Tools of Engagement

Page 43

Moments later, he returned to the bedroom to join Bethany, wondering how fast she’d climbed back into her head and already eager to help her crawl back out.

She was on her side, watching him with wide, unblinking eyes. “Hey.”

Wes got into bed, pulled the woman into his chest, and kissed her hard on the forehead. “Hey. You were incredible. I’m a ruined man. I’ve never come that hard in my goddamn life. And you can go back to overthinking everything in the morning.”

Her tension remained for another six seconds, then she wrapped herself up in Wes, like he was her favorite blanket, and passed out cold.

Afraid to shatter the perfection of the moment, the night, he whispered, “I love you,” into the darkness.

Chapter Twenty-One

For the first time in her adult life, Bethany woke to the sound of a child’s voice. It was distant at first, kind of muffled—and then it was very loud and right in her ear.

“Elsa!” shrieked the child. “Uncle Wes, did you have a sleepover?”

Oh my God.

Oh my God.

Bethany’s eyes flew open, determining from the shafts of sunlight painting the wall that it was well past her usual wake-up time of six A.M. Morning yoga: missed. She’d fallen asleep last night in Wes’s bed. No, wait. What was that? An arm draped over her hip. Her naked hip? Those fingertips were dangerously close to the Promised Land and there was a child in the room. His niece. How were they going to explain this to her? How was she going to explain this to herself?

Wes set loose a smoky laugh in her ear, and abruptly, the building funnel cloud inside of her disintegrated. She let herself feel the flannel sheets—such a male choice—against her skin. She let herself enjoy the protective way his chest pressed to her back and the waft of pleasure that traveled up her spine when his fingertips brushed her tummy. One by one, her muscles relaxed and her pulse slowed.

“Before you turn over,” he whispered into her ear, “I don’t care about your smeared mascara and morning breath.”

A smile had only begun to curve her mouth when Laura demanded her presence be acknowledged—by jumping on the edge of the bed.

“Uncle Wes, can we get a cat? Megan and Danielle have two cats and we don’t have any. What are we doing today? What did you do at the sleepover?”

Wes’s body vibrated against Bethany’s, his low, scratchy morning laughter instantly becoming one of her favorite things about him. A thing she never would have known about unless she’d taken a leap. “Kid, can you do me a favor? There’s a lollipop in the kitchen junk drawer. If you can find it, you can have it.”

She was already sprinting down the hallway.

Bethany rolled over onto her back and got her first glimpse of sleep-mussed Wes. Wowza. Definitely worth missing yoga. Talk about a feast for her feminine senses. His strong, rangy body was outlined by sunlight, leaving his face shadowed but highlighting the pop of his shoulder muscles and triceps, the out-of-place hair. In a word, he was glorious. Perhaps the best part of all was Wes cataloguing the sight of her, the same way she was doing with him. “Lollipops for breakfast?” she managed.

He kissed her shoulder with a delicious scrape of morning beard. “I don’t want to rush you, darlin’, but we have about forty-five seconds to get dressed before she comes back.”

They both sprung out of bed in a flurry of single-footed hopping and limbs thrown through openings in their clothes. They laughed when their eyes met across the bed and they were still laughing when Laura walked back into the room with a Dum Dums stick poking out of her mouth. “What?”

Wes sighed. “Bethany tooted.”

She sputtered. “I did not!”

“What’s the rule, Laura?”

“If you denied it, you supplied it,” she said, giggling around her sucker. “Elsa tooted.” The little girl sobered, whispering, “Did ice come out?”

Wes collapsed backward onto the bed in stitches and his niece took that as her cue to climb onto his shaking form. He immediately turned the tables, tossing the child sideways and tickling her ribs until she screamed.

Was Bethany seriously smiling over being accused of an ice fart? Growing up, being accused of a fart was grounds for assault among her siblings. Being accused as an adult was unheard of. But she was giggling uncontrollably now and she couldn’t stop. Her vanity was on the couch requesting smelling salts, but she couldn’t really find it in herself to care.

“Should we let her have pancakes, anyway?” Wes asked Laura.

