Armie snorted. “Don’t sweat it. She’s not my type.”
“What type is that?”
“Same as your sister—a nice girl.”
Cannon laughed at how Armie inferred being “nice” made a female unacceptable. In the case of his sister, he was glad. It’d be way too uncomfortable to think about Armie, with his over-the-top sexuality, anywhere near his little sis. “Rissy’s got her own life going on and I see no reason to move in on her.” He took a breath and admitted, “I’m staying with Yvette.”
Silence—and then, “That was fast.”
“Again, not the way you’re thinking.”
“Damn, man, I’m thinking she’s hot, you’re male and you’re arranging a lot of alone time with her. Don’t tell me it’s so you can hold her hand and watch old movies, because I just might puke.”
“It’s complicated, that’s all.” Cannon took a minute to explain the situation to Armie.
“Fuck,” Armie said with feeling. “I thought she was the girl, but I wasn’t sure. Must be rough for her.”
“Not as much as you’d think.” Or else Yvette did a great job hiding it. “Anyway, I plan to stay with her until the place sells—or until I’m sure she’s comfortable being alone.”
At that mocking tone, Cannon’s shoulders tightened. “What?”
“You’re all noble and shit, I don’t doubt it. That’s just you. But you’re also looking to get boned in the bargain, so just admit it.”
If it was any woman other than Yvette, Cannon might have just agreed and let it go. But with Yvette, the protectiveness smothering him was far too powerful for him to joke about it with anyone, even his best friend. “Armie—”
“Give it a rest, buddy. I know what I know. After seeing her, I’d think it was weird if you didn’t. But don’t sweat it. I’ll be all circumspect and shit whenever I’m around her.”
Defensive as well as protective, he warned, “I don’t want her hassled. By anyone.”
“Noted.” Armie moved right on past the topic, saving Cannon from more awkwardness. “How about you order in a pizza and I’ll come by after work on Friday? That soon enough for you?”
“Yeah, sure.” To be fair, he added, “Thanks. I owe you.”
Armie snorted over that. “Maybe someday I’ll collect. See you later.”
After putting his phone back in his pocket, Cannon checked the time. Almost nine o’clock.
Where the hell was she?
He was not a man who got keyed up. In the SBC he was known for his cool head and meticulous manner. But now, dealing with Yvette, his impatience rivaled a swelling tide. He needed to expend energy somehow, either by taking off on his own jog, hitting something...or maybe indulging in a long, hot shower.
He didn’t want to be gone when she returned, and he hadn’t yet installed a heavy bag, so the shower won out.
Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to be clean, shaved and dressed before she returned. Driven by thoughts of what he’d do and say to her, Cannon left the hall bathroom door open and kept his ears cocked as he let the warm water relieve some of his residual aches and pains from the last fight.
He’d just stepped out when the landline rang. Hastily wrapping a towel around his hips, he followed the sound and located the old-fashioned, curly corded phone on the wall in the kitchen. Huh. Skeptical that it’d really work, he picked it up on the fourth ring. “Hello?”
“Cannon? Oh, good. I was afraid you wouldn’t answer.”
The female voice sounded familiar, but he wasn’t sure—
“It’s Mindi, from Frank’s office.”
Biting back the groan, Cannon dropped against the wall and forced some pleasantness into his greeting. “Morning, Mindi. How are you?”
“Working, so don’t get all worried that I’m calling in my rain check.”
Appreciating her humor, he smiled with her. “Sorry. I’m just slammed, that’s all.”
“You poor thing, having so much dumped on you. How is Tipton’s granddaughter?”
Cannon frowned. “We’re fine.”
“Working through everything?”
He pushed away from the wall. “Did Whitaker ask you to call?”
Her laugh was meant to be teasing, but instead it annoyed him. “No, but I’m hoping I can be helpful. I’ve found someone who wants to buy the pawnshop.”
A disturbing mix of regret and resolution glued Cannon to the spot. Through the restriction in his chest, he said, “Come again?”
