Tools of Engagement

Page 28

Stephen paled. “No. I-I . . . I mean, I don’t think so. You never know with Kristin. One minute she’s smiling at me like I hung the moon. The next, she’s watching me and chopping onions in this kind of focused, bone-chilling way . . .”

“Sure. Sure.”

“You don’t think she means things are going to change for the better?”

He was now Jim from The Office messing with Dwight. If only there was a camera lens he could shrug at sheepishly. “I don’t know, man. If I know one thing about women, it’s that you can always tell when they’re happy,” he said, pulling from his total lack of experience. “But when they’re suffering in silence? That shit creeps up and bites you.”

Stephen’s head bobbed. “You’re right about that, my friend.” He carefully folded the note and tucked it into his pocket. “I have some work to do.”

“Sounds like it.”

Wes contained his chuckle until Stephen left the coffee shop. He started to follow, but went back and bought a brownie with pink sprinkles for Bethany, rolling his eyes at the sappy gesture. Which was exactly the reaction she would probably give him, too. If he was trying to scare her off, tokens of his admiration ought to do it.

Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at the jobsite. He left Bethany’s brownie wrapped in a paper bag on the sawhorse and brought his coffee outside to get started on the framework. For the next two hours, he went back and forth, inside and out, using the table saw inside since construction couldn’t legally begin until eight o’clock in the morning and he didn’t want the neighbors complaining. He was so focused on his task that he barely noticed when people started to arrive, glancing around from behind his work goggles to find the film crew setting up.

Ollie and Carl were there, too, carting in the insulation and Sheetrock he’d asked them to pick up. They still had a couple of days before they could utilize those materials, since the plumber and electrician were set to arrive today. If they got the all-clear—and that was a pretty huge if—they’d keep on schedule, but Wes was pretty sure the electrical would need to be upgraded, to say nothing of the leaky pipes.

The sound of Bethany’s voice in the distance broke into his thoughts. Eager to lay eyes on her, Wes pushed his goggles back on his head and crunched through leaves and broken-up concrete on his way around the side of the house. Familiar voices reached him before he got to the driveway, one belonging to Bethany. The owner of the other one was Slade.

Something sharp drilled into his gut. Instead of making himself known and telling the cheesy host to get lost, he forced himself to wait and listen.

“You look beautiful today, Bethany,” Slade said.

Wes ground his teeth.

“Thanks. You look nice, too.”

He ground them harder.

“So listen, I was thinking . . .” Here it came. Slade was making a move. “I’m staying in town while we film and I don’t know any of the local spots. Would you be interested in showing me the best place to get dinner? My treat.”

Wes turned and braced his hands on the house, his gut a lake of fire, and it was in that moment he realized there was no turning back. He was invested in this thing between him and Bethany. Like, send-a-motherfucker-to-the-hospital-for-looking-at-her-twice invested. Their mouths and bodies had been in perfect sync last night, but there was more here. He didn’t just like her. Or lust after her.

He was falling for her.

This feeling wasn’t a fleeting one; it was sticking around.

Did that mean . . . he was considering sticking around?

His throat grew tighter while he waited for Bethany’s answer.

It finally came. “That’s a great offer, but . . .”


Don’t push her, Slade.

“Are you involved with your foreman? That might have been insinuated, but I just couldn’t see the fit. If I’m being brutally honest.”

Wes ground his fist into the wall of the house.

“Um . . .” Bethany again. “‘Involved’ is a strong word. But it’s definitely complicated, I guess you could say. With Wes.”

He threw up a victorious fist. It’s complicated. She’d said it was complicated.

He’d fucking take it.

“I see,” Slade said. “Well, if something changes, I hope I’ll be the first to know.”

“Sure,” she said with a smile in her voice.

Footsteps moved in Wes’s direction and he arranged himself in a casual lean against the side of the house, ankles and arms crossed. Bethany entered his line of vision with two to-go coffee cups in her hands and stopped dead, flushing to the roots of her hair. “How much did you hear?”

