LINE OF FIRE
With his military career over and his ego bruised, Jason McAdams is ready to start over. As a founding partner in Greenway Range, his new life is everything he’d ever dared to dream about, but it also puts him in constant contact with the one woman he can’t have: his best friend’s little sister.
Molly Cain has loved Jason for as long as she can remember, and seeing him now—damaged and self-destructive—is a constant heartache. Watching him numbly work his way through woman after woman is damn near intolerable. Until one summer night changes everything.
After a rocky start, the sex is hot and naughty and all Molly knew it would be. And when he makes another pass at her, Molly doesn’t say no. Or the many times after that, either. But Jason carries a secret—one that’s kept him away from Molly for all these years, one that could ruin everything. He’s been shot at and seen death, but letting the woman he loves find out the truth is the real worst-case scenario…
“Hands down, this is my favorite book that I’ve read from HelenKay Dimon. Every single little thing in this book worked for me.” -Smitten With Reading
“I found this book completely refreshing and would love to read what happens next in the series.” -Lunaland Books
“…a great addition to the series, and an enjoyable read, sometimes intense, sometimes sexy, and always entertaining.” -Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews
Molly Cain glanced at her watch. Nine on a Friday night, sitting in a bar alone. Yeah, that wasn’t pathetic or anything.
She looked at the group of guys at the table to her left, celebrating something that required yelling and beer-bottle clanking. Her gaze moved past them to the couple obviously in the midst of a breakup, if the woman’s tears and guy’s seat squirming were accurate.
So much for thinking this was the place to be tonight. The relief she needed, from her thoughts, from all the questions about how she should have handled her life and what came next, would not be found here. From the look of some of the guys playing pool she could probably find a one-night stand with a side of an STD if she wasn’t careful, but no thank you. The backward baseball cap look had never rung her bells.
One type, one guy, had been responsible for most of her bell-ringing and, except for a few surprise stolen kisses, she’d never actually touched him. The idiot.
With a deep sigh, Molly accepted that she’d become a walking, talking cliché. At twenty-six, she’d spent most of her adult years wanting a guy who qualified as the very definition of unavailable. Now she needed to move on. Hence the uncomfortable barstool and a pile of paper scraps she’d been peeling off the label of the bottle in front of her.
“You know flirting requires you to actually get up and talk to someone, or at least look around so a guy knows you’re available.” Ben Mayer picked up her bottle and placed a coaster with the name of the bar stamped on it—Flanders—underneath.
Ben with his sandy blond surfer hair, big brown eyes and a face that had both men and women in this part of San Diego doing a double take to sneak a better look as he walked by. But for her? Nothing. Not so much as a stomach flutter. Likely a smart reaction since they’d been friends since college and she liked his serious but currently out-of-town girlfriend, Dana, very much.
But none of that stopped Molly from looking, appreciating and generally finding him to be an annoying pain in the ass from time to time. Like right now.
“Maybe I came here to sit and watch for a few minutes. Scope out what’s happening on the dating scene.” She bit back a wince at the ridiculous statement and tried to pretend she didn’t say it.
Ben didn’t let her off so easily. He frowned at her as he lined up a row of glasses in front of him. “That’s just sad.”
Only a serious friend could get away with that kind of fighting talk. Add to that Molly had nowhere else to go on a Friday night, and she had little choice but to take whatever nagging Ben had planned for her. “I thought bartenders were supposed to be supportive.”
“We’re honest and insightful.”
Perfect words to describe Ben. He reminded her of her brother, Sawyer, in some ways. All practical and straight-talking. Made Molly wonder if she should be hanging out with some less honest people. “Lucky me.”
“Then there’s the fact I’ve known you for years and have seen that expression before.” Ben pointed at her face.
Right, no question about it. The bar had been the wrong choice to wallow in a bout of numbness. Maybe a movie instead. Some romcom chick thing where some woman started out more pathetic than she actually felt while sitting there alone. “I’m sure there are other customers who need your attention.”
“None more pitiful.”
Okay, that might be true but there was no need to say it out loud. She lowered her bottle to the bar and prepared to launch a friendly shot or two of her own. “Wow.”
He shrugged. “I said I was honest.”
And, really, she loved that about him…usually. “What kind of tips does that form of honesty get you?”
“I still live in a very small rental nowhere near the beach, if that clues you in.”
She got a good look at the T-shirt he wore under the unbuttoned long-sleeved light blue shirt. A devil with the words Rebel & Roll above it. On him, with his deceptive laid-back vibe, it worked. “I’m pretty sure you were wearing that shirt the first time I met you.”
He glanced down and held the hem out for a better look. “It’s a good shirt.”
He dropped the cloth and started filling the glasses. In a few seconds he had eight drinks ready and sitting on a tray at the edge of the bar for the server to pick up. “What happened to the new life, new outlook, new job thing?”
“That’s all happening.” She’d at least hit the last one. She’d recently turned the business side of life upside down by switching from working at a coffee shop and doing some bookkeeping after hours to becoming the official catering manager and bookkeeper for The Bakery, the absolutely best sandwich and dessert shop in the area. Except for the part where she’d likely gain ten pounds by the end of her second week, it was a good career move.
