Tools of Engagement

Page 40

Starting now, she would be more present. She would lead this club with unselfish goals. Except maybe for one. She wanted to be kinder to herself. It would take time. And it might even take longer before she could voice that hope out loud to anyone, but there was a seed germinating and that was more than she had last week.

Wes’s smile drifted through Bethany’s mind and she found herself sighing dreamily into her glass of chilled champagne. How had he spent his day? She’d picked up her phone to text him several times, but whenever she’d tapped out a message, her old rules had prevented her from hitting send. If she didn’t keep men at arm’s length, they’d think she was needy. But if she showed too much interest, they might latch on too tight. And around and around she went.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Bethany muttered, draining her glass and setting it on a leather coaster. She wove her way through the women standing in her living room and took her place at the whiteboard. “Everyone get comfortable,” she chirped, uncapping her favorite marker. “Somebody tell me something good that happened this week!”

A local lawyer and longtime Just Us Leaguer named Trinisha put her hand up, sending her bracelets jangling down her umber skin. “I made partner this week. It was a total surprise and quite a few of my colleagues were not happy about being passed over. I started to feel guilty, like I always do, but”—she flicked a wrist—“I earned it.”

The applause was enthusiastic, everyone toasting the accomplishment in a series of clinks and congratulations.

One of their newer members, a single mother with a short black bob, raised her hand. “I joined a dating site,” she said, blushing. “I haven’t been on a date in nine years, but . . . I’m meeting someone for coffee on Monday night.”

On cue, everyone launched four hundred questions in her direction, wanting to know his name, profession, eye color, and astrological sign. With amusement curving her lips, Bethany wrote “hot date” on the whiteboard and waited for the hubbub to die down. “That’s amazing. Congratulations.” She winked at the single mom. “Let me know if you want to borrow shoes.”

“I’m not turning down that offer,” the woman replied, still beautifully rosy from all the attention she was getting. “I’ll be the envy of the club. We’re all dying to get a peek at that collection.”

What if it’s not as amazing as they hoped?

What if they move something out of place?

“Really?” Bethany tucked some hair behind her ear and leaned into the rising tension in her midsection. “Well, go have a look, everyone. I-if you want.”

The entire room went eerily still, before they all scrambled at once. They were up the stairs before Bethany could descend into a panic funnel. She waited with the marker clutched in her hand, telling herself it was stupid to worry what people thought about her shoe collection. But it wasn’t really about the shoe collection, was it? It was any extension of herself. Project Doomsday, a tea party, her wall of shoes. How long had she been basing her value on how perfect she could make things appear?

The laces in Bethany’s chest loosened when awed gasps traveled down the stairs. Her shoulders slumped in relief and only then did she realize Rosie was watching her with concern from the kitchen. Of course Rosie hadn’t gone upstairs because she’d already seen Bethany’s collection several times. And wow, there was nothing quite as effective as seeing yourself reflected back in a friend’s eyes.

She couldn’t allow herself to be like this forever. Now that she’d made a little progress, she was desperate for more.

Time to cut herself some slack.

Time to start taking more leaps without knowing where she would land.

Starting tonight.

With Wes.

Bethany opened her mouth to call out to Rosie, but was cut off when her front door shot wide open. Framed in the doorway was Georgie.

In a gondolier costume and a mustache.


With Bethany’s and Rosie’s laughter bouncing off the walls of the living room, the Just Us League members came careening back down the stairs at a pace that had Bethany mentally reviewing the details of her homeowner’s insurance. Georgie was wrapped in hugs from members, one by one, as if she’d been gone for a year, instead of two weeks. Georgie wasn’t quite finished with her gondolier role-playing, however.

With a thick Italian accent, she waved a dismissive hand at Bethany, demanding an Aperol Spritz and a selection of cheese, dissolving the room into laughter.

“Get over here,” Bethany said, pulling her sister into a hug. “How dare you make me miss you so much.”

