Give and Take
The Thorne Brothers #2
by Lee Kilraine
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pub Date: 9/18/2018
Wyatt Thorne was so traumatized by his mother’s abandonment he didn’t speak until he was six. At 26, he’s still the quiet type—strong and silent, most comfortable with a hammer in his hand and work to do. But the reassuring rhythm of his life is interrupted when his brother Beckett decides to pay forward their unused office space to a needy start-up. Enter Rhia Hollis, flighty, impulsive, and outspoken—everything that drives Wyatt crazy. Only this time in the sexiest, most irresistible way . . .
Rhia is determined to disprove her reckless, party girl image by making her new company, Seize the Day, the premier event planning firm in Raleigh. She has big dreams, and the Thornes’ offer of a free command center is a huge help. But Wyatt’s gruff, stubborn resistance to her presence is an annoying hindrance. They’re as different as night and day, yet when they begin to meet in the middle, the sparks fly hot. Is this a case of opposites distract—or the beginning of a beautiful long-term project? . . .
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“No. No ‘uh oh.’ You swore on your stack of Scientific Americans that this time your experiment would be fine. You assured me this trial had zero chance of failure.” Steph had also pulled the older sister guilt trip on me. Don’t be a baby, Rhia. Besides, you owe me for helping you pass organic chem in college.
“Just because you’re showing signs of anaphylaxis, doesn’t mean my experiment is a failure.” She frowned as she examined my face.
“Anaphylaxis? Don’t forget we had a deal. I agreed to help you if we swung by the Business Expo after. It closes in an hour, and I need to go apply for the ‘Pay it Forward’ grant. Today’s the last day for applications.”
“Why in the world did you wait until the last day?” Of course, I got the older sister eyebrow quirk from her. Because my sister, Steph, my whole family really, had no idea what it was like to second guess yourself. They came into the world with confidence, an agenda, and a to-do list.
“I wasn’t sure if I was ready to make that big of a commitment.” That was a lie. I was so ready to jump at the next step in my new business endeavor. What took so long was tackling my inner doubts first. And getting past all the doubts of my family.
“I don’t think you know what commitment is, Rhia. You only stuck out teaching English, what? Two years?”
See what I mean? I taught for two long years. In college, I’d kept my options open with a double major in business and English, but I tried my hand at teaching first. Turned out I wasn’t made for teaching. I fell for every excuse my students gave me. I was a sucker for a sob story. And once the kids figured that out, I lost control of the classroom.
I didn’t let myself get discouraged, though. No, ma’am. Instead of wallowing in my failure, I remembered I was the “go-to” person in my sorority for planning all the parties and events. In fact, I was the Event Planning Chair for two years running.
That’s how I came up with the idea of starting my event planning business, Seize the Day. I felt good about it. Like maybe I’d finally found something I could succeed at and feel passionate about. Just like the rest of my family. I was excited and inspired. Until I ran the numbers.
“You should have majored in one of the sciences like the rest of us,” Steph said while she jotted something down on her clipboard. She set her paperwork aside and moved up close to peer into my eyes. “Your pupils look normal. Maybe if you’d gone into a STEM program, you’d be employed right now.”
Or maybe not. “You do remember those agonizing hours of organic chem tutoring, don’t you?”
Steph winced at the memory. “Painfully so, but there were science degrees that didn’t require organic chem. Plenty of less rigorous programs even you could have managed.”
Even you. I only flinched a little at that. I knew my sister hadn’t meant it as an insult. It was simply a fact in my family.
“Besides, I do so have a job. I’m self-employed.”
The long-standing joke that I was adopted stopped being funny by middle school when my average grades became a source of friction in the family. If only you’d apply yourself, Rhia. If only you’d try harder, Rhia. Rhia, stop daydreaming and focus. Oh, I tried. But my brain simply wasn’t wired like the rest of the Hollis clan.
So, no, I’d never really fit in with my brilliant family. But that hadn’t stopped me from trying. I was tired of disappointing everyone. Especially myself. That’s why I was determined to make my event planning business a success.
