Beauty and the Blitz

By: Sosie Frost

Piper





Cole Hawthorne lived alone in a massive fortress of gray stone, climbing roses, and rooftop gargoyles.

And his front door had better manners than he did.

Cole didn’t answer his door when I knocked.

He ignored me when I rang the bell.

He didn’t respond to my texts, emails, or the dozen unsavory curses I spat at his home.

The skies opened, and the rain poured. I crowded under the stone portico and sought shelter behind the marble columns. Unfortunately, the wind kicked up. Fat rain drops sprayed sideways and soaked me as I beat his door.

This was not how I planned the meeting, but we had no choice. After so many unanswered calls and emails, someone had to deal with him face-to-face. Dad sent me, but I didn’t have better luck getting inside Cole’s sprawling mansion.

Castle?

I couldn’t tell the difference.

His château loomed over the countryside. Coiling ivy stretched over the intimidating mansion, and leering windows darkened the dreary gray exterior. Decorative carvings and sculptures spiraled along the facade of the intricate, gothic architecture.

I had no idea something so ornate could be so foreboding. His home was one briar patch short of a fairy tale villain’s lair. No Happily Ever Afters here. If anything, his fortress was the castle the princess escaped at the beginning of her Once Upon A Time.

And I was the village fool, pounding on the door to get inside.

What did a linebacker need with such a huge, protected estate anyway? No one in their right mind would harass Cole Hawthorne, defensive captain for the Atwood Monarchs.

But that didn’t excuse him. I rang the bell again. Twice. Three times. I hopped onto my tip-toes, but I couldn’t reach the windows on the top of his door.

I was not conducting this meeting outside, shouting in the middle of a thunderstorm.

I should have known. Cole didn’t have the best reputation with the league or his agents. But the power to change his life was clutched in my hands. The folder got a little damp, but I’d hidden the contract waiver inside.

All I needed was a signed consent form that stated he agreed to be traded. One quick signature, and I could be gone, back home, wringing the water out of my only nice outfit.

Instead, he lurked inside the shadows of a mansion more cursed than enchanted. He didn’t give me a chance to explain why I was there.

Well, I wasn’t putting up with it. No, sir. Not me. I’d guarantee it.

He wasn’t even my client. Dad was the one hell-bent on getting Cole to agree to the trade.

It didn’t feel right leaving without a fight, but I wasn’t the type to toss a brick through a window. Instead, I rang the doorbell one last time extra hard. Maybe I imagined it, but that annoying ding-dong chimed a little louder than the ones before.

I stormed to my car, slogging through in every puddle along the way. The rain poured, and I leapt into the driver’s seat to escape the deluge.

I tended to look for the little blessings. At least the rain rinsed out Rose’s gift on my skirt. Mornings were usually frantic while I tried to get her situated with the nanny, so Rose helped me however she could. This morning, my sixteen-month old combined her opinion of breakfast with her hug goodbye. Her verdict of my cheesy eggs left a splotchy pattern all over my skirt.

Of course, I hadn’t noticed the stain until I stepped into the office. Given the other types of stains Rose could leave on me, I preferred a bit of breakfast. Especially in comparison to the unexpected, milk-related surprises from before I weaned her. After one awkward meeting with my father, his biggest client, and a good dose of postpartum hormones, I decided to keep a spare bra and shirt in the office. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to pack a fresh skirt.

At least my day was almost over…or it should have been. If Cole had been amenable, the trade waiver might have been signed and I could have picked up Rose before dinner. So much for saving an hour’s worth of baby-sitting charges. Mrs. Potter was an excellent nanny, but she didn’t come cheap.

I brushed my fingers through my hair. Nope. The rain created an instant frizz. That just wasn’t fair. The downpour destroyed a modern day miracle—this morning I actually straight-ironed in peace while Rose distracted herself with her toys. A whole four minutes of frantic heat that only burned me twice while I smoothed both sides of my hair before Rose tossed out the binkie and gnawed on a shoe.

Now my curls re-inflated and ballooned. They were natural. They were angry. And they were…expanding. If I let it get bad, the rain shower would have transported me back to the 70s.

All the more reason to peel out of Rude McDouchey’s mile long driveway and head home.

