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A Reluctant Hero

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Kelsey followed me home when I retrieved my car from the bar parking lot. Once at the house, she mentioned she was going to take a nap, and I rolled my eyes as she gave my cell phone a loaded glance. Honestly, just because I had JD’s number now, didn’t mean I was going to call him. I wasn’t sure I wanted to, aside from the fact that even drunk me had great taste in wanting him naked and sweaty, I hadn’t exactly been at my best when we met. And knowing that he was fresh out of a situation of his own wasn’t all that inspiring for starting up something with him.

Rebound. That’s what we’d be for one another. If I called him up, if we pursued whatever spark we might have felt, it would flare hot and bright and then fizzle out. That’s what rebounds were. The way to cleanse the palette before you find a lasting relationship. Hell, books were written about this shit. Not that I’d ever read them, but still. It was common fucking knowledge. No matter the age, you don’t stay with whomever comes right after a breakup.

With that in mind, I didn’t call him. I tried very fucking hard to NOT think about him between shit I did to keep busy. Stuff like editing my newest book, or starting another story. No, JD Richter was NOT going to work for a rebound. IF I gave him a call, it wouldn’t be for a fast and hot affair, because even drunk, hungover, and a tad bit stupid, I knew that JD would be wasted as a rebound fling. He was the type of man that a woman should want to hook, mount, and keep forever. Anyone who didn’t see that was a fucking idiot.

 

 

He broke first. Four days after I woke up in his bed, my phone rang and I didn’t even pay attention to who the caller was because I was engrossed in the writing of a new chapter to a new book. Answering it almost absently, it took a moment for my brain to disengage from the computer in front of me and HEAR the voice speaking to me.

“I’m sorry, who did you say was calling?” No, I thought, it couldn’t be-

That deep rumble of a laugh and I could swear it vibrated through the phone and I could feel it in my toes. “Forgot me already, Ani? That stings.” I swallowed loudly. Shit. “JD? Kelsey’s dad? Prince Charming since I put Cinderella’s shoes back on?”

I had to shake my head at that comparison. “Pretty sure Cindi didn’t lose her shoes because she was shitfaced, but I won’t deny that you were my hero.” Another chuckle from his end. “Sorry I was in the middle of writing and-”

“I should let you go?” He was asking, not agreeing.

“No,” my voice had grown quiet, and I wanted to smack myself from how needy I sounded. “It’s fine, I can pick it back up anytime.”

“I’m sorry I had to rush out the other day,” he offered, and I thought I heard the sound of liquid flowing into a glass. “Work, it never ends.” Kelsey had filled me in on how he’d lost his license, but after the truth had come out, fought to get it back.

‘Work’s important. Pays the bills, right?” I stood up from my desk and wandered to my kitchen. “I hope it wasn’t something gruesome.”

We chatted about what he did for a living, and as we spoke, I made a late lunch. “What’s that noise on your end?” He asked, clearly picking up the sound of me setting the pan on my stove, and the sounds of me assembling my ingredients.

“I’m making lunch,” looking at how late it was, I realized it was too late for even the latest lunch. “Maybe dinner, actually.”

“You cook?” The interest in his voice was clear.

I grinned as I worked at chopping and measuring. “Well, I have to eat, so learning to make something a little more filling than peanut butter sandwiches seemed like a good idea.” I could swear I heard him smile. “You don’t cook?”

“Never seem to have the time,” he answered and it was my turn to smile. “I haven’t had a home cooked meal-”

“Are you jockeying for an invitation, JD?” It went quiet on his end, and I considered taking it back, but then I thought fuck it. “There’s more than enough for two.”

I heard rustling from his end, and then the telltale jingle of a set of keys. “I’ll be right over.”

 

Once I had dinner steadily bubbling and baking, I took a look at my appearance and was thankful that I’d taken that very cold shower earlier. Rushing to my bedroom, I grabbed something that was attractive, but not overly done up. Another pair of skinny pants, this time in a faux buttery leather and a loose fitting tank, my hair was piled up on my head and I forewent shoes. My house, no need for heels.

I was back in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the simmering pots, when my visitor was announced. Giving the OK for him to enter, I waited as he made his way to the dining room, and called out for him to take the door to the right. I made a note to have my AI, Pandi, freeze frame the look on JD’s face when he walked into the room.

