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Things We Never Got Over by Lucy Score


Things We Never Got Over

by Lucy Score

Published by Bloom Books

Book 1 in the Knockemout series


Bearded, bad-boy barber Knox prefers to live his life the way he takes his coffee: Alone. Unless you count his basset hound, Waylon.


Knox doesn’t tolerate drama, even when it comes in the form of a stranded runaway bride.


Naomi wasn’t just running away from her wedding. She was riding to the rescue of her estranged twin to Knockemout, Virginia, a rough-around-the-edges town where disputes are settled the old-fashioned way…with fists and beer. Usually in that order.


Too bad for Naomi her evil twin hasn’t changed at all. After helping herself to Naomi’s car and cash, Tina leaves her with something unexpected. The niece Naomi didn’t know she had. Now she’s stuck in town with no car, no job, no plan, and no home with an 11-year-old going on thirty to take care of.


There’s a reason Knox doesn’t do complications or high-maintenance women, especially not the romantic ones. But since Naomi’s life imploded right in front of him, the least he can do is help her out of her jam. And just as soon as she stops getting into new trouble he can leave her alone and get back to his peaceful, solitary life.


At least, that’s the plan until the trouble turns to real danger.



Genre


Triggers

Mentions of abusive relationship, child abandonment, neglect to a child, robbery, violence, kidnapping

(not by MC's)


 

Before I begin, I want to shout out to one of my readers, Chel, who kindly emailed me and told me she was dying to read my thoughts on the Knockemout Series.


It's been on my TBR for a while.

I've seen the hype.

I actually own the books. They are sitting on my bookshelf at this very moment.

But you know how that is. I have a lot of books on my shelf that are just waiting to be read.

I won't pretend that Chel's message didn't give me the little nudge to pick up those books before for all the others.

I,

Am.

So.

Happy.

That I read these books.

No exaggeration, I binged this series. I finished Things We Never Got Over in less than 48 hours.

Dishes were not done.

Pizza was ordered.

Because there was no way I was adulting when I was fully immersed in this book.


Things We Never Got Over had some of my favorite tropes.

A true grumpy/sunshine duo. An age gap with an a capital A for alpha.

Set in a small town where everyone gets all up in people's business.

A love interest that is a little bit of a bad boy, but with a heart of gold.

That wasn't the best part for me, though.

In fact, I can't pick what I loved the most about this book.

I loved everything.

The writing. The overall story. The characters. The romance. The banter. The sex.

Every. Single. Thing.

Both Knox and Naomi came with their own issues, and interesting backgrounds. When they came together on page, whether it was in an argument, banter, or more, it was fireworks.

The chemistry and tension between these two characters, combined with their personal arcs and the book's plot, made this book so much fun to read. There was never a point where I was bored, and the book's arc felt very organic.


Thank you Chel for giving me that little nudge to read this series. It surpassed all my expectations, and I can't wait to write my thoughts on the next two in the series. For the rest of you, if you haven't picked up this book yet, do it! You will not regret it.



 



 

Knox: “You even think about picking up that cup, and we’re gonna have a problem,”

the Viking said, his voice low and dangerous.

But Leif Erikson didn’t know who he was messing with today.

Every woman had her line. Mine, which was admittedly drawn too far back, had just been crossed.

Naomi: “You take one step toward that beautiful latte that my friend Justice made especially for me, and I will make you regret the moment you met me.”


Naomi: “You, my friend, are a true gentleman. Unlike some others.

I cast a glare over my shoulder to where the Viking was standing, legs braced, arms crossed. Taking another dive into my drink, I tucked the twenty into the tip jar.

Naomi: “Thank you for being nice to me on the worst day of my life.”

Knox: “Thought that day was yesterday,”

the scowling behemoth butted in.

My sigh was weary as I slowly turned to face him.

Naomi: “That was before I met you. So I can officially say that as bad as yesterday was, today beat it out by a slim margin.”

Once again, I turned back to Justice.

Naomi: “I’m sorry this jerk scared away all your customers. But I’ll be back for another one of these real soon.”

Justice:“Looking forward to it, Naomi,”

he said with a wink.


Knox: “Let me get this straight. You’re a stranger in a new town. Your car disappears. And you’re turning down the offer of a ride because…”

Naomi: “Because you stormed into a cafe and screamed at me! Then you chased me down and you’re still yelling. I get in a car with you and I’m more likely to get chopped into pieces and scattered about in a desert than end up at my destination.”

Knox: “No deserts here. Some mountains though.”


Naomi: “Has anyone ever told you you have the personality of a pissed-off porcupine?”

I ignored her and kept walking.

Naomi: “How do I know you aren’t going to try to hog-tie me yourself?”

she demanded. I came to a stop and gave her a lazy once-over.

Knox: “Baby, you’re not my type.”

She rolled her eyes so hard it was a miracle they didn’t pop out and fall to the sidewalk.

Naomi: “Excuse me while I go cry myself a river.”


Naomi: “Listen, whoever the hell you are. The only people who can talk about her like that are me, our parents, and the Andersontown High graduating class of 2003. And maybe also the Andersontown Fire Department. But that’s because they earned the right."


Grave: “Way I see it, there’s two things that coulda happened. A, you forgot where you parked. But a gal like you in a town this small, that don’t seem likely.”

Naomi: “No, it doesn’t,”

she agreed amicably without calling him Captain Obvious.

Grave: “Or B, someone stole your car.”

I kissed my hour of sleep good-bye.


Grave: “Your sister’s been causing trouble since she got into town a year ago. This probably ain’t the first car she’s helped herself to.”

Naomi’s nostrils flared delicately. She brought my coffee to her mouth, drank it down in a few determined gulps, then tossed the empty cup into the waste basket by the desk.

