I walked in and my mouth dropped open.
I fell in love with the house instantly.
Before me was a great room with a giant, prow-shaped bank of windows looking out across the valley. The place wasn’t huge, but it was definitely big enough to impress me. To the right was a door that had to lead into the garage. To the left was an open-plan kitchen with a breakfast bar. A separate dining area held a table. Dishes littered the counter, and a smattering of empty beer bottles stood on the bar, which separated the kitchen from the main room. A stone fireplace lined one wall in the living room, and a sweeping staircase snaked upward along the other.
Forgetting all about the men, I walked slowly forward to take in the view. Directly in front of the house was a broad meadow, ringed by evergreens lower on the slope. The valley lay beyond that, stunning and sweeping. Here and there I saw other houses, a mix of high-end, new construction and original farms. I looked up to see that the ceiling vaulted all the way to the second story. Behind me was a loft. A pile of dirty laundry had been shoved against the open railing, and I couldn’t help but smile.
Ruger had never been much of a housekeeper.
The living room needed attention, too. The leather couches seemed to be relatively new, as did the rest of the furniture, but for all the care he took to keep things clean it could’ve been a frat house. There was even an empty pizza box on the coffee table.
I heard a beer top pop and turned to find the men standing in the kitchen.
“Your house is almost as disgusting as the Armory,” Horse said to Ruger.
“Like yours used to be?” Ruger asked.
“I don’t remember that,” Horse replied, his expression innocent.
“Just be glad you have Marie around. Otherwise you’d be livin’ this way, too.”
“I was never gross like this.”
“It’s not that bad,” I said, smiling at Ruger, my earlier frustration forgotten. I honestly couldn’t believe how gorgeous his place was. I had no idea what the basement looked like, but it could be a spider hole and I’d still be thrilled, just for the location. Not to mention the yard for Noah. “But how did you get a house like this? I mean, it had to cost a fortune. How much land do you have?”
“Fifteen acres,” he said, a shadow crossing his face. “I bought it in March. Used my share of Mom’s estate for the down payment.”
I cocked my head, stunned. Ruger’s mother, Karen, had been disabled in a car accident a couple years before I met her. She’d been living on disability by the time I came along, pinching every penny. I’d never forget the sacrifices she made when she brought me into her home.
I’d also never forget the betrayal on her face when I moved out after sending her stepson to jail.
“What the hell? Why was she living so poor if she could afford something like this? Why did you let her?”
His expression darkened.
“They finally settled,” he said. “After all those years, f**kin’ insurance company finally offered us a settlement. Too late. It went into the estate and I used my half to buy this place.”
My breath caught.
“Just about a year ago.”
“And Zach got the other half?” I asked, swaying. “He’s got money like this and he still stopped paying his child support?”
“Sounds like it,” Ruger replied, his voice tight. “Remember what you asked me earlier? You really surprised by anything Zach does? Mom never thought she’d leave anything but bills. Estate planning wasn’t a priority.”
“That bastard,” I whispered, stunned. “We’re starving and he’s off spending your mom’s money … She’d be so pissed.”
“Hard to argue with that,” he muttered. “Marrying his dad was the stupidest thing she ever did, and I’ve been payin’ for it ever since. Zach’s a f**kin’ weight around my neck. Everything he touches turns to shit, and then I’m stuck haulin’ out his garbage. Again.”
I felt like he’d just punched me in the stomach.
“Is that how you feel about me and Noah?”
He couldn’t believe he’d said that. At least Noah hadn’t heard it.
Sophie, though … Jesus.
“I’m gonna start unloading the car,” Horse said. Coward.
“No, I don’t feel that way, Sophie. Believe me,” Ruger said, and he meant it. “You’re the only f**kin’ thing he ever did that’s worth a damn. I’m crazy about Noah, you know that. And we don’t always get along, but you’re important to him and that makes you pretty f**kin’ important to me.”
She offered him a quavering smile, and to his horror he saw the glint of tears in her eyes. Not good. Ruger could handle Sophie pissed off, but crying?
No. Fuck no.
“Let me show you your place,” he said quickly. “Downstairs. You got your own French doors down there, private entrance. It’s pretty. You can use the front door, too, if you like.”
“Thanks,” she murmured. Ruger walked across the kitchen to the basement door. He opened it, leaning in to turn on the light, holding it open for Sophie. He followed her down the steps, feeling like a dick. Then he felt like a bigger dick, because instead of thinking about ways to make things better, he checked out her rather fine ass.
Damn woman had been driving him crazy all day.
Her tits practically jumped out of that tank of hers, and the cutoffs had to be ten years old, the fabric was so worn and thin. They were tight, too, which matched his theory about their age. Sophie wasn’t fat, but she’d put on some weight since high school. In fact, she’d filled out far too nicely for his comfort. Having her in the house would be a living hell. Hell already. He couldn’t see her legs without imagining them wrapped around his waist. When she’d propped them up on the dash earlier, he’d almost crashed the goddamned car.
He thought about that morning, on the couch in her apartment. His c**k grew bigger with the memory, and he hoped to hell she wouldn’t notice, because he’d been right about one thing. Sophie really could be a stuck-up bitch, and he didn’t doubt for a minute she’d use his attraction against him. She might want to f**k him—and he knew she did, she’d been as into it as he had—but that didn’t mean she thought he was good enough for her.
Fuck, she was probably right about that one.
Screwing her would kick ass. But after that? Things would get weird. Ruger wasn’t interested in settling down with any woman, but if he ever did, she’d be different from Sophie. She’d fit in with the club, for one thing. She’d be the kind of girl who knew how to crack a beer at the end of a long day, kick back, and then give him a blow job before bed. She’d love riding on the back of his bike, she’d be blonde, and she’d be tough enough to hold her own in a fight.