My kitchen, like the rest of my house, was dark wood and rustic looking. The stove wouldn’t have looked out of place in a restaurant, nor would the refrigerator and the huge stone sink was always an eye opener. I gestured for him to have a seat on one of the stools lining the huge island, and asked him what he’d like to drink.

“I thought the rest of your house was impressive, but this?” He was still taking in details, and I smirked as he finally met my eyes. “Wow.” Giggling, I asked him what his drink preference was again, and he finally accepted a beer.

I waited until he took a long drink, and shook my head at how easily and comfortable he seemed to fit into my house. I had a glass of tea, since I was planning on keeping clear of any type of alcohol for the foreseeable future, I moved back to the stove and once again we fell into conversation.

I was taking out a dish from the oven, along with the bread I’d put in to warm, when he finally asked the most important question of all. “What are we having, Ani?”

Italian, my preference on any given day, was what we were having. And we ate at the island, side by side, talking as he complimented me on every single part of our meal. I loved watching people appreciate the meals I cooked, Kelsey raved every time she came over for lunch or dinner, and her dad was no different. I had a flash of Roger not being all that interested in what I cooked, his focus more on eating things that would keep him fit and trim, clearly to catch all those willing coeds.

“You just flinched,” he offered, as he swallowed another bite. “What were you thinking about?”

I huffed out a breath that was a cross between a laugh and a snort. “Roger, the ex.” He was studying me. “I just realized, he never seemed to like what I cooked.”

“Fucking idiot.” JD muttered, and I smiled. “That man must have been blind and stupid.” He was still staring, I could feel the heat of his gaze even as my attention returned to my own plate. “What kind of moron screws around on-”

I stopped him. Too dangerous territory. Too close to crossing that invisible line that I wanted him to fucking know existed. “Yeah, well, hindsight.” Taking a sip from my glass, I changed the subject to work.

 

He helped me clean up, putting leftovers in bowls, one of which I insisted he take with him and loading the dishwasher. We were seated in my living room, a fire flickering in the fireplace because that’s the entire point of having a fireplace, JD nursing a second beer and me still drinking tea.

“Tell me about your family,” he asked, his chair facing the sofa I was lounging on.

I sat up and set my glass on the coffee table. “My family?” Leaning back again, I thought about it. “My mom died when I was really little,” I was five, she had passed away after a long illness, one that even my dad couldn’t fix. “Dad’s a doctor, infectious diseases, and he didn’t really understand my artsy nature.” I smirked, thinking about how aghast he’d been when I came up with a B- for my science classes, and that C for math would forever haunt him. “He liked the outdoors, and since I’m his only kid, I learned to like them too.” I loved the outdoors, the forests, the rivers. Lakes and mountains were my playground growing up. “He really didn’t understand my choice in men.” Like Dr. Aaron Myles, his coworker who was very slightly younger than him, who he caught bending me over a lab table when I was nineteen. “Other than my parents, the extended family isn’t really close. Reunions, holiday cards, you know, the normal.”

“Other than the idiot box you dated recently,” I chuckled at the description. “What wasn’t understandable about your choices?”

Damn inquisitive minds, I thought, but shrugged. What the hell, let’s warn him ahead of time. “Older men, usually his colleagues.” I heard, rather than saw, JD’s inhale. “I was an adult, I swear,” most of the time, I flashed on that one fling and felt a blush rise. “It’s just that-” I was very very irritable at the idea that I had daddy issues, so I had this conversation a LOT over the years. “Men who have more experience, tend to treat women better, you know?”

My eyes met his and I realized that JD was older than me. Maybe not as old as my dad, maybe not as old as my oldest lover, but he was. And his eye color, that molten caramel that had drawn my interest when I’d finally been able to focus my eyes, had gone so dark that pinpointing his pupils would have been a challenge. I bit my lip and his eyes focused on the movement. Shit. Not good.

“How about your family?” I tossed out before we both did something that I would fucking regret when it went to shit.

JD smirked, clearly understanding my attempts at diverting the conversation into safer territories, but I had to think he didn’t really know why. He reminded me that I knew Kelsey and had met his ex wife, but I shook my head. “So you were hatched from an egg and didn’t know your parents?”

