Man of the Month

Man of the Month

Lisa Scott

April 2013 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-281-1

Book Two of The Willowdale Romances.

Every small town has its star-crossed couple. In Willowdale, North Carolina, it’s Jeanne Clark and Brad Larsen, forever linked by a tragic accident years ago.


 

 
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Sexy, simple, seductive. He’d arrange one blind date a month for her. Help her forget that he wasn’t Mr. Right. That was the deal. If only it had worked.

Jeanne Clark is determined to marry and have children. Too bad the only man she wants is all wrong—her best friend and business partner, Brad Larsen. Their brief affair had been fiery hot but heartbreaking. Brad isn’t the marrying kind. Children? He doesn’t want any.

Hoping they can both move on, Brad proposes a New Year’s resolution. She’ll go out with a different guy each month, hand-picked by him—the Man of the Month. Jeanne doesn’t do blind dates, but agrees to the fool idea. She’s got to do something to get over Brad.

As the bad dates add up, Jeanne realizes how much she really loves Brad. And it’s killing Brad to watch her go out with other men. As the tension between them builds, one reckless night threatens to change everything between them forever.


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Excerpt

Chapter 1

JEANNE’S CHAMPAGNE sloshed over her glass as she tried to find it with her lips. Lordy, was this her third... or fifth? She’d never been much of a drinker, but it was the only way she was going to get through this night. Either that, or one of her pecan praline pies. Not just a nibble, either—the whole dang thing. In the end, the champagne would do less damage to her hips, so here she was, drowning in the bubbly.

As she aimed the flute toward her mouth, it disappeared when someone plucked it from her sticky fingertips.

"Hey!” she protested, grasping at the air.

Brad towered over her, frowning as he snatched the glass. "Jeanne, what’s gotten into you? Tonight of all nights?”

A few people turned to stare.

She hiccupped. Covering her mouth, she shot Brad her nastiest glare, but ugh! The man, with those chiseled cheekbones and that pitch-black hair falling in his eyes, was handsome even when he was mad.

"Shoot, Brad!” She stamped her stiletto and wobbled, grabbing his arm for balance. Her hand locked onto rock-hard muscle, and she nearly whimpered. Instead, she lied. "I’m fine! I need that drink to ring in the New Year.” She shouted over the music and laughter at the party and plastered on a great big smile.

Seemed like everyone in Willowdale, North Carolina had turned out for the bash, even old Chester Miller. He hadn’t left his house since 1998, and here he was chasing the old Mercer twins around the living room—and they were enjoying it. Was she the only one here faking the fun?

Brad’s stern look disappeared, and out came a smile that could blind the sun. "You don’t need any more. Not tonight. Now, get over here, girl. The ball’s dropping.”

He linked his fingers with hers, pulling her through the crowd until they had a good view of Times Square on the giant flat screen TV. Couples bunched up together in the crowd preparing for the countdown. Brad snaked his arm around her waist, his thumb stroking her black satin dress. The warm feeling coursing through her body had nothing to do with the all those glasses of pink bubbly.

They counted down together. "Three... two... one!”

Horns blared, confetti flew, and it felt like a slow-motion movie scene. She turned to him, fixing her eyes on his, bright blue and smoldering under a lock of hair. His eyebrow hitched while his mouth formed a perfect pucker. A shiver shimmied down her spine then back up again. With a swipe of her tongue across her lips, she sucked in a breath, closed her eyes—

And Brad planted a big kiss on her cheek. "Happy New Year, kiddo,” he whispered in her ear.

Her heart sank faster than the ball they’d just watched. Just like it did every time she realized her perfect guy could never be more than a friend. Dang. She swallowed back the sob crawling up her throat. Didn’t go down as easy without the champagne.

She forced a smile. "Happy New Year, Bradley.”

Then she grabbed her glass, slurped the last of her drink, and pushed away from him. Stumbling through the crowd, she made her way toward the back deck of her friend Kate’s enormous house. The damn place was probably bigger than the Smart Mart over in Whitesville.

After indulging a few of the regulars from the Jelly Jar diner with celebratory hugs and kisses, she finally slipped outside, relieved to drop the fake smile. Pulling her wrap tight around her bare shoulders, she leaned against the railing and let out the tears she’d been holding back. The champagne glass slipped from her grasp and crashed onto the patio below. That only made her cry harder—like she needed more proof she really didn’t have a grip on things and hadn’t for a long time.

