One Love by Amanda Shofner by Amanda Shofner - Read Online

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One Love - Amanda Shofner

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Author

PART ONE

One Night

ONE

She was crazy.

Absolutely, utterly crazy.

Drea’s hand shook as she fit the key in the lock. It slid in easily, without hesitation. She stared at it. There was still time to leave, to turn back. She had five thousand dollars in her bank account; she could do without the five thousand that would come after.

He had promised no sex. Her friend Mel had sworn Anthony was a good guy. A little damaged maybe, but who wasn’t? She had no idea what he’d seen as a pararescue for the Air Force. She wasn’t sure she cared. The whole situation struck her as more desperate than anything.

Ten thousand for a night.

Five thousand would put a hefty dent in her mother’s medical bills, stop the collectors from hounding her, at least for a few months. But ten thousand?

Perhaps they were both a little desperate.

Drea shifted her overnight bag on her shoulder and turned the key. She held her breath, cracked open the door.

Hello?

Her voiced seemed to echo into emptiness; silence and gloom greeted her. She squeezed herself into the tiny entryway and shut the door behind her, flipping the lock back in place.

Locking herself in.

She curled her fingers around the key, and her hand clenched into a fist. She could do this. It just one night. A single night in the same house with a stranger who was paying her ten thousand dollars. The tension in her fist traveled up her arm, tightening her shoulder muscles, and her overnight bag slipped off and thunked onto the hardwood floor.

She winced, but there was still no response. No muffled sounds of a person welcoming her in. No noises to indicate anyone moving about inside. Leaving her bag where it lay, she took a step deeper into the house, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the dimness.

A sharp lemon scent permeated the air. He had cleaned before she arrived. That was a good sign, right? Drea bit back a laugh. As if anything about this situation could be filed into good or bad signs. What kind of man offers a woman ten thousand dollars to spend the night with him?

What kind of woman accepts?

The key worked, she tried. I’ll just set it down— She cast a quick glance around the room she’d walked into.

It may have once been a dining room; shelves were built into two of the corners, and a long buffet, its wood dark and rich, lined the wall. But there was nothing else. No table, no chairs. A big yawning space in a small room. Half of their dining room at home.

He had cared enough to clean, but not furnish his house. She ignored the curiosity that shivered down her spine. She wasn’t here to discover the man’s secrets. She was here for the money.

Her mouth twisted. Right. The money. Soon the night would be over and gone, and she’d take the money and get on with her life. He would get on with his.

At least, she assumed. It wasn’t really her business.

He had, after all, been very clear: no questions.

I’ll set the key on the buffet.

It seemed as good a place as any. It wasn’t like she’d be needing it again. Beyond the dining room was the living room—slightly more furnished with a couch and a large TV with a blank screen announcing something had been disconnected—and the kitchen.

Still no sign of the man who’d hired her.

Once in the kitchen, the lemon scent gave way to the heady smell of meat cooking. Tucked along the wall on one of the counters in the cozy kitchen—almost too small—was a slow cooker. She shuffled in and peeked at it. Mel hadn’t been sure whether Anthony could cook or if Drea would have to do it for the night. Mel had made sure food had been delivered, regardless.

Under different circumstances, the situation could have been exciting. Thrilling.

Something within the house moved, and she cocked her head to listen.

Hello?

Maybe he hadn’t heard her the first time. She’d been told enough times that her voice was too meek and for god’s sake, would she just speak up? Quiet. Looked over. Forgotten. Drea shook her head. Somewhere above her, a board creaked and a man moaned.

She thought it was a moan. From a man.

Her heart sped up. It rather sounded painful. She twirled around, trying to find the stairs. Dining room, living room—there. On the other side of the kitchen, a door. Maybe he needed a glorified nurse. She’d acted as a nurse for her mother long enough. It might make her feel like she was actually earning the money.

He hadn’t said what he expected her to do.

What if he wanted to watch her while she slept?

Why the hell was she just considering this now?

Fuck.

She bounded up the stairs, not caring that they groaned under the force or that the noise filled up the otherwise hushed house.

Anthony?

It occurred to her that it was still possible for her to leave. She paused at the top of the staircase. A quick pivot of her feet, and she could walk downstairs and out the door. She could make do with five thousand. She’d find another way to pay the rest. It would take longer and require more hard work, but it wouldn’t make her feel like . . . like . . . this.

This.

She didn’t even know what this felt like. A riotous rollercoaster of emotions.

Another moan cut her thoughts short and stalled the twist of her body to leave. Louder this time. Her feet moved of their own accord, carrying her toward the sound. The landing had revealed two rooms, one with a desk and computer. The other was closed.

Behind the closed door, something creaked. Clothing rustled. She burst into the room, just in time to see a man flinch and pull his arm up to cover his face. Her heart stopped, restarted double. She started for him on instinct, not sure what she could do, but he flinched again, and she froze.

Anthony? She crouched, uncomfortable with looming above him, even from across the room. He was wedged between the wall and the bed, curled into a ball. Tony?

He moved, his muscles rippling underneath the thin shirt he wore. His hair was dark, darker in the dimness of the room. It was all she could see of him.

Andrea?

The rumbling, husky voice knocked her back on her heels. She blinked, took a moment. Yes. Call me Drea. Everyone else does.

He made a noncommittal noise. Didn’t think it was going to be this bad.

The last few years with her mom had taught her what bad days could mean to people. It was nothing compared to her bad days. She took a deep breath. I’m here now.

Which just makes it more embarrassing.

The rueful tone of his voice made her smile. It could be worse. You could be naked.

A few charged seconds of silence fell between them.

Drea felt her face heat. She coughed. I mean—

—it’s fine.

TWO

He was insane.

Absolutely, utterly insane.

And it had nothing to do with his PTSD. Under his fingers, the hard and sharp crumbling rock gave way to the soft fuzz of his blanket. The heat of the desert swept away, leaving the cool darkness of his home.

Tony vaguely recalled the woman pivoting on her feet and leaving. If she were smart, she would have left. Gone as far away from him as she could get.

He was insane, and it had everything to do with what he had asked—paid—this woman to do. Drea. One night with him. He rubbed a hand over his face, wiping away the sweat that was quickly turning cold and clammy. Shower. He needed to shower and regain his bearings and figure out what he was going to do with the woman downstairs. If she was even downstairs.

Pushing himself to his feet was a mistake. It was always a mistake, with the blood rushing to his head and his legs weak and wobbly. He pitched to the side, his arm scraping against the wall. He corrected, throwing out his hand and redirecting himself until he fell onto the bed. His head bounced with the impact.

Broken. Damaged. Not fit for active duty. Not fit for human companionship. The sooner he came to terms with that, the better. It would save him damned awkward meetings with gorgeous, petite women. Or more accurately, the attractive woman he’d paid to spend the night with him. With some fool idea that she was the key to curing himself.

Groaning, he pushed off the bed and staggered to the bathroom. After a few minutes under the hot spray of water, he’d be back to normal. He would go downstairs and determine whether his overnight visitor had remained or run. If she’d run, he wouldn’t blame her. He’d send her the rest of the money he’d promised. Money wasn’t the issue.

He was.

When he stepped out of the shower, he eyed the pile of clothes on the floor. They’d been damp and smelly, but he hadn’t remembered to grab clean clothes, either. Did he even have clean clothes? The flashbacks had seemed to increase in frequency lately, and it had been far too long since he’d dragged himself to the laundry room.

He probably should have thought about that before paying someone to spend the night with him. A bark of laughter escaped him. As if his lack of housekeeping skills was his biggest