Tools of Engagement

Page 9

So, simple solution, right? Avoid men.

She avoided her own boyfriends.

“Bethany?” Georgie hip-checked her. “You’re thinking about Wes’s nipples covered in sweat, aren’t you?”

“What?” Well, now I am. “No.”

“Is anyone following the moves?” Kristin demanded from the front of the class, scanning the room as if there were a hundred people present instead of three. “I’m not just up here for my health, you know.”

“You don’t exercise for your health?” Georgie asked.

“Oh, hush, smartass. You know what I mean,” their sister-in-law scolded, cradling her nonexistent baby bump with a scowl. She turned back around with an elaborate shoulder roll and fell into rhythm with Katy Perry.

“Pregnancy is making her mean,” Rosie remarked with a shiver.

“Yeah, maybe we better dance,” Georgie muttered, beginning the most basic of foot shuffles. “Keep talking, though.”

“Yeah,” Rosie whispered, cautious eyes on Kristin, like she might turn and spew venom at any moment. “What did Wes say when you told him there wouldn’t be any benefits?”

“Nothing. He said nothing,” Bethany answered, too quickly.

“Come on,” Georgie said. “That man never says nothing.”

Bethany sighed. “He might have said”—she fluttered a hand around her high bun—“sex is no longer an option, anyway.”

Georgie stopped dancing. So did Rosie. They stared at her.

And promptly burst into laughter.

Bethany spoke over them. “I, of course, told him it was never going to happen in the first place, so his point is moot.” She searched for a way to distract them. “And then a rat scurried over my foot.”

“Oh, ew,” Rosie said, consoling her with a pat on the shoulder.

“Yeah.” Sober now, Georgie reached for her throat. “I’m so sorry.”

“I bet you feel bad about laughing now.”

“Not really,” Georgie said with a straight face.

Rosie shook her head. “Sorry, no.”

“You two are the worst,” Bethany grumbled. “There is nothing going on with Wes. Nothing will ever go on with Wes. If we make it through this without clubbing each other to death, I’ll be grateful.”

But a few minutes later, when Kristin browbeat them into silence, Bethany thought of how her legs felt wrapped around his hips and wondered if clubbing each other to death was what she should be worried about.

Chapter Five

Wes checked his reflection in Buena Onda’s glass door, giving himself a moment to collect his thoughts before heading inside. He was still getting used to having . . . people. Making friends during his temporary stay in Port Jefferson was something he definitely hadn’t expected. Casual acquaintances were more his stride. But a few beers with the guys after work had led to a standing happy hour hangout . . . and eventually transitioned into this. An invitation to Georgie and Travis’s rehearsal dinner.

There might have also been the bonding experience of traveling into Manhattan like a pack of scorned idiots to drag home the womenfolk when they’d had the utter nerve to take a ladies’ night out, but he digressed.

Apparently he had friends now, but he was still getting used to that fact . . .

And knowing Bethany would be there tonight had gone a damn long way toward his decision to put on nice clothes and call the babysitter.

His gaze found her the second he walked into Buena Onda.

Since she was busy fussing with a flower arrangement and paying him no attention, he stopped just inside the door and allowed himself a few moments to appreciate her. Good Lord. The woman had no right to be so fine. No right.

It was Friday night and the restaurant was packed. Waiters and waitresses in black, white, and red moved with seamless choreography through the maze of tables, dropping off drinks and clearing dishes. Sconces flickered, highlighting the gold walls and framed photos. Colorful scenes straight out of Argentina. Snippets of conversations reached his ears from nearby tables, emerging and weaving back into the overall drone of the crowd.

Wes only registered his surroundings in passing, because Bethany had his attention and that’s where it would stay, mainly to get her all worked up and flushed. It really wasn’t fair of him to take these precious moments to prepare himself for their upcoming battle. It gave him an advantage.

Then again, maybe he needed an edge. Continuing their war of words wouldn’t be easy when she looked like a fucking queen tonight. Bethany Castle never had a hair out of place, but there was something extra happening with her this evening and it damn near made his blood run backward.

