Authors: Rainey Anne
“Yeah, well, we’ll see. I’m not getting my hopes up, though.”
When the bartender came back with their drinks—free, as Sarah had predicted—she watched on as Lucy graced the older man with a grin. The bartender began to stammer and turn red. Sarah bit back a smile. “I’m pretty sure he’s old enough to be your dad,” she whispered.
As she brought the drink to her lips, she saw a familiar face out of the corner of her eye. Sarah turned her head and saw Reilly walking through the kitchen door. His gaze zeroed in on her. She braced herself for his anger, and it hit her like a Mack truck. Okay, so at least one of the Jenningses hated the article after all. When his gaze landed on Lucy, though, the frown fell away to be replaced by a scorching amount of heat. Whoa.
Sarah nudged Lucy. “You have an admirer,” she whispered in her ear.
Lucy followed her line of vision, and Sarah could swear her friend stopped breathing. The chemistry arcing back and forth between the two was something for the record books. When Reilly started toward them, Lucy stiffened.
“Hello, Sarah,” Reilly said. “I read the article.”
Sarah braced herself. “Oh?”
“I wasn’t real thrilled about it at first. You had no call to share that bit about Brodix’s foster mom,” he said. “Brodix won’t thank you, believe me.”
Her hopes sank clear to the hardwood floor. “I’m sorry. I tried to skate over it as best I could, but without at least some personal information, the article never would’ve made it to the front page.”
Reilly nodded, and his lips curved upward as if attempting to smile. “I know, and the grand opening is a hit, thanks to you.”
“Oh, uh, thank you. I’m glad it helped.” Sarah was surprised she could speak past the shock riding her body in that moment.
“Well, uh,” he said, shifting from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable. “River and I sort of owe you an apology,” he said. “We misjudged you.” His stiff voice had her hiding a grin. Sarah got the distinct impression that he rarely apologized.
She smiled and let him off the hook. “It’s all water under the bridge.”
He nodded; then his gaze darted toward Lucy once more. “Care to introduce me to your companion?”
“Lucy Rice,” Sarah said, “this is Reilly Jennings. He’s Brodix’s younger brother.”
Reilly took Lucy’s hand in his, a gleam of arousal in his eyes. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lucy.”
“Likewise,” Lucy said in a sultry, bedroom voice. Sarah suddenly felt like a third wheel.
Reilly’s gaze came back to hers. “I would assume you’re here for Brodix?”
“He said he’d meet me here at seven.” Of course, that was nearly thirty minutes ago, not that she was watching the clock or anything. God, she was lame.
“I see,” Reilly said, as his gaze swung back to Lucy. He stared at her as if she were the all-you-can-eat buffet. When he looked down at his watch, his brows furrowed. “He’s not usually late. I’m not sure what’s keeping him.” Reilly nodded to the far corner of the room. “How about we grab a table until he gets here?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Lucy quickly agreed.
“Ladies,” Reilly said as he held out both arms. Sarah looked around one more time for Brodix, but when she came up empty, she sighed and took the arm Reilly held out for her.
He led them to a round table and held a chair for Lucy, then Sarah. As he sat in the chair closest to Lucy, he said, “You two look amazing, by the way.” His gaze fairly devoured Lucy. When someone tapped Sarah on the shoulder, her heart caught in her throat. She turned her head, and her hopes plummeted. The handsome, tanned blond was most definitely not Brodix.
“You here alone, darlin’?” he asked her.
“I’m not sure,” Sarah answered. It was nothing short of the truth, considering Brodix still hadn’t shown up.
The man grinned and held out a hand. “In that case, care to dance with me until you figure it out?”
Unaccountably charmed, Sarah said, “Sure.” She started to get up, but Reilly quickly stopped her with a large hand on her shoulder. “What?”
“You should wait for Brodix,” he replied as he glared at the stranger.
“In case it escaped your notice, I’ve been waiting for Brodix for the last half hour now,” she told him, more than a little miffed that Brodix had apparently stood her up. With her head high, Sarah turned to the man and smiled.
