Authors: Carly Michaels
“You and Reese were close?”
I smiled, thinking of all the little things I wouldn’t have done without her—like go to my junior prom. Because Jordan wasn’t into that shit, as he put it. I wouldn’t have gotten into kickboxing, because I’d been intimidated by the studio, where everyone seemed like a pro. But Reese took the beginner’s class with me, and we both got our white belts at the same time. She didn’t take it any further, but her encouragement had changed the course of my life.
“I’ve missed her.” I didn’t even realize how much until Coop told me she was back in town and that he’d seen her.
“So call her. Pay her a visit. Just ‘cause she and your brother aren’t together anymore doesn’t mean you guys can’t be friends, right?”
I knew Cooper wouldn’t mind if I resumed my friendship with his ex. He’d never been that petty. Even after she left town and he was reeling, he told me I had no reason to hate her. If I should be mad at anyone because of their breakup, it was him, he’d claimed.
“You really think I should?” I asked, wondering if her parents still lived in the same century home on the tree-lined street that always made me long for a real home like they had.
“Sure. Why not?”
“I don’t have her number anymore. Coop said she’s been married and divorced, so I’m not sure if she goes by her married or maiden name. I’m not even sure what she does for a living.”
“Do you know where she’s staying?”
“With her parents.”
“So look them up.”
He made it sound so simple, but how would Reese feel if I showed up on her doorstep after so many years of silence? We were strangers now. And maybe she wouldn’t want anything to do with Coop’s family. Too many bad memories?
“I don’t know,” I said, swirling the ice cubes around my iced coffee with the straw.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen? She tells you it was nice to see you, but she’s trying to move on with her life and doesn’t need any reminders from her past? Would that be so terrible?”
“I guess not.” The Reese I knew had been sweet and kind and wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings if she could help it. So unless she was a completely different person, she’d find a way to let me down easy. “Okay, maybe I’ll pass by and see if she’s home this afternoon.”
“Good for you,” York said, smiling. “Then will you come by my place? I know you don’t have to work at the club tonight, so you could bring an overnight bag. I’ll grill some steaks and even let you pick some sappy girly movie, if you want?”
I laughed and shoved his shoulder, which was like ramming my hand into a brick wall. “I don’t watch girly movies, smartass. Give me an action flick where they blow shit up any day.”
“Okay, is it too soon to tell you I’m in love with you?” York asked, half-laughing.
Our eyes met, and I think he realized he’d caught me off guard. I knew he was only joking. Or at least I thought he was. He couldn’t possibly love me so soon. Could he?
“I, uh, just meant that you and I are perfect for each other,” he said, reaching for my hands as though he was afraid I might bolt. “I was just telling my old man that earlier today, that I’ve never met someone so right for me.”
I couldn’t deny York and I seemed to have a lot in common. My brothers liked him, and even though I claimed other people’s opinions didn’t matter to me, theirs did.
“I just don’t want to rush into anything,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t be offended. “I love hanging out with you, but I went from being dead-set against relationships to being in one. And it seemed to happen before I even realized I’d changed my mind about wanting it to happen.”
I didn’t know if I was making any sense, but his indulgent smile told me he got me. That was the thing about York. I didn’t have to tell him what I was thinking or feeling. He just seemed to know. And that was scary and comforting at the same time.
“I get that,” he said, bringing my hand to his lips. “No pressure. Really. I can take this as slow as you want to, as long as I’m confident we’re moving in the right direction.”
Before I could respond, his cell phone, which was sitting on the table, buzzed. A picture of a stunning redhead with bright green eyes flashed across the screen. He quickly hit the ignore button but couldn’t ignore the question lingering in my eyes as easily.
Who the hell was that?
He chuckled as he sat back, releasing my hand. “Okay, that was awkward.”
“Was it?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “It’ll only be awkward if you don’t tell me who she is.”
He rubbed his forehead, though nothing could erase the worry lines that call had etched there. “She’s, uh, the girl I was with the night I called you by mistake.”
I thought of the things he’d said to me when he thought I was her, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the things he’d done to her that night. Jealousy was foreign to me. I usually didn’t give a shit what the guys I dated did, or who they did, for that matter. But this was different. York was different.
