The Way You Look Tonight / Page 25

Page 25


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Author: Bella Andre


Damn it, he wasn’t thrilled with any of it.


And it didn’t make a lick of sense that he wasn’t.


Brooke had offered—hell, was offering it to him as often as he wanted, any way he wanted it—every guy’s dream come true. A hot summer fling with no strings, with no expectations of anything but pleasure. But after only a handful of days with her in his arms, it wasn’t enough.


It had only taken one night for the heat from their fling to quickly spiral into emotions deeper than he’d been expecting.


Then again, it wasn’t truly a few days or just one night, was it? He’d known Brooke a hell of a lot longer than any of the women he’d been with before. As a kid, spending every summer next door to her for nearly ten years, at bonfires and waterskiing and hiking in the mountains together, he’d loved her the same way he loved his family. Because that’s what she’d been and still was. Family.


But now? He’d be a liar if he didn’t admit that the love he felt for her was a whole hell of a lot bigger. Stronger. And completely different from the love he had for his family or his other friends.


His cell phone rang, and though he wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone with his head and gut this twisted up, when he saw that it was Ben, he picked up. "You’ve found something?"


"Still putting things together," Ben said. "I’ve got a question for you."


Though Rafe wanted to push him, he knew Ben was adamant about triple-verifying everything before he would make an accusation. It was one of the reasons Rafe had been able to trust his colleague to keep the business running while he was here at the lake.


"Shoot."


"One name keeps coming up in association with Delacorte in the past six months. I wanted to check in with you about it, though, before I go any further. Do you know a Brooke Jansen?"


"She’s my g—"


Damn it, she wasn’t actually his girlfriend, was she? That wasn’t in their summer-fling agreement.


Reminding himself that all Ben needed to do his job were the facts, Rafe told him, "We’re next-door neighbors at the lake. I’ve been close to her since we were kids."


"Right," Ben said, clearly already knowing all of that. "That’s why I wanted to call before I went any further. Normally, since she’s Delacorte’s business partner, I’d do some digging into her details as well."


Rafe had been so wrapped up in Brooke—and his concern about the possibility that she had partnered with someone who couldn’t be trusted—that he hadn’t thought things all the way through. Of course she would come up in the course of the investigation. If Rafe hadn’t had a personal relationship with her, Ben would have simply done his job without asking questions. Instead, Rafe now had to make a judgment call about how to proceed.


At his prolonged silence, Ben finally asked, "Do you want me to investigate her, too?"


The word no was on the tip of Rafe’s tongue. Brooke was an open book who looked at the rest of the world with trust shining from her pretty eyes. People with skeletons in their closets didn’t smell like sunshine or laugh so often and so easily.


But how many times before had he been proved wrong? Especially during those early years of doing investigations when he didn’t want to face up to what the real world actually looked like, what it was really made of.


He had to ask himself if the real reason he was reluctant to have Ben look more closely into Brooke’s history and the details of her life was because he was afraid of what his employee would find. Because if Rafe really believed Brooke would come out of the investigation clean and pure and honest, then why would he stop Ben from completing the full investigation into her business partner, one that would have involved her in any case?


And, if he really was thinking along the lines of a deeper, stronger love for her—something that sounded a hell of a lot like forever—shouldn’t he be completely sure about everything she’d done between the ages of eight and twenty-six?


"Go ahead."


"With everything?" Ben asked, double-checking even this.


Rafe ignored the tightening in his gut as he confirmed, "Yes, everything," before they disconnected.


Having Ben do this background check on Brooke was the only way to be one hundred percent sure.


And Rafe had never needed to be this sure about anyone before.


* * *


Brooke was knuckle deep in chocolate ganache when her phone rang. She’d been waiting all afternoon for Cord to let her know how many boxes of truffles he needed for the press. Assuming it was him, she hit the speaker button on her phone with her cleanest finger and said hello.


"Hello, honey," her mother said in her crisp lawyer’s voice. "Your father and I were hoping this would be a good time to finally discuss your new business venture."


Truffles in all stages were strewn across her kitchen counter. Brooke would likely have to work most of the night to pull off her deliveries for the week. But she wouldn’t have given up the time she’d spent with Rafe for anything. A few missed hours of sleep were more than worth the incredible pleasure of being with him.


The sun burned hotter, the sky shone brighter, even the chocolate melting on her fingertips tasted richer now that Rafe had opened her eyes to the sensuality in everything around her.


Knowing that if she had time for Rafe, she should also have time for her parents, she said, "Absolutely. How are you both?" as she continued hand-rolling truffles.


As always, she was amazed by the details of the groundbreaking legal case her mother had won and her father’s game-changing research on the economic effects of cell phones on developing countries. "Both of you are amazing," she told them, meaning every word. She was incredibly proud of her parents and their achievements.


