Heâ€™s faced down every demonâ€¦except one fast-talking Southern girl.
Petal, Georgia, Book 2
It hasnâ€™t been easy for Joe Harris to live down his not-so-honorable past, but the military made him a better man. Heâ€™s determined to make up for past mistakes, starting with coming home to care for his ailing father.
Things are going as planned until his best friendâ€™s little sister comes barreling into his life. Funny, quick talking, smart, beautiful, sheâ€™s a temptation he triesâ€”and failsâ€”to resist.
When Beth Murphy hears Joe is back in town, she makes sure sheâ€™s the first on his welcoming committee. Though he tries to pretend heâ€™s gruff and unworthy of her, she sees the man who spoils his dog, who touches her like sheâ€™s precious. Cherished. But thereâ€™s one wall she canâ€™t break downâ€”the truth about whatâ€™s happening at home.
On the night the nature of his fatherâ€™s illness becomes painfully, publicly apparent, Joe does the right thingâ€”push Beth as far away as possible. But if he thought sheâ€™d go away quietly, heâ€™s about to learn sheâ€™s made of sterner stuff.
What he needed to do was take a ride. He’d been dealing with his father, the move, getting all the stuff in place for the shop, and none of it was fun. Joe was tired of everything. He took a glance over to where Buck had sacked out, his face near his bowl should anyone try to take it. The dog snuffled his annoyance when Joe bent to stroke over his head but groaned a little when he got his ears scratched.
“I’ll be back in a while. Don’t sleep too much.”
Buck opened one eye and then closed it again on a sigh. The sound of Joe’s keys would have sent his normally high-energy dog jumping. But he’d been playing with the dog next door while Joe had been painting earlier and had taken several runs with Joe to the shop and out to his parents’ place and clearly had had enough.
Joe got that. He wished he could lie near his bowl with a bottle of beer and sack out for hours too.
Joe snorted as he stood, looking out his kitchen window over Main Street. He’d finally finished unpacking the last boxes earlier that morning, and while he wasn’t totally moved in, he’d already come home.
Petal had been part of Joe Harris for his entire life. Even when he’d been halfway across the world, he’d never been too far from Petal’s streets. So when he backed the motorcycle out of the garage and started it up, he knew exactly where he wanted to ride.
It was a warm day. Sunny and clear, and once he’d gotten a little out of the main part of town, the scent of grass and trees replaced everything else. The hum of the road beneath him soothed nearly as much as the full-throated growl of the bike. He might have turned his life around, but a guy still had to have some fun. The bike was part of that fun. He’d miss his every-Sunday group he had back in Dallas, but he had so much to do now that he’d moved back home he wasn’t sure when he’d be able to find a new group. But he would eventually.
He needed to remind himself of that. Right now things seemed overwhelming, but they’d mellow. He’d find a routine. Get his dad some help. Get his business up and running. Maybe even find some time to date around, or at the very least have sex.
For now, the road had to be enough.
For now, it was.
“You missed a spot.”
Beth sent a look to her brother William. “Volunteer labor is notoriously imperfect. It’s a sad fact of life.” She rinsed off the window she’d been washing on his truck.
“You want to borrow the truck, you gotta wash it. That’s the deal.”
“I did wash it.” She turned the hose on him, and he jumped with a hoot, sending kids hurtling into the yard, giggling and soaked. “And now I washed the owner. You want I should break out the soap and get behind your ears?”
He grinned and shook his head. “I’ll get even for that.”
“One day maybe. But for today, I am queen.” She tossed the cloth back into the bucket and bent to turn the hose off, pausing to squirt the kids again.
“Thanks for the truck wash. And for watching the kids last night.” Her brother winked before he looked over the yard. His kids were out there running through the sprinkler along with several of her nieces and nephews belonging to their other siblings. She’d had them all at her apartment the night before for a sleepover so their parents could have a date night. She loved each and every one of those munchkins, and it was a lot of fun to have been able to spend so much time with them.
Still, when she left William’s she planned to go back to her place and take a long nap.
“No big. We made cookies and had popcorn and watched Mary Poppins a few times over.”
“We still pretending you watched that one for the kids?”
“Plenty of sprockets young enough that I can keep that up a while longer.” She grinned. Mary Poppins was one of her favorite movies of all time. She hadn’t ever seen it as a kid. Her parents weren’t much for Disney movies for their kids. That and they never had a VCR or anything like that. She’d discovered it when William’s oldest had come along. By that point, years later, she’d seen it so many times it’d become a running joke in the family and she didn’t care.
There was something fine and lovely about Mary Poppins with her perfect voice and quest for happiness in whatever task set before her. Plus, dancing penguins.
A low-throated growl of a motor sounded before she caught sight of the motorcycle that pulled up at the curb out front.
William raised his hand to wave, smiling.
“Who is that?”
“Joe Harris,” William called back over his shoulder.
Holy sweet baby Jesus.
Beth stood still, unable to move or tear her gaze away from Joe as he swung his leg over the bike to stand. And that was before he took his helmet off and all that golden hair spilled out. Her parts came to life as she swallowed hard, taking in the bulging biceps, straining against the soft-looking blue T-shirt. Tattoos made her wonder if he had any hidden out of sight. Powerful thighs filled out faded and worn jeans. His boots were more work boots than cowboy boots, but they worked too.
Worked, much like the sunglasses hiding eyes she remembered were green. He looked dangerous. And hot. More hot than scary. Definitely hot.
He was the exciting older bad boy her brother used to run around with. In other words, total teenage-girl fantasy fodder.
“Hey, Joe Harris, what brings you here today?” William approached his friend and Beth had to rush to catch up.
She was glad she did because Joe smiled at William, showing perfect white teeth.
“Needed to get out for a ride. Thought I’d stop by when I came back through town to say hey.”
He looked to Beth and she licked her lips nervously. And that was before he slid his sunglasses down, exposing those intense eyes as he took her in.
“Welcome back to Petal, Joe.” She managed to talk to him like she’d talk to anyone else. Mainly because she was trying to pretend she wasn’t imagining him naked and bringing her cake.
Ha. She was totally imagining him naked bringing her cake.
“Beth?” She didn’t miss the way his gaze lingered on her breasts where her shirt clung. It wasn’t white so she missed giving off the wet T-shirt thing. And good, ’cause kids and all, and because she didn’t do wet T-shirt contests. But she was glad he found them nice enough to look at a while.
He got that look. The one guys got when they liked what they saw. Then his gaze darted to William, and the look changed to oh yeah, that’s my friend’s little sister. Damn. She was clearly going to have to knock him out of that box.
“Nice to see you. Last time I did you were still in high school, I think.”
She was sure he never even noticed her as a person back then. “Probably.”
He really looked good. Like, really, really.
But before she could get warmed up enough to flirt, he turned his attention back to her brother and she hid her frown.
“Come on in. I’m planning on some time on the porch. Gotta keep an eye on all these sprouts.” William had pretty much forgotten about her now that his friend had arrived. Boys.
“I’m gonna run. I have an appointment in a while with my bed and a nap.” She tiptoed up and hugged her brother, who kissed her forehead when she stepped back.
“Thanks again for watching the kids.”
“Anytime.” She looked to Joe again. “See you around town, Joe.” And she totally would. Because now it would be her mission.
The kids all came running, laughing and squealing to give her hugs and kisses, and she told them she’d see them the next day at her sister Tate’s house.
She didn’t even try to pretend she didn’t throw some sway into her walk when she headed to her car.