Copyright © 2018 ARR-INC.
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As I exit the hospital with a smile on my face, I spot Harlen tossing his denim-covered leg over the seat of his Harley. I haven’t seen him since I took him home from my cousin June’s house a few weeks ago. He had been shot by a guy named Jordan, who was part of an MC out of Nashville. Jordan’s motorcycle club was trying to infiltrate the Broken Eagles motorcycle club and take over so they could expand their business. And by business, I mean selling women, drugs, and guns.
Lucky for Harlen, his wound was clean, through and through, so he was released from the hospital after one day. I didn’t know him before I saw him leaning against the wall at my cousin’s house, not really talking to anyone, but I did know just by looking at him that he was in pain. When I saw that, I went into nurse mode and insisted on taking care of him. I’m pretty sure he thought I was a little nuts, but somehow I still convinced him to let me take him home.
After I got him to his place and settled with some of his pain medication, I left, and I haven’t heard anything from him since. That’s not to say I haven’t thought about him more than a few times since then. He’s been like a constant itch in the back of my mind that I can’t get rid of, no matter what I do.
“Harlen!” I shout his name as I hurry in my heels across the parking lot, watching him kick up the stand on his bike and plant both his boot-covered feet on the asphalt.
His dark eyes come to me over his broad shoulder, and just like the first time our gazes locked, my lower belly pulls tight and my blood sings through my veins.
God, he’s gorgeous, just not in the traditional sense. He’s too scary looking to be handsome. He’s too big, his eyes too dark, and his jaw too hard. The thick stubble covering it makes him appear dangerous. Only, he looks like the kind of danger you want to tame so you can see it up close; like a lion or bear in the wild. You know if you ever got a chance to experience the thrill of touching an animal like that, you’d never forget it. Ever.
“Hey.” I smile once I’m close, feeling my skin warm and prickle as his eyes wander over me in a lazy way before he lifts his chin. Taking that for a familiar scary guy hello, I grin. He didn’t say much to me the last time I saw him either. Mostly, he looked at me like I was amusing.
“Were you here to see the doctor?” I ask, settling my purse higher up on my shoulder as I study him. He looks good; his color is back, and there is no sign of pain in his eyes, which is a relief.
“Not sure why else I would be at the hospital, darlin’,” he rumbles, leaning deeper into his seat and planting his long legs farther apart.
“They take semen all hours of the day,” I reply, watching his lips twitch in amusement, and that same amusement shines in his eyes.
“What did the doctor say?” I ask after a moment of enjoying his expression.
“It’s all good, wound’s healed. Stitches are out.”
“Good.” I reach out and touch his muscular, tattooed arm just under the sleeve of his black tee. His eyes drop to my hand resting on him then lift to meet mine and fill with something that makes me feel off-balance. Dropping my hand away, I take a step back. “I’m glad you’re doing okay,” I say, and he lifts his chin once more.
“What are you doing here?” he questions after an awkward pause.
I smile. “I just had an interview for an RN position.”
“Did you get the job?”
“I did.” I smile brighter. I’ve wanted to move home for a while now, but knew I couldn’t until I graduated, passed my state test, and got a job in town. I love my parents, but there is no way I would lean on them or move into their house after being free to do my own thing for so long.
“Feel like celebrating?” he asks, catching me off guard, and my stomach does a flip at the idea of celebrating in any way with him.
“Yes,” I agree without thinking about my answer, and he starts up his bike, the loud rumble making my whole body vibrate.
“Hop on?” I repeat as he hands me his helmet.
“Yeah, hop on.” He nods to the seat behind him and my eyes go there briefly.
“Maybe I shouldn’t.” I shake my head, trying to hand his helmet back to him, but he doesn’t take it. Instead, he crosses his arms over his broad chest, making his already huge arms look even more intimidating.
“Are you scared?”