Naomi: “Thank you for your help. If you see a blue Volvo with a Nice Matters bumper sticker, please let me know.”


Knox: “Honey mustard dipping sauces?”

She glanced at me as I slid in behind the wheel.

Naomi: “You hear about that guy who drove through a guardrail in the winter a few years back?”

It sounded vaguely familiar.

Naomi: “He ate nothing but ketchup packets for three days.”

Knox: “You plan on driving through a guardrail?”

Naomi: “No. But I like to be prepared. And I don’t like ketchup.”


Knox: “Hey, Way,”

The girl’s blue eyes flitted away from the screen to land on him before returning to the TV.

Waylay: “Hey, Knox.”

It was a small town. Of course the town grump and the child felon knew each other.


Nash: “You’re not necessary for this part,”

Nash told him. Knox bared his teeth.

Knox: “You want me to leave, gonna have to make me.”

Naomi: “I’m sorry. He’s been like this all morning,”

I explained to Nash.

Nash: “Honey, he’s been like this his entire life,”


Waylay: “She took the TV. But I grabbed the remote while she wasn’t looking,”

Waylay said proudly.

Knox: “Nice job, kid,”

Knox said, giving her hair a ruffle.


He stepped back up onto the porch and into my space, then did something I never saw coming.

He grinned. Full-on, panty-melting, 100-percent-wattage grinned.

I felt woozy and hot and like I didn’t know how any of my joints worked anymore.

Naomi: “Wow,”

Knox: “Wow what?”

Naomi: “Uh… You smiled. And it was just seriously wow. I had no idea you could look like that. I mean, you already look like…”

I waved my hand awkwardly in front of him.

Naomi: “You know. But then you add the smile, and you look almost human.”

His smile was gone, and the familiar annoyance was back.

Knox: “Jesus, Daisy. Get some sleep. You’re babbling like an idiot.”


Naomi: “Coffee,”

I croaked at her.

Waylay: “Man, you look like a zombie.”

Naomi: “Zombie needs coffee.”


Naomi: “Okay. You know what? I don’t think you’re supposed to talk to patrons like that,”

I was going for firm and confident, but it came out tinged with hysteria.

Naomi: “And you know what else? Today I’ve been yelled at, robbed—twice—and turned into an inexperienced instaparent, and that was before lunch. I’ve slept about an hour in the last two days. And you don’t see me hurling deli meat around. All I ask from you is that you treat me and my niece with a modicum of respect as a paying customer. I don’t know you. I’ve never been here before. I’m sorry for whatever my sister did with her breasts and your meat. But I’d really like this turkey sliced thinner!”


Naomi: “Ex-fiancé. We’re no longer together. And we didn’t get married.”

Waylay: “‘Cause she left him at the altar. Yesterday.”

Naomi: “Waylay, I told you that in confidence,”

Naomi hissed. Her cheeks turned a bright shade of scarlet.

Waylay: “You’re the one being interrogated for grand theft auto.”


Naomi: “Those are for this mysterious Liza J I’m supposed to be making a good impression on,”

she complained.

Naomi: “This isn’t a great way for me to meet a new potential landlord. ‘Hi, I’m Naomi. I’m squatting in your cottage, and these guys were fighting in your driveway. Please give me affordable rent.’”


Naomi: “Why are you pissed off at each other?”

Knox: “Baby, you haven’t got the time,”


Liza: “Quit your hollerin’,”

a voice came from the direction of the kitchen.

Liza: “What’s the matter with you? Your mama raise you in a barn?”

Nash: “No, but our grandma did,”

Nash called back.


Naomi held out the bouquet.

Naomi: “We brought you flowers and cookies to thank you for inviting us to dinner.”

Liza: “Flowers, cookies, and two bleeding men. Might as well come on back. Dinner’s about done.”


Liza: “You’ll still need a paycheck,”

she continued, unaware of my mental predicament. I still needed a lot of things. Bike helmets. A car. Some therapy appointments…


When I moved to take a seat next to Waylay, Liza shook her head.

Liza: “Uh-uh. These two sit next to each other, they’ll be wrestling on the floor before cookies.”

Naomi: “I’m sure they can behave themselves for one meal,”

She snorted.

Liza: “No, they can’t.”

Knox: “No, we can’t,”

Knox said at the same time.


He shrugged.

Knox: “Chivalry. Humble beginnings. You talk like you read the dictionary for fun.”

Naomi: “I’m so glad you find humor in my vocabulary. It just makes my day.”

Nash: “Don’t mind Knox. He’s intimidated by women with brains.”

Knox: “You want my fist up your nose again?”

Knox offered gamely. I kicked him under the table. It was purely on reflex.

Knox: “Ow! Fuck,”

he muttered, leaning down to rub his shin.

All eyes came to me, and I realized what I’d done.

Naomi: “Great,”

I said, throwing down my fork in mortification.

Naomi: “A few minutes here and there with you, and it’s contagious. Next thing you know, I’ll be putting strangers in headlocks on the street.”

Waylay: “I’d pay to see that,”

Knox and Nash: “Me too,”

Knox and Nash said together. The corner of Liza’s mouth lifted.

Liza: “I think you’ll fit in just fine around here. Even if you do talk like a dictionary.”


Liza: “You boys know our Naomi here’s a runaway bride?”

Waylay: “She left some guy standing in a church and stole his car!”

Waylay announced with pride. I picked up the bottle of wine and topped off Liza’s glass and then my own.

Naomi: “You know, where I’m from, we mind our own business.”

Liza: “Better not be expecting that in a place like Knockemout,”


Knox: “What are you doing here, Naomi?”

