Saxon Grace nearly crashed his truck into a tree because of a pair of Daisy Dukes.
Technically, it wasn’t the shorts that had distracted him from the road as much as the perfectly plump, heart-shaped ass the worn denim so lovingly cupped.
He was almost home, driving down his quiet neighborhood street past his elderly neighbor’s house when he spotted the woman in the shorts. As he stared, that decidedly feminine, completely delicious ass wiggled as she struggled to drag something heavy out his neighbor’s front door.
Not admiring a sight so rare and lovely was simply not an option for a red-blooded man like Saxon—his idea of smelling the roses along life’s path—so his only choice was to either stop his truck, or drive it right into old man Cyrus’s mailbox.
Saxon pulled to a halt in front of his neighbor’s house and, ever chivalrous, hopped out to lend the woman a hand with her heavy burden. His mama would have expected nothing less of one of her sons—Daisy Dukes or not.
The early evening air was humid and warm with the promise of summer. School had just finished for the day, and the sound of kids’ voices raised in happy play drifted from the small, busy park one block over. The scent of grilling burgers and honeysuckle floated on the breeze, making his empty stomach rumble.
The closer he got to the woman, the better the view became until he was completely mesmerized by the bob and sway of those succulent curves.
He knew it probably wasn’t right to stare, but there were some things a man simply couldn’t control—the weather, the stock market, fate, and, apparently, the need to gaze at the finest ass to ever grace a pair of cutoffs.
As he hurried up the painted wooden stairs leading to Beth Fortier’s front porch, he heard the young woman grunting with effort. He was close enough now to see that she was trying to maneuver a heavy, rolled-up rug out through the front door and onto the covered porch of the little bungalow. The rug was too long to easily angle through the door, and obviously too heavy for her to manage alone.
The owner of the house and the rug—who everyone younger than fifty called Aunt Beth—was nowhere to be seen.
“If you’re robbing a sweet, old lady,” Saxon drawled, “you should have done so after dark, like any self-respecting thief would.”
The woman let out a faint yelp of surprise, dropped the heavy end of the rug, and spun around. She pressed her hand over her heart as if to calm it, drawing attention to the gentle swell of her breasts. Her baby blue tank top was worn and smudged with dirt, but the way it clung to her curves made the dirty shirt sexy as hell.
Her warm brown eyes were wide with surprise. The setting sun hit her face, giving him a clear view of garnet and amber colored flecks near her irises. Her face was pink with exertion, and beneath her flush he could see the beginning hint of summer freckles forming across her nose. Sweat dotted her forehead and made her skin glisten. She wore her shiny, brown hair in a short ponytail, but little wispy strands at her temples had escaped and clung to her damp skin. Tiny, corkscrew curls formed along her neck, and he had the strangest urge to touch them to see if they were as springy as they looked.
He rubbed his fingers together in an effort to resist the need to fondle a woman whose name—and marital status—he didn’t even know.
There was something familiar about her, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
In a lake town like Whisper Lake, a lot of tourists came and went over the summer months. It would have been impossible to remember all of them, though one as pretty as her would have been hard to forget.
Whoever she was—judging by the dirt and sweat she wore—she wasn’t afraid of a little hard work, which only made her more appealing to a hardworking man like himself.
“You scared me,” she said. Her voice was soft and melodic, even when laced with a touch of fear. Her breasts rose and fell with her heavy breathing, and damn if he couldn’t stop staring.
What the hell was wrong with him? He was usually smooth, subtle. He didn’t have to be obvious to gain a woman’s attention. There were plenty of women around eager to date one of the Grace men.
But none of them had an ass like hers.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. “I live across the street and saw your epic battle with the rug. Thought I’d stop and lend a hand.”
She instantly shook her head. “Thanks, but I got it.”
Saxon glanced behind her at the length of rolled-up carpet. As a builder, he was good with dimension and spatial relations. He knew without the aid of a measuring tape that there was no way she was going to get that rug around the stairwell in the foyer without lifting it over the railing on the front porch. And as much trouble as she was having simply dragging the thing, lifting it was clearly beyond her strength.
Rather than argue with her, he asked, “Why are you moving it out, anyway?”
She rolled her shoulders as if they ached. “It’s a tripping hazard—one I’m trying to remove before my aunt gets back from physical therapy, which is going to be any minute now.”
