Navy Seal's Deadly Secret
Cindy Dees

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“Ohmigod,” she breathed. This thing was going to save her hundreds of hours of tiring, dusty, muscle-aching sanding.

“You’ll still have to do a little hand sanding to get into the crevices of the molding,” he murmured in her ear. His deep voice vibrated down her spine, terminating somewhere near her toes in a little shiver of delight. Ha! No fear that time!

“This is fantastic,” she breathed. She wasn’t sure she was talking about the power sander or about being surrounded by his heat and muscles.

He stepped back, and something deep inside her wailed at his absence. She hushed that needy part of herself sternly and concentrated fiercely on sliding the sander evenly and smoothly over the aged wood in front of her.

“Christ, it’s cold in here. Is your furnace on the fritz?”

She stood back from the wall and switched off the sander. “Actually, I just installed a new furnace last week. It’s the windows that are the problem.”

“Or the lack thereof,” he muttered.

“I was supposed to go pick up some windows in Hillsdale yesterday, but I had to go to the police station instead.”

Brett winced. “Sorry about that.”

“You didn’t try to rob the diner.”

He shrugged but didn’t look convinced. Was he the kind of person who took responsibility for things that weren’t his fault? Well, wouldn’t that be a total reversal from Eddie who never once in his life had been responsible for anything bad that ever happened to him. He’d always had an excuse or a scapegoat other than himself.

In the latter years, that scapegoat had almost always been her. It was her fault his acting career hadn’t taken off. Her insistence on him getting a job that forced him to miss the best auditions. Her selfish need for a place to live that cost him acting job after acting job. Frankly, she wasn’t sure he’d ever had any talent in the first place.

“…my truck to pick up your windows?” Brett was saying.

“I beg your pardon?”

“My truck. Do you want to borrow it?”

“Oh! Uh, no. I wouldn’t know how to drive a truck.”

He snorted. “You’re from Montana and don’t know how to drive a truck? What are you? A city slicker?”

“I grew up in Sunny Creek, not on some dude ranch.”

“Fine. I’ll drive. Where are these windows of yours?” Brett asked briskly.

“You don’t need to help with my windows. I can fit two at a time in my car.”

“That tin can you drive barely qualifies as a car.”

“Don’t be dissing my car, Mr. Cow Pie Kicker.”

“I don’t kick cow pies. We use helicopters to move the cattle on our spread.”

She blinked, startled. “Really?”

“Yeah. Runaway Ranch uses the latest in ranching techniques. Our yield per acre of beef is tops in the nation.”

“Um, congratulations?”

He shrugged. “Not my circus, not my monkeys. My old man and the ranch hands do all the work.”

“Why are you living on the ranch, then, if you don’t work on it?” she asked curiously.

Brett’s gaze went as hard and cold as the sapphires the mountains around Sunny Creek were known for. Huh. She’d hit a nerve, apparently. He strode to the front door, picked her parka off the coat rack and stood there, holding it out expectantly. “You coming?” he asked.

She started forward automatically, conditioned by years with Eddie to jump to that tone of voice. But then she realized what she’d done and stopped in her tracks a few feet out of reach of Brett. “I don’t take orders from anyone,” she declared strongly.

He studied her far too intently for far too long before saying mildly, “Okay. Please let me help you pick up your new windows so you don’t freeze to death in this shack.”

“It’s not a shack!” she exclaimed indignantly.

“What would you call it?”

She looked around at the plastic tarps, paint cans, sawhorses and general chaos. “It’s a work in progress.”

Brett grinned briefly. “An optimist, are you?”

“Not hardly.”

“Had me fooled.”

She shrugged into her coat, which he held out for her, and he lifted it onto her shoulders. If she wasn’t mistaken, his hands lingered for an instant on her shoulders. Not as if he was trying to put any kind of a move on her. More as if he was remembering what it felt like to touch a woman. And then his hands were gone, and she was left frowning to herself. Surely a man like him got all the female companionship he could possibly want.

She slipped as her sheepskin boots, which were cute, warm and left over from happier times, hit the thin layer of fresh snow. Brett’s hand shot out fast to steady her, and she flinched hard as his hand swung toward her. As soon as she was safely upright again, he pulled his hand away from her.

Rats. He was studying her like a bug under a microscope. Thankfully, he made no comment as he opened the passenger door of his truck and helped her climb up into the big truck. Again, his hand pulled back immediately.

“You need better boots,” he commented as he slid behind the wheel.

“I know. I’ve been so busy trying to make the house weatherproof before winter that I haven’t had time to go shopping for any.” And she wasn’t about to tell him that the hundred bucks she would spend on a decent pair of winter boots could better be used to by a few rolls of insulation for the attic.

“Where are these windows of yours?” he asked.

“Hillsdale. Benson’s.”

“The junk shop?” Brett asked.

“It’s an antiques store and salvage yard,” she corrected.

“Right. A junk shop.”

She rolled her eyes and didn’t bother arguing. If she’d learned nothing else from Eddie, it was that men were pigheaded and completely unwilling to listen to reason.

Brett was a good driver, handling the truck with confidence and just the right amount of caution on the wet roads. He was silent, and she was content to let the silence be.

The drive to Hillsdale took about a half hour, and she gradually relaxed into the warmth and quiet. Brett seemed to know where he was going when they reached Hillsdale, so she sat back and let him drive, enjoying being chauffeured for a change.
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