“You’re still seeing her?” I asked, trying to keep the bite out of my voice so he wouldn’t know how jealous I was of a woman I’d never met.
“No, of course not,” he said, looking affronted. “Jesus, Lace, how can you even ask me that? She was a hook-up, nothing more.”
“And she called you because she wanted to hook up again?” Why else would she have called?
“I don’t know why the hell she called,” he said, shrugging. “What difference does it make?”
It made a huge difference to me, but I couldn’t tell him that without seeming insecure and pathetic. I was always lecturing Rachel about playing it off like she didn’t care, yet I was having a hard time taking my own advice when I really did care about the guy in question. I suddenly had a better understanding of how she’d gotten herself tied up in knots over Ash. Feelings were a tricky bitch to control.
“Did she leave you a message?” When the screen indicated she had, I asked, “Aren’t you going to check it?”
He slid the phone across the table. “Why don’t you check it, since you seem so concerned about it?”
He was testing me, but I wasn’t sure if he was trying to decide whether I trusted him or whether I cared enough to be jealous, which made deciding how to respond difficult.
“That would be an invasion of your privacy,” I said, trying to sound reasonable, though I was sorely tempted to grab the damn phone and find out what the green-eyed monster wanted with
“Only if you did it behind my back,” he said, his eyes darting from me to the phone. “You’re doing it in front of my face. Because I told you to.” He pushed the phone closer. “I have no secrets from you. Go ahead, find out what she wants.”
I debated with myself for a full three seconds before I picked up the phone and read the voice mail message she’d left. I could almost hear her sultry voice as I read, “Hey, York. It’s Sheryl. I had an amazing time the other night. I was hoping you’d be free again tonight? Call me when you get a chance.”
York raised an eyebrow as I slid the phone back to him. “Now you know. Feel better?”
“No.” I bit back an angry retort, reminding myself I had no reason to be pissed off. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Nor had she. As far as Sheryl was concerned, York was a free agent, and maybe in his mind, he still was.
He smiled as he reached for his phone and typed a quick text. I was dying to ask whether he’d responded to her invite, but I had too much pride to ask. Thankfully I didn’t have to, because when it became obvious I’d taken a vow of silence, he sighed and flashed me the phone.
His text read,
Thanks for the invite but I have a girlfriend now.
“You do, huh?” I asked, feeling as though I could finally breathe.
“Don’t I?” he asked, looking only mildly concerned.
“Yeah, I guess you do.” I rolled my shoulders back. Even though I didn’t have a class today, I should pass by the studio to work off some of this tension. “I just hope I don’t scare you off with all this crazy.”
He laughed. “I wouldn’t worry about that. In case you’ve forgotten, I can get a little crazy too.”
I smiled as I remembered his reaction in the park. “Yeah, I guess you can.”
“So why don’t I drop you at your building so you can pick up the car?” he asked, tossing a few bills on the table before reaching for my hand to pull me to my feet. His hands circled my waist, his lips meeting mine. “Go see your friend Reese. But don’t forget to pack an overnight bag while you’re at home. I want that sweet ass in my bed tonight.”
Any other guy, and I would have objected to being told what to do instead of asked, but I was quickly learning that fighting my feelings for York was a waste of time and energy. I was going to try going with it instead and seeing where that led me. Hopefully it wouldn’t lead to the one thing I’d been trying to avoid—trouble.
I was nervous as hell when I showed up on Reese’s parents’ doorstep later that afternoon, but when I saw her beautiful face light up at the sight of me, all of my reservations melted away.
“Oh my God,” she said, throwing her arms around me. “I can’t believe it’s really you.”
“How’ve you been?” I asked, hugging her back with equal enthusiasm. I prided myself on not being a girly-girl, but seeing Reese again made me want to jump up and down and squeal a little. Okay, a lot. I picked up a strand of her long, silky hair. It was still natural brown with gold highlights and a wave most women relied on irons to perfect. “You’re even more gorgeous than I remember.”
