.
Brodie shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable. “You’re not getting any,” he addressed his agonizingly tight jeans, “so you might as well calm down.”
His dick didn’t believe him and, as usual, did its own thing.
Brodie parked his SUV behind the overgrown rhododendron at the bottom of the Savage drive and crept up the path to the back of the house—and Katya’s bedroom. The window above the living room still had the same purple curtains that’d been there when they were teens. Feeling like he’d stepped back in time, Brodie grabbed a handful of gravel and tossed it at the glass.
A few seconds later, the old sash window slid up and Denise stuck her head out. Damn—he’d forgotten about Katya’s friend.
“Pebbles at the window?” She glared at him, a swath of wild hair making a halo around her face. “Are we in a teen movie? Because I didn’t get that memo. If I had gotten it, I wouldn’t have slept with the window open a crack. And I wouldn’t have been rudely awoken at two in the morning by a face full of gravel. What’s so important that you’re trying to kill me in my sleep? I don’t see any blood. I don’t smell smoke. You’re standing fine, so I’m assuming no broken bones. Whatever it is, it could have waited six bloody hours until the sun came up and normal people set about their day. Are you hearing me?”
“I’m sorry?” Brodie wasn’t quite sure what answer would calm the crazy lady down.
A hand appeared on Denise’s arm, moving her to the side.
“Deal with your husband,” Denise grumbled. “A woman needs her beauty sleep. I can’t be dealing with an emotional outburst in the middle of the night. And if he throws stones anywhere near me again, I’ll brain him with a brick.”
Katya’s face appeared in the window, and Brodie lost the ability to breathe. Damn, but she was stunning. Her sleep mussed hair swirled around her face and shoulders, making him want to thread his hands through it. And she had that soft look people get when they just awaken. He’d forgotten how good it looked on her. How appealing it made her.
His dick twitched. His dick hadn’t forgotten. His dick was a dick.
“Brodie? What the hell?” Her voice was rough from sleep and sexy as hell.
Maybe coming to see her in the middle of the night wasn’t such a great idea after all.
“I want to talk to you about the land,” he said, sounding a little hoarse himself.
“And it couldn’t wait until morning?”
“You’re being too nice to him,” Denise's voice wafted out of the window. “Throw that mug at his head, see how he likes it.”
“Could you come down here to talk?” Brodie said, keeping an eye out for any flying objects.
“I’m not climbing down the drainpipe, Brodie.” She frowned at him, like he was an idiot. Which, honestly, was fair given the circumstances.
“How about you use the backdoor?”
“How about you come back in about eight hours?”
“I might have changed my mind by then. You sure you don’t want to hear my idea now? It’s about the land.”
Aye, that got her attention. “I’ll be right down.”
“Shut the damn window first,” Denise snapped.
While Katya made her way down the stairs, Brodie adjusted himself in his jeans. It felt like his dick was trying to escape through the zipper—to get to Kat. “This is not a sex situation,” he hissed at it.
“Good to know,” Katya drawled as she stepped outside and quietly shut the door behind her. “I see you still confer with the smartest part of your anatomy.”
Really, there was nothing he could say to that. Folding his arms over his old cream jumper, he tried to look as mature as possible, which mainly comprised standing straight, frowning slightly and trying to keep his eyes on Katya’s face.
It was hard. She wore a tight tank top over a pair of soft cotton pajama pants—and she wasn’t wearing a bra. Were her boobs bigger? They definitely looked bigger? He bet they were softer too and would be heavier in his hands. They definitely weren’t as perky as they’d been ten years earlier, but they were fuller, curvier, better. His mouth watered and he had to grab handfuls of his sweater to stop from reaching out.
“Eyes up here,” she snapped.
Damn it, he’d thought he’d been looking at her face. How long had he been staring at her boobs? This was embarrassing.
Of course, she taunted him by putting her hands on her hips and thrusting out her chest. Okay, maybe the thrusting part was in his mind. But, dear Lord above, those breasts were glorious.
“Brodie,” she ground out. “What did you want to talk about?”
He opened his mouth, intending to start a mature discussion about the land, instead what came out was, “Are your boobs bigger now?”
As soon as the words were out, he prayed a sinkhole would open up beneath him and swallow him whole. Then he thanked God that his brothers weren’t there to see him make a complete arse of himself.
“Seriously?” she snapped.
He shook his head. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant to say. I came here to see if we could come to some sort of agreement about the land before things got out of hand…but…” His eyes couldn’t keep away from the front of her top. “Hell, Kat, they look good.”
