Authors: Rainey Anne
As she recalled the nasty text message she’d received earlier from her ex-husband, Sarah reluctantly took the cell from Brodix and willed it not to ring. “Like I said, the human-interest piece would be great publicity for the restaurant. It’s my understanding that you went from one foster home to another. That doesn’t sound like a picnic. Later you were all adopted by what appears to be two very special people. If you ask me, that’s something this town would want to read about. Don’t you think? I mean, I don’t see what you have to lose.”
“Let’s see,” he said as he stood, his taller, much larger frame dwarfing her. “There’s the little matter of privacy, for one. You digging around in my past—in my brothers’ pasts—poking at old wounds, that’s not my idea of a good time.” She started to protest, to make him see that she didn’t intend to hurt his family, but he didn’t give her a chance. “And while I might appear to be a gentle lamb, Sarah, I do have my limits.”
She snorted at his description of himself. “No one would ever mistake you for a gentle lamb, least of all me.” Sarah fished around in her purse and took out her business card. “If you change your mind about dinner, call me.” She handed it to him, pleased when he took it and tucked it into the front pocket of his slacks.
Sarah’s cell phone rang, interrupting Brodix. She held it up and read the number on the screen, then cursed.
Brodix’s entire body went rigid as if gearing up for a fight. “Not someone you want to talk to, I take it?”
“My ex-husband,” she replied. “He’s back in town and looking to get together for drinks.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s been calling me every half hour. It isn’t just drinks he’s after.”
“And that’s the last thing you want,” Brodix surmised in a voice edged with steel. There was a hardness about him that hadn’t been there mere seconds ago.
“I’d rather he do the world a favor and jump off a cliff,” she admitted, “but I guess that’s asking too much.” She groaned when it rang again. Sarah hit Ignore.
“You know,” Brodix said, staring at the phone in her hand, “I’ve changed my mind about dinner. How about we meet tonight at seven? Does that work for you?”
The sudden turnaround had Sarah suspicious. “Definitely, but why the change of heart?”
He stuck his hands in his front pockets and smiled. “It just occurred to me that we need each other.”
Sarah stiffened. She didn’t much like the idea of needing anyone, much less a man. “And why might that be?”
Brodix pointed to the phone clutched in Sarah’s hand. “He’s going to keep calling until he has a legitimate reason not to. And when he does, you can tell him that you already have a date. If he thinks you’re unavailable, he’ll leave you alone.”
“How do you know I don’t already have a boyfriend?” She paused, then added, “I don’t, but you couldn’t have known that.”
“Just a guess, but it seems to me that if you had a boyfriend, then your ex wouldn’t be bothering you so much. Your boyfriend would’ve put a stop to it.”
The affront to her feminine pride was a little more than she could take. “I don’t need a man to protect me.”
“I don’t imagine you do,” he said, his voice ringing with honesty and a touch of respect, if she wasn’t mistaken. “You’re obviously a very capable woman, but any man worth his salt wouldn’t allow his woman to be harassed the way your ex is harassing you.”
“Okay, I see your point. So, basically, you’re doing me a favor, is that it?”
“I’m doing us both a favor.”
“What do you get out of it, then?” A thought struck, and she asked, “Or are you saying you’ve changed your mind about doing the interview?”
“I get the pleasure of your company,” he murmured as he touched a finger to her cheek. “Not a bad deal, trust me. We’ll talk about the interview over dinner.”
Sarah’s nerve endings fired to life with the barely there touch. “Oh, okay,” she said, her voice a little too breathless. She could all too easily imagine that stroke elsewhere. Brodix had the gentlest fingers. What would it be like to feel his caresses all over? When her phone chimed yet again, Sarah snapped back to reality. She glared at the small screen and this time hit Answer. “What do you want, Jack?”