Ben’s eyebrow lifted. “But same old love life.”
Right. That problem…Jason McAdams. The guy she’d vowed to forget. Yeah, that should start happening any day now. Not that she was ready, willing or able to have an intelligent conversation about him that minute. “Really, you can talk to other people. I’m fine.”
Ben smiled. “I’m kind of afraid to leave you alone.”
Not the response she expected. “I’m a big girl.”
“No argument there.” Ben nodded toward the front door. “But your number one weakness just walked in.”
“What?” She spun around and her leg slid off the stool. Her foot hit the ground, but not fast enough to let her make a run for it.
Like magic, Jason stood right there, next to her barstool. All tall, dark and scowling. Maybe her mind filled in the last part as some sort of self-preservation mechanism kicked in, but he definitely had the black hair and brooding thing down. Damn if she didn’t find that to be the hottest combination ever.
And the deep husky growl of a voice. Then there was the way his faded jeans balanced on his lean hips. Not to be confused with the tight pull of his polo shirt over his broad shoulders.
Every single part of this guy worked for her. Always had, which explained the consistent nosedive of her love life since age eighteen.
This could not be happening. She blinked but, no, he didn’t disappear. “I cannot be this unlucky.”
“Apparently you can.” Ben didn’t even bother to whisper.
Jason frowned as he looked at the other man. “You work here?”
“For about six months. And good to see you, too.” Ben didn’t even try to hide his smile. “What can I get you?”
Jason shook his head as he slid onto the open seat next to hers. “Whatever she’s having.”
“So, a heaping glass of self-pity?” Ben asked in a serious tone.
Jason’s frown only deepened. “What?”
Friend or not, Ben was a dead man. Molly vowed to choke that smile right off his face. “Shut up.”
“Right.” He slapped the counter as he walked away. “One beer coming up.”
Forget the crowded room and buzz of talking all around them. Ben’s double-timing it to the other end of the bar left her alone with Jason and the three-ton of useless baggage they’d stacked between them over the years. But that was nothing compared to their recent falling-out. She’d hit an emotional wall and stopped being satisfied with amounting to nothing more to him than his best friend’s baby sister.
Since The Fight they’d gone almost four weeks without saying more than three words to each other. But it looked as if her Jason moratorium had ended.
The man walked in and her pulse kicked up. Excitement jumped around inside her just from seeing that face she longed to touch. She hated this part of herself, all lonely and wanting. Whatever was worse than a cliché…yeah, she’d turned into that.
Forcing her mind to stay blank and her brain to stay on task, she glanced at him. “Something like three million people live in this county.”
“Probably more than that.”
Great, now they were arguing about population statistics and math. Apparently they’d squabbled over every other sane topic and finally drilled down to the few remaining subjects left in the universe.
Rather than give in to the screaming in her brain to move closer and forget all that had happened between them, she threw up a mental fence and kept on her side of it. Strangling her beer bottle as if it was her lifeline to sanity helped. “My point was more a ‘why are you in my bar’ thing.”
“Your bar.” He smiled as he repeated her words.
The way the grin lit up his face had her heart rate kicking up. Stupid traitorous thing. Ignoring what she felt inside, she strived for cool on the outside. “That’s what I said.”
“So,” Jason glanced down the bar a few feet to where Ben was laughing with a couple about something. “You and Ben?”
The last of her pretend-you-don’t-care shields fell. No guy’s radar veered this far off course. “You can’t be serious.”
Ben picked that moment to reach over and put a bottle in front of Jason. “Here you go.”
Jason nodded. Didn’t say anything until Ben took off again. “You just happen to be hanging out where he works?”
“And you just happen to be where we are.” She drew a circle on the bar with the tip of her finger. “You see how that logic works? People go outside and run into each other.”
Jason sighed. The dramatic type that said he found women exhausting. “I didn’t come to fight with you.”
If only it was that easy. “That seems to be all we do lately.”
He nodded. “Maybe because you’re determined to argue with everything I say?”
Since that wasn’t exactly wrong, she changed the topic a bit. “Look, Jason. I’m sitting here nursing a beer. You’re the one who came in, causing trouble.”
He leaned back with his hands out to the side. “I just sat down.”
“That’s all it takes.”
“I’m back.” Ben popped up in front of them. “What else do you two need?”
Jason talked right over him. Never broke eye contact with her. “Is this about the kiss?”
“Right.” Ben’s eyes widened. “Too early. I’ll be over there.”
She barely heard her friend’s words. The memory of that last kiss pounded her, threatening to knock her right on her butt. Long weeks ago after an eternity of verbally sniping at each other, standing in a kitchen, she’d moved in. Gave in to all the need bubbling up inside her and let go. The touch of his lips against hers had been great. Life-altering, actually. Then he’d lifted his mouth and started talking. It had taken exactly two minutes for his chatter to kill the moment.
She cleared her throat. “The kiss is over. Everything is over.”
