When his doorbell rang after midnight, Wyatt Roth knew that trouble had to be on his doorstep. After all, a ringing doorbell in the middle of the night was never, ever a good sign. Just a basic fact of life. Wyatt stumbled toward the door, moving more like a zombie than anything else because his shift at the hospital had been long and brutal, and he’d just gotten to bed when—
The doorbell rang again. Louder. Longer. Or maybe it just seemed louder to him because his temples were already pounding.
He had one of those doorbell cameras installed, and the feed was going straight to his phone. Only the damn phone was hidden from him. Vaguely, Wyatt remembered putting the phone down to charge in the foyer. He wasn’t on call with the hospital that night, so he’d left it downstairs and—
The doorbell rang again.
Anger stirred inside of him. Okay, some jackass had better not be playing. Wyatt wanted to yank the door open and give the jerk hell for waking him up. But caution held him back. He’d been trained to be cautious and to not take chances. So he grabbed his phone that was, indeed, charging on a table in the small foyer, he swiped his finger over the screen so he could see who the hell this late night visitor was, and…
Wyatt’s breath left him in a rush. He dropped the phone back onto the table. Ran for the door and yanked it open in a flash. He yanked it open so quickly that the woman standing on the other side gave a startled scream and stumbled back in fear.
No way. You’re not going anywhere. Wyatt’s hand flew out and closed around her wrist. “Christy?” Wyatt said with both shock and delight. Shock because…what the hell was she doing at his place? And delight because—well, because the woman standing at his door, the woman who’d just woken him up after midnight—she was his obsession. His secret obsession from the time that he’d been fifteen years old.
Christmas “Christy” Sharpe stared back at him as the porch light shone down on her. Her brown eyes were shadowed, and she wore a red plaid coat that slid down to her thighs. Her long, dark hair tumbled over her shoulders. And beneath his hold? He could feel the frantic racing of her pulse.
Christy licked her lips. “Hi, um, Wyatt.” Her gaze dropped down to his chest. And widened.
Because he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Hell, he wasn’t even wearing pants. Just his black boxers because he’d hauled ass out of bed when the doorbell kept pealing.
“I…woke you up. I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. Of course, she’d woken him up. It was after midnight. But he wasn’t shaking his head to deny her words. He was shaking his head because…Is Christy really here? On my doorstep? Or was he dreaming? Because he’d had this fantasy more than a few times. Only in his fantasy, she’d opened her coat to show that she wore nothing underneath it.
I can see her black pants. Clearly, she has clothes on beneath the coat. Unfortunately.
Christy shivered. “Can I come inside?” Her husky, slightly breathless voice rolled over Wyatt.
He hauled her in. Probably too desperately and eagerly. But when a dream appeared like a gift from the merry man in red, you held tightly to it. So he got her in, then he kicked the door shut and flipped the lock with his free hand…all while his right hand still gripped hers. He wasn’t going to let her go. If he let her go, he’d probably wake up from what was promising to be one incredible dream.
Has to be a dream. Why the hell would Christy actually be at my door in the middle of the night? She barely spoke to him these days. And it had been around six months since he’d last seen her.
Dream. Definite dream. But, wow, was it vivid.
Her long, thick eyelashes flickered. “Um, thank you?” She bit her lip. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but can I spend the night with you?”
What. The. Hell? This dream felt incredibly, insanely real. Her pulse still raced beneath his touch, and he could have sworn that he smelled strawberries. Christy had worn strawberry body lotion for as long as he could remember. Usually, when he fantasized about her, he wasn’t so aware of scents.
“Wyatt?” She shifted from one black booted foot to another. “Are you okay?” Her gaze darted down his body once more. A flush rose in her cheeks. “Oh, no. Did I interrupt something?” Her voice dropped to an embarrassed whisper. “Is someone else here with you?” Her stare flew toward the stairs. “Is there a woman up in your bedroom?”
Then, before he could speak, she yanked her hand free of his and tried to dart around him and get back to the door.
“Such a bad idea,” she muttered. She fumbled with the lock. “I should never have come here. I’m so sorry. This is super embarrassing.” She got the door open.