“Sarah,” Reilly warned, the deep timbre of his voice nearly causing her to pause. Lucy leaned close to his ear, distracting him. Whatever she’d said caused Reilly to completely lose interest in Sarah.
The blond guy gave her his arm and leaned close to her ear to be heard over the music. “Name’s Josh.”
“Sarah,” she replied as he led her out to the small dance floor.
Once there, Sarah became acutely aware the song they were about to dance to was a slow country tune. When Josh pulled her into his arms and began moving to the beat of the music, Sarah had to hold back tears. He wasn’t Brodix. No man could compare to him. She couldn’t shake the feeling that dancing with Josh felt like a betrayal to Brodix.
You belong to me,
he’d stated. Did she? And if so, then where was he? Her heart sank when she realized he might not show up at all.
“So, Sarah, what’s a beautiful woman like you doing here alone?” Josh asked, his voice close enough that she could smell his minty breath.
“What’s a handsome man like you doing alone?” she countered, wishing she hadn’t noticed how strange Josh’s arms felt around her waist. His firm build was nice, but it wasn’t Brodix’s firm build. The knowledge made her want to scream.
“I aim to change that,” he drawled in a sexy Texas accent Sarah knew the women probably loved.
When he tugged her in tight, Sarah went stiff as a board. He was big and muscular, handsome and polite. His deep voice was as soft as crushed velvet. Nope, not a single thing wrong with Josh. Still, there was only one man she wanted pressed up close to her body. One man who could make her insides hum with desire in ten seconds flat. And she was just so damn pissed he wasn’t the one holding her now.
“Relax, darlin’,” he urged her, “I don’t bite unless asked.”
Sarah shook her head. “You’re a nice guy, Josh, but your timing is a bit off.”
Josh pulled back and looked into her eyes. Several seconds passed before he glanced back over to where Lucy and Reilly sat. “I know you aren’t with that big dark-haired fella, because he’s all over your girlfriend. So, who is it that’s keeping me from having a snowball’s chance tonight?”
Sarah tried not to feel the kick in her gut as she thought of Brodix. She looked away from Josh’s suddenly serious brown eyes. “The big fella’s brother. Although I’m not entirely sure he’s still interested in me.”
“Ah, so it’s like that,” Josh replied as he pulled her back into his embrace. This time, he didn’t try to get so close. As a matter of fact, it seemed as if the intensity that had been there a moment ago was gone. He’d obviously admitted defeat with remarkable aplomb. “Don’t look now, darlin’, but I think the brother just walked in the door. Judging by the look on his face, he’s none too happy with me either.”
Sarah started to swivel her head around to see Brodix. It’d been too long, and she missed him terribly. Josh stopped her before she could, and she frowned up at him. “What are you doing?”
“You want him to come after you, don’t you?” How had he guessed? Josh chuckled. “It’s as plain as the nose on your pretty face.”
“I’m hopeless, aren’t I?”
“Nah, just in love.”
“He probably couldn’t care less if I’m dancing with another man. This whole thing is stupid,” Sarah ground out, feeling more and more like a fool.
He bent low and whispered, “Don’t bet on it. It’s eating him up watching me tell you all my dirty little fantasies right now, trust me.”
Hope took root. “It is?”
“Hell, he never even made it past the front door,” he said, a hint of mischief in his tone. “He’s just standing there, looking for all the world like a raging bull ready to charge.”
A little thrill went through her. Brodix did care? “So you think if I do this,” she asked, getting close to his ear, “then he’ll maybe get the lead out?”
He chuckled. “Oh, I guarantee it.”
Sarah laughed as she swatted Josh’s arm. “You’re pure trouble, aren’t you?”
“Damn straight, darlin’.” Josh straightened, and he appeared more alert. “Ah hell, here he comes.” He kept his arms around her and whistled low. “You might’ve mentioned the fact he was bigger than the other one.”
The deep, dark voice was barely recognizable it was so cold and remote. Where was the warm, cajoling tone she remembered? She turned her head and tried to pretend she wasn’t dying inside. “Brodix, I didn’t realize you were here.”
