Authors: Rainey Anne
“I was seven at the time, and I’d been living with this couple, the Beattys. Mrs. Beatty was a nice lady, but sad. I remember her crying a lot. Her husband was a self-absorbed ass. He didn’t care that his wife was in pain. All he wanted to do was go out drinking with his buddies.”
“Real hero material, huh?”
Brodix rolled his eyes. “Not sure what she ever saw in him. Anyway, one day when I came home from school, I found Mrs. Beatty lying on the couch. I thought she was asleep at first, but when she wouldn’t wake up, I got scared and went to a neighbor’s house.” He exhaled deeply. “As it turns out, she was dead. An overdose.”
Sarah gasped. “Oh my God, she killed herself?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice quiet, as if he’d mentally stepped back in time. “I guess she finally reached her breaking point.”
“Brodix, I’m so sorry.” Sarah wished she could simply erase the last few minutes of conversation, for his sake. “How awful for you to see that.”
He raked his hand through his hair, tousling the dark strands. “I got shipped off to another family pretty fast. It was years before I could get that image out of my head, though. Her lying there, eyes staring at nothing.” A muscle in his jaw flexed. “Gave me nightmares, let me tell ya.”
Sarah cringed. “I can only imagine.” Something Brodix said earlier struck her as odd. “Before, when we were discussing River, you said River’s foster home but not yours? Are you saying the five of you were split up? Don’t siblings usually go to the same foster home, though?”
“Yeah, but there aren’t a lot of foster parents willing to take on five rowdy boys.” He picked up his knife and twirled it around. “See, by the time the system got involved and took us away from our mother because of the drugs and neglect, we weren’t all together again until Wanda came in and swooped us up.”
“That must’ve been quite an adjustment for you all. What was it like to finally be together again?” she asked, hoping to get Brodix past the awful memory of finding his foster mom dead. She felt like the lowest of low for making him relive it. “What was it like to be a family?”
He stroked his thumb across the wooden handle of the steak knife, and Sarah suddenly wished Brodix was stroking her instead. “You’d think it’d be the greatest thing in the world, wouldn’t you?” He snorted. “And it was, eventually. But at first it was tough. We weren’t the easiest bunch of boys, for sure. We gave Mom and Dad a hell of a time.”
“But they loved you enough to adopt the five of you?”
“Dad was a former Marine, so he didn’t exactly wear his heart on his sleeve, but yeah, he loved us.” A corner of Brodix’s lips kicked upward. “He used to say that we always belonged to him, it just took God a little longer to bring us to him is all.” He laughed. “And hell, you’ve met Mom. Does she strike you as the type to give up?”
Sarah laughed. “No, she doesn’t. When I tried to decline her peach pie offer, she brushed my denial right off and practically dragged me out of the store.”
Brodix set down the knife and took a drink of his ice water. “When Mom sees something she wants, something she’s passionate about, she doesn’t stop until she gets it. That’s how she was with us. We gave her plenty of reasons to dump our asses too, believe me. But she never gave up, never let us forget that she was there for the long haul.” He paused before adding, “She was the first person to ever tell me she loved me.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”
“Yep. I didn’t buy it, though.” A smile curved his lips. “I figured for sure she’d leave. They all did eventually.”
Learning more about Brodix might have been part of her job, but at the moment, she could care less about the
. She simply wanted to know everything about him because he fascinated her on a much more personal level. “And Chet Jennings, your father, sounds every bit as tenacious and loving. Together they must have been quite a pair.”
“They were.” It wasn’t a question, but Brodix responded anyway. “Dad definitely had a different way of showing affection than Mom. He wasn’t as gentle, but he loved with his whole heart.”
There was a wealth of emotion in Brodix’s voice. “What’s your fondest memory of him?” she asked gently.
“The day I graduated from college,” he answered, as if he didn’t even have to think about it. “He looked at me in that cap and gown and teared right up. It was the only time I ever saw my dad cry.” Brodix cleared his throat. “He told me he was proud of me.”
