Read One Last Call Online

Authors: Susan Behon

One Last Call (4 page)

BOOK: One Last Call
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“Don’t mind the chair. It’s ugly, but it does the trick.”

Sarah unclasped the hands that she hadn’t realized were clinging to the back of his neck.

“Can I get you somethin’ to drink? How about some root beer since you’re off the clock?”

Her mouth went dry from seeing Josh up close and brightly lit. Sarah managed a nod as she took in his faded blue T-shirt that showcased defined biceps and a broad chest. The washed-out cotton encased a stomach that was still annoyingly flat. A hint of a tattoo on his upper left arm peeked out of the short sleeve. Sarah couldn’t make out what it was. From what she could see, the design looked intricate. She wanted to push up that sleeve and explore him…no, wait, explore the tattoo. Not him. Definitely not him.

“Get enough of an eyeful, darlin’?” Josh raised his arms out to the side. “Because I can turn around if you want to see more of me.”

Her gaze snapped up to meet his, and Josh didn’t appear self-conscious in the least. If anything, he looked amused, and at her expense.

Sarah decided to brazen it out too. “You’re looking…fit, Josh.”

His lips tugged up in an indulgent half-smile. “Thanks. I try.” He gave her a slow, heated, once-over—
make that twice-over
—up, down, and then back up again. “You’re lookin’ mighty…fit there too, darlin’. Go on and wait right here while I take care of your refreshments. If you want, you can check me out as I walk away.” Josh shot her a sexy wink. “I don’t mind, at all.”

Not to be outmaneuvered, Sarah called out, “I already did. It’s not worth a second trip.”

Josh continued to amble away in his slow, steady stride. He didn’t stop as he called back, “You keep tellin’ yourself that if it makes you feel better, darlin’. I’ll still let you look.” Then the man chuckled. “I’ll be back soon with your drink so you can wet your whistle.”

Sarah couldn’t think of a good enough comeback. If she’d said, “Don’t bother, it’s already wet,” that would sound sexual, not to mention stupid. She knew she’d come up with a fabulous zinger later when she was lying in bed drifting off to sleep. Of course, it would be useless then.

* * * *

Josh took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he headed for the mini fridge near his roll-around tool chest. He was ready to do a striptease right there if he could have kept Sarah’s gorgeous green eyes focused on him.

He’d been happy that she’d been too busy checking him out to notice Josh doing the same thing, well before he’d made a show of it. From her golden-blonde hair that was beautifully mussed, to the tips of her cute, bubblegum-pink polished toes, Sarah Brandon was downright adorable.

Those watchful eyes of hers were what had gotten his attention when they were teenagers. His first day at Madison Falls High School, Josh had walked into the cafeteria, tossed his books on the table, and sprawled out in his chair. While counting the minutes to the dismissal bell, he happened to glance up and see Sarah. The cute blonde sitting a table over was openly staring at him. When their eyes met, Josh felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. He looked left and right, but no one else was at his table. He was the one she had to be looking at.

Time slowed down while his heartbeat sped up. The once-loud ticking of the clock became muted, and the only sounds Josh heard clearly were the thud of his own heart and the rasp of his quickened breaths. Getting caught in those stunning green eyes gave him a zing that went all the way down to his scuffed boots. He’d never experienced anything remotely like that before. The encounter might have lasted only a few seconds—half a minute, tops. That didn’t matter. It had been enough time to change his life forever.

Sarah appeared startled when they’d made eye contact and immediately glanced down at the textbook she had opened in front of her. Josh continued to watch her as she tucked a golden tendril of hair behind her ear and started flipping pages a little too quickly to actually be reading anything. He liked it that she’d blushed a rosy pink when he caught her looking.

Josh didn’t bother pretending to study. His focus was on the cutie speed-reading through American History. He waited to see if she was interested in him as a guy or just checking out the only new student the school had seen in a dozen years.

Over the course of his day, he’d endured the stares and whispering. Some of the girls smiled and flirted, which made some of the guys puff up and stand closer to the girls. He didn’t care about being social. Josh didn’t need friends, and he sure as hell didn’t need a girlfriend. He just wanted to get his senior year over with so he could have his own life.

