Protector Daddy by Taryn Quinn
“Don’tyou ever want to do something wild? It’s Halloween, for pity’s sake.”
I peered at the side of my best friend Mickey’s face and wondered how much wilder the girl could get. Then again, I probably didn’t want to know.
On a dare, she’d gone streaking across the college football field last summer during a full moon—and she’d caught the attention of one of the star athletes who’d been celebrating turning legal with some buddies. She’d decided to hang out with them for a while—luckily, her clothes had been nearby—though she was half a dozen years older than that crowd and had last hooked up with one of her teacher’s assistants before she’d graduated the previous spring.
She’d delayed getting her degree due to her changing her major, something I understood all too well.
Of course now I was a college dropout entirely. Something my serious, stern, cop older brothers didn’t yet know about and I hoped they wouldn’t anytime soon.
Not that I could hide the truth forever.
“Not everyone is built like you, Michaela.” I tucked the bag of oats and rice I’d brought to feed the ducks back in my purse. My favorite one, Arlo, had been the only one around today, so I had most of their snacks left for tomorrow.
I came by the lake to feed the ducks more often than anyone would guess. Sometimes even in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, if any of them happened to be around. It helped that my new apartment was across the street from the lake.
“Michaela, huh?” She rolled her eyes at my use of her full name. “All you do is work at the bakery and hoard money to pay for your new apartment. Now you want to work on the side of law and order? Bor-ing.”
“Boring isn’t always a bad thing.”
She flashed me a grin and tossed her long dark hair. “You should be happily breaking laws at your age, not helping to keep the peace.”
“Halloween or not, I have different priorities at the moment. I finally moved out, man. Thanks to my new sister-in-law, I inherited a sweet apartment, but it doesn’t come cheap.” I snapped the scrunchie off my wrist and yanked my hair up in a quick bun in deference to the surprisingly warm late October day. “I don’t care how many extra shifts I have to pull, I’m not losing my new place. I don’t care if I have to get a job on the pole in Syracuse, I’m not moving back in with my mother.” I shuddered while Mickey let out a loud laugh. “My father is only marginally better. At least he gets blissed out every night while he’s listening to Elvis so he doesn’t treat me as if I’m perennially ten years old.”
“Well, you were the only one left home. Both sons having babies and wives now…”
My older brother Brady definitely had done that, just a couple months ago, in fact. My other older brother Maverick was seemingly headed down the same path with Brady’s new wife’s twin sister. Not that the jerk told me anything. He so did not. I just had to listen to the grapevine and come to my own salacious conclusions.
Which I had no problem doing.
“Yeah, but your parents don’t smother you and your older brothers are off and happy. Well, Bishop is anyway. Can Adeline be any cuter?”
“No. She cannot.”
Mickey’s one-year-old niece was possibly the cutest child in the history of the planet. Well, besides my own new niece Presley, who was only a couple of months old but certain to be a child prodigy. I fully expected her to be able to enroll in college by age ten.
I was not experiencing any sort of baby fever myself. That would be foolish, even if I had been born and raised in the unplanned baby capital of the Northeast—maybe even the whole north, period. I’d just had my birthday and I was in my mid-twenties, single and ready to mingle.
So single. While my best friend was happy to meet guys and party and occasionally hookup, other than a few random dates over the past year, my own relationship status was: yeah, right, good one.
“And my parents don’t smother me because I wisely moved out to live on campus the minute I turned eighteen. Something you should have done. Or at least gotten out of the house for something other than work more than once a season.”
I let out a heavy sigh and picked at my peeling vamp red polish. Mickey had a point.
I worked far too much. My shift at the bakery was an early morning situation most days, and I’d just had a first interview yesterday for the dispatch position recently vacated by Bonnie at the police station. They were supposedly hiring two people for it to work in rotation, and my first interview with my brother Brady had gone well after Officer Masterson had unexpectedly not been available.
My brother hadn’t asked me softball questions. In fact, he’d been pretty damn invasive about my schedule but I suspected that was more him in older brother mode than what the Chief actually needed to know about my availability.
