Read Just One Week Online

Authors: Alice Gaines

Tags: #Alice Gaines, #Lovestruck, #Entangled, #Romance, #romantic comedy, #comedy, #funny, #lighthearted, #brother's best friend, #best friend's sister, #football, #Sports, #sports romance, #contemporary romance, #category

Just One Week (2 page)

BOOK: Just One Week
8.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

When he’d finished with his fans, he headed back toward her. She finally started paying attention to her luggage and noticed that her suitcase had just passed, and it would have to make a full circuit back before she could retrieve it. He approached where she was standing and put his hand at the small of her back. A small, possessive gesture that set her heart to fluttering despite her best intentions. From the corner of her eye, she caught the other woman glancing away from Alex. That gave her a sense of feminine pride. Completely unearned, as Alex wasn’t hers in any sense of the word.

“Which is your bag?” he asked.

She pointed. “The blue one.”

“Right.” When the suitcase reached them, he snatched it and set it onto its wheels. “Come on. Let’s go home.”

Alex couldn’t stop looking at her, even as he drove his brother Chase’s BMW sports car down the off-ramp and onto a country road. He’d gone to SFO to pick up little Mickey Dennis, his best friend’s kid sister, and he’d ended up with this beauty, instead.

Actually, her looks shouldn’t have surprised him because she’d been well on her way to loveliness during her senior year in high school. Her amber hair had swung in a thick waterfall down her back, and her long limbs had created fantasies in his hormone-driven imagination of her twining her arms around him. Her legs, too, now that he thought about it. Those images had so frightened him—she was Kyle’s sister, for cripe’s sake!—that he’d suppressed them. Now they came roaring back, powered by eight years of denial.

She called herself Michelle these days, and she’d grown fully into womanhood while she’d been away. Although her huge brown eyes hadn’t ceased to dominate her face, keeping that resemblance to the kid who’d tagged around after him and her brother, her figure had changed from simply graceful to plush curves everywhere. And she now wore a sophisticated perfume that augmented the citrus and spice scent she came by naturally. A lethal combination.

The whole package that was Michelle Dennis set all his instincts on high alert—both the protective and the far less noble ones. His protective instincts had gotten him in a whole lot of trouble with her in the past, but he could manage those. The others—the basic I’m-male-you’re-female ones—had the present and the past driving them. In fact, they’d already started to have effects on certain parts of his anatomy. Parts that could get hugely embarrassing if he didn’t get his mind back to where it belonged. Namely, on making his parents happy for their anniversary and his father’s birthday.

“Mom and Dad are excited to have you at the house,” he said. “You’ll be more comfortable than at the B&B.”

She scowled, not for the first time since leaving the airport. Alex still had a hard time believing she’d actually come with him. Not only that, but she shared the interior of this small car. He could have brought his dad’s Land Rover, but this way, Michelle couldn’t get more than a few feet away from him. She’d taken one look at the car and then glared at him as if she’d never seen a maneuver so transparent. Let her. He was going to drive her all the way to Sonoma County and to his family’s home, and she’d stay there for the full celebration of his parents’ anniversary, which would take several days. He’d personally see that she couldn’t step off the property until they finally had a few things settled.

“Will it be so damned awful staying with us?” he said.

She gave him a dark look from the corner of her eye. “You know I love your mom and dad.”

“What about Chase?” he said.

“I’ve always gotten along with your brother.”

“Then, I must be the one who’s so damned awful.” Actually, they hadn’t even arrived at the awfulest part of the stay from her perspective. She’d find that out when they arrived. No way was he going to bring it up now.

She crossed her arms over her chest. Unfortunately, the gesture pushed her breasts up. Breasts that had developed since he’d seen her. Breasts she’d decided to drape in a sweater that looked soft enough to tempt a saint’s fingers. Lord knew, he was no saint.

What a creep he was. This was Mickey he was thinking about. Kyle would punch his lights out if he guessed at Alex’s thoughts, and he’d deserve it. Decent men didn’t think lustful thoughts about their friends’ sisters, and he’d have to find some way to stop.

“Who gave you the right to cancel my reservation?” she said.

“No one. I didn’t have the right. I did it anyway.”

“So I noticed.”