“No,” I lie. I am scared; I’m always scared of taking chances. Every decision in my life is planned out. I don’t take risks. I do not jump the gun or do things on a whim. My twin sister, Willow, does that, but not me. I’m careful with every single decision I make. Maybe even too careful.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I have my car.” I point across the lot toward my red Audi A6. “It’s my baby. I can’t leave it here.”
“All right, then follow me,” he suggests.
“I…” I look from him to my car then back again. “I can’t,” I whisper regretfully. Yes, I want to hang out with him. Yes, I want to be the kind of girl who does crazy shit like get on a bike with a guy she hardly knows to celebrate her new job. And maybe that celebrating happens with a few shots of cheap alcohol and a few—hopefully—really great orgasms. I want to be that girl, but it’s not who I am. “I’m sorry. I can’t.” I hand him back his helmet, and he takes it this time while studying me intently. “It was nice seeing you, Harlen. I’m glad you’re doing better.” I back up a step. “See you around.”
I turn on my heels and head across the lot. Getting in my car, I toss my purse onto the seat next to me then start the engine. I look out of the windshield, expecting Harlen to be gone. He’s not. He’s still straddling his bike, but now his torso is turned and his eyes are locked on me with his brows pulled together.
Dragging in a breath, I remind myself one more time that it’s for the best that I didn’t go with him. I click my seat belt into place, put my car in drive, and take off without looking his way again, even though I really want to.
Arriving home in Nashville an hour later, I pull up and park outside my building then get out, carrying my purse with me toward my apartment that’s on the first floor. I live in one of the older housing complexes in the city. It’s a nice area that’s safe, with mostly older residents as my neighbors. I’ve called this place home for a few years, ever since my twin sister, Willow, and I decided it was time for us to part ways and live alone. We needed to have some separation between the two of us to build our own lives.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my sister. She’s my best friend. But I’m my own person, and sometimes people, including my family, forget that. It’s almost like they think that because we look alike and share the same birthday, we are the same in every other way. Which might be the case for some twins, just not for me and Willow. She’s always been wild and free, whereas I’ve always been more conservative and cautious.
Hearing Dizzy, my rescued five-year-old Maltese mix, barking on the other side of the door, sensing I’m home, I place my key in the lock and open the door an inch so he doesn’t have a chance to escape. Something he will do if I’m not careful. Bending at the knees, I scoop him up against my chest and take two steps inside, where I drop my bag to the floor and grab his leash hanging on the wall.
“Hey, Dizzy boy.” I kiss the top of his fluffy white head and rub behind his ears. “Did you miss me?” I ask, kissing him again, and he licks my chin. I laugh while hooking his leash to his collar then set him on the ground and let him lead the way back outside. Not surprisingly, he takes us down the block, straight to his favorite park. Watching him sniff the trees and the grass, I silently promise myself and him that our next place will have a fenced in backyard, where he can run free anytime he wants.
On that thought, I pull my cell phone out of the pocket of my slacks and send a text to my cousin Ashlyn’s best friend, Michelle, to let her know I’m ready to start looking for a house since she’s a realtor. Then I dial my mom’s number.
“Honey, hold on a sec,” Mom answers, sounding out of breath, and I hear her tell my dad to stop doing whatever he’s doing. Rolling my eyes, I wait for her to return to the phone. My parents might be old, but they are seriously still grossly in love with each other. “Okay, I’m back. How did the interview go?”
“I think it went good… since I got the job,” I tell her.
I then hold the phone away from my ear when she screams, and then I hear my dad in the background ask her what’s going on before I listen to her relay my news. “Your dad wants to talk,” she says, and I can tell by her tone she’s smiling.
“Congrats, honey. I’m proud of you,” Dad says, and my heart gets warm.
“Love you. Come see your old man soon.”
“I will, and I love you too,” I murmur then listen to the phone being jostled.
“I knew you’d get it!” Mom shouts, coming back on the line.
“Mom,” I laugh, following Dizzy as he heads farther into the park with his nose to the ground.
“Stop it. I get to be excited. You’re finally moving home. Are you going to stay with us while you search for a house? Please say yes, please?” She asks question after question without taking a second to breathe, making me laugh again.
