I’ve just landed my dream job.
It couldn’t be more perfect, I get to be the boss,
doing a job I love in a stunning location
and the morning view is just an extra treat for a girl like me.
What’s the saying:
‘Two birds one stone’
More like ‘One chick and two bones’
The bosses just happen to be two of the hottest guys I’ve ever seen. Navy seals no less.
They’re the good guys, sweet and very easy on the eye.
And they have taken it on themselves to show me the ropes.
The only problem is, I’m not sweet, I’m not good and I’m definitely not a keeper.
And these guys are looking for more, they want to find the ‘one’.
I’m not even looking for the ‘one at a time’.
What is it about men?
What I see as a none starter they see as a challenge.
They flash a killer smile and tell you ‘things change’.
Yes, they do, but I don’t:
I’m here for a good time, not a long time.
TugMy fucking day off and I have to be getting up at the butt crack of dawn to check on the damn horses. None of us mind pitching in to help Pink out from time to time, but this is his gig. And leaving like he did has dropped us right in it, especially as the farmhand he arranged with Jake is a no-show. Finn is all worried about him, and she’s got enough on her plate, what with all the changes with us four, and now Hope’s mother’s heart attack has her hightailing it back to England, leaving just me and Toxic to take care of everything. It fucking sucks.
The flashlight swings, redundant in my hand, I could walk the path from the farm to the yard with my eyes closed. A sprinkling of stars still cling to the inky sky and there’s the finest line glowing with the threat of morning on the horizon behind me. We’ve turned most of the horses out to pasture, even the ones that need to be worked. Toxic may have a little more time than I do, being on sick leave, but neither of us have the skill to be breaking in the youngsters. Molly, however, has been stabled overnight for the last few days. She’s heavy with her foal and due any time.
There’s barely any light, but I notice an unfamiliar shadow blocking the entrance to the yard. I edge forward until I’m only a few feet away, and I can now see the outline more clearly. It’s big, really big, maybe a mountain lion or stray dog. Flicking the flashlight on, I sweep it ahead of me and catch the luminescent reflection of gold-green eyes staring at me. The eyes are eerie enough, and the flash of white teeth is also bad; however, at the low threatening growl, I reach slowly in my back pocket for my phone. That’s a fucking big dog.
“She better be giving birth,” Toxic grumbles.
“Not exactly,” I whisper.
“It’s your turn, Tug. Why the fuck are you calling me?”
“Tox, we’ve got a problem.” The hushed urgency in my voice has the desired effect. I can hear him moving, his voice muffled momentarily with the sound of clothes being pulled over his face.
“What? What’s happened?”
“Get your ass up here and see for yourself.” I palm my phone and slowly slide my hand to my back pocket, securing the phone and making no further movements, certainly no sudden movements.
“Okay there, boy, shh shh. Put the teeth away and look, see, I’m all unarmed.” I hold my palms up with a show of full surrender. Smoothing my early morning gravely voice to a soft hush seems to make no difference. The massive dog’s hackles reach for the sky, it’s sizeable teeth bared, and it is snarling like it’s possessed. It’s also standing its ground like it owns the place, like it owns our place. What the hell!
“I’m gonna kill Pink when he comes home, leaving me and Tox to deal with this shit.” I mutter to myself.
Fast paced footsteps skid to a halt on the gravel beside me. The dog doesn’t move, doesn’t even bark at the sudden arrival of another person. It just continues to stare us both down. It’s probably the most menacing thing I’ve witnessed outside of a Stephen King novel.
“That’s a big dog.” Toxic says, slightly out of breath.
His eyes are wide with justified concern. It is, and I’m a little surprised when I see what he’s carrying in his right hand. “You brought a gun?”
He shrugs. “You made it sound like it was needed.”
“I’m not going to shoot a dog, Tox.”
“No, I get that. I didn’t know it was a dog. I thought you might be being attacked.”
“By who? Look at the size of me; who’s going to attack me?” It might be too dark for him to see my eye roll; however, my tone is rightly incredulous.
“Better to be safe than sorry,” he retorts, lowering the barrel of the gun so that it points to the ground. “So where did that come from, and why is it protecting our yard?”
“I have no idea. You wanna ask it?” I quip, nodding for him to be my guest.
“Maybe Molly’s giving birth and it’s protecting her? Like an animal sense or something?” he muses, and this time, I sweep my hand forward, lighting the way.
“Again, I’ll say, you wanna ask it?”
“I’m just guessing, man. I’m still asleep.” He rubs his face and roughly shakes his head, trying to wake himself up. “So what should we do?”
“I don’t know. Wait, what’s that noise?”
