Made for You (The Best Mistake), page 2
“Charming” was something the younger Dalton sister had in large doses. If Brynn was the smooth and reliable one, Sophie was the fun, alluring sister. Even Sophie’s hair was more fun. Despite the fact that their long blonde hair was almost identical in color and texture, Sophie’s was always styled in a mess of wild yellow curls. Brynn’s own long hair was kept perfectly straight. A style that suited Brynn perfectly even if it did feel a bit…boring.
“Not boring. Respectable,” Brynn reminded herself under her breath. Although she’d learned early on that there were a lot worse things to be called than boring.
“Yeah, yeah,” Sophie said as she dragged Brynn toward the bathroom door. “You’re respectable, and you’re beautiful, rich, and successful. Everyone adores you. Blah, blah. The only person who RSVP-ed ‘no’ to your party was Aunt Philly, and that’s just as well because now we don’t have to hear about her hemorrhoids. But—”
“There’s a but?” Brynn interrupted.
Sophie paused at the door and spun back around. “You have to promise me to loosen up. Forget that damn list for once. Drink too much champagne and have drunk sex with James back at his place.”
Brynn carefully kept her face blank. She and James hadn’t been having much of any sex lately, but there were some things even one’s sister didn’t need to know.
“Fine,” Brynn said reluctantly, “but if Mom starts on one of her rampages about how I’m not getting any younger…”
“I’ll handle Mom,” Sophie said as she shoved Brynn through the door. “You just get yourself some bubbly booze, and embrace another fabulous year in the life of Seattle’s most gorgeous orthodontist.”
“Yeah, because the competition is pretty stiff in that category,” Brynn said as she plucked a glass of champagne from a passing tray.
“There you are,” said a familiar male voice from behind Sophie and Brynn. “Everyone’s been wondering what happened to you two.”
“Ladies’ room,” Sophie said, sliding an arm around her new husband’s waist.
Gray Wyatt raised an eyebrow. “The entire time?”
Sophie raised an eyebrow right back. “Do you really want details?”
Gray grunted and fell silent. Silence was something Grayson Wyatt did a lot of. Brynn should know. She’d dated the man for about five seconds of tepid boredom before he and Sophie had spontaneously combusted. Not that anyone ever remembered Brynn and Gray’s romantic history. Probably because it hadn’t been the least bit romantic.
“Thanks for the party, Gray,” Brynn said. “I know you’re friends with the owner of the restaurant.”
Gray gave a polite nod. “The planning was all Sophie. If it was up to me, I would have planned something more…”
“Dull? Bland? Introverted?” Sophie supplied.
Gray’s amused gray eyes met Brynn’s over Sophie’s head. “I was going to say ‘mellow.’”
Sophie sniffed. “Yawn. People like you and Brynn have plenty of mellow in your life.”
“Has anyone seen James?” Brynn asked, scanning the room for her boyfriend. He could hold his own in social situations, but she felt bad leaving him alone this long. Especially since he’d probably helped coordinate this whole disaster with Sophie. She should at least say “thank you.”
“He was talking with your dad,” Gray volunteered, taking a sip of his whiskey.
“The usual medical mumbo jumbo?”
“Yep. Didn’t understand a word of it,” Gray confirmed.
“Great,” Brynn muttered. She was glad her father and boyfriend got along. She just wished they were able to connect on something other than ER policy and the latest heart-valve technology.
“Seriously, I don’t know what you two talk about,” Sophie said as she eyed a tray of passing spring rolls with a critical eye. “James is nice, but the man’s like a machine. He’s practically been a part of the family for the past year, but I still can’t get more than small talk and lengthy lectures out of him.”
“You thought Gray was a machine when you first met him,” Brynn countered.
Sophie cuddled up to her husband’s side with a coy grin, and Brynn stifled the sting of jealousy at the easy connection between her sister and her husband. “Well, I may have made a mistake about that,” Sophie said softly.
“A mistake? You?” Gray said blandly.
“Just the one. Unlike you and Brynn, who have so much red tape running every which way that you couldn’t possibly make a mistake. You’re both overdue. Mistakes build character…”
But Brynn couldn’t hear her sister over the rushing in her ears.
Look away. Look away now from The Enemy.
But she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the tall man with dark blond hair who was ogling a redhead in a killer black dress. His dark jeans and white shirt should have been too casual for the occasion. But nobody would notice that he was underdressed. They’d be too busy basking in his wide smiles and hot gazes.
He was back.
Why was he back?
“Brynn, are you listening?” Sophie asked. “I was just explaining how maybe if you would slip up every now and then you wouldn’t have to hide in the bathroom on your birthday.”
Sophie couldn’t have been more wrong about Brynn not making mistakes.
Because not so long ago, she’d made the most elementary of all mistakes.
And he was staring right at her.
Be polite, even to those who
don’t deserve it.
—Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an
Exemplary Life, #19
Will knew exactly the moment she’d seen him. He felt it like a shock to the balls, and he wanted a shot of whiskey. Now.
