Home > The House Mate (Roommates #3)

The House Mate (Roommates #3)
Author: Kendall Ryan

Chapter One

Max

In thirty-four years, I hadn’t found a woman yet who could handle me.

My buddies teased me that I had the attention span of a gnat, and while that wasn’t true—I had a successful ten-year career in the US Army as a Ranger, and over the last few years I’d built my business into something I could be proud of—I let them go on thinking it. No, there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with my focus or level of commitment. Once I decided on something, I was all in.

It was just the idea of being tied down to the same woman day after day—well, let’s just say it didn’t hold a candle to my freedom. I liked things the way they were. I was free to come and go as I pleased, work long days when business called for it, and take off for a weekend away when the mood struck. I enjoyed my life just the way it was, and I had no plans to change that anytime soon.

“How long’s it been since you’ve been laid?” my good friend and employee Matt asked, grinning at me over the rim of his pint glass with a crooked smile.

My life was simple, and I cherished simple. I didn’t do complicated. Didn’t do messy relationships or complex emotions. I was the center of my world and that was just fine with me. I knew it was selfish, but that’s just the way things were.

Realizing Matt was actually waiting for me to reply, I muttered out a curse and took a sip of my own beer.

“You’ve been a crabby asshole at work lately,” he added for emphasis.

Christ, he has the discretion of a crackhead in need of a fix. “You do understand I’m your boss, correct?” I glared at him, but he merely flipped me the middle finger. The dick.

We were seated at the bar of our favorite local hangout after a long work week. The Fireside Lodge served the best cheeseburgers and the coldest beer in town, and we found ourselves parked right here most Fridays. I was almost surprised the owner hadn’t marked these stools as reserved with all the time we spent on them.

“Thank fuck someone had the balls to bring that up,” Zach muttered under his breath.

“You draw the short straw?” I asked Matt. They weren’t generally the type to pry into my personal life, but they never hesitated to point out my foul mood.

Despite their annoying probing, they were both pretty good guys. They’d worked for me since I started my construction business on a wing and a prayer three years ago. They stood by me, agreeing to work for less than they were worth until I could afford to pay them more. Now we all did pretty well, but then again, we worked our asses off, so it was all relative.

“Seriously, man. You could use a woman in your life,” Matt said, gazing down into his half-empty beer glass.

“Or at least in your bed,” Zach added.

My life? That was a big fat no-fucking-thank-you. But my bed? That wasn’t the worst idea they’d ever had. I tried to remember the last time I’d had the pleasure of a woman’s company. To be fair, it had been a little while, maybe a couple of months, and damn if I was going to admit it to them, but there was a chance they were right.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” I mumbled, trying not to stroke their egos too much.

“Good, ’cause there’s a cute little number giving you the eye over there,” Matt said, nudging my ribs with his elbow.

His gaze drifted over toward the pool tables in the back of the bar, and mine followed. A blonde with heavy eyeliner and dressed in a pair of cut-off shorts and a red tank top that was cut dangerously low to reveal the edges of a lacy push-up bra stood with her hip out, staring me down. She wasn’t exactly my type, but my dick didn’t care. He’d just heard the suggestion of sinking into warm, wet pussy tonight, and he was all in.

Taking a deep breath, I pulled my gaze away, just in time to see the men flanking me sharing a conspiratorial smile. Assholes.

Thirty minutes later, I had the blonde in the cab of my truck and was headed for my place.

When we arrived at my house a few minutes later, I squinted at the beat-up sedan parked in my driveway. That wasn’t there when I left this morning. I parked on the other side of the driveway and climbed out of the truck.

“Stay put for second,” I said to the blonde and she nodded, her glossy red lips parting in a smile.

I walked around to the driver’s side of the sedan just in time to watch a woman climb out of the car. Dark blond hair hung down, partially obscuring her face, but I’d recognize those bouncy curls anywhere.

“Jenn?” I asked, stopping in my tracks. We’d dated for a few months a couple of years ago, but I hadn’t seen her since.

Our awkward breakup was part of the reason I avoided relationships now. She’d been ready for something more: commitment, stability . . . matrimony. I wasn’t. The memory of our last conversation still stung. A fun three-month-long fling was snubbed out with a few curt words.

“Aren’t you ever going to want to settle down?” she’d asked.

“Probably not.”

I’d been cold. But at least I’d been honest.

“Hey, Max.” Her voice was emotionless and flat.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but if she was here out of the blue, it was probably for a reason.

“What’s going on? Is everything all right?” I shot a quick glance at my date for the evening through the windshield. Her smile had fallen, and she was watching us with rapt interest.

Jenn opened the door to the backseat and lifted out an infant car seat—with a sleeping baby inside.

What the fuck?

My heart rate tripled and my stomach knotted.

“Jenn?” My voice cracked.

“She’s yours.” Jenn set the infant carrier at my feet and took a step back.

I didn’t look down. Truthfully, I couldn’t bring myself to look at the baby because I was scared of what I might see. Could she really be mine? Did she look like me? That wasn’t possible—was it? I was still watching Jenn, still trying to figure out what in the fuck was happening.

Another uneasy look toward my truck revealed that the blonde’s eyes were glued to the scene in front of her, her lips parted in surprise.

“You can have a test done if you want, but she’s yours.” Jenn wiped a stray tear from her cheek and reached back inside the car for a duffel bag, which she set next to the carrier. “I’m sorry. I just can’t do this anymore.”

I heard her voice but couldn’t process her words. “What are you saying? What are you talking about?”

“I can’t handle it, Max. I thought I could, but it turns out I can’t. She’s yours, so you take her.” Jenn’s voice trembled as she bent and whispered something to the little girl who was still sound asleep. Then she climbed back into her car and started backing out of my driveway.

“Jenn!” I roared, waving my arms at her. She threw her car into drive and stepped on the gas so hard, her tires gave a little screech, and then she was gone.

Pulling a deep breath into my lungs wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped. It felt like there was a lead weight sitting on my chest. I felt frozen to this spot in my driveway, unsure what the next play was, or how I’d even found myself in this game.

The blonde climbed out of my truck and came to stand beside me, looking down at the baby who had slept through the entire thing.

“What an adorable little girl. Is she your niece or something?”

I looked down at the baby for the first time. Her tiny eyelids fluttered, and she stretched one footie-pajama-covered leg before letting it fall slack once again. I was hit by the sudden urge to get her inside the house, to take her in out of the cool night air.

“No. She’s mine.” I lifted the carrier and held it protectively in front of me. Mine. That word sent a small panic racing through me. “What am I going to do now?” I said more to myself than to her. Or maybe it was a question meant for the universe, because my life as I knew it just got flipped inside out.

Blondie shrugged. “I have to pee.”

The three of us headed inside, and I set the baby carrier on the living room floor and pointed out the hall bath.

Once she was done, she marched up to me and rose on her tiptoes to press a kiss to my cheek. “I guess tonight’s a no-go.”

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