Becoming a father had made Brady even worse when it came to being protective. For a second, I’d wondered if I really wanted to work with the two dolts who shared my last name. Working with my sister-in-law at the bakery was one thing, but she wasn’t in full on bossy sister mode yet.
My brothers, however? They’d watch me like hawks.
Especially after I told them my temporary leave of absence from school was actually permanent.
Today I was supposed to have my rescheduled interview with Officer Masterson, the longest serving cop on the force other than the Chief. He was known to be a hard ass, and that was just fine by me. I had no experience in the field. I didn’t want to take advantage of the nepotism afforded me by both of my pain-in-the-behind brothers being cops.
Okay, fine, I kind of did.
The dispatcher position paid better than my sister-in-law’s bakery. And I was already developing an aversion to buttercream frosting.
So was my waistline. My curves were growing exponentially after months working at the bakery. I had to say I liked my new shape up top. With a good bra, I was almost…incendiary in the right light.
In my bedroom, all alone, because no man had even seen my new buttercream-enhanced curves.
But hey, I didn’t need a man for self-love. No, I did not. Not just of the toy-related variety, but the hell, yeah, I’m amazing, I deserve all the best things in life kind.
So what if I didn’t know what my actual career would be and so what that I had only just now finally moved out on my own? And so what that everyone in town was pairing off and I had better chances of hooking up with a pet at Kitten Around cat rescue’s speed dating event than with an actual man?
Not a boy. I was done with the college types. I wanted someone with hair on his chest and a full vocabulary and more skills than crushing beer cans against his skull on wet T-shirt night at Lucky’s bar in nearby Turnbull.
My phone chimed and I screeched and jumped off the park bench Mickey and I had camped on to eat our lunch half an hour ago. I grabbed my cardigan and ever present book, then looked at my phone. Closer to an hour now. Jeez.
Time sure flew when you were listing your many flaws and failures in life.
“Will you relax?” Mickey stood and reached up to undo my hair from its knot. I was tall, but my bestie was even taller. “Leave your hair down,” she commanded. “The sexy tousled look is in.” She flicked her fingers through it then cocked her head. “Are you even wearing makeup? I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
“It’s a job interview, not a date.”
“You never know when you’ll meet someone worthwhile.”
“I’m not looking to meet anyone.”
“Your lonely, crying va-jay-jay disagrees. Now put on some damn lipstick and give me your best warrior smile.”
I swapped my book for a quick makeup freshening and cleared my throat as a vision in shorts and a T-shirt across the street caught my eye. “Why do all the hot guys always like to run?”
Mickey went back to fussing with my hair as if there was any hope of corralling the honey-colored waves my mom had said I’d had even as a baby. Yes, I’d had a full head of hair, even at birth. “They’re hoping to show off their usually unimpressive muscles.”
Not all of the guys in town were dressed to work out. A handful of men wandered past dressed in an assortment of costumes from Chucky to the Grim Reaper, in deference to the holiday that had taken over the town.
The Cove was filled with spooks and goblins and most of the townsfolk were making plans for an exciting night.
Except me. My evening would consist of a horror movie, popcorn, and pajamas.
“Some guys look damn good in their workout wear.” Better than the guy fondling his scythe in any case.
“Hottie at three o’clock.” I let out a wistful sigh as I checked out Grant as he stopped to talk to a mama duck and her babies. You could take the vet out of Kensington Square….
Mickey perked up and slid a casual look to her right then let out a loud sound of disgust. “Him? Now I know you’re hard up.”
“Mick, the guy is hot as hell. You know it. I know it. What I don’t know is why he’s running near the lake when he lives in Kensington Square.”
“Probably annoyed everyone in his own town.” Mickey rolled his eyes. “Grant Thorn is only hot because he has that fake accent.”
“It’s not fake. He’s from Ireland.”
“Whatever.” Mickey threw back her shoulders and I did the same without thinking about it. “Your body is seriously banging in that dress. Belt around your tiny waist, curves busting out all over. In a good way,” she added hurriedly as I scowled.
“Seriously. You look entirely too good to be spending so much time working. At least have some recreational fun to make the work worthwhile. And hey, if you do meet someone now, at least you can bring them home without mommy and daddy peering around the door.”
