A Measure Of Love
“Harder! Oh God, fuck me harder!”
Riley Moore grinned as he gripped the slim calves resting against his shoulders. “Not God.” He pounded into her just as she’d asked, hard and powerful. “Just me.”
Dammit, he needed this.
“Oh yes! Give it to me!”
Her hair splayed like a giant black puddle across his pillow as her back arched and she began clenching around him, milking him in such a way that with three more deep, solid thrusts, he came with a loud grunt. He collapsed onto her, panting and gasping into her neck and the sweat collected by her collarbone.
“Holy shit, Moore,” she gasped as her legs flopped back down to the bed. She placed a hand between her breasts and shook her head. “You need to call me more often, honey.” She patted him on the back of the head.
“Right back at ya,” Riley replied, lifting his head and removing himself from her body.
He pulled off the condom and threw it in the trash, before tossing a towel toward the breathless woman splayed across his bed. He watched her wipe her body down from her neck to between her legs. Carla was damned nice to look at and she gave head like a fucking vacuum, but that’s where their relationship ended. The sex-based arrangement they’d had for months worked for them both.
Riley smirked while he pissed into the toilet basin, the post-coital
glow wrapping around him like a warm hug. He flushed the john, washed his hands, and walked his naked ass back into his room. He nodded in appreciation when he saw Carla was already half dressed, fastening her bra. The zero emotional hurdles between them pleased Riley no end. She pulled on her white blouse and checked her makeup in a small hand mirror, touching the red marks Riley’s rough whiskers had left on her neck.
She side-eyed him accusingly and he shrugged in reply. She loved it. Most of the women who came to his bed did. Some even asked him to mark them, which he did without thought. It was sexy as hell to see his lust etched across his lovers.
He picked up his jeans from where Carla had yanked them off at the bedroom door and slipped them on, leaving them unfastened. Fluffing up her hair as she meandered past him, Carla headed toward her purse sitting on his side table. She pulled out her cell and pressed a couple of buttons, frowning.
“I gotta go,” she said, casually throwing the phone back into the depths of her bag. “Work beckons.”
Riley nodded, checking out her legs wrapped in a knee-length pencil skirt. Lord, she had great legs. The rest of her attire was all dull business. Riley wondered fleetingly how many other men had experienced the wild woman who lurked underneath the conservative outfit. Who knew accountants could be so much fun? Carla turned to Riley, who was leaning nonchalantly against the wall behind her, and let her index finger sneak down the center of his still-damp chest.
“Thanks again, Handsome,” she purred before kissing the side of his mouth. “Best lunch date I’ve had for a while. I’m sure I’ll see you soon.”
“I’m sure you will,” he replied with a wink. She smiled and, with one last flick of her hair, she left. Riley chuckled to himself before going back to the bathroom to wash off the scent of sex that covered every inch of his skin.
Within a half hour, he was back at O’Hare’s Body Shop working under a sweet 1965 Ford Galaxie, basking in the loud banging rock music of Guns N’ Roses and the contentment he always felt when he worked. He loved working with the vehicles that came into the shop—he always had since he was introduced to his first engine at the age of ten by his father. He’d learned everything there was to know about cars from his dad, who’d made his trade buying classics, tuning them up, and reselling them. Riley was the only one of Park Moore’s four boys who’d ever showed any interest in the business and Park did his best to prime him to take it over, including paying for Riley’s business degree at NYU.
Not that that shit had worked out.
Riley sighed and picked up a socket wrench, refusing to allow his tenuous relationship with his father to piss on his parade. Besides, he had only his own dumb ass to blame for it. Fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and a sentence of eighteen months inside Arthur Kill Correctional Facility killed all of Park’s hopes for Riley’s business future. That rap sheet wasn’t gonna go anywhere fast.
“Yo, Moore, you under there?”
Riley smiled at the frantic sound of Max O’Hare’s voice. “Yeah, man, what you want?”
A pair of boots appeared by the side of the car at Riley’s ankles. “Need you to go through these receipts with me, dude. I’m about to go fucking cross-eyed.”
Riley laughed and stopped what he was doing, using his feet to move the roller board out from under the car. Blinking at the bright lights above him, he looked up at Max, who appeared totally frazzled.
“Math isn’t my thing,” Max grumbled, wafting a handful of papers at Riley’s nose. “Help.”
Riley snorted and pushed himself to his feet, taking the papers from his friend. “Sure thing.”
