Was it possible she’d put off starting the flip because she was nervous? That didn’t track, considering what he knew about Bethany and her ball-buster nature. But his eyes were telling him a different story altogether. She was vulnerable in front of the entire crew right now, and her throat seemed to be stuck in a permanent state of swallowing. A lot like his own.
“I’m going with her,” Wes said, stripping off his gloves.
Someone dropped a sledgehammer in the back of the house.
“W-wait. What?” Stephen sputtered. “Now?”
“Yup.” He finally made eye contact with a stupefied Bethany. “We better get a game plan together and start rounding up materials.”
She couldn’t seem to land on a response. “I . . . I . . .”
“I mean, this is all very Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire of you, but . . .”
He knew exactly which scene from Jerry Maguire she was referring to—when Tom Cruise quits his fancy sports agent job and Renée is the only one who joins him, even though he’s been reduced to stealing the office goldfish—but Bethany needed to know accepting his help wouldn’t change anything between them. Otherwise she might turn him down, and he got a weird pinch in his throat when he thought of her all alone, trying to install drywall without breaking a nail. “Jerry Maguire? Never heard of it. That one of your generation’s black-and-white films or something?”
That spark zipped back into her eyes and relief caused a hitch in his chest. “Apologies. I should have referenced Fast & Furious Nine.”
He bit back a smile. “You ready to go yet?”
She seemed to remember everyone was watching them and started chewing on that sexy bottom lip. “I’m thinking.”
“Bethany,” Stephen cut in. “You’re really going to come up in here and steal one of my best guys—”
“Thanks, pal,” Wes said, tipping an invisible hat.
“What do you think Dad is going to say about this?” Stephen finished.
“Really?” Bethany intoned. “‘I’m telling Dad’? Are we back in the station wagon driving to Hershey Park when we were eight?”
Face slightly red, Stephen looked over his shoulder at the men behind him. “I only meant it’s going to stress him out, us moving in separate directions. We’re supposed to be one team.”
“Well, you know what they say, Stephen,” Bethany said breezily. “There’s no asshole in team.”
Wes coughed a laugh into his fist.
Bethany caught him, her lips jumping at one corner before she sobered. “Before I agree to anything”—she shot a look at their audience and moved closer to Wes, lowering her voice—“I think we should try and get through a planning-stage meeting first. You know, just to confirm we can actually do it.”
He matched her quiet tone. “I was thinking the same thing. We should do it first. Cut the tension.”
“I can hear you,” Stephen wailed.
“You know what I mean,” Bethany snapped under her breath, all worked up and beautiful. So close he could taste the expensive coffee she’d drank that morning in the air between them. “If we can get through a meeting without biting each other’s heads off, then we’ll consider working together.”
“We’re just going to pretend you have other options, huh?”
She blinked and drew in a deep breath. “Are we having a meeting or not?”
Sharpness jabbed him in the middle. “Yeah.”
His answer surprised her, but she only let him see it for a second, before she turned on a sandaled heel with a hair flip. “Stephen, if you bring this up at the rehearsal dinner and ruin the evening, I’ll castrate you. As you were, boys.” She stopped at the door to glance back at Wes and he held his breath. “Meet you at the house.”
What happened to my neat, orderly life?
Bethany sat in the driver’s side of her Mercedes, staring at the busted childhood home of Travis Ford, her sister’s fiancé. She still couldn’t believe he’d given her the house free and clear. Sure, it had been part of his plan to win back Georgie after their epic breakup, but still, the move had been generous, to say the least.
Even though said house was literally falling down.
If they didn’t demolish it themselves, the next stiff breeze would probably do the job on their behalf. Overgrown weeds and gnarled trees all but obscured the view of the house from the driveway and main road. Bethany hadn’t even been inside yet, but the interior had to be even worse.
Starting from scratch was not in her wheelhouse. She usually walked into a fully finished home and applied the final brushstrokes.