“Same goes,” she said, her eyes filling with tears as she gripped my hands. “Look at you. All grown up. God, you were what, sixteen when I left? I can’t believe I even recognized you.” She laughed, stepping back so I could enter. “Get in here. I want to hear all about what you’ve been up to.”
“Are your parents home?” It suddenly occurred to me I should have picked up some pastries from the café as a peace offering for barging in with no warning.
“They’re playing golf,” Reese said, waving dismissively. “They won’t be back for hours.”
As she led me through the main floor, passing the parlor and formal dining room before we arrived at the kitchen, I realized the house had been renovated in recent years. But they’d maintained all of the character and charm, making it feel as welcoming as I remembered.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” she asked, gesturing to a stainless steel machine sitting on the counter that looked as if it could do everything except wash dishes. “It also makes iced coffee, iced tea, hot chocolate, tea—”
“A water would be great, thanks. I just came from the café.” Wanting to get a feel for how she was feeling about my brother these days, I added, “I was there with Coop and my…” I was still getting used to the idea of calling York my boyfriend, but at Reese’s questioning look, I blurted, “Boyfriend. I was there with Coop and my boyfriend.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Reese said, looking slightly perplexed by my hesitation.
I watched her pull two bottles of water from the fridge before she piled some homemade cookies on a plate. One thing I remembered about her parents’ house was there was always a well-stocked cookie jar because her mother loved to bake.
“Thanks,” I said, when she passed me the water. “So, um, Coop told me he ran into you at the store. Was that weird?” I was dying to know everything: why she and my brother broke up, what she’d been doing since I last saw her, what she did for a living, why her marriage ended, but most importantly, whether she still had feelings for my brother.
“I don’t know if I’d call it weird exactly,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I knew there was a good chance I’d run into him now that I’m back. I guess I just expected a little more time to prepare for it.”
I knew how I’d react if I ran into my ex in the grocery store—I’d drop him like a sack of potatoes, then run like hell. But Cooper wasn’t a beast who’d tried to take Reese’s life.
“So how was it?” I asked, wondering if I was pushing too hard.
“It was nice,” she said, closing her eyes briefly. “He’s not the boy I left, that’s for sure. He’s all man now.”
Cooper was big and burly with tats and piercings. Most would say he was scary looking, but that was just part of his professional persona.
“Do you ever think about him?” I asked, reaching for a cookie and hoping I wasn’t coming off as nosy.
“Of course I’ve thought about him.” She took a sip of water. “How could I not? He was a big part of my life for a long time. And since he’s remained close with my family, I’ve heard about him over the years.”
“He told me you got married.” I wanted to hear all about the man who could have made her forget about what she’d had with my brother, but I wasn’t sure I had the right to ask.
“And divorced,” she confirmed with a rueful shake of her head. “That’s why I’ve come back here. To start over.”
“I’m sorry.” When she looked at me, I said, “Not that you’re back. I’m thrilled about that. I’m just sorry about the divorce.”
“Thanks.” She covered my hand with hers. “It wasn’t easy, but it was time for both of us to move on before we ended up resenting each other.”
“So what do you do now?” I asked, feeling I’d poked around in her love life enough for one day.
“I’m a therapist,” she said with a smile. “Marriage and family counseling. Which I guess is kind of ironic, since I couldn’t make my own marriage work.”
“You’re doing what you always wanted to do.” I was proud of her even though I’d had nothing to do with her accomplishment.
“I am.” She smiled. “I love my work. It’s really the only thing that’s gotten me through these past couple of years.”
I wanted to ask what that meant, but I assumed she would open up when she was ready. This visit was about reconnecting with an old friend, not interrogating her or making her question my motive for visiting. “Are you starting your own practice here?”
“Actually I’ll be joining an existing practice. There’s only one other therapist, and he plans to retire in the next couple of years. If all goes well, I can take over for him.”
“That’s great.” I looked around the cozy kitchen, smiling at the positive sayings posted on the stainless steel refrigerator.
Life is Good
Count Your Blessings
. Reese’s mother had always been a glass half-full kind of person. While our mother had always been glass empty… because she drank everything in it. “It must be nice to be back home.”