Dax Colyn is one of the bad boys of Willow Valley. A fearless volunteer firefighter and hard ass mechanic, he makes all the woman swoon and he likes it that way. He keeps people at a distance since his mother died. He doesn’t want to let anyone in, much less a woman he knows he could fall in love with.

Ava Anderson keeps people away, too. Haunted by her tortured past and constantly fearful of the future, it’s only her daughter Olivia and Dax’s dad Rowdy that she’s let in. 

But when Rowdy dies, it pushes Dax and Ava together, forcing them both to let go of their fears. They soon learn how hard it is to keep pretending and how easy it is to let others in. Especially when those people are family.

“Dax” is the first in the “Bad Boys of Willow Valley” series from author Shannyn Leah.

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COMING THIS CHRISTMAS

Don't miss this Dax novella! 

ExcerptChapter One

DAX COLYN PARKED his turbocharged, jacked-up Ford truck alongside the front of the thriving restoration shop. He rolled the passenger’s window down to admire his truck’s jet-black paint job reflecting off the mirrored glass windows. Then his eyes took in the remarkably fascinating sign hung at the front of the building which he’d made himself from car parts lying around the shop. In the evening the back lit up and highlighted the name “Colyn & Son”. Dax couldn’t be more proud to have constructed the only restoration business in Willow Valley with his father.

For as long as Dax could remember, his father, Rowdy, had always had a passion for re-building cars. He’d reconstructed car after car and flipped them for a profit. Dax remembered helping him work on them from a young age all the way through his middle school years. While his friends had been playing sports, Dax had played in grease.

So it hadn’t been a surprise that Dax had jumped at the opportunity to be partners when his father had presented a business plan to open Colyn & Son Restoration. However, at the time, Dax had only been in his first year of high school, and his stern father had one stipulation: graduate high school and obtain a college degree. Dax had nailed both of those while working all his extra hours in the shop.

He’d acquired his hard working gene from his dad, who’d recently been promoted to fire chief at the local fire station where Dax volunteered. His dad still managed to find time to work at their shop but no longer had enough time to enjoy and unwind with his son and a good frosty beer at Buck’s bar. That was okay with Dax, though, he often found other—more satisfying—ways to unwind at night.

The bar on the main street, across from the beach, was known to attract tourists. Most locals didn’t step foot inside the wild place, but it was an easy place to hook up with attractive women looking for casual, one-night stands. Now that it was September, the pickings were slim, but Dax hadn’t been complaining last night.

Now, with the sun barely up—he’d always been an early riser no matter what—he rolled the window back up and cut the roaring engine. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he took a deep breath and battled his pounding headache. He hurt everywhere. But damn, it had been worth it. 

Ready to start his morning, he grabbed the duffle bag he left in his backseat for mornings just like this and climbed out of the truck. Squinting against the morning sun, he slipped his sunglasses down from his head and slid them over his eyes.

As he pressed the lock button on his key fob, he recalled the evening he’d just spent with a spicy redhead. He’d parted ways with her only minutes earlier but the flashes of their night together eased the pain. Still, he’d wished he could have pounded an hour or more in the gym and grabbed a quick shower and well-needed pot of coffee. But the fire station was located conveniently located beside the Colyn shop—his dad had planned that well—and had a well-equipped gym, showers and coffee that wasn’t half bad. Starting his day here instead of his condo would make it easier to prepare for dealing with the new high school co-op student Rowdy had arranged to be Dax’s shadow for the next twelve weeks at the fire station. Dax didn’t think babysitting a co-op student was a good use of his time but he couldn’t say no to the chief.

“Those shades aren't going to hide the fun you had last night.” His buddy, and volunteer fire fighter, Hawk slapped his shoulder. “I give you credit for trying to disguise your hangover, but I'm guessing no one will miss your blood shot eyes.”

Dax chuckled, tossing his bag over his shoulder. “What the hell are you doing up so early? You don't have a co-op student to babysit.”

He shrugged. “Maybe your morning routine is rubbing off on me.” He looked over Dax. “Last night’s clothes. No perspiration. I see you didn't take your morning run on the beach.” He gave an approving nod. “You hookup with Red?”

Dax smirked at him. “I wasn't walking away from that piece of ass.”

“She wasn't walking away from you.”

That was true. Red hadn't been shy about her motives the night before. Dax liked a straightforward woman who wasn’t afraid of her sexuality and who told him what she wanted.

“Jealous?” 

