"I’m surprised they even sell locks like that here," she murmured as she picked up the thick plastic packaging and put it in her recycling bin.
He hadn’t said a word to her since he’d come back, had simply walked in through her unlocked door and gotten to work. Now he informed her, "I ordered some new latches for your windows. They’ll be in later this week."
Brooke’s natural inclination had always been to let people do what they thought was best for her. But she ended up surprising them both by pulling the screwdriver out of Rafe’s hand in midair.
She took a step away from him so that he couldn’t grab it back. "Why, Rafe? Tell me why you’re being like this and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you finish putting this horrible, ugly lock on my door."
He moved so slowly, so carefully toward her, that she had no doubt that he was good at his job as a P.I., and that the people he investigated never even knew he was there watching them.
"I already told you why," he said in a low voice that rumbled up her spine and made her feel hot all over.
"No," she countered, "you haven’t. The last time I saw you, you were a fourteen-year-old boy who laughed all the time. You were wild and happy."
"We’ve both grown up, Brooke."
Even though he all but growled the words at her, instead of taking another step back as he likely intended her to do, she moved closer. Close enough to put her free hand on his face so that she could lightly stroke the stubble on his square jaw as she whispered, "Yes, we definitely have." Close enough that she could have gone up on her tippy-toes and pressed her mouth to his in the kiss she’d been dreaming of since the moment she’d seen him.
But even though she thought she read a similar desire in his eyes, before she could act on it, he moved away from her...and finally started telling her what she wanted to know.
"I started on the police force after college, on the traffic beat along with the other rookies. They let me shadow a couple of detectives, and it turned out I had a knack for tracking crooks. After I solved a high-profile tech fraud case, I struck out on my own and started the agency."
"Tech fraud wouldn’t have you worried about the lock on my door, though, would it?"
"Pretty early on I took on a client who was convinced her husband was cheating on her, even though she couldn’t prove it. He was a very wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 company and she said no one else would take on her case because they were afraid of him. She also told me that the only way she and her kids would be able to survive financially after a divorce would be if she could prove he’d cheated on her. Something about her reminded me of Mia. And I hated to think of my little sister stuck in a crappy relationship with a rich creep who held all the cards."
"He had been cheating on her, hadn’t he?"
Rafe looked disgusted as he confirmed, "With any woman he could get his hands on."
"That’s great that you helped her get out of the bad relationship."
"All of her friends felt the same way. In the past seven years, I’ve caught nearly every wealthy man on the West Coast with his pants down in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Being a P.I. had sounded so exciting when he’d first told her about it, but now she could see just what a difficult job it would be, if only because you’d have to constantly make it a point to remind yourself that not everyone was bad.
"That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To get away from the dark side of human nature for a while." When he didn’t respond, she moved closer to him again and reached for his hand. Despite the fact that he stiffened at her touch, she told him, "I’m really glad Mia found you the house."
She thought about everything he’d said, everything he must have seen in the past seven years, and wanted nothing more than to erase it all for him.
"I know it’s going to need a lot of work, but I think it’s even more important that you have fun here." She smiled up at him, determined to see him smile back one day soon. "Who better to have fun with than an old friend?"
* * *
What the hell was Rafe supposed to say when Brooke looked up at him with those big, innocent eyes and such sweet determination to try to make him feel better about everything? It was his own twisted brain that kept spinning out into X-rated territory, not hers. By "fun" she meant swimming and hiking and roasting marshmallows over a bonfire...not licking each other all over and rolling around together on her bed until they’d both forgotten what a rotten world it could be.
Yesterday he’d been stunned by what a beauty she’d become. Today, he was surprised all over again by the way she’d grabbed the screwdriver out of his hand and demanded answers to her questions.
She was still the cute, sweet girl he’d known a decade and a half ago, but she was also a heck of a lot tougher than he’d given her credit for.
She was still holding his hand, and he wanted to tug her closer to find out if she tasted as sweet as she looked. Instead, he said, "Fun sounds good, Brooke. But I’ve got to know you’re safe." He looked pointedly at the screwdriver.
"Thank you for answering my question," she said as she handed the tool over without any reluctance, as good as her word despite the fact that he knew she didn’t like the look of the deadbolt. "How about I head over to your house and get started with cleaning while you finish up here so that we can get to the fun stuff quicker?"