CHAPTER 15

Bree

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When I got home, I let Phoebe outside to do her business. I felt lighter, happier, as if I had shed the chains that had held me tied to the pain and grief of my loss for the last six months. As I stood in the bright sunshine waiting for Phoebe, a feeling of deep peace washed over me. I would never, ever forget my dad. He would be with me in everything I did for the rest of my life. Letting go of the chains of grief and guilt didn't mean letting go of him. My dad loved me, he would want me to be happy. The relief that flooded my body almost made me sob. I choked back the emotion and called to Phoebe, walking back inside.

After I'd fed her, I sat down and drank a cup of tea. I thought about my dad the whole time I sat there, remembering special moments we'd shared, reminiscing about the little quirks he had, picturing his face so clearly in my mind. I focused on what I had had, on what some people never got for even a minute. I had had him for twenty-one years. I was lucky–I had been blessed. When I stood up to put my dishes in the sink, I was smiling.

I went to the bathroom and turned on the shower and stripped off my clothes. My scratches looked a lot better. Apparently, the ointment that Archer had applied had worked.

Archer… I sighed, so many confusing emotions and feelings swirling through my body. A warm feeling filled my chest whenever I thought of him.

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I wanted to know his story. I wanted to know everything about him. But instinctively, I knew that I shouldn't push the issue of what had happened the day his uncle shot him. The Chief of Police, his uncle, shot him. God, how did you wrap your mind around that? And what the hell had happened to bring that about?

A half an hour later I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, my hair dry and put up in a ponytail.

As I was slipping on my flip flops, I glanced at my phone sitting on the top of the dresser and picked it up. It had two messages. I listened. They were both from Travis. I threw the phone back down. I'd call him back, just not right now.

I lifted Phoebe and started outside to head back to Archer's house. I considered something as I was about to close my door and turned back. A few minutes later, I was riding away from my cottage toward Briar Road.

"Hey." I smiled when Archer opened the door to his house. He had left his gate slightly open so I could enter and bring my bike inside and let Phoebe head off to find Kitty and the pups.

He smiled back and opened the door wider for me to enter.

I went inside and turned back around to him. I took a deep breath. Thanks for having me back here, Archer. I bit my lip, considering. I hope you don't mind… after last night… there was no other place in the world I wanted to be than here, with you today. I tilted my head, studying him. Thank you.

He watched my hands as I spoke, looking up into my eyes finally, a pleased expression on his face. He nodded at me and I smiled. I took him in.

He was wearing the same worn jeans that looked like they could disintegrate at any second and a tight, navy blue t-shirt. His feet were bare… and as I looked down, I saw that they did look a lot better, mostly because the swelling had gone down. But the cuts and scratches still looked painful. I grimaced.

Archer's eyes followed mine down to his feet.

They're fine, Bree.

I was still doubtful, but I nodded anyway.

He smiled.

I tilted my head to the side. So, Archer, I brought something with me, but before I show you, I just want you to know that if you don't like the idea… or… just want to say no to me, I'll completely understand.

He raised an eyebrow. This sounds scary.

I breathed out a small laugh. No… just… well, let me show you. I went over to the small bag I had brought and pulled out my scissors.

Archer looked at them warily.

I thought you might want a haircut, I said, and then hurried on, but if you don't, that's okay too. I'm not saying you need one, but, well, you need one. But I can also just take off a little–more like a trim.

He smiled a slightly embarrassed smile and put his hand on the back of his neck, but then took it down and looked up at me. I'd like that.

I grinned. You would? Okay! I mean, I'm not the greatest, but I can make it straight. I trimmed my dad's hair many times.

He smiled. Cut as much as you want, Bree.

Well, what do you want? I'll do whatever you'd like.

He looked at me, something warm coming into his eyes, although he didn't smile. He looked at me seriously, swallowing before he said, I want you to like it. Do whatever you want.

I hesitated, not wanting him to feel like he was doing something he didn't want to do. You sure?

Very, he said, walking into the kitchen and pulling one of the chairs from his kitchen table into the middle of the floor where the hair could be easily swept up.

