It Only Took You (Lake Howling #4) - Wendy Vella Page 0,2

as she swung again; the fist sailed past his ear this time.

“This is the big city now; you don’t have any authority here!”

“I still have authority over you, princess.”

“I don’t need you looking out for me, and don’t call me that.”

“Too bad; I am.”

She tried to focus on him, but her eyes nearly crossed with the effort. “How did I ever find you sexy, Hawker?”

Cubby had always known how Katie McBride felt about him, because from the day she could walk, she’d followed him everywhere. She’d always been annoying him or bugging him with questions. He’d tolerated it because she was his friend’s sister, and secretly he’d thought her damned cute. And then one day she grew up.

He hadn’t been back in Howling long after his father’s death, and seen her come out of the general store. Cubby remembered thinking she looked sexy as hell in shorts that showed off her sensational long legs and a tight shirt. From that day on, he’d been attracted to her, and had breathed a huge sigh of relief when she’d finally left for LA—the day after telling him she loved him.

He’d been thrown by her declaration, and said some things he shouldn’t. Cubby knew he’d hurt her that day, but before he could apologize, she’d left. Later, he’d realized that what had happened between them was for the best, because something about her had always got to him, and he’d decided long ago that relationships weren’t for him. He didn’t have the temperament, just like his father.

“You don’t mean that, Katie. I’m your hero, remember.”

“Barman, you need to throw this man out!” She was in a rage now, fuelled by alcohol, exhaustion, and desperation was Cubby’s guess. Deciding it was a good time to leave, in case a few of the patrons wanted to join in, he lifted her into his arms. “Let’s go.”

“Let me go.” She tried to fight him, but Cubby had years of experience at wrestling drunks and criminals, and he had a few pounds on her. Trapping her good arm under one of his, he started out of the bar; to his disgust, no one came to help her.

“You can’t make me go with you, Cubby!”

“You want to put money on that?”

She’d lost weight since he’d last seen her, which admittedly was a while. She’d also lost the sweet girl look, the wide smile and long curls that everyone loved. This Katie was muscled, her body slender and fit, her face now made up of angles and sharp edges.

He knew where she lived, because Jake had given him the address, so he signaled a cab, put her into the backseat, and gave the address. She rested against the seat, eyes closed, all the fight gone out of her, which gave him time to study her unobserved.

Smaller than her brother, Katie was still five nine and broad shouldered, with skin that tanned easily. Her long lashes rested on pale cheeks, and he saw the fatigue and pain etched deep in her face.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I shouldn’t have done that, taken a swing at you.”

“It’s okay, princess,” he said, using the name he’d given her as a child. His first memory of her was at age six, when she came to Jake’s birthday party dressed in a pink tutu and sparkling tiara. Her smile had lit her entire face and he remembered thinking she’d be trouble to the male population when she grew up. As he’d only been ten, that was pretty insightful.

“I’m okay now, Cubby, so you can leave.”

“You know I can’t do that, Katie. You’re important to me, just as your family is. I could never leave you alone like this.”

The tears leaked under her lids and fell down her cheeks.

“I-I can handle this, but I don’t want them to know.”

“Them being your family who loves you?”

She nodded.

“Because you don’t want them to see their girl is hurting, don’t want them to see you looking vulnerable and beaten.” He knew his guess was accurate as her eyes shot to him, then away.

“Jake and Branna have the baby, and Mom and Dad are excited about their first grandchild and I don’t want to worry them.”

“The niece you haven’t seen yet?” Cubby said, remembering Jake’s worry about why Katie had been avoiding him. “You realize that if you keep avoiding them, they’ll simply get on a plane and come here, don’t you?” He’d always been jealous of the McBride family; they’d loved each other unconditionally, unlike his.

“Don’t let them, Cubby.”