“Pancakes,” Laura hollered, flying back down the hallway toward the kitchen. As soon as they were alone again, Wes rose from the bed and padded toward her in nothing but jeans and sunlight—and all sorts of visions from the night before rolled in like sexy hot rods. Best sex of her life? Um, putting it mildly, maybe. If her notions about sex were baseballs, Wes would have smacked them out of the park last night, into the lot where they’d shattered several windshields.

She’d definitely never had an orgasm from cunnilingus. Until last night, she didn’t even like it. Not for me, she used to say with a mental shrug. So what?

The way he’d gone about it with such confidence and relish, like he’d been dying for the opportunity to pay her the sexual favor . . . that alone aroused her to a fever pitch. But then. God. What he’d done with his tongue. Inside of her.


And then his penis.

“Bethany,” Wes prompted again, stooping down until they were eye level. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve got a five-year-old on the loose. Put that blush away before I start crying.”

“Got it,” she rasped, accepting a sweet kiss on the mouth, the forehead, the side of her chin. “Do you have chocolate chips for those pancakes?”

“Damn right I do.” He snagged her hand and pulled her from the bedroom, like they’d done it a million times. “But be prepared for the fallout.”

There was indeed fallout, not only from the sugar-high-inducing breakfast, but also from their night spent together. And that fallout was . . . happiness. It was kind of like trying on a brand-new pair of shoes at the store. She was walking around in them and they looked fabulous, but there was a little buzz of worry in the back of her mind that as soon as she wore them to work, they’d give her a blister in a place she wasn’t expecting. Then where would she be? Hobbling around in a pair of deceptive shoes with blood oozing from a nasty cut.

Still, being with Wes in his kitchen felt so good. They laughed out of sheer silliness and came up with new ideas for the next tea party. When Laura eventually passed out on the couch from her sugar-induced hysteria, Bethany sat on Wes’s lap in the backyard, wrapped in a blanket, and talked about the final-stage ideas for Project Doomsday.

Now that the layout and structure of the house had taken shape, she wanted a built-in banquet just off the kitchen and a skylight in the dark hallway. She was confident and talking to Wes about her ideas was so easy. He didn’t discount anything she said, but he didn’t yes her to death, either. He was genuine and insightful and they were dating.

That’s what this was.

Her former enemy was now kind of on the way to being her boyfriend.

Actually, it seemed like more than that, somehow. “Boyfriend” sounded trivial compared to the way Bethany felt snuggled to his chest in the backyard or accepting a forkful of pancakes from him while leaning against the kitchen counter. The way he’d kissed her when they said good-bye on Sunday afternoon had been a stamp of definite ownership from which she was still reeling.

Now, on Monday morning, Bethany stood in the backyard, watching Slade film promos through the giant space that would eventually contain a sliding glass door leading directly outside. Around her, the landscapers were hard at work, sectioning off flowerbeds and laying down sod. They’d arrived over the weekend to cart off a forest’s worth of dead foliage and the results were amazing. Who knew they’d find an actual yard under all that excess nature?

To keep the job cost effective, Bethany had chosen stamped concrete for the back patio and it had just been poured. Two men were on the far side of the freshly dumped concrete smoothing it out with metal tools. Ollie was walking around the yard, shadowing one of the landscapers, with his wife on speakerphone giving what sounded like a whole lot of unsolicited advice about planting azaleas. Carl, as usual, was picking through the craft service table.

The job was coming along at a breakneck pace. Saturday they would announce the winner of Flip Off. She had no idea if it would be her and Wes. None whatsoever. But little by little, she was no longer feeling like a fraud.

“Hey, darlin’,” Wes murmured, approaching from the side of the house where he’d been sawing lumber for her banquet. He gave her a long, hard once-over that made her nipples pucker inside her tank top. “God Almighty, I almost forgot for a second how beautiful you are. What’s your policy on kissing in front of the cameras?”

“I already told you,” she breathed, backing up.

He kept coming until the tips of his work boots bumped hers. “I forgot.”

“My parents are going to watch this. Everyone is. They’re not going to take me seriously if you’re mauling me when we should be working. I can hear them all now if we lost. ‘Well, maybe if they weren’t so distracted, they’d have won.’”

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