The way you look tonight, p.4
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       The Way You Look Tonight, p.4

         Part #10 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Page 4

  Author: Bella Andre

  "I moved to the lake full time a few years ago. "

  "To live with your grandparents?"

  Just that quickly, her smile fell. "No. " She wrapped her arms around herself. "They passed away a few years ago. " Her voice shook as she told him, "A car accident. "

  "Brooke, I’m so sorry. Judy and Frank were two truly great people. "

  His arms came back around her, and she could have soaked up his heat, his strength, forever. Instead, she made herself shift away again to stand on her own two feet. "I was just thinking how it didn’t seem right that there weren’t any Sullivans next door, and then just like magic, you appeared. You must be dying to get inside your place. I haven’t been in it since it became a vacation rental. When the for sale sign went up, I sneaked over and peeked in the windows to see if it still looked the same, but they were all covered so I couldn’t see much. "

  He raised an eyebrow, and from what she could read in his dark eyes, he seemed amused by what she’d just admitted. "Sneaking around? Peeking in windows? That doesn’t sound like the sweet little girl I knew. "

  She shot him what she hoped was a saucy grin, even though she’d never been anything close to saucy at any point in her life. "I’m not a little girl anymore. "

  "No," he said in that low voice that made her hot and cold all over at the same time, "you’re definitely not. "

  Despite the fact that he wasn’t ogling her, the intensity of his gaze had her shivering and the breath catching in her lungs. She’d dated several nice men since college—safe, steady men her parents had wholly approved of—but none of them had ever made her feel like this. Especially with nothing more than a few simple words.


  The word echoed again in her head as Rafe said, "Come inside with me, and we can check the place out, see how it looks. "

  She briefly considered heading back over to her house to put something on over her bathing suit, but since she’d already been talking with him in nothing but her bikini for this long, it would be silly to start acting all self-conscious and proper now. Especially when he wasn’t exactly jumping her, or anything. Besides, wasn’t this what the lake had always been about? Running around in bathing suits all day and only throwing on a well-worn pair of jeans and a faded sweatshirt when it grew too cold at night to ignore the chill.

  "I’d love to," she said, and then they were walking side by side toward his front door.

  Running his hand down the door, he said, "Needs a new paint job," more to himself than to her. "Mia said the key should be hidden under a rock by the entrance. "

  Brooke scanned the porch with him but didn’t see anything that looked like it was hiding a key. She was about to step off the porch to check the grass in front of the house for a key that might have blown off the porch during a windstorm, when Rafe pulled something shiny out of his pocket and wiggled it in the old lock.

  A moment later the door was open.

  She stared at him in surprise. "Did you just pick that lock?"

  "Trick of the trade. "

  Before she could ask him what trade exactly that was, and if it started with th and ended with ief by any chance, they both got their first glimpse at the inside of his lake home.

  Brooke gasped in dismay as Rafe stepped over what looked to be the bones of a dead animal. He clicked the light switch up, but no lights went on. Probably because they’d been either shattered or ripped out of their sockets.

  "What the hell happened in here?"

  Brooke couldn’t blame him for his harsh reaction. The old furniture was stained and torn apart. The rugs had holes chewed through them, and she was pretty sure there were a couple of animal nests in the corner.

  "Maybe it just needs a good cleaning," she said, trying to see the bright side of things like she normally did. But even she could hear how hollow her words were. "I can help you with it. " They walked through the living room and headed into the kitchen. "I’m sure it wouldn’t take us long at all to—"

  Her words fell away as she saw that not only were all the appliances in the kitchen gone, but several of the cabinets had also been ripped clean out of the wall. When had all this happened? During the final renter’s parties that had gone on late into the night the previous summer?

  In silence, they moved from room to room. The bedrooms were, thankfully, empty, although one did have a broken window. Both bathrooms were nearly too disgusting to enter.

  "Who could have done this to such a great house?" Rafe said, frustration and more than a little anger underlying every word.

  She wanted to pull him out of the house and into her arms, wished she could think of something to say that would make it all better. "Stay with me, Rafe, while you fix this place up. "

  When his dark gaze landed on her again, and held, she momentarily forgot all about his messed-up house. The way he was looking at her, his gaze finally dropping from her face to her breasts, and then lower still, made her mind go blank, her hands turn numb. . . and her body warm up all over.

  It wasn’t until he said, "You don’t need me in the way for however long it takes to fix up this dump," that her brain clicked back into gear. He wasn’t just a super hot guy she couldn’t stop drooling over. He was her friend.

  And she would do anything for a friend.

  "I’m right next door, and I’ve got two empty bedrooms. It doesn’t make sense for you to go anywhere else—or to contemplate staying here," she added with a shiver of distaste at the mere thought of bunking down on the filthy floor or on one of the ratty couches.

  Though what she’d offered made perfect sense, he still seemed to be warring with himself. Finally, he nodded. "I really appreciate this, Brooke. The only picture on the listing was of the front of the house, but Mia and I didn’t think that mattered because we already knew it so well. " He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it even more sexily ruffled than it had been before.

