The way you look tonight, p.8
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       The Way You Look Tonight, p.8

         Part #10 of The Sullivans series by Bella Andre
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Page 8

  Author: Bella Andre

  But just when she’d almost convinced herself that he was still the same carefree soul he’d once been, he’d brought up the locks and his concern that she was putting herself in danger by not dead-bolting herself inside. Even as she’d tried to tell herself it was just some guy thing, she knew it wasn’t.

  Her parents had taught her to obey the rules and not to ask questions that might offend someone or shake things up. But Rafe was her friend, and she cared too much about him to worry about putting herself out on a limb.

  "What happened, Rafe? Why are you so concerned about how secure my house is when you know as well as I do that virtually no one locks their doors or even their cars here at the lake?"

  "People do bad things everywhere, Brooke. Even here. " With those parting words, he was out the door and heading off to the hardware store on his motorcycle.

  * * *

  He came back thirty minutes later with what had to be the biggest lock the local hardware store had in stock—an ugly silver deadbolt that looked scary all on its own—and a brand-new loaded tool box. During his absence, Brooke had been trying to focus her attention on a second round of the new summer-with-a-hint-of-winter truffle recipe she’d been so happily working on the day before. But now, her recipe came a distant second to the beautiful enigma kneeling in front of her door, screwing in the ugly bolt.

  "I’m surprised they even sell locks like that here," she murmured as she picked up the thick plastic packaging and put it in her recycling bin.

  He hadn’t said a word to her since he’d come back, had simply walked in through her unlocked door and gotten to work. Now he informed her, "I ordered some new latches for your windows. They’ll be in later this week. "

  Brooke’s natural inclination had always been to let people do what they thought was best for her. But she ended up surprising them both by pulling the screwdriver out of Rafe’s hand in midair.

  She took a step away from him so that he couldn’t grab it back. "Why, Rafe? Tell me why you’re being like this and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you finish putting this horrible, ugly lock on my door. "

  He moved so slowly, so carefully toward her, that she had no doubt that he was good at his job as a P. I. , and that the people he investigated never even knew he was there watching them.

  "I already told you why," he said in a low voice that rumbled up her spine and made her feel hot all over.

  "No," she countered, "you haven’t. The last time I saw you, you were a fourteen-year-old boy who laughed all the time. You were wild and happy. "

  "We’ve both grown up, Brooke. "

  Even though he all but growled the words at her, instead of taking another step back as he likely intended her to do, she moved closer. Close enough to put her free hand on his face so that she could lightly stroke the stubble on his square jaw as she whispered, "Yes, we definitely have. " Close enough that she could have gone up on her tippy-toes and pressed her mouth to his in the kiss she’d been dreaming of since the moment she’d seen him.

  But even though she thought she read a similar desire in his eyes, before she could act on it, he moved away from her. . . and finally started telling her what she wanted to know.

  "I started on the police force after college, on the traffic beat along with the other rookies. They let me shadow a couple of detectives, and it turned out I had a knack for tracking crooks. After I solved a high-profile tech fraud case, I struck out on my own and started the agency. "

  "Tech fraud wouldn’t have you worried about the lock on my door, though, would it?"

  "Pretty early on I took on a client who was convinced her husband was cheating on her, even though she couldn’t prove it. He was a very wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 company and she said no one else would take on her case because they were afraid of him. She also told me that the only way she and her kids would be able to survive financially after a divorce would be if she could prove he’d cheated on her. Something about her reminded me of Mia. And I hated to think of my little sister stuck in a crappy relationship with a rich creep who held all the cards. "

  "He had been cheating on her, hadn’t he?"

  Rafe looked disgusted as he confirmed, "With any woman he could get his hands on. "

  "That’s great that you helped her get out of the bad relationship. "

  "All of her friends felt the same way. In the past seven years, I’ve caught nearly every wealthy man on the West Coast with his pants down in the wrong place at the wrong time. "

  Being a P. I. had sounded so exciting when he’d first told her about it, but now she could see just what a difficult job it would be, if only because you’d have to constantly make it a point to remind yourself that not everyone was bad.

  "That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? To get away from the dark side of human nature for a while. " When he didn’t respond, she moved closer to him again and reached for his hand. Despite the fact that he stiffened at her touch, she told him, "I’m really glad Mia found you the house. "

  She thought about everything he’d said, everything he must have seen in the past seven years, and wanted nothing more than to erase it all for him.

  "I know it’s going to need a lot of work, but I think it’s even more important that you have fun here. " She smiled up at him, determined to see him smile back one day soon. "Who better to have fun with than an old friend?"

  * * *

  What the hell was Rafe supposed to say when Brooke looked up at him with those big, innocent eyes and such sweet determination to try to make him feel better about everything? It was his own twisted brain that kept spinning out into X-rated territory, not hers. By "fun" she meant swimming and hiking and roasting marshmallows over a bonfire. . . not licking each other all over and rolling around together on her bed until they’d both forgotten what a rotten world it could be.

