Home > Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)(9)

Cherish Hard (Hard Play #1)(9)
Author: Nalini Singh

Devil Ísa whispered, Since you’re dirty anyway, how about you track him down and crawl into the back seat of his truck?

“Don’t forget the party on Saturday!” Nayna called out after her as she reached the front door. “Wear your shortest dress! You might get lucky and spot another hot gardener!”






Banging and Hammering (Unfortunately, Not of the Ecstatic Kind)



SAILOR BANGED IN A NAIL with unnecessary force.

Beside him, his brother raised an eyebrow, Gabriel’s gray eyes a reflection of their mother’s. “What’s that poor plank done to you?”

Nail pounded in—so hard it wasn’t going to dare come out ever again—Sailor stepped back to look at his and Gabriel’s handiwork. He’d come to his parents’ place straight after the fiasco at the school, he and Gabe having agreed to drop by this evening to have dinner with their parents and younger brothers—and to fix this part of the fence. It had suddenly fallen down after a piece rotted way without anyone noticing.

“How old is this fence?”

“How long have Mom and Dad been married? Take that and subtract two years.”

Sailor’s mind spun back to the day they’d moved into this villa. The paint had been peeling and chipped back then, the yard an overgrown mess. But it had been a place Alison and Joseph Esera could afford. They’d all done plenty of grunt work to whip it into shape—and its value now was enough to cause a heart attack in a healthy man.

This area was one of the hottest on the Auckland property market.

But to Sailor, this home was memory and warmth and love and safety. “We got lucky with Dad, didn’t we?” He only ever used that word to refer to Joseph Esera, never when he was speaking about the man who’d fathered two children, then abandoned them and his wife without a backward look.

His brother glanced up from where he’d crouched down to collect the bent nails they’d put on the ground while they finished up, his shoulders broad and his body built for the hard physicality of rugby. “Yeah,” he said simply, his eyes holding memories shared only by him and Sailor and their mother.

Their younger brothers, Jake and Danny, had never—and would never—experience the icy fear of being thrown out of their home, their clothes thrust into trash bags. Sailor was the youngest of their original family, remembered the least, but he didn’t have to remember all the details to remember the emotions.

The bone-numbing fear and raw confusion.

His five-year-old hand clenched tight around Gabe’s as their mother battled the repo men to make sure they wouldn’t take her boys’ things.

Sailor was so fucking glad that Jake and Danny would never be in the same position. Nor would their mother. Unlike the man who was biologically Sailor and Gabriel’s father, Joseph Esera would cut off his own arm before turning his back on his family.

“We also got lucky with Mom,” Gabe pointed out as he rose to his feet, the bent nails in hand. “She never once gave up. Even after that bastard stole all the money she’d worked so hard to save. Even after he forced her to go to welfare when that was her worst fucking nightmare.”

Gabriel’s anger was a brutal wall. It had always been that way. He’d been the older son, the one who understood the most, the one who’d grown up too fast in the wake of their father’s abandonment. The one who remembered each and every detail of the nightmare.

And the one who’d protected Sailor from the worst of the impact.

“I got lucky with both of you,” Sailor said quietly.

Gabriel’s gray eyes held open affection as he punched Sailor in the shoulder. “We did it together, shrimp.”

Sailor had often wished he had the same eyes as his brother. Because then he’d have their mother’s eyes. Instead, he’d been born with the eyes of the asshole who’d fathered him. But that asshole had no place in this yard full of memories of love.

Shoving Brian Bishop aside with long practice, Sailor packed up his tools. “You ever had a woman just decide you’re not for her and run away? Actually run away.”

Gabriel made a valiant effort of looking solemn. “You must’ve stunk real bad.”

“Fuck you,” Sailor said without heat, though he was wondering if it had been that after all. His redhead had seemed to like him, dirt and sweat and all, zero hesitation in her touch or her kiss, but maybe she’d changed her mind after he’d made the mistake of breaking skin contact.


“Who was she?” Gabriel asked after he’d gotten rid of the bent nails.


His brother chuckled. “You taking Ms. Trouble to that big party on Saturday?”

“Did you not hear that she ran away?” Sailor had intended to let down his hair at the party being thrown by a friend of a friend, but now he’d probably spend the whole night brooding over his redhead.

“Gabe! Sail! Dad asked if you want a beer.” Their youngest brother ran over with two cold bottles in hand.

At fourteen, the baby of their family was still more cheerful child than moody teenager—which was a good thing, because Danny hadn’t yet got his growth spurt and was one of the shortest in his class, boys and girls included. That he was also one of the most popular was courtesy of not only his speed on the rugby field but also that same sunny personality.

Ruffling his brother’s hair, the texture a little rougher than Sailor’s own but the color the same inky black, Sailor took one bottle while Gabe took the other. “Thanks, Danny.” He bumped fists with his brother.

Danny then exchanged an extremely complicated set of handshakes with Gabriel. At age twelve, he’d spent an entire weekend teaching Sailor, Gabriel, and Jake that handshake. As his youngest brother talked his eldest one into passing around a rugby ball, Sailor stood with his back to the repaired fence and got a start on his brooding. If he caught up with his cute redhead a third time around, no way was he letting her slip away again.

A rugby ball plowed into his stomach.

Catching it reflexively without dropping his beer, he narrowed his eyes at a grinning Gabriel. “Dude, you’re the captain of the national team.” The most decorated and internationally recognized player in the squad. “Show a little dignity.”

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