Van, Becca - Re-awaken Me (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 4
Sighing over her unwanted attraction to the three brothers, Pip showered, dressed, and turned off the hairdryer. She held still, tilted her head, and listened intently when she caught an unfamiliar sound. There it was again, a light tapping sound, like the rap of knuckles against a pane of glass. She tried to remember if she had locked the back door after she’d closed it behind her. She was pretty sure she had but couldn’t be absolutely certain. She crept along the hallway until she was standing outside the door to the kitchen. She felt goose bumps rise up over her flesh, and a cold sweat coated her body as she listened to the tapping on her kitchen window. She crept closer to the doorjamb, took a deep, steadying breath, and slowly poked her head around the corner.
The image would be forever etched into her mind. Pip screamed with fear and ran from the room when she saw her parents’ faces staring at her through the kitchen window. She bent her body over, sobbing as she tried to keep herself from becoming totally hysterical. When she was able to breathe without the lump of fear clogging her throat, her analytical brain kicked into gear. What she had seen had been a photograph of some kind.
Pippa pushed her fear to the back of her mind. She stepped into the kitchen and stared at the images of her parents’ faces hanging from some sort of rigging. The two photo frames swung back and forth against her kitchen window in the late-afternoon spring breeze. The photo frames were hanging on thick pieces of rope, but she knew she would have to go outside to see how the rope was secured. Rage bubbled up inside her. The thought that someone had taken the time and effort to scare her made her furious. She grabbed her cell phone from her purse, unlocked the keypad, and held her finger over speed dial number one, ready to call Mason for help if it was needed. She walked around the side of the house and studied the ground, searching for footprints. There was nothing to be seen. Whoever had been at her home knew how to clean up after themselves. A shiver worked its way up and down her spine as she spied the large metal hooks drilled into the side of the rain gutters. They looked quite evil and lethal as the waning sunlight hit the sparkling silver hooks.
Pippa was about to push the button on her cell phone to call Mason, but for some reason she was reluctant to call him and his brothers in to investigate a practical joke that could have been done by bored adolescents. Besides, if whoever had done this had taken the time to clear away any sign of footprints in the dirt, it was a definite probability they had worn gloves and left no fingerprints. It would be a waste of tax payer’s money and the Sheriff’s department’s precious time. However, she did take the time to snap quite a few pictures with her digital camera.
Pip glanced at her watch and saw that she was going to be late. She wasn’t going to have time to remove the photos of her parents swinging in the breeze, and she knew there was no way in hell she would remove them when she got back home from her night out. The last thing she wanted to do was make herself feel vulnerable in her own yard late at night. She was going to have to wait until morning to remove the offensive message. So instead, she went back inside, retrieved her purse, checked she’d locked both doors twice, and left.
Pip knew she should have probably saved herself some gas and walked the mile to the Sage brothers’ house, but after the surprise that had been waiting for her when she’d gotten home, she wasn’t stupid enough to take any chances. She sighed with relief as she stopped her car, turned off the ignition, and got out. She’d just put one foot onto the first step leading to the wraparound veranda when the front door to the Sage brothers’ house was pulled open.
Chip leaned against the doorjamb as he watched the sway of Pip’s hips as she walked up the steps toward him. He grinned in response to the nervous smile Pip gave him as he straightened away from the wood frame.
“You’re late, darlin’. We were beginning to think you weren’t comin’.”
“I had to finish off my report on that car pileup on the freeway. Plus, I wanted to shower before I came over. I always feel decidedly grungy after working outside and then being in the artificial environment of air conditioning.”
“You’re looking good, darlin’. Come on in and I’ll get you something to drink,” Chip stated as he stepped aside, holding the door wide for her to enter.
“Something smells good,” Pip said. “Wow, this place has definitely changed since I was here last.”
“It’s been a long time, sugar,” Randy stated. “Take a load off, Pip. Do you want a beer, or would you prefer a glass of wine?”
“Wine, please. Did you guys do this yourself, or did you hire someone in?”
“We did it. So what do you think?” Mason asked.
“I think you guys are amazing. You’re all so talented. To be able to use your hands and have everything you touch work without having the experience most professionals do, as well as being so sexy. You’re every woman’s dream.”
“You think we’re sexy?” Chip asked as he studied her face.
“Um, well, sure. But don’t let it go to your head,” Pip stated facetiously. Chip saw her glance down at the wine glass on the table in front of her, trying to hide the fact her face was red with embarrassment. “So, how come you’re cooking? I thought you were going to be grilling outside. And whatever it is you’re cooking over there smells really good. I didn’t get to have lunch today, so I can’t wait to taste what it is you’re concocting.”