Hawk shook his head. “I didn't go home alone. You’re not the only one who can catch a nice piece of ass.”

Dax laughed, but the motion only caused more pain. The gym was going to kill him.

 

***

 

AT NINE O’CLOCK sharp, Dax stood in the apparatus bay between two fire engines. His body still felt the burn of his workout, but his mind was clearer.

He folded his arms across his thick chest, ignoring the objection of his sore muscles, especially his shoulder, where a previous injury still swelled. Narrowing his eyes on his shadow for the next twelve weeks, he sneered at the teenager’s unsuitable attire. The rusty-haired boy, “Rusty” would be a good nickname for him, might get away with not wearing steel toe boots and letting his pants hang so low they looked ready to fall off his ass at school, but not at the fire station. There were co-op safety regulations that clearly stated the clothing requirement the boy had to follow and he’d obviously not paid them much attention. The program had limited positions for kids and it aggravated Dax for one of them to show up without reading the placement outline.

Dax rubbed his scruffy jaw line and asked him, “Did you read the placement outline?”

The boy nodded, his long, wavy bangs falling over his eyes. He made a small flipping motion with his head to toss his hair back before saying, “Yes, sir.”

Yes, sir, his ass.

“Go home and read it again. If you can figure out what you’ve done wrong, I’ll see you back here tomorrow morning at the same time. If not, don’t bother coming back.”

The boy blinked.

Dax arched his eyebrows. “Do you need me to show you the front door?” He glanced beyond the boy where the large four-fold doors stood wide open looking out onto a side street of the main.

Another short shake of the head. “No, sir.” The boy looked around as though one of the other men would swoop in and save him. But this station was half volunteer and half paid, so there weren’t as many around at this hour. This kid better get used to managing his own shit because life wasn’t all a hand out.

Finally, the boy turned and stalked out of the bay, his pants hanging way below his backside. Dax felt bad for the poor bastard whose daughter this boy pursued.

 

***

 

AVA ANDERSON PARKED her car down the street from the local fire station. She popped open the trunk and grabbed the teal and white beach bag packed with all the necessities for an afternoon at the beach. She swapped out her work high heels to a pair of comfortable sandals. She also rummaged through the bag to confirm she’d packed an extra change of clothes so she could get rid of her constricting skirt and blazer.

Breathing in the warm September air, she enjoyed the short walk to the station. These hot end-of-summer-weather days were Ava’s favorite. They promised one more day of soaking up the sun and splashing in the water with her daughter before the winter weather came about.

Stopping in front of the station where the doors were wide open and bright red fire trucks towered inside the bay, she saw her daughter had beaten her to the water part. Soaked from her blonde damp curls to her sandaled feet, the six-year-old was quite a sight. The girl didn’t notice her mother. She dipped a sponge bigger than both her hands in a soapy pail of water before raising it as high as she could reach on the truck. Ava smiled as she watched more water dripping down her daughter’s arms than meeting the red paint.

Ava took off her sunglasses and stepped inside the bay. “I thought we might go to the beach today.”

Olivia’s wide eyes turned in the direction of Ava. “Mommy!” She tossed the sponge in the direction of the bucket, missing completely, but not noticing it flop onto the wet cement as she barreled toward her mother.

Ava bent down for a wet hug, cringing as the liquid made dark imprints on her navy clothes. “Were you good for Grandpa?”

Olivia pulled away. “Yes. Can Grandpa come with us to the beach?”

“Grandpa’s an old man. He’d wrinkle into a prune sitting around the beach all day.” Behind her daughter, Ava watched as Rowdy Colyn picked up the wayward sponge and tossed it into the bucket. He hardly fit the description of an “old man.” His hair may have peppered silver over the years, but as fire chief he maintained a daily regimen of exercise for a fit and healthy body.

“I wanted to go work on Charlie.” Olivia pouted her lower lip which was more adorable than she knew and Ava attempted to keep a serious face. “But Grandpa said you were coming to get me, so we decided to wash the trucks instead.” She tilted her head and gave her mother one of her cutest toothy smiles. “Can I work on Charlie after the beach? Please? Just for a little while?”

The vintage black Impala, AKA “Charlie” sat in one of the bays next door in the Colyn shop. It had been Rowdy’s car in his teenage years. From the moment Olivia could walk and talk the two of them had spent oodles of hours working to restore it.

Ava kissed her daughter’s button nose before looking at Rowdy. “I could stop by after we grab a bite to eat. Do you want to stay after six?”

