Tools of Engagement

Page 18

The urge to laugh was seriously inconvenient. “I didn’t ask you to do me a favor, cowboy.”

“Aha! So you’re admitting it was a favor?”

“No, I am not,” she enunciated. “I am admitting nothing.”

Wes contemplated her quietly for a full five seconds. “You really interested in Hammer Promo Guy, Bethany?”

She wasn’t. In fact, she was painfully disinterested. Which was alarming, to say the least. Normally, she would still be working over a man like Slade with charm. Instead, she was arguing with Wes. Again. How did she keep ending up here? And why wasn’t she doing more to avoid it?

“I don’t have to answer that,” she whisper-screeched. “But if I decided I was interested, that would be okay. I’m allowed.”

His jaw flexed. “Let’s say the host was the female version of Slade. You’d just be fine watching me flip my hair around and flirting?”

Bethany battled a smile. “Actually, I’d pay good money to watch you flip your hair around. Can I film?”

“You know what I meant,” he growled. “Answer the question.”

She envisioned herself pulling her car into the driveway and finding Wes putting the moves on some faceless woman, all twinkling eyes and Wrangler-booty swagger. The lining of her stomach turned to acid. “I wasn’t flipping my hair,” she croaked, caught off guard by her own reaction.

Wes stepped closer and their fingers brushed. “Admit you wouldn’t like it.”

Bethany’s headshake was a little too vigorous.

Enough to carry some warmth into his expression. “What you told me at the wedding about your sex life . . . I know I promised I wouldn’t use it against you, so this is totally unrelated.”

She snorted. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist.”

“Ah, come on. It’s just the two of us standing here,” he murmured, twining their index fingers together. “If you date guys like that, it doesn’t surprise me you can’t relax and stop overthinking everything. They’re not doing any of the thinking for you.”

God help her, she actually wanted to hear his logic, because she needed all the advice she could get. She’d once had a perfect plan to find someone as driven and successful as herself. That plan hadn’t panned out. Now, she’d kind of just . . . given up. So what would it hurt to consider someone else’s opinion? Even Wes’s? Not that she would let him know she was listening to his spiel willingly. “I had no idea you were an expert on sex and relationships.”

“I’m not. But I’m guessing Slade would be overthinking in the sack, too.” He traded the Texas accent for a distinctly Hollywood millennial one. “‘Why did my latest Instagram post only hit four thousand likes? Did I remember to make my toe waxing appointment? Should I try a side part?’”

Bethany laughed and lightness filtered into her chest. It was . . . nice laughing at things that would normally stress her out, even if she couldn’t make it a habit. Wait. How long had they been holding hands? Out in the open? “Men don’t have to ride bulls to be masculine like you—”

He reared back a little, amusement written on his features. “How did you know I rode bulls?”

“I . . .” Panicking, she tugged her hand away, shoving it into her pocket. “That was a wild stab. A mere example.”

“No, it wasn’t.” A slow smile spread across his face. “Speaking of Instagram, you’ve been doing a little cyberstalking, haven’t you, baby?”

Bethany took a step back, but he followed. “Hardly. I just wanted to make sure my foreman had a savory online presence.”

“And?” He winked. “Did you savor it?”

“Shut up.”

He caught her wrist and pulled her close, making her stomach flip like she was on a roller coaster. “I looked at yours, too.” She didn’t have a chance to process that before he continued. “I like being referred to as your foreman,” he mused. “It’s got a nice ring.”

“Especially compared to what I usually call you.”

“Truth. It’s a definite improvement from dickhead.” His thumb brushed over the pulse in her wrist. “Tell me you’re not interested in him, Bethany.”

Her hold on good sense slipped. “I’m not interested in him,” she murmured, shaking her head at the triumphant blaze in his eyes. “But . . . Wes, I don’t get . . . this. You’re not in town permanently. I’m not interested in a fling—and even if I was, you’ve wisely removed sex from the equation—”

“Deepest regret of my life.”

“Yeah, pretty shortsighted of you.”