Her hair was in a perfect ponytail—and he knew a perfect ponytail when he saw one. Laura pointed them out on the Disney Channel stars constantly. See, Uncle Wes. That’s what a ponytail looks like. Not what you do.

All right, so his technique was a work in progress.

Bethany’s smooth waterfall of blond hair brushed the center of her bare back, drawing Wes’s attention to her delicate shoulders, only a slim strap of ice blue decorating them. Silk. She was wearing silk and Wes could hear the sound of it brushing her glowing skin. The hem of the dress met her knees, but the modest length did nothing to curtail his hungry thoughts. How many nights had he lain awake in bed, imagining himself standing behind Bethany, gathering her dress in his hands while exploring the curve of her neck with his tongue?

As if his thoughts had been broadcast aloud, Bethany straightened from her lean across the long banquet table and pinned him with a look that could only be described as haughty—and Wes barely knew what the hell that word meant.

We can still pretend to hate each other, if it makes you feel better about accepting my help. Hadn’t Wes given her that assurance?

Looked like she’d taken it to heart.

Bethany turned fully and cocked a hip, sweeping him with a concerned glance. “Wow, get a load of you. Did you get lost on the way to a cattle auction or something?”

Wes’s lips tried their damndest to curl into a smile, but sheer will and a lot of practice kept his expression bland. “Nope, I’m in the right place,” Wes said, sauntering toward Bethany. “The directions said if I passed Resting Bitch Face, I’ve gone too far.”

Her smile was sweet. “Feel free to keep going until you fall off a cliff.”

He tucked his tongue into his cheek and leaned in to speak near her ear—and if she thought he didn’t notice the goosebumps that appeared on her neck, she was sorely mistaken. “You smell different. Where’ve you been all day?”

Her quick intake of breath turned into a scoff. “None of your business, knockoff Lone Ranger.” With a single finger planted in the center of his chest, she pushed him back several inches. “But if you must know, we’ve been at the spa. Massages, facials, and waxing.” She used that same finger to tap his upper lip. “Someday when you’re old enough to grow facial hair, I’ll make you an appointment.”

Wes could only laugh at the ridiculousness of that insult. “And I’ll book a specialist to saw down your cloven hooves.”

“I like them sharp.”

“Yeah?” He stepped back into her personal space, just enough to feel the tips of her breasts against his chest. “Well, come on, then, darlin’. Dig them in.”

Pink coasted over her complexion and satisfaction fisted in his gut. Sparring with Bethany was better than sex. What was it about this woman that made him feel like his skin was elastic? He could still remember the first time she’d stepped out of her Mercedes on the construction site, all sleek composure, gorgeous legs, and attitude. Before she’d taken two steps, he’d made up his mind to sleep with her. She’d had other ideas.

“I thought we only hired college kids in the summertime,” she’d said to her brother, eyeing Wes with distaste.

Wes had crossed his arms. “That must be hard, considering you probably create winter wherever you go.”

She’d gasped. “Are you calling me an ice princess?”

“If the tiara fits.”

“I’ll take a tiara over your Clint Eastwood hand-me-downs.”

“Remind me who that is? He might be better known among your generation.”

Funny, the memory didn’t give him the same kick of satisfaction it used to. Maybe it had something to do with that peek beneath her perfect top coat when he’d quit Brick & Morty to help her on the Doomsday Flip? Was a glimpse underneath her exterior his objective all along, with all the teasing and name-calling? Now that he’d gotten that preview of the real Bethany Castle, he surely wouldn’t mind seeing more.

Although, had he already screwed himself by becoming the man who bit back?

Wes stepped back. “Where is everyone?”

“I dropped the ladies off at my place to change. My parents are picking them up on the way.” She straightened a napkin, but he noticed her flush was still intact. “I came early to make sure everything was just right.”

Although his knowledge was slim to none when it came to tabletop design—or design of any kind, really—Wes had to admit she’d killed it. There were little fresh white flowers cut short and arranged in mason jars filled with fairy lights. Tasteful stands spaced evenly apart on the table held candid pictures of Georgie and Travis. Notecards with everyone’s names written on them in script sat in the center of each plate. He didn’t have to do any sleuthing to know she’d placed him as far away from her as possible.

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