Rowdy shrugged. “Either we work on Charlie or go home and talk about working on Charlie. Might as well get the work done.”

She looked back at her daughter. “You better thank Grandpa with a seriously massive bear hug.” She set Olivia on her feet and the girl darted across the distance between her and Rowdy for a hug. Rowdy launched her into the air, spinning her around.

Old man, right.

“I’m going to change. Can you watch her a few more minutes?”

Rowdy nodded and Ava walked toward the day room, smiling at the conversation behind her.

“She can finish washing the truck, the whole side, before she goes.”

Grandpa, that would take too long.”

“Oh, Ava!”

She turned to catch Rowdy jogging up to her. “Yes?”

“When you drop Olivia off at the shop, can you check Dax’s shoulder? Maybe ice it with that cold or heat gel stuff or an ice pack if it’s still swollen. He really buggered it up when the truck flipped two weeks back. The ambulance managed to get him to the hospital that day, not sure how, but he needs a follow up and he cancelled this week.”

Ava quietly eyed the man before her, wondering if she’d mistakenly heard him. Why would she check his son’s shoulder? She wasn’t a professional doctor or nurse and she certainly wasn’t on close enough terms with Dax to ask him to flash his bare shoulder without it getting awkward quick. The man exuded a ruggedly aloof persona and she doubted her opinion mattered much to him.

“Are you joking?” she asked.

“Is my son’s damaged shoulder funny to you?”

Ava frowned at him. “You know you’re the fire chief, right? You can instruct him to give you the follow up papers from the doctor or threaten to suspend his volunteering until you receive it.”

“We both know how stubborn Dax is. He’d take the latter. Just do me a favor and check his shoulder and report back to me.” Rowdy turned and walked away.

“Rowdy—”

“Grab a few supplies at the drug store on the strip and I’ll reimburse you.”

So that was settled.

Taking a deep breath, Ava pushed through the door. She couldn’t say no to Rowdy after everything he’d done for her the last seven years, taking her in when she’d been pregnant and had nowhere to go.

But darn it, this?

It was clear which parent Dax got his stubbornness from.

Chapter Two

“WHO THE HELL is responsible for this shit?” Dax stared at the half labeled motorcycle parts from the dissembled custom cruiser spread across the floor of his shop. What kind of dimwit only labeled a fraction of the parts removed from a vehicle?

Dax wanted to strangle someone. No one on his payroll should be this irresponsible. Whoever was responsible deserved an earful, or a kick in the ass, or both, but not necessarily in that order.

Stone Pearson, his best friend and top employee, stopped beside him. Dax didn’t need to look at him to know he’d be sporting a tight white T-shirt that bared the tribal tattoos scribbled up his arms and over his bulging forearms. He’d also be wearing his jeans with more rips and holes than a sifter. His friend called the old denim pants his “good luck jeans” and he could name when and where each hole, rip and stain had occurred.

Right now, he’d better name the idiot responsible for the disaster. He’d thought after sending away the co-op student, his day would be a breeze. Clearly, he’d been mistaken.

As if reading his thoughts, which wasn’t uncommon when it came to the job, Stone said, “Newbie.” 

Dax cursed. “When did we hire a newbie and who let him near a bike to be disassembled? Do you know whose bloody bike this is?”

“Yes, boss. Jake Stow, boss.” Stone only called him boss to mock him. The term was a long-time inside joke between friends turned boss and employee. Normally Dax rolled the taunt off his shoulders, but today mocking a situation he didn’t find amusing, dug annoyance into his core. The bike belonged to business owner Jake Stow and the rich bastard liked his bikes almost as much he liked life itself.

Dax slanted a look at his friend. “Then why is some newbie working on Stow’s bike?”

Stone crossed his arms over his broad chest, eyeing the mess under dark thick lashes. “The ‘newbie’—his name is Ross, by the way—labeled half the parts, ran out of labels and decided to finish disassembling and grab labels afterwards. He’s in the storage room now.”

Oh bloody hell, a destructive mouse had been left loose in the parts room. And why did that name sound familiar?

“Weren’t you watching him?”

“From the office.” Stone nodded at his office which was right beside Dax’s, at the top of the metal stairs, and overlooked this area of the shop.

“And you didn’t think to stop him before he tore the bike apart?”

Stone nodded his head of shaggy brown hair and rubbed the scruff along his jaw line. “Yes.”

“And yet...here we stand.”

“He has to learn, boss.”