Naomi: “I’m checking Santa’s Naughty List. What does it look like I’m doing? I’m working. Now get out of my way, or I’ll hit you with my tray and I’ve had a lot of espresso today. I could get you on the floor in three or four whacks.”


Naomi: “I don’t care if you don’t want me working here, Viking. Fi hired me. I’m here. Now, unless you have a reason for detaining me at a job I desperately need, you blond Oscar the Grouch, I suggest you take up your hiring concerns with this establishment’s management.”

Knox: “I am this establishment’s management,”

Great. Of course he was management. I’d hit my new boss with a tray.

Naomi: “I wouldn’t have taken this job if I’d known you managed this place,”

I bit out.

Knox: “Now you know. Get out.”

Sherry: “Knox,”

Sherry sighed wearily.

Sherry: “We needed a replacement for the server you scared off with all your scowling and Oscar the Grouching.”

He pointed a threatening finger in her direction.

Knox: “I’m not letting you make that a thing.


Waylay: “We ordered pizza stead of eatin’ that mound of veggies you left us,”

she said over the blare of the TV on her end.

Naomi: “Are those gunshots?”

I asked, plugging my ear with a finger so I could hear her over the musical stylings of country singer Mickey Guyton on my end.

Liza: “Can you believe she’s never seen The Usual Suspects?”

Liza scoffed.

Naomi: “Liza!”

Liza: “Relax. We’re just shooting real guns in the house, not watching R-rated movies.”

Naomi: “Liza!”

Liza: “You’re right—your aunt really is wound tighter than a necktie on Friday,”

Liza said, presumably to my big-mouthed niece.

Liza: “Everything’s fine. Way helped me in the garden. We ate pizza and now we’re watching a PG-13, edited-for-TV action movie. Sylvester Stallone just called someone a poop head.”


Silver: “Lay off, Knox,”

Silver said as she shook two cocktail shakers at once.

Silver: “You know being a dick costs you in turnover.”

Knox: “I want this one to turn over,”


Knox: “You hit me with a fucking tray for talkin’ shit, but you let that sweaty asshole put his hand on you?”

Naomi: “I don’t have time to point out the fact that you told me if I upset one table you were firing me, so you’ll have to settle for this,”

she said, holding up her middle finger in my face.


Knox: “Cards on the table?”

I didn’t feel like sugarcoating it.

Knox: “You’re not my type.”

Naomi: “Are you kidding me right now?”

Knox: “Nope.”

Naomi: “You’re not attracted to me, so that means you can’t even be civil to me?”

The back door opened, and we watched Max and Silver exit with the last bag of trash. They marched it to the dumpster together and high-fived after heaving it in. Max waved, and Silver tossed me another salute on their way to their respective cars.

Knox: “I didn’t say I wasn’t attracted to you. I said you’re not my type.”

She groaned.

Naomi: “I’m definitely going to regret this, but I think you’re going to have to break it down for me.”

Knox: “Well, Daisy. It means my dick doesn’t care that you’re not my type. It’s still standing up, trying to get your attention.”

She was quiet for a long beat.

Knox: “You’re too much work. Come with too many complications. And you wouldn’t be satisfied with just a quick fuck.”

Naomi: “I believe Knox Morgan just said he couldn’t satisfy me. If only I had a phone to immortalize that statement on social media.”


Naomi: “You’re lucky I’m too tired to slap you, jump out of this vehicle, and crawl home,”

I turned onto the dirt lane that led to home.

Knox: “You can slap me tomorrow.”

Naomi: “Probably just make you want me more.”

Knox: “You’re a pain in my ass.”

Naomi: “You’re just mad because now you have to find a new spot to pee in your yard.”


Jeremiah: “I wanna find out what’s got your beard so droopy. You were fine a couple of days ago. Your usual grumpy self. Now you’re pouting.”

Knox: “I don’t pout. I ponder. In a manly way.”


Knox: “You just sold a wedding dress to pay for your niece’s back-to-school shit. You don’t have a phone. And you don’t have a car.”

Naomi: “I have a phone,”

I said, digging out Liza’s old Blackberry and holding it up in his face.

Knox: “The letter E just fell off the keyboard.”

Damn it. E was in a lot of words.


I couldn’t blame them. He was unfairly gorgeous. Too bad about the whole terrible personality thing.


Naomi: “Knox, I’m not buying all those,”

I hissed at him.

Knox: “Shut it,”

he said and whipped out his credit card.

Naomi: “If you think for one second that I’m allowing you to buy me underwear—”

He cut off my tirade by slinging an arm over my shoulder and covering my mouth with his hand.

Knox: “Here,”

he said, sliding his card across the counter. I was squirming against him until he leaned down.

Knox: “If this is what it takes to get out of this fucking store without passing out from a goddamn hard-on, I’m buying you the fucking underwear.”


The handshake went on longer than necessary.

Waylay: “Why are their fingers turning white?”

Naomi: “It’s a man thing,”

I explained. She looked skeptical.

Waylay: “Like pooping for forty-five minutes?”

Naomi: “Yeah, something like that,”


Naomi: “Knox very graciously took us shopping today,”

Waylay: “He bought me pink sneakers and he bought Aunt Naomi underwear and a phone.”

Naomi: “Thank you for that information, Way. Why don’t you go inside and not talk anymore?”

I suggested, giving her a shove toward the house.

Waylay: “That depends. Can I have the last ice cream sandwich?”

Naomi: “It’s yours as long as you stuff it in your mouth instead of talking.”

Waylay: “Pleasure doing business with you. See ya, Knox!”


Stef: “You’re the one who has to live your life. Don’t apologize to other people for the decisions you make for yourself.”


Stef: “Why are you whispering?”