“I missed you, too,” Georgie responded, squeezing her tight for a few seconds and then stepping back, a suspicious glimmer in her eyes. “There’s something different about you, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Has someone else been putting their finger on it?”

“Georgette Castle.” Bethany gave Rosie a stern look over her sister’s shoulder. “You said you would intercept her.”

“I did!”

“Come on. Me and Ro didn’t get an ounce of privacy while we were dealing with our man woes. It’s your turn, sister friend.”

“What is she talking about?” Trinisha wanted to know. “Is it the cowboy?”

“Of course it’s the cowboy,” someone called. “He won’t let it be anyone else.”

A collective chant went up. “Details! Details! Details!”

Bethany’s instinct was to shut down the interest. She’d only just allowed herself to board the relationship train, but . . . she wanted to share the silly flip-flop in her stomach. She wanted to be the one making a blushing confession because it would be an honest one. A rarity for her, but hopefully not for long.

Leaps. They were a-coming.

She shrugged and studied her fingernails. “The man hiatus is over.”

The crowd went wild.

Chapter Twenty

Wes tried to rub the blurred vision from his eyes and focus back on the laptop screen, on which he had approximately fifty browser tabs open. He’d gone from sitting at the kitchen table to lying against the headboard of his bed, hoping comfort might make sense of the legal terminology crowding his brain. In between bouts of reading through New York State’s legal requirements for guardianship, he was apartment hunting.

He had a decent amount of money in the bank, but he needed a place fast and didn’t want to rush into a house. Apartment it was. Although there were precious little of them in Port Jefferson. Most of the apartments were inside larger private residences or located over commercial stores. If they were nearer to the beginning of summer, he might have had better luck, but apartments were in short supply right now. He’d have to call Stephen in the morning on the off chance he knew of something that wasn’t listed on the market yet.

Ordering himself to focus, Wes picked up the laptop and cradled it on his forearm, getting up to pace back and forth at the foot of his bed. If he understood the legalese correctly, he and Becky would need to file a Petition for Guardianship that could be approved or denied. If approved, someone would be appointed to inspect their living situation before they ever went before a judge for final approval, so he needed to get a place for them fast. And how the hell was he going to explain the sudden move to Laura? Or the fact that her mother wouldn’t be coming back . . . indefinitely? Distraction wasn’t going to work this time around.

A soft knock on the window brought Wes’s rapid-fire thoughts to a screeching halt. Bethany stared back at him from the other side.

His feet moved of their own accord, carrying him toward the gorgeous image she made in a billowing silver dress, her light hair blowing in the wind.

Hi, she mouthed, her gaze raking his shirtless torso with interest.

Move, idiot.

Wes turned only long enough to drop his open laptop on the bed and lunged to open the window. Good Lord, without the pane of glass between them, she stole his damn breath faster than getting tossed off a bucking mustang. His cock turned full and hard behind the zipper of his jeans so quickly he almost got lightheaded. “Hey there, darlin’,” Wes said, sticking his head out the window. “You forget how to find the front door?”

“No, I just saw the light on and I was worried knocking would wake up Laura.” She looked down at her feet. Her bare feet. “Is this a bad time?”

“It’s never a bad time for you. I’m just trying to wrap my head around Bethany Castle showing up at my window for a booty call.”

She snorted. “This is not a booty call.”

It was definitely a booty call, but he’d play her game. “Fine, then. You want to come in here and talk a while?”

“Sure,” she said primly, reaching up to take his hand. A zing of electricity raced from wrist to elbow when their skin met and held, giving both of them a moment of breathless pause. Lord have mercy.

It was one of the greatest unexpected pleasures of his life to wrap an arm around Bethany and haul her through his window, carrying her into the room with the cold night air still clinging to her skin and clothes. The tips of her bare toes brushed the tops of his feet and they sunk into the feel of each other with drawn-out sighs humming in their throats.

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