Josie McDonald walked to the telephone table in her apartment and yanked the phone book out of the drawer. Flipping through the pages toward the yellow onion skin in the back, she sought a cheap, reputable, but most importantly quick moving company. She'd wasted enough of her life here, and when she'd stormed out of her office today almost in tears, she'd promised herself that she wouldn't waste another moment.
Stopping at the bank on the way home, she'd cashed in her last paycheck and taken every penny out of her bank account. She had no intention of explaining to the bank personnel why she was leaving their illustrious establishment. None of this was their fault, and she couldn't take it out on them. She had no one to blame but herself. She'd struggled to hold back tears of anger and frustration, but the teller's questions about service, operating hours, and the convenience of online banking had pushed her to the brink.
She'd barely gotten out of that building without grabbing one of those pens on a chain and shoving it into the woman's ear.
But she had gotten out and driven her car straight home. She knew what she had to do now, had in fact known it the moment Jack had spoken. She had to get drunk, she had to hire a moving company to come over here and box up all of this crap, and she had to leave.
She had never been so furious and humiliated in her entire life as she'd been when she left her office today. Okay, so she shouldn't have been dating the boss. That was stupid and painfully apparent--she could admit that to herself now. But, when he'd announced his engagement to his assistant this afternoon, that had been the final straw.
She'd had no idea he was dating someone else. How many of them had known all this time that he was dating his assistant, and not a single one of them had told her? Did anyone in that place actually expect her to come in tomorrow morning and deal with customers and invoices as if nothing had happened? Well, they could kiss her ass.
With any luck, every one of them would choke on that pickled ham they pushed on an unsuspecting public.
Running her trembling fingers down the listings in the phone book, she came across exactly what she was looking for: We Can Move You, Inc. The ad stated they were bonded, had set rates, and were quick. Perfect.
She wouldn't spend a fortune to box up her meager belongings, and she wouldn't have to do it alone. The idea of going from room to room, placing all of her personal items into cardboard cubes as she tried to quell her rage and mortification ... no way. With any luck, she could get a couple of guys going on this pile of crap and be out of here within a few hours.
"We Can Move You. When can we help?"
"I want to move out today. Can you be over here in the next 15 minutes?"
The man chuckled, the sound deep and resonant. "Sure, I guess we can. Where's the fire?"
She quickly gave him the address. "I don't want to wait another minute. Will you come right now?"
"Sure thing, ma'am. Alec, fire up the racecar! We've got an emergency!"
"This is not a joke," she said, tossing the phone book onto the coffee table. "Are you making fun of me?"
"No, ma'am, I'm not. We'll be there within fifteen minutes. What's your name?"
"Josie McDonald." She hung up the phone without waiting for him to say another word. What else was there to say? Let them fire up whatever truck or racecar or even horse and buggy they could find, as long as they got here immediately and got this junk packed up and out.
Not twelve minutes later according to her wristwatch, she stared between the open curtains of the front window and saw a large paneled truck pull into the parking lot. Two men climbed out, and she was suddenly glad she was alone. Her audible gasp would have startled anyone else in the room.
Where in the world had those two gorgeous guys come from? Oh man, and they're coming in here! She spun on her heel and looked around at the incredible mess in the living room. A stack of newspapers was spread across the coffee table, shoes and pantyhose were lying on the floor, books were scattered around the room.... The place was a catastrophe.
She ran around the room picking up items and shoving them out of sight, carrying items back and forth to throw into closets and hide under furniture. It's ridiculous to clean up for moving men her logical mind insisted, but her body kept moving.
A knocking sound startled her, and she spun back to see both men in front of the window watching her. The dark-haired one was very tall, his broad shoulders spanning a full window pane as he stood with his arms folded over his chest. He smiled at her, his white teeth gleaming, his eyes hidden behind a pair of dark, wraparound sunglasses. The second man was only slightly shorter but almost as broad through the shoulders. His sandy blond hair hung into his eyes as he shielded them with one enormous hand against the window's glare.
Oh, God, how beautiful were they? She quickly examined their ring fingers; not a wedding band in sight.
Her logical mind once more tried to assert reason. That means nothing--remember your most recent catastrophe? Men are scum!
She did remember, but her body didn't seem to care. Her flesh tingled as if the blood that had stopped cold in her veins this afternoon had once more begun to flow. As the taller one lifted his glasses and stared at her from behind impossibly long eyelashes, the memory of today's debacle backed farther into the early evening light. The shorter one rapped on the window again.
"You gonna let us in?"
She straightened, dropped the pair of shoes in her hand, and walked to the door. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the doorknob and turned it slowly, telling herself that, yes, she was all right. For heaven's sake, they were just good-looking men. She was being ridiculous, most likely even desperate. She'd been dumped and replaced. So what? That was no reason to get all hot for two moving guys.
Get a grip.
And she would, as soon as her heart stopped beating so fast she could feel it hammering against her ribcage.
She pulled the door open, and the subsequent creaking made all three of them glance at the hinges then back to each other. She couldn't decide which one was more gorgeous, tall dark and fabulous or surfer beach boy.
"Hello." The word came out as a croak, and though she felt ridiculous she couldn't stop herself from thinking of all the possible ways she'd like to rip the clothes off these men and lead them into her bedroom.
How quickly she'd forgotten about old what's-his-name, she thought as she stepped aside, and the two men walked into her living room. Today's humiliation might take longer to forget, but her hormones were obviously still intact.
Beach boy glanced around the living room and looked back at her, his smile dazzling. "So, when are you planning to move?"
Move, yes. That had been her plan. She was going to move everything into a storage unit down the street and get out of town. "Today. Now. How long will it take?"