“I can see that,” he ground out and pinned Josh with a steely look. “Mind if I cut in?”
Sarah looked back at Josh and saw the mischievous glint in his eyes. She willed him to say no. Bloodshed would be mega-bad for the grand opening. When he dropped his arms and stepped back, Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. As Brodix took her into his arms, Sarah gave up on holding back the tears.
He frowned and touched her cheek with the pad of his thumb. “Why are you crying? Did he hurt you?”
“N-no,” she stammered. “Not him,” she said as she buried her face in his shirt, giving her tears free rein.
Brodix had been ready to spit nails when he’d seen Sarah in the arms of another man. Anger had rolled through him like a runaway freight train. Only seeing Sarah’s tears could dry his rage as quickly as it had. Damn it, he needed to get to the bottom of this, but that sure as hell wasn’t going to happen if they stayed on the crowded dance floor. “Come on,” he urged, then tugged her in the direction of the kitchen.
She wiped her face with the back of her hand, as if attempting to gain control. “Where?”
“We need some privacy,” he explained. He took her to the back office. When he opened the door, he found Julie there, working on the computer.
She looked up, saw Sarah pressed to his side, and frowned. “Brodix?”
He shook his head. “Could you give us a minute?”
“Of course.” She got to her feet and moved around the desk. When she drew closer to Sarah, Julie’s eyes rounded. “Oh, I recognize you from the newspaper. The article you wrote about the Jennings family was wonderful.” She laughed. “You made Wanda a popular lady down at the beauty salon.” She held out a hand. “I’m Julie, Sam’s better half. I’m sorry I missed you at the picnic. I got caught up working on a paper for one of my classes. By the time I arrived, you and Brodix had already left.”
Sarah smiled, but Brodix could tell it was forced. “We left a bit early, I’m afraid,” she said, her voice still a little wobbly. She shook Julie’s hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Julie.”
“Likewise.” Julie looked over at Brodix and winked. “I’ll just leave you two to talk.”
“Thanks,” he said, grateful that she seemed to understand they needed privacy. After she was gone, Brodix turned to Sarah. “You were crying,” he murmured and cupped her face in his palms. “The first time I’ve seen you since Sunday night, and you’re in the arms of another man and you’re crying. What’s going on, sweetheart?”
She shook her head. “The dance didn’t mean anything. He asked, and I said yes. It wasn’t anything more than that.” She slumped and squeezed her eyes closed tight. “I was just frustrated because I thought you had stood me up.”
“We’ll talk about you dancing with other men in a minute. First, why would I stand you up? And what’s with the tears?”
Sarah tried to pull away, but Brodix wasn’t having it. She gave up finally and muttered, “I’m afraid.”
Brodix scowled. “Afraid? Of What?” Then a nasty thought struck, and he asked, “Did Jack come around again? Is he harassing you?”
She snorted. “No, nothing like that. That would require effort on his part, something he’s not real big on.”
“Then I’m lost,” he said, as he dropped his hands to his sides. “Help me out here.”
“I love you, okay?” She smacked his chest, her voice rising with each syllable. “I’m crazy in love with you, you big dork!”
Brodix felt like he’d fallen down the rabbit hole. “Wait, you were crying because you love me?”
“No,” she bit out. “I’m crying because I’m afraid that
. That you might never love me.”
He released her hand and stepped away from her, shutting down as he recalled the front page of the
. “Is that why you put Mrs. Beatty’s suicide in the article?” His gaze hardened. “Because you love me?”
Sarah’s face paled as if he’d slapped her. Hell, she looked shattered. Brodix wanted to fix it, but he needed to know her reasons behind the article first. “I’m sorry, but you did know I was writing a human-interest piece. Did you think I could do that without putting at least something
“You knew that was private,” he bit out. “If I’d wanted it shared with the world, I would’ve done so myself.”
“If you read the article, then you know I tried my best to gloss over that part to some degree.” She blushed, and God help him, it turned Brodix on. “But the article never would’ve made the front page if I’d treated the story with kid gloves.”