The way you look tonight, p.3
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       The Way You Look Tonight, p.3

         Part #10 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Page 3

  Author: Bella Andre

  "Oh, Brooke," her mother said in an extremely concerned voice, "please tell me you aren’t dating him. He’s a brilliant businessman, but from the rumors we heard during his visiting professorship a few years ago, he’s exactly the kind of man you should be staying away from. "

  I’m not sixteen anymore, she wanted to shout.

  Instead, she told her mother, "Don’t worry, Cord and I aren’t dating. In fact, he’s happily married. "

  Besides, didn’t her mother realize that men like him never looked Brooke’s way? She was too cute. Too sweet. A good girl through and through, especially after her one attempt at being bad had gone so horribly wrong.

  Quickly, she explained that Cord had been given a box of her chocolates as a Christmas gift. He’d enjoyed them so much that he’d driven the two and a half hours from Seattle to Lake Wenatchee to make her a business proposition about expanding the reach of her chocolates beyond her local area, starting with a small boutique storefront in Seattle that he’d oversee. If that went well—and he seemed very confident that it would—he wanted to look toward further expansion into other large cities and even mail-order. Just this morning she’d signed the partnership papers.

  "Why didn’t you tell us about this before now?" her mother asked. "I would have liked to look over your partnership agreement before you signed anything. "

  Brooke’s gut tightened just a little more. "Don’t worry, I found a great lawyer here, and we went over the agreement carefully several times. "

  Her mother was silent for a long moment. "Well, at least Cord isn’t a stranger, and I know your father thinks very highly of his business acumen. " Brooke heard someone speak to her mother in the background, likely one of her half-dozen legal aides. "I’m sorry, honey, but I’ve got to go now. I’ll give your father the news. I’m sure he’ll want to discuss it with you as well. "

  Brooke sighed as she hung up the phone, more thankful than ever that she had a lake to jump into to clear her head. She loved her parents, but they could be a tad overbearing, even from across the country. One day soon, she hoped they’d finally realize she was all grown up, her big mistake was well behind her now, and that she was more than capable of making good decisions on her own. It was why she hadn’t involved them in her new partnership plans. Not because they wouldn’t have had great advice, but because she needed to prove that she could do this—and do it well—on her own.

  Finally moving out to her covered front porch, she breathed in the sweet-smelling air, scented by fir trees. She didn’t bother to wrap a towel around her bikini-clad body as she headed down to the dock in front of her house. She’d always been on the curvier side—a sharp contrast to her slim and willowy mother—and as she’d hit her mid-twenties, though her weight hadn’t gone up more than a half-dozen pounds, her curves had become much more pronounced.

  Brooke walked across the short stretch of grass and was nearly at the sandy shore when she heard a truck come up the driveway next door. From where she was standing, she could see a man get out and put a sold sign up in front of the house.

  Wait a minute—hadn’t the house only gone up for sale a day or two ago? Sure, it was on a perfect stretch of sandy beach, but it still seemed like the sale had happened at warp speed. More than that, though, even after all these years she simply couldn’t imagine anyone but the Sullivans living there.

  The Wild Sullivans was what her parents had christened them, utterly appalled by the behavior of the family next door. Oh, how Brooke had secretly longed to be as wild, and as free, as they were. She had also, if she was being completely honest with herself, had more than a couple of moments of longing for parents as warm as Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan. Her grandparents were full of hugs and smiles for her, but her parents were more inclined to praise a good grade than applaud a perfect cannonball off the dock. Heck, they probably didn’t even know what a cannonball was, whereas Max and Claudia Sullivan had been out there going head-to-head with their own kids in the competition. It still made her laugh to think of that day when she and her grandparents had been roped into being the judges.

  And she still remembered who’d won the contest: Rafe Sullivan.

  Brook had had the world’s biggest crush on him. Even at eight years old, she’d been able to recognize pure male beauty in the fourteen-year-old. His three brothers were also good looking, as was their sister and her friend, Mia, but Rafe had been special. He’d laughed louder and had been more willing to take a risk than his siblings.

  Rafe Sullivan had been the most carefree—the most wonderfully wild—person she’d ever known.

  The truck’s tires peeling out of the gravel driveway pulled her from her musings. She hadn’t seen the Sullivans in more than fifteen years. One summer they’d been there, the next they’d been gone and a boring older couple had taken their place. No more cannonballs off the dock, no more bonfires with her friends next door, no more hikes into the mountains around the lake where they pretended to be adventuring professors like Indiana Jones. The past few years, the house had been used as a vacation rental. Most of the temporary tenants had been perfectly fine, but none stayed long enough for her to become friends with, and the final tenants had been horrible. Loud, obnoxious, and more intent on partying than enjoying the lake. She’d been glad to see the For Sale sign go up. Hopefully, she’d end up with another family next door that truly appreciated all the lake had to offer.

  It was late enough that the sun was about to set, and if she didn’t get into the lake soon, it would be too cold for her to stay in very long. In typical Pacific Northwest fashion, there was a slightly cool breeze in the air despite the fact that it had been a sunny day.