When Jack’s silky-smooth voice came over the line, she had to hold back a shiver. The overly charming tone brought back too many ugly memories for Sarah. The instant the invitation to meet him for drinks was out of his mouth, Sarah quickly shut him down. “I told you before, I’m busy.” She thought of Brodix and added, “We’re divorced, remember? Besides, I have a date tonight.” His loud curse caused Sarah to yank the phone away from her ear to prevent rupturing her eardrum. Before she could hang up on him mid-tantrum, Brodix snatched the cell out of her hand.
“Hey, dumbass, get it through your head that she wants nothing to do with you,” he gritted out. Sarah didn’t know Brodix well, but even she knew the man meant business. She watched, dumbfounded, as Brodix listened to whatever tirade Jack had launched into this time. A few seconds went by before Brodix was afforded the opportunity to speak again. “Be smart, Jack, and leave Sarah alone.” He hit a button and handed the phone over. “Your ex has a really foul mouth. How long were you married to the jerk?”
Sarah took the phone and stared down at it, then looked back up at Brodix. “A year and a half.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe you just did that.” His high-handedness should’ve had Sarah spitting mad. Usually, she hated it when a man felt the need to protect and shelter the “little woman”. But she was too stunned to be angry.
Brodix shrugged. “He was interrupting our conversation.”
She shook her head. “Yes, but it wasn’t your place to defend me,” she finally managed to say—even though a secret part of her had thrilled at Brodix’s protectiveness.
“My mom would never forgive me if I stood by and did nothing while a woman was being harassed.”
Her lips twitched as she slid her phone into her purse. “You’re afraid of your mother?”
Brodix winked. “Clearly you haven’t met her, or you wouldn’t be so quick to laugh.”
“Maybe I’ll get my chance on Friday,” she tossed back, thinking once again how terrific the woman must be to take five boys from foster care and raise them as her own.
“Friday?” Brodix asked as he sat back down on the stool.
“The grand opening,” she reminded him, then started backing her way toward the door. “She’ll be here, right?”
He nodded and leaned against the counter. “She’ll be here.”
Brodix’s relaxed position gave Sarah the perfect view of his body, from his powerful chest to the flat abs she was sure had to be a six-pack. Yum. When her gaze landed on his crotch, she bit back a moan. He filled out the slacks like nobody’s business.
“I’ll get to meet her, then,” she replied, “because I’ll be here too. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She took another step backward before adding, “And with any luck, it’ll be a raging success, thanks to the story I’m going to run.”
He laughed. “You don’t miss a beat, do you?”
Sarah grinned. “No, usually I don’t.” She turned around to leave, but Brodix called her name. She looked over her shoulder. “What?”
“Tonight at seven?” he asked. Even from the distance, Sarah could see the heat in Brodix’s gaze.
“Sounds wonderful,” she managed around the sudden desire clogging her throat.
His lips curved upward. “I’m going to need your address, don’t you think?”
“Right, sorry.” She told him where she lived and hoped she wasn’t blushing too badly.
“Ah,” he said, “I know where that is.”
“Good. I’ll, uh, see you then.”
“Count on it,” he replied, his voice as soft and smooth as velvet.
When she reached her car, Sarah let out a long breath. “Holy mother, what have I gotten myself into this time?”
She was having dinner with Brodix Jennings. She’d have the big, sexy man all to herself for the entire evening. Her heartbeat sped up as she became aware of how much her excitement had absolutely nothing to do with getting the story, and everything to do with getting her hands on Brodix.
“Whoa, hold up there, girlfriend,” she mumbled to herself. “Get your head in the game.”
Half the reason she’d screwed up with the Coburn story was because she’d been too quick to the finish line. This time around, she would need to make sure to do everything by the book. All her Ts crossed and facts triple-checked. If she had any hope at all of getting her career back on track, then she needed those interviews. The Jennings brothers had secrets in their past, she was sure of it. Sarah was determined to find out what they were.