Naomi: “Because he lives right there,”

I said, pointing my glass in the direction of Knox’s cabin.

Stef: “Oooh. Grumpy next-door neighbor. That’s one of my favorite tropes.”

Naomi: “The first time he met me, he called me trash.”

Stef: “That bitch.”

Naomi: “Well, technically he thought I was Tina when he was yelling at me in front of an entire cafe full of strangers.”

Stef: “That vision-impaired bitch.”

Naomi: “God, I love you.”


Stef: “You’re telling me he’s a grumpy, overprotective hottie next-door and you’re not going to sleep with him? How wasteful.”


Stef: “I’ll get the truffles I hid in your bedroom,”

Naomi: “I really wish you were straight,”

Stef: “If I could be straight for anyone, it would be you,”

he said, clinking his glass to mine.

Naomi: “Where did these glasses come from?”

I asked, frowning at the barware.

Stef: “These are my car wine glasses. I always carry a pair.”

Naomi: “Of course you do.”


Stef: “Give me your phone,”

he said, holding out his hand.

Knox: “Why?”

Stef: “Oh, you want me to text Naomi when Warner shows up looking for her?”

I handed it over. Stef held it up to my scowling face to unlock it.

Stef: “Huh. Wonder if it would unlock if you were smiling.”

Knox: “I don’t know. Never tried.”


Naomi: “Your hair is yours. You get to decide what to do with it,”

I assured her.

Stef: “You get to decide how you show up in this world. No one else gets to dictate to you who you are,”


Waylay: “Your friend is weird,”

Naomi: “I know.”

Waylay: “I kinda like him.”

Naomi: “Yeah. Me too.”


Stef: Told you your sister was a gigantic waste of DNA.

I sighed and tossed him a glare, then typed.

Naomi: : I’m first in line for face punching when she turns up.

Stef: Good girl. Also, I added a bikini wax to your mani-pedi.

Naomi: : Mean! Why?

Stef: Growly Tattoo Guy deserves to get laid after that speech. Also, Jer is fifty shades of gorgeous.

Jeremiah: “Agree on both counts,”

Jeremiah said from where he was reading over my shoulder.

Stef laughed while I turned six shades of scarlet.


Jeremiah: “You really should think about it,”

Jeremiah whispered as he liberated a curling iron from a tool organizer.

Naomi: “Think about what?”

He caught my eye in the mirror and tilted his head in Knox’s direction.

Naomi: “Hard pass.”

Jeremiah: “Self-care maintenance,”

Naomi: “I beg your pardon?”

Jeremiah: “Some women get manicures. Some get massages or go for therapy. Some hit the gym or their favorite bottle of Shiraz. But the best self-care maintenance, in my opinion, is regular, earth-shattering orgasms.”


His chest was pressing against mine, and I was having trouble focusing on the fury that rose in my throat. Hot, hard muscle against soft flesh. His proximity made me feel drunk.

Naomi: “You’re not kissing me,”

I insisted. In hindsight, the warning was a tad presumptuous since he’d never kissed me before. But to be fair, he really looked like he wanted to kiss me.

Knox: “I’d rather wring your pretty little neck right now,”

he said, eyes narrowing on my mouth. I licked my lips, preparing to definitely not kiss him.


I turned and spied Naomi putting a flirtatious hand on my brother’s arm.

When she laughed and tossed her hair, my brilliant plan didn’t seem so brilliant.

Knox: “Goddammit.”

I left Fi and maneuvered my way through the crowd, getting close enough to hear Nash say,

Nash: “Let me guess. Illegal poker game in the back room, and you were sent to distract me.”

Fuck me.

Naomi’s eyes went wide, and I realized the woman had no poker face whatsoever.

Naomi: “Uhhh… Are you always this handsome and intelligent?”

Nash: “I am,”

Nash said with a stupid wink that made me want to punch him in his stupid face.


Why the fuck the entire town suddenly decided winking at Naomi was a good idea was beyond me, and I was going to put a stop to it as soon as possible.

Knox: “Yeah, yeah. Everything’s great. Don’t you have drinks to serve?”

Naomi rolled her eyes.

Naomi: “I didn’t get rid of your brother yet.”

Knox: “You can keep the hundred if you go away,” I said, needing to get her out from between my brother and my best friend.

Naomi: “Deal. Lucian, I’ll see you back in there with a fresh drink. Nash, it was fun flirting with you.”

Nash: “The pleasure was all mine, darlin’,”

my brother drawled, tossing her a little salute. We all watched her sashay to the bar.


Knox: “Why don’t you ever fucking listen?”

he grumbled, lips moving against my hair.

Naomi: “Because sometimes people don’t know how to ask for what they really need. You needed a hug.”

Knox: “No. I didn’t,”

He was quiet for a long moment, and I listened to his heartbeat.

Knox: “I needed you.”

My own breath tripped in my throat. I tried to pull back to look up at him, but he held me where I was.

Knox: “Just shut up, Daisy,”

Naomi: “Okay.”


I cupped his cheeks in my hands. His beard was coarse against my palms.

Naomi: “I’m going to tell you something that you and your brother both need to know, and I need this to resonate in your soul,”

I said. His eyes locked on mine. Well, more on my mouth than my eyes. But it was good enough.

Naomi: “You’re both idiots.”

His gaze tore away from my lips, and his eyes narrowed. I squished his cheeks together before he could snarl at me.

Naomi: “And if either of you wastes one more damn day on the fact that you two have both worked so hard and given so much to this town in your own ways, then the idiocy is terminal, and there’s no cure.”

I released his face and leaned back.

Knox: “If this is your way of cheering me up about my brother getting shot, you suck at it.”


Knox: “Is that why you came back?”