It had taken a full fifty-seven minutes since he’d walked into the room until her ice-blue eyes had locked on him, and that was including the ridiculous amount of time she’d spent in the bathroom.
She made him wait another twenty minutes before seeking him out.
But what was seventy-seven minutes when you’d already waited a lifetime?
Will watched her approach, her expression schooled into one of polite indifference. She stopped several inches in front of him, and only the slight narrowing of her gray-blue eyes gave any indication that she wanted him dead. Which, of course, she did.
“Brynn,” he said, matching her prim tone.
He felt a little jolt of disappointment at her vapid smile. It was the same courteous, reveal-nothing expression she’d given everyone else in the room. He’d been kind of hoping for that special brand of bitchy that she’d always reserved just for him.
“You’re looking a little wider around the hips,” he said with an insulting glance up and down. She wasn’t, but the thought that she’d gained an ounce would keep her up at night.
Her smile slipped for a second, and for a moment he wondered if he’d struck a nerve. Normally he wouldn’t dare touch the subject of a women’s weight. He wasn’t a total ass. But Brynn had had the same perfectly slim figure as long as he’d known her—she wouldn’t tolerate anything else. Her physical appearance was flawless.
Her personality, however…
“And you’re looking…man-whorish,” she said with the usual venom.
Ah. There was the old Brynn. He nearly smiled. “So. Nice party,” he said blandly.
“Yes, it was sweet of Sophie to put it together.”
“Mm-hmm,” he said, taking a sip of his red wine. “And exactly how intense was the urge to strangle her when you learned that she’d planned a surprise party instead of the usual dull birthday dinner with your family?”
This time the smile faded altogether. “Don’t. Don’t do that thing.”
“That thing where you make it a point of thinking you know me better than anyone else.”
Don’t I? He stifled the thought. For now.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she hissed.
“Sophie invited me.”
“To my birthday party? Sophie knows full well that we can’t stand each other.”
He ignored this. “Has anyone told you that your shoes are boring? They’re the same color as your skin,” he said.
“That’s kind of the point. It’s a look. A classic look.”
Uh-huh. In Brynn’s world, “classic” was simply a synonym for “risk-free.”
Will pulled a champagne flute off a tray and handed it to her. “You need a drink.”
“I’ve had plenty to drink,” she snapped.
“Right, because you wouldn’t want to get a little tipsy on your birthday. Are you really only thirty-one? Between the sagging and the wrinkles…”
She made a small rattling noise before snatching at the glass he held out. He watched as her eyes scanned the room, probably to ensure they hadn’t caused a scene. She took a tiny sip of champagne and tucked a strand of honey-blonde hair behind her ears. Like the perfume, her hair hadn’t changed in years. It was still in the same long, stick-straight style she’d worn in high school.
When he was seventeen, he used to fantasize about how the ends of that perfect blonde hair would look against her bare exposed breasts.
When he was thirty, he’d had a chance to confirm it. Beautiful. His fingers itched at the memory, and he pushed the thought aside.
He was now thirty-three. And Brynn wouldn’t be wanting him anywhere near her bra straps.
“You didn’t answer my question about what you’re doing here,” she said, her thin body looking increasingly tense beneath her boring gray suit.
“That’s because you didn’t ask nicely.”
Her nostrils fluttered briefly. “You’ve been gone for three years. You haven’t so much as called my family on Christmas. You completely abandoned my parents without a good-bye and you never even come to visit Sophie, who’s supposedly your best friend—”
“I’ve visited,” he interrupted. “Not often, but I’ve been back to Seattle a couple times each year.”
She blinked in surprise. “Do my parents know? God, Will, you were like a son to them.”
Will leaned forward slightly. “Last time I was in town I stayed in your parents’ guest room. The time before that, I slept on Sophie and Gray’s couch. So you see, Princess…the only Dalton I was ignoring was you.”
Will watched her reaction carefully.
But there was none.
Her expression hadn’t changed a bit, and he felt a surge of frustration. The Brynn he’d known had been rigid but always willing to rise to the bait and show fire.
This version of Brynn wasn’t just the illusion of ice—she was ice. He’d clearly made a mistake in staying away too long, and everyone else in her life had let her get too comfortable in her structured little routine, with all of her stupid rules and lists.
An older couple approached to wish her happy birthday, and Will watched as she smoothly thanked them for coming and asked about their children by name, which he was sure were filed away in some elaborate contact list somewhere.
She didn’t introduce him to the couple, which suited him just fine. He was sure he wouldn’t like whatever title he’d be given.
“How long until you slink back to Boston?” she asked him when they were alone again.
“Could you be more specific?” she snapped.
“You know, Princess, whatever ailment had you in the bathroom for an hour has really messed with your mood.”
“I wasn’t in there for an hour,” she snarled as she took another gulp of her champagne. Despite her claims of not wanting it, her glass was nearly empty. He was pushing her limits, exactly as planned.
It was time to get what he’d come for. “So who’s the sallow-looking fellow you were dragging around like a whipped dog?”
