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Beautiful distraction, p.11
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.11

           J. C. Reed
 

  He pushes the door open and carries me into the kitchen, setting me down at the table. He leaves for a few minutes and returns with a first aid kit, a towel, and a bowl. I expect him to return to his chores. But instead, he settles besides me, his proximity too close for comfort as he starts to inspect my ankle again.

  His hand feels rough against my skin.

  As if he’s worked on a farm all his life.

  For the life of me, I cannot imagine him to be a nightclub owner, the kind that parties all night, and yet his expensive car suggests he does. At the same time, it’s strange to think that a rich guy like him enjoys pure physical labor. It makes me wonder about his past, who he is, what he does.

  “This wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t try to run from me. I told you to stay close,” Kellan remarks, his hoarse whisper sending an instant jolt through my body.

  Of course he would think that.

  “I wasn’t running and most certainly not from you.”

  “Yeah. Ava—” He hesitates. Words linger unspoken.

  The way he says my name—it’s too hoarse. Too intimate. It rolls off his tongue like it belongs there.

  Like he owns it.

  My body instantly tenses, and I curse my bad luck for not only propelling me to Montana and into the arms of this man, but also for bestowing him with an arrogance that makes him way too observant.

  “Whatever it is you want to say, don’t,” I mumble. “I can’t deal with your kind at this point in my life. Not when everything’s finally going according to plan.”

  “My kind. Really?” He finally stands and then kneels at my feet. His fingers begin to busy themselves with my swollen calf, applying a wet towel. I wince when he touches the sore spot again. “Here we go. May I ask what that is again?”

  “Thank you for asking. I’ll be more than happy to enlighten you. You’re the arrogant prick kind that seems to think a woman’s legs are there to be pried open. And if you stomp on some hearts in the process, then so be it. I bet it comes with the job description.”

  “You have me all figured out, huh?” He stops and looks at me, his eyes flickering with amusement.

  I raise my chin defiantly. “You bet your ass I have.”

  His eyes flicker again.

  Big mistake to challenge him like that.

  Why can’t I ever keep my mouth shut when it matters?

  I want to take my words back.

  Only, how?

  “You still haven’t answered that one thing I want to know,” Kellan says. His gaze is dark, hooded. I’ve no idea what the fuck he’s thinking, and not knowing drives me crazy.

  “I didn’t realize you had asked a question,” I remark.

  “I never said I had. I keep wondering about something.”

  “Yeah? What’s that?”

  His huge palms go around the sides of my face, holding my head in place. His lips come close until his breath feels like soft butterflies against my mouth. He’s towering over me, his proximity unnerving, but what makes me hold my breath in anticipation of his next move is the way he looks at me through those burning green eyes.

  As if he wants to kiss me.

  I want him to.

  I want him to so bad, I feel myself leaning into him—just for a second—but it’s enough to bring a wicked smile to his lips.

  “That’s what I thought,” Kellan says.

  “You thought what?”

  He’s going to say something stupid that’ll piss me off big time. I just know it. And yet, I still want him to answer the question I shouldn’t have asked.

  “That you want me.” His tone is confident and nonchalant, like there’s no way in hell he could have drawn the wrong conclusion.

  Up until this moment, I could have denied it.

  But the faux pas I’ve just made isn’t one I can take back.

  Yes, I want him.

  But we don’t always want what we need. What I need is someone who’s reliable, someone with whom I can build a future if I fall in love, someone who takes relationships seriously. Kellan’s the opposite of commitment and stability. He’s the opposite of everything I’ve ever known.

  I could easily fall in love with him, but rather than my happy ending, he’d be my downfall.

  He’s a beautiful distraction from reality with the prospect of having one’s heart broken.

  I raise my chin and stare him down with what I hope are daggers of ice in my gaze.

  He stays silent.

  “All right,” I say. “Maybe I want you a little bit. You’re not exactly hard on the eye, and I’ve had a bit of a dry spot.” I pause, regarding him to catch his expression—a blink, a smirk, shock, anything to give away that he might be affected by what I’m saying. “But just because I find you attractive doesn’t mean I’m going to jump into bed with you. That’s all.”

  I pause again, waiting for his reply. The glint of amusement never leaves his eyes as he just shrugs, seemingly uninterested to find out the answer.

  “Your point being?” Kellan prompts.

  “I’m not interested,” I say coolly.

  “See, that’s why we have a problem. I don’t believe you.” I frown and he adds, “You’re in denial. I know you feel about me the way I feel about you.” His fingers settle beneath my chin, forcing me to meet his gaze. “I’m attracted to you, and yes, it’s all fun for me, but at least I’m being honest. What irks me is that you’re not. The way I see it, you’re single, I’m single. We’re both not looking for commitment.” He shrugs again. “No harm done.”

  Whoa.

  He just won’t stop assuming.

  I blink several times as his words keep circling in my mind. “Who said I was single?”

  “Your friend. Mandy.”

  “I know her name,” I mumble, still staring at him. “You asked her?”

  “Didn’t need to,” Kellan says. “The moment she found out we sort of met in front of Club 69, she basically blurted out your entire résumé, in particular emphasizing the last three months of your life.”

