Made for you the best mi.., p.9

Made for You (The Best Mistake), page 9

 

Made for You (The Best Mistake)
 


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  He wondered if she ever thought about it.

  Will pulled into her driveway, and she gave him a puzzled look. “You could have parked in your own garage. I could have walked.”

  “It’s raining,” he said, not looking at her. And if I let you anywhere near my house right now, I won’t let you go.

  “Don’t tell me there’s a gentleman hiding in there,” she said with a giggle, stabbing at the buckle on her seat belt and getting it on the third try.

  “If there is, I’ll never tell,” he said, reaching into the backseat for her purse.

  “Well, thanks,” she said, clutching her purse to her chest. “I um…I had a good time.”

  “You sound surprised.”

  She snorted. “Well, yeah. It’s probably the first time I didn’t want to kill you.”

  “Unlike the last time we were in a car in the rain.” Whoops. He hadn’t meant to go there.

  Her eyes clouded over. So she did remember.

  “You were mad at me,” she added softly.

  Dammit. Her voice sounded tiny and hurt.

  “Honey, we’re always mad at each other,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.

  But she wasn’t having it. “No, I mean you were really mad at me. You told me I was vapid and selfish because I was trying to boss Sophie around, and Sophie’s all you ever cared about.”

  He refused to let his expression change. “I don’t remember that.”

  “Well…I do. And then because yelling at me wasn’t bad enough, you had to punish me by kissing me.”

  He swallowed, desperate for the flippant sarcasm that normally came so easily to him. But it was nowhere to be found. Her eyes were open and wounded and a little raw. As though that evening had hurt her. As though his opinion had mattered.

  “I didn’t kiss you to punish you,” he said finally. It was more than he wanted to say, but he had to do something to vanquish the lost look in her eyes.

  “Then why?”

  Her eyes were locked on his lips and his hand was cupping her cheek before he was even aware that he’d moved.

  “You don’t know?” he asked, his voice a little gruff.

  She gave a sad smile. “I do know. I’ve always known.”

  His heart lurched and he forced himself to swallow and keep his gaze on hers. “Yeah?”

  She nodded. “You wanted what you couldn’t have. So you took it. Just like when we slept together. I was the lone holdout on your endless line of bedpost notches, and once you checked me off the list, the challenge was over. And then you left.”

  His heart felt like it tumbled into his stomach, and he didn’t know if it was in dismay or relief. His hand dropped away from her face.

  She didn’t have a freaking clue.

  He didn’t know if he was disappointed or relieved.

  He let himself shrug. “Yeah, well…if it’s any consolation, you were worth the wait.”

  He expected her to get pissed, but the wine had made her soft. “You’re not getting in my pants again with the sweet talk, Thatcher.”

  She patted him playfully on the cheek climbing out of the car and going into the house without a glance backward.

  Will waited until the door closed behind her before dropping his forehead onto the steering wheel and letting out a string of oaths.

  He’d known that the game he was playing would be difficult.

  But he hadn’t anticipated it being painful as well.

  CHAPTER TEN

  There’s no indignity in ending a

  relationship—as long as you’re

  doing the ending.

  —Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an

  Exemplary Life, #44

  Brynn had barely had time to take off her shoes after a particularly hellish day of removing braces when there was a knock at the front door.

  She took a deep breath, rolling her shoulders in an attempt to prepare herself for the confrontation. She wasn’t entirely sure she was ready to see Will again. It had been three days since their surprisingly amiable day of shopping together.

  Three days since that…moment in the car. Three days since she’d thought he was going to kiss her.

  Three days since she’d wanted him to.

  Three days to feel guilty about wanting it.

  And as though her guilt had some sort of beckoning power, it wasn’t Will on the other side of the door.

  “James!”

  “You sound surprised,” he said with a small smile. He looked every bit as exhausted as she felt; she was oddly reassured by the tension around his eyes and the strained smile. It reminded her that they were the same. Serious adults with grown-up jobs. Not playboy entrepreneurs who spent all day working on their six-packs and flirting with the recently divorced Tammy Henderson across the street.

  Not that she’d been spying or anything.

  “Well, I am a little surprised,” she admitted, standing aside to let him in. “You haven’t exactly been returning my calls.”

  Calls she’d made out of guilt. Out of need for a reminder that she should not be even close to thinking about kissing Will Thatcher.

  “Sorry,” he said, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck. “Terry has the flu, so I’ve been on call for five days straight.”

  Brynn made the appropriate sympathetic noises as she pulled a bottle of Pinot Noir off the wine rack and poured them both a glass before joining him on the couch.

  “You want to order in?” she asked. “Or I could make some carbonara? I have some of that good pancetta.”

  He shook his head slightly, taking a healthy swallow of wine. And then another. “I can’t stay long.”

  Brynn frowned in confusion. “You drove all the way over in rush hour, and you’re not sticking around for dinner? You’re the one who’s always informing me how out of the way I live.”

  He didn’t respond, just took another of those big swallows before topping off his glass. Brynn’s frown deepened. James was a total wine snob. He was a big fan of what he liked to call the three Ss. Swirling, sniffing, and sipping. There was no gulping of wine in James’s world.