Sarah’s throat closed up. For the first time, she was at a loss for words. Without thinking, she reached across the table and placed her hand over his. Brodix went completely still; his intense gaze held her captive. “Sarah,” he whispered. Her name was a caress on his lips. Sarah had to remind herself to breathe. She looked at their hands, mesmerized by the feel of his thumb stroking over her palm. Once more, Sarah wondered what it would be like to have him touching more than her hand. When Brodix’s fingers drifted over the inside of her wrist, Sarah trembled.
As the waiter brought their food, the spell around them broke. They ate in relative silence, as if neither of them was willing to ruin the moment with idle chatter. When their check came, Sarah’s heartbeat sped up. Soon they’d be back in his car, but would she be going back to her cold apartment to sleep in a lonely bed, or would Brodix want more from her than a quick peck on the cheek and a promise to call? When she found him staring at her, his warm brown eyes eating her up, Sarah knew the answer. He wanted her. The offer was written all over his face. The only question remaining was what did
“Come home with me,” Brodix said, putting her thoughts into words. “No expectations, just two people sharing a nightcap and great conversation.”
Sarah’s pulse went from a gallop to a sprint. “That’s it?” she asked, needing it spelled out for her. The last thing she wanted was to get their signals crossed. “A nightcap?”
His gaze darted to her chest, and he licked his lips. Oh yeah, they were definitely on the same page. “Unless you want more,” he murmured.
“I…I don’t know,” she said with total honesty. “We only just met today. And I don’t make a habit of mixing business with pleasure.”
“Sweetheart, we did that the moment I iced your ankle.”
The endearment went straight to her heart and stayed there. “But—”
“Say yes, Sarah,” he growled.
She should be turning him down. Sarah should do the professional thing here. A quick no and he’d leave her on her doorstep. Why wasn’t she saying no? Because she was completely enthralled by the man. She yearned to taste his kiss and she desperately ached to feel his touch. Saying no simply wasn’t an option.
“Yes,” Sarah rushed out. His smile was predatory, and Sarah’s insides turned to molten lava.
After he paid the bill, Brodix took her hand in his and led her out of the restaurant. A sudden bout of insecurity swept over her, and she quickly pulled him to a halt.
He quirked a brow. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.” She closed her eyes tight. “Oh crap, that’s not true. I do know what’s wrong. This.” She waved a hand in the air between them. “Us going home together. I must be crazy.”
Brodix’s gaze darkened. “Believe me, I know what you mean. This morning, we didn’t even know each other. We’re moving pretty fast here. It’s got your head all clouded with doubt, is that it?”
“Yes, I-I’m not the type to go home with a man on the first date. I’m really not.” For some reason, she needed him to know that.
“No expectations, Sarah, remember?” he reminded her as he cupped her cheek in his palm. “We’ll take baby steps, I promise.”
“I know.” Sarah felt ridiculous all of a sudden. She was a grown woman. Single. And it’d been way too long since she’d been in bed with anything more than a good book. Wasn’t she due?
He turned his hand and stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers, then whispered, “We won’t do anything except talk if that’s what you want. You can even grill me some more. I’m just not ready for this evening to end. Okay?”
“Me either.” The words were out of Sarah’s mouth before she could stop them. When Brodix opened the car door for her, Sarah slid inside. Tingles of excitement skittered up and down her spine.
But when she thought of her plan to get her position back at the paper and to recover her reputation as a reporter, she frowned. Hadn’t she told herself that this time around she was going to keep her head in the game? Allowing Brodix more than a nightcap tonight would be unwise and incredibly irresponsible. Even so, she just knew if he touched her, she wasn’t going to show him the door. Of course, the naughty vixen inside of her, the one she rarely let out to play, prayed he touched her. A lot.
