Made for You (The Best Mistake), page 19
Lily gave her a bright smile. “I think it’s so great that you have been good friends for so long. High school, right?”
Marnie gave a nervous laugh. “Well, actually, it’s our younger daughter, Sophie, who’s always been thick as thieves with Will. But Will and Brynn were closer in age, so they’ve also been…”
Her voice trailed off as she gave an absent wave of her hand, before busying herself with passing the salad around. Apparently even Marnie’s obsession with social niceties wouldn’t extend to outright lying and pretending that Will and Brynn had ever been friends.
“So what do you do, Brynn?” Lily asked politely.
“I’m an orthodontist.”
Will pretended to suddenly fall asleep before jerking himself upright. Brynn ignored him but didn’t miss the fact that her dad was hiding a smile.
“And you?” Brynn said, stabbing a piece of cucumber and giving Lily a bland smile.
“I’m a website developer,” Lily said. “It’s actually how Will and I first met. He hired my firm a few years ago to build the Airamore microsite.”
“Airamore, that’s the virtual travel agent company you sold for an obscene amount of money, right?” Chris asked.
“That’s the one,” Will said.
Brynn’s stomach felt oddly hollow, although she didn’t know if it was from the fact that she’d wrongly assumed that Lily’s profession would be along the lines of a “dancer,” or if it was because she clearly didn’t have the faintest clue about what Will had been up to all of these years.
And apparently she was the only one.
“So an orthodontist, that’s so cool,” Lily said.
Brynn swallowed a sip of wine and gave a tight smile. Lily apparently had noticed her discomfort and was trying to draw Brynn back into the conversation. Could she be any nicer?
Tell her that being an orthodontist is thrilling. Fulfilling. That it’s everything you ever wanted.
“Being an orthodontist is actually a little bit boring,” Brynn heard herself say.
Lily gave her a sympathetic nod, but the rest of the table had fallen silent. Brynn didn’t have to look at her parents to know that they were stunned. Brynn had decided she wanted to be an orthodontist when her recently removed braces had revealed a row of perfectly straight teeth. She had been sixteen. And never once since that day had she wavered from that course as she carefully ensured she was taking all the right classes and all the right internships to lead her in that direction.
Nobody had been surprised when she’d graduated at the top of her class. Nobody had been surprised when she’d opened her own thriving practice.
They apparently were surprised to learn she didn’t like it.
But nobody was as surprised as she was.
It’s just a phase. You just haven’t gotten back into the swing of things.
Marnie opened her mouth as though to question Brynn further, but Will was faster. Only he didn’t direct any questions toward Brynn. Instead, he directed conversation to Marnie and Chris’s upcoming European cruise.
He had saved her.
Dammit. He’d known she wasn’t ready to have that talk with her parents, and he’d helped her out. She felt a spark of anger. He shouldn’t presume to rescue her from anything. He didn’t even know her.
Except, apparently, he did. Because she really, really hadn’t meant to say that she didn’t like her job. And she sure as hell hadn’t wanted to talk about it. And he’d known that.
Brynn scowled as she mechanically shoved salad into her mouth. She did the same through the main course, speaking up only to answer direct questions, and even then, she kept her answers as short as possible.
The four of them seemed to get by just fine chatting along without her, but as Marnie dished up strawberry shortcake, Brynn’s reprieve was apparently over.
“Brynn, honey, have you put any further thought into that housewarming barbecue you keep talking about? You’ve been there a few months now, and it might be a great way to meet people…”
“Meet men, you mean,” Brynn interrupted. “I know that matchmaker tone.”
Marnie gave Lily a woman-to-woman smile. “Brynn just came out of a long relationship. We want to get her back on the horse.”
“How do you know she hasn’t already started riding again?” Will asked.
Brynn made a choking noise, and Marnie’s cheeks were definitely pink with embarrassment. Brynn’s poor father looked like he would rather be waterboarded than remain at the table.
Marnie recovered quickly. “Oh, well…you know Brynny, she’s not the type to go rushing into anything. That’s why she took some time off work. To reassesses, to heal…”
Brynn heard what her mother was saying, but she only had eyes for Will. And if looks could kill…
“Well, you know what they say about hair of the dog,” Will was saying. “If it’s a guy that did the damage, maybe it was a guy that did the repairs.”
“Will, I think maybe this is a little inappropriate,” Lily said, looking chagrined on Will’s behalf. Even Fake Boobs had more sense of propriety than Will.
But it was too late. Already her mom was looking at her speculatively. “Brynn Elizabeth Dalton, have you been seeing a man these past few weeks?”
“No!” Brynn said, feeling her face go hot. “You’re believing him?”
“Well, he does live next door, sweetie, and I can see how you might want to hide from your parents for a little while if you were having a little…oh, what do they call it…”
“Yeah, what do they call it?” Will asked with false curiosity. “One could say…a fling?”
“Yes, a fling!” Marnie agreed in delight. “Because, Brynn, your father and I are quite modern, and we would completely understand if you…”
“We would understand, and we wouldn’t need any details,” Chris said with a pointed look at his wife.
Marnie winked at Brynn. She mouthed, Later.