That was the plan until the page flipping stopped. Those thick, sooty black lashes lifted like a curtain being raised. There went the second look he’d been waiting for, and damned if it didn’t make him suck in a breath. Her eyes were the most beautiful shade of green he’d ever seen. And if her eyes weren’t enough to nail him to his chair, her radiant smile finished up the job. He was done for. She’d owned him and didn’t even know it yet.

All these years later, and it took less than a minute of Sarah studying him with interest to give Josh hope that he might have a chance with her again. Something about the way she looked at him made him want to stand up straighter. He wanted to do better, be better, and do anything to be the kind of man who’d earned that admiring gaze. Some things never changed.

Josh shook his head and wished for the millionth time that he could kick himself in the ass for messing up the greatest thing that ever happened to him. The same old litany played on a loop in his head. He never should have left her. He should have found a way to stay. He should have explained things to her instead of cutting ties.

Would it have made a difference? Could she have been married to him now with the two point five kids and the white picket fence? He’d never thought he’d be the type of guy to want something like that. Josh had dated over the years, and no other woman had inspired any desire for something more. After a night or two, maybe as long as a few weeks, he lost interest. When it came to Sarah, he was willing to build the damned fence himself and sign up for the PTA if it meant she would be his again.

Josh grabbed a few root beers and headed back to the office. He caught Sarah fixing her ponytail, so he waited in the doorway. Condensation rolled down the sides of the cans in an icy trail that pooled on his knuckles. Josh couldn’t be bothered with that. He watched as she swooped that shiny mass of hair to the top of her head and wrapped a hair-do-ey thing around it to hold it in place.

He stood there, completely transfixed while she used the mirror in her compact to wipe under her eyes and apply a dash of lip stuff. He wondered if it was his favorite cherry flavor. When the compact got shoved back into her handbag, he cleared his throat to let Sarah know he was there.

She pressed her lips together, rubbing in her lip gloss, and met his gaze with a “so what?” expression. Josh handed her the drink and searched out the ibuprofen he normally kept in the top drawer in the metal utilitarian desk. If his dad wasn’t going to do it, Josh was going to be the one to order some new office furniture. Sure it was a garage, but the customers needed to see something less ramshackle when they were in the office. He found the pain reliever, popped the cap, and shook out a few pills.

“Here.” Josh held the medicine out to her.

Sarah stared at his proffered hand in confusion.

He nudged his open palm closer to her face. “You’re bound to be sore as hell in the mornin’. These’ll help.”

She folded her arms across her chest and went to shake her head no, but winced instead.

“Don’t be so stubborn, honey. You don’t want to be hurtin’ if you don’t have to be.”

Sarah eyed him suspiciously. “What are they?”

“Ibuprofen. What do you think they are? You want Tylenol instead? I’m sure I can hunt some down.”

“No, thank you.”

“Take the damn pills.” From the dubious look in her eyes, he figured out why she was refusing. “Holy shit! Do you really think I would roofie you or give you somethin’ dangerous?” He snatched the bottle and held it out for her to see. “Advil. Look at ’em. It says Advil right there on the damned caplets!”

He set his root beer down and ran a hand over his face. Josh knew Sarah hated him, but what kind of guy did she take him for?

A pop and a fizzing sound preceded a mumbled apology. “Sorry.” Sarah took the pills and followed them with a swig from the can. Sorry or not, that stung.

“Yeah, well, I’ll unload your car, and then I’ll get you on home.”

Josh made an effort not to stomp out. He exited the office with his shoulders back, steps careful and easygoing. When the side door fell shut behind him, he lost the facade. Josh got in the tow truck, slammed the door harder than necessary, and started the engine. The whole time he guided her car into the service bay, he tried to figure out what pissed him off more, the idea that Sarah thought so little of him or the fact that after everything, he probably deserved it.

* * * *

As if Sarah’s list of embarrassments and humiliations wasn’t long enough, her mom opening the door while Josh held her honeymoon-bride style at the threshold now topped it. Sarah told him that there was nothing dangerous to step on going up the walkway to the house. He ignored her and picked her up anyway. Lord, she was trying not to enjoy being this close to him.

Lucy beamed up at them as though seeing her long lost ex-boyfriend carrying her to the door was perfectly normal. Her mom patted her nutmeg, still suspiciously brown, bobbed hair and moved to the side of the doorway.

“Why, hello, Josh. Come on in, honey.”

