Home > Hot Stuff(9)

Hot Stuff(9)
Author: Max Monroe

“I don’t think so.” I shrug. “He’s just…not somebody we call by his first name.”

“Oh man,” she responds, and her blue eyes sparkle with mischief. “Well, I dare you to do it now. Call him Jimmy.”

“What? No,” I answer immediately. “No. Way.”

“Oh, come on,” she cajoles, and I shake my head again.

“I really don’t think—”

“Make it a double-dog dare.” She raises one defiant, sexy brow.

“Wow. Interesting.”

“What?”

“I had no idea you could be this cruel,” I tease. “You’re like Eve, waving the forbidden fruit in my face and telling me to take a bite.”

She laughs at that. “Come on. I’ll even set it up for you. Like volleyball. All you’ll have to do is spike it home.”

“You’re reckless, Dr. Lauren. Wild. Who knew somebody so ruthless could come in such an adorable package?”

Lauren rolls her eyes just as the captain calls out from the dining room. “Jesus, what’s the holdup in there? Did the dinner rolls take your asses hostage?”

I jump into action, folding the napkins back across the rolls, and head for the dining room. Lauren follows with the dish of green beans and sets them in the middle of the table. Four more trips—these silent—and we have everything she’s spent the day crafting in the kitchen at the table.

It all smells delicious, and my stomach growls as I take my seat.

In all of the chaos of the morning, I didn’t eat anything for breakfast.

“Everything looks delicious,” I say aloud. The food. And Lauren. Yes, yes, Dr. Lauren most definitely looks delicious. Thankfully, I keep that thought to myself.

But that doesn’t mean I stop thinking about her.

Dr. Lauren Carroll is seriously pretty, and she must get every single bit of it from her mother. Her dad is a good-enough-looking guy, but he’s dark to her light and rough around all of his edges. Maybe it’s years of living a warp-speed, high-stress life, but she has a freshness, a vibrancy, he doesn’t look like he had even in infancy.

But that probably has more to do with her than genetics. It’s as if her beauty blooms from something much deeper. Like her glow doesn’t stem from her attractive looks, but from the inside instead.

A loose piece of hair falls out from its spot in her ponytail and curls around the line of her cheek. She reaches up and tucks it behind her ear, and I watch every moment. Downright fixated.

Hell, if Captain Jimmy weren’t so enthralled with the green beans and the turkey, he’d probably be cussing me out by now.

As it is, I’m the only one cursing myself.

Come on, dude. She’s the Cap’s daughter. There’s no way you can go there. Absolutely no fucking way.

Lauren smiles at me directly, almost as if she can hear what I’m thinking. But I’m a practical guy, and I know that’s not possible. Surely, if she could read my thoughts, there’s no way she’d smile at me like that. All she’d have to do is open one door into my brain, and she’d find all manner of inappropriately dirty fantasies of herself.

And that wouldn’t make her smile…would it?

“Geez, Jimmy,” she says instead, clearly baiting me to use her dad’s name. I swallow hard as his head jerks up suddenly.

“Jimmy? What the hell are you calling me Jimmy for, Laurie?”

“Because you’re hoovering down my food like a heathen,” she covers, but the presence of her secret smile isn’t lost on me. “And everyone knows you can’t discipline someone while calling them ‘Daddy.’”

I swallow hard at the sound of “Daddy” coming out of her perfect, pink, plump lips.

“We’ll all call you Jimmy,” she teases, jerking her head at her sisters, Cara and Shell, as they pull out their chairs and take a seat at the table.

“You couldn’t wait for us, Jimmy?” Shell asks, joining in without pause.

“Seems like a pretty shitty thing to do, Jimmy,” Cara adds.

“Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all the saints,” the Cap grumbles while Lauren widens her eyes at me.

Nope. No way. There’s no way I’m joining in on this. I don’t have the convenient armor of being his daughter.

“You…uh…hungry, Cap?” I ask instead.

Lauren narrows her eyes and smirks in a way that very distinctly calls me a coward.

It’s true. I’ll wear the badge with pride. There’s no way I’m coming into my captain’s house and using his first name like I have some kind of death wish, no matter how pretty his daughter making big eyes at me might be.

“Where are my grandkids?” Cap asks rather than answering me, still shoving bites of his food in his mouth.

“My toddlers are taking a nap in your bedroom, and Shell’s boys are eating at the kids table we set up in the living room,” Cara answers.

After meeting Cap’s five rambunctious grandkids outside when I first arrived, I’m happy to hear they’ve settled down enough so Cara and Shell can sit at the table and eat without having to wrangle wild children.

Between the three boys under the age of ten running around the front yard like banshees and Addy and Aiden, Cara’s two adorable toddlers, keeping their mom busy by continually doing everything she told them not to, it was a literal three-ring circus in the front yard when I’d pulled my Suburban into the driveway.

“And what about the shitheads?” Cap questions, slamming his fork down on the table. “Are you expecting me to wait for them too?”

“Dad!” Cara shouts while Shell sighs.

Lauren shakes her head and tries to tuck her smile behind a fake cough and her hand. Apparently, this is a regular enough occurrence that no one feels uncomfortable fighting it out at the dinner table.

Except for me, of course.

I’m dying inside.

And it’s only partially because of the familial storm brewing in front of me.

Lauren is the real problem—I can’t take my eyes off her.

 

 

Lauren

 

I pick up another empty dish from the table and carry it to the kitchen sink to pile it up with the others. My dad grabs a beer from the fridge and heads for the living room to turn on a football game. Dinner was…long. Once the toddlers woke up and Shell’s boys decided to bring their wildness to the adult table, and we all had to watch on as Pete and Phil did nothing to help out their wives, it also became pretty chaotic. Which, honestly, is the norm in the Carroll household, but there’s no doubt ole Jimmy needs a few minutes to decompress.

It’s not like anyone in my family has animosity toward one another—well, except for my dad and the “shitheads,” as he calls them—but family dinners are like a mushroom cloud of emotions. They spread everywhere, pushed on by the explosion of stress caused by the holidays. Not only is Thanksgiving a marathon of work and family and butting heads, but it kicks off the season into Christmas and strained paychecks and expectations. I don’t like to be such a pessimist about what’s supposed to be the most joyful time of the year, but it’s just the way I know it.

When I was a kid, my dad was always busy with fires started by Christmas trees and faulty lights and chestnuts roasting on an open flame, and my mom was always stressed by the pressure to create all of the holiday magic for my sisters and me on her own. We’re older and grown now, but the basics are the same.

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