Brynn mouthed, Never, right back.
And where the hell was Sophie? Of all the nights her sister ditched her, it was the one where her mother apparently wanted to talk sex. And Will looked like he was about five seconds away from telling her parents that they’d screwed like bunnies.
What’s the big deal? her subconscious demanded. Sophie already knew, so Gray likely did as well. What would it matter if her parents found out? They loved Will—they’d probably be thrilled.
The problem was her.
Brynn knew what she wanted. She went after what she wanted. Everyone knew that about her.
And Will had never been part of that plan.
She slowly forced herself to meet Will’s eyes, daring him to rat her out. He held her gaze with a faint mocking smile.
Once again, it fell to poor Lily to try to keep the conversation civil. “You know, Brynn, as a lone female in a male-dominated field, I know loads of guys who’d flip over you. Let me know if you want me to set you up on a date or something.”
I’ll do that. Just as soon as I start watching Star Trek and eating SPAM and painting zebra stripes on my fingernails…
Will was making a rude tsking noise. “Now, Lil, you wouldn’t know this because you just met Brynn, but she has a very exact type.”
“That’s true,” Marnie said as she began pouring coffee.
“Doctors, dentists…the occasional lawyer…” Will was saying.
“You make me sound like a total snob,” Brynn snapped.
For several seconds nobody said anything. Neither parent defended her. Nobody rushed to confirm that she wasn’t a snob.
“Got it, so I’m a total bitch, then,” she said, pushing her dessert plate away.
Her parents glanced at each other in confusion. “Brynn, nobody thinks that. And it’s true that you’ve always been picky, but…”
“Not always,” Will said under his breath.
Brynn fiddled with her spoon, her fingers itching for something with sharper edges t
“Actually, Lily,” Brynn said with a forced smile at Will’s dinner date, “I could stand to expand my social circle a little. I’d love to meet one of your friends.”
She resisted the urge to issue Will a smug smile. Two could play at this game.
But he looked completely unperturbed. As though the thought of her dating someone else didn’t bother him in the least. Just like him bringing Lily here shouldn’t bother Brynn in the least. Except it did.
In hindsight, Brynn would wish that she hadn’t gotten so lost in her own musings that she’d failed to study Will’s face closely enough to know what was about to happen. That she might have had a chance to stop it.
But her guard was down, and she didn’t see the change in expression from pain-in-the-ass to downright asshole.
“Well, best of luck getting back out there, Princess,” Will said, raising a glass to her in a mocking toast. “Tell me, how many dates will it take before the poor guy gets a peek at your tattoo?”
A wave of red washed in front of her eyes as she tried to tell herself that that had not just happened. That she hadn’t heard Will mention her tattoo out loud. In front of her parents. In front of his new girlfriend.
Her mother snorted. “Will, don’t be ridiculous.”
Brynn started to reach out a hand to him. To plead. To beg. But he wasn’t looking at her. Instead he was turned toward her mother, his face all boyish innocence as he widened his eyes dramatically.
“Oh, it’s great, Marn,” he said. “It’s this cute little saying that sort of runs a sweet line from her crotch to her butt. See, I saw it up close when we—”
Brynn didn’t remember tossing her strawberry shortcake at him, but she would remember everyone’s stunned reaction to the goopy red dessert as berries slowly dislodged from his chest and dropped into his lap.
Without taking her eyes off his shocked face, she very primly dabbed her mouth before offering him her napkin with a sweet smile, then making a calm exit from the room. She paused only long enough to grab her purse before walking out the door.
For the first time she could remember, Brynn had just willingly turned her back on her dignity.
Because she had something much stronger to fuel her.
And anger and betrayal were one potent combination.
Falling in love is no excuse for behaving irrationally.
—Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an
Exemplary Life, #14
Can I take you out again?”
Brynn looked up at the handsome man standing on her front porch and wondered why she didn’t feel more than an indifferent hum.
Evan McCain was perfect for her. Handsome, successful, conventional. A lawyer. Stable. But the first date, which was perfect on paper, had been merely pleasant. All of her usual criteria were fulfilled, but she couldn’t seem to muster any excitement about a future date.
She studied his classically attractive face, and assessed. Her parents would love him—he was the ultimate son-in-law material. Her friends would approve. He’d fit in perfectly at her cousin’s elaborate dinner parties.
Sophie would be the only one less than impressed. She’d write him off as “too perfect,” which had never made sense to Brynn. What was better than perfect? Brynn had never understood why Sophie craved unpredictability, passion, and change. It was so messy.
But for the first time in her adult life, Brynn was beginning to wonder if her sister might be on to something. Perhaps Brynn was missing out on some crucial factor by only dating men who fulfilled her carefully configured checklist of required qualities.
She thought briefly of Will, but immediately pushed him away. Talk about a man who had none of her required qualities. Well, except for the looks, of course. Will was definitely handsome, if you liked the obvious, male-model thing.
Brynn hadn’t seen him since the depraved scene on his kitchen floor a month before. He’d called a couple of times, but she hadn’t picked up. He was probably calling to gloat that he’d found her underwear, which they’d been unable to locate during the awkward morning after. Brynn wasn’t adept at spontaneous sexual encounters, and she certainly had no idea how to handle the aftermath of this particular mistake.