“Were you going to explain to my mom and dad why you had to go to a hotel?” he demanded. Honestly, she could be angry with him, if she wanted to hold an eight-year grudge, which she obviously did, but she owed his parents better than that.

“I would have thought of something,” she said.

“And it still would have broken their hearts.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little melodramatic?”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little insensitive?” he shot back. “They’ve missed you.”

“I kept in touch.”

“Yeah, the Christmas cards were great,” he grumbled. “You even signed them.”

“Your mother and I wrote letters. We talked on the phone,” she said. “You don’t need to know everything I say to your parents.”

“I guess not.” He sighed. “You’ll be here several days. I hope you can put up with me that long.”

She bit her lip and turned her head away, now facing the passenger side window. Who knew if she was looking out it or not? If so, was she seeing anything?

Well, hell. What had he expected? That they’d meet at the airport and she’d fall all over him with thanks for insisting she come home with him? Then in the car, they’d erase eight years of hurt and separation? To be honest, he hadn’t known what he’d expected. But he’d hoped, fool that he was. She shouldn’t have left so abruptly, and she shouldn’t have stayed away. He’d wished with all his heart she’d see that and let go of the feelings that had separated them.

But then, if she had, she wouldn’t have made a reservation at the B&B. Damn it all.

“Mom and Dad would never understand if you went to a hotel. You practically grew up with us.” Listing the reasons for that wouldn’t help the conversation. They all knew that her father was a perfect bastard to his only daughter and her mother didn’t do much to compensate for his hateful behavior. Luckily, she’d found his parents at an early age, and they’d folded her into the circle of love that surrounded their house. Stay somewhere else? Not going to happen.

“I’m an adult now,” she said. “I can take care of myself.”

“No one said you couldn’t. We all want to be together for the big celebration, and we want you with us,” he said. “Kyle’s moving in for the duration.”

“My brother’s different.”

“No shit, Sherlock.” First, there were the obvious differences, which would no doubt lose him a lot of sleep to futile fantasies for the next several days. Second, Kyle had an uncomplicated personality. Wine, sports, food, and family. If a woman had gotten under Kyle’s skin and added herself to that equation, he hadn’t shared that information with Alex. Kyle was a guy, plain and simple.

Michelle had had twists and turns to her, even as Mickey, the skinny kid with the huge eyes and brainiac intelligence. Too smart for her own good, she got herself in trouble by over-analyzing the world. And then sometimes she misread people and made truly dumb mistakes. He’d had to rescue her from more than one of them. The last one had been a doozy and had to have spurred her sudden departure.
was what they would work their way through during this visit. She wouldn’t get out of town without settling it once and for all.

Maybe he should have done something eight years ago, but she’d given off such strong signals for him to stay the hell away. Then college had swallowed up all his time, what with football, classes, and armies of tutors. Having to work twice as hard as the other students to eke out passing grades put a crimp on his social life. He hadn’t had time to go east to search her out until the pros, and by then, he’d been a celebrity, attracting the press wherever he went.

“Look, Mom and Dad never understood why you took off like that, without so much as a good-bye,” he said.

She stared through the windshield, her chin jutted out. The posture spoke volumes. She’d closed up as tight as a clam. Well, that would end before she left. He’d see to it personally.

“They were thrilled to learn you could come to their anniversary celebration,” he went on. “You’re staying with us. Period.”

“Fine. Whatever you say.” She didn’t look at him but kept her gaze straight ahead.

As the daylight began to wane, he turned onto the road where they’d both grown up. Pretty soon, they’d pass the house where she and Kyle had lived as kids. Their parents had divorced, their father relocating to another state and mother renting an apartment in San Rafael. A young family had moved in a few years ago, and the children—a boy and a girl—now played with their dog in the yard. Michelle stared at the place as they went by, and her gaze grew hard. With the BMW’s windows down, the sounds of laughter wafted into the car. Not much of that had happened when she’d been little. She and Kyle had done their laughing at his house. No wonder she didn’t get all wistful thinking about the place.

He placed his hand over hers. She stiffened for a moment but didn’t pull away. Still, her fingers felt like ice beneath his. Lifeless. She shouldn’t be like this. Not with him. They’d been so close. She’d hurt more people than his parents with her rapid departure. She’d hurt him.