Jeanne sniffed, and her bottom lip wobbled like the bumper that was always threatening to tumble off Bill the Barber’s truck. She wasn’t one to fall apart all pretty. When she crumbled, she was a downright mess.

Soft, downy flakes fell from the sky, tickling her nose. She brushed them away like gnats. That damn kiss on the cheek shouldn’t have been a surprise. She’d known for a couple years now that Brad would always be just a friend, for several very good reasons. And now that they were business partners, becoming a couple would be as stupid as topping their famous rum pound cake with hot bacon drippings. Normally, she could deal with it. Just tuck away that painful longing like a brochure for a month-long cruise you could never afford to take, but still liked to dream about.

Guess something about the promise of new starts and a new year, and maybe all that champagne, had brought hope rising up inside her. Only to be popped like a silly soap bubble. Of course, the bad memories from that New Year’s Eve so long ago chased away the good feelings, too. She sucked in a shock of cold night air and shivered.

Folding her arms on the railing, she rested her chin on top. She shouldn’t have come to this party. She should have volunteered to babysit so her sister, Becca, could’ve gone out. Little Emma was just three months old, and the most beautiful thing Jeanne had ever seen. That was weighing heavy on her heart, too, reminding her how badly she wanted to be a mama. To have the perfect family she never had, and how unlikely that was of happening any time soon.

The deck door slid open, and the sounds of music and laughter spilled out. She stood up and pressed her fingers under her eyes to catch any dribbles of mascara. Was she the only person in the world sobbing-in the New Year? Taking a deep breath, she turned to see who was coming outside.

Please don’t be Kate or Tonya.

She didn’t know if she had the strength to lie to her friends about what was wrong. They could sniff out of a fib faster than Doc Louie’s bloodhounds.

"Why’d you rush out here?” Brad asked.

Dang, worse than Kate or Tonya, Jeanne thought, as she turned away. "Guess I don’t feel like celebrating tonight.”

"Sure looked like you were having fun.” He rubbed his hands together. "It’s freezing.” He took off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. His fingers grazed her arms, and she felt goosebumps answering his touch.

His big, warm body pressed up next to hers, and he planted his elbows on the railing as he looked out over the yard and the pool tucked away for the winter. "This night’s hard for me too, Jeanne. Eighteen years is a long time, but still... it hurts, I know.”

She shook her head and shrugged off the idea. She didn’t break down like this every year. Why this one? "No. That’s not it. Your mother died that night, too, and you’re not out here crying.”

Brad winced and closed his mouth. He was quiet for a spell. "You still upset we didn’t land the catering gig for the Willowdale New Year’s Bash? You know Kate threw this party just to hand us a booking, right? Not a bad consolation prize.”

She nodded. "I know. Kate’s a great friend. That’s not it. The New Year’s Bash was a long shot. We’re not ready for that yet.”

He leaned into her, his breath hot on her cheek. "Cheer up, kiddo. It’s a new year. I’ll make you a batch of those rum balls you love so much to start it off right.” He frowned. "No, nothing with alcohol for you. How about chocolate silk pie? You love my chocolate silk pie.”

She loved his everything. "No thanks.”

"Damn. You turned down pie. You are upset.” He nudged her with his elbow. "You pouting ‘cause I took away your drink? You’re a lightweight, and you know it. I’ve gotta look out for you.”

Shaking her head, she sucked in a deep breath. "I’m pouting because... I’m lonely.” She sniffed, her emotions ready to tumble out like a bunch of peaches in those flimsy paper supermarket bags. "I’m sick of being single. I want a family.”

He looked up at the sky and let out a long sigh. "How can you even think about romance when we just launched Elegant Eats? I sure don’t have time for dating. What makes you think you would?”

She lifted a shoulder, a strand of hair tickling her skin. "I’d make time. The alarm on my biological clock is blaring.” Cue the dramatic eye roll. "Never mind. I forgot—you don’t have one of those timers.”

The champagne had loosened her tongue more than she realized. Things always got ugly when their talk turned to babies. That’s what had broken them up the first time.

Brad’s hands went up and he stepped back, his best cowboy boots thunking on the wooden deck. "Jeanne, you can’t be mad at me for being honest. It would be a mistake for me to have children. But I know that’s what you want, and I respect that. Just don’t look down on me. I’m being responsible, not getting into a situation I don’t want to be in—can’t be in.”

She nodded, not looking at him. It was the one thing about Brad that made a relationship between the two of them a deal breaker, and they both knew it. Jeanne wanted kids more than a stray dog wanted a warm home. And Brad was a wolf who’d always be on the run.

