Naughty Shorts, Book 3
Jessie has been emotionally lost since her infant son, Ethan, died years ago. Her husband, Sam, spends long days working on their farm and lonely nights in the guest room to keep from waking her at dawn. But on the anniversary of Ethan’s death, Jessie can no longer take the gulf between them, and seeks comfort and solace with a man who shares her pain.
Sam knows he’s messed up by being emotionally unavailable to his wife, especially when he discovers she’s in the local bar with the town’s most eligible bachelor. Now Sam must fight to win his wife back and convince her their marriage can be saved.
With the pain of loss and longing, and too many things left unsaid, it’s an uphill battle for Sam and Jessie. But Sam’s not going anywhere, and he’ll do whatever it takes to remind his wife that what they once had is only the beginning of what they could be.
Warning: This book contains an emotionally vulnerable woman looking for solace, a hard-bodied farmer who wants his wife back in his bed, and a pot-stirring dentist who knows that sometimes the only way to fix a mess is by putting yourself right in the middle of it.
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Natalie’s fine. She’s at Retox Bar.
I release a breath I didn’t even realize I was holding when I read Alexis’s text. Natalie is okay. My hand shakes so badly, I can barely type a response.
Thanks. She forgot to let me know you two had planned an evening out. Tell her to text me before she leaves so I can open the gate.
I brought some calves into the yard this afternoon that had been abandoned by their mothers. They have a tendency to wander so I shut the gate, never thinking Natalie wouldn’t be home.
She didn’t come here with me. She’s partying hard tonight with her new friend.
Guilt gnaws at my insides. She must have needed someone to talk to about Ethan besides Alexis. I guess it’s a good thing. I don’t know how the hell to talk to her about our boy. I don’t even know how to work it out for myself.
Does she need a ride home?
I’m sure he’ll give her a lift if he’s not had too many.
He?My heart, which had slowed to a steady beat when I read Alexis’s first text, kicks into gear again. Natalie’s new friend is a man? She is getting drunk with a dude at Retox? And worse, it must be someone I don’t know or Alexis would have mentioned his name.
Rebel thumps his tail on the floor and whines, as if he read the text alongside me. He’s been with us since Ethan was born, a gift from my dad who knew how much I’d loved my dog growing up, and Rebel’s always been able to sense our emotional distress.
Who is she with?
I want to know, but I don’t. I have to ask, although I shouldn’t. It’s Natalie’s life. I have no right to interfere.
Dr. Aiden Steadman. The new dentist.
My stomach twists in a knot. Although I haven’t met the new Dr. Steadman, I’ve heard about him from my friend Chris, who came to me for some tools for a project he was working on for Steadman. Chris is an easygoing kind of guy who’s been through a hard time personally and professionally, but he credits Steadman both for helping him save his marriage and for discovering his calling as a carpenter.
Although it isn’t widely known, Steadman lives an alternative lifestyle and asked Chris to build him a sex playroom in his basement, complete with benches, chairs, crosses, bondage tables, and the like. It’s not my scene, but when Chris asked for my advice, a little online research was enough to help me send Chris in the right direction with respect to the tools he’d need to make it all happen.
I take a deep breath, and then another. Okay. So, she is friends with the dentist. Natalie is a friendly person. People like her. Maybe after her appointment she wanted to introduce him to people in town . . . although he’s been here for almost a year. Or maybe she wanted to introduce him to Alexis. Her best friend goes through men faster than I go through cutting knives on the swather.
Check him out.
Another text from Alexis. What the fuck is up with her? She never texts me unless she’s looking for Natalie. Curious, I click on the link she’s sent. It leads me to Steadman’s dental practice webpage featuring a headshot of the man himself. Except for the blue eyes and dark hair, he looks nothing like his grandfather. This Dr. Steadman is in his mid-thirties, fit, tanned, healthy, and his square jaw and pearly white smile are not hidden by a gray, thick, bushy beard.
Alexis must be after him, although why she thinks to involve me, I have no idea. All I care about is that Natalie is safe and enjoying her evening. Other than that, it isn’t my place to interfere. I have no claims on her time. If she wants to set up Alexis with the dentist, and maybe have a few too many drinks while she’s at it, then I’m happy to pick her up when she’s done.
Ignoring the niggle of doubt at the back of my mind, I grab the local Farm Newsand sit at the table, flipping through the paper to find the current grain prices. My gaze fixes on an ad at the bottom of page six: Steadman Dental Practice—Open to New Patients. The words are almost dwarfed by the giant picture of Steadman’s perfectly chiselled face, and below it, a picture of Steadman with his arms around two young, pretty women.
“Christ.” I drop the paper. Could the dude look any more like a goddamned movie star? Why the fuck did he become a dentist, and why did he come to a small town like Revival? And what the hell is Natalie doing at the bar with him? Alexis is not the kind of woman who needs her hand held all night.
I check my phone again, skimming over the messages from Alexis. On second read, it doesn’t sound like the evening is about her and Steadman, and I pick up on words and phrases I hadn’t paid close attention to before.
Didn’t come here with me.
He’ll bring her home.
Check him out.
Rebel looks up from his spot on the floor and growls.
“Yeah, buddy. I know.” I give him a pat, fighting back the urge to growl too. Alexis doesn’t want my opinion on her prospective date. She’s warning me. The Ken-doll dude is after my Natalie. He’s probably getting her drunk so he can take her back to his sex playroom and . . .
Jesus H Christ. I stand so abruptly my chair topples back. Rebel leaps up and barks at the unseen threat. Natalie is sweet and very, very affectionate when she’s been drinking. Willing. Compliant. The first time we slept together, we took a bottle of whiskey out to the swinging bridge over the creek that ran through the farm. Natalie had brought a blanket, and we lay in the dark, gently swinging under the stars, drinking and talking, until our lips connected. Although I didn’t push, she stripped off her clothes and begged me to kiss every inch of her perfect body. It was one of the most beautiful memories of my life.
My memory. My wife.
My imagination runs wild. I envision Steadman plying her with tequila until she’s smiling and laughing, the way she used to when we were first together. She drinks too much because we never drink at home. She dances with him because she loves to dance, and we never dance together anymore. He runs his soft dentist’s hands down her curves, kisses the sweet spot between her neck and shoulder, seduces her into his bed because we don’t . . .
We don’t do anything together anymore. I’ve given my life to the farm to ease my pain, and in exchange it has taken my heart.
With a shout of frustration, I slam my hand against the nearest cupboard door, making cups and plates rattle. I am not a jealous man; I am a respectful man—respectful of Natalie’s silence, her desire to keep her thoughts and feelings private, her decision not to have another child, and her need for evenings out with her girlfriends. So why is this, of all things, winding me up inside? Is respectjust another way to avoid the conversations we should have had years ago?
“You good, Rebel?” I check his water, then give him a treat. “I’m gonna go get our Natalie. I’ll send one of the men to come by and check up on you. Don’t wait up.”