When he turned onto the private road that led to his parents’ property, he had to take his hand back to downshift. She didn’t seem to notice but sat up straighter, staring out the window as they approached the house. Nothing had changed in the eight years since she’d left. Except for a new coat of paint, the old barn looked exactly the same. Rocking chairs still lined the porch that ringed the huge house. Two stories and an attic, the structure went back to the nineteenth century, complete with ornate woodwork and shutters. His mother’s roses led a path up to the front steps, and curtains fluttered at the windows. You could put the place on a postcard and label it “Home.”

When he turned off the engine, the only sounds came from the breeze and a
from one of the cows in the distance. Before he could touch her hand again, the front door of the house opened, and Kyle came charging down the path toward the driveway. Alex’s parents followed, his mother wiping her hands on her apron.

“You ready for this?” Alex asked softly.

“Do I have any choice?” She opened the BMW’s door and climbed out seconds before her brother reached her and grabbed her up in his arms. Kyle spun her around a few times and then set her on her feet and hugged her.

“Mickey,” Kyle said. “Holy Crap. Eight years.”

“You visited me in Boston numerous times,” she said. “Did you forget?”

“Not good enough. You needed to come home.” Kyle held Michelle close, glancing past her toward Alex. Over the years, Kyle had asked Alex more than once what had happened between Alex and his little sister. So far, Alex had managed to shut the questions down.

Alex’s parents stood a few feet away, giving brother and sister a chance to hang onto each other for dear life. Mom’s smile split her face, but her eyes were definitely damp, and she clutched a tissue in her fist as if she’d prepared for tears. Even his father swiped at his nose, resembling a sentimental old fool more than the titan of publishing he was.

Only Chase, his younger brother, held himself away, analyzing the scene with his usual detachment. Normally, that was annoying. But Alex might need Chase’s insights into how to fix things with Michelle, if he had the guts to confess what he’d done to her eight years ago, that was. He’d been so cruel to her, he generally avoided thinking of it himself.

Finally, Kyle released Michelle long enough to hold her at arm’s length. “Wow, little sister. You’re quite the woman now.”

“Of course she is.” Alex’s mother moved to Michelle’s side and put an arm around Michelle’s waist. “Don’t you boys start picking on her.”

“I wasn’t picking,” Kyle said. “What about you, Alex?”

Alex raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’m not saying anything.”

“Keep it that way. I just got Michelle back, up close and personal. I don’t want her turning around and leaving again.” Mom shot him a look as she pulled Michelle into her arms and rocked her.

Great. Maybe he should hand out trowels so they could shovel on the guilt in thick layers. No one had ever said anything to him about the reason Michelle had left town after graduation day and never come back. Lord knew, she’d never told him she planned to do that. But the fact was he hadn’t seen her after the incident in the cottage, no matter how much he’d tried to find her so he could fix the hurt. Everyone had noticed that things had gone sour between them. Then, two weeks later, she’d been gone. No one had to be a genius of Michelle’s caliber to put two and two together.

Dad joined Michelle and Mom in a group hug. “Don’t go away for so long again, you hear?”

“I won’t,” Michelle said.

If Alex were the praying type, he’d ask the Almighty to make that true. He sure as hell wasn’t going eight years between seeing her again. Even if he had to tag along to Boston with Kyle and surprise her.

God help him, he’d do that, although it would make the two of them an item in the eyes of the press. She sure wouldn’t appreciate that. No, better to get her to open up to him while they were here. He had to make sure they took care of this business in the coming days.

Eventually, Mom broke up the mutual embrace, swiping at her eyes with the tissue as she did. “Come on inside. I’ve made all your favorite things.”

Michelle clapped her hand over her mouth. “Not macaroni and cheese.”

“What else?” Mom said. “And pork roast with applesauce and chocolate ice cream pie for dessert.”

“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Michelle declared.

“I swear, Mickey,” Kyle said. “Nothing’s changed. It’s just like when we were kids.”

“Come on, come on. Tell us everything you’ve been up to for so long.” Dad put his arm around Michelle’s shoulders and guided her up the path toward the house. Mom and Kyle trailed behind, leaving Alex and Chase. Alex moved to the rear of the BMW, but Chase’s smug expression stopped him.

BOOK: Just One Week
8.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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