“We remembered how much you used to love our mom’s chicken and dumplings. And since she left us her recipe book and we all know how to cook, since we’ve been on our own for quite a while, we decided to give you a treat as a welcome back to Shelby,” Mason replied.
“Wow, you guys can be so sweet, but I promise not to spread it around. I’d hate to ruin your reputations with the ladies. I used to love your mom’s cooking. It was always so much better than my mom’s,” Pip said, then quickly looked back down at her wine glass. Chip saw Pip’s eyes turn misty. She was obviously caught up in memories. He watched her take a sip of wine, heard her draw in a couple of deep breaths, and saw her raise her head again to see that he and his brothers were watching her. She shifted and rose to her feet, walked over to the French doors leading out of the dining room, and stared out into the darkness beyond. It looked like she was trying so hard to keep herself contained and in control, and he and his brothers just wanted their old Pip back.
“So, how are you settling in at the paper, baby? Do you like it so far? Are your colleagues nice?” Mason asked.
“Everyone seems friendly enough. I guess I’ve settled in okay. And I have a few acquaintances, but it takes time to make friends.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll have a lot a friends before too long, sugar. You never had any trouble making friends when you were a kid,” Randy stated with a grin.
“Yeah, I suppose so. But I’d rather concentrate on my career at the moment,” Pip replied. Chip watched as she turned her gaze back out to the darkness beyond the glass doors.
Chip looked at Mason and Randy and back to the stiff way Pip was holding herself as she gazed out into the night. The way she had her arms wrapped around her waist and the length of her spine ramrod straight were more telling than she was aware. He took in her defensive, protective posture, and he knew there was a lot more to Philippa Grovner than met the eye. She had always been a little spitfire when she was growing up, and even though he had a glimpse of that female from so long ago, he knew she was holding a lot of herself back. It was like she had locked away her real personality and was hiding it from herself just as much as she was hiding it from the rest of the world.
Chip wanted to go over to Pip, pick her up, remove her clothes, and ravish the woman standing so aloofly staring out into the night. He wanted to strip away her aloofness and her control with passion, until all the barriers she had erected were exposed. Until the real person he knew was hidden within that sexy, hot, little body broke through the rigidity of control she kept on herself. He wanted to see her lose control as he and his brothers uncove
Chip knew the only way for his and his brothers’ control to snap and allow them to loosen the reins would be if Pip ever put herself in danger. He didn’t think she would be so foolhardy. After all, she was an investigative reporter and had seen the results of violence and stupidity from fellow human beings.
Chip watched as Mason and Randy served dinner, and they all sat down and chatted about inconsequential things that had cropped up in their lives as they ate. He and his brothers answered Pip’s questions about what they had done, and they even reminisced over the first twelve years of Pippa’s life. He and his brothers asked her questions about what she had done over the years, which she answered, no emotion evident in her voice or face. Chip noted the way she would quickly ask one of them a question, turning their attention away from herself, back onto them. He let her think she had succeeded in manipulating them away from answering their questions for the time being. But the stage was drawing near, and it was only a matter of hours or days before they would lay down the rules of the relationship they wanted to have with her. Chip knew she would try to run or avoid them once they told her what they wanted from her, but there was no way in hell they would let her keep them at arm’s length ever again. She was their woman, and he and his brothers wouldn’t be swayed into thinking otherwise. She had been made for them, and he also knew, without a doubt, they had been made for her. It was going to take the three of them to keep up with such a feisty little firecracker once she actually let her true self show again.
Chip could see the passion lurking in the depths of her eyes. She had hidden her own personality and fire deep down where she thought no one would be able to see the real person. She had even convinced herself she was a calm, cool, collected career person. She had taught herself to be independent, which was fine with him, as long as that independence was left at the bedroom door. He knew she was full of courage and determination, but he also knew she was a female who would have no compunction whatsoever leaning on the man or, in this case, men in her life when necessary. He also knew that she could be just as strong emotionally as them if necessary. He felt no remorse at all in his and his brothers’ actions of making her comfortable and gaining her trust before they made their move. He wanted her to feel safe and secure in their company. He needed her to become less guarded, more compliant, because he, Mason, and Randy were in this for the long haul.
Once dinner was over and Chip began to clear away the dishes, Pip rose from her seat to help. Even though Chip and his brothers protested, she didn’t back down, and between herself and him, they set the kitchen to rights quickly. By the time they had finished cleaning up, the coffee had finished brewing, so Pip and Chip poured the coffee and carried the mugs into the living room. Chip saw Mason was sitting in the corner of the leather sofa, and Randy was sitting in one of the large leather armchairs. His brothers both had their eyes on the large TV screen.