Pieces clicked into place and he suddenly realized why she looked familiar.
“You’re Gemma Fortier, aren’t you? Aunt Beth’s niece?”
She’d spent summers here as a kid. She was a few years younger than Saxon, so they’d never run in the same circles. He remembered her being scrawny and clumsy as she worked in her aunt’s bakery. At the time, she’d been all elbows, knees and freckles.
But she was definitely grown up now, with plenty of enticing curves to show for it.
She grinned, and her face went from pretty to stunning. Her eyes lit up, and her full mouth curled at the corners in a way that caught and held his gaze. All he could think about was how soft those lips looked, and how good they’d feel gliding against his.
“The one and only,” she said. “Contrary to how many people call her Aunt Beth, I’m the only one with the legal claim.”
“You’re a lucky woman. I’ve never met a sweeter lady than Aunt Beth. It’s a shame about her broken hip.”
“Sweet, yes. But stubborn.” Gemma sighed. “She’s determined not to change her life over her ‘little mishap’ as she calls it. That’s why I need to get this rug out before she comes home and stops me.”
“Then let me help.”
“Really, that isn’t necessary. I’ve almost got it.”
It was all Saxon could do not to laugh. “Honey, this is a small town. If word gets back to my mama that I didn’t help you help Aunt Beth, there’s going to be hell to pay before sunrise. Besides, we need your aunt back at her bakery ASAP. Life just isn’t worth living without Aunt Beth’s pies. We’ve all been pitching in to help her get back on her feet.”
“Bringing her food, giving her a ride when she needs one, keeping her house clean, mowing the lawn…you know, all the stuff she hasn’t been able to do.”
Gemma’s gaze slid away like she was hiding something. “Thank you for all you’ve done, but I’m here now. I’m going to make sure that she has what she needs.”
“Starting with a house free of tripping hazards?”
“Exactly. I don’t think she’ll approve of my redecorating, but it’s for her own good.”
Saxon didn’t budge. “Sorry, but there’s no way you’re getting that rug out by yourself. Let me give you a hand.”
As soon as he saw her mouth tighten in the same way Aunt Beth’s did whenever she dug in her heels, he knew his gentle requests weren’t going to get the job done. They’d still be standing here at midnight with that damn rug right where it was now, and Gemma insisting she could move it on her own.
Saxon was too hungry after a long day of work for that nonsense.
Rather than argue with Gemma, he simply stepped around her and went into the house. As he passed her, he caught a faint scent of her skin, all warm from exertion. She smelled completely edible, like buttercream frosting and ripe cherries. He slowed as he passed, breathing in the delicious scent of her until his mouth watered.
His arm brushed hers, and she flinched as if he’d given her a static shock. Her chin lifted until her gaze met his, and he came to a dead stop halfway to his destination.
Damn, but she was pretty. The longer he looked at her, the more he was drawn in by those cute freckles and the warm gemstone colored chips in her eyes. Behind them, a keen intelligence burned along with a hundred feminine secrets Saxon was dying to discover.
She lowered her lashes under his scrutiny, and only then did he realize just how long he’d been staring.
Without her eyes on his to hold his gaze, her plump mouth drew his attention. Smooth, pink, and pillowy—the perfect mix of sultry and innocent.
The urge to lean close and taste those sweet lips was almost undeniable. Only his good manners held him back.
If she tasted half as good as she looked and allowed him even a little nibble, he might never go hungry again.
Gemma tried not to hyperventilate as Saxon Grace came close enough for her to feel the heat of his skin.
He was even more handsome now than she remembered from her years of schoolgirl crushes on him. They’d never really hung out as kids. He’d been four years older, which put him into the category of a god. She didn’t think she’d said all of ten words to him her whole life, and now here she was, carrying on a conversation with a man who was what passed for royalty in the sleepy town of Whisper Lake.
All the gangly awkwardness of his youth was gone now, leaving behind a big, tall, hard man. The Grace men were all lean and sturdy, like skyscrapers, but seeing them from a distance and being this close to such a fine specimen of masculinity was completely different. She had to tilt her head back to keep her eyes on him, but the effort was definitely worth the view.
His skin was deeply tanned, though the summer had only just begun. His jeans were tight, accentuating thick layers of muscles—the kind only a man who worked hard every day could maintain. As he bent down to pick up the rug, his shirt stretched taut across his sculpted shoulders. Muscles flexed and bunched as he hefted the rug onto one shoulder.
