The way you look tonight, p.30
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       The Way You Look Tonight, p.30

         Part #10 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Page 30

  Author: Bella Andre

  "Unlocking her heart," he said slowly as the first answer came to him in a rush. "Thanks for being there for me, sis. "

  "Wait a minute, I haven’t even told you what to do yet. "

  "Just wish me luck. " As soon as she did, Rafe shoved the phone in his pocket and headed straight for his motorcycle.

  Maybe, the cynical voice inside him cautioned as he rode toward the hardware store, his plans to unlock Brooke’s heart wouldn’t be enough to win her back. And maybe a day, a week, a year ago, that would have stopped him from even trying.

  But not today. Not when he was finally willing to believe that there was a chance to reclaim the love he’d mistakenly tossed away.

  He’d grovel. He’d beg. He’d plead. He’d strip off every last layer of pride to try to win back Brooke’s love. He’d make sure to undo each of his mistakes, one by one, during the next twenty-four hours.

  And then if that failed, he’d start all over again at the beginning.

  * * *

  Brooke felt as though she’d been sleepwalking through her meetings in Seattle. Cord had expressed concern about how pale she was when she first arrived, but she knew if she let down her guard for even one second, she wouldn’t be able to get it back up. The last thing she wanted was to meet everyone in the local retail association with eyes red from crying, and cheeks wet with tears, so she made sure to hold it together all day long.

  When she’d come alone to Seattle just two days earlier it had been less to think through things with Rafe than to drop into Indulgence to purchase a few sexy surprises for him. But this time, all there was ahead of her for the next twenty-four hours were swirling thoughts and questions.

  The only thing she knew for sure was how much she loved Rafe.

  If only she knew whether or not that love could be enough. . .

  After turning down Cord’s offer to take her for a drink, she headed on foot through the city. The sky was heavy with the threat of rain, and she found herself hoping it would start to pour, that maybe the rain could wash away her doubts. Doubts she’d never allowed herself to feel before today.

  As she walked down the sidewalk, every man she saw with dark hair and broad shoulders had her hoping it was Rafe and that he’d ignored her request for twenty-four hours apart.

  Brooke sighed at her wildly careening emotions. When he’d told her he wanted to make up for what he’d done, every cell in her body had wanted to lean back into him and stay right there in the circle of his arms. It had been the hardest thing she’d ever done to force herself to be smart…and to leave to put some thinking space between them.

  She was resilient. She was strong. But if things stayed the way they were, how long would it be until her love for him finally shattered one too many times? And yet, hadn’t he already made a step in the right direction by changing the focus of his investigations away from broken marriages?

  Brooke thought she must be hallucinating when she looked up just then and saw the name Sullivan on the large sign right above where she was standing. My God, she was a mess, not only seeing Rafe in every stranger on the street, but seeing his name on every sign, too.

  Right then, as if on cue, the sky finally opened up. Brooke wiped a hand over her eyes to try to clear the rain from her vision, and had just realized the sign said Sullivan Realty, when she heard her name.

  "Brooke?" Mia was clearly surprised to see her. "What are you doing here in the rain in front of my office?"

  Before Brooke could reply, Mia took her hand and pulled her inside the building. The next thing Brooke knew, she was sitting on a plush leather couch in a large corner office with a hot cup of coffee in her hands. And as she turned to look at her friend, who was sitting beside her on the couch looking extremely worried, it was as if the rain had washed away her inner filters.

  "I thought I could heal Rafe," Brooke blurted out, each word etched with the pain she had worked so hard to hold at bay all day long. "I thought I could love him enough to make the darkness go away. But what if I can’t?"

  She couldn’t tell if the wetness on her cheeks was from her tears or the rain outside, but it didn’t matter as her friend took the untouched coffee from her hands, put it down on the glass table in front of them, and folded her into her arms.

  Mia was a small woman, but her arms were warm and strong. Just like her brother’s had always been.

  A few minutes later, Mia handed her a box of tissues, and once she’d dried her face, she handed her the coffee. It was hot and black, and after the long cry, Brooke finally felt a little bit steadier as she sipped it.

  "Rafe called me this morning," Mia said softly.

  Brooke nearly dropped the mug, and put it back down on the table so she didn’t spill it everywhere. "Is he okay?"

  Mia was clearly surprised by her question. "If he’d done to me what he did to you, that definitely wouldn’t be my first concern. " She cocked her head. "You really do love my brother, don’t you?"

  Brooke’s brain felt clogged from her recent cry, and from missing Rafe so badly during the past eight hours. "You know I do. I always have. "

  "Thank God," Mia said, "because he called to ask me to help him figure out how to win you back. " Brooke could feel the ice inside her chest begin to melt as Mia told her, "And even though he seemed to figure out the answer for himself before I could come up with something, it was still a really big deal that he actually called. Because I honestly can’t think of the last time he asked me for help. Any of us. Rafe thought it was his job to help us and everyone else, rather than it ever being the other way around. "

  "It’s why he’s a P. I. ," Brooke murmured. "So that he can help people out of the darkness. "

  "We’ve all tried to reach out to him over the years, and even though I was able to convince him to take some time off to go to the lake this summer, none of us came close to helping him during the past few years the way you did in less than a week, Brooke. We all love Rafe, but your love is what made the difference, not ours. "

  Mia, Brooke suddenly realized, was a secret romantic. One who had clearly been hurt, but who still, in her inner heart of hearts, believed in love.