His expression darkened.

Lucian: “One of the reasons.”

Knox: “One of those other reasons have anything to do with a pretty little librarian who hates your guts?”

He sighed, absently patting his pockets.

Knox: “Already had your one,”

I reminded him.

Lucian: “Fuck,”

It was as flustered as he allowed himself to get.


Naomi: “Oh my God. Is this really happening?”

Whoops. I hadn’t actually meant to say that out loud.

Knox: “Do not come to your senses yet,”

Naomi: “No sense here. Promise.”


Naomi: “This is a one-time thing.”

I needed to say it aloud. To remind myself that this was the one and only time I was going to let Knox Morgan make me come.

Knox: “One time,”

he agreed, still watching me closely.

Knox: “Final offer.”

Naomi: “Don’t talk like a game show host when your face is between my legs.”

Knox: “Don’t ask me to have a conversation when you were just about to come on my God damn tongue.”

Naomi: “Point taken,”

My insides were actually pulsing with greedy desire.

Naomi: “One-time thing. Make it count.”

Knox: “Then you better hang the fuck on.”


Knox: “You keep milking my dick like that, sweetheart, and this is gonna have to be a two-time thing.”

Naomi: “Mmmph. Good. Yes.”

He grinned down at me.

Knox: “So this is what it takes for you to lose that fancy vocabulary of yours.”

Naomi: “Ugh. Are you gonna talk all day or are you going to move?”


Knox: “Can’t decide how I want you,”

he confessed through gritted teeth.

Knox: “Thought about too many ways.”

Naomi: “You have?”

I breathed, trying to sound surprised like I didn’t have a regular fantasy of him banging me bent over the pool table at Honky Tonk. He nipped at my bottom lip.

Knox: “Up against a wall in my office. My hand over your mouth so no one can hear me making you come. You riding me in my truck. These perfect tits in my face so I can suck you while I fuck you. On your hands and knees looking over your shoulder while I work you from behind.”

Okay, those were pretty good.


I watched in horror as bare feet attached to naked, muscular legs appeared on the stairs. Mom and I froze to the spot as boxer briefs—thank God for penis-covering miracles—came into view.

Dad, moving quickly for a big guy, put himself between us and the approaching boxer briefs.

Lou: “State your business,”

Dad shouted at Knox’s bare torso.

Mandy: “Wow, wow, wow,”

Mom whispered. She wasn’t wrong. The man was freaking spectacular.

Waylon and Beeper chose that moment to take their zoomies up the stairs.

Knox: “Daze, you wanna explain what’s goin’ on?”

Knox drawled as he sidestepped the canine catastrophe.

I ducked under Dad’s arm and moved to stand between my parents and my boss…er, neighbor? One-time sex partner?

Naomi: “Uh. Okay. So…I really wish I would have had more coffee.”

Mandy: “Are those tattoos real? How many times a week do you go to the gym?”

Mom asked, peering under Dad’s armpit.

Lou: “What the hell is goin’ on?”

Mandy: “Oh, Lou. So old-fashioned,”

Mom said, giving him an affectionate pat on the backside before walking up to Knox and hugging him.

Naomi: “Mom!”

Knox stood there woodenly clearly in shock.

Mandy: “Welcome to the family,”

she said, pressing a kiss to his cheek.

Naomi: “Oh my God. I’m going to die of embarrassment,”

Knox patted my mother awkwardly on the back.

Knox: “Uh. Thanks?”


Knox: “I need coffee,”

Knox muttered and headed for the kitchen.

Lou: “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Dad demanded, still not looking very pleased.

Knox: “Naomi,”

Knox called from the coffeepot.

Knox: “Pants?”

I winced.

Naomi: “Under the sink.”

He gave me a long, unreadable look before bending to retrieve his jeans.

My mother gave me an incredibly inappropriate double thumbs-up as Knox turned his back on us and zipped the fly of his jeans.

MOM! I mouthed.


Lou: “What is it you do for a living, Knock?”

Naomi: “Knox. He owns businesses and some property, Dad.”

My father harrumphed.

Lou: “Self-made man? Guess it’s better than Mr. Nepotism.”


Naomi: “Knox, can I see you outside?”

I asked through clenched teeth.

Mandy: “Do you see how they can’t keep their hands off each other?”

Mom trilled behind us.

Lou:“Yeah. You got any antacids in there?”

Dad asked, looking ill.


Nash: “Heard Liza has a few new guests.”

I nodded.

Knox: “Naomi’s parents. Showed up this morning. Guess they’re anxious to meet their granddaughter.”

Nash: “Heard that too. Also heard that you made quite the impression coming downstairs in your birthday suit.”

Knox: “Your grapevine needs some pruning. I was wearing underwear.”

Nash: “Bet her dad loved that.”

Knox: “He handled it.”


Knox: “Gotta head out. Some shit to take care of before the big family dinner tonight celebrating Way’s first day and Naomi’s parents coming to town.”

Nash: “I hate you,”

But there was no real heat to his words.

Knox: “Let this be a lesson to you, little brother. You gotta make your moves faster or else someone else’ll make ’em for you.”

I started for the door.

Nash: “Tell Way to let me know if anyone at school messes with her,”

Knox: “Will do.”

Nash: “Tell Naomi she’s welcome to swing by any time.”

Knox: “Not happening.”


She slugged me in the shoulder.

Naomi: “What is wrong with you? Our families are right up there!”

Knox: “A whole lot of things,”

I said with a grin.

Naomi: “You’re the worst. We’re coming!”

she yelled.

Knox: “We will be later,”

I promised under my breath.


Naomi: “Hello, ladies. You’re looking gorgeous today.”

Fi: “You’re early and in a good mood,”

Fi noted, sliding the cash drawer into the register.