“Where is it going?” he asked casually, as if lifting the handwoven wool monstrosity wasn’t even a challenge.
Gemma’s tongue dried to the roof of her mouth with a sudden flood of feminine awareness. She had to peel it free so she could speak. “You’re going to hurt yourself. That thing weighs more than I do.”
“Honey, I work for a living. Lifting heavy stuff is just part of the job. Now, where to?”
She hated being a burden to anyone, but this was for Aunt Beth, so she swallowed her pride and hurried down the steps to lead the way to the cellar doors on the side of the house. “This way.”
She rushed into the cellar to make sure there was still room on the heavy blue tarp to keep the rug clean. Knowing Aunt Beth, the rug was an antique, and Gemma would never hear the end of it if she ruined it.
The air down in the cellar was cooler and less humid, but heavy with the smell of earth. Shelves were lined with canning jars filled with an array of fruits, jams and jellies. By this time of year, most of the stores were usually depleted, awaiting the next summer berry harvests to make fresh batches. The fact that the shelves were still relatively full meant that either last year’s harvests had been awesome, or Aunt Beth was doing far less baking than usual, even before the broken hip.
Gemma didn’t like thinking about why that might be.
Everyone aged. Everyone eventually slowed the pace of their lives. But the idea of Aunt Beth going into a state of decline broke Gemma’s heart.
She couldn’t lose the only parental figure who’d ever really wanted her around. It was too soon. They needed more time together. Years of it.
Saxon’s boots thudded on the wooden stairs, driving away her dark thoughts.
She spread the edge of the blue tarp—which was already littered with several other smaller rugs she’d removed—to make room. Saxon came down the steep steps like he had a pillow on his shoulder, rather than over a hundred pounds of wool rug. He wasn’t even breathing hard.
All Gemma could do was stare. They didn’t grow men like this in the city—not even close. All of their muscles came from a gym, and while that might look good, they couldn’t do the things that muscles earned from hard work could.
Like make her insides quiver.
Saxon eased the rug into the spot she’d cleared. It barely fit, and was definitely in the way of the shelves of canned goods and the door that led into the basement, but there was no help for that right now. Eventually Gemma would get this part of the house straightened up too, but since there was no way Aunt Beth was coming down here with her walker, it wasn’t at the top of the priority list.
The single, bare lightbulb in the ceiling cast a network of stark shadows across his face and made his inky black hair even darker. His wide, angular jawline was covered with short beard stubble. He shifted his big body in the small space available, but it put him within inches of Gemma.
At this close distance she could see golden sunbursts brightening his green eyes. All the Grace family had pale green eyes like his. In fact, the feature was so striking and so prevalent that it was known in these parts as “Grace Green.”
She’d forgotten how pretty the color was and how it had the power to make a woman stare long past what was socially acceptable.
A knowing smile warmed his mouth and showed off his bright white teeth. “Do you need help with anything else?”
It was an innocent question, but the only thing she could think about was how she hadn’t had a decent orgasm in months. Maybe longer. He could sure as heck help with that.
Before she could lose her mind and say something stupid, she shook her head and backed away in the hopes of escaping his strong gravitational pull on her.
As she shifted away, she forgot that the cellar was littered with a dozen tripping hazards relocated from upstairs. One of them caught the back of her heel, and she started to tumble backward.
Her mind flooded with her impending doom. She saw herself careening into the hard wooden shelving behind her and bashing her head open. Glass jars filled with sticky jam shattered as they crashed down on her, cutting her skin in a thousand places.
Before any of that could happen, Saxon acted. His reflexes were so fast she didn’t even see him move. One second she was tipping back on the way to concussionville, and the next, she was plastered against hot, hard male flesh.
The scent of sunshine, salt and hot skin filled her nose and added to the dizzy swoop spinning through her head. She didn’t know if the vertigo was caused from the sudden motion, the relief of safety, or from his touch, but whatever it was, the feeling was potent enough to make her knees go soft.
His strong hands tightened around her arms to hold her up. Her breasts flattened against the hard contours of his chest, and her nipples puckered in celebration. Every cell in her body perked up as she realized that she was in the embrace of Saxon Grace—two hundred pounds of potent, raw sex appeal in one convenient, muscular package. Sure, maybe he was only holding her because of her clumsiness, but her hormones didn’t seem to know the difference.
