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Burning Bridges (Beech Grove) by Mayra Statham (1)

Chapter One

Maverick Bridges

Stepping into Hank’s, their local bar, Maverick couldn’t help but notice how the place felt as familiar as his own living room. He was thirty-five, and this was his home away from home. He didn’t know what to do with that. Instead of dwelling on it and attempting to figure it out, he headed toward the empty spot at the bar with his cell phone pressed to his ear.

“Don’t worry about it, man,” he spoke into the phone as he maneuvered his way to the empty stool at the end of the bar.

“I’ll work on getting us a table,” he muttered just as his ass sat down. He would find them a table eventually; he just needed a beer first.

“Thanks. Sorry about this, Bridges,” Gabe Blanco mumbled, and Maverick fought from rolling his eyes.

“Come on, Gabe,” he started to say. Maverick knew exactly what his best friend was going to say. He was about to start on the whole ‘My little sister is a pain’ rant.

Again.

“I didn’t think this was going to take that long, and the traffic I’ve hit sucks. And, of course, she had to change the damn plans,” Gabe mumbled.

Blanco was a great guy. Not only was he Mav’s best friend, but he was also the guy Maverick trusted with his life every day they stepped foot into the firehouse. It had been that way since he had moved to Beech Grove, California, a small, well-hidden gem in Los Angeles County.

They worked at the same small-town firehouse, and Gabe was one of the best men Mav had ever met. He had nothing but respect and loved the guy like blood. But once he started to complain about his little country hopping, abroad-studying baby sister, it was close to impossible to get him to stop.

His sister, Sofia, whom Maverick had yet to meet, was a sore subject to say the least.

“Don’t worry about it,” he repeated, nodding at a couple of familiar faces that passed by him.

“She’s a fucking pain in my ass,” Gabe bitched, and even though Gabe couldn’t see him, Mav shook his head.

Maverick had been in Beech Grove for five years, and he had heard all there was to know about little Sofia Blanco. She left to study abroad her senior year of high school, and from what he had understood, she had fallen in love with everything European.

After graduation and receiving her acceptance to Oxford, she stayed gone to continue her education and was now returning home with her master’s in hand. Being the overprotective older brother and stand-in father-figure after their dad passed away, Gabe was a nervous wreck.

“What else are little sisters for, right?” he tried to lighten the mood, not really meaning it. He had no clue what little sisters were like. He only had brothers. Two of them. And even though there were three of them, each two years apart, they weren’t particularly close.

“Shit. Right?” Gabe huffed. Mav heard the sound of a horn honking on the other line.

“Just breathe, man. She’s going to be fine.”

“I know. You’re right. Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can. Traffic looks like it’s starting to clear up. I shouldn’t take too long. I’m more than sure I’ll beat her there. Sofia shopping usually takes a while, but just in case—“

“Yeah, I know. A redhead who looks like a mix of you and a pain in the ass,” Mav cut off his buddy, raising his hand to grab Wally’s, the bartender and co-owner of Hank’s bar, attention.

“Shit. What if she dyed her hair?” Gabe groaned, making him want to laugh. Gabe was usually laid-back. Seeing him all ruffled up was amusing.

“What?”

“Girls her age do that, don’t they?” Her age? Jesus. The girl was twenty-five, not fifteen.

“She would still look like you, but you know, with tits,” Mav pointed out, relieved to hear Gabe’s deep laughter on the other end. His buddy had to loosen up.

“Okay. I better go. I’ll be there before you know it.”

“No worries. Good luck,” he ended the call and slipped his phone into the front pocket of his dark denim jeans.

“Tab?” Wally asked after setting his usual beer on the bar, and Mav nodded.

“Yeah, that would probably be a good idea tonight. Oh, hey, Wally, a chick might ask for Gabe. Let me know if she hits you up, will ya?”

“Oh? Who’s looking for that guy?” Wally teased.

“His sister.” Mav found himself grinning, and Wally chuckled.

“Got it!” he shouted, walking away to help other customers.

Looking around the bar, he scoped out the talent tonight. He might have been there to meet his boy’s little sister, which was all great and dandy, but he needed to get laid.

Throughout the years, he had become an honorary member of the Blanco family. Always having a seat at their table over the holidays and Sunday dinners. He had even helped Gabe pack his childhood home when his mom, Jill, decided to downsize to a smaller house.

Still, there was no reason he couldn’t kill two birds with one stone. Who said men couldn’t multi-task?

Being a fireman in a small town more than guaranteed him a smorgasbord of women. Not to mention the fact he looked the way he did. Not that he was being overzealous of his looks and charm. He was just honest. Finding a woman had never been difficult for him. Women were simply attracted to him. They always had been.