“What noise?” I tap my ear and point ahead for him to listen carefully. Toxic tilts his head, waiting on the faint sound. “Oh, I hear it. It sounds like running water.”
“Someone’s in the barn.” We both take a single step forward and freeze. The dog lowers its head, growls, snarls and generally looks like it’s eyeing up its next meal.
“Oh wait, I got something.” I fish around in my jacket pocket and find what I’m looking for. I wave the half open wrapper of a Snickers bar triumphantly at Toxic.
“Aren’t dogs allergic to chocolate?”
“And? Either way, he either loves it and we’re through, or he’s allergic and he dies, and we’re through. Problem solved.”
“I don’t want to kill the dog, Tug.” Toxic grabs my arm when I turn to face the dog. I shuck out of his hold and misplaced concern.
“Neither do I. Dogs are allergic to chocolate, but not a dog this size with a bar this small. It will be fine.”
“What about the peanuts?”
“A nut allergy? We’re really discussing a possible nut allergy issue for a dog that looks like he’s about to eat us both?”
“Right, okay. For your thing.” Toxic tips a two-finger salute and nods for me to continue.
“My thing? I was going to give it to you.” He shakes his head and neatly tucks both of his arms behind his back.
“Hey man, you said yourself, look at the size of you.”
“Says the man that called for back-up.”
“Fine.” I unwrap the chocolate and take a small bite to release some fresh chocolatey aroma. With one hand over my nuts, and the other stretched out and waving the Snickers, I take the first step forward, then another. The dog tilts it’s head, his teeth still gleaming, bared, but he’s sniffing and he licks his lips, which I’m not quite ready to take as a good sign. He could just be eyeing up his appetizer, me first, followed by Toxic as the main course. Behind me, I hear Toxic cock the gun and chamber a round. I know he doesn’t want to shoot the dog anymore than I do; however, he’s also not about to let me get mauled to death.
Crouching lower with each step, I close the distance between me and the massive canine. I’m careful not to make direct eye contact, and I let out some soft, friendly sounds that are surprisingly steady, given that I can feel my hand trembling. I stretch my arm so far out in front my shoulder feels like it’s going to snap. The dog starts to walk closer, sniffing, and it begins to lose a little of the height in its hackles. The teeth are still showing, though. I finally let out the breath I’m holding when I see the first swish of its thick tail.
The next moment, the dog has snatched the treat from my hand and has barged me back onto my ass. His muzzle nudges me further until I’m almost on my back, and I cough and splutter as he continues to lick the surprise from my face with his enormous slobbery tongue.
“Get ya coat Tug, you’ve pulled. Oh wait, it’s a boy. Never mind, you’ve still pulled.” Toxic barks out a dirty laugh.
“Fuck off and give me a hand.” Groaning with the effort to get the beast off of my chest, I nearly succeed when Toxic interferes.
“Here boy, you missed a bit.” Toxic points to some part of my face that isn’t covered in chocolate saliva and the dog barges me back to the ground.
Even under his considerable weight I manage to shift to the side, scramble to my feet, and punch Toxic on his arm.
“Thanks for the help, man.”
“You didn’t look to be in mortal danger. Maybe death by drowning, but at least you have a new best friend.”
“Yeah, and it couldn’t be more timely now that you’re on my shit list.”
“Aw, you couldn’t hate me if you tried.” Toxic throws his arm over my shoulder, and we both start walking into the yard toward the far end of the long barn, the dog now sniffing at my pockets and happily walking alongside me.
The main stable block is locked up, the hay barn and storage sheds are all as I left them. A light is on in the foaling stable at the far end, and somewhere behind that, I can still hear the sound of running water. Toxic has the gun locked and loaded, only I’m not sure whoever it is, is dangerous. If anything, it sounds like they are having a shower. There’s a light humming sound, and as we round the wall to the grooming area, my jaw hits the floor and my jeans tighten considerably in the crotch area.
There’s a young woman, almost naked except for the tiny white panties she’s wearing. A deep golden tan covers her skin from head to toe, there’s barely a tan line anywhere. Her long, dark brown hair is slick to her back and reaches just below the middle of her shoulder blades. She has an intricate tattoo of a dream catcher that starts on her hip and disappears beneath her panties, curving nicely over her ass cheek. She’s hooked the hose for washing down the horses high up on one of the rafters and is standing under a constant stream of water. She’s soaked to the skin and oblivious to the two men staring at her. I feel Toxic look at me, and I very briefly glance his way. This is not a sight one sees every day.
“Should we?” Toxic whispers.
“Should we what?
“Should we stop her?”