Surfer boy's smile did not falter. "What's the big hurry? The cops after you?"
Tall dark and gorgeous turned to him and glared but said nothing.
"No, no one is ... I just want to move." But suddenly she didn't want to. Any town with men who looked like these two wasn't the kind of place she should run from. Jack had been handsome, but he was a shadow compared to these two rays of sunshine.
Tall dark and gorgeous finally spoke. "Name's Alec, and this is my best friend and business partner, Ethan. Before we get started, maybe you want a drink?"
"Drink?" A drink? What was that? Oh yeah, she'd been about to make herself one not fifteen minutes ago, right before two tall drinks came driving into her parking lot.
"Yes, a drink." Beach boy Ethan took a step closer to her. "You look like you could use one."
"If it's not too presumptuous, maybe I could ask you a question before we get to work."
"Sure." She seemed destined to respond in monosyllables. She was an intelligent woman, but since she'd laid eyes on the two of them, her brain cells had somehow moved out without the benefit of a moving van.
Tall, dark, and gorgeously fabulous Alec placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her toward the table in her dining room. "Ethan will get all of us a drink. We'll sit down and take this a little more slowly."
"Yeah, I'll bring you a drink then we'll talk, all right, Josie?"
Her knees had turned liquid almost as if her skin were the only thing holding them together. She nodded when even the simplest words escaped her.
Pulling out her chair for her, Alec waited until she lowered herself into it then stepped around the table, spun his chair around, and straddled it. "Ethan! Have you found anything in there?"
Josie stared at his lips as he spoke, trying not to be mesmerized by their fullness and smooth movement over those incredibly white teeth.
"I've got it! Keep your pants on."
Or don't, she thought, astounded at the difference between how she was feeling and the way she'd felt when she'd walked through her front door this evening. What a difference a day makes? Ha! What a difference 15 minutes makes.
"Are you all right?"
She watched his lips again. Never in her life had she seen two sexier creatures than this man and his partner, and something about their beauty had stripped her brain bare.
As if by her willing it, Ethan reappeared, carrying a bottle of wine she'd had in the bottom of her refrigerator for months. She'd intended to share it with Jack, but he'd never stopped by--always producing some excuse. For the first time in a long time, she was glad to see that bottle still unopened.
Ethan expertly uncorked the top then poured the wine into three glasses. Handing one to her, he smiled. "What happened today, Josie? You look upset and sure sounded that way on the phone."
She took the glass with trembling fingers. Who would have ever thought she'd be toasting this day? As soon as she walked in the door, she'd intended to be gone from this apartment by sundown. As she sat here now with the two-man-Greek-god moving team, though, the room took on a softer, much more appealing shine.
"Take a big drink of that," Alec said, picking up his own glass.
She watched him over the rim of her glass as she took several sips of the liquor.
She nodded. His smile encouraged her. She took another sip.
"Feel better?" he asked, his gaze still fixed on her.
Another nod. A few more swallows of the drink slid down her throat. Yes, that did take the edge off a little. She finished the glass and set it down on the table.
"Ethan, give her another."
He took the glass and poured her another glass of the wine. Handing it to her, he smiled. "Don't mind him; he thinks he's the boss."
Something about the way he said word "boss" ... Were they a couple?
Disappointment and disgrace washed over her in a wave. One man didn't want her, and these two wanted each other and were just being nice. Could this day possibly get any more horrible?
Tears burned in her eyes. She fought off the waves of mortification coursing over her. A moment ago exciting, forbidden thoughts had flowed through her like the wine. Now, all she wanted to do was disappear.
"Drink that one, too." Alec's voice was low and quiet in the small space.
Might as well, she thought as she took another drink of the wine. Maybe the best way to deal with this day was to get drunk and stay that way. Not the bravest of choices, but it did have a certain draw.
"So, you want to go soon. Since you've got nothing packed yet..."
"...it might take us a little while," Ethan continued softly. "We're willing to get going on it right now, and we can do the job, but Josie, do you have to be out of the apartment tonight?"
Their voices were so kind, so gentle. She shook her head to cast off her own thoughts as another wave of disappointment came over her. Back to the original plan--get the hell out of here before her debasement was complete. "As soon as you can get my stuff out--" She hated the pathetic sound in her voice and cleared her throat. "I'll be ready to go."
"Where're you going?"
Where was she going? She hadn't considered that until now. "Anywhere but here."
The two men stared at her for a long moment before Alec leaned closer and thumbed a betraying tear from her cheek. He took both of her hands in his. His were warm and firm, huge but gentle. His voice was soft as his gaze flitted over her face. "Maybe you'd like to talk about what happened today, Josie."
She ought to feel nervous. Here were two enormous men in her apartment, alone with her behind locked doors. The apartment to her left had been vacant for a long time, and the man who lived in the apartment on the other side was seldom home. If they'd intended to hurt her and she tried to scream, there'd be no one to hear.
Not knowing these two soft-spoken men, not knowing what they might do didn't even matter. She didn't need them to hurt her as she'd done a fine job of that herself. The unbridled thoughts of screaming, not in fear, but in ecstasy filled her thoughts bringing more tears to her burning eyes. Blood throbbed against her temple, and she clenched her thighs together to still her shaking knees. A strange desire to jump up, take hold of Alec's face and kiss him for a few days surged through her. God, would this day ever end?
"No, I actually don't want to talk about it."
Ethan walked behind her chair and placed his hands on her neck, slowly massaging the tight, sore place between her shoulder blades. Rhythmically, he moved his thumbs against the resistant muscle until it relaxed, and the urge to close her eyes and lean into his hands did nothing to alter the betraying and misguided heat inside her.
"Maybe you'd be open to another idea?"