Max had inherited O’Hare’s after his father died. Running the business had worked for a while, but a little over a year and a half ago, Max was admitted into rehab for his drug addiction. It had been a bleak-ass time, but while Max was getting healthy, Riley, along with financial help from their good friend Carter, had taken the helm of O’Hare’s, making sure the place continued to make money.
He and Max had been friends for almost a decade, and helping his buddy was the least Riley could do. After Max came home, the two men decided to combine their business and vehicular knowledge and go into that shit together, with Carter eager to invest financially. Before his stretch inside, having been a graduate of NYU for less than two years, Riley had owned his own small but thriving auto shop business on the other side of the city. Understandably, he’d lost a lot of clientele after his time at Arthur Kill, forcing him to make the decision to close up and sell. He’d used the money to pay off his apartment and all his outstanding debts—not least of all the one owed to his father, who’d footed his hundred-thousand-dollar college fee. It had killed Riley to give up his business like that, but he’d been left with little choice.
He was desperate to get back into the game, and partnering with Max was the perfect solution.
Max was of the same mind, but now that he divided his time between West Virginia and New York, he’d given over most of the administrative responsibilities to Riley, which Riley was more than happy to take over. People often regarded him as nothing more than a tattooed, muscle-headed womanizer—which was partly true. But despite outward appearances, Riley was smart, and the only thing he loved more than women and engines was numbers.
“You ready for tonight?” he asked Max as they entered the office.
“Paintballing?” Max said, shutting the door behind him. “Baby,
I was born fucking ready.” He cracked his knuckles. “Prepare to get your ass handed to you.”
Riley laughed and dropped into the seat behind the large wooden desk. “You do know my brother is bringing three of his old Marine buddies, right? I’m not sure it’ll be just my ass.”
Max waved him off. “Whatever, man. As long as they aim the hell away from my junk, I’m good.”
Riley cocked an eyebrow. “They’re Marines. They only ever shoot for the balls.”
They both chuckled. It warmed Riley to see Max so relaxed and happy. It hadn’t always been that way. Max worked hard every day to stay clean and sober, but his woman, Grace, had given him a new lease on life. And Riley couldn’t be happier for them. Of all his friends, Riley had always believed it was Max who deserved happiness the most.
Shit, the past year had brought some major changes to the group of friends with whom Riley surrounded himself. Carter had been married for almost twelve months and, despite a couple of shaky moments at the beginning of the marriage, he seemed more loved up than ever. Then there was Max all content and shit, and the guys in the shop who constantly talked about their women and kids.
Riley supposed it was what happened when a man and his crew were knocking on the door of thirty—shit changed and people grew up. But Riley wasn’t convinced he would ever achieve the latter, no matter how old he was. Nevertheless, even with Riley happily throwing himself into work or calling his usual list of ass whenever he felt the need, more often than not, over the past year, he’d found himself wondering what it would be like to finally settle down.
His parents had been happily married for over thirty-five years, with four kids, so the idea of committing to someone wasn’t something
that Riley shied away from. In fact, it was something he’d first thought about when he was eight years old . . .
“So what do you think?”
Riley looked up to see that Max had taken the seat on the other side of the desk, looking anxiously at the receipts Riley had been staring at but not paying any attention to. He didn’t have a fucking clue what they said. He rubbed a hand across his bearded chin and smiled anyway. “Things are good, man. Don’t worry.”
Max narrowed his eyes. “You sure?” He sat back. “You sure everything’s good?”
Riley recognized that tone. Every once in a while Max would pull it out and needle Riley with it. It was Riley’s own fault. He’d made some stupid comment a while back, when Max was pining for Grace, about losing love or some other bullshit and Max had, for whatever reason, gripped onto it.
It was only because his friend was worried, but Riley didn’t want to talk about his past, even though the dream he’d had the night before—detailing in delicious innocence the first time he’d seen her, all blonde pigtails and pink clothes—was still niggling at the back of his mind. It was weird. He hadn’t had a dream like that for a while, and it had been the catalyst for his calling Carla for a lunchtime quickie—a fleeting balm to the regret that still rippled through him.
He cleared his throat as images of that same beautiful blonde girl danced over the figures printed on the paper in his hands, coaxing out memories Riley tried his damnedest to keep locked away.
No, he silently chastised himself, that’s just what that shit was: the past. And there was no changing that fucker no matter how much Riley wished otherwise.
“Everything’s great,” Riley said, spreading out the receipts.