His hand slammed it closed.
In those few, frantic moments while Christy stammered her apology and tried to flee, Wyatt’s sleep-fogged mind had finally managed to start processing properly, and he’d realized a few important points.
Point one. This was not one of his hot Christy dreams.
Point two. If it wasn’t a dream, then Christy Sharpe was actually in his house. The real deal.
Point three. She wanted to spend the night with him.
Point four? He was fucking things up, and she was running away.
“No one else is here,” he said, aware that his voice came out as little more than a growl. Wyatt cleared his throat and tried again. “It’s just us.”
She turned around.
He didn’t move back, so when she turned, Christy wound up being trapped between his body and the door that he’d just shut so forcefully. His hand remained up and pressed to the wood of that door, and he was leaning toward her. Even in those high boots of hers, Christy was still a few inches shorter than he was. She’d always been on the delicate side.
He’d always wanted to protect her.
Thought I was just the kid who hung around with her little brother. Because he had, in fact, always been best friends with Christy’s younger brother, Forth. Wyatt and Forth had been inseparable as kids. Were still tight as adults. And the fact that Wyatt had been mooning over Forth’s sister for freaking years?
Well, that was intel that Forth didn’t need to know.
Wyatt stared into Christy’s eyes. Flecks of gold were buried in the heart of her dark eyes. Her skin was flushed—from embarrassment?—and her lips had been painted a slick red. He found himself staring a little too hard at her lips, so he whipped his gaze upward. “Why are you here?” The question was torn from him. “I didn’t even know you were coming home.”
Home. Birmingham, Alabama. Or, more specifically, a tiny little slice just outside of Birmingham…Mountain Brook.
“Did you get bigger?” Christy blurted.
Her rosy flush grew darker. “That is not what I intended to say. I meant to say—you’re naked.”
He blinked once more.
“No.” Her eyes squeezed shut. “Not naked. Mostly naked. You’re mostly naked and…do you want to put on clothes?”
Not particularly, he didn’t. He’d rather get her out of her clothes. “Christy.” Wyatt waited for her eyes to flutter open. When they did… “Why were you standing on my doorstep at this time of night?”
Her white teeth lightly pressed to her plump, lower lip.
Oh, but how he would love to be biting that lip. Wyatt made sure to keep his lower body away from her. If she looked down that far, though, all bets were going to be very, very off. There would be no missing the giant erection thrusting toward her.
“Can I stay with you?” Christy whispered. “I know it is a terrible inconvenience for me to show up out of the blue—”
“Always,” he cut in to say.
A furrow appeared between her brows. Shit. Wyatt ran back through the words they’d both just spoken. It probably sounded like he’d meant her showing up was always a terrible inconvenience. That hadn’t been his intention. He did always get stupid nervous around her, and he basically reverted to being an unsure teen. Dammit. That shit had to stop. “You can always stay with me,” he corrected forcefully. He inhaled. Wow. She smelled freaking delicious. Good enough to eat.
“Forth isn’t in town,” Christy said.
Right. “He’s in Paris. Won’t be back for another week.”
Her chin lifted. “I didn’t know that. I-I didn’t call him before I came home. I actually just packed my bags and hopped in my car and drove as fast as I could to get here. I needed somewhere safe to crash, so I thought I’d come to Mountain Brook.”
Home. To Christy, home would mean the house she grew up in. The house her brother Forth now owned. Her parents had died when Christy was twenty-one and Forth had been twenty. Since then, she’d rarely come back to Mountain Brook. Mostly just for visits with Forth during the holidays.
No, not true. She also came home when I lost my parents. Christy helped me. Comforted me. Made sure I wasn’t alone.
But then she’d left. He’d graduated college. Med school. Christy had focused on her art. She’d opened a glassblowing studio in Asheville, North Carolina. Hell, he and Forth had helped her paint the place before the big opening. He’d wanted her to be happy, wherever she was.
Sometimes, he thought home held too many painful memories for her. The night of her parents’ accident had changed everything for Christy, he knew that. That night had sure scared the fuck out of him.