The music thumped inside as they stood there, frozen, while a whole world of silent hurts tumbled between them.

His hand cupped her elbow. "It’s a new year, a new start. Why not resolve to get out there and meet someone?”

Her soft laugh left a puff in the air between them. "Brad, I know practically everyone in Willowdale. There’s no one here for me to date, unless one of the biddies down at Tonya’s salon has a handsome grandson locked up in her attic. Besides, matchmaking and me just don’t mix. Things got real ugly when Faye Jenkins tried setting up her son Leroy with me—and Tonya and Kate all at the same time.”

"Leroy Jenkins is a fool. Course it didn’t work out.” Brad tipped her chin up with one finger, and she swallowed a cry. "I’ve got lots of great friends from here to Asheville. Good men.”

Sadness tightened her chest, and she brushed off the suggestion with a big wave, stumbling with the gesture. Brad steadied her with his hands on her waist as though he might lift her up and kiss her long, hard, and good.

Which of course, he wouldn’t. Been there done that, decided it wouldn’t work.

He pulled his hands away. "No, really. Make it your New Year’s resolution to go out with a new guy every month until you meet Mr. Right.”

She laughed, in a not-funny-at-all way. "Listen.” Her finger poked his hard chest. "I don’t drink mocha double lattes just to seem trendy, I don’t wear push-up bras just ‘cause I don’t got the goods, and I don’t do blind dates just ‘cause I’m lonely as sin.”

Brad pushed away her finger and groaned. "But I’ll prescreen all these guys. And who knows you better?”

The truth of it slapped her heart. The man she loved knew her even better than her sisters or her girlfriends did. "You want to set me up with a guy?”

He nodded. "One guy every month. The Man of the Month.”

She hiccupped and pressed her hand to her mouth. "The Man of the Month,” she said through her fingers. "You’re kidding, right?”

"Nope. There’s your resolution, J.”

She loved it when he called her that.

He grinned, looking way too smug. "It’s a brilliant plan.”

"Good lord.”

It was so silly she couldn’t even find the words to argue against it. No way, no how was she agreeing to such foolishness. But when she looked up at those take-me-now eyes, his perfect lips, and those big biceps flexing as he leaned against the railing—imagining herself all tucked up in them—she knew she needed to do something to get Brad Larsen out of her system.

And that’s how she found herself saying, "Okay, Brad. Man of the Month. Sign me up.”

"YOU DID WHAT?” Tonya choked on her sweet tea at the Jelly Jar diner the next afternoon. Kate whacked her on the back, and two old-timers at the counter turned around from their coffee and pie and squinted in their direction.

"Shh! And shut those blinds, would you?” Jeanne winced and rubbed her temples. "You heard me. I agreed to let Brad set me up with a different guy every month. It’s my New Year’s resolution. Wasn’t my idea.”

There had to be some grace period for a do-over on a resolution, right? She could not go through with this. Her mama was probably rolling over in Heaven at the thought of it. At least she thought that’s what her mama would do. Jeanne didn’t remember much about her.

More heads turned as Tonya, in her tight jeans, popped up to lower the blinds. She planted a hand on her hip. "You mean, Brad-I-love-him-but-won’t-ever-admit-it Brad.”

She plopped back in her seat, her dark curls bouncing on her shoulders. A week ago, her hair had been straight and red. Tonya thought the best advertising for her salon happened right on her head.

Jeanne glared at her. "You know which Brad I’m talking about. Business-partner-best-friend-Brad.” She pushed away her burger and fries, realizing her stomach wouldn’t appreciate that.

Kate wagged a manicured finger at her. "I saw you tossin’ back the drinks. A bottle of champagne can make a girl agree to all kinds of crazy things.”

"Especially when that girl is actually in love with the man trying to set her up with his buddies,” Tonya added, dragging a french fry through a puddle of ketchup.

Kate nodded. "That’s even more powerful than a bottle of bubbly.”

Jeanne squeezed her eyes shut. "Will you two let up on that? Just because we were a couple a while back does not mean I’m in love with Brad Larsen. That’s when we figured out we were meant to be friends. We want different things. So give up that goose chase, girls. Brad and I were never an item and never will be. We’re friends. And business partners. That’s it.” She sighed. Right. And after my New Year’s resolution, I’ll give up lying for Lent.

Tonya pretended to zip her lip while Kate nibbled on her own.

