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The Service Club 5
Copyright © 2013
Erotic desire shimmered in the air, joining with the red and clear lights caressing the night sky to create an intimacy that seemed oddly out of place. Chelsea Landon blinked, her vision blurry and mind foggy as she struggled to make sense of her surroundings. Male voices carried to her softly on the gentle night breeze. One stood out over the rest. One she recognized that sent her on a race of aroused excitement back in time.
“There you are.”
Sensations prickled her spine like centipedes crawling up her flesh. She jerked her head left at the deep baritone drawl, gasping when the movement sent a dart of pain from her neck to her cranium.
“Easy, darlin’. No sudden moves. Okay?”
Alarm zipped through her, mingling with a sudden rush of adrenaline that sped her heart and quickened her breaths as she stared at a handsome face from her past silhouetted by a bright white light. Straight black hair brushed broad shoulders made for a woman to hold on tight while he brought her pleasure of unimaginable heights. Full, pale lips shaped to promise infinite passion as they cascaded over a woman’s bare flesh unfolded in a comforting smile.
A handsome face from her past, yes, but not the ones after her. Unless they had already found her and...
Chelsea swallowed and licked her dry lips. “Am I dead?” Her voice sounded coarse, weak, almost as if it came from someone else rather than her own throat. Goose bumps danced over her flesh, colliding with feathers of heat that caressed every place his gaze slid as he pointedly looked her over.
“If you are, darlin’, so am I.” He was kneeling beside her, his right hand propped on the armrest of the open driver’s door. He shifted slightly, blocking enough of the light that more of his face came into view. Gray eyes, potent and intoxicating, stared back at her, showing more reassuring life and heat than she had seen in years. Braden Chandler covered his heart with a large hand and shook his head. “Feels like it’s still ticking pretty good to me. You want to check for yourself?”
Did she want to replace his hand with hers? Did she want to splay her fingers over his solid chest and feel his muscles flex and his heart beat beneath her palm?
Yes. God, yes.
What would he say if she told him she wanted his hand on her chest as well? Would he think her insane if she told him she wanted to feel his palm glide over her breasts, her already-hardened nipples, skim down her abdomen, and continue until it cupped her pussy? Could he sense the swift need coursing through her to have him sink his long fingers into her slick channel and make her forget everything?
Chelsea would have laughed at herself if she hadn’t been afraid it would hurt. Then again, it might be worth the pain seeing as she hadn’t truly laughed in too long to remember. It was ludicrous. She could barely speak, hardly move, or scarcely think. Yet her body reacted to his presence as if no years had passed between them, as if she weren’t on the run, as if he hadn’t come to her rescue.
“I’ll take your word for it.” Chelsea tried to look around, to take stock of her surroundings, to remember how she had gotten here. She heard the voices behind him, though she couldn’t make out the words spoken. She saw blue lights chopping through the red and clear and felt the warm evening breeze drifting into the car. “What happened?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.” Braden shot a look to his left toward the front of her car. “It looks to me like you tried to chop down a tree with your car.” He pursed his too-kissable lips and shook his head. “I don’t think it worked out so well for you, though. Knocked yourself out cold is what you did.”
“Deer.” Chelsea briefly closed her eyes as the memory played in her slowly clearing mind. “I didn’t see it. He ran out in front of me. I swerved, but I think I clipped him before I hit the tree.” Guilt made her throat tight. She gulped and looked at Braden imploringly. “Do you think he’s all right?”
Bafflement shot through Braden’s eyes. “He’s probably better off than you, at least until one of the folks around here finds him and skins him for dinner.”
Chelsea grimaced. “Well, that’s comforting.” The soft sound of Braden’s chuckle moved over her like a blanket of silk, caressing her flesh and sending her system through a sweaty rush of calisthenics.
“I would’ve thought you learned your lesson the last time you went head-to-head with a deer.”
“That deer hit me!” Chelsea immediately wished she hadn’t squeaked when the pounding in her forehead became more pronounced.
Braden’s grin stretched, showing a full set of perfect, gleaming white teeth. “That’s been your story since you were sixteen and you’re sticking to it, huh?”