  And he loved her carbonara.

  Something was wrong.

  Brynn took a small sip of wine and ordered herself not to panic. He’d said he was tired. And he was always in a bad mood after a long streak of being on call with little sleep and hurried meals. He was still in his scrubs, for God’s sake. She was worried for nothing.

  She casually swung her leg over his, letting out a small sigh of relief when he didn’t shift away or push her off.

  “Do you have tomorrow off?” she asked, watching his face closely. “I think I have a slow day. I could pass off a few appointments to Susan.”

  “Brynn, we need to talk.”

  There it was.

  She had the slight urge to throw up. Surely she wasn’t being…dumped.

  Brynn had a near-perfect record. Other than the time in tenth grade when Patrick Mulligan had reneged on his homecoming date offer in order to take the better-endowed Carrie Lowry, Brynn had always been a dumper, never a dumpee.

  But looking at the resigned, detached expression on James’s face, she had a feeling that was about to change.

  “Sure, what do you want to talk about?” she asked, hating the false bright note in her tone. One octave higher and she’d be squeaking.

  He set his hand on her knee. Squeezed. “I think we need to take a break.”

  Brynn didn’t let her smile slip. Couldn’t even if she wanted to. It was frozen on her face.

  “A break, James? I’m not sure anyone beyond junior high really knows what that means.”

  He let out a small exasperated sigh. As though she were being the difficult one. “It means I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”

  “You’re not sure,” she repeated in a flat voice.

  He rubbed a hand through his hair. Hair that suddenly seemed unbearably boring. “I care about you, Brynn. I really do. And we’re perfect together, it’s ju
st…”

  Brynn set her wineglass on the coffee table with a clink. “We are perfect together, James. We want all the same things, we like all the same people…”

  “I know,” he said, giving her a sad smile.

  “Then why?” Her voice was a whisper now.

  His lips tightened and something like guilt flashed across his face, and Brynn felt it like a knife to the gut.

  Still, she made herself ask it. “Is there someone else?”

  His fingers flexed on her knee again, but she could no longer stand his touch, and pulled her leg back so that she was sitting upright. It was better posture anyway.

  “I didn’t cheat, Brynn. I would never do that.”

  She relaxed slightly. And she believed him. James was one of those guys with an iron-rod moral code. He wouldn’t run around on her. And yet…

  “But you have feelings for someone,” she prompted. She kept her eyes locked on the tulip arrangement on her coffee table, but she felt him shift beside her.

  “More like the potential for feelings,” he said awkwardly.

  Oh, please. Now she did turn to face him. “Come on. At least give it to me straight. Who is she? Someone you work with?”

  Please don’t let it be that cliché.

  He cleared his throat. Took another sip of wine. For a second, Brynn almost felt sorry for him. She knew firsthand how hard it was to break up with someone.

  But her sympathy began to fade as she realized she’d never dumped someone because she had feelings for someone else.

  She intentionally pushed aside her recent attraction to Will. That was a result of too much wine and too few shirts on his part.

  James cleared his throat. “Well, you know Maggie?”

  Brynn’s mind went blank for a moment before her eyes bugged out. Oh, surely not. “Maggie, as in your neighbor?”

  He colored slightly. Bingo.

  The world that had been starting to tilt around Brynn now felt completely upside down. She’d only met Maggie a couple times, usually when they’d just returned from vacation and she’d come over to drop off the mail that she’d been collecting.

  Maggie was…well, frankly, she was a total mess. Brynn had a dim recollection of a tiny, fake redhead whose clothes were always just a little too big and careless, whose fingernails were always chipped and who laughed too much.

  Maggie was James’s opposite. Maggie was Brynn’s opposite.

  It was ironic, really. Brynn had been trying so hard to be structured and normal and acceptable so that James would propose.

  Apparently he hadn’t wanted perfection at all.

  “I didn’t realize you two were close,” she said stiffly.

  He started to put a hand on Brynn’s back, but stopped when she tensed and instead took another sip of wine. His sips were calmer now. As though he could relax now that he’d dropped the bomb and would be done with her.

  “It’s not like anything’s happened,” he said again. “But she’s come by a couple times recently to drop off UPS packages that she’d signed for, to let me know that maintenance came by to fix the air-conditioner…that kind of thing.”

  “And what, you’re drawn to…what? Her split ends? The gap between her teeth? Jeez, James, isn’t she an artist?”

  “She paints. Does some freelance graphic design stuff,” he said quietly. Almost guiltily.

  “Of course she does,” Brynn muttered.

  She felt like a bitch, but she couldn’t help it. She was pissed. And baffled. She ignored the fact that hurt hadn’t yet registered. That would probably come later.

  “It’s just…she’s different from me. Different from us,” James said.

  “Ya think?” she snapped.

  “I like the difference. She’s unpredictable, quirky. She doesn’t care what people think of her, doesn’t care that she’s saying the right thing, doing the right thing, being the right thing. Maggie…she makes me feel…alive.”

  But being different sucks. How could this Maggie woman stand it?

  How could James stand it?