Riley wasn’t a liar. It was the truth. Everything was great. He
was working hard. He had great friends and women to warm his bed every night if he wanted, all while living in a city he loved. What was there to be miserable about?
“Stop,” Riley commented, his gaze still on the papers. “I can hear your mind whirring from here.”
Max snorted and crossed his arms. “Fine. Keep your secrets.”
Riley glanced up. “I will.” He focused back on the receipts.
“So you were a little late back from lunch,” Max pointed out in a nonchalant tone, clearly trying a different tactic. “Who was she?”
Riley barked a laugh and shook his head. “What makes you think there was a she?”
“Because you’re like Obi-Wan Kenobi with women.”
“Dude,” Riley chastised with a frown, looking up. “Please. I’m Han Solo.”
“Whatever.” Max waved a hand. “So who was it?”
Riley sighed, resigned to the fact that he knew his friend too well to assume he would let it go. “Carla.”
Max’s eyebrows jumped. “The one with the legs? The accountant?”
Riley scratched the back of his neck with the end of the pen he’d picked up off the desk. “Yup.”
Max sat back in his seat. “Nice. She’s hot.”
Yes, she most definitely was. And a great lay. But as good as it had been, the slight tension that had resided in his shoulders since he’d woken from that damned dream was still there. She twirled and laughed, colors whirling, blonde hair shining. Riley felt the beginnings of a smile pull at his lips with the memory of those godforsaken pink jelly shoes Lexie had worn that entire summer. Jesus. He rubbed a finger across his brow. They’d been eight years old, with no clue as to what life had in store for them.
And wasn’t that sad?
Riley didn’t even know where she lived or if she’d stayed in Michigan, where they’d met. At least that was the last place he’d
seen her when he’d attended his parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary party five years ago.
Once he’d returned to New York, in honor of Lexie’s adamant request that he stay away and not speak to her ever again, he’d resorted to pumping old friends for information about her, but that shit had gotten old for them real fast. Since the night Riley had left her crying on her mother’s front porch, he had no right to wonder or worry about Lexie Pierce.
He’d burned those bridges, and Lord knew they were beyond rebuilding. Too much had been said and done. He’d fucked up too many times, made bad choices, and hurt those he loved most.
Besides, Riley scoffed under his breath, finally focusing on the numbers in front of him, the only time a guy won the woman he’d loved for twenty-one years was in those awful chick flicks his mother used to watch.
· · ·
“Jesus fucking Christ, I think you broke my rib!” Carter lifted his T-shirt for the hundredth time, showing off the circular deep black bruise that was growing nicely under his left nipple. “See what they did to me?” he exclaimed to the waitress pouring ice water into Tate’s glass. She laughed lightly and shook her head before leaving the table.
The bruise was a result of one of Riley’s leaping-through-the-air, Will-Smith-in-Bad-Boys–style shots from his paintball gun. It had been awesome, and Carter had been whining about it for nearly three hours. It looked painful as all hell. Riley was still laughing.
“Quit being such a baby,” Tate, Riley’s brother, commented next to him with a chuckle, while elbowing his Marine friend, Steve, in amusement. “Anyone would think it hurt.”
“Fuck off,” Carter grumbled, dropping his T-shirt and adjusting his position on his seat. A round of jeers erupted around the
restaurant table and Carter reached out again to smack Riley in retaliation.
“I have bruises, too,” Riley protested, warding off Carter’s attack. “No thanks to this prick.” He whacked Tate’s bicep with his knuckle.
“Think of it as thanks.” Tate smiled with a small shrug.
“For me putting up with you.”
“Yeah, awesome.” Riley rolled his eyes and sipped from his beer bottle. “That’s so thoughtful of you. I should have gotten you to pierce my cock with a white-hot sewing needle while you were at it.”
Tate didn’t miss a beat. “I have a fork,” he said, picking up his cutlery.
“?’S okay,” Riley retorted. “You can keep it. Add it to the stick and thumb that’s already up your ass.”
“Jesus,” Max complained, running his palms down his face. “I forgot what you two are like.”
The two brothers looked at Max as if he were bonkers and said in unison, “What?”
Laughter rippled around the table. Truthfully, Riley was more than a little proud that his brother had gotten in a few shots. After Tate was injured by a roadside bomb while on active duty with the Corps, Riley and his family had spent weeks not knowing if he would ever open his eyes again, let alone kick the shit out of a bunch of assholes on a paintball course. For a guy who had to walk 80 percent of the time with a cane and was a recovering painkiller addict, Tate had pretty much schooled them all.