I went to his bathroom and got a towel and the comb sitting on his sink, and then joined him in the kitchen, wrapping the towel over his shoulders.

I began cutting his hair, focusing on the work of measuring and evening. He had told me I could do what I wanted and so I was going to go short. I wanted to see his face, and I had a vague notion that he used his hair to hide. Was it my job to strip him of that? No. But he had given me permission and so I was going to take it. It would grow back if he wanted it to.

I sat the comb aside and used my fingers to comb through his dark, silky hair before using the scissors. Running my hands through his thick, very slightly wavy strands felt intimate and sensual and my pulse rate rose as I moved my body around his, cutting the back first, and then the front. Each time I ran my hand slowly along his scalp, Archer shivered slightly. I leaned in closely as I worked with his hair, drawing in the scent of his shampoo and his clean smell. He smelled like soap, but just underneath that was the musky scent of his maleness, and it made my tummy clench with desire.

As I moved in front of him, smoothing the hair back from his forehead, I looked down into his face and his eyes met mine right before he closed them tightly. It looked almost as if he was in pain, and my heart clenched. Had anyone since his mother touched him with tenderness?

I continued to work and when I leaned in close to get the hair above his ear, his breath hitched. My eyes darted to his face again. His pupils were dilated slightly and his lips were parted. My nipples hardened under my t-shirt and Archer's eyes moved down, widening when he honed in on my chest. His eyes shot to the side, those red patches appearing on his upper cheekbones, and he fisted his hands which were sitting on his muscular thighs.

I leaned over him to snip more hair, my chest coming in close to his face. I heard his breath hitch and begin to come out faster, little exhalations of air breaking the silence of the kitchen. I glanced down as I leaned back and saw his arousal through his pants, thick and hard.

I quickly moved around behind him, evening his hair some more, and trying to get my own breathing under control. My eyes felt glassy, and I hoped I was doing okay–I couldn't concentrate, wetness pooling between my thighs. I was so turned on I could barely stand–at his nearness, the way it felt to touch him, and the knowledge that I was affecting him too. I'd never gotten aroused this quickly–and from a freaking haircut. But clearly, he was right there with me.

As I moved around to stand in front of him again, I could see he was trembling very slightly.

"There," I whispered. "You're done. It looks really good, Archer." I knelt down in front of him and swallowed hard when I took in the complete look.

I set the scissors down on the counter in back of me and turned back around, kneeling up as high as I could go and moving closer to him, my heart beating loudly in my ears and between my legs. I gazed up at him, glancing quickly at his mouth. His eyes darted quickly to my lips as well. God, I wanted him to kiss me so badly I ached.

He stared down at me and swallowed thickly, his adam's apple moving in his throat and his scar pulling upwards. As we stared at each other, uncertainty moved across his face, and he balled his fists more tightly on his thighs.

Suddenly, he scooted the chair back and stood up and, shocked, so did I.

You need to go now, he said.

Go? I asked. Why, Archer, I'm sorry, did I–

He shook his head. I could see his pulse beating in his neck. No, nothing, I just… have things to do. You should go. He was breathing harshly as if he'd just run five miles. In all the times I'd watched Archer do physical labor, I'd never seen him become breathless from it. He looked pleadingly at me.

"Okay," I whispered, color moving up my face. "Okay."

I gathered my scissors and walked to the main room to put them in my purse. I turned to Archer.

Are you sure? I didn't–

Yes, please, yes, he said.

My eyes moved downward and I could see that he was still fully hard. I swallowed again. I didn't know what to think. Was he embarrassed that he was turned on? Or was he upset that he was turned on by me? Had I been too forward? Did he just want to be friends and I had totally mis-read him? Hurt and confusion clouded my mind.

"Okay," I said again, moving toward his door.

He grabbed my arm gently as I passed him and I startled slightly. I'm sorry. I really do appreciate the haircut.

I stared at him again, noting how beautiful he looked, freshly shaven, the new haircut and the same flush high on his cheeks, his eyes glassy, the golden brown color even brighter than usual.

I nodded and walked out his door. Phoebe was on the porch so I scooped her up and hurried out Archer's gate.

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