Two hours after Brodix had watched Sarah leave the Blackwater Bar and Grill, he found himself sitting across from his four brothers in his mom’s kitchen. He’d called a meeting to discuss Sarah’s proposal, but judging by Reilly’s rigid expression, the discussion wasn’t going to go well. “Should we wait on Mom to get back from the store? After all, she does have a bigger stake in the restaurant than the rest of us.”
When Brodix had called his mom about getting together to talk about the business, his mom had said she was just heading out to get a few things from the grocer. She’d let him know they were welcome to use her house. They’d grown up in the large, brick, two-story, and even now, Brodix and his brothers still thought of it as home. While he had his own apartment a half hour away near Grant Enterprises, the financial consulting firm where he worked, it wasn’t really home, sweet home and never had been. It was just the place he rested his head when he wasn’t working.
“I don’t think she’d mind if we got started,” Sam said as he gave Brodix one of his patented big-brother stares. Brodix knew Sammy was attempting to figure out what was going on. “What did you want to talk about?”
“We had a visitor today at the restaurant,” he said, deciding to get straight to it.
Sam sat back in his chair. “Oh yeah?”
“Sarah Greer. She’s a reporter for the
.” Brodix tapped his foot on the floor beneath the table and waited for the protests to start. He wanted his brothers to agree to Sarah’s proposal, he suddenly realized. His reaction to the woman was nuts, and he already felt like he was betraying his family to some degree. Worse yet, he wasn’t sure if his reasons were strictly for the good of the business or because he was attracted to her. He suspected it was a little of both.
Vance’s eyes widened in obvious shock, but no anger registered, from what Brodix could see. “Seriously? Isn’t she that reporter who broke the story about the mayor’s shady contributions, then later ended up with egg on her face?”
Brodix frowned. It’d been too much to hope that the Coburn debacle would be forgotten by the lot of them. “Yes, the same reporter,” he said, then waited for the questions to start. Vance only rubbed his jaw and silently waited for him to continue. “What would a reporter want with us?” Sam asked as he sat up straighter, suddenly more alert.
“She wants to interview us,” he replied, then braced for the fallout.
Brodix heard a curse, and the room fell silent as everyone looked toward River. His brother’s pale green eyes were definitely shooting daggers at him now. Great. River, with his unkempt black hair and lean six-foot-four build, wasn’t someone you wanted to piss off. “What the hell for?” his brother asked as he scowled across the table at him.
“It’s for the front page of the paper. Sarah thinks that our life, specifically going from one foster home to another and later being adopted by two loving people, is something this town would want to read about.”
“A feel-good sort of thing,” Vance speculated as he rubbed his jaw. “I’ve read her news stories. Last week she wrote about that woman who had been kidnapped as a child only to escape years later. Anyone read about that?”
Sam nodded. “Julie read that to me. The woman went on to help other trauma victims.”
“Yeah, I caught that story too. I didn’t realize that was one of Sarah’s, though.” Brodix noticed Sam and Vance seemed to be open to the idea, so he went for broke. “I think that might be similar to what Sarah wants to do with us. We’re having dinner tonight, and I plan to get all the details then.”
“I’m not talking to a reporter,” River bit out as he scooted his chair back and stood as if the matter was closed. “Especially one who has a bad habit of screwing with a man’s life.”
“Ditto,” Reilly stated, getting to his feet, clearly intent on backing his twin.
Brodix wasn’t surprised by their reaction, but he wasn’t ready to give up the publicity the story would afford them either. So he came up with another idea, one he hoped would appeal to everyone. “Before you two decide, I have a plan that might suit everyone.” He paused before asking, “What if Sarah only interviews me?” Brodix held out his hands, palm up. “Does anyone have any objections to that scenario?”
River’s gaze narrowed. “Why are you so eager to talk to this woman?”
“Because the restaurant needs help,” Brodix answered, giving him only part of the truth. He didn’t think his brothers needed to know he was attracted to the woman. “I don’t know if you’re all aware, but the till is empty. The grand opening is only days away. If we want a full house, then we’re going to need all the help we can get. Now, Sarah is talking about front page here. That’d be great for business.”