“I’m not discussing my boobs with you, Brodie. And I can’t even believe I have to say that.”
He dropped his arms to his side and sighed. “I know, I know. I feel like a dirty old man even for noticing. I just can’t help it, and well, you always talked about your boobs with me. As soon as you got them, you told me all about buying your first bra. You even showed me. It feels kind of dumb to ignore them now when you were always so comfortable about flashing them at me.”
“Well, I’m not doing it now. So try hard to focus with your head and not your dick, okay?”
“I’m not sure I can. They’re really distracting. Could you put on a coat or something?”
“I swear, Brodie, I’m about ten seconds away from punching you again.”
“Right. You’re right. Here.” He pulled off his jumper and handed it to her. “Put that on.”
“Have you lost your mind? Now you’re topless. How is this better?”
He looked down at the abs he’d gained from working long hours on building sites with his brothers. “Staring at my chest doesn’t have the same effect on me as staring at you.”
“I’m dealing with a lunatic,” she complained to the sky. “I’m not wearing your jumper. This is ridiculous.”
“I know exactly how pathetic I’m being, but it’s conditioning. I spent a lifetime focused on your boobs and apparently, it’s a hard habit to break. Give a man a break and cover up.”
“Fine.” She gritted the word out, snatched the sweater from his hand, and pulled it over her head. “Better?”
How was it possible for her to look sexier in an oversized jumper than in a tight tank? This wasn’t going to work. From now on, all discussions about the land needed to happen in daylight, with them both fully dressed and in a crowded public place. Maybe with her behind a screen?
“This was a dumb idea,” he said. “Put it down to sleep deprivation. You’re right, I’ll come back in the morning and we’ll talk then. Keep the jumper.” There was no way he could wear it now. Not without thinking of Katya’s boobs in it.
He took two steps towards the front of the house when the kitchen light came on. Katya grabbed his arm and tugged him back into the shadow.
“It’s my mum,” she whispered. “And you’re shirtless. At night. With me. She’s going to think this is a repeat of my teen years. She’s going to think we’re back together.” There was a look of horror on her face that was a little offensive. “Quick, duck in here.”
She jerked him back into the woodshed and shoved him into the small space behind the pile of neatly stacked wood. Then she wedged herself in beside him.
“Don’t say a word, and don’t move a muscle,” she ordered. “She will never shut up about this if she catches us.”
“This is crazy,” he hissed back. “We look more guilty by hiding. I should just leave. If she sees me, I can explain why I’m here.”
Katya rolled her eyes. “Right, you’re going to tell her you came here to have a conversation about my breasts—at two in the morning.”
“That’s not why I came and you know it.” He stepped forward, but her palm slapped onto his stomach and she pushed him back, flattening herself against him.
“Stop! She’s opening the back door. Why is she opening the back door?” Katya sounded panicked.
Brodie mentally rolled his eyes.
“Hello?” her mother called. “Is someone out here? I have to warn you, I have a gun.”
“There’s no gun. She’s holding a teapot,” Brodie whispered in Katya’s ear.
Delia also had old-fashioned curlers in her hair and wore a red satin dressing gown that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Marilyn Monroe.
Katya’s hand covered his mouth as she pressed herself against him, pushing them deeper into the corner of the shed. Suddenly, Brodie wasn’t all that interested in what Delia was wearing because his world had narrowed to the sensation of Katya’s soft curves against his skin. He didn’t know where to put his hands, so he fisted them at his side and mentally chanted a prayer that they’d stay there. He tried to move out of her way, to put some space—any space—between them. Instead, he bumped into the pile of wood.
For one horrible second that lasted an eternity, the wood wobbled and Brodie held his breath as Katya stilled against him. Then, as though in slow motion, the wood tumbled to the floor.
“Fraser!” Delia screeched as she ran back into the house. “Someone’s outside! They’re trying to break in. Fraser! Get down here! Call the police!”
“I’m done.” Brodie grasped Katya’s waist, lifted her, and moved her to the side. Then he sprang over the fallen wood and ran as though his arse were on fire.
It was only once he was in the car that he remembered his jumper. All he could do was hope that Katya hid it before her parents and the cops came. Otherwise, he’d have Fraser Savage on his doorstep at the crack of dawn. And Brodie didn’t want to live through that experience again.
There was nothing for Katya to do but scale the drainpipe to her old bedroom, like she was Spiderman. By the time she got there, Denise already had the window open. She reached out and helped tug Katya inside.
“Nice sweater. Bit big though,” Denise said as she shut the window. “Have to say, from what I saw of Brodie while he ran out of here, like a bat out of hell, he looked better without it.”