* * * *
Pip grinned to herself. Some things changed for the better or worse, but some things never changed. She remembered walking into this living room to see the much younger men watching a game of baseball numerous times as a kid. Their father was usually sitting in the middle of the sofa, a bowl of popcorn on his lap as he and his sons yelled and cheered at the TV screen. Pippa had usually spent her time in the kitchen with their mom baking cookies, and when they were done she would take a plateful into the room for them to enjoy.
Pip sat down in between Mason and Chip, sipping at her coffee as she stared at the screen. She could never see what was so great about watching baseball, and especially on a TV, but she had never questioned the fascination of the men surrounding her. She used to sit and enjoy the companionship of other people even if she never really noticed what was going on with the game. She used to love sitting here after the cookies had been baked and listening to the members of the Sage family cheer and boo. She had never felt lonely, even if she didn’t really interact or join in the conversation. She had felt content, loved and accepted for who she was, rather than who her parents were. She had been her own person and had never had to put on any airs and graces with the Sage family.
Pip was jolted out of her speculation with the sound of her cell phone ringing and vibrating in her jeans pocket. Once she had her phone in her hand, she glanced at the screen to see who was calling. The LCD display told her whoever was calling was into privacy, as their number was restricted, no number displayed on the screen. She rose from the sofa, walked into the kitchen so as not to disturb the men as they watched their baseball game, and answered the call.
“I have been waiting for you for a long time. Now that you’re back, I will see to it you pay for what you and your family did to mine. Did you like my little surprise?” the low male voice asked.
“Who is this? What the hell do you want?” Pip asked angrily.
“What I want is you. By the time I’m finished with you, you’ll beg me to kill you,” the raspy voice whispered, and then the line went dead.
Pip had no idea how long she stood in the kitchen staring at the phone in her hand. It wasn’t until she heard footsteps behind her that she realized she had been standing in shock, scared and dazed by the threatening phone call. She turned as she closed her cell phone, slipping it into her pocket as she faced Mason.
“Are you all right, baby? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Mason said.
“What? Oh, yeah, sorry. I’m fine. I have to go, though. I just remembered an article I was supposed to have finished by Monday. I’d better get to it before I forget what it was about,” Pip replied. She stepped around Mason and hurried to the doorway to the living room. “Thanks for dinner, guys. I really appreciate it. I have some work to do, so I’ll catch up with you soon.”
“Are you sure you have to hurry off, sugar?” Randy asked.
“Yes, sorry. Bye, Chip.”
“See ya soon, darlin’.”
“Thanks for dinner, Mason. I’ll return the favor soon. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Bye,” Pip said as she hurried out the back door.
* * * *
“What the hell was that all about?” Randy asked.
Mason stood on the deck, Chip and Randy joining him as he watched the taillights of Pip’s car disappear down the driveway.
“I have no idea, but it had something to do with the phone call on her cell. When I stepped into the kitchen, Pip was as white as a sheet and it looked like she was about to pass out,” Mason replied.
“She’s hiding something,” Chip said. Mason stood staring down the driveway.
“Yeah, she is. But it’s not just one something. It’s a whole lot of somethings,” Mason stated.
“She looked scared to me. In fact, I’d say she looked more than scared. She looked downright fucking terrified,” Chip stated with frustration.
“I agree. My gut’s telling me she’s in a whole lot of trouble,” Randy stated.
“I think it’s time we started pushing. I know we agreed to take things slow, and I believed that was the best way to go about things at the time, but something’s changed and we need to make our move now. So are we agreed?” Mason asked his brothers.
“Yeah,” Chip replied.
“Agreed,” answered Randy.
Pip didn’t have time to remove the hideous message left outside her kitchen window the following Saturday morning. She’d slept in. By the time she’d finally fallen asleep, it had been the wee hours of the morning, and the nightmares had persisted, fast and furious. She felt as if she was a wrun
Pip mounted the first step to the veranda, heading to the back door, and hesitated when she saw the shoe box sitting in front of the step. She berated herself for letting fear get to her, pushed it aside, and picked up the box. She took the lid from the container, screamed, dropped the box, and bolted. She landed in the gravel beside the steps, aware that she’d scraped her knees raw in the process. She retched uncontrollably until there was nothing left in her stomach. Her whole body shook and shuddered as she dry heaved, sobbing every breath she managed to take. She screamed through her heaving when large, warm hands gripped her hips. She sagged with relief when she heard the familiar, soothing, masculine voice. She knew they wouldn’t let her get away with her fast exit last night. She knew one or all of the Sage brothers would be on her doorstep sometime today.
“Shh, it’s all right, baby. I’ve got you. That’s right, breathe slow and deep, and it’ll pass. Take a deep breath. In and out, slow and deep. Good girl,” Mason crooned. She heard his sigh when she finally slumped against his chest.
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