“Not on my watch.” Dax didn’t hire undependable screw-ups. “Fire him.” 

“Not your call.” Stone slapped his shoulder, a chuckle trickling out. “Ava convinced the old man to give him a job, remember?”

“Then the old man takes full responsibility for that decision,” he grumbled.

Stone grunted. “If you say so. Had Ava asked you, I’m sure you wouldn’t have been able to say no.”

Dax’s deadly look made Stone drop the smart-ass look he wore. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I got this under control.” As he reassured Dax, the scrawny little newbie walked into the shop, stumbling in his high top sneakers.

Bloody hell, he was clumsy too.

The boy straightened at the sight of Dax, motionless except for the unmistakeable fear exhibited by his fingers tightening around the labels.

Rusty.

Same shoes. Same boots. Same irresponsibility.

Dax opened his mouth, ready to rip him a new one for messing with his customer’s bike unsupervised. But then he realized he wanted to know why the hell co-op student was in his shop, getting paid.

Stone stepped in front of Dax before he could lash out. “Have you ever taken a bike apart?” His bark echoed across the room, causing the kid to drop the labels on the floor, several smacked down atop one of the bike pieces. 

Stone waved his arms in the air. “Right on a part!” he roared. “How would you like it if I took you apart then started dropping shit on your insides?” He took two large steps forward and pointed his finger around the room. “These vehicles are the owner’s babies. Treat them with more caution than your life or it’ll be me you’ll be answering to. Got it?”

Dax held in a smirk as the boy stammered a “Yes, sir.”

Stone waved at the door and shouted, “Get the hell out of my shop before you break something else. I think there’s a toilet waiting to be scrubbed with your name on it.”

The boy’s shoulders slumped and his lips drew into a thin line, but he said, “Yes, sir” again turned back out the door he’d come through.

Stone turned to Dax, a smug smile across his lips, making the scar on his upper lip almost disappear. “He won’t make that mistake twice.”

Dax glanced around him at the clutter. “Yeah, but you have quite the job ahead of you.” He slapped his friend’s shoulder. “Get to it before I tear a strip out of you.”

Stone chuckled as Dax left in search of his father. Short search. Rowdy sat comfortably at Dax’s desk, drinking a coffee and reading a newspaper.

“Your newbie just tore apart Stow’s car without labeling the parts.”

The news didn’t faze his father. “I’m sure Stone can handle it.”

“I don’t pay Stone to babysit and how did I get the same irresponsible co-op student from the fire station in the shop, but now were paying him?”

His father chuckled, not bothering to move from Dax’s chair as if it were his office. “It’s a good thing I own fifty-percent of this company and have half the say. Ava’s dropping Olivia off to work on Charlie.” Rowdy could change topics with ease and didn’t waste his time talking about things he had no interest in.

Dax shook his head, grabbing a pile of mail and numbly reading through the envelopes. He’d voiced his opinion about Olivia being too young for the shop and suggested keeping her at the fire station where she was easily the center of attention. Plenty of family members popped in and out of the fire station all the time. They were like one big family over there. But her age had never stopped Rowdy from bringing her to the shop, too, even when she’d been waddling around in diapers. Her coos and burp-filled giggles had won the hearts of every last one of his big, bad employees. Now, her extensive knowledge regarding vehicle restoration garnered her the men’s impressed smiles. The knowledge she’d gained at the shop undoubtedly surpassed the co-op student on his payroll. Even Stone had a soft spot for the little girl.

“Dad, what kind of name is Charlie for the Impala? Maybe Chastity or Chelsea. But Charlie? No.”

“Olivia named him.”

“Him?” Maybe the kid wasn’t as smart as everyone gave her credit for.

“To Olivia the car’s a ‘he.’”

Dax tossed the envelopes back on the desk. “Well, get at it. What are you doing in here when you have a date with Charlie?”

“Inviting my son to come work on the Impala.”

“Dad, someone has to work around here.”

Rowdy stood then and waved a hand at Dax. “Horse shit. You’re going to stew in here for the next hour over Ross.”

“Ross? Who’s Ross?”

Rowdy rolled his eyes. “The newbie.”

Dax sliced his hand through the air. “No more newbie’s.”

His dad stepped around the desk. He was identical to Dax in height, mass, dark eyes, crooked nose and angle of mouth. No one could deny the father and son similarities. As Dax aged, the resemblance had amplified further. However, two things had changed with his dad’s age. His once dark hair was now silver and the stern, tough, no tolerance attitude he’d instilled in Dax had fallen into a soft, gentler nature.

