“You’re not going back there alone,” Seth insists, scowling. “I’ll go with you.”
“You can come,” she agrees, and looks up at me expectantly. “Sweats?”
“Seth, go help Louie for a few minutes. I’ll come get you when we’re ready to go to town.”
Seth nods and runs out to help in the pasture.
“I have sweats you can wear.” I pull her back into my arms, tilt her head back, and gaze into her eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I will be,” she whispers. “You help.”
“Good.” I nod and lead her to the bedroom to find her some sweats.
“Should I move into the spare room?”
“Fuck no. You’re with me, sweetheart.” I stare over at her, daring her to argue, but she smiles slowly and pulls my sweats over her hips, over the shorts. They’re at least five sizes too big, and I want nothing more than to strip her out of them.
“We’d better go.”
The house looks no better in the light of day, but the storm has cleared, leaving warm sunshine and a cool, light breeze.
Aside from the house being crushed by a hundred-year-old maple tree, and debris thrown all over the neighborhood, you’d never know the storm ever happened.
And with the sunshine, and a breath of fresh air, I’ve found my resolve.
“I need to go in and get some clothes.” I look up at Josh, standing next to me, his hands propped on his hips, and he stares down at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
“You’re not going in there.”
“No way,” Seth agrees, his hazel eyes glued to the house.
I’m surrounded by overprotective men.
“Hey, Charlie!” I call out to the tall, handsome member of the crew helping with cleanup, smiling at him as he approaches. “When did the tree come off the house?”
“Early this morning.” He takes off his hat and wipes his sweat-covered brow. “Now we have to clean up.”
“I need to go in and get some clothes and stuff.”
“I said—” Josh begins, but Charlie interrupts.
“Not a chance.” Charlie shakes his head. “It’s not sound in there, Cara. Plus, the insulation is all over your clothes and things.”
“So I’ll wash them.” I shrug.
“They have to be sent out to a special cleaner to make them safe for you. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in there.”
I just stare at him, processing. “So, I won’t have clean clothes for days?”
“At least we don’t have to throw them out.” Charlie shrugs and walks back to the house. “I’ll call you when I know more.”
“I don’t have a phone!” I call after him in frustration.
Josh is watching me with a half grin on his face, his arms crossed over his chest. Seth giggles.
“What is so damn funny?” I demand.
“You are.” Josh grins and that dimple softens me, just a bit, but I keep the scowl on my face. “I guess we’ll go shopping next.”
“I hate shopping,” I grumble, making Seth laugh even harder.
“Hey, guys!” Ty calls, and jogs across the street to us. He’s in faded blue jeans and a Metallica T-shirt, showing off the tattoo sleeve on his right arm. It’s easy to forget when he’s got on his lawyer suit that he’s very much the bad boy underneath.
“Hey, Ty,” I say.
He wraps his arms around me and squeezes me tight. “How are you, bird?”
“I’m better. What a mess.”
“That it is.” He nods, shakes Josh’s hand, and ruffles Seth’s hair. “Have you called your folks?”
“Shit, no!” I glance down at Seth and grimace. “Sorry, Seth.”
“I don’t care.” He shrugs.
“I don’t have a phone,” I remind everyone. “It’s in the house. I have to call Jilly too.”
“I called her this morning. I had to talk her out of jumping on the first plane out of LAX.”
I rub my forehead with the tips of my fingers and sigh. “My parents are going to freak out.”
Josh has moved up behind me, rubbing my shoulders with his big, strong hands, and I lean back into him, absorbing his strength and warmth.
“I can call them for you,” he offers, but I shake my head and cover one of his hands with my own.
“I’ll do it. I guess I’d better get a new phone when we go shopping.”
“You’re going shopping?” Ty asks incredulously, then chuckles. “That might get Jill on the plane after all.”
“Screw you.” I glare at him, then laugh. “I needed some new things anyway. I’ve been putting it off.”
“Why do you hate to shop so much?” Seth asks. “Don’t girls live for that crap?”
“Not this girl.” I shudder and push my hands through my hair, enjoying the feel of Josh’s hands still kneading my shoulders. “I usually wait until Jill’s home or I go visit her and then I can’t avoid it any longer. She drags me.”
Seth’s eyes are now glued to Josh’s hands on my shoulders. “Why are you touching her like that?”
I go still just as Josh’s hands stop moving. Ty smothers a grin.
“Seth . . .” I begin as his hands form fists and he scowls at his uncle. Josh moves me easily aside and stands directly in front of Seth.
“What’s wrong?” Josh asks his nephew calmly.
Seth shrugs and looks at his feet, his hands crammed in his pockets, a scowl on his handsome little face.
“Talk to me,” Josh tries again.
Seth’s head comes up and he pins Josh with a harsh glare. “You shouldn’t touch her like that. She’s not like my mom.” He’s got tears in his eyes, but he fights valiantly to keep them at bay as his cheeks flush with anger.
I gasp. Ty swears under his breath, and Josh’s hands fist at his sides and his jaw clenches.
“Do you think I’m taking advantage of Cara?” he asks in a low voice.
“You better not.” Seth pushes his chin out defiantly and I want to hug him to me, so moved that he wants to protect me.
“Seth, Josh isn’t trying to take advantage of me,” I say. Seth watches us both carefully. “He’s being supportive and a good friend.” Dear God, what did he see when he lived with his mom?
“Seth, I care about Cara. Very much.” Josh relaxes his body and smiles down at the boy as he links his fingers with mine. “I like that you care about her too and want to protect her.”