“They never did that.” I shuddered. “Thank God. My mom would just ask me if I remembered to be careful. Did she ever ask my brothers that? No. And who wasn’t careful?”
Mickey sighed. “How did we both end up with older brothers?”
“Probably past life crimes.” Grinning, I gave her a quick hug. “Wish me luck?”
“All the luck. Though you’re going to ace this interview, I just know it.”
“Thanks. What are you going to do? Watch Grant jog in his short shorts? Such a blessing European men haven’t realized styles are long and baggy now.”
She gave me a light shove. “You need glasses, girl. I couldn’t see anything worth watching, long, short or otherwise.” But she sat back down on the bench anyway, crossing her legs and reclining as if she was settling in for a show.
I crossed the street to the police station, fiddling with my dress as I walked. Maybe I should’ve gone with pants. Or a skirt and top. Something looser and not so figure-defining. It was just a bit too warm for the cardigan I’d brought with me.
Chill out. You’re dressed perfectly fine. You’re not late. You’re going to nail this interview.
At least neither of my brothers was working today to make me even more nervous. This would only take a few minutes.
I stopped in front of the door to the cop shop and frowned at the Closed sign. Since when did the police station close? Especially when I had a damn interview?
It must be a mistake. Had to be.
Taking a deep breath, I marched inside.
Instead of the usual bustle in the middle of a weekday, the place was quiet. No one seemed to be around. Perhaps there had been a crisis and that was why they’d had to close?
I walked through the bullpen area, frowning at the empty desks. I knew they were hiring on some new part-time cops to help deal with the influx of people in our growing town, but only a couple had started so far. A lot of changes were coming—both for the Cove and for me.
Steeling my spine, I stopped near the desk with Christian’s name plate. An almost empty cup of coffee sat cooling beside his mouse pad and his computer screensaver was spinning with colorful triangles. Had he forgotten our meeting? Maybe he was out writing Mav’s girlfriend more parking tickets. According to Vanessa, he routinely got his rocks off doing that.
I bit my lip, glancing around the quiet department. I’d just take a walk, see if anyone was around. Maybe he’d stepped out for a cigarette. Did he smoke?
I walked down the hall past the Chief’s empty office and came to a stop outside the glass-walled break room. Inside, Christian sat slumped over at the table, his head in his hands and what clearly looked like a flask at his elbow.
A flask? Hard-headed, strict, by-the-book Christian Masterson? What was wrong with this picture?
Tentatively, I knocked on the doorjamb. “Hi. I’m sorry to intrude. I saw the sign on the door but—”
He jerked to his feet and tucked the flask into his pocket so smoothly that I blinked. His emotionless face revealed nothing but his short blond hair stood in spikes from his hands and dark circles shadowed his eyes. The crinkles I’d noticed a few times when he came into the bakery and flashed a rare smile as I handed him his tuna on croissant sandwich were no longer present.
I set down my cardigan on the table and put my purse on top of it. “Are you okay?” I asked softly, aching for him and not even knowing why.
“I’m fine.” His harsh tone stirred goose bumps up and down my arms. I rubbed them to chase them away, and his brow furrowed. “You should have a sweater. The AC is on high in here.”
Before I could point out the cardigan folded under my purse, he whipped his jacket off the back of his chair and came around behind me to tuck it around my shoulders. His citrus soap or aftershave filled my nostrils and I tugged the material closer around me, barely stopping myself before I sniffed it.
Get it together, McNeill.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
My heart started to chug too fast in my ears when he didn’t move back from behind me. It sped up even more when he carefully pulled my hair out from under his coat, gently letting it fall over my shoulders as if we were in slow motion.
What was even happening right now?
And he still wasn’t easing back.
I didn’t move a muscle. I wasn’t sure I was even still breathing. But I finally couldn’t bear the silence any longer and I turned my head a fraction to see his steely blue-gray gaze locked on my mouth.
I was breathing now. Panting. He was so much taller than I was, nearly six and a half feet tall, and so broad and muscular to boot. I wasn’t small by any means and he made me feel tiny. Petite and fragile in a way I’d never been in my life.