“Damn right I am. It’s the truth.” She had been driving home on the back country road mere months after getting her driver’s license, singing along to the radio without a care in the world. She hadn’t seen the buck that had come barreling out of the woods until it slammed into the front fender of her car inches from her driver door. The impact knocked her side mirror through her open window into the car, and the deer had gone hooves over head across her hood before landing on his feet on the other side and disappearing into the woods.
“Well, I see your memory is still online.”
“A little too well.” Chelsea couldn’t continue to hold his gaze. Amnesia might have been a blessing right now. God, if only she could forget the last year of her life, the things she had found, how many times she had tried to get away and failed. If only she could forget what it had felt like to be in this man’s arms, to be kissed by him, to be loved by him. If only she hadn’t run then, the same as she was running now.
Braden chuckled again, and the sound had the same intense effect on her system. She closed her eyes, forcing herself to take even, calming breaths as everything inside her took an all too familiar express train to Want-to-do-him Island.
He obviously didn’t understand. Why would he? He didn’t know anything about her life now. He didn’t know how she had condensed everything she owned into the single suitcase in her trunk and fled for safety in the middle of the night. He didn’t know how she had spent nearly every second of the last year wishing she could rewind her life. He didn’t know that, even when she had thought she had found happiness before everything had fallen apart, a chunk of her had still yearned to be here with him and his brother Micah. For every decision she had thought she made right, leaving Horn Hill immediately after graduation was one that had haunted her and made her wonder if she had been wrong.
“How about we see what else is still online?” Braden’s left hand moved as if to touch her side, but he dropped it to his powerful-looking thigh before making contact.
God, she wanted him to touch her. She wanted to feel the comforting security of his arms wrapped around her, wanted to close her eyes as she nuzzled her face against his chest and pretend she was seventeen again, that life really did come with do-overs.
“Can you move your toes, feet, legs, arms?”
Chelsea moved each part of her body in question. Her muscles felt stiff, but everything seemed to be in working order. “All operational.”
“Good.” This time, his right hand moved and he did touch her, a tender brush of his thumb over her forehead.
She leaned into the touch as embers of acute desire rained through her, twisting around her heart and igniting a deeper burn in her pussy.
Awareness flashed in his eyes, and his voice softened, turned huskier, and dripped with compassion. “You’re going to have one hell of a goose egg on your forehead for a few days.”
“I hit the steering wheel.” The shoulder strap of her seat belt hadn’t locked when she had slammed on the brake. When she hit the tree, the impact had thrown her forward. The last thing she remembered before blacking out was her forehead slamming into the upper part of the steering wheel and wondering why the airbag hadn’t stopped her. “The airbag must have malfunctioned.”
Braden’s gaze slid to the steering wheel, and he slowly nodded. “Let’s get you out of this car before it decides to malfunction again and deploy on both of us.”
“How’s she doing?”
Chelsea heard the second voice before she saw the man. It should have served as a warning. It should have given her the opportunity to brace herself before being overwhelmed with a second wave of fervent erotic desire. Instead, it only tossed more fuel on the fire Braden had already started inside her.
Micah Chandler’s movie-star-worthy face appeared over his brother’s shoulder, and Chelsea knew she was in way over her aching head. Arousal tugged between her legs as she gazed into a second set of compelling gray eyes, eyes she had seen so often in her dreams, eyes a part of her had always wished so desperately that she had never walked away from.
Anyone who didn’t know the Chandler brothers might think they were seeing double, especially after being involved in an accident and sustaining a head injury. They wouldn’t have been far off. The Chandler twins were nearly identical and definitely unforgettable. Both had thick black hair, though Micah wore his cut short and spiked rather than long like Braden. Both had wide shoulders, stupendously defined torsos, and corded arms made for holding a woman tight.
Hold me tight. Please. Both of you. The plea nearly rolled from her lips, but she managed to stop it. She couldn’t have that and couldn’t have them. She had let them go, choosing to chase a dream rather than hanging onto the men she loved, the men she had known loved her.
“She’s going to be just fine, aren’t you, Sea?” Though Braden formed his answer as a question, his tone rang of conviction and a power that promised he would do whatever it took to make sure she would be fine.
Chelsea’s heart skipped a beat at the high-school nickname. The twins had always called her Sea.
Don’t go, Sea.
Stay here with me, Sea.
I love you, Sea.