Katya smothered a groan as she pulled off the jumper and stuffed it under her bed, then she raced to the bedroom door, pulled it open and called downstairs. “Is everything okay? I heard mum shout.”
“Everything’s fine,” her father barked. “A cat knocked over some wood and your mother freaked out. Go back to bed, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Katya closed the door and rested her forehead against it. “I need to find a place of my own as fast as possible.”
“Especially if you plan to do the dirty with your ex with no one knowing,” Denise said.
“You know the walls are thin here,” her brother Stephen called from the room next door. “I can hear everything you’re saying, and I accept bribes for silence.”
“Go to sleep, Oops,” Katya called back. “Or you’ll be accepting pain instead.”
“Sisters…” came the grumble before silence.
Katya went back to the single bed she’d slept in as a child and flopped on top of the thin mattress. She stared up at the glow-in-the-dark stars she’d stuck to the ceiling but no longer glowed. “I wasn’t doing the dirty with Brodie. I have no intention of ever doing anything with Brodie.”
“Then why was the man running around topless?” Denise fluffed the duvet on top of the mattress on the floor before climbing back under it.
“He…thought I might be cold.”
“Mm-hm, you’re telling me he was just being chivalrous?” Denise couldn’t have sounded any more skeptical if she’d tried.
“Yes.” And that wasn’t convincing either.
“It would be easier to get blood out of a stone. Just skip to the good bits. Was there touching? Kissing? Was it good?”
Katya raised her head to glare at her best friend. “Nothing happened.”
“Right.” Denise raised an eyebrow. “That’s why you and Mr. Half-Naked hid in the woodshed.”
“We were hiding from mum. You know what she’d be like if she’d found us together in the middle of the night.”
“Ah ha!” Denise pointed at Katya. “So you admit you were together. Tell me, does he smell like the forest? He looks like he would. And that chest! Even in the dark, it made me want to lick him all over.”
“I can still hear every word you’re saying.” Stephen sounded pained. “And now I want to be sick.”
“Go to sleep,” Katya snapped before glaring at Denise. “Both of you.” She stood up, pulled back the duvet, and climbed into bed.
“So, if nothing happened,” Denise whispered. “What was so urgent that he had to wake you in the middle of the night to talk about it?”
Katya closed her eyes and mentally groaned. Apparently, her boobs were the important topic, but there was no way she’s share that with anyone. “The land, but we were interrupted before the good part.”
“I bet you were.” Denise sniggered.
“Okay. I’m finished with this conversation and I’m going to sleep.”
“Thank you, God,” Stephen said.
Katya put her head under the pillow and tried really hard not to think about Brodie’s strange visit. Unfortunately, her breasts weren’t in agreement. They ached. Desperate for touch. His touch. Which wasn’t going to happen, as she would never go down that road again.
Out of everyone she loved, Brodie had always been closest to her, the one she trusted most. Her core belief was that he completely understood her and accepted her for who she was. Over and over, he’d told her that what was important to her was important to him. That they’d build their future together. That it would be an adventure.
An adventure that’d ended when she asked him to consider a different future. One he hadn’t planned. When she’d begged him to come with her—just for a few short years. That’s when he’d demanded she choose between the boy she loved and the dream that made her excited about life. Compromise had been impossible and, backed into a corner, she’d picked her path.
Being forced to make that decision still ate at her bones. It was an acid that eroded the very heart of her. A pain she lived with every day. So, no, there wouldn’t be any touching, because touching led to feeling, and feeling led to trusting, and she couldn’t do that again.
As she turned onto her side and tried to get comfortable, her body protested. It needed. And it wanted
Brodie. But that was just muscle memory and would fade as soon as they put some distance between them. Of that, she was certain. After all, she’d been through it once already.
It didn’t stop his words from affecting her, though. Or from bringing back memories that were so bittersweet they made her throat tighten and throb with the need to weep. It was far too easy to fall back into familiar behavior with each other, and they’d always been completely open when it came to their bodies. A byproduct of the innocence of their childhood friendship and the trust they’d had in one another as teens. They’d lost their virginity together. Learned each other’s bodies through trial and error, often getting by on eagerness rather than skill, and it had been wonderful. Perfect, even...
Until it ended.
Until she had to leave.
Scrunching her eyes tight against the emotion that swamped her, Katya sought the sweet reprieve of sleep, but it was a long time coming.
“What’s this now?” Bain said as Brodie let himself into the house he shared with his brothers. “Sneaking home in the wee hours, and shirtless, to boot. Guess there’s no point guessing who you were with. Although, I wouldn’t mind knowing what happened to your shirt. Did she set this one on fire as well?”
