“Call me crazy, but I don’t think words come that easily to you. Just like Rosie with the eye contact, we’re going to ease into it. Let’s try verbalizing on paper first.”
Dominic shifted behind her. “What am I supposed to say?”
Armie smiled broadly. “That’s up to you to decide.”
Dominic had never written a letter in his life. Mainly because of technology. Text messaging had been around since he was old enough to spell, so there’d never been much of a need to put pen to paper, apart from the odd note. When he and Rosie were younger, they passed a couple of them between classes, but they were short and sweet. You look cute in that skirt. I missed you this weekend. Come to the movies with me on Saturday. Et cetera.
He couldn’t help but remember that she’d looked kind of . . . excited about the prospect of receiving a letter from him, and, God, he’d missed that expression on her face. It brought back memories of the morning they’d run hand in hand through the rain into the courthouse, determined to tie the knot before he was deployed. Raindrops had still been lingering on her eyelashes when they’d presented their marriage license moments later, holding each other and rocking as they waited for their turn to say “I do.”
Well, if she was excited about the letter, she was about to be sorely disappointed with the results.
Dominic tossed the pen onto the lowered gate of his truck, scrubbing a palm over his shaved head. About fifteen minutes ago, Stephen had called a lunch break and everyone spread out on the job site, sitting in groups with their foil-wrapped sandwiches while Dominic retreated to his truck to get started on the letter. After therapy yesterday, he’d gone home and attempted to get his thoughts on paper, but nothing came—and he needed to get it done today. The urgency gnawing at his gut wouldn’t allow for any further delay.
She couldn’t even look him in the eye.
Every time he thought about that moment she’d ripped her gaze away like she was in pain, he felt sick. Hadn’t even packed a lunch this morning because his appetite had dwindled to nothing. Sex was off the table. He couldn’t make her feel better with his body. She needed this letter. She needed words. And he had no idea where or how to find them.
A rock bumped against Dominic’s shoe, and he turned to find Stephen and Travis approaching with a third man, someone he was seeing for the first time. The guy was young—probably younger than all of them—but he made up for those missing years in height and walked with a shit ton of confidence that only someone in a cowboy hat could pull off.
“Dominic,” Stephen said, “this is Wes Daniels. He’s going to be working with us for a while. New in town.”
Dominic reached over and shook his hand. “Where from?”
“San Antonio,” Wes returned, giving him a firm shake and a flash of white teeth. “Good to meet you.”
“Same.” Dominic frowned at the empty piece of paper he’d weighted down with a rock. “Don’t hear a lot of those accents on Long Island.”
“Then I take pity on Long Island. This here is poetry coming out of my mouth.”
Travis coughed into his fist. “Wes is a little cocky.”
Dominic raised a brow. “Pot, meet kettle.”
“He’s got family in town, but he’s not sure how long he’ll be in Port Jefferson.” Stephen gave him a nod and knowledge seemed to pass between them. “Let’s make him feel welcome.”
Wes jerked his chin at Dominic’s non-letter. “You working on something?”
“Looks like you’re working on something,” Travis observed, stroking his chin. “Skipped lunch to do it. Must be kind of important.”
Dominic stared unflinchingly at Travis. “If you already know something, pretty boy, I suggest you spit it out. I’m not in the mood.”
Wes let out a low whistle.
“I know everything. All the business,” Travis said, slapping a hand to the center of his chest. “It’s amazing.”
“You know what might be fun?” Stephen smirked at Travis. “Telling Georgie that you’re not keeping this shit to yourself.”
“You’re just mad because your wife doesn’t have the gossip.”
“My wife has baked goods. I’ve made the correct choice.”
“You two remind me of my aunts. Brenda and Julie,” Wes said, adjusting his hat. “They would bicker on their way into hell over who gets to go first.”