And I still couldn’t stop breathing as if I’d run a mile.
“I didn’t forgot our meeting.” His voice was low, husky, soft like pussy willows skimming over my flushed skin.
“You didn’t?” I was still whispering. I didn’t know why.
I didn’t understand any of this.
“No.” He slipped his hand into his pocket, his fingers moving as if he was stroking the bottle he’d hidden from my view. “I hated missing the first one.”
For a second, the edge of his mouth seemed to almost tilt. Then his mouth tightened into his usual scowl. “It couldn’t be avoided.”
I nodded as if I understood. “I figured.”
“Are you sure you want a job here?”
For some reason, the question seemed loaded with things unsaid. Have you really thought this through, Honey?
Though he’d never said my name. Not once. Why would he have a reason to? He rarely came into the bakery and his smiles were a rarity. I wasn’t even sure he knew my name, but if he regretted missing our meeting…
“You know I’m Honey?”
His brows drew together. “Of course. How could I not?”
Plenty of people didn’t know me, even in a small town like Crescent Cove. I didn’t command attention like my brothers. They were the ones who all the women wanted and loved to talk about, even after Brady had moved away to work for the FBI.
I’d been here all my life and I’d never done anything particularly noteworthy. And that was saying something, since small towns ran on gossip. I just wasn’t someone who colored outside the lines or did anything other than what was expected.
I shrugged. “I’m the quiet McNeill. The plays it safe, good girl. The boring—”
He covered my mouth with his hand and I fell immediately silent. Also, his hand was absolutely enormous.
Do not make any inferences from the size of his palm. Do. Not.
“Don’t call yourself boring. Why would you say that about yourself?”
I started to reply but I was rapidly losing air and my head was pounding from my frenetic heartbeat. So I nipped his palm and consigned myself to finding another job.
I couldn’t wait to see his report about this failed interview.
Applicant dismissed due to biting.
He frowned and removed his hand, studying it as if he couldn’t believe I’d actually marked him. I was rather surprised about that myself.
“Boring isn’t a bad thing. I’m just…dependable.”
“Dependable is good. I like dependable. The world is full of people you can’t count on.” He shoved the chair he’d recently vacated against the desk, making it shake. “I wish like hell I knew more people like you. I’ve had it up to here with the other kind.”
“Does that mean I have the job?” I asked impulsively, knowing there was no way after this…whatever the heck it was.
I hadn’t even done anything wrong pre-biting—and hey, he’d covered my mouth—but the cards were just not stacked in my direction.
Could be for the best.
He whirled to stare at me. “Why do you want it? Be real with me. Do you want to have your brothers lording it over you all day long and keeping your leash nice and tight?”
I blinked. Had Macy at Brewed Awakening dropped some kind of acid into my latte? Had my sandwich contained some sort of hallucinogenic lettuce or something?
Christian Masterson was not like this. I barely knew the man beyond a half dozen bakery conversations and even I knew that.
“How much alcohol was in that flask?”
His steely eyes went to slits as he stepped toward me. “You didn’t see that flask.”
I backed up, ramming my thigh into the table, but he just kept coming, pressing into me as if he didn’t know this was highly inappropriate interview behavior. “You did not see that flask, Honey.”
I found myself nodding as if I wasn’t in control of motor functions. “I didn’t see it,” I agreed.
His features relaxed a fraction—until I kept talking.
“But why do you have it? Why do you need it? Why did you have your head in your hands?”
He narrowed his eyes. “You don’t know when to shut up for your own good.”
“Definitely not.” I angled my head and wet my dust dry lips, all too aware how his gaze dropped to my mouth and lingered there. “Are you going to make me?”
Yeah, whatever weirdness had descended, I wasn’t helping matters. But the guy was hot.
Granted, I hadn’t fully been aware of that fact until today. He’d always been so snarly in general and non-reactive toward me in particular that I’d never paid much attention to him. He was also a colleague of my brothers.
The ones who would keep my leash nice and tight if I worked here—unless I made sure they realized that I wasn’t under their control.
Wasn’t under anyone’s control.
The good girl was on the verge of going wild.
“Honey.” I’d never heard my name as a warning before. I kind of liked it.
