Meet Cute?

In lieu of a May newsletter, below is an excerpt (Trey and Baylee’s first meeting) from THE FIRST TIME AGAIN, the third book in The Braddock Brotherhood series from Samhain Publishing.  The ebook release date is May 7, 2013.  For you series readers who feel you MUST read a series in order (it’s not necessary in this instance), these are all stand-alone books.  The connection is through the heroes.  Twin brothers Rick and Ray have their own stories in Books One and Two (A MONTH FROM MIAMI and A FOREVER KIND OF GUY).  THE FIRST TIME AGAIN features Trey who makes a brief appearance in Ray’s story.  Don’t ask me why, but the heroines (in order) are Kaylee, Hayley and Baylee.  Enjoy!

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Baylee’s grandparents’ best friends, Mike and Josephine Pritchard, had lived on Sycamore Road. During her youth she had occasionally visited the Pritchards with them.

She wouldn’t apologize for being late. Best to let T. C. know who was in charge. It had taken her a while, but she was learning. She wasn’t going to be a doormat for anyone. Not anymore. And certainly not for some overbearing guy who sounded like he was used to ruling the world and getting his own way.

The address on Sycamore Road turned out to be the Pritchards’ house. It didn’t look much different than Baylee remembered. Josephine, whom everyone called “J”, had passed within the last year. Baylee wasn’t surprised to see not much about the property had changed. There was a black Porsche Cayenne parked near the back porch. Turbo, she noted as she drove past and parked a few feet away. Money.

Yippee! Her heart did a little pitter-pat. She could name her own price.

She’d always liked the Pritchards’ place. It was nestled in the midst of some gently rolling hills with the Blue Ridge range as a backdrop. The house was set far enough back from the road to offer privacy, but not anonymity. The old barn was empty now, as was the feed lot and the chicken coop. A few other outbuildings were ready to tumble down, taking the rusting fences surrounding them along.

Trees dotted the yard and the pastures beyond. Birds chirped and flitted in the branches, and a couple of squirrels gallivanted underneath the big oak closest to the house.

Near the porch were flowerbeds badly in need of weeding. A twining rose climbed up a trellis. The old swing still hung at the end of the porch. Baylee could remember sitting there contentedly, swinging and daydreaming to the rhythmic squeak of the chain against the hooks while the adults gathered around the wicker table to drink glasses of sweet tea and chat amicably.

A pang of longing for those simpler times hit her. She hadn’t known then how many mistakes awaited her, how many difficult lessons she had to learn. But learn from them she would. Her new motto was a slightly amended version of “Been there; done that”. To which she had added “not doing it again”.

She got out, mentally debating about using the front door or the back when she noticed the Cayenne’s Florida vanity license plate. TC9. She stared at it while several possibilities she’d chosen to ignore clicked into place.

T. C. Trey Christopher? Nine. His number with the Jacksonville Jacks?

Could it possibly be? Of course it could. The Pritchards were Trey Christopher’s maternal grandparents. In fact, he’d been at their house on a few of those occasions when she’d visited as a child. He always seemed to have a pack of other boys with him, and she’d learned early on to avoid them because they’d do nothing but tease and torment her if she invaded their territory. Which seemed to be everywhere except the back porch where the adults lurked.

She had more memories of him than those from childhood, one in particular which had plagued her all through high school and beyond.

She hesitated a moment longer before she climbed the three stairs to the porch and realized she wasn’t alone. A man seated at one of the four chairs surrounding the table used another chair as a footstool. He had one leg outstretched on it, the other bent at the knee. An ice pack was balanced on the outstretched knee.

His arms crossed his chest, his thumbs tucked underneath his armpits. His head was down. There was a mug on the table. Was he asleep?

He had burnished blond, gold-tipped hair, and from what she could see from his seated position, he was tall and in good shape.

She cleared her throat and took a step toward him. When he didn’t move, she stepped closer and poked his upper arm. Beneath the long-sleeved jersey he wore, her finger met solid muscle. “Excuse—”

His head snapped up and a pair of stunning blue eyes lasered right through her. She sucked in a breath and stumbled back.

Trey Christopher!

She scrambled to get hold of herself. She was an adult woman of almost twenty-nine, not a naïve teenager of fifteen.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” He grinned, which turned his already handsome features into to-die-for good looks. She did nothing but stare even though she knew he was making a joke, since she had been the one to startle him.

“You okay?” he asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I did. The ghost that’s haunted me for fourteen years.

“Want to do this another time?”