She was ashamed to admit that she’d even lied to her family about having work on Sunday nights in order to avoid seeing Will at dinner.
“Brynn? Have I lost you?” Evan asked with a gentle smile. “How about next weekend?”
Oh, what the hell. The guy might be as exciting as Wonder Bread, but she was sick of being single.
“Sure!” she agreed with more enthusiasm than she felt. “How about Friday?”
Evan gave a quick victorious grin, perfectly masculine without being chauvinistic. It should have been appealing. Hell, even a month ago, it would have been appealing. Damn weddings and their false promise of romance—look at where all the talk about lifelong vows had gotten her. Up against the wall of Will Thatcher’s bachelor pad.
“Kiss me?” she said suddenly to Evan. He looked slightly surprised at her forwardness, but plenty willing.
She regretted her impulsive request as soon as Evan’s head dipped toward hers. But maybe the kiss of another man would banish the demon of that man. She tried to lose herself in Evan’s kiss, she really did. But the harder she tried, the more she realized it wasn’t right.
When they finally broke away, he too seemed aware at the lack of chemistry.
“You’re sure about Friday?” he asked.
Brynn forced a smile. “Of course! I look forward to it.”
He gave her a small smile, looking a lot less interested than he had before their lackluster kiss. He made some noncommittal comment about double-checking his schedule and calling her.
Brynn had given enough polite brush-offs in her dating career to recognize when she was receiving one, but she couldn’t bring herself to care that this was probably the last she’d see of Evan the lawyer. She couldn’t blame the guy—from the way she’d kissed, he probably thought she was frigid.
She sighed and let herself inside, anticipating a hot bath, a good book, and a cup of tea.
The sight of the man sitting on her couch had her screaming like a banshee and dropping her purse. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Will held up her latest issue of Cosmopolitan without glancing up from the magazine. “Did you know,” he said, “that the average American woman has seven sexual partners in her life? Isn’t that interesting?”
Brynn took a deep breath to steady her pounding heart.
“Which notch is Evan on your bedpost?” Will asked thoughtfully. “Five? Fourteen? Thirty?”
“You were spying on me?”
He shrugged. “Open window, perfect hearing. Very awkward.”
Brynn let out a snarl. “Get out of my house. How did you even get in here?”
He sighed as though she was being an unreasonable child, and reluctantly set the magazine aside after dog-earing a page. “If you must know, your mother gave me a key. I stopped by to fix their computer and she asked if I could drop off the pie dish you left at their house.”
“My house isn’t even remotely on your way home. You mean to tell me that my mother expected you to drive all the way out here for a six-dollar pie dish?”
He merely watched her, somehow managing to look both amused and disinterested. “No. I volunteered,” he said simply.
“Why would you do that?”
“To spy on you and Romeo, of course. Who was he? Accountant? Chiropractor? Does he supply the retainers for all your snaggletoothed teens?”
Brynn gave a small, secretive smile as though the thought of Evan got her juices flowing. “He was a lawyer. Very rich. Very handsome.”
Will snorted, and followed her into the kitchen. “He sounds absolutely riveting. How was the kiss?”
“That’s some pretty thorough spying,” she said in response.
“I was going to say pissed that you’re in my home, unexpected, without asking. If you’ve come to apologize about our…episode, let’s get it over with and then you can leave.”
He frowned and stepped closer. “Why the hell would I be apologizing? I don’t apologize for fucking, Brynn. Not when the woman is as willing as you were.”
A blush crept over her face. She had been willing. More than willing.
“You’re not seeing him again,” Will said.
“That idiot who was stupid enough to leave after one kiss.”
“The Neanderthal routine doesn’t suit you, William. What can you possibly care about who I date?”
The expression that flashed over his face might have been hurt, but it was gone before she could identify it. “Did that night mean so little to you, Brynn? You’re already looking for your next conquest?”
She looked at him more closely. “Aren’t you? Wasn’t what happened between us just the latest move in the power game we play?”
And then she saw it again. It wasn’t just hurt. It was vulnerability. Had that night mattered to him? Did she matter to him?
“Never mind,” he said roughly. “I’ll be going. I didn’t mean to intrude upon your post-date euphoria.”
The moment had passed and damn if she didn’t want it back. “No, Will, wait.” She reached out a hand but stopped before she touched him. “Can’t we just…can’t you…”
“What?” he asked, watching her intently. “What do you want?”
“I…I just wanted to make sure that you hadn’t told anyone about us.”
His eyes went colder than she’d ever seen them. “No. Not a soul. You weren’t worth the bragging rights.”
That stung, but she didn’t let herself swipe back. “You should go. And I’m sick of skipping my own family’s dinners so that we can avoid each other. Maybe you could miss one once in a while?”
LAUREN LAYNE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact)Huge Deal (21 Wall Street Book 3)The Prenup: a love storyI Think I Love YouBlurred LinesCuff MeGood Girl (Love Unexpectedly #2)Just One Night: Sex, Love & Stiletto Series
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