“I think I’ll stay here until I find a place in town.”
“You could have your old room back.”
“I love you and Dad, Mom, but no way. Anytime I’m home, Dad turns the clock back and I’m suddenly sixteen again, having a curfew and asking for permission to go out with friends.”
“I could talk to him,” she insists, making me smile. Mom has been talking to my dad about giving us girls space to become women since we turned thirteen, and it’s never worked.
“I’d rather not move more than once,” I say softly so I don’t hurt her feelings. “Besides, before you know it, I’ll be around so much you’ll be sick of me.”
“I’d never be sick of you.” She huffs, and I know she’s annoyed she didn’t get her way. “When do you start your job?”
“Probably three weeks or so. I need to give Dr. Brandsaw a few weeks’ notice to make sure he’s able to find a replacement.” I work as a nursing assistant at a small clinic here in Nashville, and I’ve been there since starting school. Dr. Brandsaw has been great about working around my school schedule and giving me whatever time I need off. I just don’t know how he will feel when I tell him that I won’t be working with him any longer, now that I’ve graduated. My long-term goal is to work as an ER nurse, and unfortunately, I won’t be able to do that if I stay with him, which means it’s time to move on to the next chapter in my life.
“So I have to wait an entire month, if not longer, for you to move home,” she says, sounding disappointed.
“The time will fly by, and in the meantime, you can help me find a house. I just sent Michelle a message letting her know I’m ready to start looking. I want to find somewhere with a backyard so I can put in a doggy door for Dizzy. That way, if I’m working, he doesn’t have to stay inside.”
“I can help you with that,” she replies, sounding excited once again. “They’re building some new townhomes just down the road from us. They look nice. Maybe we can check them out next weekend.”
“That sounds good,” I agree, even though I’m not sure about living in a townhome. After spending years in apartment complexes, it would be nice not to share a wall with anyone. There is nothing more annoying than hearing people going at it when your sex life is non-existent, or people fighting nonstop.
“What kind of house are you looking for?” Mom questions as Dizzy finally finds the perfect spot to take care of business.
“I don’t have a huge budget, but I want something with at least two bedrooms, so if I have company, they have a place to sleep. And a backyard for Dizzy.”
“I’m sure we will find the perfect place, and if you need your dad and me to loan you some money, w—”
“No. Mom,” I cut her off before she can finish her sentence. My parents paid for my schooling. I never had to worry about that, which was a relief, but I don’t want to live off them forever. I want to make my own way in the world. It’s something that is really important to me.
“You’re just like your father, so darn hardheaded,” she grumbles, and I smile, taking that as a compliment. “So what are you doing for the rest of the day?”
“Right now, I’m taking Dizzy for a walk, and I might see if Willow wants to get dinner tonight, and maybe see a movie.”
“You girls have fun, and I expect to see you this weekend. I love you.”
“Love you too.” I hang up after she does then dial my sister.
“Hey,” she answers, sounding half asleep.
“Are you sleeping?” I ask, wondering how that’s possible when she’s supposed to be at work.
“Yeah, I’m sick. I think I have the flu.”
“Do you need me to bring you anything?”
“I just want to sleep,” she mumbles, and I laugh.
“I’ll bring you over some soup in a few hours.”
“You don’t need to do that,” she mumbles then continues. “But if you insist, can you make it hot sour soup from Pot Stickers?”
“Sure.” I smile. “Get some rest. I’ll be over later.”
“Okay.” She coughs as she hangs up.
I tuck my phone back into my pocket then follow Dizzy around the park for another half hour before leading him home. Once we’re back inside, I head for my bedroom and kick off my heels, trade my slacks for a pair of yoga pants, and my blouse for a tank top. Grabbing a sweater, I put it on then tie my hair up in a ponytail.
