Lusting After Layla ebook
Lusting After Layla ebook
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- Friends to Lovers
- Hero with a Dangerous Past
- Hero with a Beard
Declan Dwyer has been hiding out in Red Maple Falls for five years. He doesn’t get too close to anyone — but Layla Marshall is making it difficult for the pub owner to keep his distance… Will Declan’s past ruin their future?
Danger meets the small town of Red Maple Falls in the newest installment of the utterly romantic series.
At twenty years old Layla Marshall devoted her life to raising her baby brother and sister after their mom died in a car accident. Now twelve years later and all grown up, her siblings have started their own lives, leaving Layla to combat loneliness in a much too quiet house. To fill the void, she finds herself spending time at the local bar with the sexy but mysterious tattooed owner who she has secretly harbored feelings for.
Pub owner, Declan Dwyer, has been living with a secret for the last five years, deceiving the people of the small town of Red Maple Falls where he has chosen to hide out. He has kept to himself, but Layla Marshall has been on his radar since the first time he laid eyes on her in her purple scrubs. He's maintained his distance though, afraid of a past that could mean death to him or anyone he cares for.
When his past catches up to him, threatening to destroy all he has, Declan has to decide if he's going to flee again or stay and fight for a life and love he never imagined for himself.
Intro Into Chapter 1
Intro Into Chapter 1
5 years ago
After a year of drifting from state to state, town to town, Declan Dwyer finally found a place to settle. Red Maple Falls was as small-town America as one could get and the perfect place to hide outside of the witness protection program. He doubted the authorities gave two shits about him. If he wound up dead, he’d just be one less thug they’d have to worry about.
He still couldn’t believe he was able to walk away without serving any time, but his freedom didn’t come without sacrifice. He ratted out the only family he ever knew in exchange. That was the ultimate betrayal where he came from. He was free for now, but he was forever tied to his past, and while Red Maple Falls was his safe haven at the moment, there would come a day when his safe little bubble would pop, and he’d be lucky if he came out the other side alive.
It was a thought that would remain in the back of his mind, but for today he was safe, and he was officially a proprietor of his very own pub.
Calhoun’s was a pipe dream, and someone like him didn’t deserve to have their dreams come to fruition, but he needed to make an honest living in order to support himself and get back on the road one day.
The place cost him next to nothing compared to what he would have paid back in California. He had money he’d been stocking away over the years, and when he drove past this place on his bike, the ‘for sale’ sign hanging crooked in the window, it was as if the universe was throwing him a bone.
He had a plan. Get Calhoun’s up and running, hire a manager who could run the place, and he would only pop in to collect the money and pay the bills.
He knew he couldn’t put down roots. The minute he did, it would ultimately be his death sentence. He might not have had much to live for, but he was still grateful for every breath, especially when so many times he thought he’d be taking his last.
The door opened and his body froze, his heart raced, and all his senses went into high alert. He wasn’t open yet, not till tomorrow. He assumed the whole town knew that after he plastered signs on a bulletin board at the grocery store and in the town paper.
Had his past already found him? Maybe one of them managed to get out and track him down. He had a gun behind the bar. All he needed to do was dive to the floor and stay low. He could make it. He hadn’t survived this long without being scrappy.
He bent his knees, ready to make the dive when a woman walked through the door. She was dressed in purple scrubs, her brown hair haphazardly thrown in a bun with wisps falling around her face. She moved with purpose, a light purple and blue scarf hanging from her neck. The fringe bounced against her chest.
“Hi, I’ll take a cup of coffee,” she said as she sat down at the bar.
His tongue froze, and he wondered where this woman came from. She seemed to have dropped out of the damn sky. Was she a ruse to butter him up and get him to go outside where he’d be taken out for good?
He hesitated, then moved slowly to the bar. “We uh… don’t actually open until tomorrow.”
She glanced up at him, and he nearly stumbled back at the most gorgeous eyes he’d ever seen in his life. They were crystal blue with the slightest hint of gray, like two balls of glass perfectly placed on her face.
Her lush lips fell into a sexy ‘O’, and her cheeks flushed red in embarrassment. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I saw the light on as I drove by and just assumed.”
He shrugged, refusing to make eye contact. With eyes like that and lips like those, he could see himself falling into bed with this woman, and that was the last thing he needed. He had to stick to his plan. Absolutely no roots or attachments allowed.
“Sorry,” he said. She sighed, and damn if that didn’t tug at something deep inside him. “You know what? It’s fine.” What the hell was he doing? It was not fine. He needed her to leave now so he could lock the place up until the official opening tomorrow when there’d hopefully be a large turnout. But his resolve went to the wayside, and he made eye contact with her. He immediately noticed the dark bags beneath her lids, the tension pulling across her shoulders and surrounding her lips.
Beneath the beauty was a woman who held the world on her shoulders, and all she needed was a cup of coffee. He could give her that much.
He turned the coffeepot on and dumped the grounds into a filter.
“You don’t have to. I can just go home.”
He finally looked at her—really looked at her. He spotted a single freckle on her cheek and a curve to her bottom lip that made him think of all the things he’d like that lip to do. He could see something in her that reminded him of himself, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. She seemed like someone who had experienced a lot in her short life. Probably not nearly as messed up as him, but she definitely had skeletons in her closet. Most of all, she looked at him and didn’t once linger on his scar like everyone else he’d met.
“The coffee’s already brewing,” he said. “Might as well take your scarf off and stay a bit.”
A smile cracked at the corner of her mouth. She unraveled the knitted scarf and placed it on the bar beside her. “Thank you. It’s been a long day, and I needed a minute before I went home.”