  She loved being in the water so much that she grinned even as the cold shock had her moving into a fast breast stroke intended to get her heart pumping and her body temperature up. Within seconds, she was lost to everything but the glorious sensation of swimming through the clean, clear water. A fish swam beneath her, and she felt like she was in heaven.

  She’d swum past half a dozen docks when she suddenly realized what the problem was with her latest recipe. She’d been planning to call her new chocolate collection Summer’s Pleasures, but given a little distance from her kitchen, she finally saw that she’d been too literal.

  Wasn’t part of the joy of summer the memory of how cold winter had been? Just the slightest hint of that coolness—a pinch of mint, maybe?—would be the ideal way to highlight the lavender she’d chosen as the perfect taste of summer.

  Swimming even faster now, she turned back toward her house. She couldn’t wait to try out her new idea to see if it worked. When she reached her dock, she grabbed hold of the wooden ladder on the side and quickly climbed out. Slicking her long hair back out of her eyes, she hurried to get back to her kitchen and was nearly to the front porch when she heard another loud engine pull up behind the cabin next door.

  A lone man had just ridden up on his motorcycle, the ends of his dark hair whipping out from beneath his helmet.

  Now that, thought Brooke with immediate female appreciation, is what wild and free looks like.

  Her parents had taught her it wasn’t polite to stare, but she couldn’t remember why that admonition mattered as she watched the man pull off his helmet and run a large hand through his hair. She couldn’t see his face yet, but she didn’t need to see his features to know just how good looking he was. His shoulders were incredibly broad, and even from a distance she could see how big—and how capable—his hands were where he gripped the handlebars.

  She was so busy reeling from a blast of pure lust for the stranger as he stepped away from his motorcycle that it took her a moment longer than it should have to realize that he wasn’t a stranger after all.

  Chapter Three

  "Rafe?" His name came out as little more than a stunned whisper. "Is that really you?"

  Her question was loud enough that he
finally turned to face her. Only, instead of responding, he didn’t say a word, didn’t even move.

  All he did was stare, but it was okay because she was busy staring right back.

  People often said memories made things sweeter than they actually were. But Brooke now knew that wasn’t true at all. Not only had she not embellished how good looking Rafe Sullivan was over the years that they’d been apart, but, if anything, her recollections had sorely underplayed just how gorgeous he truly was.

  His hair was dark and just a little too long, his skin was tanned, his jaw was dark with stubble, and he was so big and tall that she knew she’d have to stand on her tippy-toes and wrap her arms around his neck to kiss him.

  The thought of doing something like that had her body instantly going warm all over despite the cool breeze on her wet skin. She’d been little more than a child the first time she remembered setting eyes on Rafe, but even then, he’d stood out from the rest of his siblings as more fun. More daring. And infinitely more beautiful.

  When he still didn’t say anything, she took a step in his direction. "It’s me, Rafe. Brooke Jansen. Remember?"

  Finally, the intensity of his dark gaze shifted into one of recognition. "Little Brooke," he said in a low voice that rippled over her, "how could I forget you?"

  She had spent far too many years squashing her wild impulses. But following a wild impulse wasn’t what sent her straight into the arms of her favorite Sullivan without a second thought. It was pure happiness at finally seeing him again.

  He caught her against his chest as she hugged him tight. He smelled so good and the bare patch of skin above his T-shirt was so warm despite the cool evening air that she couldn't resist burying her face against him. As she held on tight, she felt safer than she had in years. She’d lost too many of her favorite people from childhood, and was infinitely grateful to be given the precious gift of one of them back in her life.

  She might have held on to him like that forever if it hadn’t been for her sudden realization of just how good his hard, heated muscles felt against her cold, wet, nearly bare skin.

  The little girl inside her had thrown herself into his arms. . . but it was the woman she’d become who wanted to move even closer.

  When she was eight years old, the crush she’d had on Rafe was sweet. Innocent. But what she was feeling now was decidedly not sweet.

  Nor was it anywhere close to innocent.

  Wild. The thought—no, it was more desire and pure need than it was a cognizant thought—came at her in an instant: I want to be wild with Rafe Sullivan.

  But they hadn’t seen each other in more than fifteen years—more than enough time for him to have a wife and family, or at the very least, a girlfriend he adored. When Brooke made herself step back from him, she belatedly remembered she was still wearing only her bathing suit. A very wet bikini she hadn’t thought anyone would see her in. One that had just soaked the front of his jacket and pants.

  She would have tried to cover herself up with her hands if she’d thought it would do any good, but even though she could hardly get her brain to function properly again standing this close to Rafe Sullivan, she knew there was no point.

  The bikini was too small, and her curves were too big.

  Flustered, all she could think to say was, "I got you all wet. "

  Rafe didn’t look down at his clothes, nor did his gaze travel below her chin. "How’s the water?"

  She loved the fact that even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, he asked her the question as though it was just another great day on the lake.

  "Amazing. " Suddenly, it occurred to her that the sold sign had been put up just before Rafe arrived. Hope lit within her. "Please tell me you just bought your old house back. "

  "Mia’s a real estate broker in Seattle. She saw it come up on her listings. " He stared at Brooke with dark eyes that warmed her even as the air continued to cool. "I didn’t expect to see you still here after all these years. "
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