Fi: “I hate that about you.”

Silver glanced my way as she flipped the stools off the bar. She paused.

Silver: “She’s got orgasm face. She’s not one of us.”

Crap. The last thing Knox or I needed was our co-workers gossiping about our incredibly satisfying sex life.

Naomi: “Oh, come on,”

I scoffed, hiding my face behind a curtain of hair as I tied my apron.

Naomi: “A girl can be in a good mood without having orgasms. What’s with the chocolate and heating pads?”

Next to the register was a plate of brownies wrapped with pink cellophane, a box of stick-on heating pads, and a bottle of Midol.

Silver: “Knox’s monthly care package. Who gave you the O face?”

Naomi: “Care package for what?”

I asked, ignoring the question.

Fi: “All our cycles synced up. Stasia’s too. Every month, the boss puts together a period survival kit and is nice to us for a day or two.”

Naomi: “That’s really nice of him,”

Fi slapped the bar.

Fi: “OhmygodyouhadsexwithKnox!”


Fi came out of the bathroom with her hands on her lower back.

Fi:“God. Why do I have to pee 147 times a day when I’m riding the cotton pony?”

She groaned when she spotted me.

Fi: “What the hell are you doing here? It’s Period Night.”

Knox: “I own the place,”

I reminded her, scanning the bar.

Fi: “Yeah. And you’re also smart enough not to show up when you have three menstruating women on shift.”

Knox: “Where’s Naomi?”

Fi: “Don’t you take that tone with me today, Knoxy. I will break your face.”

I had taken no tone with her, but I knew better than to point that out.

Knox: “I brought you brownies.”

Fi: “You brought us brownies so we don’t cry in the kitchen.”


Knox: “Why haven’t I fired you yet?”

Fi: “Because I’m amazing!”

she sang, spreading her arms wide. She flinched and clutched her stomach.

Fi: “Fucking periods.”

Silver: “Amen,”

Knox: “Strap on one of those damn heat pad things and take turns getting off your feet,”

Fi: “Look who’s Mr. Menstruation,”

Knox: “Working with the Synched Sisters has educated me in ways I never wanted to be."


Silver: “Your tone is aggressive, and I don’t react well to aggressive during my Lady Business,”

This was why I didn’t come near Honky Tonk during Code Red, which is how I labeled it in my calendar.


Naomi: “I need to skip ahead to the chapter on discipline in my library book. Damn it! I hate reading out of chronological order.”


I shifted my hips to give her better access, and the horn sounded.

She gasped.

Naomi: “Oops! Sorry. That was my butt. I mean, my butt hitting your horn. Not like my butt.”

I found myself grinning against her breast. The woman was entertaining on more than just the most obvious levels.


Knox: “You can’t spend your entire life trying to make everyone else happy, Naomi,”

Naomi: “Why not?”

She looked genuinely baffled.

Knox: “Eventually you’re going to give a little too much and you won’t have enough left over for yourself.”


Naomi: “This is what it’s like living in my brain.”

Knox: “It’s fucking exhausting.”


He looked pale, tired. And the asshole had his shirt off, revealing his wound dressing. He was holding fresh gauze and a roll of tape.

Naomi: “You poor thing,”

Naomi crooned, grabbing the supplies out of his hands.

Naomi: “Let me help you.”

Nash shot me a smirk when Florence Nightingale pushed her way inside. If he kept up the wounded hero routine with Naomi, I was going to raise his damn rent and push him down the stairs.


Knox: “Don’t fucking cry, Daze. Not over her. You’ve given her enough.”

She sucked in a breath and blew it out.

Knox: “You can use me as a pillow if you wanna scream it out,”

Naomi: “Don’t be sweet and funny right now.”

Knox: “Baby, those are two things no one has ever accused me of being.”

She pulled back and took another steadying breath.

Naomi: “This is not what I was expecting when you said you were taking me to lunch.”

Knox: “I expected the yelling, just thought we’d be doing it naked.


Nash: “You remember what she was wearing when she walked by your window,”

he said, nodding at the bathroom door.

Knox: “Yeah. So?”

Nash: “She means something to you.”

Knox: “Does blood loss make you stupid?”

Nash: “I’m just sayin’, you care about her. Any other woman you wouldn’t have bothered calling her on her own bullshit. You wouldn’t have known any other woman well enough to know she was bullshitting you, let alone care that she was.”

Knox: “Getting to your point any time soon?”

Nash: “Yeah. Don’t fuck it up like you usually do.”


Naomi: “I’m not real clear on the law in Virginia. Is it okay to put duct tape over a police officer’s mouth?”

Nash: “Not when he’s on the clock,”

Nash said with a grin.


Warner: “What the fuck?”

Warner snarled as Lucian hauled him to his feet.

Warner: “I’m calling my lawyer! Your ass will be in jail by morning!”

Lucian: “Good luck with that. His brother’s the chief of police, and my lawyer is ten times more expensive than yours. Watch the door,”

Lucian warned. And then he used Warner’s face to open the kitchen door. A cheer went up in the bar as the two men disappeared.


Knox: “You can’t all leave the floor at the same fucking time,”

I called through the door.

Fi: “Fuck off, Knoxy. We got this,”

Wraith: “And we got this, Knox,”

Wraith said, throwing a bar towel over his shoulder and stepping behind the bar.

Wraith: “You’re all gettin’ beers or shots cause I don’t know how the fuck to pour anything else.”

A raucous cheer rose up from the customers.


Nash: “Knox, where are you going?”

I flipped the lock and wrenched the door open.

Knox: “To dig a shallow grave so I have a place to put him after I get tired of throwing punches.”


She looked down.

