KEEPING IT TOGETHER
Brody Brown has always been responsible for others. After his parents’ death, he gave up a promising artistic career to care for his younger brother and sister. Now, with his siblings grown, Brody owns his own business, has a nice house, makes a nice living, and for the first time in years he’s on his own.
Elise Sorenson has come to Seattle with her young daughter to find peace. After years as a world-famous ballerinaâ€”(and just as many years in a marriage-gone-bad)â€”she’s looking for neither love nor attention. But she finds both in the handsome, honest man who befriends her with no strings attached.
More than friends, Brody and Elise discover in each other what they needâ€”wild, physical passion without commitment. But it’ll take a shadow from Elise’s past to make them look beyond what they needâ€”to what they truly desire.
PRE ORDER in AUDIO from Tantor! Releases 3/18/13
Even at the close of the day, the sun was enough to make the ride home from work totally perfect. He took the scenic route, settled onto the seat of the Harley he’d splurged on the summer before at Ben’s urging. Best impulse buy ever.
The joy of it was enough to bring him the long way home, down surface streets, a bit south and then back north again. He leaned back, the weight of his body balanced just so. The warmth on his thighs, against his back, eased him away from work and into leisure. The light of the often absent sun after the darkness of winter gave him an easy mood. Happy. Satisfied. The thrum of the engine vibrated, humming into his bones.
Late spring in Seattle and people began to emerge from their squall jackets and endless layers. The city came alive with color as flowers burst from ground that had been barren for months; the trees exploded with leaves and blossoms.
Other than early autumn, this was his favorite time of the year. He loved the glimpses of feminine skin as women started going bare-legged again when they wore skirts; loved the emergence of cleavage. He liked winter for all the vibrant, tight sweaters. But in spring and summer, women went softer, showed skin, wore dresses and floated around in his vision. All these things made every day a fine day in his life.
He’d go home, drink a few beers and sit on his back deck to watch the sunset. Maybe he’d even order a pizza if he could be bothered to get up and deal with the front door. Having made his mind up, he stopped in at the grocery store to pick up some hard lemonade for his sister, Erin, in case she showed up. Knowing his siblings, he expected one or both to roll in and demand food, so he liked to have the things they enjoyed on hand.
The slow ride down his street enabled him to catch all the activity on that early evening. People did yard work and washed cars and boats. He hoped they were all using that special soap to do their washing, or Mrs. Cardini, accompanied by her dog, would storm over and yell at them for being irresponsible with the environment.
The woman was in her nineties, and she ruled the entire blockâ€”both sides. She and her dogâ€”one of the ugliest things he’d ever seen and always decked out in some special dog outfitâ€”would make their way up one side of the street and down the other, doling out advice and lectures as she saw fit.
He grinned when he pulled into the driveway and keyed the bike off, only to hear her lecturing his immediate neighbor to the right about the shabby state of his trash cans. Grabbing the groceries from his side bag, he waved quickly and headed to his door before she got to him. God knew he had to be responsible for some kind of violation or other.
Once inside, he kicked off his boots, hung his jacket up, put the groceries away and turned the stereo on. It was fully time to get his leisure on, and his deck and the sunset beckoned. He cracked open a beer and shuffled out toward his favorite spot to unwind.
Brody arched his back, stretching himself as he reclined in the big, comfy Adirondack chair. He’d had a lot of clients that day in his tattoo shop, and he was getting old. Old enough and been tattooing long enough that his body reminded him at the end of each day.
The sky burned soft and bright in shades of blue, purple and bright, nearly neon orange as the sun set. He relaxed into his chair and tipped his bottle back, letting the cold beer ease his day and his back strain. His eyes drifted closed as he simply let the twilight settle in.
“Thought we’d find you back here.”
Raven. A friend who used to be more way back when. While there’d been times on and off since they’d ended up in bed during her visits, they’d kept their relationship to just friends. Despite her quirks, she’d become a part of his extended family. He knew her in ways she’d never allow others. He wished she would soften a bit, let someone in. But it was her way and he respected that.
“Got enough for me?”
And his sister, Erin.
He smiled, his eyes still closed; for a few moments he held in his mind the vision of the cotton candy clouds bathed in an explosion of color. He’d known not to expect solace for very long. It was rare when he didn’t see one of his siblings at least once a day. He liked that he was a touchstone for them both. They certainly were for him.