Because she was in the car. And at first, we all thought we’d lose her, too. Did she even get that he was a doctor because of her? Because he’d been so fucking grateful to the surgeons who’d saved her?
But home had become hard and scary for Christy after that. Because the parents she’d loved so dearly had been gone.
But she’d just called her old home safe, and that one word pierced straight through him because…why would Christy need a safe place? Every muscle in his body suddenly tensed as he went on high alert. “What’s wrong?”
She grimaced. “Someone is obsessed with me.”
Hell. She knows. He shot away from the door. Away from her. Spun so that his back was to her. How had she found out the truth? And, really, wasn’t obsessed a strong word? Not like he was a full-on stalker. “Look, I can explain—”
“I made a mistake. Got involved with someone that I shouldn’t have.”
His mouth clamped shut. His spine also stiffened even more.
“I have a dangerous ex. He won’t let go.” Christy’s words tumbled out in a fearful rush.
Wyatt whirled back to face her.
“He broke into my house. Destroyed some of my things. And I was—I needed to come someplace where I would be safe.” Her hands twisted in front of her. “I thought I’d go to Forth, but he was gone.” Her head shook. “I should have called him first. I was just panicked and not thinking clearly. I got in the car and drove. Fleeing was my first instinct. Then when Forth wasn’t home, I-I couldn’t stay there alone. The house was so big and dark.” Her gaze had dipped to the floor, but it suddenly rose to pin his. “I should have called you, too. Instead of just showing up here. But my instinct was just to run to you. I knew exactly how to get to your house because I helped you move in last June, remember?”
Like he’d ever been able to forget a single thing about her. My instinct was just to run to you. Hell, yes, that should be her instinct. She could always run to him. Always.
“May I please just stay here for the night?”
She was begging him? “No.”
She backed up. Her elbow rammed into the door.
Dammit. He’d done it again. Say things clearly to her. He marched toward her. “You’re not staying for the night. You’re staying here with me until Forth comes back. And you are going to tell me everything about this sonofabitch who is scaring you.” So that I can utterly destroy him. Because Christy had never been the type to scare easily. She was bold and wild. The life of the party. One of those people who literally lit up a room when she was in it.
Or, at least, she’d always lit up rooms for him.
She wasn’t uncertain. Wasn’t scared. Wasn’t the type to tremble with fear. Yet she was trembling right now. All he wanted to do was pull her into his arms. Hold her tight. And promise her that he would never, ever let anything bad happen to her.
Wyatt caught his arms actually lifting to embrace her.
Whoa. Slow down there, jackass. The woman is terrified. Now wasn’t the time to be working his own agenda. He needed to focus on eliminating all threats to her.
A slow smile spread as her lips curved. Relief lit her dark eyes. “Really? You’ll be okay with me staying? I swear, I-I will try not to be any trouble.”
She had no idea that she’d always been trouble for him. “I am definitely okay with you staying.” You can stay in my bed, if you want. The better for me to keep you safe and to fuck you all night long. He growled. Nope. That would be the wrong thing to say. “I have a guest room.” One that was located right next to his on the second floor. “You can stay there.”
That smile of hers got even bigger and flashed the dimple in her right cheek. Just one dimple. So damn adorable.
“Thank you!” Christy beamed. Then, before he realized what she was going to do, Christy hurled herself into his arms and hugged him fiercely.
And by hurled…she pressed herself tightly against every single inch of his body. Or at least, all the inches she could touch. When she stiffened and gasped, he knew she had absolutely not missed the giant hard-on thrusting toward her.
Her head snapped back, and she stared at him with wide eyes. “I—” Christy stopped. Cleared her throat.
Yeah, sure, they could try ignoring his dick. Good luck with that.
“I must have…ah, woken you up in the middle of an intense dream,” she mumbled.
Really? She was making excuses for him? Hey, at least she wasn’t ignoring the situation.
She pulled back. “You’re a doctor. I’m sure you know all about random, physiological reactions.”
Wyatt crossed his arms over his chest.
Christy was looking everywhere but at him. And by everywhere…well, now she was focusing on the Christmas tree in his den. The one that had lights but no ornaments.