There was something about being six two, broad shouldered, tanned, and strong from working outdoors and with his hands, navy blue eyes, and shaggy dark hair, which made him like catnip to women. It was something he had more than willingly enjoyed.

Until two months ago.

He’d hit a semi self-imposed dry spell. The allure of easy pussy and one-night stands didn’t do it for him anymore.

Not that he was looking to settle down.

Hell no.

He had just turned thirty-five. He was too young to put his balls in a jar all so that a woman could have them on her nightstand.

But he did recognize he needed something different.

A challenge.

If Maverick were being honest, his little realization had started after bumping into his ex-girlfriend. It had done something to him seeing her married, happy, and very pregnant.

Not that he was hung up on Kimi. He was over the moon happy for her. She was a good woman who deserved happiness and everything that went with it. It was more of the fact that it had been a stark reminder of what he didn’t have in life.

A reminder there was more to life than an easy lay and going to work. Rinse and repeat.

Seeing her, comparing his life and the direction it was in, had literally kept him up. Night after night, he found himself wondering what the hell he was doing with his life. Not that he would admit it to anyone.

Is thirty-five too young to start having a mid-life crisis?

He shook off the dark road his thoughts had taken and looked around, surveying the lay of the land. It had been a rough week and he needed to unwind.

He had earned it.

He spotted a group of co-eds, all dressed in different versions of the same thing. Short skirts with tight, barely-there tops more than highlighting their assets. Each sexy and probably a great fucking lay. But for some reason they didn’t catch his eye. He could almost see how the night would go, and as fun as getting his dick wet and bounced on would have been, by the end of the night he’d be tired of taking selfies and bored of listening to them talk about their favorite reality TV show and what brand lippy was a must have.

There was another group of women at the far end of the bar. They were older, probably in their mid-thirties, closer to his age, and from what he could tell, they were a book club of some sort. Each had what looked like the same book next to them. He could approach one of them, but fuck, they seemed like too much effort. Again, a feeling of dissatisfaction filled him. What the hell is going on with me?

“Rum and Coke, please,” a soft voice beside him spoke to Wally, snapping him out if his thoughts. Turning to look at her, he wasn’t prepared.

Not one fucking bit.

Bare feminine shoulders with creamy, slightly tanned skin. Long, wavy hair that hung loose down over her shoulder and her back. It was shiny and thick in the most beautiful color. It wasn’t brown or red. It was a deep auburn that inspired visions of Mav’s hands getting tangled up in those silky looking tresses.

She was dressed in a long, colorful dress that looked like an abstract painting. It had multiple thin straps at her shoulders crossing over her back. Even though the dress would have made any other woman look shapeless, it did the opposite on her. It hinted at the curves that lay underneath, and his mouth watered.

She was curvy, the way a woman should be curvy. Tits and ass and a slight softness in between. The soft glow of her skin made his hands ache to touch her.

“Sure thing, pretty girl.” Wally winked, and he fought from rolling his eyes. Poor guy. For being a bartender, he had zero game.

Too bad he was going to have to show him how it was done. Licking his lips, he turned, ready to give her his best smile, but when she turned, now fully looking at him, his confidence took a face plant. Something about her unequivocal beauty made him trip all over himself.

“Hey,” was the only thing he could spit out, mumbling stupidly as he took in more of her.

She was exquisite.

Sitting at the high bar stool, she still had to look up at him. She was a tiny little thing and sparked something in him. A primal need to protect like he’d never felt before.

Protect.

Conquer.

Treasure.

After he blinked those stupid caveman thoughts away, their eyes connected, and she gave him a small smile he felt in his chest.

Damn!

Her smile was a thing of beauty, and he hadn’t even seen it in all its glory. If he were the kind of guy who believed in love at first sight, he would have been tempted to say her smile was like a cupid’s arrow about to shoot his stupid ass. Leaving him helpless to her.

He had never seen a smile like hers in his life. It radiated like sunshine and warmed him up deep inside. Huge red flags waved Danger, Will Robinson! in his head, but instead of turning around and ignoring her, he kept looking at her.

“Hey,” she said back, in that same soft tone she’d ordered her drink in. He opened his mouth just as she turned away from him.

What the hell?

A woman had never turned away from him. They usually fawned and giggled girlishly while they both pretended he was trying to coax them into going back to his place, when in reality they both knew it was a done deal.

Thankfully, Wally came over with her drink, giving him the perfect segue. “Add it to my tab, Wally,” he ordered smoothly, a cocky smirk on his face, one that was a proven favorite. One most women found boyishly charming.