“Most people go home to relax,” he said, wondering if she had an asshole boyfriend waiting for her. She didn’t have a ring on her finger, so he didn’t think she was married.
“I’m not most people,” she said. “Far from, actually.”
She pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. He should’ve kept his mouth shut, but she’d sparked a curiosity inside him.
“Are you a nurse?” he asked, eyeing the slight dip in her purple scrubs.
“I am at the nursing home. I just got off a double. My third one this week.”
“That’s a lot of hours.” He didn’t know much about a nurse’s schedule, but he knew double shifts in that field were no joke.
“When you have bills to pay, it never seems like enough.”
The coffee finished brewing, and he poured it into a mug he had just stocked earlier that day and slid it across the bar. “I have milk in the back fridge.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She took the mug in her hand and brought it to her lips. A smile curved, and she closed her eyes again as she took a big whiff. She moaned, and he tried to ignore the erotic undertones to that single sound. Her lips puckered, and she blew on the hot liquid, giving him no choice but to look away.
Everything she did was sexy, and he could only imagine how amazing she’d look out of those scrubs. Thoughts of those scrubs spread across his bedroom floor popped into his mind, but he quickly pushed them away. No roots, he reminded himself.
“You make a good cup of coffee. Nice and strong, the way I like it.” Her words and tone made the statement much more erotic than he was sure she intended. He focused on his plan, reminding himself once again that getting involved with someone was the last thing he needed. Not only did he not plan on staying, but he wouldn’t drag an innocent into the web of his life. It wasn’t fair to them.
She placed the mug on the bar, and he glanced at her hands.
“I know you said you’re not like most people,” he said. “But shouldn’t you be going home to sleep instead of drinking coffee in some pub?”
“You would think so.” She took another long, moan-filled sip. “But my sister, whom I love dearly despite the fact that I want to strangle her on a daily basis, is driving me insane.”
“You live with your sister?’
“I’m her guardian… or at least I was. She’s nineteen now, so technically I’m not, but she lives under my roof. I still do her laundry and listen to her complain daily about not being able to afford college and how her life is ruined because she’ll never be able to find a job in this forsaken town. Like it’s my fault.”
“Send her here,” he said, before his brain could interject. Not only was it a bad idea, but she sounded like an absolute nightmare.
“Are you hiring?”
“I could use a waitress.” His brain was stunned into silence—the only explanation for the words coming out of his mouth.
She closed her eyes again, but this time when she opened them, it was as if some of that weight pulling her down had lifted. He did that for her, and he felt good about it.
“She will be here first thing tomorrow. What time will you be here? Because I can guarantee she will be at that door waiting for you.”
“I officially open at noon, so if she wants to stop by… let’s say eleven.”
“I am so happy I could kiss you.” The words fell from her mouth, and she didn’t even seem to be embarrassed by them. He wondered what she would have done if he leaned across the bar and accepted her offer. What would she taste like and would she know how to work that bottom lip to the best of its abilities? Maybe he would have jumped all over that offer a couple years ago, in his other life, but he wasn’t looking to impress anyone or live up to a legacy he was never cut out for in the first place. “Does she need to bring anything? A resume?”
He shook his head. “If you think she can hack it then I trust you.”
“You don’t even know me.”
“No, but I’m a good judge of character.” In his old life, it was what kept him alive until he was fooled by the one person he trusted most. Maybe his judge of character wasn’t as good as he suspected. If it was, he wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.
But she seemed completely harmless, and he was going to go with his intuition on this one.
She smiled. “Who should my sister ask to speak with?”
“Declan,” he said.
“Declan,” she repeated, and he’d never liked the sound of his name as much as he did in that moment. “I’m Layla. It’s really nice to meet you.” She held out her hand, and he hesitated, but he was being ridiculous. His hand engulfed hers, her soft skin the opposite of the rough callouses on his own. Their eyes locked, and he held onto her longer than he meant to as a sense of euphoria came over him.
This felt so right, yet he knew nothing good could come of it, but he couldn’t make himself let go. Layla didn’t seem to mind, although he detected the slightest of shivers from her.
“The pleasure is mine,” he said when his brain decided to engage. He slowly removed his hand from hers, dragging his thumb across her palm in a last-ditch effort to hold on to the connection. When he finally let go, the slightest blush bloomed on the apple of her cheeks, and he knew he affected her at least a fraction as much as she affected him.
She wrapped the scarf around her neck. “I should go.”
“You haven’t finished your coffee.”
She lifted a shoulder, her head tilting toward it. “I was hoping you might have a to-go cup.”
His eyebrow arched slightly. “Can’t say I do.”
“You should invest in some, especially in this town. You’ll thank me later.”
He had no idea what she meant, but she clearly knew more about the town than he did. “Noted. Tell you what. Take the mug with you.”
She picked it up. “I was planning on it.”
“Oh! Just going to pop in here and steal my stuff?”
“Consider it collateral. If you hire my sister, I’ll be back with the mug.”
“Why Layla, if I wasn’t mistaken, I’d say you’re holding my mug hostage.”
She shrugged. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. Now top me off so I can get on my way.”
He picked up the coffee pot and filled the mug to the top. “You look really tired. You sure you’re okay to drive?” He had no idea why he even cared, but he couldn’t let her walk out of there without asking.
She held up the coffee mug. “I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll see you and the mug tomorrow,” he said. Her sister could show up drunk with an attitude and he would hire her if it meant he could see Layla again.
“I hope so.” She gave him a wink and headed out into the night, leaving him questioning his plan.