But the folder containing his paperwork rested next to me, and the rain turned sleety as soon as the key hit the ignition. Not a safe drive. And at least Rose was still with the nanny…

If nothing else, Dad had ordered me to force Cole to sign the waiver at any cost. Of course, he’d also wished me good luck with an amused snort when I took the case.

I stared at the imposing mansion. It wasn’t like Dad had any faith in me. Half of a master’s degree in French Literature didn’t give me much of an edge in…anything. But after the baby was born, Dad found me a place at his office. If I could get Cole to play nice, I’d make a name for myself in the agency.

Who better to prove that brains could prevail over brawn, even in professional football?

How tough could this one man be?

I bundled my curls into a pony tail and bolted to his front door. Cole Hawthorne couldn’t hide from his future in the league forever.

I punched the doorbell again, but, this time, I didn’t take my finger from the button. The chimes dinged, donged, and dinged again. The ringing buzzed louder.

“Ignore that, Mr. Hawthorne,” I said.

But I jammed the button a little too hard. It depressed completely, cracking in two and falling inside the casing. I yanked my hand back as the components sizzled and shorted out.

Uh-oh.

The ding didn’t dong anymore. Instead…it wailed. A high-pitched, murderous note that screamed like an insomniac, teething baby with a fever and no binkie.

Somehow, I doubted the house would calm down with a nice juice box and rendition of You Are My Sunshine.

The screeching crackled, and the sound cut out.

I breathed a premature sigh of relief just before the doorbell also shorted out the alarm system. The ding-dong and whooping wail of a security siren and the ear-piercing buzz of a fire alarm roared through the house. The ungodly melody shook the mansion’s hundreds of windows.

Oh, I really hoped this castle didn’t come with a dungeon.

Time to bolt.

I kicked off my heels and prepared to run.

Too late. The scratch of the door ground against the stone frame. That whine wasn’t the scrape of a door that opened very often. Probably for good reason.

I clutched the folder with his papers and dropped my shoes.

Why the hell hadn’t I run when I had the chance? Then again, I had visions of the linebacker chasing down my car and ripping it apart with his bare hands—ala Tyrannosaurs Rex style. If I was lucky, he wouldn’t tear me to shreds. If I was unlucky…

He’d answer the door without a shirt.

I stared at the god-like man looming in the doorway.

Cole Hawthorne was a beast.

A monster.

A huge, lumbering slab of muscle and rage.

And he was the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen in my life.

He gripped the door, and every muscle in his upper body rippled as if he debated on whether he should slam it or wood-chip the slab into splinters with his fists. A still moment passed, and he wiped his face with a towel. He left the beads of sweat trickling over his broad shoulders and pecs.

I didn’t think men like this really existed. A modern day Goliath sneered at me from his isolated castle outside of the city. He was more animal than man, especially surrounded by acres and acres of forested hills separating him from civilization.

Every perfectly tanned muscle in his body popped and tensed. The tattoo swirling on his arm streaked him with angry reds, blues, and greens. His thick, defined abs clenched as the waistband of his sweat pants hung low.

A little too low.

I forced my gaze up and not on the sleeping beast bulging against his sweatpants.

I shouldn’t have made eye contact with him.

Not because he was fierce. Not because his thick jaw tightened in a scowl. Not because the mane of his wild, blonde hair cascaded over his shoulders and obscured his violent ink.

I met his stare and lost myself. His eyes shimmered unbelievably blue…and achingly intense. What might have been icy and frightening was brightened in a storybook blue, something charming and knee-shakingly intimidating.

“I…”

I couldn’t even hear myself talk. The doorbell, fire alarm, and security system blasted a deafening cacophony that echoed through his house and scattered the doves in his rose garden.

And he stared at me as the culprit, his eyebrow rising.

Oh God. I was soaked in a white blouse.

The thin material plastered to my dark skin, and the dress shirt clung to my curves. My bra contained the girls, but even after weaning Rose, they were still…ample. I crossed my arms. We weren’t that desperate for his signature yet.

Cole pulled out his phone and silenced the fire alarm and security system with an entered key code. Unfortunately, the chiming doorbell was the most obnoxious of the three.

I swallowed and braved a professional nod. “Hello. I’m Piper Madi—”

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