“How’s your airway?” Steph placed her fingers on my wrist and glanced at her watch. “Breathing feel okay?”
Was my breathing okay? My family always told me I was overly dramatic, but I don’t know, maybe my throat did feel a little closed up. I swallowed to check. No. My throat felt fine. Must be that whole power of suggestion thing.
“I thing I’m othay.” Wait, what? That didn’t come out right. Probably because my tongue suddenly felt too big for my mouth.
“Uh oh. Open your mouth and stick out your tongue.” My sister’s face slid into her serious scientist expression, and she spoke into her mini handheld recorder. “Test subject number one is showing signs of glossitis and uticaria—one-inch diameter, bright red with a pale center.”
“Whath’s glossithith and uthitharia?” Dammit. My speech slurred even worse. And my head felt like it had last New Year’s Eve when I’d imbibed too much champagne. A giggle escaped past my thick tongue. Ha! Imbibed. “Imbibed ith a funny word, don’t you thinth?”
“Test subject is showing signs of slurred speech. Possible intoxication.” She clicked off her recorder and peered closer at my face. “Still breathing okay?”
“Yeth but I’m ithy.” I scratched a spot on my cheek and then noticed the same feeling on my forearms. I held my arms out in front of me to look. “Yithes! I’m going to thill you, Sthephanie. You promithed I’d be fine thith time. Promithed!”
“Apparently, I miscalculated on the formula. This is a great data set.” She spoke into her recorder again with way too much excitement. “Decrease amylase dehydrate by fifty percent for second set of trials.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. Except, I only had to narrow one eye because the other was already half swollen shut. “Fixth thith.”
“Right.” She searched through the drawer in her desk, coming up with a bottle of Benadryl. After shaking two out, she slapped them in my hand and handed me a bottle of water. “Take these. You’ll be back to normal in six to eight hours.”
Six to eight hours? I glared at her with my one good eye. And I kept on glaring at her as I swallowed down the antihistamines. I could kill my sister and hide the body somewhere here in her lab, but I needed her to drive me to the expo, since I didn’t trust driving under the influence of both whatever she tested on me and antihistamines. Plus, I loved her, dammit.
I picked my purse up from the top of a stainless steel storage bench with a sign Warning: Radioactive Waste Only and snatched out my phone and car keys. I tossed the keys over to Steph, catching her by surprise so that she juggled them before having them firmly in her grasp. Then I texted her, since my tongue now felt incapable of forming any actual words.
We need to head to the expo. Now. Before the Benadryl knocks me out.
“Or before you blow up like a polka-dotted puffer fish.”
I texted an angry smiley face emoji to stress my pissed off-ness in case my swollen eye and hives was disguising how upset I was with her. Although I should have known better. It was only a few months ago when the last trial she’d guilted me into had fried my taste buds. Everything had tasted like cardboard for a week.
“Okay, let’s go. And don’t give me that face.” She pointed at me as we exited the building. “We’ll make it in plenty of time for you to fill out the application and make a good impression.”
“A good imprethon?” It was my turn to give her the raised eyebrow, because I sounded like a drunk with a lisp. As soon as I let myself into the passenger seat and buckled in, I flipped down the visor to look at the damage.
“Ack!” The face staring back at me had leprosy. Or the plague. Or sadly and too true to be funny: I looked like I’d been created in a lab by a mad scientist. Just like Frankenstein.
I sent a text to myself. Stop saying yes to family.
And then I pulled out my concealer and did the best I could trying to cover the bright red hives on my face and neck. When we parked at the Raleigh Convention Center, I made Steph trade shirts with me, since hers was long-sleeved and covered the hives on my arms.
“I don’t like putting on a strip show for any perv walking by, Rhia.” Steph grumbled but complied, giving my shirt a disgusted loook before pulling it on. “Honestly, your wardrobe looks like the result of a sheep mating with a box of neon crayons.”
I might have rolled my eyes while I slipped on my sister’s neutral beige blouse. First, because that didn’t even make sense. Second, what was wrong with liking color? Bright colors made me happy. Except of course these bright red hives. Those made me unhappy. And very, very itchy.
