Mason Parker’s Southern charm and good looks let him through a lot of doors—and into beds. A protective instinct a mile wide pushes Mason to be Cassie’s shoulder when his roommate skips town, and he has to face his real feelings for her. Can he find the patience to just be the friend Cassie needs while she gets over her ex?
When Mason’s called for duty and has to ship out for a year, he knows he can’t leave without telling her exactly how he feels. Amid the fireworks on the Fourth of July, they’ll make their own sparks and give in to the crushing need both have for one another.
Return to Her
Red Hot and Boom!
The following morning, Cassie sleepily wandered toward the smell of fresh brewed coffee, rubbing her sleep-filled eyes. As she started to see more clearly, she stopped at the edges of her kitchen and saw a shirtless Mason standing over her stove. He was in his boxer-briefs and dog tags, which left nothing to the imagination.
Nothing. And, my God, the man was chiseled out of marble.
Her gaze followed a tattoo curving up one large bicep and onto his shoulder. Another piece of impressive ink graced his muscular back, and crept to the other side, out of her line of sight. His skin was dark and tanned from hours of being in the sun, even his dark hair was a touch lighter at the tips, she noted. When he turned to get something out of the fridge, she saw a light smattering of hair over his chest, arrowing down to the waistband of his boxer-briefs and disappearing.
Cassie’s nipples tightened as she watched him move about her kitchen. Wetness pooled between her legs, and a telltale throb started there as well. Her mouth salivated over more than the delicious smelling food.
Mason looked over his shoulder, his lips widening into a smile. “Good morning, Sleepy Head. How did you sleep?”
Cassie scuffed into the kitchen in her slippers and robe, suddenly feeling very plain compared to his gorgeous face and body. “I slept better than I expected.” She went to the coffee maker and poured herself a cup, watching him flip over a couple of pieces of French toast. “I didn’t know you were such a good cook.”
“One learns a thing or two, especially working at the kitchen. I make a mean pot of stew now.”
She smiled a little at the reminder of how wonderful he could be. But then her brain reminded her that the Casanova had probably perfected his breakfast culinary skills to cook for all those women he took home. Stop being so negative when he’s being so nice!
Cassie finished adding sugar and cream to her coffee then, took a sip, eyeing him over the rim. He had been incredibly nice. He’d come to check on her when there had been no reason he had to. And then he’d sat with her all night, watching silly movies to make her laugh when he could’ve been out carousing. Mason had kept his end of the bargain, sleeping on her little couch, even when she’d offered him the bed instead.
Now he was making her a nice breakfast in only his boxers, definitely brightening her day.
“Thank you,” she said suddenly.
Mason cast a glance her way, a tender smile on his lips. He lifted the French toast out of the pan and onto a plate. “You needed a friend. What else was I supposed to do?”
He walked over to the table and lowered the plate down before moving her chair out and motioning for her to sit down. No one had ever fussed over her this much, except maybe her mother. It felt nice to have someone take care of her a little.
Cassie moved to the spot and sat. Mason helped push her seat in. He went back to the stove, loaded another plate, and brought that and his coffee cup over to the table and sat down. “Is this enough? You want some eggs? I think I saw some strawberries in your fridge if you want some.”
“This is plenty,” Cassie said. “You’ve already gone above and beyond.”
Mason caught her gaze. “You deserve a lot more.”
That telltale lump came back into her throat and her chest tightened. The way he looked at her made her heart beat faster, and suddenly she wanted the Casanova to come out. She’d never been wooed like that by a man and the desire to be swept off her feet, to forget the last few months, sounded wonderful.
Mason looked down at his plate, breaking the spell she’d started to fall under.
Cassie felt dazed. How could she expect to jump from one man to the other like that? She’d just been cheated on and dumped. She had no business drooling over Mason.
After a cleansing breath, she cut into the French toast. As soon as it hit her tongue, she knew it was the best she’d ever had. An unbidden moan came from her, and Mason’s head whipped up. His brown eyes darkened to almost black as he stared at her. That look had her twisted and tangled all over again.
Cassie swallowed and nodded. “Better than good.”
A little smile hitched on one side of his lips. “I’m glad you think so.”
The air was heavy between them. She struggled to breathe, or to understand what was going on. “Do you make breakfast for all the women you sleep with?” The question sprang from her lips without a filter. “I mean, sleepover with?” she added, trying to quickly dig herself out of the hole.
Mason looked down at his plate and cut another piece of toast. When he looked back at her, she saw the same wounded look she’d seen almost two years ago in that soup kitchen. “I know what you think of me. Yeah, I like having fun. What’s so wrong about that?”
“I don’t understand your constant need to have a new flavor of the month. But then, what right do I have to even ask? It’s your life, and I shouldn’t judge. You’ve been a good friend to me, and I’ve seen the man hiding inside, so I know you’ve got a good heart in there.”
Mason leaned back in his chair. “I was a fat kid.”
Cassie looked up at him and gawked. “What?”
“From grade school through part of high school, I was the fat kid who got bullied all the time. Sometime in the middle of tenth grade, I got my growth spurt and grew to a little over six feet. All a sudden, I wasn’t fat, and the bullies left me alone. Then the girls took notice. Girls who had laughed at me and taunted me suddenly wanted to go out with me.”
Hearing his story made everything make a little more sense. “So you went out with them as, what, retribution?”
Mason’s hand froze midair as he lifted another piece to his mouth. He lowered it as a frown crossed his brow. “I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I suppose you’re right. I dated them and quickly broke things off, moving on to the next girl. I guess it started a habit I never broke.”
“I’d think by now you’ve exacted enough revenge.”
Mason stared at her a moment, his face devoid of emotion. “Maybe I have. Maybe it’s time to settle down into something a little more long-term, like you suggest. Find a girl who I can talk to, who isn’t boring. Someone who will love me as much as I love her.”
Cassie both loved and hated that idea. She loved it because she’d want to be that girl. She hated it because she more than likely wouldn’t be. And then she’d turn into a jealous harpy the moment she laid eyes on the poor wretch who landed her man. “I think it would be good for you. If you found the right girl.”
Mason smiled wickedly and then started eating.
Cassie joined him, enjoying the breakfast he’d made. She watched him as she ate, wishing her Sunday mornings could always be spent sitting across the table from him, eating breakfast after a wild night of pleasure.
For months, she’d thought that sensual side of him was bad, but now she knew both halves would make him a friend and a lover. The good soul she saw inside wasn’t enough. After so many weeks of seeking out the hidden Mason, she realized she wanted all of him, Casanova included.
Do I want him? Or am I just overly needy because I’ve just been dumped?
The thought gave her pause.
She needed to get her head out of the clouds, see him for the friend he was trying to be, and leave the desire behind. No matter how difficult it was.