“Ice it and take some ibuprofen—you’ll be fine,” Tate uttered toward Carter.
“Thanks, Doc,” Carter groused.
“Hey, look at it this way,” Ben, Carter’s work colleague, said from his seat next to Max. “It’s an excuse for Kat to look after you.”
Carter pointed at him. “This is true.”
“Please,” Max snorted. “She’ll take one look at you, ask what happened, and laugh her ass off.”
Carter shifted his pointed finger to Max. “That is also true.” He snickered into his glass of Coke. “It might gain me some macho points, though, right?”
Riley and Max shared a doubtful look, making Carter laugh harder. God, Riley loved this. The boys’ nights had started not long after Carter’s bachelor party in Vegas. Tonight was a busy one—there were ten of them, including Paul and Cam from the shop. The numbers fluctuated, depending on who had free time, but Riley, Max, Carter, and Tate all tried to get together at least once every couple of months.
Clubbing and drinking were off the list of possible activities due to Max’s and Tate’s continuing recovery from their addictions, but that didn’t matter. They paintballed, went bowling, or just grabbed dinner. The point was, they spent time together, had fun, bonded, and vented about life, work, and women. Not that Riley had much to add to the latter—he and Tate were the only single members of their regular group now. But that hadn’t stopped either of them from commenting liberally on everyone else’s relationships.
“So you guys still coming to Grace’s art show this weekend?” Max asked before taking a mammoth bite of his bacon cheeseburger. His girlfriend, Grace, was a photographer who was gaining a lot of attention in the art world.
Riley nodded. “Got my ticket and everything.”
“Sure,” Carter commented at the same time Ben gave a thumbs-up. Carter’s gaze snapped over to Riley. “Which date you bringing this time, Moore?”
“The Latina?” Paul asked eagerly, gray eyes wide.
“Nah, man, the one who used to be a Victoria’s Secret model,” Cam added, almost jumping in his seat.
Riley smirked. “I’ll bring whoever’s lucky enough to get picked.”
Carter shook his head while Tate grumbled at his side. Riley threw his arm around his brother’s shoulder and squeezed. “Oh, come on now, don’t be jealous. I can share.”
Tate shrugged him off. “The only thing you’ll be sharing is an STD. I hope to God you’re wrapping that shit up.”
“Always,” Riley retorted, throwing a fry into his mouth.
“He single-handedly keeps Trojan in business,” Max offered, his brown eyes dancing.
Riley cocked his head, mock serious. “Oh, look who’s been in a monogamous relationship for five seconds and thinks he’s a born-again virgin.” He ducked to avoid the packet of ketchup that flew at him and pointed a finger across the table. “Violence is never the answer.”
“Yeah, but it makes me feel better,” replied Max, leaning back in his seat.
“Me too,” Tate commented before he smacked Riley up the back of the head. Riley raised his hand to hit back and Tate held his palm up. “Ah, ah. Think before you hit the cripple.”
Riley barked a laugh and shoved his brother instead. “Some cripple.”
Tate grinned before he began rummaging in his pocket. He pulled out his cell and frowned at the lit screen. He pushed back his seat, reached for his cane, and put the phone to his ear as he stood. “Hey, Mom.”
While sipping his beer, Riley watched his brother make his way to the entrance of the restaurant, where presumably he’d be able to hear better. An unusual feeling of worry flittered across Riley’s throat. It wasn’t strange for their mother to call—on the contrary, she called each of her sons at least once, sometimes twice, a week. But something about the timing—it being almost 9 p.m. on a weekday—had the hair on Riley’s neck standing up.
“You all right?” Carter asked quietly.
Riley nodded, his eyes still on Tate. “Sure.”
When his brother stopped mid-step and his shoulders snapped back, Riley immediately knew something was up. That fear was confirmed when Tate turned back, his brow furrowed, his anxious eyes seeking out Riley around waitresses and other diners. Riley’s stomach sank and he stood quickly, scraping his chair across the wooden floor as Tate made his way back to the table. He was still on the phone when he arrived.
“—that’s what the doctor said?”
“Doctor?” Riley asked, throwing his scrunched-up napkin down on his half-eaten meal. “What the—?”
Tate shook his head, halting Riley’s questions. “Well, that’s usual practice. Yeah. And his vitals?” He frowned and swallowed. “Seb’s there?”