Okay, yes, this situation was less than ideal. I’d done my research on Six Brothers Construction, the company offering the free office space for a year, and had planned on talking with them for a few minutes to highlight my passionate, goal-oriented, future-focused, tech-savvy personality. (All qualities listed in the book, Entrepreneur to Mogul in 37 Easy Steps.)
“Let’s go, Rhia. You have five minutes to fill out the application, and then we’re out of here.” Steph slammed the door and beeped the locks behind us. “I’d like to get out of here before someone sees me looking like My Little Pony threw up on my shirt.”
Like the necessity for swapping shirts was my fault? I seriously contemplated knocking my sister over the head and pushing her into one of the display model Jacuzzis usually set up at these shows. I’d pick one without water of course. The fact that I might need her to speak for me if they asked any questions helped me stifle that impulse. Barely.
“Fine. Leth’s do thith.” My eye was swollen shut, the full body hives itched like I was wearing fabric woven from poison ivy, and my tongue was still unable to form words discernable to a human ear. It was fair to say my confidence about getting this grant had decreased by about a thousand percent in the last hour.
Steph grimaced, her eyes avoiding mine. “It’ll be fine. Just fill out the form. I’ll do the talking if they have any questions. What kind of business is it again?”
Once inside the building, we rode the escalators up to the exhibit space. It was packed with every trade in the building industry pimping their wares like a modern-day bazaar. Rows upon rows, booths laid out into a giant maze throughout the immense space. There were home builders, interior decorators, garage door suppliers, roofers asking passersby how old their shingles were and were they interested in a low-maintenance, metal roof.
I brought up the map of the business expo on my phone to locate the SBC booth. Left side, halfway down over in the general contractor section. Jerking my head to direct Steph to the left, I maneuvered through the press of people in search of the lifeline I needed to secure my future.
Give It Up
The Thorne Brothers #1
A rough childhood tore Beckett and his brothers apart. It took everything he had to track them down and establish Six Brothers Construction. He only trusts them—and his drive to win. Now if SBC can build a billionaire team owner’s much-hyped new mansion, it will put them on the map—and finally fulfill Beckett’s promise to take care of his siblings. Too bad he’ll have to collaborate with hot new rival Samantha Devine, who’s throwing him curves on-site, out-the-box . . . and between the sheets.
Sam knows from experience that arrogant good-ole-boy Beckett is long, strong, and built to go the distance. But this is her only shot to prove she and her fledgling design company can succeed on her own terms. She’ll match Beckett’s expertise by day—and reignite the explosive heat between them by night. But when passion threatens to become real love, will this competition separate them for good . . . or make the sizzling collaboration of a lifetime?
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Talk about a dream job. For sure my face looked like I’d just walked through a clearance sale of Jimmie Choo shoes, my smile flagrantly wide as I walked through the French doors of the sunroom to greet Lila.
That was where my dream turned into a nightmare. Because my gaze landed on a man in the room. Landed with a thud.
For the record, I’m not a man hater. I’m not. But I do have a hit list.
Not men I want to have killed. No. My hit list contained the men I wanted to hit. Right over their thick skulls.
Here’s my list:
- Dear old Dad
- Stepbrother #1 (Todd the bod. He seriously called himself that.)
- Stepbrother #2 (Justin the jerk. He did not call himself that, but he was.)
- Beckett Thorne
“There you are!” Lila walked to me, giving me cheek to cheek air kisses to not mess up her lipstick. My own Cherry Bomb lipstick was newly refreshed. Like extra armor before going into battle. “Sam, I think you already know Beckett Thorne.”
“Samantha.” He stood and reached out his hand, courteous and professional.
“Thorne.” I nodded, pretending I didn’t see his hand, bad-mannered and immature. His extended hand was a trick anyway. One I’d fallen for before. He tricked me into getting close enough to smell him. He smelled like cedar trees and hot sexy nights. It was subtle, but powerful. Like a breath-stealing punch that hit me right in the honey pot. Not kidding.
