Book: Tough and Tender (Bad Boy Romance Box Set)

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Next: Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Twelve


Anna had already braced herself for the teasing that would undoubtedly come from her pals. The first person to phone her was Bertha, who wanted to know if she was doing okay.

“Of course I’m fine,” Anna replied with a slight frown. It was almost noon and she was in her florist tending to her many flower arrangements and pots. Her florist brought brisk business from what used to be just a hobby. She had a huge wedding job to prepare for in the coming weeks and she was going to be busy – if she could keep herself from daydreaming every other minute about her one hot night with the sexy Hawk Malone.

“Oh. Okay. Good,” Bertha was saying slowly. “Because, you know...last night. When you were dragged off by that guy...”

“Hawk you mean?” Anna replied, keeping her voice light. “Is that why you’re calling? Hoping that I’d be safe and sound and not gagged and bound in some psycho guy’s trunk?”

“Please, it’s not funny,” Bertha groaned. “I was so shocked when you left with him. We all were.”

“Well, so was I, to be honest. But it turned out for the best. I’m not a child, Bertha. I know it’s not my way of doing things, but I won’t say I regretted it.”

“So do you plan on seeing him again?” asked Bertha.

Anna paused, then said firmly, “No. I don’t think that would be wise. I’m only just past a messy break-up, and he’s a military guy who’s hardly ever around anyway. He’s sure to soon disappear as quickly as he swung into my life. I’m not sure I’m ready for a full-blown sexual affair but I did enjoy being able to act spontaneous for once.”

“Well, with him being so handsome and a Marine as well, can’t say I blame you,” Bertha laughed, before suddenly coughing and then saying, “Um, I have to go. I’m glad you sound okay. We’ll meet up for drinks later maybe?”

“Yeah, later,” Anna said slowly, suddenly wondering why something felt wrong. But the call ended and she shrugged, getting back to carefully watering her small flower pots. She had some very rare, very pricey specimens she needed to deliver the next week to a few high-end commercial clients.

Her work at the florist had helped a lot in keeping her busy when Aaron had first left her. She’d devoted all her time to her beautiful flowers. And in an affluent area like the one she lived in, she did her best to appeal to the predominantly wealthy clientele to ensure her enterprise stayed flourishing.

Flowers used to be her one great passion but now, after meeting Hawk, she could find something else she could easily direct much of her ardor to. Alas, too bad she’d made up her mind to deprive herself of a repeat performance.

How could she tell if he even wanted a repeat of last night? An inner voice mocked. Anna sighed deeply, her old insecurity rushing in. But she shoved it back, and instead chose to dwell on every instance that Hawk had showed her he found her beautiful, sexy – irresistible. She wanted to keep that memory and wanted nothing to spoil it. For all she knew, he could already be off on some new assignment in a far-flung region in Africa or the Middle East. She’d be the least of his worries by now.

Telling herself it didn’t matter, she went back to work. She had two other assistants helping out and that did a lot to minimize the workload. So when one of her other friends, Janice, showed up and insisted on taking her out to lunch to hear the juicy details, Anna didn’t feel too guilty. In fact, she was kind of looking forward to talking about it with someone who could relate.

Janice was a bit like her; somewhat reserved but then when she fell in love with her tattooist boyfriend, she started growing out of her shell. She’d even gone as far as to get some ink, a really cute butterfly tattoo close to her left ankle.

“I’m all ears,” Janice began with a giggle as they settled in to eat at the outdoor restaurant they’d chosen. “For starters, what on earth came over you?”

Anna shrugged. “It’s just like I told Bertha earlier when she rang...I got a real kick from acting spontaneous for once. No one to answer to; nothing to fear. It was fun. I don’t plan on seeing him again, so...yeah, it was liberating doing something just for the hell of it.”

“I can only imagine.” Janice sighed, and then was staring at her. “You even look different. You seem changed. I can’t put my finger on it, but...”

Anna was grinning, biting into the straw through which she was sipping her drink. “If I’d known the benefits of a night of hot, repeated sex, I’d have tried it long ago,” she said impishly, a blush stealing over her cheeks. “And the fact that Hawk seemed to fit the perfect image of my dream guy was so...”

She paused, a thought suddenly occurring to her. She frowned, and Janice looked at her in concern. “What is it, Anna?”

Anna shook her head. “It was just something Bertha said earlier – about Hawk being a Marine. I never told her that was what he did. How could she know?”

Janice looked uncomfortable. “Maybe Hawk mentioned it when he was introducing himself. You know he was at our table.”

“Yes – for like ten seconds,” Anna said slowly. “I don’t remember him saying anything directly to you guys.”

“Well, he does look pretty um...gym-hard. And that haircut. Anyone would easily mistake him for being in the military.” Janice was shifting in her seat by now and paying much more attention to her food.

“But she didn’t just think he was in the military. She said “Marine” and sounded pretty sure about it,” Anna murmured thoughtfully. And then she remembered that Bertha’s brother was also a Marine. Why did it feel like everything started to seem so weird?

She glanced up at Janice, and became aware of the other woman’s inability to look her in the eye. Anna’s frown deepened.

“Well, what matters is that you had fun,” Janice said airily, forking in morsels of food fast. “I mean, that’s all that really counts right? Not like you plan on seeing him again or anything.”

“Why do I feel like you know something I don’t?” Anna asked her suspiciously. She always seemed to know when Janice was hiding something from her. Of all her friends, Janice was the one who could never really stand up under pressure.

And then Anna remembered a particular conversation she and Bertha had shared a week ago. When Anna had really been down in the dumps over Aaron and Bertha had told her he wasn’t worth her tears. “You are so wonderful, Anna, and Aaron just doesn’t deserve you. You’re much too full of life to be tied down to someone like him. You need a man who’ll make you feel like a real woman. Someone who fits your perfect fantasy.”

“Where am I going to meet someone like that?” Anna had replied ruefully. “I’m hardly the social butterfly. And for some reason, I can’t seem to attract the smoking-hot types.”

“That’s because you’ve never really taken the effort to shine. Stop hiding behind your mousy clothes,” Bertha had teased.

“Was I really that bad?” Anna said, making a good-natured face.

“No; but you can do so much better. In fact, I can almost bet that you’ll have hot guys all over you now that you’re free to really be yourself. Why don’t you come out with us next week and see how it goes?’

Anna now broke out of that memory and pinned her eyes on the uneasy looking Janice, who smiled weakly back at her. By this time, Anna was definite something was up. And it wouldn’t take much, she knew, to get the truth out of jumpy Janice.

Previous: Chapter Eleven
Next: Chapter Thirteen