Tools of Engagement

Page 17

Apparently she’d underestimated a motivated producer with a flexible budget. Since Sunday night, a full camera crew, complete with director, had been pulled off an in-progress reality show called AirBn’Ballers, which had been set to film in the Hamptons. That gem having been put on hold, the crew made their way to Port Jefferson instead.

Now the driveway was reserved for the cameras, producers, director, sound and lighting crew, not to mention about a dozen production assistants—the imminent presence of whom made her want to puke her breakfast into the ratty-ass lawn.

She was equal parts thrilled for her sister’s Italian honeymoon and sad that she didn’t have Georgie’s irreverent banter in her ear. It definitely would have helped her get through demo day.

It wasn’t as though she’d never been present during the demolition of a home’s interior. As kids, their father had brought them along to witness the gutting of houses many times. Even as an adult, she’d watched walls being ripped down, floorboards being pried up. Seen debris tossed out windows or carried to dumpsters. There was something indescribably satisfying about breaking down the old to make way for the new. That sense of exhilaration displayed by others had sparked her interest in heading her own flip in the first place. She wanted to experience that rush of pleasure.

So few things gave her that reduction of tension. Would burying a sledgehammer in some drywall leave her boneless and too depleted to think of what came next for five minutes? God, she hoped so. She was starting to worry about her inability to sit still. Was it normal? This total failure to be happy with any of her efforts or be satisfied with her accomplishments?

She hadn’t been lying when she told Wes way too much at the wedding. It had been a weak moment, nothing more . . . though she trusted that he wouldn’t use her revelations against her. She wasn’t sure why she held that trust in him, only that it was rock solid.

Bethany caught sight of her thoughtful frown in the rearview mirror and shook herself.

Since the final guest had left on Sunday night, she’d been cleaning her parents’ backyard, returning the catering company equipment, packing up the gifts and leaving them arranged just so in Georgie and Travis’s living room, so they could open them upon returning from Florence.

Everyone had left the wedding happy and loaded, as was always the hope. So why had she lain awake for the last two nights trying to pick every moment apart for something that hadn’t been perfect? There was food left over. Did that mean people didn’t like it? Should she have provided a coat check? Why the hell hadn’t she considered a damn coat check? Now those jackets draped on the backs of chairs would be in photographs photobombing for all eternity. That’s how people would remember the wedding, wouldn’t they?

Conversely, when Bethany thought of the wedding, she would remember how much of her ass cheek could fit in Wes’s hand. As in, the whole thing. She’d never had her butt gripped with such authority before—and why couldn’t she dredge up some more indignation about it? He’d lifted her dress and grabbed two handfuls and she could only work up the barest irritation. There was something definitely wrong with her. It was the lack of sleep. Definitely.

She certainly hadn’t liked it.

Or humped her vibrator thinking about it until she strained a hamstring.

Bethany slapped open the driver’s-side vanity mirror and smoothed a ridge of unblended concealer beneath her eye with the pad of her pinky. Her movements paused when she heard the crunch of gravel behind her, excitement leaping in her belly before she could stop it. That would be Wes arriving, but she wouldn’t get out to greet him. No, she’d stay locked in her car where she was safe from bad ideas.

Bethany only made it to a count of ten before tightening her ponytail and climbing out of the car. She drew up short when, instead of Wes and his dinged-up truck, she saw a very attractive man leaning against a black town car, complete with driver. The James Marsden lookalike was laughing at something on the screen of his cell phone, ankles crossed in a careless way.

“Can I help you?”

The man seemed disinclined to look up from his phone, but he finally did, performing a double take. “Oh.” He pushed off the town car. “Hello there. Did they bring in another host to replace me?”

Bethany frowned. “Sorry?”

“Well, you can’t be the homeowner.” He put his hand out for a shake, sliding it smoothly into hers, holding. “With that face, they’d be bad at their jobs if they put you in the background, instead of front and center.”