  “And I made you feel…dead?” Brynn asked, keeping her voice calm.

  He put his hand firmly on her knee. “No. No. But, Brynn, don’t you ever get sick of us? Sick of our plans and our checklists and the way that we know every little step that’s going to be in front of us?”

  She stared at him. “Obviously, I don’t know every little step in front of me. I certainly didn’t see this coming.”

  “You didn’t? I thought for sure you’d been feeling me pulling away. I thought you’d been pulling away too.”

  She wasn’t in the mood to deal with the truth behind that statement. Sure, things hadn’t been perfect the past couple months, but that didn’t mean she’d been expecting to be discarded so he could dally with a Bohemian.

  “I thought you were getting ready to propose,” she blurted out.

  He went still. Brynn felt both foolish and relieved for having said it out loud.

  “I thought we were headed in that direction too,” he said quietly.

  She relaxed slightly. At least she hadn’t been that far off base.

  “What changed?”

  And why don’t I care more?

  He linked his fingers with hers, giving her a squeeze meant to comfort. She found herself squeezing back.

  “It’s nothing you did, Brynn. It’s us together that isn’t working. I realized I want more than a lifetime of white furniture.”

  Something sharp and nagging snuck beneath her bafflement. She distantly recalled Will’s disdain for her white furniture, and his refusal to get the leather café au lait sectional she’d suggested. The café au lait couch that was nearly identical to the one she’d helped James pick out.

  God, had Will known what she hadn’t? That nobody, not even James, wanted a woman with white furniture and piles of notebooks full of plans?

  And suddenly Brynn realized that what was really eating at her wasn’t that James was breaking up with her.

  It was that James was right.

  She was sick of herself. Sick of her life.

  Sick of the fact that her life plan was blowing up in her freaking face.

  Brynn needed a vacation.

  From herself.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  Cosmetics should be used to enhance

  one’s natural self—never to change.

  —Brynn Dalton’s Rules for an

  Exemplary Life, #8

  Are you sure you wanna do this, honey? You’re a hot blonde.”

  Brynn met the eyes of the hairdresser in the mirror. Her usual guy was out, and her regularly scheduled appointment wasn’t for another week and a half, but Brynn hadn’t wanted to wait. She was done waiting.

  The old Brynn would have been freaked out by the orange-haired hipster holding a pair of scissors behind her head. The new Brynn wanted to bring it on.

  Well, the new Brynn who’d had a glass and a half of Chardonnay for courage at lunch prior to entering the salon.

  “I’m sure,” Brynn said with a reassuring smile. “It’s just time for a change, ya know?”

  The girl gave a bored shrug. “Your hair, your life.”

  Damn straight. It’s my life. It’s time to start living it.

  Brynn had been giving herself these types of pep talks all day, every day in the week since James had walked out the door. One day to wallow. One day to be mad. One day to flip through her life list in an effort to get back on track…

  One day to stash her precious life–road map on the top shelf in her closet for retirement. Temporary retirement. She wasn’t giving up on her plan altogether. She still knew what she wanted long-term. But maybe in order to get there, she needed to let go. For the short term.

  “All right, then, if you’re sure…”

  “I am.”

  The hairdresser shrugged and went to work.

  Brynn had come prepared. After the shampoo process, she dug into a pile of trashy magazines and didn’t look up
once. Not to see the hair fall away. Not to see it darken in color. If her peripheral vision caught big chunks falling to the floor, she refused to let her brain absorb it.

  “All right, hon, take a look.”

  Brynn took a deep breath, letting her eyes finish reading an article that she wasn’t really absorbing.

  Then she looked up.

  She looked…different.

  “So what do you think?” Orange Hair asked. “I think the dark really brings out your eyes.”

  Brynn nodded, turning her head from side to side. The girl was right. Brynn had never thought much about her eyes before. They were a light, ordinary blue. But with the dark brown hair, they looked piercing and sort of dangerous.

  Or maybe she just wanted them to look dangerous.

  Either way, the look was precisely what she’d wanted. She felt a surge of satisfaction. Meow.

  “I like it,” Brynn said reverently, running a hand over the shortness. She’d expected to miss the comforting length that had been there her entire life. Instead, the choppy, shoulder-length cut felt light and freeing.

  “The grow-out’s going to be a pain,” the woman said, taking a long sip of her water. “You’ll need to come in every few weeks unless you’re okay with blonde roots.”

  But Brynn was barely listening, too busy staring at her own reflection. She had to give the girl credit, the look was exactly what she’d envisioned and hadn’t known how to convey.

  Brynn hadn’t asked for it, but the girl had added some lighter brown streaks in the otherwise chocolate-colored look, and added several layers around the face. She’d also resisted the urge to go too short, so the longest layers brushed against Brynn’s collarbone. It was edgy without being sloppy. Dark without being gothic. Modern without being trendy.

  “I wish I had a longer name so I could go with a nickname for a little while,” Brynn said to no one in particular. “You know, like go with a secret identify for a few days.”

  “How about Bee?”

  Brynn winced. So okay, maybe no on the name change.

  But there were plenty of other things she could tweak. And she planned to start…

 
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