By the time they arrived at Brodix’s apartment, Sarah was fairly buzzing with jittery excitement. When Brodix flicked on a light inside the front door, she got her first glimpse of his world outside the Blackwater Bar and Grill. Beyond the man she’d researched. The small lamp on an end table illuminated the room with a soft glow. A large black suede couch, matching loveseat and recliner took up a large part of the room. It looked cozy and inviting. As her gaze roamed, Sarah spied a corner bookshelf and an old comfortable chair sitting nearby. Perfect for a lazy Sunday morning of reading a good book and a hot cup of coffee, she thought. Overall it was a nice place, in a bachelor sort of way. She wondered how many women he’d brought here, then quickly squashed the thought. It wasn’t any of her business, really.
“What would you like to drink?” Brodix asked as he took off his suit coat and laid it over the back of the couch. “I have a bottle of merlot, or if you prefer, I can make us a pot of coffee.” He picked up a remote control, and gentle music suddenly filled the air. It relaxed her frayed nerves a measure.
“Coffee sounds good to me,” she replied, knowing she’d need all her wits about her tonight. She didn’t want her senses dulled by alcohol. She didn’t want to take the chance of forgetting a single minute.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” he said as he led the way into the kitchen. “The glass of wine I had at the restaurant is the most I ever drink in a single night.” Sarah watched as Brodix moved to the coffeemaker and took out the glass pot.
“You’re apartment is nice,” she replied as she took a seat at the round oak table.
“In a manly sort of way, right?” He laughed when she stayed silent. Heck, she didn’t want to offend him. “It’s okay; I’m not attached to this place. It’s only where I hang my hat.”
When he leaned over the sink to fill the pot with water, Sarah’s gaze landed on his ass. God, a gal could have a lot of fun squeezing such a firm tush. “It’s not home, sweet home, huh?” she asked absently, a little proud of herself for keeping to the conversation even as she gawked at him. Talk about multitasking.
“Nah, not really.” He shrugged. “Mom’s house has always been home to me.” He measured out the coffee and started the pot brewing before he turned back toward her. “What about you?”
The question halted the runaway train of her libido. “Uh, what about me?”
“You’ve met my entire family, but I don’t really know anything about you.” He crossed the small room and pulled out a chair. After he sat down, he asked, “Do you have brothers and sisters? Parents?”
“I have one brother two years older than me. Paul and I aren’t terribly close. While I was growing up, I spent a lot of time reading. Books were often my companions. That’s when I became interested in writing, and later reporting.” She thought of how close Brodix’s family was, and somehow felt lacking. She and Paul were so distant, and nothing at all like the Jenningses’ close-knit bunch. “He lives in California so we rarely see each other. And my mom moved to Florida a few years back. She and I talk every day, though.”
“He died when I was two years old,” she answered. Like so many times in the past, Sarah wished she could’ve known her father. “A car accident. Mom never remarried.”
A small smile played at the corners of his lips, but there was a hint of sadness to it. “He was her one true love, huh?”
“That’s the way she describes it. I don’t remember him. Paul does, but he doesn’t like to talk about Dad.”
“It hurts him too much,” Brodix said in a quiet tone. “I know how he feels.”
Sarah nodded. “Yeah.” She thought of Brodix’s father and asked, “Do you still miss your dad?”
“Every day,” he said as their gazes connected. “Before the stroke took Dad from us, he was always so full of life, you know? The house feels sort of empty without him there.”
The coffeepot beeped, and Brodix stood to get mugs out of the cupboard. “Cream? Sugar?”
“Neither. I prefer mine black, thanks.” After Brodix handed her cup to her and took his seat, she asked, “So, you’ve told me a bit about your own foster days, as well as the difficulties River had during those early years, but there’s still a lot left unsaid.”
“What about your oldest brother Sam?”
He quirked a brow. “What about him?”
“Did he have it rough too?”
“If you’re asking was there any abuse, no.” He looked down at his cup. “River received the worst of it. For the rest of us, it was just a matter of not really having a permanent home. I mean, you always knew that it was temporary and so you understood that you couldn’t form attachments to people or things. Changing schools wasn’t any fun. Always having to live with a new family meant new rules as well.”