Naomi: “He never thought I was good enough for him.”

Knox: “Baby, truth is, on his best day, he was never gonna be good enough for you, and he fucking knew it.”


Nash: “What’s your problem?”

Nash asked, nodding at my phone.

Nash: “Liza J kicking your ass in Words with Friends again?”

Knox: “Naomi isn’t home yet.”

Nash: “It’s a five-minute drive,”

Nash pointed out. Lucian looked at me.

Lucian: “You didn’t tell him?”

Nash: “Tell me what?”

Knox: “Naomi’s ex showed up at Honky Tonk tonight. Put his hands on her. Scared her.”

Nash: “Jesus. Where did you put the body?”

Lucian smiled slyly.

Lucian: “You don’t want to know.”

Nash pinched the bridge of his nose.

Nash: “I really don’t want this paperwork.”


Liza: “You know what they say about fine. Fucked up. Insecure. Neurotic. And emotional,”


Mrs. Suarez: “At some point, you have got to stop worrying so much about what everyone else needs and start thinking about what you need.”

I blinked.

Naomi: “I would think selflessness was a good quality in a guardian,”

I said with a defensive sniff.

Mrs. Suarez: “So is setting an example for your niece about how she doesn’t need to turn herself inside out to be loved. How she doesn’t need to set herself on fire to keep someone else warm. Demanding to have your own needs met isn’t problematic—it’s heroic, and kids are watching. They’re always watching. If you set an example that tells her the only way she’s worthy of love is by giving everyone everything, she’ll internalize that message.”

I dropped my forehead to the table with a groan.

Mrs. Suarez: “There’s a difference between taking care of someone because you love them and taking care of someone because you want them to love you,”


Stef: “Listen to me, Naomi. If that man isn’t smart enough to recognize how amazingly intelligent and beautiful and kind and caring and wickedly awesome at board games you are, it’s his loss. Which makes him the simpleton. I forbid you to spend one second of your time over-thinking this and coming to the false conclusion you’re the one with the problem.”

Well, there went my evening plans.


Stef: "All the signs were there because he put them there. If you ask me—which I know you didn’t—I’m betting he wasn’t faking it. He was feeling it, and it scared the shit out of him. The beautiful, tattooed piece of chicken shit.”


It was Monday. I’d put in a full afternoon at Whiskey Clipper, moving into my office when clients and staff started shooting dirty looks at me. Word spread fast in Knockemout. I’d planned on working tonight at the bar, but when I’d walked in the door at Honky Tonk Max and Silver had booed me. Then Fi flipped me the bird and told me to come back when I learned how to be less of an asshole.

This was why I didn’t mess around with Knockemout women.

They were rattlesnake mean when riled. So here I was. Home for the night. Enjoying my solitude.


Nash stood on the doorstep, jaw clenched, hands fisted at his side.

Nash: “You’re lucky I gotta do this right-handed.”

Knox: “Do wha—”

I didn’t get a chance to finish the question before my brother’s fist connected with my face. Like any good sucker punch, it rang my bell and knocked me back a full step.

Knox: “Ow! Fuck! What the hell, Nash?”

He pushed past me and stomped inside.

Nash: “What did I tell you?”

he snarled over his shoulder. He opened my fridge and helped himself to a beer.

Knox: “Jesus. Tell me about what?”

I asked, working my jaw back and forth.

Lucian: “Naomi,”

Knox: “Christ, Lucy. Where did you come from?”

Lucian: “I drove.”

He clapped me on the shoulder and followed Nash into the kitchen.

Lucian: “Feel better?”

Nash handed him a beer and shrugged.

Nash: “Not really. He’s got a hard face to go with that thick head.”


Knox: “This is bullshit. You can’t just come into my house, punch me in the face, play with my dog, and drink my beer.”

Nash: “We can when you’re being a stupid, stubborn son of a bitch,”


Nash: “You don’t get that I’d still put on that uniform. Even if I knew I was going to take another hit tomorrow. I’d still walk into that building your money paid for even if I knew it was my last day on earth. Because that’s what you fucking do when you love something. You show up. Even if you’re pissing your pants scared. And if you two don’t stay the fuck out of police business, or if you even think about going vigilante, I will throw both your asses in a cell.”


Knox: “If you came here to punch me in the face, someone already beat you to it.”

Lou: “Good. I hope it was Naomi,”

Lou said, pushing his way inside. I really needed that 1,000 acres.


He clapped me on the shoulder. His grip was solid, firm.

Lou: “You couldn’t save your mom from an accident any more than you could save your dad from addiction. Now you worry you won’t be able to save anyone else. Or stand losing someone else.”

My throat was tight, and it burned. Lou’s grip tightened.

Lou: “Somewhere, deep down is a man stronger than your father ever was. I see it. Your grandmother sees it. My daughter sees it. Maybe it’s time you take a look in the mirror.”


Stef: “Your ‘woe is me, I miss my stupid hot fake boyfriend’ time. It’s been five days. The acceptable mourning period is over. You are officially being reborn as New Naomi.”

Being reborn sounded like a lot of work.

Naomi: “Can’t I just wither away as Old Naomi?”


Naomi: “Why are you so mean?”

I groaned.

Stef: “I’m your mean fairy godfather. You have a transformation to begin, my little caterpillar.”

Naomi: “I don’t want to be a butterfly. I want to smother in my cocoon.”


Fi: I don’t know what’s going on between you two. But Knox just offered me $1,000 to put you on the schedule tonight since you called in sick your last two shifts. I can either split it with you or tell him to fuck off. Your call!

Naomi: Sorry. I can’t. I’m hosting a bonfire tonight and you’re invited.

Fi: Fuck yeah! Can I bring my annoying family?