I call out to Alexa as I head across my living room on bare feet and wait for her to light up. I ask her to shuffle songs by Ed Sheeran so I have something to listen to while I clean up the kitchen and run the vacuum. I hate cleaning, so I try to stay on top of it, but between work and school most days, I’m not up to it. That is one thing I do miss about living with Willow; I never really had to cook or clean. She has always been obsessive about keeping things tidy, which meant everything was always done before I had a chance to pitch in, and dinner was always ready when I wanted to eat.
After I vacuum and put away the things that have gathered on top of every flat surface over the last week, I go in search of my cell phone so I can call in the order for Chinese food. Seeing a text from Michelle on the screen telling me that she will start searching for a house as soon as she has my budget, I text her back and tell her my max spending limit, and then I dig through my junk drawer for the menu for Pot Stickers. I find it in the back of the drawer under all the randomness that has been shoved in there since I moved in.
Once I’ve called and placed my order, I hang up and look at Dizzy, who has made himself comfortable on top of one of the fury blankets I have lying across the end of the couch. Placing my hands on my hips, I study him, and he lifts his head then tips it to the side. “Do you want to go see Aunt Willow?” I ask, and he jumps down off the couch, runs to me, and starts to spin in a circle at my feet, proving once more that I gave him the perfect name.
“All right, come on.” I head for the hall, grab his leash, hook it on his collar, and then pick up my keys and purse. As I open the back door to the car, he hops in then jumps up into his doggy car seat, knowing the drill. Shutting the door, I get in behind the wheel. After I pick up the food from the restaurant, I head to Willow’s. She lives in a small two-bedroom house on a tree-lined street just outside the city. She bought her house when we parted ways. She didn’t want to rent again, and I totally got that. If I hadn’t been in school and knew I didn’t want to move closer to our parents after I graduated, I would have bought too instead of renting.
Parking in her driveway, I get out, taking our food with me, and then open the door for Dizzy, who jumps down in a hurry to get out and explore. I snatch up his leash before he can get away then lead him up to the front door. Using my key to let myself into the house, not worried about walking in and finding a random naked man inside.
Willow, just like me, hasn’t had a guy in her life for a while now. In the love department, we haven’t been very lucky. I don’t know why Willow hasn’t settled down, but I know I’m too picky when it comes to men I want to spend my time with. I also know I should probably lower my standards. I just won’t. I want a man who is like my father, a man who is strong, who knows who he is and is okay with himself. I also want a man who wants me beyond reason. My father worships the ground my mom walks on, and I want that. I refuse to settle for less. Hence why I’m still single. Men nowadays (at least the men I’ve met) are wishy-washy with their feelings. One minute, they can’t get enough of you, and the next, they are claiming you’re suffocating them. Personally, I’d rather be alone than put up with that kind of unnecessary emotional bullshit.
Coming out of my head, I shut the door and let Dizzy off his leash. After setting the paper bag holding our food on the counter in the kitchen, I head through the living room toward Willow’s bedroom in the back of the house. The door is already open when I get there, and I find Dizzy up on the bed, trying to burrow his way under the covers to get to my sister.
“Dizzy dude, seriously, your breath stinks,” Willow grumbles, poking her head out, sitting up, and pulling Dizzy into her lap while petting him. “You need to get him some doggie breath mints,” she tells me, and I roll my eyes at her. “Did you get my soup?”
“I did. Do you want to eat in here, or do you feel like getting out of bed?”
“I should probably get up. I’ve been in bed all day. This flu is kicking my ass.” She tosses back the blanket and scoots to the edge of the bed with Dizzy still in her arms. “You should probably stay away from me so I don’t get you sick.”
“I never get sick,” I remind her. I can count on both my hands the number of times I’ve been sick in my life. It was a curse when we were younger, because I never had a reason to miss school and was always jealous when she and the rest of my siblings got to stay in bed all day and have Mom look after them.
“Right, I forgot you hogged all the good immune system stuff,” she responds, letting Dizzy go and standing.
“Whatever,” I laugh, watching her move slowly toward her bathroom.