How long had it been since she’d been held so close? She couldn’t remember, but she did know that she’d never before felt such an instant, visceral thrill scorch through her the way it did now, inside his firm grip.
If she wasn’t careful, this man was going to become the lead star in every one of her very secret, very sweaty fantasies.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice deep with concern. Tiny twin lines formed between his black brows, giving her the strongest urge to press her lips against them to smooth them away.
A response to his question rolled through her head, but no words made it past her lips. All she could do was stare and bask in the warmth of his strong grip.
“Gemma?” he asked again with a heavier tone of worry.
“I’m fine,” she finally managed. “Just…” swept away, quivering, aroused out of my mind, “…clumsy.”
He offered her a wink and chivalrous smile filled with the Grace family’s signature charm. “Never that.”
He took a tiny step back, putting a couple of inches between their bodies. He watched her for a second like he was worried she might fall over again, and then when he was satisfied she was stable, he let go.
Saxon’s fingers slowly grazed across her bare arms, raising goosebumps of delight as they passed. She could still feel the warmth of his hands lingering in her skin. Now that her nipples were exposed to the cool air, they tightened even more, until they were so hard they ached.
He glanced down, his gaze lingering for a long second before he looked into her eyes again. “If there’s nothing else you need me to lift, I should get going.”
Now that no part of her was touching any part of him, her brain started to work right again. “No, nothing else to move right now. Thank you.”
He gave her a nod, then stepped back to clear a path for her to reach the stairs. “After you.”
Gemma slipped past him, hoping he couldn’t see how furiously she was blushing in the dim light. It wasn’t like her to get so utterly swept away by a man.
Then again, Saxon Grace was no ordinary man. Any red-blooded girl could be forgiven for falling apart a little when faced with such potent male company.
A light breeze cooled her cheeks as she came out of the cellar. All she had to do now was hold it together long enough for him to walk back to his truck and leave her to quiver in peace.
“Thanks for your help,” she said as he closed the cellar doors. At least he wasn’t looking at her with those green eyes, or giving her that charming smile.
“Anytime, Gemma. I’m glad Aunt Beth has you looking out for her. If there’s anything else I can do, call me, okay?” He pulled a business card from his wallet and handed it to her.
She took it, not because she planned to call and bother him, but because it would have been rude not to. And because if she didn’t take it, he might keep checking on Aunt Beth and get Gemma all worked up again every time he came over.
She had too much to do for big, handsome, charming, sexy distractions like Saxon.
“I will,” she lied.
His fingers brushed hers for a split second as he handed her the card, but even that fleeting contact was enough to get her insides skittering all over the place again.
Just then Cotton Cyrus’s ancient Oldsmobile pulled into Aunt Beth’s driveway. He’d taken her to physical therapy, like he had every day since she’d been home from the rehab center. He lived only a few doors down and had insisted on helping. As much as it bothered Gemma to let someone else drive Aunt Beth, Gemma needed the time alone to take care of making the house safer. There was no way her aunt would let her do it while she was home.
“You should go,” Gemma told Saxon. “You don’t want Aunt Beth knowing you were my accomplice.”
He gave a casual shrug that made muscles along his neck and shoulders dance. “I can take the heat for you. Say it was my idea.”
Gemma was so stunned by his offer, all she could do was stare at him, blinking. “What? No. I can’t let you take the fall for me. Besides, she needs to face the fact that her life has to change at least a little if she wants to keep living in her own home.”
“If things go badly and you need backup, I live right across the street in the slate blue Craftsman.” He pointed across the street to a tidy little house that backed up to the elementary school. “Aunt Beth has never been able to stay mad at me for more than a few hours—even when I egged her house when I was twelve.”
“You were the one who did that?” she asked, stifling a grin. Gemma hadn’t been here that Halloween, but she’d heard the horror stories of the event for months after it happened.
He grimaced. “Not one of my better childhood moments. I’m still mowing her lawn to make up for it, eighteen years later.”
Mr. Cyrus hurried around the Olds and got Aunt Beth’s walker out of the back seat. He patiently held it while she eased out of the car. She moved more slowly than usual, like therapy had worn her out.
“Thanks again, but I need to go,” she told Saxon. “Time to face the music.”