Oh, God. She swallowed the lump forming in her throat and forced a halfhearted smile. “Let’s hope so.”
Micah handed something to Braden and flashed her a dazzling smile that melted what remained of her insides. Despite Braden’s gentle nature tonight, Micah had always been the more benevolent brother. While authority and pure male confidence pumped off both brothers in arresting waves, Micah tempered his with a sensitivity and tenderness that had always made him her ally when facing off with Braden.
“We’ll make sure of it.” Micah’s words held the same promised assurance Braden’s had, and she knew she better gather her tremulous resistance now or she would be done for.
“Hold still, now.” With skillful ease, Braden slipped a brace beneath her chin and began wrapping it around behind her head. “Let me get this on you, and then we’re going to lift you onto a backboard to stabilize you for the ride to the hospital.” He fastened the Velcro to secure the brace in place and straightened.
Unable to move her head now, thanks to the brace, Chelsea’s gaze followed him up before dropping. Now eye level with his waist, her mouth went dry as attention fell unwillingly to his narrow hips. She couldn’t stop her gaze from moving over the impressive outline of his cock his pants did little to hide. Erogenous zones she hadn’t known existed in her body exploded as wicked whips of need slashed at her breasts and pussy. She barely suppressed the moan that bubbled in her throat.
“Let me do all the work, okay.”
How could she even think that? She was running from a man who attempted to control everything about her down to the very breaths she took. Yet the mere idea of submitting to Braden Chandler, allowing him to take control of her body, her desires, and her darkest needs awakened a craving in her she hadn’t known she possessed.
She tasted it now, a sweet, intense yearning that came from somewhere deep within her. The sensation did funny things to her. Her belly fluttered in devious excitement. The arousal slickening the folds of her sex thickened, seeping from between her feminine lips to coat her panties with a layer of cream.
She snapped her gaze up but didn’t make it to his handsome face. The Maltese cross insignia on his shirt stretching deliciously over his left pec snagged her attention. “You’re a paramedic?”
“EMT. So is Micah. You’re in good hands, darlin’.”
Memories danced down her back and ass and encircled her waist, recollections of what it had felt like to have their strong arms wrapped around her, their hands gliding down her flesh as they had held her close. She had never made love to either man. Not allowing one or both of them to take her virginity had turned out to be the biggest regret of her life.
They had held her, though, sometimes only Braden, sometimes only Micah, and other times they had blown her mind by sandwiching her between them. As a seventeen-year-old girl, she hadn’t known what to do with the cacophony of sensations being in their arms had sent barreling through her. Equal parts exotic and terrifying, the wickedly delicious commotion the Chandler brothers created inside her had instilled in her a want to stay in a town she had desperately longed to escape.
A want you didn’t give in to.
No, she hadn’t given in then any more than she could now. She had run, truly believing she had to escape Horn Hill in order to find herself, to grow into the woman she had wanted to become.
You did that and look where it got you, on the run again, right back where you started.
Chelsea dug deep within herself, latched onto the precarious string of her restraint, and hardened herself against Braden’s and Micah’s magnetic powers to draw her in. “I can get out of this car myself, Braden.” She could get out of the mess she had found herself in, too. All she needed to do was get as far away from Florida as she could, fast. Alabama and, more specifically, the town where she had been born and raised, was definitely not far enough no matter how badly she wished it were.
She sat straighter, started to swing her left leg out of the car, and reached with both hands for the Velcro straps on the neck brace. “And I don’t need this thing.”
“I see you didn’t leave your stubbornness behind in Florida,” Braden mumbled as his long fingers curled firmly around her wrists. He moved closer, caging her inside the car with the solid wall of his body.
Chelsea fought the urge to lean against him, to let herself drift off as she listened to the steady beat of his heart, to allow herself to indulge in the security of the embrace she knew his strong arms would provide.
“You were out cold when we got here, Sea. You might be moving okay now, but that beautiful head of yours took quite a blow.” His tone got firmer, sounding more like the assertive Braden she remembered, though the years had deepened his voice, turning it sexier and all the more damning to her resolve. “Getting out of his car without being strapped to that backboard is not an option. You’re going to the hospital for a CAT scan so we can make sure there’s no internal damage before I’ll let you even think of going anywhere else. Got it?”