  He jiggles his brows at me meaningfully. I’m supposed to catch his drift, which I do…unfortunately.

  After I went to bed, they talked…a lot.

  Mandy’s such a traitor! From now on, I’m going to consciously unfriend her.

  “What exactly did she say?” I ask warily.

  Kellan laughs, the sound grating on my nerves, and I have no idea why.

  It’s not like there’s anything annoying about it. In fact, it’s the most beautiful laugh I’ve ever heard. Too bad such a sexy voice and amazing outer packaging comes with the shittiest character I’ve ever met.

  “I could tell you, but what’s in it for me?”

  “Nothing.” I stare at him. “I could ask her, you know. She’s my best friend.”

  “I don’t see her around. Do you?” He glances at me. “Haven’t you been wondering why she’s gone AWOL?”

  I narrow my eyes in suspicion. “I knew it,” I say slowly. “She told you something before she left.”

  “My lips are sealed.” He zips up his lips, the gesture so funny I let out a laugh.

  “Her attempt’s in vain. I’m not going to sleep with you.”

  “You sure?” he asks. “I like it when you squirm.”

  He’s so full of himself.

  Struggling to keep calm, I draw a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t squirm.”

  “Back there, on that horse, you did.”

  “I’m not going to argue with you,” I say, shaking my head.

  “Because you don’t have a case.”

  I choke back a laugh. He’s challenging me. I can see it in the way his mouth pulls up into a grin that’s so sexy I fear it’ll set me on fire. I can sure feel it between my legs.

  What could I possibly respond with when he’s right and he knows it?

  I did squirm against him, and to be honest, I’m pretty sure, given the chance, my traitorous body would do it again.

  In the sile
nce of the room, I watch him apply a lotion that reeks of the usual hospital scent. “So, you’re a physician or trained in the medical field?” I point at my ankle, eager to find out more about him.

  “Nothing of the sort.” He wraps a bandage around my ankle. “I’m just good with horses. They’re not so different from women.”

  “Ah.” I nod in mock agreement. “You’re really charming. Anyone ever tell you that?”

  He laughs that raucous laughter of his. In spite of the insult he’s just thrown at me, I find that I’m not insulted at all. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t have expected anything else from him.

  “Horses are loyal as long as you take care of them,” Kellan explains, ignoring my statement. “But their emotions tend to get the better of them, and they’ll always put themselves first. They won’t hesitate to stomp over you and desert you.”

  His words catch me off guard.

  His smile is still in place, but the dark glint hasn’t left his eyes.

  Something about his tone makes me think he was in a bad relationship.

  Maybe that’s why he is the way he is.

  “I’m sorry that you think that way. But I can assure you, not all women are the same.” I brush my hair back out of my face, wondering what the heck happened to him in the past that he’d generalize the entire female population.

  Everyone has their closet full of emotional baggage. It comes with the people we let into our hearts and lives. Obviously, I’m not here to prove Kellan wrong, which is why I clear my throat and think hard on a change in topic.

  Through the kitchen window, I watch Sniper outside. He’s sprawled out on the lawn, his head between his paws. From his relaxed posture, I can tell he’s in doggy slumberland.

  “He’s a good dog,” I say out of need to keep the conversation rolling.

  “He is.”

  I turn back to regard Kellan. “You say you adopted him?”

  “It’s a long story.”

  “I have nothing but time, as you must have gathered.” I point at my ankle.

  He lets out a laugh. “With a sprained ankle, you have indeed.”

  He puts the first aid kit aside and takes a seat beside me. Together we turn to watch Sniper.

  “He’s a military working dog who was supposed to be put down,” Kellan says.

  “Really? But why? He’s so sweet.” I cannot help but be disgusted. “Besides, as a military working dog, he’s probably very useful.”

  “He was.” Kellan pauses, hesitating. “Sniper was one of the best in the service. He was trained to find booby traps, bombs and mines, track enemy troops and missing persons. All you had to do was let him familiarize himself with a scent and he’d run off and find the person. He was relentless.” He shakes his head in admiration, his eyes lost in reminiscence. “He saved so many soldiers. But then…”

  I hold my breath. “But what?”

  “His owner died in a bomb blast, and he stopped listening to anyone.”

  “He was supposed to be euthanized for not following?” I ask incredulously.

  “It was more than that. He started to attack people that got too close. Every loud sound was traumatic for him. It got so bad, he wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t let anyone touch him. He wouldn’t work.” Kellan glances to me. “He was deemed dangerous, uncontrollable, useless.”

  “Until you saved him.”

  He nods again. “I did because I felt that I had to.” His voice is so low it sends a shiver down my spine.

  “What do you mean?” I ask breathlessly.

  He looks away, taking his time with a reply. His eyes are glazed over as he stares into the distance, his mind a million miles away.

  “Sniper’s owner was my best friend,” Kellan whispers at last. “When she died, I felt like I owed it to her to take him in.”

  I stare back at the dog, thousands of questions running through my mind.

  His best friend was female and she was a soldier. I can’t imagine someone like Kellan being friends with a woman, and most certainly not with one who fought for her country.

  Heck, I can’t even imagine him living on a farm.

