Made for You (The Best Mistake), page 18
“You’re absolutely right, Princess. Perhaps I should just get myself a journal and start writing a bunch of arbitrary goals that I’ll fail miserably at.”
“I am not failing at my goals.” She jabbed a finger at him. “I intentionally set them aside to get some perspective.”
“And did you?” he asked in a low voice. “Did you get perspective?”
Come on, Brynn, he silently coaxed her. Dig beneath that pretty, boring surface.
She opened her mouth before closing it quickly and staring blankly over his shoulder. His heart sank. She wasn’t going to reach for it—wasn’t going to reach for him.
“So what’s next, then? You go back to your boring routine and spend your life covering up your tattoo? Covering up the past few weeks?” Covering up who you really are?
“Why are you acting like this?” she asked irritably. “I haven’t once indicated that this was anything but a phase. I even set an end date.”
“Which isn’t for another six days.”
He’d been counting. Carefully.
She shrugged. “What difference does it make? Today or next week…it’ll end the same.”
He tilted his head back, reading between the lines. It would end with her finding some boring lawyer with a briefcase and him trying to fill the void with an endless string of women who weren’t Brynn. Who would never be Brynn.
He tried one more time, taking a small step forward. “Brynny, it’s okay to just let yourself be. Nobody’s going to criticize the real you, if you don’t criticize the real you.”
It was the wrong thing to say.
Her eyes shuttered completely, and she took a step backward. “You don’t know everything about me,” she snapped.
So tell me.
But she didn’t.
“Got it,” he said with a nod. “So if we happen to be in the yard at the same time, I’ll just wave, then? Or do I pretend you’re not there?”
She sighed. “Will…”
“How about if we’re getting the mail at the same time? Should I compliment the good condition of your front lawn? Because God knows I won’t have access to your other lawn…”
“Well, what’s it going to be, Brynn?” he asked, keeping his voice low even though his temper was straining. “You’re clearly in charge here, so I’d love to know what it says in your little planner about what happens now.”
“I thought…” She pursed her lips. “I thought we could just go back to the way we were.”
He snorted. “At each other’s throats, dripping with sexual tension?”
“It wasn’t just sexual tension. You’ve always hated me. It’s not until I let you into my pants that you’ve pretended to be nice.”
You stupid little fool.
“Right. Well, thank God I don’t have to hide my dislike anymore,” he said in a low voice.
“Thank God,” she said, her voice faint.
“And you won’t either,” he continued, pressing her. “All the disdain you’ve kept carefully at bay the past few weeks can come spilling out.”
“I’ve enjoyed the past few weeks!” she yelled.
She looked as surprised at her outburst as he felt.
“Yeah?” he asked carefully. Careful to keep his voice casual. Curious, rather than desperate.
“Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “I also really like butter pecan ice cream, doesn’t mean it’s good for me every day.”
She might as well have stabbed him.
A harsh laugh came out of his mouth. “Okay, then. Got it. This tub of Häagen-Dazs will just get himself back to his own house, yeah?”
His hand went for the handle of the front door when her voice stopped him, a quiet, tentative plea. “One last thing.”
Will froze, but didn’t turn around.
“Last night…the fire, the candles…the…intensity…What was that?”
It wasn’t easy for her to ask. He knew that. It also revealed that she recognized a tiny crack in her carefully laid plan.
But the question was too little, too late. He was done helping her find answers. Done providing them for her.
She was on her own.
“Last night is what I like to call the sexual grand finale.” He shot her a steady, cool look over his shoulder. “I’m not surprised you dug it. Most women do.”
He wasn’t the only one that could read between the lines. He saw in her narrowed blue eyes that she caught his implication. Last night was commonplace. You’re not the only one.
“Well, for what it’s worth, it needed some work,” she said in a waspish tone.
He gave a careless shrug as he opened the door. “I did the best I could with a subpar partner.”
And just like that, they were back to where they started.
Like they hadn’t gone anywhere at all.
Your parents have the right to only
know you as their little girl.
—Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an
Exemplary Life, #52
Now, tell me again why you cut your hair, honey?”
Brynn plucked a fancy olive off one of her mother’s trademark hors d’oeuvre platters and mentally patted herself on the back for dyeing her hair back to its natural blonde color before trying to survive dinner with her parents.
If her mother was having this much trouble adjusting to the choppy layers, the dark color might have made her swoon.
To say nothing of the tattoo that her mom would absolutely never see.
One step closer…
“Just wanted a little change,” Brynn said as she reached for the pile of cloth napkins and began carefully sticking them through her mother’s pewter napkin rings.
But Marnie Dalton had never been one of those mothers who was content to be blissfully ignorant of what her daughters were up to, and neither was she a live-and-let-live personality.
And right now, Brynn was wishing she and her mother had just a little less in common, because she knew her mom was seeing right through her.
Right to that tattoo, and right to the stain that Will Thatcher had left on her…well, not her heart. But somewhere.
“Just a change, huh? Just like this little hiatus from your career was a change?”