“No.” Brodie scowled at Bain. This whole stupid situation was his fault in the first place. “Why are you up anyway?”
“I heard your car and thought I’d witness your walk of shame.”
Bain followed Brodie into the kitchen, which was still the same luminous yellow their landlord had painted it years before the brothers moved in. Every time he noticed it, he thought someone should change the color. Yet it was still the same yellow he hated.
Bain lounged on a dining chair, legs stretched out in front of him, arms folded. Looking far too awake for a man who just got out of bed. He grinned. “I take it that this means Katya is off limits, then.”
Brodie opened the fridge, grabbed the milk, and drank it from the carton. When he finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You can be a real arsehole, you know that?”
Bain shrugged. “It’s one of my better qualities.”
“We having a party?” Darach said as he came into the kitchen, scratching his belly through a faded grey T-shirt he’d worn to bed. “It’s the middle of the night and some of us need to sleep because we’ve got work in the morning—i.e. all of us.”
Bain pointed at Brodie. “He’s been out seeing Katya. She took his shirt.”
Darach’s eyes went wide. “She set fire to it?”
“I think the question you want to ask,” Bain said, “is what he was doing with his wife in the middle of the night in the first place, and will it cause Fraser Savage to come after him with a shotgun again.”
“Ex-wife,” Brodie corrected because he couldn’t stop himself.
“Aye, so you keep saying.” Bain was seriously asking for another right hook.
“Are you off you head?” Darach asked. “This morning you’re wrestling with Katya on the office floor. Tonight you’re sneaking out to get some at her parents’ place. I know I said I wanted a ringside seat for the chaos of you both being in town, but I’ve changed my mind. This isn’t funny. You have a death wish. Because, he’s right, Fraser won’t like you upsetting her again.”
That was it. Brodie’s patience was past thin. “She. Left. Me.” Why did everybody forget that part?
Bain snorted. “Only because you forced her to.” He shook his head. “We all assumed Conall would be the stupid one because you dropped him on the head when he was a baby, but it turns out no one can out-stupid you.”
Brodie slammed the milk carton down on the counter. “She isn’t Little Miss Innocent in all this. You know that, right? We made promises to spend our lives together, and she broke them.”
“You didn’t promise to spend it in Scotland,” Bain said. “You could have gone with her.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” He picked up the milk carton and threw it at the yellow wall he hated. It splattered against it, leaving milk to pour down the yellow.
“You’d better clean that up before it stinks,” Bain said evenly.
“Look,” Darach said, stepping between Brodie and Bain as he usually did, “we get that you need to sort things out with Katya, but it has to happen away from work and it has to happen fast. We’ve got everything sunk into this business and we can’t risk it because of our personal lives.”
“Not that any of us have personal lives,” Bain added.
Darach growled at him. “Shut up or help.”
“Fine.” Bain leaned forward in his seat. “Here’s how to fix it. You’ve got three directions you can go. You either patch up your relationship and plan a new future together, where you both have a say in what you do. Or you divorce, set her free, and suck up the fact it means you lose Ben’s land. Or you give her half of the land that’s rightfully hers and watch her do whatever the hell she likes with it.” He stood and sauntered to the door. “In other words, you need to man up and live with the consequences of your decisions—like the rest of us. I’m going to bed. Don’t forget to clean up the damn milk.” He stalked through the door.
“You know,” Darach said as he watched Bain disappear, “just when you think he’s completely oblivious, he comes out with something that hits the nail on the head. He’s right, you can’t let this fester. You need to decide what you’re going to do and get on with it.”
Brodie pinched the bridge of his nose hard, hoping to ward off the headache that was Katya. “She doesn’t deserve the land. She walked out of me and never looked back.”
“That’s a kid talking. You’re a grownup.”
Brodie glared at him. “Would it kill any of you to show some understanding? That woman ruined my life.”
“No, inexperience and fear did that. You were both kids. You both wanted things your own way. And you’ve been bearing a grudge for years that she didn’t give in and do what you wanted.”
“It’s no’ that simple.”
“You sure about that?” Darach ran a hand through his hair. “I’m knackered, and I don’t feel like playing Dr. Phil in the middle of the night. Do what you want, just don’t do it at the office. We’re trying to start a company.” With that, he disappeared too.
Brodie grabbed a cloth and wiped the milk, noting that the stain improved the yellow wall. There was no way he’d get to sleep now, so he made himself a mug of coffee and went upstairs to read more of Ben Baxter’s notes.