THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
“I have a very long whip, Murray, for disciplining naughty boys. Do I need to use it on you?”
Sawyer lowered the hand he’d just raised to knock on the doorframe.
“Have you been a very bad boy, Murray?” The heavily accented French voice purred from somewhere inside the house in a deep, sexy tone. “Then I must punish you.”
There was no reply to this. No moan or man’s grunt. Who the hell was she talking to? And why was Birdie McAllister speaking like that?
Was it Birdie?
It was a reflex that had Sawyer checking he was entering her cottage. The bright pink number 2a was still inches from his face.
Her parents had lived in the place first. They were now next door, and it was there he was delivering timber on his way home. No one had answered when he’d knocked, so he’d come here to find out where they wanted him to stack it.
“No talking!” she yelled. Sawyer heard the slap of something connecting with… he couldn’t be sure but thought that sounded like a solid surface, not flesh. More a thud than a thwack.
And you’re an expert on noises?
What the fuck had he stepped into? Where was Birdie?
“Are you disobeying me, Murray? I won’t stand for insubordination. Get on your knees,” the voice purred. “I’m going to punish you now, mon petit chou. You must obey me!”
Sawyer was fairly sure she’d just called Murray a little cabbage.
She spat out a few French words, and those were definitely made up, which had him wanting to snort. He wasn’t fluent but had worked with a guy in LA who was. Jules had decided Sawyer needed to up his game with women, so he’d taught him to speak the language of love, or so his friend had called it.
“Do you know what I do to very bad boys, ma pomp de terre?”
My potato wasn’t the sexiest word Sawyer would have come up with, but it took all sorts. He’d found that out living in LA.
A loud bang and then a curse. This one, not in a bad French accent, had Sawyer wondering what the hell was going on inside this house. He wasn’t hanging around if there was some kind of role-playing kinky shit happening. People could be into whatever they wanted in their own home, but he didn’t have to see it.
More swearing and banging had him entering. Sawyer moved down the narrow hallway and stopped at the end. He’d just look to make sure no one was hurt, then leave without being seen.
Looking around the wall, he found Birdie McAllister on her hands and knees, phone pressed to her ear, under a table.
He knew this woman. Had since his brother’s fifth birthday when she brought Ryder a save the bees home pollination kit. Birdie and her family were big on saving the planet.
But this Birdie McAllister wasn’t someone he’d seen before. She wore shorts, or he thought they were, but could be those boy-legged-underwear things that his sister told him once were comfortable because they didn’t ride up, and why he’d needed to know that he still wasn’t sure. Black and cupping the curve of each ass cheek. On top, she wore a tight gray tank.
“Murray?” she said into the phone again. “Well, hell,” Birdie muttered before slowly regaining her feet.
Sawyer winced as she cracked her head on the corner of the table.
“Double hell.” She rose, rubbing it and muttering.
Sawyer had to say he was impressed. His family couldn’t do anything quietly, especially if they were hurt. They’d be yelling by now.
He watched Birdie put the portable phone back onto the table.
As if sensing him, she turned.
He was good at a lot of things. Changing the pickup’s oil, making a passable chicken casserole and biscuits. He was basically house-trained. What he wasn’t good at was talking and things that were out of his control. Uncomfortable situations. Which, when you got down to it, was odd. His family was constantly falling in and out of situations, odd and otherwise.
Now was an uncomfortable situation. That, plus his eyes couldn’t stop tracking up and down her body. Who knew Birdie McAllister had been hiding those curves all these years?
“Wh-what are you doing here? How long have you been there, Sawyer?”
“What the hell was that?” Sawyer pointed to the phone.
“Now you listen to me carefully, Murray,” he said in a really bad French accent.
“What?” She frowned. “I wasn’t speaking Italian.”
He gave her a look, which he hoped terrified her. “That was French.”
“Really? You’re bad at it.”
“You called him my potato, and that was after my little cabbage. I don’t think you’re in any place to talk.”
She frowned and then looked at the book on the table.
“Birdie. What the hell is going on?”
“Nothing.” She straightened, her eyes now on his chest. “Why are you here, Sawyer?”
“Your head is bleeding.” He said watching as it trickled down her forehead.
“Damn that screw sticking out. I always hit my head on it.”
“Then fix it,” Sawyer said.
“As if it’s that easy.” She shuffled left and bolted for the kitchen.
He followed. “It is that easy. You screw it in or out. Now back to the dirty French-speaking shit. What was that about?”
She was opening and closing cupboards randomly. Sawyer admired her very nice ass again before grabbing a white cloth off the bench. He moved closer.
“What are you doing?” She backed into the cupboard.
“Putting this on your head.”
“And it will stain, and it’s not for blood!” Her voice had risen several octaves.
“You have cloths especially for blood? What the hell else don’t I know about you?”
A breath hissed out of her mouth. “The point is, blood will be hard to get out of this cloth.”
Ignoring her, Sawyer placed it gently on her head. “Hold it there.”
She did, and he stepped back a few paces because she smelled good. Something soft and flowery that had his body stirring.
“What was that conversation with Murray about?”
Birdie was looking at his chest again. “Coffee?”
“I baked cake. Do you want cake?”
“Y-you always like cake.”
“No, I don’t.”
She frowned. “I’m sure I remember you saying once at Ryder’s birthday party you loved cake with lots of frosting.” She was talking fast now. Clearly nervous, which told him she’d been up to something and didn’t want him knowing about it. Too bad.
“I was ten, and stop changing the subject. Tell me what the stuff with that phone call was, Birdie. Because I heard you talk dirty in a French accent to someone called Murray.”
“He’s my boyfriend,” she said quickly.
He folded his arms, which his four younger siblings would understand meant he wasn’t moving until he had answers, and leveled her with a hard stare.