Still sounding chipper and unfazed by his lack of enthusiastic reply, Mindi explained. “A buyer. For the pawnshop.”
Carefully, giving himself time to think, he said, “I didn’t know you were helping with that.” He got his feet moving but couldn’t pace far, not with the phone attached to the wall.
“Officially, we’re not. But you know that Frank and Tipton were friends, so I’ve let others know that it’s up for sale. I figured it was the least I could do.”
So she called the lawyer by his first name. Interesting. Then again, it could mean nothing. Whitaker ran a small office and probably didn’t go on formality. “I see.”
“Is there a good time I can bring him by to check it out?”
Just then, Cannon heard a slight noise at the front door. Anticipation surged through him, obliterating everything else. “I’ll talk to Yvette and get back to you.”
Mindi was still thanking him when he hung up.
AFTER SEEING HIS car still in the driveway, Yvette had to fight the urge to take off again. If her legs didn’t feel like noodles and if sweat didn’t soak her clothes, she might be tempted. But after the extended jog, she’d walked in the park, bought a coffee and donut, lingered, procrastinated and all in all been a complete coward.
Admitting it to herself didn’t improve the fault.
With all her avoidance, she’d only managed to make things more difficult, because now she looked outright awful.
Trying not to make a sound, hoping she’d be able to sneak to her bedroom for a quick shower and change before seeing Cannon, she turned the doorknob, poked her head inside—and found him standing there.
Arms crossed over his bare chest. Legs naked. Hips and other...vital parts...barely concealed by a small white towel.
Good Lord. Her jaw loosened.
Her heart punched into her throat, and then dropped hard into her belly.
She stared without blinking.
Mouth quirking, Cannon said, “You may as well come on in. I’m not budging.”
She did, quickly stepping in and closing the door behind her, then dropping back against it. “You’re—” na*ed “—not dressed.”
“Just got out of the shower.”
It took a very deep breath before she could squeak out, “Oh.” That breath had filled her head with the scent of masculine soap and warm male.
Her hungry gaze tracked down his body, taking it all in. Those sleek, hard shoulders. His wide chest half-hidden by muscular arms arrogantly folded. Down his solid rib cage and...mmm.
The bruises, a few of them really harsh, didn’t detract from the perfection. A silky trail of dark hair bisected his body, teased around his navel and disappeared into the loosely wrapped towel.
There wasn’t enough oxygen in the air to keep her properly ventilated.
His voice had dropped an octave, drawing her gaze up to his. “Hmm?”
“They’re just bruises.”
He thought that was why she stared? Well, yeah, the bruises were ghastly. But she’d seen enough postfight photos to know it wasn’t uncommon for a fighter to sport evidence of the battle.
The largest bruise was also the darkest, almost black in the middle, then fading into purple and lilac as it spread out over his ribs. Because it was a better excuse than the truth, she said, “You look like you should be—” In bed. Steering clear of that verbal trap, she amended, “Resting.”
As if he knew her every thought, he smiled. “I can almost feel that stare, and I don’t mind telling you, it’s having an effect.”
That made her look harder, and sure enough, the tightly wrapped towel now showed things she’d be better off not seeing.
“Yvette,” he said again, this time with gravelly insistence.
Realization of her rudeness hit and she pivoted fast to face the door. But...then what? She faced a closed door. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
“The back view is nice, too.”
No way could she ignore that tempting admission. But when she looked over her shoulder at him, he still faced her. “I can’t see the back.”
“No.” On a low laugh, he nodded at her rear end. “I meant yours.”
Slapping her hands over her butt, she turned away again. If nothing else, it hid her burning face and kept her from visually molesting him.
And, darn it, now she became the recipient of a hot stare. “This isn’t at all proper.”
“I remember a time,” he said, closer to her, “when you weren’t all that worried about being proper.”
She’d been young and foolish. “I shouldn’t have stared and I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m not.”
Knowing she had to get hold of herself and the situation, she staged a friendly expression and cautiously turned back to him. Utilizing Herculean effort, she kept her attention above his sternum. “It’s hardly my fault with you standing there, flaunting yourself like that.”