It had happened the moment Ava had stepped into the old man’s life—seven years ago to be exact. Rowdy had been attending a conference in another town when he’d met Ava. She’d been in her early twenties at the time, alone with no family—her family had died during a house fire—and pregnant. Rowdy had offered her a room in his house until she got back on her feet. However, a couple months had turned into years and it didn’t look like that arrangement would change anytime in the near future. Ava had stepped into the daughter role Rowdy never had and Olivia the granddaughter he’d always wanted.

Whatever. Dax sure as hell didn’t plan on having kids, so at least that expectation had been lifted from his shoulders. However, when the two girls had become a part of Rowdy’s life they’d become a part of his, too. Supper at his dad’s soon changed from swearing and shop talk to tea parties and school events.

He looked back at his dad now, and crossed his arms over his shoulders, waiting for a new reprimand.

“You know, son, there was a time when you were a newbie.”

“And you fired me more times than I can count.”

“You learned from your mistakes and my punishment. Just like Ross will learn from Stone.”

Dax had learned more than car lessons from his dad. He’d learned strength, fearlessness and that his feelings were better off buried than exposed. The latter lesson being the best one his father ever taught him. Even if Rowdy had grown soft over the years, Dax knew better than to follow those foolish footsteps.

“Grandpa!” Olivia barreled into Dax’s office and ran straight into Rowdy’s arms. Today, she’d swapped her dress and tights for jeans and a plain T-shirt. A braid down her back gathered her hair together to keep from dipping into liquids or catching on equipment. Rowdy lifted her and smacked a kiss on her cheek.

Dax heard Ava’s voice before he saw her, the sweet sound causing the stomach flip he hated so much. Damn woman had an uncanny effect on him that even night after night with spicy redheads couldn’t reduce. He needed one night with Ava, to rid his speculation of what her luscious lips would taste like and how her body would feel pressed up against his. Just one night.

Ava was warning Olivia not to go into Dax’s office, but she was a little too late. Carrying a pink and purple knapsack, Ava stopped in the doorway.

Her shapely eyebrows furrowed at her daughter’s disobedience. “Olivia, I told you not to interrupt.” She pushed her fingers through her thick, ash-blonde hair. The curls bounced down her shoulders in silky waves. Dax wanted to touch the locks of hair to discover if they were as soft as he assumed. More than that, he wanted to kiss her frown away and suck on her pouty bottom lip. 

Damn it.

“I’m sorry, Dax.” Mesmerizing blue eyes, like the swirling waves of water on a windy day, met his in a sincere apology. Those same eyes exuded kindness—that’s who she was. If a neighbour needed a cup of sugar they could depend on Ava’s welcoming smile and if some clumsy little twit of a student needed a job she’d go out on a limb for him.

“She just gets so excited about working on Charlie.”

And damn he liked how natural her goodness came to her. What he didn’t appreciate were the lustful feelings he had while in her presence because he damn well knew there would be no one-night between them. So he stomped them down.

“This isn’t a playground,” Dax barked, and then made his way around his desk. He needed the split-second away from her stare to regain his composure. When he turned back Rowdy had set Olivia on her feet and they were headed toward the door.

“Don’t worry about it.” Rowdy said.

“We were in the middle of a meeting.” Dax placed his flat palms on the wood surface, eyes firmly planted on his father.

Ava reached for her daughter’s hand. “It’s okay. Take your time and we’ll wait in your office,” she said to Rowdy.

The old man shooed her away from Olivia. “He doesn’t like the newbie. Thinks he’s king shit and has never made a mistake in his life.”

Ava’s pleasant face dropped. First she sent Rowdy a scolding look for his language choice in front of Olivia and then she looked back at Dax. “Did something happen with Ross?”

“Yeah, something happened. He ripped Stow’s bike apart without labeling it. Do you know what that means?” Of course she didn’t know what that meant. “It means—”

“Someone’s going to have to label all the parts before they’re painted,” Olivia said. “And more than likely they won’t all make it back into the bike. Way to go, Mom.”

Rowdy’s chesty laugh filled the room. “Nice kid.” He looked back at Dax. “Smart ass—” He stopped and looked at a disapproving Ava. “Smart aleck there reversed old man Caliendo’s car into the front end of the mayor’s car when he was Ross’s age.”

He’d been fired for that. “This isn’t about me.”