Naomi: I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.


Silver and Max were both behind the bar. Fi was shooting the shit with Wraith. All three of them looked at me.

Knox: “Evening,”

I said, testing the waters.

Silver & Max: “Boo!”

Silver and Max were giving me the thumbs-down. Fi was giving me one thumbs-down and one middle finger. The other server, Brad, a new hire brought on to even out the estrogen, refused to make eye contact with me.

Knox: “Seriously?”

The handful of patrons snickered.

Knox: “I could fire every last one of you,”

I reminded them. They crossed their arms in unison.

Max: “I’d like to see you try,”

Silver: “Yeah. I’m sure you’d bartend and serve and manage just fine all by yourself on a Saturday night,”

Her nose ring moved with the flare of her nostrils.


Knox: “I did the right thing,”

I said again as if repeating it would make it true. With his eyes on me, Lucian lit his cigarette.

Lucian: “It never occurred to you that the right thing would have been to be the man your father couldn’t be?”

Fuck. That one landed like a bell ringer.

Knox: “Go fuck yourself, Lucy.”

Lucian: “Try to unfuck yourself, Knox.”


Waylay: “You should go. You make Aunt Naomi sad, and I don’t like that.”

Knox: “You gonna put field mice in my house?”

I asked, hoping a joke would repair some of the damage.

Waylay: “Why bother? There’s no point in getting revenge on someone too dumb to care.”

She turned and started toward the fire, then stopped again.

Waylay: “I’m keeping your dog. Come on, Waylon.”

I watched a kid that I not only liked, but respected, wander off toward the party with my own damn dog.


Lina shook her head.

Lina: “He’s so fucked up.”

Sloane: “All men are,”

Joel stopped and gave her the eye.

Sloane: “Except you, Joel. You’re a hero among villains,”

With a nod, he handed over a fresh glass of wine for me and vanished again.


He nodded, then cupped his hands.

Joel: “Listen up, assholes. The ladies aren’t lookin’ for a ride or a good time. Next idiot who bothers them is gettin’ thrown out.”

There was a general muttering around us, and then everyone went back to what they were doing.

Naomi: “Joel, are you married?”

He held up his left hand to show me a gold band.

Naomi: “All the good ones are taken,”


Lina gave up ogling Nash and leaned over my shoulder.

Lina: “Okay. What’s their story?”

Naomi: “I don’t know. They won’t tell anyone.”

Lina: “Ooooh. I love a torrid secret past,”

Sloane: “We can hear you,”

Sloane said dryly without breaking her sexy staring contest with Lucian.


The men exchanged another look full of manly meaning.

Naomi: “I can hear them mentally going through the Man Code appendix,”


Naomi: “I suggest you lose this number because if you call me again I won’t make Waylay give your dog back.”


Knox: “Get your tables sorted. You’re on break in fifteen. My office.”

Naomi: “Yeah, okay,”

she said, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

Knox: “If you’re not in my office in fifteen, I will come out here, throw you over my shoulder, and carry your ass back there.”

I leaned in closer, almost close enough to kiss her.

Knox: “And there is no way that skirt of yours is up for that.”


Knox: “Do you think if we would have carried on…I mean. If we hadn’t called it off, is it possible that you would have…”

I couldn’t get the words out. They clogged my throat and closed it up.

Naomi: “Yeah,”

she said with a sad smile that had my insides churning.

Knox: “Yeah, what?”

I pressed.

Naomi: “I would have loved you.”

Knox: “How do you know?”

I demanded, my voice a rasp.

Naomi: “Because I already do, dummy.”


Sloane: “I think you’re making the incredibly ignorant assumption that you have any say over what I do or don’t do.”

Lucian: “If I find out you leave town limits tonight, I will see that your beloved library never gets another dime of funding. Then I’ll buy every piece of land around your house and build apartment complexes so tall you never see the sun again.”

Sloane: “You rich son of a…”


We looked at each other.

Naomi: : “Your boobs are exploding out of my shirt,”

I observed. She reached for the roll of toilet paper.

Tina: “Stuff.”

Naomi: “Seriously?”

Tina: “As long as you and me have big tits, he won’t notice the difference. He’s seven beers into his night.”

Naomi: “You have got to get better taste in men,”

I complained as I shoved wads of toilet paper into my bra. She shrugged.

Tina: “He’s not so bad when he’s not drunk.”

Duncan: “Yo! Ladies! Get your asses out here. I’m ready to shoot someone.”

Naomi: “He sounds like a dreamboat,”

Tina: “Try not to walk like you got a stick up your ass,”

Tina hissed, shoving me toward the door.

Naomi: “Try to talk like you didn’t have to cheat your way through the eighth grade.”


Knox: “You think I’m dumb enough to let you two go?”

Waylay, Lucian & Nash: “Uh, yeah,”

Waylay, Lucian, and Nash said together.


Knox: “Kid, there is nothing you can tell me that’s going to make me not love you.”

Waylay: “Promise?”

Knox: “I swear to you on your kick-ass sneakers.”

She looked down at them, then back at me, the corner of her mouth turned up.

Waylay: “Maybe I kind of fucking love you too.”

I hauled her in for a hug, holding her face against my sternum. When she wrapped her arms around my waist, I felt like my heart was suddenly too big for my fucking chest.

Waylay: “But don’t tell Aunt Naomi I said it that way.”

Knox: “Deal.”


Knox: “I want the wedding sooner rather than later. I’m not wasting another minute without making you my wife. You can have anything you want. A big church wedding. A backyard barbecue. A five-figure wedding dress. But I have one demand.”

Of course it was a demand and not a request.

Naomi: “What’s that?”

Knox: “I want daisies in your hair.”


 


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