No. Been there. Done that. Not doing it again.

She got hold of herself. Finally. “No, it’s fine. I’m fine.”

He studied her for a few seconds. “I’m Trey, by the way. And you are?”

“Baylee. Baylee Westring.”

He chewed on the inside of his lip as if contemplating something while he continued to peruse her from head to toe. She’d come dressed to work in a faded pink T-shirt, ancient jeans and sneakers. Over which she’d worn a hoodie she’d bought on sale at Walmart for five dollars last spring. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail to keep it out of her way. Makeup was nonexistent. She was the cleaning lady. She didn’t have to impress anyone, and she liked to be as comfortable as possible while she worked.

As if remembering his manners, Trey straightened in his chair and pulled his feet off the other one. The right one he helped along with both hands supporting his thigh after setting the ice pack on the table. “Please. Have a seat.” He indicated she was welcome to take any one of the four chairs. She opted for the one opposite him instead of the one next to him where his foot had been.

She sat, and he looked at her for a long moment before he spoke. “Have we met? You look awfully familiar for some reason.”

Baylee pushed her glasses up on her nose. He was fishing, so she decided to join him. “Maybe from high school.”

“Nope. That’s not it. Seems like somewhere more recent.”

Your grandmother’s funeral last year, maybe? Not that she had any intention of enlightening him about their past history if he couldn’t remember it. She’d seen him at the funeral, at a distance. They hadn’t spoken or touched. But she’d been haunted by that memory for months afterward. What, she’d wondered at the time, was it going to take to get him out of her head for good?

Certainly not this. Why was she still here? Why had she sat down as if she was seriously going to consider coming to work for him?

Apparently he was waiting for an answer, and she finally grasped the thread of the conversation. “I don’t know.”

He shrugged as if it wasn’t important.

“Can you start today?”

“I’m not sure.”

He cocked his head to one side. “Not sure because…?”

“Not sure if I want to work here. For you.”

“Ah, I see. My reputation precedes me. Tell me, other than Ryan Reagle, is there anyone in this county who doesn’t hate my guts?”

“I didn’t mean—”

“No, no. I get it. I’m the town hero, the golden boy who made it to the big time and threw it all away. I failed the town, I failed my team. I failed everybody, including myself, and now I can’t catch a goddamn break. I get it, okay? I’ll clean my own damn house. Sorry I wasted your time.”

Trey scooted back to brace his hands on the chair arms and shoved himself up to stand. He limped across the porch and opened the screen door and let it slam shut behind him.

Baylee tried to sort out how she felt. She knew there were quite a few locals who didn’t think too highly of him at the moment and would be happy to make sure he knew it. Yes, he’d been a high school hero, a local football legend who’d made it to the pros. He’d had some good seasons with the Jacksonville Jacks. He had at least one Super Bowl ring, possibly two to show for it. She knew he’d been injured and he’d sort of gone downhill afterward, but she hadn’t followed his fall from fame all that closely. She’d had too many of her own problems to worry about at the time. Trey Christopher had been on a far back burner until she’d seen him again last year. But he was so far outside her normal sphere of acquaintances, at the time she doubted she’d ever see him again.

She might hold a grudge against him. She might have some less than stellar memories of their one high school encounter. But he needed someone to clean his house, and she needed the work. Was she going to be stupid and stubborn and walk away from a job because of some ancient history he didn’t even remember?

No. She wasn’t. She’d charge him top dollar, and she’d do her best to keep a reasonable distance from him. But there was no good reason to walk away from this gig.

Irritated, she adjusted the glasses on her nose again. The frames were slightly bent and the prescription was four years old. If she took this job she might be able to afford another supply of contact lenses.

Decision made, she got up and tapped on the screen door’s wood frame. “Hello? Trey?”

Silence greeted her. Carefully she eased the door open and closed it softly behind her. The kitchen hadn’t changed much since the last time she’d set foot in it, except for appliance upgrades. She spotted dirty dishes in the sink and crumbs on the counter.

She crossed the kitchen and listened. From the bathroom near the back bedroom, she could hear a shower running. Fine. She’d start in here, and when Trey came out of the bathroom, they’d settle things between them. Like her hourly rate.

Trey turned the shower off and stood with his palms flat against the tile under the showerhead, staring at the water swirling down the drain. He’d have to take his licks, especially since he and the rest of the world had decided he deserved them. He struggled for a Zen moment, to put everything in balance, keep it in perspective. Honestly, he hadn’t thought he’d have to beg someone to clean his house. Not in this rural area and in the current economic climate.