Wes rubbed his jaw with the backs of his knuckles, unable to subdue his grin. “Exactly how complicated is it, darlin’?”

She put her cute nose in the air and breezed past him. “I hate you.”

“You do not,” he said, hot on her heels. “Who is that second coffee for, because it sure as hell ain’t for Slade. He’s off somewhere right now trying to piece his balls back together, baby. That was poetic.”

“Your epitaph is going to be poetic once I strangle you.”

“Having your hands on me is the ideal way to go.”

She stopped on a dime, gave him a prim look that made his fly feel tight . . . and then she started to dump one of the coffees on the ground.

“You’re going to feel real guilty when you find out I brought you a brownie with pink sprinkles.”

Her wrist twisted, saving a couple inches of coffee from spilling out. “You did?”

Wes hummed an affirmation. “To match those pants that make your buns look all tight and sexy.”

With a slow shake of her head, she finished dumping the contents of the cup on the ground. “I can’t believe I let you kiss me.”

“We did more than kiss and you want to do it again.”

Continuing her journey toward the back of the house, she threw him a snort over her shoulder. “It’s sad how delusional you are.”

“I could say the same to you.”

“Not unless you want this coffee on your head.” She slowed to a halt in front of the frames he’d spent the morning building. “When did this happen?”

Wes came up beside her and let their shoulders brush. Let himself take a whiff of her magnolia scent. “Told you I’d make up for the time I lost yesterday. I keep my word.”

“So you do.” Her light brows pulled together. “Who took Laura to school?”

Her concern for his niece and her routine bled warmth into his chest. “Outlander Ringtone is an early riser. She was excited for the company.”

“Oh. Good.” Bethany firmed her shoulders, her gaze dancing up to meet his and flitting away just as fast. But not before he saw that she remembered last night, every beat of it. The way he’d nibbled on her delicious tits until she came, the way their mouths felt like they’d been reunited after a long absence. She remembered and was in the middle of being thrown for a loop, same as him. “Well, um . . . the window guy is here to take measurements. I guess I better get to work.”

Wes nodded, reluctant to part ways with her. “Okay.”

She turned toward the house, but made no move to go inside. “Wes?”

He followed her line of vision to where a cameraman was taking a panning shot of the backyard, including them in it. “Yes?”

“Is this going all right?” She gestured to the house. “Everything?”

By sheer force of will, he stopped himself from reaching for her. Burying her face in his neck and talking away her worry. Jesus, he loved this woman asking him for reassurance. “It’s going just fine, Bethany.”

She turned to him with her lip caught between her teeth. “Fine?”

“Renovations are messy right up until the last stroke of paint, baby. That’s just how it goes,” he said. “That’s . . . hard for you?”

Her nod was slight. “It has to be perfect.”

Tell me everything. Lay it on me. “Why?”

“Why what?” she asked, confused. “Why does it have to be perfect? Because that’s what people expect from me. It’s what I expect from myself.”

“Well, don’t. Expecting perfect can only lead to disappointment. Besides, it’s the flaws that give a person character. That’s where the beauty hides.”

She seemed to chew that over and disregard it. “We’re talking about the house, not a person.”

“Right.” He caught her hand trembling and frowned. Upon studying her closer, he noticed the little red patch of skin on her neck. Without thinking, he reached up and brushed it with the pads of his fingers. “What’s this?”

Quickly, she stepped out of his reach. “Nothing. Just some irritation.”

“It wasn’t there last night. I remember every inch you showed me.”

“It’s nothing.”

“Then let me see it.” She rolled her eyes at him and cocked a sassy hip, but went still as a statue when he came closer, easing down the collar of her white cotton T-shirt. Outwardly, he gave no reaction, but a tractor plowed through his middle, turning over soil. “You do this to yourself, darlin’?”

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