What Makes Us Stronger (A Well Paired Novel Book 3)

By: Marianne Rice


CHAPTER ONE




TY PARKER STEPPED OUT of the Sunrise Diner and couldn’t help his gaze from glancing down the road to the Sea Salt Spa. This time it had nothing to do with the gorgeous blonde owner and everything to do with the black ominous cloud of smoke billowing from the third story window where her apartment was.

“Shit.” He barely heard Cameron’s oompf as the door smacked his friend in the face. Ty had always been a fast runner, even with a load of artillery jacked on his back and four-pound combat boots on his feet buried ankle deep in Iraqi sand.

Today, a bit out of shape since leaving the service five years ago, and even with his steel-toed work boots on, he sprinted toward the spa. Yanking the door open, he stormed inside the spa, hoping to find Lily still alive. The reception area was quiet, the girly music playing softly in the background. Annie looked up from the table where she was polishing someone’s nails.

“You alright, Ty?”

“Lily? Where is she?”

He heard Cam come in behind him. “Everyone okay?”

“Sure. You guys in need of a desperate cut or something?” Ty’s sister, Mia, asked from the sink where she was washing someone’s hair. Hell. His first thought should’ve been the safety of his sister and not the woman who occupied his dreams every night.

“Smoke. I saw smoke. There’s a fire upstairs. You ladies need to evacuate.” Ty took in the rest of the room. The three other chairs were empty. He’d never been on the second floor, but he knew that was where Lily offered massages and facials.

And the third floor, filled with smoke, was where her apartment was.

“You sure?” Mia sat her customer up and placed a towel on her head.

“Hell, I’m sure. Cam, take care of the women. I’m going upstairs.” He started for the stairs, and Cam yelled after him.

“I’ll be right behind you.”

Ty didn’t wait and, taking the stairs two at a time, reached the top in a matter of seconds. His trained eyes scoped out the area; not for enemy snipers, but for smoke, fire, and the sound of survivors.

Lily.

He opened the two closed doors and, not seeing anything, ran to the end of the hall, hoping the heavy door at the end led to the third floor. Turning the knob, he cursed when it stopped. Locked.

He banged on the door and called out for her, “Lily?”

Ty heard a scream and a stream of curse words he’d never imagined coming from the stunning, sophisticated spa owner.

“Lily!” he screamed again. He heaved his shoulder into the door and got nowhere. Searching for something, anything to break the door down, he came up empty. Each of the rooms on the second floor held a small massage table and a tray of lotions and oils.

There was no time to search for an ax. His heart heaved in his chest as the worst possible scenarios ran through his head.

“Lily! You need to leave. Can you make it to the door?”

The door opened, and he was greeted by a coughing, swearing, gorgeous blonde wearing nothing but a skimpy tank top—sans the bra—and shorts that were too indecent to wear out in public.

The tang of an electrical fire stung his nose but did nothing to erase the image of her perky nipples pointing at him through the pale pink silk top.

“There was a small fire.” She coughed. “It’s out now.”

Snapping back to attention, he lifted his gaze to her face. Hair that he’d never seen out of place before was knotted and rumpled around her shoulders. Her face, clean of makeup, was smudged and rosy from the heat of the morning.

“You’re okay?” he managed to croak out.

“Yeah. My dryer, on the other hand, is not.” She turned her back on him and glided up the stairs, her shorts riding up to indecent proportions, and he kicked himself for gawking.

Ty stood at the bottom of the stairs not sure if he should follow her or not. This was unchartered territory. Her apartment. The lack of clothes. The tightness in his jeans.

This was Lily Novak.

“Ty?” she called from the top of the stairs. “Can you take a look?”

He cleared his throat and jogged up the stairs. “Sure.”

He found her in the living room. Her hands lifted above her head as she pulled down the top windowpane. The miniscule piece of satin crept up, revealing slim hips and what promised to be the softest skin he’d ever seen.