The Way You Look Tonight / Page 2

Page 2


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Author: Bella Andre


His glare cut her off before she could talk about the same damn thing that everyone had been talking about for the past couple of months—the knife wound to the side of his ribs. He was over it. Why couldn’t they be? The guy had barely hooked the tip into Rafe’s skin before Rafe had thrown him across the parking garage.


And yet, it grated more than he liked to admit that his little sister was right about his taking some time off. Not because he was afraid of being jumped again in a dark parking lot, but because a guy needed to recharge his batteries every once in a while. Sex was usually good for that, but lately even the few hot hours in the sack he'd managed with women who weren't looking for love any more than he was had fallen pretty damned short of the mark.


Mia was also right about his employees; he’d made it a point to hire the best, and he could trust them to keep things running for a little while.


Just the thought of waking up to the sound of water lapping on the shore instead of traffic outside his window, and getting out in his fishing boat rather than handing tissues to sobbing women, had him almost feeling ten years younger.


"Okay, you’ve sold me on a vacation," he told his already gloating sister, "but I can rent a place."


She picked up the flyer from the coffee table. "Remember how we used to have cannonball contests off the dock and the Jansens next door would vote for the winner?" He had to laugh at the memory, the sound rusty after being out of use for so long. He hadn’t seen little Brooke Jansen or her grandparents in more than fifteen years, but he hadn’t forgotten them. Rafe looked down at the picture of the lake house. "I loved this place. We all did."


Mia’s gaze was no longer challenging or gloating. He and his siblings often fought and teased, but at the core of it all, they loved each other...and they always looked out for each other, too.


"You loved it more than anyone, Rafe. You’ve got the money. It’s time to finally use some of it and clear your head out on the lake."


Rafe figured he could have kept arguing with her, but what was the point? He wanted the cabin, and not just for himself. For his whole family—especially his parents, who should never have lost it in the first place. This time, he would make sure they would never lose it again.


He picked up the listing and looked more closely at the picture. At first glance, it hadn’t looked too different from the way he remembered it, but now he noticed the peeling paint, the overgrown shrubs, the overly worn and slightly crooked front steps.


"After all these years, it’ll probably need some work."


"I’m sure it does, but you’re nearly as handy as Adam. And you know he’ll be thrilled to weigh in on how to best fix any problems you might find. The listing agent and I have been playing phone tag all morning, so I’ll find out more specifics soon, but the flyer says it’s furnished, so hopefully you won’t have to deal with buying much furniture."


If it were any other house, he would have had Mia show him more pictures and give him the inspector’s report, but he knew this place inside and out. Sure, he didn’t know anything about the people who had lived in it for the past eighteen years, but how much could there be to fix?


"You win. I’ll make an offer."


Mia’s grin lit up her already pretty face. "I knew it!"


He looked at his watch. "I’ve got to take another couple of clients this morning, but I can probably come in to your office later this afternoon to sign everything."


"No need." She reached into her bag again and pulled out a large folder. "Sign here, here, here, and here. I already called with your initial offer. Once I send this in, we should be good to go."


Clearly, he needed a vacation, because he should have seen this coming. Mia Sullivan always got what she wanted.


Especially when she was trying to help someone she loved.


"One day you’re going to find a guy you can’t wrap around your finger," he told her as he took the pen she handed him and signed next to all the yellow flags. She was smiling when she took the papers back, but her grin suddenly looked a little forced.


He put a hand on her arm. "Everything okay, sis?"


"Everything’s great." He wasn’t sure he believed her, but she was already walking out the door and saying, "You should be the proud owner of the lake house by tonight."


He’d seen the dollar figure listed on the offer and hadn’t blinked an eye, but now he had to ask, "Just how good is my offer?"


The twinkle was back in her eyes as she said, "Good enough to hop on your Ducati tomorrow and be there to light a fire on the beach and lie back to look up at the stars by nightfall."


"Thanks, Mia." She had been, and always would be, a major pain in the rear. But he wouldn’t trade his little sister for anyone else.


She didn’t turn back again, simply waved at him over her shoulder. Noting that every last one of his male employees was drooling over her instead of working, his voice was harder than it would otherwise have been as he told them, "Mandatory company meeting at lunch."


With that, he walked back into his office to prepare for his next meeting...and, with a summer at the lake in his sights, to get started on writing up a list of revised duties for his staff at Sullivan Investigations.


Chapter Two


Some days, Brooke Jansen loved her job.


Every day, actually, since she’d moved from Boston to live at the lake full time and start her own chocolate truffle business. She even loved it on days like today, when she couldn’t quite get her latest truffle recipe to taste right.


She’d spent the past eight hours working on a new summer-themed box of truffles, one she hoped would please people as much as the winter-themed box she’d debuted at Christmas. Now it was time to work out some of the kinks in her back with a swim. Plus, she tended to have some of her biggest epiphanies while underwater. She had been swimming like a fish from the day her grandfather had plucked her out of her father’s arms and plopped her into the lake despite his son’s protests that she wasn’t ready yet.


