The front door of the restaurant burst open and Stephen stomped in with a long piece of plywood over his shoulder. Travis took up the rear, winking at Rosie as he passed.
“We’re just going to get a head start patching those floorboards in back,” Stephen explained to the realtor. “Water damage, you know. It will only get worse if not handled immediately, and then we’d have to renegotiate the sale, right? No one wants to buy a property with that kind of hassle attached.”
Before Emma could answer, Bethany danced in surrounded by a cloud of dust motes, already flipping through a book of paint samples. “I’m seeing textured gold and pops of white,” Bethany mused, throwing Rosie a wink. “Congrats, big shot.”
Wes filled the doorframe. After sending a long look at Bethany’s back, he tipped his cowboy hat at Rosie. “Obliged to return the favor, Mrs. Vega.”
Georgie ducked under Wes’s arm and entered with a bright smile. “I’m just here to entertain. Construction karaoke! Who’s with me?”
So many emotions coursed through Rosie—disbelief and gratitude, to start—that it took every ounce of willpower to remain upright. It helped that Dominic’s arms were banded around her like steel beams and he wasn’t showing signs of letting go anytime soon.
“You’re going to kill it, Rosie,” Dominic murmured into her ear. “They might be our friends, but they wouldn’t be here unless they knew what you’re capable of.”
She eased back a little, letting him kiss the tears from her face. “And you?” Rosie whispered. “More than anyone, I need to hear that you think I’m capable.”
His thumb smoothed over the arch of her eyebrow, his gaze running a lap around her face. “You’re going to rule this world, just like you rule mine.”
There was so much quiet confidence in his voice, she must have imagined the flicker of trepidation there. Still, she started to question if he needed to talk, to tell her something, but hard rock started blaring in the space, interspersed with the sound of a hammer, and Dominic’s quick grin chased her worries away.
“This is my restaurant,” she breathed.
He planted a kiss on her forehead. “This is your restaurant.”
Dominic couldn’t stop staring at Rosie.
All seven of them—Dominic, Rosie, Travis, Georgie, Bethany, Stephen, and Wes—sat in a circle in the middle of the empty restaurant scarfing down pizza like it might be their last. Rosie had disappeared twenty minutes ago and returned with boxed wine, to the resounding cheers of everyone who’d spent the day laboring. She was already playing hostess, and, damn, it suited her. Cross-legged on the floor, dust in her hair, jacket long since discarded, she lit up the whole place. Forget decorating, she was going to be the attraction.
Dominic ignored the churn in his stomach that had been there since the morning. When he’d walked back into the hotel room, he’d hovered between two choices. Tell her about the house or keep it to himself. Seeing her this happy, it was hard to believe he’d made the wrong decision, but his conscience seemed hell-bent on making him question himself. He finished his Solo cup of cheap wine, setting it down in between himself and Rosie. The action caught her eye and she raised an eyebrow, asking without words if he wanted more. Dominic shook his head slowly and reached over to thread their fingers together.
“You’re celebrating. Have another,” Dominic said, leaning over to speak in her ear and press a lingering kiss on her cheek. “I’ll make sure you get back to Bethany’s safe.”
“Thanks,” she replied after a moment, her eyelids significantly droopier. There might be an animated conversation taking place all around them, but they could have been the only two people in the room. As much as he appreciated the support their friends had shown his wife today, he wouldn’t mind being alone with Rosie. No, he sure as hell wouldn’t mind that.
Wouldn’t be long before he’d have to share her every night. That thought made his shoulder perform a jerky roll, but he disguised the motion by refilling Rosie’s cup.
A lull in the conversation had the group taking a collective breath.
“So, Rosie,” Stephen said around pizza crust. “Do you have a name for the place yet?”
Dominic held his breath as Rosie pressed her lips together, hands folding and unfolding in her lap.
“I’m not totally settled yet, but I was thinking . . . Buena Onda. The rough translation of that is ‘good vibes.’” She smiled over at Dominic, almost shyly, like he didn’t worship every word out of her mouth, every idea in her head. “The kind I want this place to have.”