"Yep, that’s what you’ve been telling yourself for a long time, Jeanne,” Kate said.

"Because that’s the truth.” Jeanne sat up straight, trying to channel a bit of confidence. "And the more I think about it, the better Brad’s idea sounds. He probably does know some very hot men, and I get to go out with one a month.” She crossed her arms and nodded. She had to prove to them she wasn’t in love with Brad—which would be as easy as convincing them she didn’t like chocolate. "It’ll be fun.”

"You’re right. It does sound like a good plan. Kind of makes me wish I wasn’t married,” Kate said, tucking her silky blonde hair behind her ears.

Jeanne gave her a look. "Right. You’d give up the hottest guy in Hollywood for a shot at some of Brad’s redneck friends.”

Kate had married actor Teague Reynolds in the biggest slice of gossip ever served up around these parts. But news of this resolution would get tongues wagging, too. Jeanne rolled her eyes just thinking of it. Maybe she should buy a honkin’ pair of sunglasses and a great big hat to disguise herself on these dates.

Tonya looked down and tapped a shiny blue nail on the table. After a deep breath, she lowered her voice and took on a serious tone. "All right, I’m just gonna come out and say it. You don’t think it’s a little strange to be in love with him after what happened with your parents? Why him, of all people?” Her eyes slowly met Jeanne’s. "You might want to sit down and make a list of all the reasons you love him and ask yourself what’s really going on here.” She shrugged. "Lists always help me. It’s just—I know Dr. Phil would have something to say about this.”

Jeanne’s mouth opened and closed a few times, and she looked away. "No! I’m not in love with him. And that would be weird, right?”

Neither of them answered, and she noticed Rita’s daughters two booths over, taking their time cleaning up. The diner and the beauty shop were the two biggest transmission points for gossip in this town. News of these monthly blind dates would spread like a pandemic.

Kate snagged an onion ring from Jeanne’s plate. "And you two are so different. He’s a total control freak, and you like the unexpected.”

"I wouldn’t call him a freak,” Jeanne said. "He just likes things to be planned and orderly. I really admire that.”

"He washes his truck every Saturday morning, rain, shine, snow, or hail,” Tonya said. "While your house hasn’t been clean since you moved in.”

"Yes, it has,” Jeanne said, without the appropriate rage such a statement should bring.

Tonya held up her hands. "Hey, I’m not saying we’re going to call Hoarders or anything. You just like to be surrounded by stuff. And he is not a ‘stuff’ kind of guy.”

"And don’t forget he alphabetized your spice rack,” Kate added.

Jeanne threw up her hands. "And it’s so much easier to find things now. Except for turmeric. I always spell that wrong.”

Kate sighed. "We just want you to be happy, Jeanne. Whatever it takes. You deserve it.”

"Why don’t we set you up with Tommy instead?” Tonya asked. "If you like one brother, the other might do.”

"Now why would we do that?” Kate asked.

Tonya shrugged. "We’ve both dated him and can vouch he’s a good kisser.”

Tonya pointed at her. "Plus, he’s got a kid, so we know he can make ‘em and take care of ‘em.”

Jeanne balled up her napkin and tossed it at Tonya. "Is today January first or April first, because you have got to be kidding me. Getting Ellen Lewis pregnant by mistake, while he was on break from Kate, doesn’t count as wanting children.” She tipped her chin in the air. "Plus, he’s nothing like Brad.”

"You’re mighty quick to defend Brad.” Tonya’s eyes narrowed to devious slits. "Admitting it’s the first step to solving the problem.”

Jeanne’s voice strained with a thread of hysteria as she rose to her feet. "There’s no problem. Why would I agree to a year’s worth of blind dates if I wanted to be with Brad?”

Plenty of heads turned at that, and Kate pulled her back into the booth. "No, you’re absolutely right. You and Brad are just friends.”

They poked at their food but ate nothing. The three of them without empty plates was like two-stepping to rap—it just wasn’t right.

Tonya finally piped up, her good-natured mood returning. "Keep us updated, girl. We want to dish after every date. Who knows, maybe Mr. January will be the one.”

"When’s your first date?” Kate asked, finishing her milkshake, but stopping when it got to the noisy slurping part. Guess a girl’s gotta ramp up the class once she marries into Hollywood. "Jeanne, you should wear that silk, vee-neck cream dress. It makes you look like a B cup.”

Tonya raised an eyebrow. "Or maybe even a C cup if you get him drunk.”