Her head popped up and to the side to look at him. Her smooth, caramel-brown eyes were beautiful, even if they were narrowed at him and her perfectly plucked eyebrow were arched up in what looked like annoyance. “That is not necess—“

“My treat.” He winked and saw the clear hesitation in her stare that left him more than surprised. Usually, women blushed furiously and thanked him. They flirted back, leaving the door open for him to lay the ground work to what would end up in them sharing a hot and sweaty night.

But not her.

Clearing his throat, giving her his best smile, he soldiered on. After all, he wasn’t a quitter. “I haven’t seen you around here. New to town?”

She wasn’t the kind of woman he would have seen and forgotten. Not with those eyes and those luscious lips. She was fucking gorgeous. She had to be from out of town. Maybe she was just passing through? The thought made him scowl inside. He didn’t want her far from him. Which made no sense since he didn’t even know her.

“Nope. Grew up here,” she shared before turning around. He frowned. He had lived in Beech Grove for a little over five years and never bumped into her? They lived near Los Angeles; maybe she commuted for work and was a homebody?

“Thanks for the drink,” she mumbled, lifting the glass to the mouth he knew would be front and center in his fantasies for days to come.

She turned away before he could say anything else. Her eyes roamed the bar, her attention obviously no longer on him, and he didn’t like it. He wanted it back. He wanted her eyes on him and never wanted to lose her attention.

“Do you come here often?” he stupidly asked, as smooth as chunky peanut butter. He winced at how cliché and lame he sounded. What the fuck was wrong with him? He was better than that.

Sofia Blanco

God, he was hot.

Like melted butter over a just-outta-the-oven-cinnamon-roll type hot.

The problem was he knew it.

I could spot his type a mile away. It was a gift. A hard lesson I had quickly learned while away at school. A man like him was usually a turn-off for me. But for some reason my body seemed to spark and tingle around him. I was enjoying his attention way too much. I knew better.

He was hot in the bad-boy kind of way. The kind of bad boy you rode over and over and over in a cheap hotel through a long holiday weekend. The kind of bad boy who would make you forget your name and could make you lose your mind.

The bad boy you never brought home to Momma.

No, this guy was a walking billboard for the kind of boy your momma warned you to stay away from.

His height and broad shoulders were hard enough to resist, but that damn beard would probably end up being the nail in my coffin. The final piece that would ensure I ended up under him later tonight. Or maybe on top. Or in front. I was open minded and willing to try anything once. His square jaw was covered with dark, thick but well-trimmed hair that made any sane woman wonder how it would feel against her own skin. He had an angular nose with a slight bump that made me want to trace the lines of his face with the tips of my fingers. I wanted to memorize every angle and ridge of his body.

With my tongue.

The cherry on top of the hot man sundae he was were his eyes. At first glance I thought they were a rich brown, almost black. But when he shifted, the light hit him in just the right angle, and I noticed they were the most beautiful shade of navy.

Navy blue.

I’d never seen eyes like that, had only read about them in romance novels. Damn it.

This guy was the last thing I needed tonight. I had been on a year-and-half self-induced dry spell. I wanted to concentrate on school and getting my life in order, all while mentally preparing myself with the idea of coming back home.

I was back home for good. Maybe I was ready to look, but tonight of all nights was just bad timing.

Really bad.

My brother would be arriving any minute. With how he had just talked to me, I was pretty sure he still saw me as a little kid in braces, not a woman with an actual sex life. Maybe I could go a couple of towns over next month and finally have my itch scratched, because the moment any guy found out ‘The Great’ Gabe Blanco was my older brother, they usually ran, never bothering to look back.

Sipping my drink slowly, I needed to come up with a plan. I was going to be staying at Gabe’s place for a couple of weeks until my apartment was ready. He was already going to be a pain to deal with after I took an early flight. Anyone would have thought he would have been overjoyed about not having to pick me up from the airport.

Not Gabe.

He sounded more put out than anything. Maybe I could get Mr. Bad Boy to give me his number, and after Gabe was asleep, I could sneak away to take a ride on the wild side with him.

“No,” I answered, knowing exactly what I was going to do with Navy Eyes.

“What?”

“I haven’t been here in a long time,” I shared, not sparing him a single glance while I sipped my rum and Coke.

“Why is that?” he asked, and I shrugged.

Having moved away to a foreign country hadn’t been easy, but it had been the best thing I could have done. Especially for Gabe and my mom. “Life, I guess,” I shared, sneaking a glimpse of him, surprised to see his eyes on me. Calculating. Assessing.

“Life, huh?” he asked as his eyes skated over my skin. I felt it like a damn touch.

“Yup.” I shrugged. He nodded, his head tilted toward me.

In the middle of a crowded bar, he made me feel like I was the only woman he saw. I tried to ignore the way his absolute attention made my body seem to liven up from the inside out. A tattoo teased me from under the left sleeve of his tee, and all I wanted was to roll up the fabric, stretching it over his bulging bicep, and trace whatever he had there.