I’m about to nut punch that crazy idea out of his head when the damn dog does exactly what Toxic suggested. He barks, a loud deep sound that echoes around the empty barn. The woman spins on her bare feet and sucks in a shocked breath. She’s doesn’t cover herself. If anything, she straightens up and locks her frame. Shielding her eyes from the downpour she reaches over and turns off the tap, killing the flow of water. Sweeping the last trickles from her face, she takes her sweet time squeezing the excess water from her hair. Her skin pickles with the early morning chill in the air, and her nipples couldn’t be any harder if they were in my…
She interrupts my inappropriate thought when she steps out of the wet area and starts to walk toward us. Her eye contact fixes on me first, then Toxic. “I’d say is that a gun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me, but I can see you have your gun right there.” She arches her brow and wiggles her finger at the gun Toxic is holding limply in his hand. I’m pretty confident that, between us two, it’s the only thing that is limp. She places her hands on her hips and knocks the air from my lungs with her bold and breathy proposition. “Well guys, are you both just going to stand there, or are you going to help me?”
My body is way ahead of my mind’s interpretation of her invitation; however, Toxic is slightly more measured in his response. I’m about to step forward when Toxic’s arm slams across my chest.
“We’re taken,” he declares flatly, scowling at me.
“Not to each other,” I clarify to the woman, who seems to look more confused. No, no don’t change your mind. My jaw is tense with the effort to keep my voice calm as I try and reassure my brother. I know I’m thinking with my cock, but in fairness, it’s been awhile. “Toxic, things have changed remember?” Surely he can see this gift horse in all its semi naked glory. Why the fuck is he cockblocking? She did say guys…plural?
“I don’t think this is what Finn had in mind when she said she wants us to find…”
The woman coughs, her smile pulled into a knowing smirk. “Sorry to interrupt the domestic scene, but I meant help with the mare. She’s just had her foal. It got a little messy, hence the shower, and I think she’s going to need the vet.”
“Fuck! Molly had the baby?” I blurt, and we both dash the length of the old barn to the foaling stable.
“Oh wow.” I exhale, all sinful thoughts from only a moment ago disappear the instant my eyes fall on the sight of Molly curled up, tending to her baby. I don’t care how manly a man, or hardened by the horrors of life, there is something magical about a birth, especially when a person has witnessed so much death.
“Why is she lying down, shouldn’t she be on her feet?” Toxic asks
“You’re asking me like I should know? How do you even know?”
“I read up on it, when Pink fucked-off,” he says, and I’m about to shrug because I’m none the wiser when the woman, who is now behind us, answers.
“She has been up on her feet and the foal has fed. It’s not uncommon that she’ll want to have a lay-down for short periods. She’s had a tough night.” The woman has one of the horse blankets wrapped around her and is leaning on the door of the stable, an affectionate smile curling her lips and lighting up her flawless face.
“So what’s wrong? Why do you think she needs the vet?” Toxic asks.
“The foal is fine, although it’s always good to have a newborn checked over. She’s a filly, by the way. Anyway, she’s fine, but the placenta wasn’t intact and that could lead to complications later. The sooner Molly is treated, the better chance she’ll have.”
“Right of course. The placenta?”
“Yes, it’s in the sink, if you want to have a look.” The woman points over her shoulder.
Toxic and I both have our faces screwed up at the unpleasant idea. “Um no, I’m good.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t come straight to the house. I had a nightmare of a journey, and when I couldn’t get my truck through the gate, I walked down to see if there were any keys, before I started to look, I heard Molly, and well, the rest is a messy story with a rather embarrassing ending.”
“Embarrassing?” I ask.
“It’s not the greatest of first impressions, meeting the boss in my underwear.” She tips her head to peer down the front of the horse blanket she has wrapped around herself. Looking back up through long lashes and with a sinful smirk, I have to swallow the lump in my throat when her big brown eyes fix on me.
“Boss?” Toxic asks.
“Yeah. I’m Max. I’m here for the job.” She holds out her hand, and he shakes it.
I do the same when she offers her hand to me. “You’re a woman?”
“I’d ask what gave it away, but since you’ve pretty much seen everything but my birthmark, I’m going to take that as a rhetorical question,” she quips.
Toxic shoves my shoulder. “Idiot.”
Bristling with a flash of my own embarrassment, I try to rectify my stupid comment. “Pink never said you were going to be a woman that’s all. I just assumed Max was a guy, and where’s Clifford? He said you guys worked as a team.”
“We do, and who’s Pink?” Her brows pull together in a cute wrinkle. “If you don’t want me, I have other options.”
“No, no, we do. Trust me, we do.” Panic tears through me, and Toxic must feel the same as he rushes to explain the situation.