“You’ve just been compared to someone’s aunties,” Dominic drawled. “Can you two shut up now?” He picked up the discarded pen and tapped it on the rear gate. Maybe therapy wasn’t total bullshit, because he had a minor urge to talk. To other people. About information he normally would keep guarded unless under threat of death. “Me and Rosie . . . we’re in therapy,” he muttered. “My homework is to write her a letter.”
Wes crossed himself. “This is why you’ll never get me down the aisle.”
A crunch of gravel turned all of their heads. A silver Mercedes parked amid a lingering swirl of dust, and Bethany stepped out of the driver’s side. Dominic was well used to seeing Stephen’s sister on job sites. She usually showed up in the middle stages of a flip to get an idea of the layout, so she could begin deciding which furniture to use for the stage. He liked her. She was tough as hell and good at her job, but all he wanted to do now was ask about his wife. His throat actually burned with the repressed need. In an attempt to prevent the pressing questions, Dominic looked away from the approaching decorator—and found Wes with his jaw on the floor.
“Who is she?”
“Oh no. No.” Stephen shook his head. “Everyone needs to keep their interest in my sisters to themselves, starting now. Especially if you’re on my payroll. Leave me an ounce of pride.”
Dominic didn’t miss Travis sending Wes a warning slash across the neck. “You don’t want to go there, man.”
“I think I do,” Wes disagreed, tucking a tongue into his cheek. “I definitely want to go there.”
Stephen buried his face in his hands and groaned.
Bethany joined the group, and Wes smiled. “I’m Wes, ma’am. Nice to meet—”
“Roll your tongue back up into your mouth before one of us steps on it, pudding.” Bethany threw an incredulous look around the circle. “Who is this guy?”
“I was telling you when you cut me off.” Wes looked her up and down. “Pudding.”
Dominic, Travis, and Stephen all took a collective step backward.
“Forget I said anything.” Stephen waved a hand at Wes. “I want to see how this plays out.”
Bethany and Wes were still attempting to stare each other down.
“I thought we only hired college kids in the summertime,” Bethany said brightly, smoothing the sleeve of her black coat.
Wes crossed his arms, as if he had all the time in the world. “That must be hard, considering you probably create winter wherever you go.”
She gasped. “Are you calling me an ice princess?”
“If the tiara fits.”
“I’ll take a tiara over your Clint Eastwood hand-me-downs.”
Wes tilted his head to the side. “Remind me who that is? He might be better known among your generation.”
“My—” Bethany cut herself off, closing her eyes and visibly composing herself. “I didn’t come here to play verbal tennis. I’m here to work. Stephen, do you have a spare hard hat?”
Dominic reached for the one in his truck bed, handing it to her. “Avoid the back bedroom. There are some loose floorboards.”
“Chivalry is not dead after all,” she said, popping on the yellow hat and tapping the top to press it down. All while smiling sweetly at Wes. “I wasn’t sure.”
Wes smiled back, but it fell away as soon as Bethany turned toward Dominic.
“Whatcha got there? Some kind of letter?”
His lips gave a wry twist. “Sounds like you know something about this.”
“I might,” she said breezily, patting his arm. “Need some help?”
“Depends.” Dominic swallowed, studying the blank page and willing words to appear. “Are you pulling for us?”
“I’m pulling for my friend’s happiness.”
He lifted his eyes to find Bethany wearing a serious expression.
“And I know you want to make her happy. I know it.”
Dominic could only nod. “I’ll take the help.”
Travis propped a hip against his taillight. “Roses are red. Violets are blue—”
“Shut it,” Dominic said, jabbing the pen into Travis’s side.
“Boys. If you please.” Bethany held up a hand and waited for silence. “You know what always gets me? When a man proves he’s paying attention.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “You taking notes back there, pudding? I’m assuming your knowledge of women is a zero. We can tick it up to one.”
“I already know what a woman like you wants. A sturdy broom to ride around on.”
“I hate him, Stephen,” Bethany whispered tightly.