Deflated and knowing the quickest way to get out of this town again would be to listen to him long enough to get out of his and Micah’s presence, Chelsea slumped in her seat. “Then get on with it.”
* * * *
Braden paced the hospital waiting room, his mind, chest, and cock stirring for a woman who had walked out of his life fourteen years ago swearing she would never be back.
So why is she?
He raked his hands down his face but didn’t let them drop soon enough. Her scent still lingered on his flesh, an irresistible blend of luscious wild berries and sugar-glazed petals. That fragrance had captivated him in high school and aroused the hell out of him tonight.
She hadn’t changed, at least not much. Her curtain of long, silky hair the color of autumn leaves framed her oval face with eyes the color of the deep blue sea. Eyes he had laid awake at night envisioning looking back at him over her slender shoulder as she straddled Micah’s cock and he pounded into her sexy ass from behind.
She needed to eat. Even at seventeen, the woman had possessed a body that had made him sweat. She still did, especially now that her amazing teenage curves had blossomed into full adult feminine beauty, but he had known the instant he had looked at her tonight that she hadn’t been eating right in a very long time.
Something is wrong.
He knew it in his gut and felt it in his bones. What else could have driven her back? He didn’t kid himself into believing he or Micah had anything to do with her return. Neither of them had played a part in the goals she had been hell-bent on reaching before. Why would fourteen years apart change any of that?
He spun on the heel of his boot to face his brother. Micah stood with one knee bent, his foot and back resting on the wall behind him, his arms crossed over his chest. Though his posture appeared relaxed, Braden saw the same questions and turmoil moving through his brother’s eyes.
“Did you call the chief and let him know we’d be hanging out here until we know for sure Sea is okay?”
“If we get toned out again tonight, we’ll respond from here.” Micah hesitated then asked the question that was obviously on both of their minds. “Why did she come back? She swore when she left she never would.”
“She was seventeen.” Braden knew that didn’t make a difference, but he couldn’t stop his heart from trying to convince his mind of that. “Hell, we were barely out of high school. People change. They realize where they belong and they come back. Look at where we found her. That road she was on leads to the house where she lived with her grandmother.”
Micah stared at him, surprise and a faint trace of amusement evident in his expression. Braden didn’t have to ask why his brother was looking at him like that. He already knew and it was baffling the hell out of him, too. He was sounding like a love-sick, wounded puppy, for Pete’s sake.
“A house her grandmother sold when she gave into Chelsea’s wants and moved them both to Miami.”
“A house we now own,” Braden reminded his brother.
“I doubt she knows that.”
Yeah, Braden doubted it, too. He and Micah hadn’t been able to afford the house at seventeen, but when it had gone up for sale a second time five years later, they had bought it for a song. Not just because it had once belonged to Chelsea. The house was set in the perfect location for them, smack-dab between the stationhouse and their parent’s ranch, with just enough country miles separating the three places for comfort and privacy.
Micah pushed a hard breath from his lungs. “Look, I know what you’re thinking. You’re still in love with her. So am I. Neither of us ever got over that woman.”
“But you don’t think she’s back to stay?” Deep down, Braden didn’t either. He wanted to with every ounce of his being because, damn it, Micah was right. He hadn’t ever gotten over Chelsea. It didn’t matter how many women he had dominated in bed the last fourteen years, or how many women he and Micah had shared, not a one of them had filled the void Chelsea’s leaving had created in him. Not a one of them had made his cock burn, his chest tight, and his mind intoxicated by the sheer need to hold on forever.
“I don’t know why she was driving down that road at this time of night. The only way we’re going to know is to ask her.”
“I hope the two of you have better luck with that than I did.” Judy Chandler stopped inches from Micah, her eyes, the same shade as her sons’, full of trouble and concern. “She won’t tell me anything except that she has to get out of here.”
Braden briefly closed his eyes and sighed as the hopes of the seventeen-year-old boy he had been slammed into the desires of the thirty-one-year-old man he had become and plummeted to his boots. “How is she?”
His mother’s gaze shifted to him, compassion and understanding mingling with the anxiety on her face. “You already know, son, without me having to tell you. You have nearly as much medical training as I do.”
Braden opened his mouth to respond, but his mother didn’t give him a chance.