“I’ll bring sex back into the equation when you know I didn’t just take this job to improve my chances of sleeping with you.”

“I—” She’d almost said I do know that now. Like a total moron. “That still wouldn’t inspire me to end my man hiatus.”

Gaze lingering on the neckline of her T-shirt, Wes licked the corner of his mouth. “Keep telling yourself that.” He considered her for a beat—above the neck this time. “I don’t have answers to all of your questions. I can’t define what’s going on between us, either. But maybe that’s exactly what you need.”

“Oh Jesus. Every time I start to think you’re redeemable, you say something so fucking stupid, I wish for a time machine so I can go back and never hear it.” She went up on her toes to get in his face. “Don’t tell me what I need.”

“You’d like me to demonstrate instead?”

I would. But don’t let him know it. “I mean.” She tilted her head to expose her neck. As in, Look, here’s my neck, by accident. “How can I answer that when I have no idea what a demonstration might entail?”

His lips paused just above her pulse. “Come closer and I’ll show you.”

“Fine. Just so I can paint an accurate picture,” she managed, heat starting to pump in places only Wes seemed capable of accessing. Cautiously, her toes pushed her up another inch toward his face.

Chuckling, Wes dropped his mouth the remaining distance to her neck, trailing up the curve—lightly, so lightly—and pausing at her ear. Oh, that was good. Too good. “Took those bulls a good long while to buck me off, baby. Think you could do it?”

“We’re not going to find out,” she breathed, her nipples tightening like bolts and making her sound like a liar. “By the way, that kind of talk doesn’t do much to dampen my belief that you’re here to get laid.”

“You love it just the same,” he rasped against her mouth. “Same way I love it when your eyes get all unfocused, like you’re trying to remember why I’m a bad idea.”

“Hey, folks!” A camera crew was walking up the driveway, Justine leading the way with a headset and a clipboard. They appeared to be . . . rolling. As in, filming her and Wes in a near lip-lock. “I had a feeling this shoot would be a jackpot,” Justine called, waving her clipboard. “Please continue to prove me right.”

Bethany took a backward lunge away from Wes. “Just discussing plans!”

Wes smiled without so much as acknowledging the camera. “I’ll say.”

Chapter Ten

Bethany stood shoulder to shoulder with Wes.

They’d both been positioned behind an animated Slade, who was taping his introduction in front of two cameras, a boom mic operator, and a lighting crew. It was crazy to witness how quickly he’d shifted from miffed prima donna to jocular construction guru as soon as the cameras started rolling. It probably helped that he was reading off a prompter.

“Greetings, DIY junkies, you’ve tuned in to Flip Off—a new drama-fueled competition show where family members flip two different houses and vie for the ultimate bragging rights. Who flipped it best? We’re coming to you from Port Jefferson, Long Island, and boy oh boy, do we have a treat for you! Although the word ‘treat’ might be pushing it, because our first featured property is quite frankly the worst home I’ve had the pleasure of seeing restored to its former glory. And that’s exactly what you plan to do here, isn’t it, Bethany?”

The camera swung in her direction and Bethany’s heart climbed until it was clogging her throat. She looked to Justine, but the producer only provided an encouraging finger roll.

“Um . . .” Come on. Pull it together. She’d gotten herself into this mess; the least she could do was fake it until she made it. And God knew, she faked having her shit together often enough that she should know the drill.

The stakes were a lot higher this time, though. She wasn’t planning a party or styling the perfect outfit. Or even going on a date and trying to represent a much more together version of herself than really existed. If a crack formed in her walls—literally and figuratively—she wouldn’t be able to hide it.

She smiled brightly. “Yes, that’s the plan!”

“Fantastic!” Slade sidled to the right. “And who are you here with today?”

“This is my foreman, Wes. He’s—”

“Folks at home, this is where things get even more juicy. See, Bethany is competing against her own brother, Stephen, who is flipping a house across town. Wes here is his former crew member. Ooooh, baby, things are going to get interesting. You don’t want to miss it. Stay tuned for this family drama on Flip Off. Next up: demo.”

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