“You know where the fridge is.”
He listened to the happy sound of his sister and Raven chattering away in his kitchen and making their way back out to his deck.
“Why are you here?” he asked, opening his eyes and looking to his sister.
Erin dropped a kiss on his forehead. “Thanks for the lemonade. Am I so transparent?”
“I knew I’d be seeing you one night this week, so I wanted to be sure you had lemonade to drink.”
Her teasing smile softened. “You’re a big, huge marshmallow. I won’t tell anyone, but just know that I know. As for why I’m here, I wanted to see you. Duh. Todd says hey. Ben may be over in a while. I ordered pizza. Meatball, green pepper and mushroom, so don’t get that face.”
All that without an extra breath. Brody had always been amazed by his baby sister’s boldness, the way she took life on. Still, a man had standards when it came to pizza. “Pagliacci?”
She snorted. “Where else?”
He nodded, approving her choice. “Don’t tell anyone I said so, but you’re made of awesome.” Today her hair was fire-engine red with yellow streaks. On any other woman it would have looked ridiculous, but on Erin it worked.
She laughed and kissed him again before sitting next to him; squeezing into the space he gladly shared.
Totally and utterly content. His life was good. His business was solid, profits were up, enough that he could take fewer clients himself and actually have a day off every week. His house was finally where he wanted it. His sister was happy with her unconventional life and two totally devoted men, and his brother was on tour and had just celebrated yet another record going triple platinum.
“Your garden is nicer than mine.” Erin began to prattle on about her day, and he thought about smoking a cigarette, just half even, but then reconsidered. Raven would complain and Erin would give him that sigh of hers. Yeah, it was bad for him, but a man needed a few vices.
Instead, he listened to two of his favorite women talk and occasionally grunted or responded. All the while, he drank his beer and half-listened to Kings of Leon as they floated through the air from the stereo in the house. Not a bad way to spend the evening.
Forty-five minutes later, the pizza arrived, so Brody let himself be lured inside by the scent and his growling belly.
He stood for a moment, looking around. His dining room table was large enough for twelveâ€”more if he put the leaf in. Even though his siblings were out on their own, Brody enjoyed that his was the place they sought when they needed to reconnect. His couches were comfortable and worn. The media center was state-of-the-art, because while his brother and sister made the music, they weren’t the only ones who loved listening to it. A big flat-screen plasma hung in his television room downstairs, where he could play on the Wii or the Xbox, and he’d recently picked up a very fine pool table at a garage sale.
In truth, his wilder days had passed and he found he’d rather hang at home in comfort than at a club. If he needed a woman, he could find several with a few calls. If he needed company, the same applied.
Brody enjoyed that most people saw the broad shoulders, the tattoos and the wary eyes, and thought him a rough-and-tumble bad boy. In reality, he liked to watch movies and eat popcorn with his baby sister. One of these days he’d bounce nieces and nephews on his knee and teach them bad habits.
“You’re pretty mellow tonight,” Erin said as she slid a plate laden with pie toward him.
“I have it good. Why not be mellow? Pretty women to my left and right, good music, good beer and good friends.” He tipped his beer toward Ben, who’d wandered in a few minutes before, not so miraculously, when the pizza had shown.
She smiled. “Good. By the way, I thought of a new tat I want you to do.”
“Whatever you say, baby girl.” He shrugged, happy to do it.
He’d done all her inkwork and trusted it would continue that way. Raven handled the piercings and that was fine by him. But Erin’s tats were special, like she was, and Brody wanted to be sure no one he considered inferior ever did work on her.
The predictable argument broke out between Erin and Raven about why Brody should do it instead of Raven, while Ben and Brody looked on before returning to their dinner.
Ben rolled his eyes at the exchange and looked back to Brody. “We need to go for a ride on Sunday. You up for it? The weather should be good. I thought a trip out to the Olympics? We can stop and eat some crab before we turn around.”
Brody respected the man who cared so much about his sister. The guy was good people, and he’d come along at a time in Erin’s life when it would have been a hell of a lot easier to run in the other direction. That went a long way in Brody’s book.
Sunny weekend with bikes and friends? “Yeah, that sounds damned good.”