“You’ve decorated!” A too bright note had entered her voice. “It looks great!”
The tree did not, in fact, look great. Zero ornaments. Zero presents. Just some lights. “It’s not random.” Why had he said that? Why not just let this go?
Her gaze flew back to him.
And he knew that he was done letting things go where she was concerned. Some sonofabitch terrified her. She ran to me. That means I get to stop pretending.
“Excuse me?” Christy’s voice notched up.
She blushed again. God, he loved her blush.
“I know it’s nothing personal—” she began.
“It is extremely personal. It’s all about you. Just so we are clear.”
Her mouth dropped open.
How fun would it be to thrust his tongue past those parted lips of hers? Not yet. Not. Yet. “I’ve wanted you for years. But I’m not some psycho asshole who is going to take advantage when you’re scared. I can control myself. Always have. Always will.” She needed to understand this. “You have nothing to ever fear from me.”
“You’ve…wanted—what?” Her words ended in a little squeak.
Oh, yes. He was one hundred percent oversharing. And if it hadn’t been helluva-late-o’thirty, he would have shut his fool mouth. But, nope, he just opened it and said, quite clearly, “I’ve wanted you for years. Since you were sixteen, to be exact.” The summer she’d first worked as a lifeguard at the country club’s pool.
And he’d thought about faking a drowning just so she could give him mouth-to-mouth.
“But, you’re…you’re Forth’s best friend—”
“Absolutely. Would die for him in an instant.” But I would also gladly die—or kill—to protect you.
“You’re my little brother’s—”
His hands fell to his sides. Deliberately, he closed in on her. She retreated, backing toward the den. Toward the tree with the lights that gleamed softly. “I’m not so little any longer.”
She had run out of room to retreat. The tree waited behind her. He’d put the tree up yesterday. Even though it was just him for the holidays, he’d needed it up because the place had just felt too cold and empty.
With Christy there, it didn’t feel cold at all. Nothing ever felt cold when she was near. Especially not him. When she was close, he felt burning hot.
“Christy, I stopped being little a long time ago.”
And, holy hell, her gaze dropped down his body.
Is she looking at my dick? Sure seemed that way to him.
Her stare jumped right back up. “I can see that. Definitely not little.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Why did I just say that?”
She was so cute.
“I drove for five and a half hours to get here from Asheville. I was scared to death the entire time. I am not in control.” A slow exhale of breath as her eyes opened. “I am not in control,” she told him again.
“Don’t worry, I am.” And he wasn’t going to do anything she didn’t want. Not ever. “Let’s get you to bed. We can talk in the morning.” She looked absolutely delectable with the tree lights behind her, but he still turned away. Acted like it was the easiest thing in the world when turning away from Christy would never be easy. “And by talk,” he added over his shoulder, “I mean you are going to tell me everything about the bastard who is terrorizing you. Then I’m going to pull some strings, and we will make sure that he never, ever so much as looks at you sideways again.”
Silence from behind him.
He continued toward the stairs. When he didn’t hear her boots clicking on the floor as she followed him, Wyatt finally looked back.
“Who are you?” Christy asked as if he was a stranger and not someone she’d known most of her life.
“I’m the man you need right now.” A shrug. I’ve always been him. But maybe you’ll finally see me now.
“You’re a doctor. You don’t—you don’t deal with—”
“I’m SOST.” Not just a doctor. He went into the battlefield whenever he and his team were needed. “Special Operations Surgical Team.” He turned to fully face her. “I’ve supported Special Operations Forces all over the world. I’ve been in every high stress situation you can imagine—and plenty I hope you never, ever have to imagine. This asshole scaring you? He’s made a fatal mistake. No one should scare you. I’ll take care of him. Consider this done.”
She stumbled toward him. Usually, she was all grace. Practically ballerina-like with her movements. Her stumble told him more than words ever could. Christy was near the end of her rope.
There is more going on here than she’s revealed. But, come morning, he would get her to reveal every secret to him.
“When did you grow up?” Christy breathed.