“Buena Onda,” Dominic said involuntarily. Maybe he just wanted to be the first one. “Perfect, Rosie.”
They didn’t break eye contact until Bethany spoke. “I love it, too. It sounds comforting. Welcoming. Like a neighborhood family place, with flair.” She twirled a finger in the air, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply through her nose. “I’m envisioning a big scripty O on the awning . . .”
Eyes trained on the blonde, Wes cleared his throat into his Solo cup. “Sounds like you’re thinking of a totally different kind of big O.”
Bethany cooed at the man to her left. “Awww, poor thing. Need instructions on how to deliver one?”
“Like hell I do.”
They smiled at each other through gritted teeth and everyone tried not to laugh.
Everyone except Stephen, who appeared to have lost all interest in his pizza. “One day I woke up and everyone was talking about my sisters like sexual objects.”
“Eww, Stephen,” Georgie complained from her position in Travis’s lap. “Gross.”
“Oh, it’s only gross when I point it out?”
Travis’s hearty laugh echoed off the walls. “Come on, baby,” he said, standing and hoisting his fiancée up against his chest. “Let’s spare your poor brother his misery.”
“Thank you.” Stephen heaved himself forward, reaching for another piece of pizza.
“Yeah.” Travis strode for the door. “Let’s go home and get into our pajamas.” He winked at the group. “And straight back out of them.”
Stephen dropped the slice like it was on fire. “Okay. I’ve hit my limit.” The foreman stood and dusted off his jeans, turning to a chuckling Rosie. “I’m happy for you, Rosie. You’re going to add something really special to this town.” He leaned down and shook Dominic’s hand. “You’re fast becoming my favorite, Dom, since you’re the only man left not sleeping with one of my sisters.”
“Hey,” Bethany exclaimed, her spine snapping straight. “I’m not sleeping with Wes.”
“Give it time,” Stephen muttered on his way out the door.
And then there were four.
Wes looked like a pig in shit. “Give you a ride”—he paused to sip his drink—“home, Bethany?”
With a shriek contained in her throat—mostly—Bethany stood and marched out. Wes followed a moment later. Rosie and Dominic turned to each other and burst into laughter. He caught Rosie as she toppled sideways, her head landing against his chest, the musical sound of her amusement warming every corner of his insides. He couldn’t help it when the laughter died in his throat. Couldn’t stop himself from pulling her into his lap in one desperate move and burying his face in her neck.
“I’m proud of you, Rosie.”
He took a deep inhale of her and let it out, trusting the prodding in his gut. They were one entity. They shared a life. They either moved forward in the right direction or they would end up off course again. Dominic didn’t think he could survive losing her a second time.
“I’m proud as hell. I believe in you.” He swallowed. “I’m also selfish when it comes to my wife and I don’t like the idea of everyone else taking a piece of you.”
Rosie lifted her head, a line forming between her brows. “What do you mean, everyone taking a piece of me?”
“I mean . . .”
Dominic sounded as if he’d been running, his attention landing on different spots around the vacant restaurant. Hell, maybe therapy hadn’t been such a stupid idea, because when he normally would have balked at sharing his feelings, they lifted to the surface now without effort. Apparently his stiff upper lip was loosening up.
“All these people around you. Asking for things. Stressing you out. Even the good they get—the things you want to give them, like comfort and happiness? I’ve had them all to myself for a long time. I’m greedy with you. And I know, honey girl, I know that has to change so you can have your dream and be happy. I want that. I want your dream for you so fucking bad. But it means letting you fly without me. I’m scared of that.”
His wife took his face in her hands, her breath coming in short puffs. “Dominic—”
“Scared of you finding happiness in something that has nothing to do with me.” Unlike the house I bought for us. “That makes me a bastard, and I don’t know how to change it.”
She stopped his flow of words with her mouth, staying there until the rise and fall of his chest wasn’t so severe, then pulling back an inch. Searching his eyes.