What if she buried a sledgehammer into a wall and a colony of spiders burst out like a geyser? Hopefully she could duck in time so they all landed on Wes.
What just happened?
Out of everyone in Port Jefferson, Wes was the last person she would expect to volunteer to help her. Sleep with her, yes. Confine himself to close quarters with her and take direction? No. No, she definitely hadn’t expected that.
It was almost as if he’d seen through the bravado that fooled everyone else, straight to the mess beneath. Had that left him no choice but to help, whether he wanted to or not? If that was the case, she needed to do a way better job of masking her insecurities and flaws. Especially from Wes, with whom she waged a constant war of words. And now they were working together.
In the space of a single morning, nothing was neat and orderly anymore.
The road ahead was a dramatic curve, and she couldn’t see far enough into the distance. As a thorough planner, the uncertainty made her feel like a balloon floating aimlessly into the clouds, no idea when she would burst.
Would there be nothing but air inside of her, too?
Bethany jumped when her cell phone buzzed on the console.
When Georgie’s name blinked on the screen, she picked it up and hit talk. “Really? News has spread already? I just left Stephen’s job site ten minutes ago.”
“You know how it works. Stephen told Dad, Dad told Mom, Mom called me like a cat with a cross-eyed canary in her mouth.”
Her nose wrinkled. “That imagery is unsettling.”
“I want your side of the story while you bandy about a glass of wine. I won’t rest until it happens. Is it true that Wes pulled a Zellweger?”
Bethany laughed despite her nerves. “I’ll oblige you tomorrow night at Zumba class.”
“Oh my God. I forgot.”
“Nope. Kristin is torturing us for guessing she was pregnant before she could do a big, dramatic reveal.”
“You guessed, not me, and when is she going to tell Stephen?”
“Probably a split second before you say ‘I do.’ It would satisfy our sister-in-law’s sense of drama. Picture it. Gender reveal by way of wedding objection.” With Georgie laughing in her ear, Bethany checked the rearview mirror in time to see Wes’s truck turn into the driveway. “Tomorrow night, Georgie. There might even be more to tell by then.”
“Are you sure? I was kind of hoping for right the hell now.”
“One does not simply bandy wine before noon.”
“It’s my pre-wedding week,” Georgie disagreed. “Day drinking is not only allowed, but encouraged. I’ve already got Rosie on the other line awaiting a time and locale.”
“Are you avoiding working on your vows?”
“Yes, of course I am!”
Bethany snorted. “See you tomorrow, nutcase.”
She cut off her sister mid-wail and schooled her features, climbing out of her car at the same time Wes unfolded his lean, muscled body out of his truck. Momentarily forgetting about the professionalism she wanted to present, her traitorous gaze wandered up the worn material of his dusty jeans, taking its time moving over his thick thighs and the old gray T-shirt where it brushed his hard-working zipper.
Come on, she couldn’t help but notice the way those metal teeth strained to keep his package from unwrapping itself.
Men from Long Island wore looser jeans.
He was living here now—shouldn’t he abide by the customary wardrobe?
Annoyed at the steam swirling in her belly, Bethany zoomed her attention to his face with resolve, only to catch his knowing wink. “Here I am, boss,” he said gruffly. “Put me to work.”
She was silent for a full minute.
What body language did a woman display when she got wet? Did she press her thighs together or lick her lips? Do not do any of those things. Stand still. Just let the moisture spread and those intimate muscles coil without any outward reaction.
Bethany cleared her throat and focused on preparing her words. This morning might have moved faster than the speed of light, but she’d had some time to think on the drive to her solo flip. She’d always kind of disregarded Wes’s advances as something of a joke being played at her expense. How many times had he made cracks about her age? Sometimes she believed that he was physically interested in her, and other times she told herself not to be sucked into whatever game he was playing. Still, just in case he was really interested in taking her to bed, she needed to manage his expectations.