“When you weren’t looking.” She was almost in front of him. All he wanted was to scoop her into his arms and—
Screw it. He did.
A gasp broke from her when he lifted her up against his chest. He put one arm under her knees and the other braced behind her back.
Christy automatically curled her arm around his neck. “What are you doing?”
“Carrying you up the stairs.” That should be pretty obvious.
“But…I can walk.”
“You can. I can also carry you.” She was too light. She’d lost weight since June. Because of the man scaring her? Just how long had she been afraid and on her own? That shit was over. “You’re dead on your feet. Driving when you’re exhausted is dangerous. Driving at night when you’re exhausted? Even more so.” A reminder she shouldn’t need, not with her parents.
She flinched, and he hated that he’d just caused her pain.
“I stayed alert. Stopped at rest areas. Walked around.”
She’d walked around dark rest areas by herself? Fantastic. He growled.
“You keep making these angry little sounds,” she murmured. “Wyatt, are you mad at me?”
No, sweetheart, I just want to fucking eat you alive. “Lost a patient today,” he said. A grim truth. He’d fought like hell, but in the end, there had been no saving the sixteen-year-old gunshot victim. “I’m not at my best.”
“Oh, Wyatt, I’m so sorry.” She held him tighter. And…wait, had she just pressed a kiss to his cheek? She had. Not a kiss of passion. But of comfort.
His body reacted as if it had been passion, though.
His dick had a hard time interpreting things clearly. Hard time. Hah. I’m fucking hilarious.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked softly.
“Not tonight.” Tonight, he needed to push the memory away. He always had to push the memories down deep. But they’d trickle out later. Come at him in flashes when he’d wish he could have done something more.
Focus on what is right in front of you. That was his motto. And what was right in front of him?
At the top of the stairs, he turned to the right. Went past his room and into the guest room. “Turn on the light,” he ordered her.
She reached out and flipped the switch.
He carried her to the bed. Lowered her slowly. Forced himself to let go and step back.
“My…my luggage is in the car.” A wince. “I should have mentioned that before you carried me upstairs.”
“I’ll get it. You stay here.” He took her car keys and backed away from the bed. One step. Another.
Then he double-timed it down the stairs. When he searched her Jeep, he was surprised to just find one bag. Christy was never the type to travel light. Loaded down was way more her style. Wyatt headed back inside and paused to make sure the alarm was set. When he was certain that the house was secure, only then did he go back up the stairs.
When he entered the guest room, she’d ditched her coat. She stood beside the bed. No coat. No boots. A whole lot shorter.
Unlike in his fantasies, she wasn’t naked.
He dropped the luggage on the floor. “The bathroom is through that door.” He pointed to the right. “I’ve got plenty of shampoo and conditioner in there. Use whatever you need.” A swallow. “I’m in the bedroom beside you, so if you should need me for anything…” Anything at all. “You come get me. Or just shout. I’ll hear you and come running.” Always.
A jerky nod. Her arms wrapped around her waist. “Thank you. I am really grateful—”
“Don’t want your gratitude.”
“What do you want?”
He knew his mask cracked. She sucked in a quick breath, and Wyatt understood that she’d just glimpsed the hunger he normally held in careful check for her. But it was late, it had been a bitch of a day, and he wasn’t his normal self. Wyatt turned for the door. “Good night, Christy.”
“You don’t…Wyatt, you want me? Really?”
His fingers flew up and grabbed the doorframe.
“You never said a word about wanting me. If you’ve wanted me since I was sixteen, why didn’t you say something sooner?”
He nearly ripped off that doorframe. “If I’d told you back then, when we were teens, what would you have said?”
“You…you’re my little brother’s best friend.”
And you are the star of my fantasies. Then and now. “That’s what you would have said when you were sixteen. You’re not sixteen any longer.”
“You’re scared and you’re running on fumes. Get some sleep, Christy.” He exhaled slowly. “You’re safe. And I’m right next door.” He walked out and closed the door softly behind him.
Christy didn’t move. She couldn’t move. Shock held her immobile. “Why didn’t you say something sooner, Wyatt?” she whispered.
So much sooner.