“You don’t have a boyfriend.”
“You don’t know that! I don’t tell you anything about my life. W-we’re not friends.” Her eyes were on the move, shooting first left and then right.
“You’re right, I don’t. But someone in this town would, and by now they’d have told me.”
Her shoulders slumped. Birdie knew like he did. The gossips in Lyntacky were legendary.
“W-we’re that.” She waved her hand about.
“Don’t make me say it, Sawyer.”
“And yet I’m still clueless.”
“He’s my FB,” she blurted.
“I’m not saying it in front of you, Sawyer.”
He got it then and didn’t like the instant leap of denial. What did he care if Birdie had a fuck buddy? It didn’t ring true. That was the problem. That and the surge of unreasonable anger that someone did that with this woman. Which was weird because he’d never, not once since he’d known her, thought of her as anything but the annoying Little Miss Sunshine, everyone in Lyntacky loved.
But then he’d been fooled by a woman before.
Birdie’s nice girl rep always made Sawyer’s teeth grind. No one was that good. Until today, that halo had never slipped.
“I need coffee.” She shuffled sideways again and hit the button on the coffee machine. The long blond tail of her hair hung between her shoulder blades. His eyes moved to her ass again.
Christ, he was checking out Birdie McAllister.
Looking away, he scanned her kitchen. Color hit him hard between the eyes. Red, pink, blue, yellow, it was all over the place.
“Jesus, doesn’t all this color make your head hurt?”
“No. I like color,” she said.
“Me too, just not all of it at the same time.” Even the mugs hanging on the tree thing were different colors. His sister would pitch a fit if she saw them. Zoe liked everything matching.
“I’m sure you’re not just here to insult the interior of my home, Sawyer. So why are you?”
At Birdie’s prissy tone, he dragged his eyes from the cupboards painted in different shades of pink and looked at her again.
“Dropping off your dad’s order.”
She had high cheekbones. Eyes more gray than blue and a bottom lip that was fuller than the top.
Had she always been pretty?
He couldn’t remember thinking she was before. But then he couldn’t remember really looking at her either.
She frowned. “He ordered more timber?”
Sawyer nodded, and a breath hissed out of her mouth, sounding like something expelling steam.
“What’s wrong with your dad ordering timber? Our timber is good.” It came out defensively for no other reason than Sawyer didn’t tolerate anyone blackening his family’s reputation.
“There is nothing wrong with your timber. I just didn’t know we needed more.” She was looking at his chest again. And not in an “I love your chest and I can’t stop staring at it” kind of way. This was so she didn’t meet his eyes.
“He said it was for an aviary.”
“Of course it is,” she said, turning back. “Why are you delivering and not Percy?”
“Eliza is in labor.” Their company driver had rushed to the hospital after receiving the call, leaving Sawyer to do the deliveries.
“No!” Birdie clapped her hands together, smiling. “That’s exciting.”
“I guess, but right now I want to know what’s going on with you and the French talking?”
“I explained what that was about,” she said through her teeth.
Her phone rang.
“Murray is a persistent guy, is my guess?”
“What?” Her eyes met his.
“Murray, your FB. Seems like you and him are close if he’s calling back.”
“Oh, ha-ha.” The laugh was forced. “That was just ah, just a game. I told you we’re that.” She waved her hand about again. “We… um, role-play, and that’s probably not him.” She was babbling.
“You go on and answer that call, and I’ll pour the coffee,” Sawyer said.
“I thought you didn’t want coffee.”
“A man can change his mind. Answer your phone, Birdie.” As the words left his mouth, her answering machine clicked on.
“This is Madame Fleur’s Flirt Line,” the same French accented voice said.
Birdie ran. Sawyer grabbed her around the waist. She elbowed him hard in the gut. The air left his lungs in a huge wheeze. He dropped her, and she sprinted to the phone. He was on her heels. Before she could reach the button to cut the message, he’d grabbed her again.
“I can play out all your fantasies, you naughty boy.”
She wriggled, and he dropped her because her ass brushing his groin felt way too good.
“Madame Fleur’s Flirt Line?” Sawyer looked at her.
“Unload the timber, Sawyer.” Her voice was high-pitched and panicky. “Put it wherever you like.”
“Has the bill been settled?”
Sawyer shook his head.
“Give me the invoice.” She held out a hand.
“It’s in the truck.”
“Leave it under the farmhouse door. I’ll make sure it’s paid.”
“I know you will.” There was something in her expression he couldn’t read. “Tell me what’s going on,” Sawyer said.
“It’s none of your damn business is what it is. We’re not friends. We’re not anything. Now leave and don’t ask again and do not speak about it with anyone.” She looked angry.
“Yeah, because, let’s face it, I’m a real gossip,” he said, surprised at her tone and attitude. Little Miss Sunshine was never angry or rude. “Talk to me, Birdie. I’m a friend.”
“No, you’re not. Your siblings are my friends. Go away, Sawyer.”
He wasn’t sure why that cut deep. Maybe it was the look of desperation in her eyes. Or maybe it was because she was right. He’d made no effort over the years to be anything but cool and distant with her. Which, in his defense, he was with everyone.
“Go home, Sawyer. This is my house, and what happens in it is my business.”
“Birdie, if you need help—”
“I don’t need any help,” she cut him off. “And if I did, I wouldn’t go to you.” The last was whispered. “Please, just leave, Sawyer.”
He wanted to press her for an answer, but she was right. They weren’t friends. Birdie had plenty of those and people in her corner. He wasn’t one of them and usually happy to keep things that way. Sawyer didn’t get close to people. It was easier.
“Get someone to look at that cut,” he said before walking out the way he’d entered and away from Birdie McAllister. The girl that he’d always thought was exactly what she seemed until suddenly, she wasn’t.
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