  And yet, it seems to be the case.

  It’s as if Kellan’s a completely different kind of person than the one I imagined him to be. The flirtatious side of him is just the beginning. I feel like I’ll have to peel back layers over layers, remove piece by piece of him, to get to know him.

  Maybe he isn’t as bad as I thought.

  Maybe underneath the player he’s portraying, he’s a real person with emotions, someone who is capable of forming meaningful attachments.

  “I’m glad you adopted him,” I say softly. “And I’m so sorry about your loss.”

  He nods, and then the awful silence resumes.

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  “You’re cold,” Kellan says, misinterpreting the brief tremor rocking my body. Or maybe he’s just as eager to drop the subject.

  I nod, suddenly seeing my chance to escape this situation.

  Our conversation.

  Him.

  “I’ll take you to the living room,” he says.

  “No, Kellan.”

  Ignoring my half-hearted protest, he lifts me off the chair and carries me inside, only stopping when we reach the couch. Slowly, he sets me down, arranges a few cushions behind my back, and then wraps a blanket around me—the motion is so intimate, it makes me uncomfortable.

  I don’t like a guy taking care of me because I fear that one moment in the future when I involuntarily let my guard down, and his guard is still up. Like any other human being, rejection doesn’t agree with me.

  Kellan’s impossibly good looks aren’t the actual danger to my inner equilibrium. It’s all the small things he seems to do and not make a big deal out of. Like riding home with me and making sure I’m not freezing my ass off.

  Been there. Done that. Never again.

  Just like him, I have my own emotional baggage. Just like him, I’m not willing to try again.

  “I’ll bring you something to drink,” Kellan says and heads out of the living room, finally leaving me enough space to breathe.

  In his absence, I relax against the cushions. The sun is streaming in through the open curtains, bathing the mahogany wood in an orange glow.

  There’s something strange about this room. It’s too manly, too rough. But there’s also a tenderness about it. It’s the décor, I decide. The odd female touch in the form of a delicate picture frame and an empty glass vase.

  He used to live with someone. This someone is gone now.

  My gaze is involuntarily drawn to the picture frame Mandy inspected last night, and the blond woman in it.

  He said she was his sister. Was he telling the truth? I’m thinking of his best friend, a soldier. What were the odds that he was in a relationship with her before her death?

  He didn’t say it, but I could feel the sadness radiating from him, the way was hard for him to talk. As soon as I said sorry, he closed up.

  His sudden change of topic only confirmed it.

  “Sorry it took so long.” Kellan places a glass on the couch table.

  I didn’t hear him coming in, and so he catches me off guard. My thoughts can’t possibly be written across my forehead, and yet I feel like he can look right through me and see that I’m trying to figure him out.

  “Thanks.” I grab the warm glass, eyeing the yellow liquid.

  “It’s Riesling Hot Toddy,” he answers my unspoken question. “Warm white wine with honey, lemon, and cardamom. It’ll warm you.” He points to my ankle. “Is it still hurting?”

  I shake my head and find that at some point the throbbing must have stopped. “No.”

  “Good. You should be able to walk again in a few hours.”

  “I hope so. I mean, I don’t want to impose. We’ve already overstayed our welcome.”

  “Don’t worry about it,” Kellan says and sits down next to me. “Like I said, I enjoy your company. It’s a nice change.”
r />
  I bury my face in my drink, forcing myself to take slow, measured sips. It tastes delicious, sweet, and refreshing.

  “Do you live here alone?” I avoid his gaze as I ask the question, afraid to give the impression that I care.

  “I do.” A slight pause. “Do you live alone back in NYC?”

  Just like before, he’s avoiding talking about himself. Either he’s the monosyllabic type, or he doesn’t want me to know too much about him. Either way, I find his evasive nature rude.

  “I don’t.” I stare at him, unwilling to say more. If he wants to remain shrouded in mystery, then so do I.

  The corners of his lips twitch. “I know. Mandy said you’ve been living together since your first day of college.”

  I grimace.

  What else escaped her big mouth?

  “She also said that you’re starting a new position next week and that you have no time for relationships,” Kellan continues, seemingly enjoying his advantage over me.

  “I never said I didn’t have time for relationships. I just don’t want one.”

  He nods, like he knows exactly how I feel. “Relationship gone bad in the past?”

  I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Finally, I shake my head. “Nope. Not really.”

  It’s a lie.

  Someone hurt me—bad—but I can’t tell him that. He wouldn’t understand, not when I’m sure he’s probably broken thousands of hearts.

  His brows shoot up in obvious interest. “Not eager to share?”

  I shake my head again.

  There’s no way in hell I’ll disclose my romantic past to someone like him. If I want to unburden myself, then I’ll listen to Taylor Swift songs to feel better about all the things that have gone wrong in my life.

  “I’m a good listener.” Kellan leans forward, elbows propped on his knees, as though his physical proximity could prove his point.

  I frown at his sudden interest. “Why do you even want to know?”

  “Because I like to know about my competition.”

  A simple statement. Just like that, he seems to think about competition.

  I laugh. “I doubt Kellan Boyd knows what competition is.”

 
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