"Hey, you’re a real C cup, Tonya. Maybe you should go on the date,” Jeanne said.

Tonya was sorry and single, too.

Tonya ignored her. "Whenever it is, stop by the salon first. Your highlights need a little tweaking,” she said, fingering Jeanne’s hair. "Your blonde is blah.”

Jeanne slapped Tonya’s hand away and shrugged. "I’m not sure when the first date is. I suppose I’ll find out in a bit. We’re catering a party in Whitesville tonight. Gotta get to the kitchen, hangover and all.”

She slid out of the red leather booth, waved goodbye to the girls, and wondered if she could ever shut off her feelings for Brad, because lying about it was certainly taking its toll. Slumping behind the wheel of her car, she asked herself if Man of the Month might be the way to finally do it.

A mocking voice in her head said, "Yeah, when the devil starts serving sweet tea, heavy on the ice.”


 

 

Chapter 2

JEANNE DROPPED the stack of linen napkins she was folding. "My first date is Friday? This Friday?” She grasped the table to catch her balance.

Brad folded his arms and gave her a smile she wanted to smack right off his face. "It came to me first thing when I woke up this morning. The guy who rents from my brother in Whitesville would be perfect for you. Sam’s Mr. Environment. He rides his bike everywhere. That’s important, now that you’re going green these days.”

She rubbed her temples, but nothing was making this headache go away. "I put in energy saving light bulbs because they were handing out free samples at the hardware store.” She planted a fist on her hip, her silver bracelets clinking. "I’m not exactly green, Brad. But I guess concern about the environment is good. He’s not out saving whales or anything is he? Not that I don’t like whales... . What does he do for a living?”

Brad shrugged. "Not sure.”

"Is he good looking?” Say, someone well past six feet, broad shoulders, thick, black hair such as yourself?

Brad stroked his chin.

A strong jaw like that would be nice as well, she thought. With a dimple smack dab in the middle, too. Made her melt whenever she looked at it too long. He’d been so intriguing back in school, when Principal Willis made sure not to put any of the Larsen boys in class with any of the Clark girls after the crash. Too awkward, she’d heard the teachers say. But she could always spot Brad a mile away in the hallway thanks to the dimple. The one that was currently mesmerizing her.

"Is he good looking?” Brad repeated. "I guess. It’s hard for me to say. I’m a guy.” He dropped another stack of laundered napkins on the table to be folded.

"So, you don’t really know him, you don’t know what he does, and you can’t say if he’s good looking or not.” She counted off the disturbing facts one by one on her fingers. "Basically, you’re setting me up with this guy just because he has a bike?”

Brad set his hands on her arms and pulled her close. "He was the first guy I thought of.”

A laugh escaped from her pursed lips. "Perfect qualification right there.”

"I didn’t want you to chicken out. I figured we’d better strike while the iron was hot, while you were still keen on the idea.”

"Still keen? I wasn’t keen about it last night, and I’m not now.” But she did like the way Brad was holding her in his arms. Possibly to shake some sense into her, but still, it felt nice. And he smelled good, too. Always did. "Looking at it now that I’m not drunk and crying in the dark, this is stupid. You had me at a disadvantage last night.” She raised an eyebrow. "One might even argue that you tricked me.”

A hurt look crossed his face, like a kid who’d learned he wasn’t going out for an ice cream after all. "But you promised, J.”

She pushed past him and picked up the linens she’d dropped. "This is the thanks I get for giving you an antique butter churner for Christmas? Do you know how many vintage shops I scoured to find that?”

"Hey, it was my favorite gift this year. I’m going to put it front and center in the entryway and tell everyone it’s yours.”

"No room for it at home, huh?” she teased, thinking about his everything-in-its-place lifestyle the girls had been mocking. They weren’t off base on that one.

He scratched his head. "Someone might see it there. It’s better suited for here.”

Jeanne knew he admired old kitchen gadgets but just didn’t like admitting it to anyone else. She lowered her voice. "And what if I tell everyone that’s your collection out in the lobby?”

His jaw dropped. "You wouldn’t. Don’t use my love of vintage kitchen tools to get out of this. You know I like it. And I...” He fumbled for his words. "And I just want you to find someone.”

"Why do you care? You said it yourself, I should be concentrating on the business, not my love life.”

He grabbed a few napkins from her and helped fold them. "I just hate seeing you so sad. You deserve to be happy.”