“But you want to hear it from someone else. I know.” Judy Chandler took a deep breath and let it out slow. “She has a mild concussion. No internal injuries or even external ones beyond the goose egg on her forehead. She got lucky. I would like to keep her through what’s left of the night and part of the morning to monitor her. And to feed her. She’s malnourished, obviously stressed, and I would bet our farm she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in months.”
“Why?” Everything his mother was saying only added more weight to the hunch churning in his gut. Chelsea was in trouble, and he would be damned if he let her out of his sight again before he knew why.
His mother lifted a shoulder. “Like I already said, son, she won’t tell me anything.”
Micah pushed himself off the wall. “Can we go in to see her now?”
Their mother nodded, reaching with both hands to touch their shoulders. “Talk to her. Get her to tell you what’s going on. Protect her. If anyone can, it’s the two of you.” She swallowed, emotion filling her voice. “But be careful. I know both of you still love that girl. You always have. I don’t want to see either of you ripped apart again if you can’t convince her to stay.”
“I let her go once.” And regretted it every second of every day since. Braden squared his shoulders, determination and sheer will stiffening his muscles. “I’m not letting her go again.”
* * * *
Chelsea stared at the hospital ceiling, her mind reeling. Braden had gotten what he wanted. She was here. She had been examined. She had gone through the CAT scan. She hadn’t sustained any internal damages. Yet she still didn’t believe he would think about letting her go anywhere else.
That decision is not left up to him.
No, it wasn’t. She made her own decisions, always had, no matter how perfect or horrid they turned out to be, and she knew there was only one option for her now. She had to get out of this hospital.
And do what?
She didn’t have a fucking clue how to answer that particular question. Her car was totaled. She hadn’t needed a look at it from the outside to know the front end was demolished. She’d been able to see that much by simply looking through the windshield.
You should have never got off the interstate.
I had to, she thought in defiance of the reprimanding voice in her head. Except, maybe she hadn’t. She certainly hadn’t had to pick Horn Hill, of all places, to make the detour. Surely Donnie hadn’t caught up with her that fast. Horn Hill was a good six-hundred and fifty miles from Miami. She had been on the road nearly ten straight hours before she had taken the exit that had led her here.
Then you hit a fucking deer.
Yep, no doubt that had been an omen she had taken the wrong road. Not that she had needed one. Common sense told her Horn Hill was the last place she needed to be. The fact that it would be the first place Donnie would come looking for her aside, Braden and Micah were here.
And wouldn’t you know they would be the first familiar faces you see.
She pounded a balled fist on the mattress beside her, gritting her teeth so hard she figured it a wonder enamel didn’t start shooting out of her ears. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!”
“Beating yourself up isn’t going to do anything but give you a headache, Sea.”
She turned her head right as the door to the hospital room opened, and Micah stepped inside with Braden at his heels. Comfort and warmth she didn’t need no matter how desperately she wanted it moved through her system.
God, they’re so gorgeous. Six feet of hard-toned muscles and ridged planes wrapped in sinful packages of pure sex appeal, the Chandler brothers had always been her downfall. Especially when she looked into their eyes, saw their love for her and the pain she had put there. Even after all this time, storm clouds of that pain darkened their gray eyes, the intensity of it broken only by the love that remained.
And the promises. She could see that, more when she looked at Braden than Micah, but it was there in both their gazes. Wicked promises of erotic passion that hadn’t been so acute before. Primal needs that turned Braden’s eyes smoky gray and spoke of devious intentions and dark desires. She actually felt claimed when she looked at him, as if he were already in control and she were powerless to stop him.
At seventeen, he and Micah had been horny young men who had grumblingly accepted her firmly spoken “no” when they had attempted to have sex with her. At thirty-one, both exuded a confidence and authority that told her saying “no” wouldn’t be so easy for her to say or for them to accept anymore.
Christ, the level of want she felt for them terrified her to the bone. It was the reason she had left. The temptation to stay, to toss all her dreams and goals to the wind in exchange for having them, being with them, loving them, had been too great. The years that had passed hadn’t done a damn thing to vanquish her feelings for either man. Simply looking at them now had her body tied in knots even as it screamed to be pleasured.
She frowned at both of them as well as herself because, for Christ’s sake, how could she be thinking about sex when her entire world teetered on a cliff of total destruction? She gingerly rubbed her forehead. “I already have the monster of all headaches, so scolding myself can’t do much more damage.”