Brooke took her saucepans and glass bowls over to the sink. As she quickly washed them out, she marveled at the view of the lake and the Douglas firs in the mountains beyond the water. Even though she’d been living on Lake Wenatchee for the past three years, she still could hardly believe how beautiful it was.


She’d spent every summer as a young child traveling from Boston to Washington State to visit her grandparents, Frank and Judy. She’d loved every second outside on the sandy beach, swimming in the cool lake water, roasting marshmallows by the campfire...and spending time with the two warmest, most loving people she’d ever known.


In all those summers, her parents had only come to visit the lake house a handful of times, and each visit had been awkward, borderline uncomfortable. Mostly because her parents and grandparents hadn’t seen eye to eye on much of anything...especially her. Her mother and father weren’t ogres by any stretch of the imagination, but they had always been so focused on their careers that they often seemed to forget they had a child who wanted to have fun. And when they had focused on her, she’d often sensed their disappointment that she was neither cuttingly sharp like her lawyer mother, nor brilliant like her economist father.


They’d wanted a little baby Einstein. Instead, they’d gotten Strawberry Shortcake.


On top of that, it had been so difficult for her mother to get—and stay—pregnant with her that from the moment Brooke was born, her parents had treated her like a terribly fragile glass sculpture. All her life, they’d been afraid of her getting hurt, even though Brooke had been the most careful, conscientious child and teenager around for miles. Well, apart from that one night when she’d snuck out of the house like every sixteen-year-old on the planet and made a mistake they'd never let her forget...


Brooke was twenty-three years old when her grandparents died, their car skidding out on a patch of ice on a remote mountain pass. Though three years had passed, the hole in her heart was as big as ever. They had willed their summer cabin to her, obviously knowing her parents had no interest whatsoever in it, along with the full contents of their bank account.


She’d been so devastated by their sudden deaths that, after the funeral, her parents had tried to convince her that it would make more sense to go back home to Boston and then return later to go through their things when she was stronger. But once she’d gotten to the gate at the airport, instead of getting on the airplane, she’d kissed her stunned parents good-bye before turning right back around.


Everything in her grandparents’ lakefront home was just as they’d left it. How could they be gone? She’d stumbled into the house and barely made it to her grandmother’s favorite rocking chair in the living room before her legs gave out.


Her grandmother’s recipe book had been on the coffee table, and she’d picked it up with shaking hands. Her grandfather had made the wooden cover engraved with a heart surrounding their initials in his wood shop, a gift of love for the wife he’d adored from the first moment he’d set eyes on her. Age and one fall too many onto the floor from the kitchen counter had made a large crack down through the center of the wooden heart. When Brooke opened the cover, on top of the first recipe she’d found a picture of herself and her grandmother standing together at the kitchen counter, both of them wearing flowery aprons and huge smiles. Their hands were covered in chocolate, and shavings dusted the counter all around them.


Brooke had been her happiest each summer making truffles with her grandmother, who was passionate in her hobby to share her love with friends and family through chocolate. As she’d stared at the picture, Brooke realized why she hadn’t been able to get on the plane with her parents to go back to her human resources job in Boston: Life was too short, and far too precious, to waste. Brooke finally knew exactly what she was supposed to do with her life: stay here at the lake, in her grandparents’ house, and make chocolate.


Her first year had been a rather daunting crash course not only in the art of artisan chocolate making, but also in how to start and run her own business, especially in the wake of her parents’ horror at her chucking in a lucrative career to do something so risky with "so little upside," as they’d put it. Fortunately, she’d been able to sign up several small stores in town before the cushion her grandparents had left her came anywhere near close to running out.


Moving to the lake and starting her own company doing what she and her grandmother loved had been like following a faint ray of light, but she’d always known it would grow bigger every day. That’s what her grandparents had taught her—to believe in herself and others, no matter what. The whole community had helped her succeed, which only proved that belief to be true.


After cleaning up the kitchen, Brooke walked back into her bedroom, stripped off her jeans and T-shirt, and slipped on her bikini. It was a daring purchase that had sat unworn in her dresser until the house next door became vacant and she could be certain that no one would see her wearing it. She was just heading out to the front porch when her phone rang. When she looked at the caller ID and saw her mother’s number, her gut tightened for a split second before she picked it up.


"Hi, Mom, thanks for calling me back."


"Darling," her mother said, "it’s always so nice to hear your voice. I just wish you didn’t live so far away. Your father and I worry about you. Is everything all right?"


When, Brooke wondered, would her parents stop worrying about her? Especially since she’d only ever done one wild, stupid thing in her entire life…and that had been a decade ago.


"Everything’s fine. It’s great, actually." She had some fairly big news to give them and hoped they’d respond well to it. "Did I ever mention to you that Dad’s colleague, Cord Delacorte, came out to the lake to visit me a short while back?"


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