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Give It Up by Lee Kilraine (1)

Chapter 1

Beckett

Welcome to the website of Six Brothers Construction. The design and build team you can count on.

The Thorne brothers—Beckett, Asher, Wyatt, Grayson, Elijah, and Ryker—lived an unconventional childhood. Raised by their free-spirited parents in a cooperative commune, they learned the value of clean living, hard work, and family values. Their parents’ life lessons bonded the brothers into a tightknit unit.

Deep in the Montana wilderness, the brothers learned the craft of wood-working, product design, and aesthetics during intensive apprenticeships with the commune’s resident experts. Starting as early as the first grade, each brother learned to swing a hammer, mill rough lumber, and craft furniture just as well as he could handle a rope and drive cattle. Their teachers expected practice and perfection in all areas. The boys delivered.

Each brother left home, scattering in different directions to find their own unique adventure, until the oldest brother, Beckett, gathered them back together. As they say in the movies, it was time to assemble the team. They settled in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a simple goal: to provide quality craftsmanship executed with the utmost professionalism and top-notch service. The brothers’ core business philosophy rests on the belief that when you’re true to your work, your word, and your customers, you’re true to yourself.

“That’s amazing.” The woman across from me sighed, snapped the laptop in front of her closed, and looked at me over the avocado green tiled kitchen island, noticeably impressed with Six Brothers Construction. “What a wonderful upbringing you had. I’ve read over your website three times now, and everything about it is amazing.”

Everything about it was bullshit.

“Our upbringing made us what we are today.” That was true. I could say that without my pants catching on fire.

“A commune in the wilds of Montana. That must have been beautiful.”

A series of trailer parks in far western North Carolina. It had been a dump. I’ve never been to Montana. Like I said, it was all bullshit, but bullshit that potential clients loved. Our company is licensed and bonded, but we learned quickly that our real story made people uncomfortable. I don’t have one iota of guilt over making that shit up. That website got our fledgling company’s foot in the door when we’d set up shop in Raleigh five years ago.

You want the real story? Everything I learned about construction began with reading books at the library. And then later, I moved on to YouTube videos. I even volunteered with Habitat for Humanity so I could work with carpenters until I had enough skills to get hired for day labor all while taking night classes at the local university. Every job I took I walked away with more knowledge and better skills. Not nearly as sexy as the wilds of Montana, right? You know what they say in the design industry…make it sexy.

I left the new client’s home with the job and a check for our standard deposit. It was a small kitchen and would need some creative thinking to maximize the space, but Eli lived for those challenges. All these little jobs added up, but they didn’t come close to what I knew our company needed. And soon. That weight sat on my shoulders alone. Responsibility I’d taken on a long time ago. I’m counting on you, Beckett. You take care of your brothers.

A decision made three years ago when I was desperate, one I thought I’d have settled by now and could avoid ever telling my brothers, was about to come due.

When traffic on the highway slowed to a crawl, I put in a call to our office to let them know the Wade job was a go.

“Welcome to the home of the beefcake builders. We’ve got the wood for your job. Which beefcake builder can I hook you up with?”

What the hell? Beefcake builder? “Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?” I knew who it was, but wanted confirmation so I knew which brother’s ass to kick when I finally got out of this traffic jam and into the office.

“Oh my, don’t you have a raspy voice. This is Leesa with two ‘e’s, but you can spell it any way you want. Who is this?”

“I’m the one who signs your paychecks, Leesa with two ‘e’s, and I’d like you to answer the phone the way it’s listed in the training manual.”

“Mr. Thorne!”

“Beckett will do just fine, Leesa. I need you to answer the phone with ‘Six Brothers Construction. How can I help you?’” I reached over and punched the air conditioning up higher. It may have been one of those blue-sky Carolina days, but the July heat wave had been burning up the city for days. “Can you do that, Leesa?”

“Well, I guess I can, but have you looked around at yourselves? Y’all are gorgeous, so I figured ‘beefcake builders’ would help you drum up more business.”

“You get points for initiative, but all new ideas get run by everyone at the weekly staff meeting.” Where ideas like “beefcake builders” could be shot down and burned upon the pyre of bad ideas that would never see the light of day. I made a mental note to stop letting Eli hire our receptionists.

“Awesome! Whoa, oh my gawd.” Leesa’s voice lowered to a whisper in my hands-free earpiece. “I think that hockey player Asher the Crasher just walked in the office. Should I try my ‘beefcake builders’ line on him? Pfft. What am I saying? He’s a guy. Beefcake builders won’t reel him in.”

It sure as hell would. Ash didn’t hide the fact that he was gay, but he didn’t advertise it either. It still pissed me off that Ash was the reason we’d lost the best receptionist we’d ever had. I’d even begged Ash to keep his hands off Jonathan. Did he listen? Hell no. Everyone knew how it was going to end. It was how all Thorne brother relationships ended. Early and quick. We didn’t do commitment. And once Ash broke Jonathan’s heart, he said the office was a painful reminder and quit, leaving us with the ongoing headache of finding someone capable of replacing him. Asher owed us big.

“OMG! What if he wants to hire y’all?”

“He doesn’t. Leesa, do you know Asher the Crasher’s last name?” At this point, not only was I beginning to wonder if Leesa was still in high school, but I’d decided that Eli had one week to get her up to speed or she was gone. How could it be so hard to hire a qualified, competent receptionist?