Did she forget I’m here too?

“Put Sarah on the sofa over there.”

Guess not.

Sarah stared pointedly at both of them. “
Sarah
doesn’t need to be put anywhere.” She let go of Josh’s neck. He merely held her tighter so she wouldn’t fall. “Put me down. I can walk, really. Go home.”

Lucy gasped. “Sarah Elise Brandon! Mind your manners!”

Seriously? Did I really just get chastised like a little kid?
Might as well add that to the list too.

Josh whipped out a charming grin. “It’s all right, ma’am. She’s a little cranky from dingin’ her car.” It was more than a dinging. Sarah knew Josh was trying not to worry Lucy. “I’ll set her on down and help you fuss over her.”

“I don’t need any fussing!”
Well, damn.
She’d shouted that exactly like a petulant little kid. Sarah needed to be sent to her room. Now. This night had to end sometime. She took a deep, calming breath in the void-like silence she’d just created. Sarah did the best impression of an adult that she could manage at the moment. “Josh, if you’d please put me down, I’ll grab a shower and go to bed. It’s late.” As an afterthought, she added, “Thank you for helping me.”

Completely disregarding her tantrum, Josh, still smelling yummy, carried her to the sofa and set her down as if she were made of glass.

Lucy hovered and supervised. “Josh, honey, why don’t you put Sarah’s feet up so she can get more comfortable?” Her mom placed a cool palm on her forehead like she was checking for a fever.

“Mom, I’m not sick. It was only a little fender bender. I’m fine.” She glanced up at Josh’s smiling face. “And what the heck are you smiling about?”

“You’re cute when you’re mad.” He folded his arms over his chest and grinned down in amusement, which in turn, managed to aggravate Sarah more. Cute was the last thing she was feeling. Tired, pissed off, sore, and a little embarrassed? Yes. Cute? Not so much.

“Josh, go home.” Sarah peered up at Lucy, hovering over her. “Mom, let me up. I’m tired. I need to get a shower so I can go to bed.”

Lucy eyed Sarah with concern and then shot a calculating glance at Josh. “Josh, do you suppose you could take Sarah to her room?”

Josh looked more than ready to swoop in and carry her. Not again. Not tonight. It was already too much to process. She swung her feet to the floor, and Lucy backed up just in time to avoid getting bopped in the head when Sarah stood up. Pointedly, she met Josh’s gaze with a glare. “Good. Night. Josh.”

The glare didn’t faze him. “Good-night, sun—Sarah.”

Josh was lucky he’d caught himself before letting her nickname slip out. She was going to pretend he was invisible now. In a softer tone, she said, “Good-night, Mom. I really need to get some sleep. We’ll talk about everything in the morning.” Sarah kissed Lucy on the cheek and didn’t look back as she made her exit.

* * * *

Well, that went over like a lead balloon.
With Sarah in bed, Josh couldn’t dredge up any more reasons to stay. It was past two in the morning, not a prime time for visiting anyway.

“Thank you for taking care of my Sarah. I don’t know what we would have done without you.” Lucy held both hands over her heart with such gratitude, you would have thought Josh had saved Sarah’s life or something.

Josh shifted his feet. “No problem, ma’am. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I’ll let y’all get some rest.” He swiveled toward the door, but Lucy stopped him with a flutter of her hand on his forearm.

In a whisper, Lucy transformed from a kindly older lady to a fierce mama bear. “I saw it in her eyes, Josh. What did you do to Sarah?”

He took a step back in surprise. “I didn’t do anythin’ to her, ma’am. Her car was already wrecked when I found her.”

Lucy shook her head and stared up at him like he was seven kinds of stupid. “Not tonight. All those years ago, what happened? What did you do to hurt her?”

Searching for the right words, Josh lowered his gaze and took in the pattern in the oatmeal-colored Berber carpet. Sarah’s mom stared holes through his skull while she waited for him to spit it out. All he could come up with was, “I left.”

Lucy studied him with eyes the same color as Sarah’s. She was petite like her other daughter, Sophie, so she had to crane her head back a bit to get eye contact. In as deadly serious a voice as he’d ever heard, Lucy warned him, “Don’t do it again.”

“No, ma’am. I won’t.” Not in this lifetime. Not if by some miracle Sarah let him back in.

BOOK: One Last Call
2.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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