  True love.

  The same love that Brooke had felt for Rafe from the start.

  The same love she felt for him right now.

  Yes, it hurt that Rafe hadn’t trusted her enough to treat her like the friend she was supposed to be. Hurt like hell, actually, going deeper than any pain she’d ever known. But hadn’t she known that Rafe had his own deep scars, bigger ones on the inside than even the one slashed across his ribs by an angry ex-husband?

  After what he’d seen as an investigator, it made sense that he’d been afraid to believe true love was real, or that it could last.

  Of course he’d try to prove himself right. . . and she’d almost let him do just that by walking away from him after he’d made his mistake.

  Brooke gave Mia a quick hug before hopping up off the couch. "Thank you. For everything. I’ve got to go. He needs me. "

  * * *

  Brooke shot out of the door and was heading back up the rainy sidewalk before Mia could even say good-bye. For the second time in one day, Mia hadn’t gotten a chance to tell either her brother or Brooke what to do after they’d come to her for support.

  Clearly, Mia thought with a smile as she sat down behind her computer for another late night in the office, Rafe and Brooke were meant to be together.

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Three hours later. . .

  "Brooke?" Rafe rubbed his hand over his eyes as if he was afraid she was a figment of his imagination instead of standing right in front of him. "It hasn’t been twenty-four hours yet. "

  My God, he was beautiful. Strong. Loving. And a little bit broken, just like everybody else.

  Her heart racing, Brooke told him, "I couldn’t stay a
way from you another minute. "

  She wasn’t just in his arms a moment later. . . she was finally home. They might still have a long road to go with each other, but from here on out, they’d travel that road together. And she’d never make the mistake of walking away from him again, regardless of the mistakes they’d inevitably make with each other along the way.

  "I love you. " He whispered the words again and again into her hair. "I love you so much. "

  She was lifting her face from his chest to tell him she loved him, too, when she realized her grandmother’s recipe book was lying on the table in her grandfather’s workshop. She’d been so worried when she’d returned at 10 p. m. and Rafe hadn’t been in either house that when she’d seen the light through the trees, she hadn’t walked along the path to the workshop, she’d run as fast as her legs could carry her.

  Her hands were shaking as she reached for her grandmother’s recipe book. "It’s fixed. " She looked up at the beautiful man she’d loved her whole life. "You fixed the broken heart. "

  Brooke ran trembling fingers over the wooden cover, which looked as perfect as it had the first time she’d seen it as a little girl. There was no crack anymore, not even the slightest sign that the heart had ever been split in two. She pressed her palm over the heart, and when she closed her eyes, she swore she could feel her grandfather and grandmother with them in that moment.

  Oh, how happy they would have been to see her and Rafe together, and to know that there would be many, many more summers of love between the Sullivans and the Jansens.

  "I love you. " Rafe caught Brooke as she threw herself into his arms. "You promised you would prove to me that you could change, and you couldn’t have proved it to me any better than this. "

  "Actually," he said as he drew back slightly, "there’s more. "

  She had to reach out to caress his jaw with her fingertips. "I don’t need anything more than this. Than you. "

  "You deserve more, Brooke. You deserve everything. " He picked up the cookbook cover with one hand, and took hers with the other.

  Walking through the woods through the fog that was hovering over the lake felt like being in a dream. One day, she wanted to make love to Rafe right here, in the dark surrounded by the scent of Douglas fir, while the rest of the world slept.

  He took her inside her house, and when he closed the front door and deliberately stepped out of the way, she finally saw what she’d missed in her earlier panic at not finding him in the house. The ugly deadbolt was gone. He hadn’t put the rusted old lock back on, but while the new lock wasn’t tiny, at least it looked like it fit the door.

  "I know how difficult it must have been for you to remove the deadbolt. " She went up on her tippy-toes to press a soft kiss to his lips. "Thank you. "

  "Maybe in a few weeks, I’ll be able to switch this one out again for an even smaller one. "

  She laughed out loud at his honesty. It was only natural that the changes he was making would have to come in stages. "I can live with this one. "

  He put down the wooden recipe book cover, then pulled the shiny lock pick out of his pocket. "Let’s see how long it takes you to pick it. "

  She couldn’t stop smiling as he gestured for her to come back outside with him. She knelt next to him as he showed her the tricks of the P. I. trade. She was amazed he remembered she’d asked to learn how to pick a lock on their first night together.

  When he’d said no back then, it was clear that he hadn’t wanted to "corrupt" her. So did this mean even more corruption was on the menu?

  She really, really hoped it did. . .

  "Your turn now," he said as he handed her the pick.

  It was difficult to concentrate with Rafe’s thigh pressed against hers and his mouth just inches away, but she forced her brain to focus on the task. Her lower lip between her teeth, she concentrated on each of the steps he’d just run her through.
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