“Then let us help.” Braden stepped around Micah and stopped at the foot of her bed. He hooked his thumbs in his pockets, drawing her attention once again to the one place she so didn’t need to be looking right now. Flames ignited in her cunt as she tore her gaze from his cock and forced herself to look him in the eyes.
Not that looking at any part of either of them helped her to get her mind straight. She needed to think and definitely not about how super sexy they both looked in their EMT uniforms. Damn, every time she allowed her gaze to slide down either of them, her heart started to race and she felt like she needed CPR.
Suspicion swirled with a calm determination in Braden’s eyes. Chelsea forced herself to ignore it, to pretend the cool authority that had always been this man’s driving force didn’t make her want to throw herself in his arms and beg him to take control of her messed-up life. She had managed to prevent herself from giving into that urge fourteen years ago. She could do it again.
“I’ll let you convince your mother to release me from this place.”
“She will.” Micah moved closer to the side of her bed. “Sometime tomorrow.”
Chelsea shook her head, wincing when the movement sent a dart of pain shooting through her skull. “That’s not soon enough.”
“Will it kill you to stay a few hours?” The hurt that moved over Micah’s face tore at her heart. “Maybe longer?”
Yes. Chelsea knew it with a certainty that chilled her to the bone. Staying in Horn Hill would no doubt spell her death in a multitude of capital letters. The longer she remained here with them, the more she could feel her resistance crumbling. She couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t bring them into the middle of this. Donnie or, God, Diego Lorena, would find her, and neither would hesitate to put a bullet through her already-aching head, or Braden’s and Micah’s if they got in the way.
And they will get in the way. You’ve got to leave.
She swallowed as fear and sorrow rose in her throat. “I can’t.”
A muscle ticked in the square line of Braden’s jaw and, when he spoke, a hard anger laced his words. “I’ll get Mom to start on the paperwork. You’ll stay until our shift ends at seven. That’s less than three hours. Then I’ll take you to the airport and you can go wherever you want.”
“I can’t fly.”
Braden’s eyes narrowed. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see steam start to roll out of his ears. “Fine. I’ll take you to the train or bus station. Your choice.”
“Neither.” Any form of public transportation would require a name and photo identification. Chelsea bowed her head. Even if she stayed until the nearest dealership opened, she wouldn’t be able to buy a car either. How the hell was she supposed to leave, hitchhike? Like that wouldn’t be a very bad idea. Knowing her luck, the one car to stop would be driven by Donnie or one of Lorena’s goons sent to knock her off.
“What are you running from, Sea?” Micah asked, his voice softer and more compassionate than Braden’s had been.
Chelsea squeezed her eyes shut. “Myself.”
“And attempting to do it without leaving any sort of a trail,” Braden said. “It sounds to me like you’re running from more than yourself, darlin’.”
Chelsea lifted her head and met Braden’s powerful gaze. “Just let me go, Braden. Please.” She heard herself say the words, heard the echo of her own younger voice as she had said the same thing to him fourteen years ago, and remorse sliced through her heart.
Braden held her gaze, the same memory keen in his eyes as he shook his head. “I tried that. It didn’t work. You’ll be out of this hospital by the time we end our shift, and the only place I’m taking you is home. You’ll explain everything to us, and we’ll decide what to do next.”
Chelsea stared at him. For over a year, a different man had attempted to dictate every breath she took until she had grown to despise him even before she uncovered the secrets that were likely to get her killed. Braden was doing the same thing to her now, attempting to take charge, but rather than despising him, her mind and body were going all wonky on her. Damn it, she couldn’t allow this to happen no matter how badly she wanted it.
“Home,” she repeated slowly. “As in your home?”
Braden nodded once. “As in the house Micah and I share.”
Chelsea opened her mouth to argue and nearly swallowed her tongue when Braden stepped to her bedside, leaned over her, and hovered a breath away from her lips. “I didn’t give you an option, Sea. I let you do what you wanted fourteen years ago. This time, we’re doing it my way.”
And with that, he kissed the tip of her nose, straightened, and walked out of the room with Micah at his heels before Chelsea could make a sound, let alone utter a word of intelligible English.