"After your mother told me about your new partnership with my old colleague," her father said, "I gave Cord a call a short while ago."


She barely stifled her groan. She could only imagine the conversation the two of them had had, her father acting like she was still six years old and couldn’t be trusted to cross the street by herself. "I hope the two of you had a nice conversation."


Thankfully, her father confirmed, "Indeed we did. He assured me that he has his eye closely on the ball and will make sure your new store in Seattle is a success."


While it had been exactly the right thing to tell her father, Brooke couldn’t deny it grated that he was so quick to give Cord both the credit and the responsibility for the success of her business expansion. They still acted as if she’d been playing at her business these past years, rather than slowly growing her happy customer base month by month.


Trying to change the subject to something lighter, she said, "I hope you’ll be able to come to our grand opening next month. Especially since we’re having an absolutely beautiful summer here. You both should try to come out for a visit."


"Perhaps we could rearrange our schedules, although we wouldn’t want to get in your way," her father said. "Is the house next door still a vacation rental?"


"Not anymore," she said, unable to keep the smile off her face. "The Sullivans bought it back just this week."


"The Sullivans have moved next door again?"


In the middle of carefully popping the lightly chilled truffles from her refrigerator out of the molds and onto the counter, Brooke didn’t catch the edge to her mother’s question. "Well, Rafe is the one who bought the house, but since his sister and one of his brothers have already come up to visit this week, I’m sure the whole family will be using it quite a bit. They’re all still very close."


"He must be married by now, surely?"


She frowned at the tone of her mother’s question. "Rafe is only in his early thirties. He’s not married. But he does own a very successful private investigation agency in Seattle."


"You sound like you know an awful lot about him after all these years, Brooke."


Though they couldn’t see her over the phone, she lifted her chin in defiance. "We’ve spent quite a bit of time together since he bought the house. In fact," she added, in direct opposition to the voices in her head telling her not to, "he’s been staying with me for the past week."


She could only imagine the coronaries they’d have if she added, in my bed. Her parents likely thought—or hoped, anyway—that she was still a virgin.


"Don’t you have the common sense to know it isn’t safe to let a man you barely know spend the night in your home? Haven’t you learned anything at all since you snuck out of the house at sixteen, drank too much, and got into that car with a boy who’d also been drinking?"


"I made one mistake ten years ago. One! But you keep bringing it up as if I’ve repeated it over and over every day since then." Hurt radiated from every word she spoke. "Why can’t you trust me, and believe that I know what I’m doing, just once?"


"Why can’t you be smart enough to say no when one of those wild Sullivans tells you he wants to spend the night in your home?"


"Because he’s my friend." But she knew it would be dishonest to leave it at that. Her chin lifted yet another inch as she told them, "And more." Rafe Sullivan was the man she was falling head-over-heels in love with. She didn’t want to hold it in anymore. "So much more."


"Oh no," her mother said in obvious horror. "This was always what we were so worried would happen. We begged your grandparents to put some distance between you and that family and were so thankful when they had to sell the house. But now, after all these years, exactly what we feared has happened."


Brooke’s hands fisted in chocolate as she stared at her phone. "How could you?" Her question was little louder than a hiss of pain. "They were like family, and you wanted to take them away from me? You were actually glad when they lost their house?"


But it was as if she hadn’t spoken as her father said, "Even as teenagers, those Sullivan boys were dangerous. We always knew one of them would take advantage of the easy pickings next door."


Easy pickings?


My God, was that what her parents really thought she was? Just some naïve girl who couldn’t think for herself? Who didn’t have the strength of will—or enough common sense—to turn away a man she didn’t want? Whom she didn’t care for with every beat of her heart, and every last part of her soul?


But she already knew the answer to that, didn’t she?


It was what her parents had always thought—that she was too fragile, too innocent, too foolish to know how to keep herself safe from harm. Only, now they’d pushed her too far.


It was one thing for them to think she wasn’t capable of making good decisions. But to say that Rafe had pulled the wool over her eyes like he was a dirty old man on the corner in a trench coat drawing her in with promises of candy?


That was what finally made her see—and speak—bright red.


"I’m the one who propositioned him." She barreled on despite her parents’ shocked gasps. "He was trying to keep his distance, but I wouldn’t let him. And being with him was the best decision I’ve ever made. Rafe Sullivan is the most wonderful man I’ve ever known. Better than any of the men you thought were so great, so safe. None of them cared about me the way he does."


Maybe he hadn’t actually said he loved her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t see how much he cared about her in every look he gave her, and feel it in every kiss, every time he was moving inside of her and making her soul take flight.


She heard Rafe’s boots on her front porch and purposely said the one thing she knew would send her parents into even more of a tizzy. "Speak of the devil," she said with particular emphasis on the word devil, "he’s just coming up the stairs now. I’ve got to go."


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