How the hell had this simple trail ride turned into Miss Alexa, of the swinging hips and sultry midnight eyes, nestled on his porch swing? Since when did he ever let anyone else take control of his life?
Oh, yeah. Ever since his former fiancée betrayed him with their commanding officer while he was fighting for his country, seeing things no man or woman should ever have to see. Clearly, he hadn’t had control over that situation.
Hayes stepped up onto the porch and leaned against the post. “You might as well come inside,” he told her. “This doesn’t look like it will pass anytime soon, after all.”
She braced her feet to stop the swaying swing. “I’m soaking wet. I don’t need to go in. I’m quite happy swinging and watching the storm. With those dark clouds, I bet it will be a doozy.”
Hayes sighed. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re drenched and I can at least offer dry clothes and put yours in the dryer.”
“Oh, don’t be so cliché,” she told him as she came to her feet. “Wearing your clothes during a storm? Next, you’ll find some way that we need to share body heat by wearing nothing.”
Hayes had actually thought of that, but he wasn’t about to mention it now. She clearly had a low opinion of his intentions.
He forced himself not to stare at the way her jeans and her tank molded to every single dip and flare of her curves. A gorgeous woman with a killer body…it was like fate was seriously testing him. He wasn’t in the mood to be tempted and he sure as hell wasn’t in the mood for games.
“I’m going inside to change, you can come or you can stay out here and be wet. I don’t give a damn.” He crossed to the screen door and jerked on the handle. “And offering you clothes in a storm isn’t cliché. It’s called manners.”
He stepped inside and eased the squeaking screen door shut without slamming it. The old linoleum in the entry hadn’t been replaced in decades, so he wasn’t too concerned about dripping in here.
Hayes headed toward the utility room off the kitchen. There was laundry in there he needed to put away, so he knew he’d find something for himself and he could throw his things in the dryer.
The loud bang behind him had Hayes crouched down in an instant, his hands coming up to shield his head. But within two seconds he realized he was home, not in battle, and the slam came from the back door.
Slowly rising to his feet, he glanced over his shoulder to find Alexa staring down at him, her eyes wide with worry.
Damn it. He didn’t want pity or empathy. Hell, he didn’t want company, but that wasn’t an option right now. Couldn’t he ever fight these demons alone without witnesses? His brothers knew to keep their distance, and he’d come out of his house when he was having a good day…which happened to be earlier today, but now he was ready for privacy.
His heart still beat rapidly in his chest, he continued to stare at Alexa, silently daring her to apologize.
“I—I didn’t know that would trigger something,” she murmured. “What can I do?”
Clenching his fists at his sides, he willed his mind to chill out and stay focused on the fact that he was safe here on Pebblebrook.
Well, as safe as he could be with a soaking wet woman standing in his kitchen. She’d asked what she could do. That in and of itself was rather amazing.
He was so tired of everyone asking if he was okay. Hell no, he wasn’t okay. Jumping at a door was not normal. Flipping out at the roll of thunder was damn embarrassing. He never knew what would set him off until it happened, so there was no way to prepare.
Well, except the screen door. He’d let it go once and it had slammed at his back and he’d flattened himself on the floor for several minutes before he came back to reality. He’d only made that mistake once, but he hadn’t thought it would be an issue again because it wasn’t like he had regular visitors.
“You want a change of clothes or not?” Hayes asked, ignoring her question.
He tugged at the hem of his soaked shirt and peeled it up and over his head. Clutching the wet material in his hand, he turned his attention back to Alexa.
Her eyes were fixed on his chest, no doubt zeroing in on the scars. Definitely not a story he wanted to get in to, but he wasn’t ashamed of fighting for his country. He was only ashamed he’d been fool enough not to see the betrayal going on behind his back. But even that pain paled in comparison to the horrific scene in that tiny village where he’d been able to save the women and children, but not his brothers-in-arms.
“If you have a spare shirt, that would be great,” she finally told him.
“What about your jeans?” He knew his were irritating him already.
“I don’t wear your size.”
Her instant sarcasm had him almost ready to crack a smile. Snarky comments were a staple in the lives of the Elliott brothers, so it was nice to talk to someone who wasn’t coddling him. She’d asked what she could do to help, and not pushing the issue was going a long way.
“I’m a foot taller than you,” he agreed. “But I’m sure I have sweats that you could fold up while you’re waiting on your jeans to dry. Your call.”