What is my problem?

“So, what do you do?” I asked, attempting small talk in hopes of when I suggested he meet me at a local hotel later, I wouldn’t sound like a complete slut.

“Me?” he asked, and the smile he was wearing caused this dimple to appear at the corner of his mouth, which caused my nipples to tighten in reaction. Why is confidence in a man such a damn turn-on? Though there was a fine line, and men, being men, usually took it one step further, thinking that the world revolved around them.

“Yeah.” I shrugged, trying to act like I couldn’t care less. Which, if I were honest, I didn’t care. He was clearly not Mr. Forever. He would be a one-night stand. Hopefully one very long and hot night where I’d get fucked. Preferably hard and dirty against a wall. Or a floor. Or a shower. Or in a bed.

Again, I wasn’t picky.

Maybe I am a huge slut, I thought with a grin. “What do you do?” I repeated, and watched as he leaned in closer. I braced. He was up to something.

Damn, he smelled good. Really good. Clean and spicy, with a slight tinge of smokiness. All I wanted to do was face plant into the crook of his neck to get a good whiff. Later, I reminded myself.

“Hopefully you.” His voice was so low and deep I knew I wasn’t the only one who heard it. My panties heard it, if the moisture inside them was anything to go by.

He moved in even closer, his hand on my lower back. His eyes never wavered from mine, and I couldn’t stop the way my breathing changed. It hitched in my lungs and burned. Damn it, I loved the way it felt. I broke the stare and glanced down at his large hand holding his beer, entranced by the way his thick thumb skimmed the label of the local brewery back and forth.

Smoothly.

Softly.

I wanted him to touch me like that.

What is it they say about men with big hands?

He leaned in closer to me. “Tonight. In a number of different positions,” he shared in a hushed tone almost at my ear. His scruffy, perfect beard tickled, softer than I would have guessed. It made me ache in different areas of my body.

Oh fuck!

This might not have been my plan tonight, but he was exactly what I needed. One night with someone who knew what they wanted and went after it. Someone to remind me what it was like to be a woman again.

“I think that could be arranged,” I responded. Wanting to high five myself, letting my eyes drift to his mouth. He had great lips. Pink and full. Strong.

“Maybe we can exchange numbers.” As fun as he looked, I had just come back home. Exchanging numbers in a small town could be problematic.

This was just about one night. Then I had to concentrate on my new job and getting my life in order. Bad boys were not on my to-do list. Okay, maybe just not after tonight.

Tonight would be about need.

Sweaty, rough, dirty need.

The way he was looking at me, I knew he could deliver dirty. Hell, if he wanted, he could give me a great wake-up call with his head between my legs. I’d be oh-so-okay with it.

“Or we could make this fun?” I suggested brazenly.

“How fun?” he asked, obviously interested.

“We’ve never met, right?” I reminded him.

“Right.”

“No names, no numbers,” I suggested, fascinated by the fiery heat reflecting in his eyes.

“No names. No numbers,” he repeated as if he was actually thinking it over.

It was cute.

He made a show of the way he was chewing over the possibilities. We both knew he was only prolonging the inevitable. My eyes roamed down his body, drinking in the angles and lines of his muscular frame, not missing the definite growing bulge behind those great-fitting jeans.

“Sofia!” The deep male voice behind me felt like a bucket of ice-cold water. I didn’t know if I wanted to pout, stomp or cry.

“Perfectly horrible timing, like always,” I mumbled, forcing a smile before I turned around to look at the man who had helped raise me after my dad had died unexpectedly.

My big brother.

“Gabe!” I kept forcing a smile that I knew didn’t look at all sincere, which he would only take as bitchy.

“Sofia?” Mr. Bad Boy behind me repeated.

“You found her!” Gabe announced, and I was more than confused. “Fuck, I’m so glad, man. This kid finds trouble like a magnet,” he said out loud, and I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t a kid. I hadn’t been a kid for a long freaking time.

My big brother, ladies and gentlemen. In his eyes, I would never be anything other than the annoying ten-year-old with pigtails who followed him around, finding more joy that I would like to admit in annoying him. But I was a twenty-five-year-old woman and he still called me kid. Even if he was ten years older than me. I looked over at my sexy stranger, and it was like Legos connecting, all snapping into place.

My older brother was talking to him.

They obviously knew each other.

Okay. Not to worry. Maybe he was just one of the guys from the firehouse. That could still be okay. I could still have my hot, dirty night. As long as it wasn’t Gabe’s best friend, the ever so loved—

“Hi, Sofia, I’m Mav. Maverick Bridges.”

Craptastic.