“Pink is our brother, the actual boss of this place. Tug and I are just firefighting until he gets back. Sorry about the confusion. We’re fucking glad to have you here.”
“We really are. So where is Clifford? He’s your husband? Boyfriend?” I fish, peering down the long barn for her partner.
“He’s my dog. This, this is Clifford.” Max drops to her haunches and, with one free hand, ruffles the big dog’s head. He’s sitting, swishing his large tail, and creating a miniature storm with the flakes of shavings on the ground.
She bounces back up to full height, all five foot nothing of it. “He’s normally really protective. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how you got so close to me without him raising all hell.” She arches a suspicious brow and puts her hand on her hip.
“In fairness, he kept me at the gate for a good ten minutes,” I explain, patting his head.
“He must like you; that’s a good sign,” Max says, and as if on cue, Clifford picks himself up, if only to travel the few steps to drop his ass back down…on my foot.
“It is?” I groan at the weight. That’s got to be eighty pounds resting on my pinky toe.
“Yeah, and if he didn’t, there’s no way I’d be able to stay. Like I said, we’re a team.” Her face lights up with the warmest smile. Clifford has his bony head nestling against my thigh. I’m glad he approves, but I’m not sure this is anything above standard animal cupboard love.
“So no husband? Boyfriend?” I ask.
She ignores the question I had no right to ask. “How did you get past him?”
“I have a confession… I had chocolate.”
“You did, hmm?”
“I just don’t want to start off on a bed of lies. He might’ve been blinded by food.”
She pats her thighs and Clifford leaps to his feet and barges into her, nearly knocking her backward. Her laughter is light and infectious. I look at Toxic and he’s smiling as wide as I am. She’s cute. A short sharp whistle flies form her lips, and Clifford is instantly sitting bolt upright, alert and totally focused on his master. She strokes him absently with her fingertip; her focus is directed our way.
“It wouldn’t be the first time but not when it comes to protecting me. He loves his food, still you could’ve been wearing Porterhouse steaks as chaps, and if he didn’t like you, you would not get within a mile of me. He’s very protective.” She looks down at Clifford. “He can be quite scary when he wants to be.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Toxic mutters.
“It was a surprise that’s all. As was seeing you having a shower, a nice surprise,” I add quickly and she bites back a knowing smirk. Toxic slaps his forehead.
“What? What did I say?”
“Call the vet, Tug.” Toxic reaches for his phone and hands it to me.
I flip him the bird. It was a nice surprise. “I’ve got my own phone.” I pinch out a tight smile and walk away to call the vet. It only takes a moment to get through and arrange the visit.
“The vet is on his way, said it’ll be about an hour before he can get here.” Max and Toxic have their arms hanging over the stable door, and I slide in on the other side of Max. Molly is licking the floppy foal as she tries to sleep through the roughest looking tongue bath. Max lets out a little breathy sigh that I feel in my nuts. She shivers beside me. “Do you want to come to the house to wait? I can get you some clean clothes to change into, Finn will probably have something that will fit.”
“Oh no, that’s fine. I’ll wait here.” Shaking her head, she looks horrified, only I’m not sure which bit has her worried.
I look at Toxic. He must know what thoughts are already running through my mind because he offers an explanation before I put my foot in it…again.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Max, but we have an odd reputation around here as it is. We’d rather the vet didn’t think we had our new employees working in their underwear.”
She peeks once more down her body, snickers, and nods slowly with understanding. “My trailer is at the end of the drive. I can go back and get some clothes. I just don’t want to leave her.”
Toxic holds out his hand. “Give me your keys and I’ll bring your trailer down here.”
She looks at Molly, then Clifford. “Oh, um…okay, I guess that will be okay?”
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Nothing, it’s just I don’t usually let anyone drive my truck.”
“First time for everything, darlin’. Welcome to life at Elemental.” A broad grin fills my face. Standing shoulder to shoulder next to Toxic, happy to welcome Max into our strange little world, I rest my arm across Toxic’s shoulder. She smiles slyly, steps up close and personal and lays both her hands in the center of our chests. The rug she was ‘wearing’ drops to the floor and she’s once more almost naked. Only this time, I can feel her heat and see the tiny hairs on her skin spark to attention. It’s distracting. It’s fucking hot. Her fingertips drill a staccato beat that matches the thumping in my chest. She tips up on her toes, her face is between ours when she exhales a wicked whisper.
“Not my first rodeo…boys.” She pushes between us and sashays away, leaving me to pick my jaw up from the floor and adjust my pants.
When I’m sure she’s out of earshot, I exhale. “I’m so fucking hard.” Toxic scowls at me, but he doesn’t argue the fact. Max is smokin’ hot.