She nodded, wishing she felt the same way, wishing she could be happy without him. He reached for another napkin, and their fingers brushed. Just that little swipe of flesh sent an embarrassing surge of lust straight down to her toes. She jerked her hand back.

She thought she’d had her feelings for him under control for a while, that she shut them off completely after they’d tried out a relationship two years before and decided it was a no go. But now the feelings were back full force. You’re a weak woman. "You’re right. How bad could one blind date be?”

Brad rubbed the back of his head. "That’s the spirit. I’ll call and tell him you’re in, then I’ll give him your number.”

Jeanne hoped her heart would flutter just a whisper at the idea. But it dropped like a thud in her chest. "Great. Thanks, Brad. I’m so lucky to have you... as a friend.”

He nodded and finished folding the last napkins. "So, back to business. The desserts are prepped for the banquet tonight. We’ve got three cases of champagne coming it. I’ll be handling those.” He winked at her, and she winced.

"Don’t worry.” She held up a hand. "I won’t be drinking champagne again until we ring in the next decade.”

"Or maybe at your wedding?” He waggled his eyebrows. "I’ve got a good feeling about this.”

JEANNE GROANED when he said it, but Brad kept his smile wide and tried his best to sound encouraging. He wasn’t sure if he was pulling it off. Despite everything he felt for her, he knew damn well he wasn’t the guy to deliver Jeanne’s happily-ever-after dreams. And she deserved nothing less. Bottom line, she wanted a kid, the dogs, the big back yard—and he didn’t.

After his mom died in the crash, his dad had started drinking more. While his mother had been a weepy drunk, his father was a mean drunk who seemed to find a reason to smack Brad and his brothers every day—him especially. Brad wasn’t so sure that mean streak hadn’t carried on down the line. He would not screw up a kid like that. And after having two parents who’d let him down big time, chances were good he’d do the same thing. He wasn’t going to perpetuate those bum genes by having a kid. No, parenthood wasn’t for him, no matter how much he loved Jeanne.

He looked at her dark blond waves tumbling over her shoulders, imagining her hair spread out on his bed, her bright green eyes looking up at him longingly. Damn, the things he wanted to do to her.

He finished folding the napkin and went into the kitchen to get away from the one thing he wanted but could never have.

But she followed him in, creamy skin, perky nose, and all. "So, I was thinking. Since you forced me into a New Year’s resolution, it’s only fair I come up with one for you, too.” Her grin left him tingling in all the right places.

He draped a dishcloth over his shoulder. "Stop right there. I am not agreeing to the woman of the month club. I’m all business these days. I told you that.”

Jeanne frowned at him and even looked cute doing that. "Fine. Then let’s come up with some resolutions for Elegant Eats.” She hopped up on the counter.

"That’s not a bad idea. What are you thinking?”

She crossed her legs and leaned back. "We should aim for ten new clients.”

"Sounds good.” Looks good, he thought, surveying her long, lean body. Knock it the hell off. He studied the tile floor but couldn’t get rid of his randy thoughts.

"And booking more parties than Events Extraordinaire.”

His eyebrows shot up. "Okay... we could try. But they’re in Whitesville, and they’ve been in business longer than we have, remember?”

Ignoring him, she continued. "And finally, landing next New Year’s Eve bash.”

He whistled. "That’s an ambitious list. Makes Man of the Month look amateur. We should step that up to Man of the Week.” Only because he liked to make an art of torturing himself.

She whacked him with her towel. "No way. You’re lucky I was drunk and defenseless when you concocted this fool plan for once a month. I should have whupped your butt last night just for suggesting it.”

At the end of the workstation, he uncovered a tray of desserts prepped for the party that night. "Let me ply you with sweets as an apology.” He brought a Mexican wedding cake to her lips, the tip of his thumb brushing her lower lip. It was soft and warm, and he remembered how nicely it had fit against him those few glorious weeks they’d dated.

Her gaze fluttered up to meet his. Then she closed her eyes and took a bite of the powdery cookie. Crumbs of sugar stuck to her lips. Damn, he loved watching her eat. Sinful. If she were his, he’d feed her like this every night.

He cleared his throat. "That’s what I’m going to do every time you complain about this—feed you. That’ll keep you on board.”

"You’re evil.”

He winked at her. "I know.”

But if he was one hundred percent honest with himself, this resolution was more for him than for her. Because the sooner Jeanne was taken, the sooner he’d be forced to move on from the woman with the lips and the eyes and the laugh that killed him. The woman who could never be his.

 


 



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