Wow. Bethany was ashamed to admit that line might have worked on her before. This guy was so her usual type, it hurt. She tended to gravitate toward men with impeccable style. Complimentary men. Men who saw the best in her and pointed it out, rather than bring up her worst qualities constantly, like a certain someone she knew.

You look fucking beautiful tonight, in case no one told you.

Warmth flooded her stomach at the memory of Wes saying those words to her at the wedding, hasty and oddly timed as they’d been. Why did Wes’s compliments get a physical reaction out of her while this man’s praise left her totally cold?

She didn’t know. But the hiatus train rolled on.

“I am the homeowner, actually.” Bethany shook his hand firmly and let go. “And you are?”

“Slade Hogan.” His teeth almost blinded her when he smiled. “Can’t lie, I’m glad I picked today to show up early. That almost never happens.”


He laughed even though she hadn’t made a joke. “You probably recognize me from Insane Porches? It ran for two seasons.”

“Oh, right.” She didn’t. “I thought you looked familiar.”

“I get that a lot.” He squinted past her toward the house. “Ouch, they really think the crew can get this done in two and a half weeks?”

“Excuse me?” Bethany blinked. “Two and a half weeks?”

Slade shrugged a shoulder. “That’s the term of my contract. Being that I’m a vital part of the show—”

“The show they created on the fly three days ago?”

“Yes.” He stopped and considered her, as though deciding whether or not he’d been insulted. “Anyway, my agent tells me this particular film crew has to resume production of AirBn’Ballers in three weeks, so there is a tight deadline to film this pilot. Not to worry, though, I’m sure you’ve got a capable team.”

“Sure do.”

The sound of an approaching engine turned both of their heads and Bethany almost laughed. Of course Wes took that moment to pull up. Her unlikely foreman climbed out of his truck with all the aplomb of a gunslinger dismounting his horse. He eyeballed Bethany and Slade from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat, tucked his fingers into the loops of his jeans, and traversed the driveway with his long-legged stride. “Morning.”

“Morning,” Bethany replied, mentally berating her hormones for responding to the sight of his freshly shaven jaw, the wet ends of his hair. The morning breeze plastered his long-sleeved, paint-splashed shirt to his body and it really should have annoyed her that he’d shown up to be filmed for television in an old stained shirt. But it didn’t. It made her . . . glad to see him. For some reason. A lot gladder than she’d been to see the hot show host. “This is Slade Hogan,” she said, introducing the man when Wes drew even. “He’s going to host the show.”

Wes raised an eyebrow at Bethany.

She raised one back. Don’t you dare laugh at his name.

Wes sighed.

There was no mistaking Slade’s wince when the men shook. “You planning on pitching in?” Wes asked Slade.

“Me?” Slade laughed. “No. I only hold a hammer for promotional purposes.”

He seemed to be waiting for Bethany to laugh, so she obliged him in the hopes of balancing the awkwardness Wes was working to create. Her hostess mentality didn’t come and go at will, and there was no point in making Slade uncomfortable. Especially when it looked like they’d be stuck with one another’s company for over two weeks.

“I’m sure you’ll find something to keep you busy,” Wes drawled, taking a step toward Bethany. “Something else, that is.”

Silence landed, the men staring hard at each other.

“I’m sure there will be plenty of photo ops,” Bethany said without missing a beat, taking hold of Wes’s arm and tugging him into the scrappy side yard. “Can I talk to you?”

He was still looking at Slade. “Sure, darlin’.”

“No problem. Go ahead.” Slade’s voice was tighter than before. “I have a million calls to make.”

“Better get to it,” Wes said, tugging down the brim of his hat. “Slade.”

With her back turned away from the host, Bethany rolled her eyes like an exasperated twelve-year-old. She cast a glance over her shoulder to make sure they weren’t being watched—and then she jabbed her finger into Wes’s chest. “I am only going to say this one more time. I am not your chew toy. We are not involved and therefore you are not allowed to tell other men to back off. I make that decision! Me!”

Wes snorted. “I did you a favor. Any man with hands that soft will only steal your moisturizer.”

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