I’d learned to go into survival mode and protect myself around him. The problem was he was my sexual kryptonite. He could do things to my body with a simple look. And a touch…? I suppressed the shiver that wanted to rattle its way down my body with the thought of what his touch had done to me.
I’d met Beckett Thorne two years ago when I’d first moved to Raleigh. He’d come sauntering over at the Building and Design Expo, offering to show me around town. I’d been warned about him. Rumor was the offer to show me his bedroom would follow shortly after that. And then he’d show me the door even quicker.
I’m not saying it was easy to turn him down. In fact, I’m not saying that at all.
Because I didn’t. I couldn’t. Something about his blue eyes, his sexy smile, his work-hardened body, and his strong calloused hands had me saying yes. Only we skipped the tour around town.
That’s right. I’d taken my turn on the Beckett Thorne thrill ride. It was hot, mind-blowing, and everything a woman imagined when they looked at him. And more. Ride of a lifetime, but I was warned. Like most wild rides, a love affair with Beckett was said to be exhilarating but rumbled to an abrupt stop, before a woman could even catch her breath from the scream-inducing rush up and over the sky-high peaks. Nope. I’d had enough rejection from men in my life. My plan was to walk away after our one night together. And that’s what happened.
I’d one and done him.
That’s how I like to remember it went for the sake of my own dignity.
In reality, like an idiot, I’d waited for him to call all the next week. Not that he said he would. There was a vague mention of seeing me again, somewhere in the hot panting heat between round two and three. In my defense, I wasn’t exaggerating about the mind-blowing ride of a lifetime. Plus, I’m an optimist. And did I mention how amazing the sex was?
But when he didn’t call, I moved on. No big deal.
Luckily, even though the design world in Raleigh was small, we rarely ran into each other. Yet here we both were, and both, apparently, salivating for Lila’s job. Of course that was why I was salivating. Mr. Tall, Dark, and could-be-Bradley Cooper’s-stunt-double had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Nothing. Not his rugged looks, like a barely tamed tiger, almost too austere to call handsome. Not his dark blond hair, looking perpetually mussed like a woman had run her hands through it. Not the bump on his nose and jagged scar on his chin hinting at a wild past. And certainly not his electric blue eyes that gleamed with intelligence and cynicism. A dangerous combination.
So he could take his Southern manners and stick them where the--whoa, down girl. Sure our history was short—very short—but apparently it was seared into my memory. Possibly because I replayed that memory numerous times over the past two years. When I took a shower, or used my battery powered friend. Hey, those memories were mine fair and square. I was allowed to use them, especially when I was in the middle of a man-drought. It’s not my fault I hadn’t found a man I wanted to sleep with since my night with Thorne.
He stood staring across the room at me. God the man was too good looking for my own good. And far too cocky. I was just the woman to bring him down a peg.
What was he doing? Huh, what do you know… He was eye-fucking me. The man had some nerve. He couldn’t keep his gaze off my chest. I willed my nipples not to react. Don’t go perky. Don’t go perky. Don’t g—too late. Those damn eyes of his. Well, two can play at this game.
I let my gaze wander over his chest…and down. Down farther before dragging my gaze back up. His eyebrow quirked.
I quirked my eyebrow right back, making sure to roll my shoulders back, giving him an eyeful of my perky nipples. Both of his eyebrows rose.
That’s right, buddy. Suck it. I mean, no, there would be no sucking. None. Zero. No thinking about his lips at all. I had to exterminate that image from my brain before my pulse headed into defibrillation territory.
His eyebrows lowered from their sky-high perch on the ladder of cockiness. Looked like round one went to me. Ha!
“You’ve got a piece of lettuce on your…uh…top.” His face looked innocent but the laughter in his eyes was like a whipped cream pie to my face.
I looked down and sure enough a piece of lettuce clung to my chest like a bull’s-eye over my right nipple. Nice, Sam. Nothing said classy and professional like a lettuce leaf pastie!
I did what any crazy, trying-to-hold-on-to-her-dignity woman would do. I peeled off the lettuce and popped it into my mouth. I chewed and swallowed delicately. “One can never get enough fiber.”
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