“It never is. Can you imagine me trying to explain those two smashed vehicles to the richest arch-enemies in Willow Valley?” Rowdy shook his head, but his smile revealed how the memory amused him. Back then Rowdy would have torn a strip out of both of them if they’d talked back to him. Not anymore.

“Come on, kid,” his father said to Olivia. “Let’s go say hi to Charlie.” 

“Okay. Bye, Mommy. Bye, Dax!” Olivia chattered Rowdy’s ear off as they made their way out the door. Dax could hear her voice as it trailed down the hall. He still didn’t know why his dad was stretching out the restoration of the Impala or why he’d decided to restore it in the first place. His dad had locked it away after his mother died and hadn’t pulled it out until Olivia had wanted a project. But why the Impala? Why bring back painful memories instead of choosing one of the many other cars they bought and flipped?

Ava stepped into his office now, shutting the door behind her.

Dax pulled his eyes away from her tight rear end as she turned back to him. “Is Ross not working out? I know your dad underplays everything so just be upfront with me. Do I move him over to Otto’s Garage?”

“Otto’s is a dive.” Dax didn’t actually have an issue with the town’s local repair garage. He’d even sent customers there when they’d accidentally stumbled into his shop thinking they repaired mufflers or gas lines. But right now, his irritability had taken over and his mouth followed.

Ava narrowed her eyes on him, folding her silky smooth arms under her chest and pushing her breasts up to peek through the open space of her button-up blouse. “There’s no need for insults.” Her teacher’s tone brought a whole different fantasy world into his head. If only he’d had sexy, hot teachers like her when he’d been regularly sent to detention. Big breasts, firm ass and one hell of a curvy body. He certainly wouldn’t have skipped detention then.

“It’s fine,” he snarled. “Dad and Stone are dealing with him. If he screws up, it’s on them.”

Dax sat down, dismissing her. He moved the mouse to activate the computer screen, feigning work. Her intoxicating perfume made it impossible to concentrate on anything, though. And now his office was doomed to smell like her for the rest of the evening.

Fabulous

“Dax?” She’d moved directly beside him and he felt her warmth radiate near his arm. “Rowdy says you haven’t gone back to the hospital for a follow up on your shoulder.” She set the princess-patterned bag on his desk before he could reply, not that he needed to answer her. They both knew he hadn’t gone back to see the doctor. He hated hospitals. A couple weeks back on their way back to the station after dousing a farm fire, the new guy had driven off the road and flipped the fire truck on its side, sending all five of the men to the hospital. Had the ambulance driver not given him a choice, he wouldn’t have gone in the first place.

Big deal. Firefighters got muscle sprains all the time. Although his shoulder was being a pain and not healing. He should have gone for the follow up, but he could scrounge up a thousand excuses to hold it off, too.

Ava unzipped Olivia’s knapsack and pulled out a container of gel. “Let me see your shoulder.” Her teacher’s tone again. Damn woman

“Ava—” 

“I didn’t ask. Take off your shirt, Dax.”

He leaned back in his chair to get a better look at her. He put on his famously seductive grin and tapered his eyes. “I’ve been trying to get you out of your shirt for years and you think you can come into my office and, after one demand, think I’m going to just strip for you? Do you think I’m that easy?”

Her lips curved upwards. “You are that easy.” 

“Take yours off,” he retorted.

Her jaw tightened, as did the grip on the jar in her hands. Humor swept away, her eyes didn’t waver from his, and he watched desire heat up in them. The attraction between them resonated around the four walls of his office and he knew sex with her would be mind-blowing. Except, he’d never sleep with her. He couldn’t. As much as he teased and flirted, at the end of the day, they didn’t mix. Hot and cold. Water and fire. Besides, his dad would whoop him good and serve him up for dinner if it ever went that far.

Ava’s fingers grasped the edge of her blue and white plaid blouse and hiked the material high enough to see her naval.

Goddamit. They were in his office and the wall overlooking the shop was encased with windows.

He caught her wrist, conflicted with wanting more, all of her and not wanting any of her at all.

“Alright,” he growled, pulling her shirt back down over her denim shorts.

He stood up, ignoring what looked a hell of a lot like hurt in her eyes and yanked his own black T-shirt over his head. He balled it up, frustration invading his hands and tossed it onto his desk.

“If I’d known it was that easy to get your shirt off, I would have flashed my sprained shoulder a helluva long time ago.”

One thing was for certain, the teasing had to end. She’d never given an inch and today she’d have given a whole damn foot.