“It’s not Crasher? Wait…let me think. I should know this because me and my girlfriends were puck bunnies for a few seasons. Asher the Crasher…Thorne. His last name is Tho—OMG! He’s your brother? Of course he is! He looks like y’all, only bigger. A lot bigger, meow.”

The traffic in front of me finally started moving, and sure enough it had backed up from everyone rubber-necking an accident on the shoulder. Flying cars couldn’t be invented fast enough. “Please tell Ash I’ll be there in ten minutes. Any calls I should know about?”

“A Ms. Goddard called. She said she’s having doubts about her wood choice. She’s afraid it’s too light and would like you to bring more samples over.”

Like hell I would. Ms. Goddard had no doubts about what she wanted only it had nothing to do with her bathroom remodel. “Pass her message on to Gray. Let him handle it.”

“Will do, boss. I’ve only been here a day, and that brother of yours could convince me to put shag carpet in my whole house. I’d let him handle me any day.”

There was something about Gray that people responded to. He should have been a lawyer; no doubt juries would fall under his charm too. Ash said it was on account of Gray being so pretty.

Whatever it was, it worked in our favor since as soon as a new client got to Gray’s phase of the job they literally sat back with a sigh and said yes to almost every one of his suggestions. Hell, his pretty face was so helpful I should probably insure it for a million bucks like a ballplayer insures their arm.

It was true he might use his power to seduce women around town more than he should. But they didn’t seem to mind. He was straight about what he wanted from women when it came to relationships. If a night or two counted for a relationship, because that was Gray’s limit.

Hey, I warned you we Thornes don’t do relationships. We’re not assholes; we just don’t believe in love. We don’t trust it. And we’re doing fine without it. We’ve got a business we’re passionate about and we’ve got each other. Well, almost, but we’re working on the last missing piece.

When I walked in the office a few minutes later, Eli was leaned against the reception desk chatting up Leesa. Let’s hope they were reviewing how to answer the phone. Ash exited the break room with what looked like the contents of the refrigerator on the plate he carried and I didn’t say a thing.

First, because Ash was a professional hockey player and worked out like a beast. Second, we’d all been hungry before. Do you know how hard it is to listen to one of your little brothers cry for two days because they hadn’t eaten since the free lunch at school on Friday and now it was Sunday night? I do. I’d rather let my old man beat the crap out of me than live through that again. You will never hear me give my brothers a hard time for eating too much. Ever.

“Did a leg workout and ran five miles. You in for chest tomorrow?” Ash asked around the bite of peanut butter-covered apple slice he was eating.

“Sure, I’m in.” I wasn’t the beast Ash was, but I could keep up with him most days. When a guy didn’t have a relationship sucking up his day, it left time for shit like working out and playing poker with the guys or hanging out in my garage rebuilding my Chevy fastback.

Ash grinned and jerked his head toward Leesa. “Beefcake builder? I like it. Real catchy.”

I might have growled seeing as how our receptionist problems started with him. “Not funny. You still owe us for that.”

“That’s exactly why I’m here.”

“This had better be good, Ash.” He followed me into my office, making himself at home in the classic yet comfortable Dabney chair from the upcoming fall collection. At least that’s what Gray babbled on about when he’d parked it in my office last week. “We’re on our sixth receptionist since you broke Jon’s heart.”

An actual look of regret flashed over Ash’s face, making me feel bad about bringing it up. Shit.

“It’s pretty good. I met the team’s new owner, Denver King, and his wife over the weekend. Lila King is looking for someone to remodel the house they bought. I’m talking top to bottom, all five thousand square feet.”

Damn, that was more than pretty good. A remodel for the new owner of the Raleigh Roughnecks wouldn’t just bring in a nice paycheck. No, you couldn’t pay for exposure like that. This might be the break I’d been needing, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. “Sounds like a big job.”

“Huge. And guess who happened to have a Six Brothers Construction business card handy?” Ash wagged his eyebrows and grinned. “Lila would like to meet you at her house at two tomorrow.”

“Damn, Ash, when you pay a debt—you go big.”

“You bet your ass I do.” He pointed a pickle spear at me before popping it into his mouth. “Heads up though, you aren’t the only designer she’s considering, so bring your A game.”

This time it was my turn to grin. “That’s the only game we’ve got. Who’s our competition?”

Ash shrugged. “Some guy named Sam Devine. Heard of him?”

Damn it. “I know Sam Devine. And he’s a she.” Samantha Devine of Devine Designs. She’d arrived on the decorating scene in Raleigh two years ago, and you could say I’d done my part to make the lady feel welcome.

“Well, shit,” Ash said, looking at me closely. “You slept with her.”

“I didn’t say that.” But I sure as hell had. Damn if I didn’t still remember every second of it as if it had been last night. I sucked in a quick breath of air at the memory. The two of us had gone up in flames. I had seriously contemplated something longer than my usual brief encounter—in a weak moment I’d even mentioned I’d like to see her again—but a little bit of cooling off time helped me squash that impulse.

And she’d been a pain in my ass ever since, nibbling into our business and beating us out of contracts.

“Hell, yes, I’ll bring my A game.” And I’ll happily win the contract right out from under her sexy ass. Game on.