“I don’t flaunt.” He made a rude sound of denial. “I’m just standing here.”
Looking as he did, that was enough. “You aren’t decently dressed.”
“I’d just gotten out of the shower when the phone rang.”
“Well.” He’d offered her the perfect excuse for fleeing. “I’ll just let you finish getting ready—”
Before she could take a single step, he moved, and she got caught up watching the muscles in his bared body flex as he closed the small amount of space left between them.
She was hot, sweaty and suddenly mute.
When he reached out, she flattened against the door and almost squawked, it so surprised her.
“You’re afraid of me?”
Her turn to scoff. “No, never.”
Cannon paused for only a second before nodding with satisfaction. “Good.” Gently catching her hand, he tugged her forward and started toward the kitchen.
Going along without complaint, Yvette tried to collect herself, but couldn’t.
He was right—the back view was freaking awesome.
Long muscles moved with each step he took. Water glistened on his shoulders. His still-wet hair sent a trickle down the deep furrow of his spine.
And that little damp towel... How she envied it. Wrapped around his hips, it hugged his butt, showcasing the tight muscles there.
A big bubble of heat popped inside her, flushing her whole body. “Mmm, what are we doing?”
“Going into the kitchen.”
“We need to talk.” He looked over that boulder shoulder at her. “And I don’t want you sneaking off again.”
“I didn’t sneak.” Liar. “I just went for my morning jog.”
“For more than two hours?” Pulling out two vinyl-covered chairs from her grandfather’s refurbished kitchen table, he gestured for her to sit.
Since her legs were quivering from exhaustion, ready to give out anyway, she dropped down.
“I didn’t know you jogged.” His bright blue gaze moved over her, probably seeing her perspiration-soaked clothes and shiny, flushed skin. “Need something to drink?”
She needed him to get some pants on before she fainted. “No, I’m fine.” Determined to be as blasé as him, she unhooked the belted purse from around her waist, removing the empty water bottle from the loop that held it, putting that and her cell phone on the tabletop.
Cannon gave her a long look, turned to the refrigerator and took out an icy bottle of water. He unscrewed the cap and set it in front of her. “You’re pretty wilted. Drink up.”
Wilted—what a nice way to put it. Reminded of how wretched she looked, she started to stand. “I need a shower.”
A hand on her shoulder pressed her back. His tone even and cool, Cannon said, “Let’s talk first.”
He literally loomed over her with all that na*ed flesh up close and personal. She was eye level with a small brown nipple, with the sparse dark hair on his chest. She could smell his soap and something more. Something hot and sexy and all male.
Curling her hands into fists, she resisted the powerful urge to touch him. But that didn’t stop her from looking—at his throat, over his collarbone, those sculpted pecs...
“You’re doing it again.”
“What?” she breathed in a strangled whisper.
His other hand flattened on the table beside her, caging her in. “Eating me up with those pretty green eyes.”
She’d prefer to eat him up with her teeth, her tongue.... “Put on more clothes and I won’t stare!”
Contentment showed in his eyes. “I will.”
“After we talk.”
Trying to find her backbone, she straightened in the chair and put a hand to his chest—his hot, hard, na*ed chest—to lever him back a few inches. “You’re acting too familiar, Cannon.” She had to concentrate hard to keep her fingers from caressing. “Like we’re involved or something.”
The second she touched him, he went still, then his eyes narrowed and his jaw flexed. “We’ve been involved for over three long years.” Too serious, he covered her hand with his, keeping it trapped against his body. His chest hair tickled her palm and made breathing harder still. “It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how far away you were. There’s something between us.”
Choking off a groan, she offered a compromise. “Tell you what.” Infusing a dose of reason into her tone, she said, “Get dressed while I shower and then we’ll—”
Why did he always have to sound so controlled and collected? “Does another fifteen minutes really matter?”
“Does since you’ve been avoiding me. Given half a chance, you might take off again.”