He’d married her best friend years ago in a rushed mess of a disaster and spent the whole of their inevitable legal separation sleeping with women he knew only by first name. Molly knew she didn’t fit anywhere into his life and whatever downward spiral he seemed determined to travel. For some reason that didn’t lessen the pain one bit. “You can’t be this slow.”
“If you want me to go—”
“I do.” That was the right answer. She didn’t care what other words caught in her throat, begging to come out.
“Fine.” He hesitated for a second then slid off the stool to stand wedged in the small space between her and the seat he just abandoned. “But we’re going to have to deal with this. With us.”
She completely disagreed with that assessment. She’d been running from her love for this man, beating it back with a stick for years. She’d become a bit of an expert at it. “Uh-huh.”
He put a palm on the edge of the bar and leaned in, nice and close. “The other women. The kiss. All of it. We’re going to talk it through.”
“No thanks.” The faces of every one of those beautiful, seemingly lovely, women flashed before her eyes. And those were the women Molly had been unlucky enough to run into as they scurried from Jason’s bed in the morning. Jason and Sawyer once living together gave her the worst front-row seat ever. She knew there were more she’d never met.
That jump-started her brain in a way she did not want. “I’d prefer to forget all that’s happened between us, and what hasn’t, and move on.”
Only inches separated them. She could see those piercing blue eyes and the light scruff around his chin that tempted her so much. She’d often thought throwing a bag over his head might lessen her attraction, but that wasn’t true. Her feelings for him pushed past his looks to the vulnerability he tried to hide, the charm he could turn on and off…how sweet he was right before she lost her mother.
“Tough,” he said with the force of a verbal punch.
Except that. The whole commanding thing did not appeal to her much at all. She might love the idiot, but she’d never been a pushover. “Excuse me?”
“The thing where you make a scene and rush off, leaving me standing with my dick in my hand?”
What an image. “With your—”
“That’s over. What, you think I didn’t notice the game you were playing?” He put his mouth right by her ear. “You’re wrong.”
She fought off a tremble. “You usually suck at picking up on subtle hints.” Like the fact she’d basically thrown herself at him over and over while he’d been single and again after his marriage imploded.
“I’m smarter than you think I am, but you’ll find that out soon enough.”
Her heart jumped a little. “What does that even mean?”
He eyed her hand and the death grip on her bottle. “Enjoy your beer.”
He took off, sauntering his way back to the door. Acting as if he hadn’t taken her world and spun it upside down. Again.
The knocking sound a second later had her attention zipping back to Ben. He stood in front of her, rapping his knuckles against the top with one hand and trying to wiggle the empty beer bottle out of her locked fingers with the other.
He sighed. “Well, that was embarrassing.”
For some reason she felt the need to rush to Jason’s defense. Not that she had any clue about what was going on or what just happened. “He’s not usually—”
“I meant for you.”
She had no real response to that, so she went with frustration. “I’m starting to hate this bar.”
Ben replaced the beer bottle with a glass of ice water. “You let him think you were here for me.”
“I told him…” Wait, what the hell had she said? Something. “I said we weren’t together.”
She’d just about had enough of men for one evening. “What kind of answer is that?”
“You didn’t and you know it. You wanted him to think there might be something between us after all these years of being friends.” Ben made a tsk-tsking sound. “You wanted to tweak him. Get the poor guy all riled up.”
Poor guy? She never heard Ben stick up for Jason. Not ever. Sure, Ben had only heard her side of the boring Molly And Jason Confusion Hour, but still.
She didn’t play those games. She’d been tempted. Every time she’d walked into her brother’s house to find Jason sitting there, she wanted to lash out. Make him feel as crappy as she did. But she’d fought off the reaction…mostly. Stayed clear and only engaged when he pushed the issue about how they never hung out anymore. The man truly defined the word clueless.
Unfortunately since Sawyer and Jason were now not only just best friends but also business partners, ignoring the unwanted love of her life became all the harder. The only good news was Jason had moved out from Sawyer’s house, gotten his own place with his own brother. She hoped that meant no more walking into the middle of Jason’s morning-after time with women who hung on his every word as he struggled to remember more than their bra sizes.
That fast the rage overtook her. Somewhere, deep down, she knew she had to own responsibility for the heartache. Jason hadn’t led her on. He’d never made a pass except for that time long ago and the look of horror on his face back then proved he’d seen it as a mistake. But remembering that led to memories of what came after. Of death and feelings she could not handle. Not on top of trying to let her love for him go.
“He doesn’t care who I date.” The truth packaged up in six cutting words. It hurt to say them and she didn’t even know if that answered Ben’s question, or if he even posed one, but there it was.
“Right, and you don’t make scenes.”
The amusement in his voice ticked her off. “I’m going to make one right now.”
Ben gestured toward the door. “Sure. Go stalk off and sulk.”
She decided to ignore that. Ben clearly wanted her to know he overheard the conversation. Fine, message received. “Why do I like you again?”
“I’m not the man you need to worry about.”
“I’m not all that fond of most of you right now.” But that wasn’t true and they both knew it. “And one more sarcastic comeback and you’re dead.”
“A totally rational response on your part.”
She’d given up on that a long time ago. “Remind me to drink at home from now on.”