Baylee Westring had turned him down, but he could find someone else. What was so great about her anyway? She certainly wasn’t blessed with the gift of sparkling conversational skills. Frankly, she came across as a bit of a space cadet the way she’d stumbled through their brief meeting.

His initial impression had been she looked like she had a bit too much on the ball to be cleaning houses. Even dressed as she was, she looked, if not exactly sophisticated, then smart and capable in some indefinable way.

He’d already been thinking maybe she could do more than clean house. Maybe she could be like his personal assistant or something. Keep track of stuff for him the way Hayley used to. He hadn’t realized how much he’d counted on Hayley, how much she did to keep things running smoothly for him, until he’d lost her.

While he used to spend hours wallowing in self-pity, he now allotted only five minutes per day. Usually in the morning after his shower. He refused to waste any more time beating himself up for things he couldn’t change.

“Onward and upward,” he muttered to himself as he stepped out of the shower with the towel wrapped around his waist. “Or at least forward.”

He opened the bathroom door, allowing the cloud of steam to escape into the hall. Usually, he’d turn right to step into the bedroom next to the bathroom. But he heard water running and dishes clinking from the direction of the kitchen and turned the other way.

Baylee was at the sink, rinsing dishes and loading them into the dishwasher, her back to him. She was doing an odd little dance step while staying in one place, and she was humming along to an unseen music source. Near the door were a bucket and a canvas bag with rags and cleaning supplies. A broom and a mop leaned against the wall next to them.

Trey didn’t know why the entire scene amused him. Or why she was still there after she’d made it clear she didn’t want anything to do with him. Not even if she was getting paid for it. He crossed his arms and waited for her to notice him.

After a couple more minutes she closed the dishwasher. She turned and jumped when she saw him. She put one hand to her chest and yanked the ear buds out of her ears. She didn’t comment on him startling her, which intrigued him. Instead, she stared at him.

“What are you doing?” he asked, not bothering to hide his amusement.

“I—um—cleaning.” She gestured with one hand at the now empty sink.

“I don’t recall hiring you.” Trey had no idea why he had such a strong desire to toy with her, to keep her off balance. He only knew he enjoyed it.

“Oh, well, then, um—never mind, I guess. No charge for doing the dishes.”

“How much do you charge anyway?”

“It depends on what I’m expected to do.”

Behind the wire-framed glasses, she had light brown eyes almost the color of amber, he noted. “Cleaning house for starters. What’s the going rate?”

“Twenty-five dollars an hour.”

Trey snorted. He couldn’t help it. Maybe in a big city. But he knew good and well that no one, not in Hendersonville and certainly not in Edna Falls, would pay twenty-five an hour for housecleaning. He imagined most of the people around here cleaned their own houses or lived in their own filth. Maybe in an area closer to Cashiers or Highlands, or Asheville even, maybe she could find some sap to pay her twenty-five an hour. Maybe.

“Twenty-five an hour seems a little steep.”

“You can afford it.”

“I can. The question is, are you worth it?”

“I’m worth more, actually. But I’m running a one-day special.”

Chutzpah, Trey thought. She was blatantly trying to take advantage of him, and he should be bothered by it, but for some reason he wasn’t. He figured twenty-five dollars an hour was probably a small price to pay to have her clean his house and entertain him in the process. God knew he could use some diversion from his own dismal thoughts.

“For twenty-five an hour this place better be spotless when you get done with it.”

“It will be.”

“And I’ll need you to sign a confidentiality agreement.”

He could see in her eyes his statement amused her, though she schooled her features to remain neutral. “No problem.”

“Carry on, then.”

As soon as he disappeared down the hallway and she heard a door close, Baylee took a deep breath, trying to still her wildly beating heart and soothe her frazzled nerve endings.

Trey Christopher was a hunk, plain and simple. He looked good enough to eat, standing there with his hair wet while the towel around his waist threatened to slip down another notch. He hadn’t shaved, and he had that sexy two- or three-day beard stubble many male celebrities sported these days. Even though he was no longer a professional athlete, he obviously worked out. A lot. He had those well-defined muscles in his upper body guys get with weight training, and those abs of his had to be due to crunches. A whole lot of crunches.

He’d been a charming hunk in high school, too, but his behavior when he’d had too much to drink had been a definite turn-off for her. She knew better than to be fooled twice by any attention Trey Christopher sent her way, didn’t she?

Of course she did.

Copyright 2012 by Barbara Meyers


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