Teagan shivered. The cold wood beneath her legs and the late November temperatures were frigid. She should go back inside the house and grab her coat—should but wouldn’t—she didn’t want to take the chance of being noticed and having to talk. She didn’t want to talk any more. She needed a break from the boisterous board game competition going on. It was too normal, too functional for her. Sure, the day had started out rough, with Ro’s dad confronting Ro about her fertility treatments, and both of her sisters seeming off, but after a sister pow wow under the tree, everything had become easier.
It was Teagan’s first real Thanksgiving. As a child, she had spent some time in a group home where different churches would bring turkey and fixings over to feed the poor, lonely foster children. The pity in their eyes had enraged Teagan. None of them offered to take the kids home. Dropping off food or the occasional used toy would be enough to make them think they were helping; they would be so very proud of their charity. It wasn’t that the food or toys weren’t appreciated; they were. More than anything, these kids, young Teagan, needed emotional nourishment. They needed love, acceptance and attention.
The food was delicious, but besides the food, Thanksgiving inside the group home was a normal day. Reading alone in her bed, in a room with five other girls, eating on trays like inmates at a prison, timed, ten-minute, lukewarm showers. There was nothing that made it feel like a holiday. Once, a home had become available, but by then, she was too old to be considered adoptable. She wouldn’t end up in a good home, with foster parents who were looking to add a child permanently to their family. Her final foster home couldn’t care less about any of their foster children. They never had turkey on Thanksgiving or even sat around a table to eat. Everyone who was old enough, fed themselves. Teagan was tasked with feeding the younger children. She didn’t know how to cook, so they ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
In college, she busted her butt at the mall working Black Friday. They paid more for the holiday hours, and she signed up for every last shift. She needed the money as much as she needed to keep busy. Sitting alone in her studio apartment, it could be hard to keep the depression at bay. After completing the police academy, she picked up extra shifts during the holidays so her coworkers could spend time with their families. Teagan had spent her entire life trying not to think about her biological family, until fate had intervened, and she found not one, but two, identical triplet sisters, which is how she found herself shivering on a cold, wooden swing on Thanksgiving night.
“You seem lost in thought, darlin’.” The large, tall, dark and handsome man approached her. Lorenzo De Luca. Teagan had learned quickly that no one called him Lorenzo. The former Navy SEAL was her brother-in-law’s best friend. No man had ever had the effect on her that he did. To be honest, she was tired of squirming in her seat with him around.
“I thought I told you to stop calling me that,” Teagan said. She sighed loudly in irritation when he sat down next to her.
“Decided to escape before I could challenge you to another game of Yahtzee? You know, I was letting you win.”
“Sure. That was it. You were letting me win. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I could actually roll a combination that worked,” Teagan said, chuckling. If she was honest, she enjoyed their playful banter.
“We could go back inside, and I could prove it to you.”
“I was enjoying the peace and quiet,” Teagan said, looking pointedly at Luca.
“I can be quiet,” Luca replied, scooting closer to Teagan. She felt the warmth of his body and had to stop herself from leaning into him. He smelled good, too good. Masculine. Spicy. He was all male, not the type who had to flaunt his alpha personality but a natural born leader. His men respected his leadership, a respect born from the ruins of combat. His body was toned, muscled, not from hours at the gym, but from hard work. He had grown up working on a cattle ranch. She laughed the first time he had told her that, an Italian cattle rancher. He quickly told her the only part of his heritage he knew anything about was his last name. His family had been in America for over a hundred years. No one in his immediate family spoke Italian or cooked it, either. He had volunteered the last part before she could ask.
“What made you join the Navy?” Teagan spoke first, the silence getting to her.
“I love my family and my small hometown, but I needed more. We were the typical middle-class family. Dad wanted me to take over the ranch, but I wanted something… more. I was the captain of my high school football team, and during my junior year, college recruiters started knocking. College was never on my radar. I had enough of sitting behind a desk in high school. My senior year, an Air Force recruiter called. It was the first time I had thought about joining the military as an option. I’ve always been the competitive type, so I went online and did some research. Navy SEALs were the best of the best, the hardest to make. If I was going to do something, I was going to do it all the way.”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Teagan replied, feeling Luca’s arm drape around her shoulder, giving her a light squeeze. He pulled her close to him, and Teagan felt herself stiffen.
“Why do you keep fighting this, darlin’?” Luca asked.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I don’t like you lying to me. You know exactly what I mean.” Luca’s dominant tone sent butterflies into Teagan’s belly.
“Trident has been whining at the door. Apparently, you went outside and forgot about him,” Octavius called from the front porch. Teagan smiled widely as the German Shepherd came bounding toward them, grateful for the interruption.
“Traitor,” Luca muttered when, instead of going straight to his owner, Trident nudged his large, hairy head underneath Teagan’s hand.
“He knows I love him,” she said, petting Trident. Standing up, Luca offered Teagan his hands. As she allowed him to help her stand, she was unprepared to be pulled into a deep embrace.
“You are freezing, darlin’,” Luca said, wrapping his arms even tighter around her. The chill she was feeling instantly disappeared. He lowered his lips and kissed her forehead gently before speaking again.
“Next time you decide to go out into the cold, make sure you dress appropriately. I don’t like my girl putting herself at risk,” Luca scolded. “In fact, once you stop fighting us being together, this type of behavior will earn you a nice, warm bottom to go with your ice-cold fingers.” He let her go then, and she rushed back toward the house, his laughter following behind.
Dammit. For the umpteenth time since meeting him, Teagan was reminded why she needed to keep a spare, clean pair of underwear in her car.