Home > Chasing Love (The Littleton Brothers #2)

Chasing Love (The Littleton Brothers #2)
Author: Melissa West

Chapter One

“Nah-ah, boy, you better take that dog on out of here.”

Charlie Littleton tightened his hold on Henry’s leash and shot Patty a look. “You know he doesn’t bark.”

The bakery owner placed a hand on her hip and cocked it for effect. Like always, she wore an apron with the AJ&P Bakery yellow-and-blue logo on it, though you could scarcely see it through the flour and spices smeared across the apron.

“Right,” Patty said now. “A dog that don’t bark. Is that sort of like a man who don’t eat? Because as far as I’m concerned that’s a fictional being. Like the dog. But if you do find a man who will share his sandwich, you be sure to point him in my direction, okay? But seeing as how that man don’t exist, kind of like that nonbarking dog don’t exist, I don’t expect you to be introducing me to him anytime soon.” She winked at him and clucked her tongue. “Now, you take that cute bottom of yours out of here, leave the dog in your truck, then come back and I’ll make you a roast beef with extra au jus.”

Charlie peered around the bakery, the smells of fresh baked bread and toasted hot sandwiches hitting his nose. His stomach grumbled. Of course, the small bakery and sandwich shop was packed today, half the town there to witness Charlie getting put in his place. A part of him wanted to remind Patty that his family’s farm supplied most of her produce and could just as easily refuse to deliver, but he’d learned long ago to retreat slowly and carefully when dealing with the bakery owner.

“Fine, but I’m holding you to that extra au jus.”

Patty flashed him a grin. “It’ll be waiting for you, honey.” Then she waved her hand through the air in a sign that he better get moving, and then she went to greet someone else. Someone without a dog.

Resigned, Charlie pushed out of the glass door and eyed his old Husky. “Sorry, boy. I’ll bring you some leftovers, though.” He unlocked his Silverado, cranked the truck, and rolled down the windows. It was a mild sixty out in Crestler’s Key, Kentucky, a perfect early spring day, but Henry meant more to him than most of the people in the town, and if he was going to be forced to stay in Charlie’s truck, then he’d do it with a nice breeze.

With a long glance down Main Street at the row of shops—Southern Dive, his family’s sports and outdoors shop at the very end—Charlie couldn’t help wondering if he was making the right decisions in his life.

He’d moved back to Crestler’s Key after living in the Florida Keys for five years. There, he’d operated a small scuba diving business, his life as much under water as above it. And he loved every moment of it. Then there were the women, too many to count, always around, always eager to occupy a little bit of his time. He’d been content with that life, never asking for more and never wanting it. He was a typical twenty-something and enjoyed every bit of his young age.

Then he met Jade, and hell if he didn’t fall hook, line, and sinker.

Still to this day, years later, he remembered with painful clarity her walking down the dock at the marina and stopping outside his houseboat, long sun-bleached blond hair and even longer legs. She was beautiful in that natural, God-made way—his kryptonite, when it came to women, so all it took was one look and he was gone.

It took mere days, maybe even hours, for her to rope him into her world. She had innocence behind that beauty that he couldn’t refuse, and weeks passed with them tangled in each other’s arms, a new kind of happiness swirling in Charlie’s chest. She would never fill the spot someone else had once filled, someone he was never allowed to care for, someone he told himself he could—would—forget, but Jade made him feel good. They meshed together perfectly, peanut butter and freaking jelly.

Until that fateful day when he woke to discover she’d taken everything he owned. His dog. His wallet, which she used to drain his checking account. His prized possessions. Even the coin collection his grandfather had left him. Every. Single. Thing. Hell, if he hadn’t been on the houseboat, he felt sure she’d have sailed off with it, too.

And while, yeah, the money thing sucked, and the coin collection sucked even more, what really dropped him into the depression bucket was losing his old dog, Rocky.

He’d rescued Rocky as a puppy from the pound, more mutt than anything, and with a broken left leg. Thousands of dollars in vet bills later, and that dog was his only friend down there. And his idiotic self had let some vixen walk in and steal him.

The thought brought on a fresh wave of guilt, and he contemplated going to talk to Patty again, convince her that they could sit out on the back patio, but then he’d been through this argument with her before. Besides, this was Crestler’s Key, not Florida, and he knew everyone in town. No one would take his dog.

Still, just to be safe, he hit the locks on his truck twice, before heading back into AJ&P, determined to rehash this with Patty before he left if she hoped to continue to get discounted produce from the farm.

“There you are, cute bottom.”

Ah, crap.

Grimacing, Charlie pivoted to find his best friend, Lucas, already seated at one of the white-washed wooden tables, a giant smirk on his face. “Funny,” Charlie said. “You know, I was excited to see you and then you had to go and open that big mouth.” The men laughed, then hugged, because it’d been too damn long.

They took their seats and Lucas joked, “Thought you were going to cry there when she said you couldn’t bring Henry in here.”

Charlie peeked out the window at his truck before returning his gaze to his friend. “Well, she ought to remember who’s supplying all her produce.”

“So you’re going to hold her produce ransom until she lets you bring in your dog? Dude, you need a chick in your life. Stat.”

Charlie laughed, until he glanced around and noticed several of the women he’d dated off and on eating at the bakery, half of them glaring at him. “Yeah . . . think I’ll pass on that one. Thanks, though.”

“What’s the deal with your insane overprotectiveness of Henry anyway? He’s a giant dog. He can take care of himself.”

Yeah, well, Rocky had been a big dog, too, and that didn’t save him from that thieving witch of a woman. Charlie had searched for the dog for nearly a year, all to no avail. Jade was probably halfway across the world now, with his money and his coin collection and his dog. Damn woman. No, damn women. They were more trouble than they would ever be worth.

Lucas continued to stare at him with a questioning look, but all Charlie could say was the same excuse he always said. Because no one, not Lucas, not his brothers Zac or Brady, no one knew about Jade or what she’d done to him. The humiliation would be too much.

“Henry had a rough childhood. Gotta protect the boy now.”

“Right . . .”

MaryAnn, one of AJ&P’s waitresses, came over then to get their order, and Lucas smiled a little too wide at his former high-school flame before clearing his throat and trying for mock-cool. Charlie suppressed a grin. Mary Ann, with her wavy blond hair and deep brown eyes, still looked exactly as she did in high school. And just like in high school, she was still 100 percent in love with Lucas. “Hey, there,” Mary Ann said, matching his smile. “I didn’t know you were home.”

Lucas shrugged. “Three-day leave before going back.”

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