No, I loved it.
“That doesn’t sound like a no.”
“It’s not a yes either.” He glanced away from my face as if he was debating his options.
Go or stay. Pony up or run.
“You’re used to being good too, aren’t you?” My voice was barely above a whisper again. I was scandalizing myself and I hadn’t even done anything—yet.
His granite jaw worked as he stared off in a distance I couldn’t see. His scruff was growing in, golden blond, a contrast from the golden brown militarily-short hair on his head. A scar bisected his left eyebrow, and a muscle jumped in his temple, a rare tell that he wasn’t as unaffected by this exchange as his flat expression suggested.
That and the holy shit huge bulge in his uniform pants when he shifted against me, once, twice, three times.
I gasped every time. I was such a pathetic vixen.
“I watch you, you know.”
I blinked. “You do? When? How?”
Yep, here I was, playing it cool yet again. Except not.
“You feed the ducks.”
I grabbed my purse as if I was hiding a sex toy, not just making sure my rice and oats baggie wasn’t hanging out of my bag. “Yeah, sometimes.”
“Every day, usually around lunchtime.” He cocked his head, his eyes searching mine. “You talk to them and try to touch them.”
I was burning up from embarrassment and maybe even pleasure. He watched me. Which some might consider creepy, but he was a good guy. At least I’d never heard a single bad thing about him, except he was ticket-happy. And that was his job.
“I don’t usually touch them.”
“But you try.” He moved fractionally closer. “A lot of people don’t even see them or view them as a nuisance, but you make sure they have food. And not bread either, since they aren’t supposed to have that. But a lot of people just go the easy route.”
“You noticed I don’t feed them bread?”
He nodded. “You’d be surprised what I’ve noticed, Honey.”
“Why don’t you ever talk to me then?”
“About what? What do we have in common?”
“I—I don’t know. But I’d like to get to know you, maybe. At least to have the option.”
“You’re too young for me.”
“I’m not too young,” I said hotly, repeating the same words I’d said far too often. With my older brothers being cops, and my mom career FBI, I felt as if I’d been monitored all my life.
I was tired of it. Sick of being predictable.
He reached up to grip my throat, the pressure against my windpipe nearly…threatening. Then his broad thumb swept over my lower lip as his hold gentled.
Instead of using this opportunity to get the hell out of this situation, I leaned forward, widening my stance so he stepped forward into the open vee of my legs. Notching his thick cock against the flames scorching right through my skirt. He lowered his head, his slate blue eyes flickering with need an instant before I surged up to take his lips.
I didn’t kiss him. I bit down on his full lower lip, probably pulling too hard in my eagerness. This wasn’t a coy seduction. I was too fumbling and overexcited for that. But he still groaned as if I’d ripped open the lock on his choke chain, unleashing the beast who simply possessed my mouth. He drove his tongue between my lips with a hunger that belied his formerly icy reserve and I inched up on my tiptoes, throwing my arms around him as if I’d been waiting all my life for this very moment.
Maybe I had.
“Honey.” He kept panting my name as he fumbled with the buttons on my dress, undoing them with thick fingers until he could sneak under the material to stroke the material of my bra. But he wasn’t going fast enough. He wasn’t down to my skin.
“Fucking bra,” I gasped, wrenching my head away to breathe. “Why do I wear them?”
“Good question,” he said as he kissed his way across my cheek and down to the underside of my jaw. Then lower to my neck, his lips a fever against my flushed skin. “You’re so fucking pretty. How are you so pretty?”
He sounded delirious so I didn’t take that as a question I needed to answer. Besides, he’d finally fumbled open the clasp of my bra. He twisted my nipple between his fingers and then his lips, the sound that escaped him verging between salvation and pure agony.
I agreed, since my body was already somehow a moment from implosion.
Stop. Stop. Oh, God, you have to stop!
Please, never stop. Ever.
Someone was outside. Wild curly hair. Big shocked blue eyes.
Red lips rounded in a silent scream.
With a shriek, I shoved Christian back—hard—as I met my brother’s girlfriend Vanessa’s horrified gaze.
So much for acing my interview.