Her mom had stopped short of calling Brynn irresponsible, but Brynn heard it anyway. She knew that tone from dozens of I’m disappointed talks. Only, those lectures had never been directed at Brynn. Sophie had always been the one to drive her mother batty with her refusal to do anything “expected” for much of the past ten years. Only Sophie’s marriage to someone as classically conservative as Gray had managed to appease Marnie.
Apparently their mother had decided to channel her meddling energy elsewhere, and Brynn was really wishing she had another sibling right about now. Anyone to deflect her mom’s speculative gaze.
“Come on, Mom, haven’t you ever needed a little break from yourself?”
To Brynn’s surprise, her mom paused in slicing a tomato and appeared to put genuine thought to the question. “A break from myself? I don’t think so. I’m not sure what I would need a break from.”
Brynn hid a smile at her mom’s immodesty. “Is it hard, then? Being so perfect, I mean?”
Marnie raised an eyebrow and went back to slicing her tomato. “You’ve been hanging out with your sister, I presume. Such sass is usually Sophie’s bit.”
Actually, Brynn had always been every bit as sassy as Sophie, it had just rarely left her mouth. But Brynn wasn’t about to confess to her mother that it hadn’t been her sister who’d brought about the more caustic change in Brynn. That it had been Will who’d made Brynn feel the most like herself that she’d felt in years—maybe ever.
Trouble was, it wasn’t the self she wanted to be.
Brynn resisted the urge to go to her purse and pull out her trusty notebook. After weeks without looking at it, she’d practically slept with it every night since Will had stormed out of her house a wee
Her dad came in from the backyard, where he’d been fussing with the grill, planting an absent kiss on the side of her head before washing his hands.
“Chris, what do you think of Brynn’s hair?”
Like his wife, Chris Dalton was tall, blond, and handsome. Unlike his wife, he didn’t give a crap about his daughter’s hairstyle.
He dried his hands as he examined her hair. “Looks about the same to me. Pretty as ever.”
Brynn beamed at her father as Marnie made a scoffing noise.
“So, Brynnster, I was beginning to think you’d gone and outgrown Sunday dinners with the family,” Chris said, helping himself to Marnie’s appetizer platter.
As far as guilt trips went, Chris had a lot to learn from his wife, but that didn’t mean the comment didn’t cause a little jolt of regret at having disappeared from her parents’ life for the past few weeks with no explanation.
“Just sort of taking some time to myself, ya know?” God, I’m lame.
Her dad nodded. “Sorry to hear about James. We really liked him.”
For a second, Brynn’s mind went completely blank as though trying to place him. How strange that she’d hardly given the guy a passing thought recently. But of course her parents would assume it was a breakup with a serious boyfriend that would have her turning hermit for a few weeks. They probably imagined her sitting alone eating ice cream in her bathrobe all day.
It was a safe assumption—much better than what she’d actually been doing. She had a vivid mental picture of how warm Will’s eyes had looked by the firelight that last night together. It was quickly followed by the disgust on his face the day after when he’d walked out of her life.
Which was your idea. Let it go.
“I guess he wasn’t the one,” Brynn said lightly. She wasn’t even sure to whom she was referring anymore.
“Always thought it was a good match, though,” her dad continued. “James was stable, reliable, driven…You had all the important things in common.”
All the important things, huh? Just a month ago Brynn would have agreed. Just a month ago, her dad’s words could have come out of Brynn’s own mouth.
“Dad, did you just call me boring?”
His mouth paused in chewing a piece of some fancy deli meat and Marnie’s head shot up as they both stared at her. “Of course not,” her father said, his face the picture of confusion. “I thought I was complimenting you.”
She gave a small smile. In his mind, he probably had thought that. To the Daltons, there was no greater compliment than “reliable.” It was the reason Brynn had always gotten along so well with her parents while Sophie had ruffled feathers with every job she’d quit on a whim.
And speaking of…
Marnie let out the tiniest of sighs. “Not coming. If it’s not one daughter avoiding me, it’s the other.”
Brynn didn’t resist the eye roll. “Laying it on just a little thick, Mom.”
Still, she was a little surprised that Sophie hadn’t mentioned not coming to the Sunday dinner. They usually gave each other a heads-up before leaving the other alone with the parents.
“Did she say why?”
Marnie shrugged. “Something about not being in the mood for fireworks. I can never follow that girl.”
Brynn’s eyebrow went up. Fireworks? At a Dalton family dinner? The closest they’d ever come to that was when Sophie had completely lost her shit and accused them all of belittling her existence.
It had been a spectacular explosion.
And, sadly, completely justified.
The front door opened and Brynn felt a little jolt of relief. Apparently Sophie had changed her mind.
She got up to greet her sister and dodge any more James was the best talks, but she froze when she heard a familiar laugh. And not Sophie’s.
Her skin went hot. Then cold.
Oh. Hell. No.