“Wait.” She turns to look at me. “Didn’t you have your interview today?”
“And?” She raises a brow.
“I got the job.” I grin, watching her smile.
“I knew you’d get it. So when do you start?”
“In a few weeks. I need to give Dr. Brandsaw time to find a replacement.”
“Did he know you were looking elsewhere?”
“He knows my long-term goal is to work in the ER, but no, I didn’t tell him I would be looking for a job in a hospital once I passed my exam for my license.”
“You and your goals,” she mumbles, turning back toward the bathroom. “I’m happy for you!” she shouts through the partially closed door. “How happy were Mom and Dad when you told them?” she asks after I hear the toilet flush and the pipes turn on.
“Happy. Mom tried to talk me into moving in with them,” I say, walking across the room and leaning my shoulder against the doorjamb, watching while she washes her hands and face.
Meeting my gaze in the mirror, her eyes widen in horror. “Are you going to do that?”
“Do I appear mentally unstable to you?” I retort.
She grins and replies, “Right?”
I shake my head. “Anyway, now I need to find a house so I’m not driving two hours a day.”
“I love house shopping, I’ll help you search.”
“Thanks, I’m going to need it.” I smile as she grabs her robe and puts it on over her T-shirt and sweats.
“Did you tell Michelle to start searching?”
“Yes, and she said she should have some houses for me to go through over the next few days,” I say, following her back through the house and into the kitchen.
“Awesome. Forward the e-mail to me when you get it, and I’ll help you go through them and narrow the list down.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer,” I agree, handing her the soup and a spoon.
“Thanks.” She takes it with her to the living room. Following with my Lo Mein and a fork, I pad behind her, kicking off my flip-flops, and settle in with her on the couch, tucking my feet under me.
“What do you have to watch?” I ask as she flips on the TV.
“There are a few episodes of the newest season of 90 Day Fiancé recorded. Do you want to watch it?” she asks, flipping through her recorded list on her DVR.
“Duh.” I smile, taking a bite of my noodles as she presses start on the first episode.
“I love this show,” she says halfway through the episode, and I shake my head.
“I just feel bad for most of them,” I admit, watching some poor sap fawning over a woman who is obviously not even a little bit interested in him.
“Love makes you blind,” she mutters, and I nod in agreement. She’s right. Love does make you blind, and sometimes stupid. “At least they’re brave enough to try.”
“True,” I agree softly, wondering if I will ever be brave enough to go after love the way they are. I doubt I ever will. “I saw Harlen today,” I blurt, and she presses pause on the show then turns to look at me.
“When I was leaving the hospital after my interview, I saw him in the parking lot.”
“What happened? What did he say?”
“Nothing much. He asked what I was doing, so I told him about getting the job. And then he asked me to celebrate with him.”
“Celebrate?” She wiggles her eyebrows. “Did you take him up on his offer?”
“No.” I shake my head.
“Why the hell not? I thought you said you think he’s hot.”
“He is hot. I just… I just couldn’t,” I admit, and she studies me closely then lets out a sigh.
“Not all aspects of your life can be planned out, written down, and scheduled. You need to live a little and have some fun.”
“I have goals, things that are important to me,” I defend myself.
“Yes, and you always meet your goals, but some events won’t fit on one of your lists of things you need to do.”
“Next time he asks yo—”
“If there is a next time,” I cut her off and correct her, not wanting to get my hopes up that there will be a next time. It was a fluke that I saw him today.
“Fine, if there is a next time.” She rolls her eyes. “Seriously, do you really want to look back on your life in fifteen or twenty years and think about all the things you missed out on because you were afraid to take a chance?”
“Exactly, you don’t. So in order for that not to happen, you need to start living a little,” she scolds gently. “Seriously, I love you, but I don’t get you sometimes,” she grumbles, before pressing play on the TV. I pull in a breath then press my lips together. I don’t know if I will be able to do what she is telling me I should do, but I know she’s right. I don’t want to look back on my life and have regrets.
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