Tools of Engagement

Page 45

They kind of just melted off the wall, Wes’s arms coming up around her, his recovery breaths blowing around the hair at her temple. His sex slipped free of her and she immediately missed the connection, but was appeased when his thumb found the base of her neck and massaged circles there, his lips beginning to press kisses to her hairline. Reverently. Anticipating her need for reassurance before it even arose. And that consideration, that caring made the love inside her spout like a geyser.

It shook her with its strength.

Say it. Say you love him.

It had to be too soon to say those words. Eons too soon. They’d barely warmed to the idea of dating each other exclusively. What if she felt more deeply for Wes than Wes felt for her?

No, it was best to move slower.

Keep her finger on the pulse of reality and make sure Wes felt the same way about her before she revealed her feelings. Still . . .

Her heart ached to do something. To express the wild feeling inside of her.

She couldn’t seem to suppress it.


“What if you and Laura move in with me?” Thank God for the darkness. As soon as those words came out of her mouth, she felt the magnitude of them and panic crammed like a fist into her throat. His face was probably a mask of utter horror. She couldn’t even hear him breathing. Was he dead? Yes, probably from shock and fear of his bunny being boiled. “I meant like . . . l-like purely as a kind of business arrangement. You need a place to live and, well, you said the court will need to confirm the stability of her living environment and I just thought, you know, my house fits that bill. And I have two extra bedrooms no one is using. It just seems like, I don’t know . . . I don’t know.”

“A business arrangement,” Wes said slowly.

Grateful he’d spoken at all, Bethany continued in a rush. “Well, of course. I mean, we’re not like, moving in together. That would be lunacy. This soon . . .”

Wes was silent for long moments. “I need to see your face while we’re having this conversation, Bethany.”

Was that a no?

The possibility of rejection clamped around her windpipe.

Oh God, she was getting dizzy.

She slid down the wall and felt around for her underwear and yoga pants, listening to the clang and zip of Wes fastening his jeans, disposing of the condom. The silence was stifling until the roar in her ears filled it. As soon as the door opened, she was going to make an excuse and go spend the afternoon hiding in her closet with a bottle of tequila. What in God’s name had she been thinking?

Wes beat her to opening the door and his expression turned shocked at whatever he saw on her face. “Oh Jesus,” he chuckled, catching her around the waist before she could flee. “Nope. You’re staying put.”

“I have to go—”

“You could, but I’d just chase you down.”

Her mouth snapped into a straight line and she stared at his shoulder, willing her heart to stop doing cartwheels. “What?”

“What?” He tipped her chin up so she could witness his incredulity. “You asked me to move in with you and then you called it a business arrangement. About thirty seconds after we burned the fucking world down. Sue me if I can’t figure out where the hell we stand.”

“I just know I want to help,” she whispered.

Wes scrutinized her face. “Is that the only reason you want me there?”

Of course it wasn’t. Not only did she love the man, she adored the child. But exposed and vulnerable, Bethany could only give the slightest shake of her head.

It must have been enough, because affection kindled in Wes’s eyes. He leaned down and kissed her forehead, saying, “I can work with that.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

The Suffolk County Clerk’s Office was quiet on a Tuesday afternoon. Wes stood outside turning his hat over in his hands, searching the parking lot for his sister. He’d offered to pick her up at the train station, but she’d opted to make her own way there, which made him nervous as hell. She’d agreed to meet him to file the Petition of Guardianship, but she wasn’t reliable on her best day.

Come on, Becky. Come through just this once.

When he’d left, Bethany was hard at work on Project Doomsday laying tile in the bathroom, and he’d told the producer he was going out to grab some lunch. It didn’t sit right with him, leaving without telling Bethany where he was going. Hell, he wanted her there. Badly. But she was already a deer in the headlights after her shocking offer to move them into her house yesterday, so he was forcing himself to give her some breathing room. Enough to relax her, but not enough to let her think he was going anywhere.

Yeah. Bethany Castle definitely had him walking on a tightrope.

Good thing he didn’t want it any other way.

The woman was in his blood. He understood her a little more every time she let her guard drop, and those occurrences were becoming more and more frequent. He got the feeling she was terrified of him and magnetized by him, all at once. The same was true for him.

Love was open-heart surgery without anesthesia.

But he couldn’t stay alive unless Bethany sewed him up with a shiny new ticker. One that would be bigger and hardier because it contained her love. Until then, he was just fighting for his life on the operating table.

He started to pace on the sidewalk, twirling his hat around and around on his index finger. He thought of Bethany as he’d left her, covered in grout, a line of concentration between her brows, that sweet tush in the air.

Okay, love wasn’t all a touch-and-go operation.

There was the I-see-Jesus sex.

There was the way she’d become his best friend. The person he confided in.

The giggle she’d developed for him—just for him—was worth the niggling worry that she would change her mind. That she could move him and Laura into her house and get sick of him. He was trying so hard not to think of Bethany’s house as the fifteenth home he’d lived in, but that’s what it was. The doubt in his gut didn’t much care that the woman he loved resided there. It only wanted to whisper in his ear that living with her would be temporary, like everything else.

But his heart said trust her. Trust what you feel.

Lord knew if there was an apartment in Port Jefferson available, he would consider taking it and giving Bethany more time to get used to him. To the fact that he was in this for the long haul. Not only being Laura’s guardian or a Port Jefferson resident, but her man. I am her man. They were on an accelerated timeline and the possessive son of a bitch inside of him liked that, because the sooner it was understood by God and everyone that they were a couple, the sooner he could stop having nightmares about her dropping him for some appropriately aged chump with a seven-figure bank account.

A growl scraped around in his throat.

He slapped the hat down on his head and snatched the cell out of his jeans pocket, hitting Bethany’s number on his favorites list. She answered on the second ring, the sound of power drills singing in the background.


Damn, she sounded so sweet. Did she miss him? He had been gone almost a full forty minutes, including the drive and the wait.

Christ. Listen to yourself. You’re a goner.

“Hey,” he said, willing firmness into his tone. “Is that offer to move in still good?”

“Yes, of course.”

His heart got a running start and tackled his lungs. “Good. But let’s get one thing straight, darlin’. I’m not sleeping in my girlfriend’s guest room. You’re getting me in your house and your bed, or nothing at all.”

Bethany was silent long enough to make him sweat. “I think I can agree to those terms.” Was that a smile in her voice?

The weight flew from his shoulders. “All right, then.”


“Yeah, baby?”

“What would you have done if I’d called your bluff?”

Admiration spread like butter in his chest, his mouth forming a slow smile. “Moved in anyway and seduced you.”

There was that beautiful giggle. “Oh yeah? How?”

“Fought with you until you realized you’re crazy about me,” he drawled. “That method seems to work on you like a charm.”

“You might be right,” she murmured after several beats. “I was thinking you could bring some things tomorrow night after work. I should have the rooms ready by then.”

“Room, Bethany. Singular.”

“Oh yeahhh, that’s right. Almost forgot.”

He relaxed when he heard the cheeky smile in her tone. “Close the bathroom door until I get back. Your butt looks insane in those pants.”


“What’s mine is mine.”

She groaned, but he heard the door shut.

“What’s yours is yours, too, Bethany. You going to hang on to me?”

Wes hung up before she could answer. He was afraid to hear a single note of uncertainty, worried what it would do to him. Hanging up without saying good-bye bothered him, however, so he started to dial her number again—but that was when a shadow darkened his shoes and he looked up to find his sister.

Slowly, he put away the cell phone. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah.” She nodded jerkily, but he could see in her eyes that she’d realized letting him be Laura’s guardian until she got back on her feet was the right thing to do. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

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