  Yesterday he’d been stunned by what a beauty she’d become. Today, he was surprised all over again by the way she’d grabbed the screwdriver out of his hand and demanded answers to her questions.

  She was still the cute, sweet girl he’d known a decade and a half ago, but she was also a heck of a lot tougher than he’d given her credit for.

  She was still holding his hand, and he wanted to tug her closer to find out if she tasted as sweet as she looked. Instead, he said, "Fun sounds good, Brooke. But I’ve got to know you’re safe. " He looked pointedly at the screwdriver.

  "Thank you for answering my question," she said as she handed the tool over without any reluctance, as good as her word despite the fact that he knew she didn’t like the look of the deadbolt. "How about I head over to your house and get started with cleaning while you finish up here so that we can get to the fun stuff quicker?"

  Fun. He couldn’t think of the last time he’d focused on having fun. Hot sex with a stranger. The thrill of driving one of his cousin Zach’s race cars. The pleasure of tasting one of his other cousin Marcus’s new vintages from his Napa Valley vineyard.

  But fun?

  Rafe wasn’t even sure what that was anymore. . .

  "Sure," he said as he knelt back down in front of the door lock, "that sounds good. "

  And the truth was, just knowing he’d get to spend the day with Brooke, even if they’d likely end up spending all of it cleaning and clearing out his house next door, sounded better than it should have.

  Almost like fun.

  Chapter Six

  They were a good team, Brooke thought several hours later, as she looked around Rafe’s now spotless kitchen with satisfaction. He still needed to buy new appliances, fix the flooring, and put up new cabinets and countertops, but at least you didn’t need a face mask to enter the room now.

  Immediately after he’d finished putting on her new lock, he’d joined her to dig into the mess the renters had made. She’d mopped and swept and scrubbed everything in her p
ath, while Rafe cleared the way for her, taking out old chairs and broken tables and linens that had holes burned into them.

  She’d left his house only long enough to make them a plate of sandwiches and had literally had to hold them beneath his nose to get him to stop working long enough to eat. Before she was even halfway through her own sandwich, he’d finished both of his and was digging into one of the dusty, beat-up cardboard boxes he’d brought down from the attic.

  "I didn’t think my family had left anything behind when we moved out," he told her, "but look what I just found. "

  It was a frame with a faded picture in it. "Oh, Rafe, this is great!"

  His whole family was in the picture, and all of them were smiling, clearly happy to be at the lake for another summer. Of course, she immediately zoomed in on Rafe. There was that easy smile she remembered, the carefree way he held his tall, lanky frame…compared to the way his big, strong muscles fairly vibrated with tension now.

  "And there you are, just like you always were. "

  The warmth in his voice had Brooke turning her gaze to his face instead of back to the picture. "I’m in the picture, too?" She quickly looked down again and realized what she’d missed the first time. All the Sullivans were there, but so was she, tucked in between Rafe and Mia, smaller than everyone else, but beaming up at the camera because she’d been with her favorite people.

  "I don’t remember sneaking into your family photo. "

  "You didn’t sneak into the photo, Brooke, you belonged there. "

  It was the nicest thing he could have said to her, even nicer than his earlier compliment about her truffles. All she’d wanted her whole life, it seemed, was to belong. Her grandparents—and the Sullivans next door—had made it easy for her in all the ways her own parents hadn’t known how to.

  Feeling like he was holding her heart in his hand, she said, "How about I take this next door and clean up the frame?"

  "That would be great. " A moment later, he was heading up into the attic again.

  She looked down at the photo and realized her grandfather must have taken the picture. Did he know back then what a big crush she had on Rafe? Or that it would only grow bigger, stronger over the years?

  As she walked outside and across the grass to her house, the reflection of the sun off the glass in the frame momentarily blinded her so that she had to look away from it and out at the blue water and green mountains. For the thousandth time since she’d moved back to the lake, she was stunned by the beauty all around her. She hoped she never took it for granted, that she took the time to appreciate it more every single day.

  It wasn’t right that Rafe had been at the lake nearly twenty-four hours, and he hadn’t yet been in the water. But if she suggested a swim right now, she knew he’d never go for it. He was totally focused on the job at hand, between carrying out heavy furniture by himself and crawling under the house to see how far the damage extended. Clearly, he was planning on working until he dropped.

  From the moment she’d seen him get off his motorcycle, he’d been too serious, too intense. Now that he’d talked to her about his job, she knew more of the reasons for that, but that didn’t change the fact that instead of fishing or hiking or relaxing on the beach, he was killing himself to try to clean up his disaster of a house. She wanted to see him smile more, laugh more, like he used to when they were kids.

  A little work was fine and dandy; Brooke knew the worth of focus and determination firsthand as a small-business owner. But as she worked to wipe the frame clean, then propped it up on the kitchen counter, she figured there was nothing to lose in trying to convince him to see the wisdom of her suggestion that they have some fun together while he was here.

  Knowing she’d have to be a little sneaky about it, she went back outside to the patch of grass between their properties and called, "Rafe, there’s something you’ve got to see outside. "
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