  "I honestly think most of the renters were okay, except for the final ones," she told him. "But I never imagined they’d done this during their parties. " Realizing she wasn’t helping any by going on and on about it, she said, "How about I make us both a really great dinner? Remember how my grandmother used to say there was nothing homemade pasta or chocolate couldn’t fix?" Even though she knew better, he looked so upset about the state of his house that she couldn’t stop herself from adding, "Maybe it will all look better in the morning. "

  "Dinner sounds great," he said as he finally moved his gaze from her to scan the interior of the house again, "but I’m not holding out much hope for the rest of it. "

  More than ever, she wanted to put her arms around him. In some ways—his good looks, the wild way he’d blown back into town on his motorcycle—he was just the same as when they were kids. But in other ways—the intense way he looked at her, along with the faint lines around his mouth that she had a feeling hadn’t come from smiling—he was different.

  She held out her hand. "Let’s get out of here. "

  He looked down at her hand for a long moment before taking it. His fingers were warm and strong as they wrapped around hers. And that was when she put a name to one of the big changes in Rafe: dangerous.

  As a boy, he’d been wild.

  Now, he was both wild and dangerous.

  The combination thrilled every inch of her as they walked outside hand in hand, though she could feel the tension radiating from him. He closed his front door, and even though he didn’t have the key to lock it, it didn’t matter. There was nothing inside that anyone would want to steal.

  When they reached her porch, she let go of his hand to grab a towel and wrap it around herself, tucking the end in under one arm. As soon as she was covered up, Rafe seemed to relax a little bit. She opened her own door and stepped aside to let him in.

  "It’s good to see that your place looks just like it
used to. "

  "I thought I was going to need to update things, but once I moved in, I realized it was just perfect the way it was. " With anyone else, she might have felt bad that her lake house had come through the years scar-free when his clearly hadn’t, but she knew Rafe wouldn’t wish his misfortune on anyone else.

  Moving quickly into the kitchen, she reached into the fridge and pulled out a beer. "Any chance this will help to drown your lake-house sorrows?"

  "That depends. How many bottles have you got in there?"

  She laughed and admitted, "Probably not enough. "

  When she handed it to him and their fingertips brushed against each other, she was no longer surprised when another rush of warmth moved through her. As a young girl, she’d always had a strong reaction to Rafe. Now that she was a woman, it made perfect sense that her reaction was just as strong. . . and that it felt nothing like a childhood crush anymore.

  "I should probably throw some clothes on. " And yet, instead of heading into her bedroom to get changed out of her suit, now that they were standing in the full light of her kitchen, she couldn’t stop staring at the most beautiful man in the world. One who, she’d noted, didn’t have a wedding ring on.

  She was standing close enough to reach out and put her hands on either side of his jaw, which was liberally dusted with dark stubble. Close enough to lean in to kiss him, too. She was shocked by a crystal-clear vision of Rafe yanking her bikini off and dropping it onto her kitchen floor while she lay naked across her counter and he did deliciously dangerous things to every inch of her body.

  Brooke teetered there, right on the edge between giving him a kiss and running. But in the end, though she could all but taste him on her lips, a lifetime of choosing safe over wild had her taking a step back instead of forward.

  Chapter Four

  Jesus Christ, when had Brooke turned into Marilyn Monroe?

  Twenty years ago she’d been a cute kid. But now? Hell, now she was every single one of his dirtiest fantasies come to life.

  Rafe pushed away from the kitchen island and moved to the window. It was a thousand times smarter to focus on the stunning scenery—and the fact that the lake house he’d just spent a boatload of money on was a total freakin’ mess—rather than the stunning woman currently in her bedroom down the hall stripping off the little triangles of fabric barely covering her lush breasts and hips. Yet even as he took in the pinks and oranges of the setting sun in the sky over the lake, a sunset even more beautiful than he’d remembered from his childhood, all it did was make him think about Brooke again. . . and how she was also a thousand times more beautiful than he’d ever thought she’d become.

  He’d done some pretty stupid things in his life. Sleeping with that ex-client, for instance. But it would be a thousand times stupider to sleep with the girl next door. Especially one as sweet and as innocent as he suspected Brooke had to be, even as an adult.

  And particularly when he now needed to stay with her because his own house would be completely uninhabitable for at least a week.

  She’d been a pretty little girl, but six years had been a big age difference when he was fourteen and she was eight. She’d been digging with plastic shovels in the sand with Mia while he’d been out causing trouble with his brothers.

  What a difference eighteen years made. One hell of a difference, giving her a set of curves that had made him practically swallow his tongue when he’d looked at her and realized who she was. He could still see the cute girl she’d been in the pure sweetness of her smile and her big, guileless green eyes. For all their surface beauty, the women he was used to dealing with looked older than their years. Whereas Brooke, who he seriously doubted had even a hundredth of the financial advantages of his clients, looked happy and lighthearted.

  Which was exactly why he couldn’t screw around with her. Of course they’d be friends like they’d always been, but he wouldn’t make the mistake of letting himself touch her again. . . even if she had the softest skin he could ever remember feeling beneath his fingertips.
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