“Will’s coming to dinner?” She practically choked out the question, but her parents barely noticed. The entire family had learned to turn a blind eye to Brynn and Will’s angry history. Probably because they didn’t even have a clue what that history entailed.
“Of course he’s coming,” Marnie said with a scolding look. “He’s always been part of the family. He’s been here almost every Sunday since moving back to town.”
Her mother left it there, but Brynn heard what was unsaid. Unlike you.
So Will had been going to her family’s family dinners without her. The thought was unnerving. Had he said anything about her?
But Brynn rapidly realized that her parents were the least of her worries.
Because Will wasn’t alone.
Despite what Brynn liked to think of as her exacting standards, she generally tried not to judge other women.
But this one? This one was a bimbo.
The hair was dark brown with too-light highlights, not even remotely trying to hide the fact that the color was obviously fake. The long coral fingernails…also fake. The spider eyelashes? Fake. The “designer” purse? Fake. The boobs? Definitely fake.
In other words, here was Will’s dream girl. It made sense that he was hanging out with this creature. He’d probably needed to detox from all of Brynn’s class and sophistication.
Don’t look at him. Don’t look at him.
For once, her body obeyed her brain. She didn’t look at him. Not once.
Not when he did introductions between her parents and Lily. Not when she shook Lily’s hand. Not when her mother cooed that it was so great that Will had found a nice girl.
Brynn’s eyes narrowed on her mother at that last bit. There was no way her parents approved of this artificial Barbie doll.
But they were all smiles, just like Lily.
Just what the hell was going on here?
This dinner was supposed to be her big comeback to her Real Life. Instead, she was the fifth wheel at her own family dinner, while her parents fawned over their pseudo-son and his all-wrong-for-him girlfriend?
Where did that thought come from?
Lily wasn’t wrong for Will at all.
Brynn tried to look at the other woman through different eyes, and was dismayed to realize that she could actually see Will with someone like this. Sure, she laughed just a little too loudly, and her rambling story about how she locked her keys in her car at the mall was a bit, well…mind-numbing. But there was also a sweet openness there.
Something Brynn knew she would never have.
“So how long have you two been together?” Marnie asked as she ushered everyone into the dining room.
“Oh, we went on a few dates years ago,” Lily said as she took the salad bowl out of Marnie’s hand as though she were freaking co-hostess. “Then this big jerk goes and moves across the country. But I was thrilled when he called me up this week and wanted to hang out.”
Hang out. Brynn knew what that meant. And she took it like a kick to the ovaries. Will was sleeping with this woman.
“Couldn’t forget her, huh, son?” Chris said, playing the dutiful fatherly role.
Will let out a low chuckle as his hand found the small of Lily’s waist. “Sometimes a guy realizes he needs a little sweetness in his life.”
Only years of carefully cultivated maturity stopped Brynn from gagging. She still managed not to avoid looking at Will.
It didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter that he’d brought a woman here just a week after they’d ended things. Didn’t matter that the woman gave Will secret smiles as though she owned him.
This was exactly why she’d selected Will for her little fling anyway. She’d known they could both move on without losing any skin in the game.
Although when she found herself sitting across the table from the two of them and watched Lily’s hand find Will’s leg, it didn’t quit
“So you guys have been dating for…a week, then?” Brynn heard herself saying.
“Technically, yeah. But I haven’t been able to get her out of my mind for the last month or so,” Will said.
Brynn’s spine stiffened and finally, finally she let her eyes meet Will’s.
They were the same, boring old blue they’d always been. Except there was a chill in them she’d never seen before. Not even during their biggest spats or their most determined stages of ignoring each other had he seemed so lifeless to her.
“Hmm, well, I can’t imagine what took you so long to give the pretty girl a call,” Brynn said in her most polite tone.
Her dad leaned in under the guise of filling up Will’s glass as he gave her a warning, Brynn, under his breath.
She ignored her father.
Will’s expression didn’t change as he met hers coolly. “I’ve been a little busy the past few weeks,” he said mildly.
“Will works like a dog,” Lily chimed in.
“Not true, Lil,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “I pride myself on working as little as possible. Sort of a professional slacker, ya know?”
“Oh, I do know,” Brynn chimed in, giving him her sourest smile. “Still, this month must have been a new record for you. It was what, three weeks without a new girlfriend?”
She was walking on dangerous territory, and she knew it, but she’d be damned if she’d sit here and listen to him blather on about how he’d been thinking about Lily in the time he and Brynn had been together.
“Well, actually, there was someone,” he said, letting his voice go low and almost sad.
Brynn’s eyes narrowed on him. He was calling her bluff. He wouldn’t dare.
He arched an eyebrow at her and she took a quick sip of wine, angry that she’d taken them this direction. Of course he would call her bluff. He had nothing to lose.
She had everything to lose.
Well, at least her reputation. And her dignity…
“Lily, did Will tell you that he moved in next door to Brynn?” Marnie asked when Will failed to finish his sentence. “It’s so lucky for us to have our daughter and close friend so close together. Not that either has invited us over, of course…”