Her eyes closed briefly. “Go away, Will.”
He ignored this. “New boyfriend?”
“Not new. James and I have been dating for two years.”
Will already knew that, of course. Sophie kept him updated. But he wanted to see if there was any change in Brynn when she talked about her guy. Not so much as a flicker.
As if on cue, Brynn’s mannequin of a boyfriend appeared at her side. “There you are, sweetheart. I figured you’d be making the rounds with the guests.”
I’m not a guest, jackass. I know her better than you do.
Brynn set her hand on James’s arm and Will was careful not to let his eyes linger on the touch. Careful not to punch the guy’s bland features.
Brynn beamed up at her boyfriend. “James, this is Will Thatcher. He’s an old friend of the family.”
“Oh, sure,” James said, with a nod of his boring, all-American head. “You’re Sophie’s friend, right? The one who moved to Boston?”
“So what brings you into town?” James asked. “Business? Pleasure?”
Pleasure. Definitely pleasure, Will thought, not letting himself glance at Brynn.
“Will doesn’t do business,” Brynn said casually. “He’s unemployed.”
Self-employed, he mentally corrected. But he didn’t say it out loud. Didn’t want to ruin the slacker playboy image she had of him just yet.
“Just reacquainting myself with my old stomping grounds,” Will replied. “Wrapping up a few loose ends that I left hanging when I moved.”
This time, he did glance at Brynn, but she didn’t meet his eyes.
“That’s right, you moved rather suddenly, right?” James asked politely.
Brynn let out a brittle laugh. “Slunk out in the middle of the night is more like it.”
James frowned at her tone. No doubt he wasn’t used to seeing his perfect girlfriend be anything less than pleasant. Will would have warned the guy what he was getting into, except Will had no intention of letting James maintain his status in Brynn’s life for much longer. The very thought of it made his knuckles itch.
“Yeah, my departure was sort of a whim. Seattle just seemed so…vapid back then,” Will said, taking a slow sip of wine and making it clear that it wasn’t the city that was vapid, so much as the woman standing in front of him.
“Mmm, yes,” Brynn mused. “It must have been disheartening to realize you’d slept with the entire female population in the area. Don’t worry, there’s a whole new set of girls who have come of age since you left.”
“Gotta keep it legal,” Will said with a grin.
“Disgusting,” she muttered.
“Well, it was nice finally meeting you, Will,” James said, breaking the awkward silence.
“Likewise,” Will lied.
James slid an arm around Brynn’s narrow waist. “Brynn, sweetheart, if you’re done here, could you come with me for a second? There’s something I’ve been waiting to do, and I want your full attention.”
“Oh, I’m definitely done here,” Brynn said. “William, it was so nice seeing you again. I’m sure our paths won’t cross before you go back, so have a safe flight back to Boston.”
Yeah, about that…
But it wasn’t time to drop his little bomb just yet, so Will merely lifted a finger in response, and watched as James led Brynn away. Setting his wineglass on an empty table, he headed for the coat check. He’d done what he’d come to do. Stage one complete.
Excited murmuring caught his attention as he slipped on his leather jacket, and he turned back to see what the excitement was about. God knew it wouldn’t be Brynn. “Excitement” wasn’t in her vocabulary.
He was wrong.
Everybody’s attention was on Brynn.
The crowd shifted slightly and Will froze as he took in the full picture.
In her hand was a tiny j
A ring-sized jewelry box.
Will’s gut twisted and it suddenly felt hard to breathe. It’s your damn fault. You stayed away too long licking your wounds.
And now he was too late.
Marriage is about the man, not the bling.
—Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an
Exemplary Life, #17
“Just tired,” Brynn said, giving James a wan smile.
He gave her a boyish smile back, reaching across the car to tuck her hair behind her ear and admire her new earrings.
“Those really do look great on you,” he said, sounding annoyingly self-satisfied.
They’re two-carat-each diamond studs. They’d look great on a burro, Brynn thought.
Not that she wasn’t appreciative. Diamond studs were right up her alley, even if the size of these were a bit ostentatious.
But for one heart-stopping moment, she’d thought she was receiving something very different.
Granted, he hadn’t been on his knee or anything, but hadn’t the guy ever seen a romantic comedy?
A small box presented to a serious girlfriend meant engagement ring.
Not big-ass earrings.
Being considerate wasn’t perhaps one of James’s strong points, but neither was he normally completely oblivious to social appropriateness. Hadn’t he considered what everyone would think when he made a big show of presenting her with a tiny box?
Hadn’t he considered what she’d think? She glanced down at her unadorned left hand before forcing herself to reach up and touch the new earrings.
She gave him the widest smile she could muster. “They’re gorgeous. Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome,” he said softly, before they settled into the companionable quiet of two people who had known each other for long enough to be comfortable with silence.
Sometimes Brynn thought they were too comfortable with the silence.
The steady click of his turn signal caught Brynn by surprise, and she sat up straighter when she realized where they were headed.