He laughed, full bodied at my silly joke. Then he told me about his upbringing. His stint in the military. His path to his current profession. He gave out his life’s story as easily as I did, which wasn’t as common as people might think.

“And you just got out of a-” I stopped, shocked at my line of questioning. Shit. Nope, Ani, not that.

“Molly,” he offered, his eyes still on mine. “Molly Woods.” I nodded. “That was a very weird situation.”

I waited, unsure if I wanted to hear about the woman he kept company with before. I knew his ex wife, the mother of his daughter, but this was fresh. “You don’t have to-”

“It’s ok,” he smiled at me and I had to return it. “I’m a grown up, I can handle talking about it.”

I nodded and he told me about meeting her at a crime scene. How he thought she was insane, given where she’d been staying it made sense, but then he found out the victim had been pregnant, just like she’d warned. He told me how it went from her roofieing him to him being called a terrorist for helping her. How that snowballed into intimacy and how, eventually, he realized that she needed her people more than the two of them needed one another.

“Do you still talk?” My fucking curiosity was going to make me want to jump off a cliff soon.

“Not much,” he answered, leaning forward to sit his beer down on the coffee table. “What we had wasn’t supposed to last, Ani, but we became friends.”

I smiled and let my eyes focus on the view behind him, outside the panel of glass. The green of the forest creeping closer, the darkness not obscuring the leaves that seemed close enough to touch.

“Ani,” my eyes found his again, and I swallowed at the look in his eyes. “Come here.”

Oh no, not happening. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” My tongue felt like it weighed a thousand pounds.

He bit his lip as he studied me and I felt the burn from that simple gesture all the way down my body. “Why isn’t it?” Shit.

“Rebounds are never a good idea, JD.” Still sounded as dry mouthed as when I woke up in his bed. The thought of a bed and JD increased the burn.

“Then don’t call it a rebound, Ani.” Fucker, I thought, trying for logic and wordplay. “Come here.” He crooked his finger this time and I could swear he had a fucking string attached to it and my body, the yearning was so strong to give in.

“No,” I wanted it to come out strong and clear, but instead it sounded scared and uncertain. “You come here,” wait, what? Fuck, Ani, not helping.

And then he was over top of me, his weight pressing down on mine, and at the first touch of his lips on mine, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had fucked up majorly. Because I had no fucking doubt whatsoever that when this ended, I’d be crushed. Fucking crushed, because with one kiss, I was addicted to JD Richter, and we weren’t even fucking naked.

 

We didn’t get naked. Not when Kelsey’s voice called out from the door that connected her apartment to the house.

 

“Ani?” She was growing closer, and JD had pulled back and was grinning as he stayed hovering over me. “I saw Dad’s truck outside and-” She was standing in the threshold of the living room when she stopped speaking and I felt the burn go from lust to embarrassment that his daughter and my best friend had caught him on top of me, with my hands locked around his neck and his slithering under my shirt. “Ah, hey, Dad.”

He was chuckling as he answered her greeting, and I felt like sinking into the sofa and dying. It was one thing for Kels to tell me that she was alright with the two of us, but catching us? That was too fucking much.

 

JD left a little later with his leftovers, and I had to shake my head as he ignored his daughter’s presence and kissed me with enough passion to make the wood of my house catch fire. Then he smirked down at me, promised to call, and was gone.

I turned to face Kelsey and rolled my eyes at her trying to hold back her own laughter. “Really?” I asked, shaking my head and heading back to the kitchen. “Want me to heat up dinner?”

“Gonna use your face?” She offered, still laughing. “The red of that blush is throwing off enough heat that I have to believe the microwave won’t be needed.” If I keep rolling my eyes, they’re gonna stick that way. “Jesus, you’re a fucking adult, Ani, why are you so embarrassed?”

I shot her a look. “Because he’s your DAD, Kels.”

Shrugging, she took the plate I’d fixed for her from my hands and sat on the same stool her dad had earlier. “So? He’s not YOUR dad, Ani, that would be cause for fucking embarrassment.”

Jesus, the Richters were going to be the death of me.