Riley pulled out his wallet and dropped a couple of twenties onto the table, paying for the two meals they’d barely touched. Carter and Max stood, too, looking ready to do whatever they could. Tate may have been Riley’s blood, but that didn’t make the two men at his side any less his brothers.
Tate rubbed his forehead with the tips of his fingers. “Yeah, Mom, we’ll be there. Just hang tight, okay? We’ll get a flight out as soon as possible.”
Carter pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.
“What the hell?” Riley asked his brother as Tate ended the call.
Tate sighed. “Dad’s had another heart attack.”
Riley exhaled shakily, his chest tightening. “Shit. Is it bad?”
Riley watched Tate’s face carefully, noticing the medic in him shift and rise to the surface. “They’re about to take him into surgery,” he replied. It didn’t escape Riley’s attention that his brother hadn’t answered the question. “Seb’s already there,” Tate added, referring to their younger brother. “We need to get a flight out.”
Carter, with his cell phone at his ear, held his hand up, motioning
for them all to slow down and wait. “Yeah, expect two passengers,” he said to whoever was on the other end of the call. “As soon as the plane’s ready. Yeah. Direct to . . .” He cocked a questioning eyebrow at Riley.
“Cherry Capital Airport, Traverse City,” Tate offered before turning back to Riley. “He’s in Munson. It’ll be a fifteen-minute cab ride.”
Riley nodded as anxiety and helplessness traveled through him. It was unfamiliar and, honestly, it frightened the shit out of him. His father. In the hospital. Riley’s relationship with his dad had been fraught at best since Riley’s stint inside, and the thought of losing him before Riley could truly mend their differences filled him with panic. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. What the fuck would he do if something happened to his father? His mother would be devastated. This was the second heart attack in two years, and the doctors had said the last time that . . .
He pressed a hand to his forehead and cleared his throat in an effort to calm himself.
Carter ended the call and patted the cell phone against his palm. “The company jet’ll be ready for you in about ninety minutes.”
Riley stared at his friend, overwhelmed with gratitude, before clapping a hand to his shoulder. “Thanks, man.”
“Whatever you need.”
“Come on,” Tate urged Riley, moving around the two men and heading back across the restaurant to the exit. “We have time to grab some stuff from your place before we leave. We’ll walk. It’ll be quicker than trying to catch a cab.”
Riley grabbed his jacket from the back of his seat. “Get a cab, Tate—your leg can’t take that distance.” He ignored the daggered stare his brother shot back. He was immune. “We’ve got time,” Riley placated. He didn’t like pointing out his brother’s disability in front of company, but sometimes the asshole was too stubborn for his own good.
Tate sighed and pressed his lips together, his universal signal for “we’ll discuss this shit later,” and set off again, pushing through the door to the street.
Riley followed, walking backwards as he spoke to the guys who were now standing from their seats around the table. “I’ll call you when we get there.” He looked to Carter. “Thanks again. Max, dude, I didn’t get to— The shop numbers need to—”
“Go,” Max said, pointing toward where Tate had exited. “It’s okay. I’ll take care of it.”
Riley dipped his chin, turned, and pushed of out the restaurant door to see the cab Tate had hailed pulling up to the curb. Tate opened the car door and looked back at his brother. He paused for a brief moment and his eyes, always so sure and careful, flickered with fear. It struck Riley cold. The only other time Riley had seen that look on Tate’s face was the morning Tate had woken from the medically induced coma he’d been placed in by the doctors treating the horrific injuries he’d suffered while on duty.
“Fuck,” Riley uttered. “What if—?”
“Don’t,” Tate interrupted with a calm voice that reminded Riley of when they were kids. He clapped a hand to Riley’s shoulder.
“Tate, man.” Riley looked toward the sky. “I haven’t spoken to him since . . .”
Christ, it had been almost three years. The fall after Riley’s release from Kill, in fact. There’d been heated words, then silence, which was probably worse than the disappointed and angry vitriol that had spewed from his father’s lips. When the first heart attack hit, two years ago, Riley had visited the hospital, staying with his mother until his father regained consciousness, but they never spoke. His father had still been too angry with Riley to even look at him. Knowing the kind of man Park Moore was, and his need to stew and come to terms with the disappointment in his own time, Riley had simply kept his mouth shut and left with his tail between his legs.
“Come on,” Tate said, gesturing with his hand toward the cab. “We need to move. It’ll be okay.”
Riley hoped his brother was right because, if he was truly honest, it wasn’t the thought of seeing just their father that caused his heart to pound.