Valentine's Dates, page 1
She’s done with the dating scene. He wants a lifetime of Valentine’s Dates.
Brent had his chance to be Valentine’s date and he blew it. But loving his best friend’s little sister from afar isn’t working. When she calls him in tears Brent’s only choice is to come to her rescue. And now that he’s got her safe in his arms he’s going to make sure she stays there.
It doesn’t matter how much Vee tries to convince herself her feelings for Brent were destroyed years ago. He is still the first person she calls when she needs help. Breaking down in his arms wasn’t part of the plan. Neither was kissing him.
Forced to face their past, Brent and Vee must forgive each other – and themselves – if there’s any hope for the love still burning between them.
Without Kate and her amazing dinner conversation or her ‘hard-arse’ editor attitude I wouldn’t have written Vee and Brent’s story. I owe you a drink, Kate.
To the man who owns all my Valentine’s dates. You’ve loved me in spite of my flaws and continue to encourage me to chase my dream no matter how messy the house gets or how many times you have to cook your own meals. Together forever, Babe.
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About the Author
Brent Coleman’s gut clenched when the doorbell echoed through the house, heralding the arrival of another of Valentine’s Dates. Watching from the window, he committed the licence plate to memory as the expensive car eased down the driveway and out of sight. His fingers tightened on the frame, his knuckles turning white with the effort to rein in his jealousy. The sequence of beeps behind him indicated the front gate had been passed and the following three longer and one short beep marked the activation of the perimeter alarm.
He let go of the window frame with exaggerated care and turned to check the control panel. The property was broken up into zones, each linked in an overall system that protected the premises of the sprawling three thousand-square-metre estate. It was overkill, but it was a valuable testing ground. Being able to work out the bugs in his latest programs on the harbour-side mansion meant real-life experience and he wasn’t stuck in the office twenty-four-seven. Luckily, Wade, his business partner and best friend, more than welcomed Brent’s need to regularly tweak the security systems their company built.
Satisfied the alarm was armed, he made his way back to his office. Working and living with Wade had never been a problem, even once his best friend married and had a baby. Vee moving back in, however, made him uncomfortable. The woman had been a thorn in his side since the day she turned eighteen and made it clear any attention he gave her would be willingly received. But he couldn’t bring himself to admit he’d fallen for his best friend’s little sister. Talk about a walking cliché.
Until that one slip up, where he’d fucked everything up royally. Brent dragged a hand down his face. Taking her virginity had been bad enough, but doing it the night they’d buried her parents? Christ. He was such a fucking arsehole. If Wade ever found out, he’d kill him. Not that Brent would blame him. Some days he felt his only option was to walk away, except he had no clue where he’d go or what he’d do. Besides, the sick, twisted side of him thought he deserved the torture of watching Vee find happiness with another man. Even if none of the guys she dated – and she dated plenty – were worthy of her.
There wasn’t a man on the planet that would treat her better or love her more than him. It was a shame she’d made it clear he was the last man she’d trust with her heart now. Trying to shake off his thoughts, he headed for the kitchen and the bottle of Jameson scotch he kept in the cupboard above the stove. The bottle wasn’t cracked and he had no intention of opening it anytime in the future, but he wasn’t above using it as a reminder of why he needed to stay in control. A reminder of what he’d lost.
Taking the bottle down, he placed it on the breakfast counter and pulled out a stool. For full minutes he stared at the deceptively innocuous fluid. He couldn’t blame his lack of control completely on the scotch he’d consumed during the day and night of the Johnsons’ funeral. Honesty compelled him to acknowledge he’d been close to breaking point before that gut-wrenching day. Add in alcohol, Wade’s emotional withdrawal, and Vee’s heartbreak, and Brent couldn’t stop himself from comforting Vee the only way he knew how.
With his love.
A love he’d taken back in the cold light of morning, under the heavy weight of guilt. He’d snuck away like a thief, not realising until Vee returned to university the mistake he’d made. By then it was too late to mend the rift his actions had caused.
The agony of watching her date all these years was a just payment for all the pain he’d caused her, and, until recently, he’d taken it as his due. But at some stage, probably when she’d moved back into her family home, his tolerance level had been reached. Brent knew he had to gain control of his turbulent emotions. With control came clear thinking and clear thinking would be the key to getting the one thing in his life he’d let slip through his fingers. The one thing he was determined to have.
Taking the hand the valet offered her, Vee wasn’t surprised to see Edward had taken her to Morgan’s. It was Sydney’s top seafood restaurant and Edward would want to be seen there. What did surprise her was that he’d managed to obtain a reservation on such short notice. Normally the waiting list was months long. Unless your brother happened to be good friends with the owner and head chef – then you could get a last-minute table.
Edward was delivering a lecture to the poor young man tasked with the job of parking his precious Mercedes. Too impatient to wait, she walked the few feet to the front door where she was greeted by Jennifer, the manageress.
“Vee, it’s wonderful to see you. I took the liberty of seating you at your usual table.” Jennifer picked up two menus and glanced over Vee’s shoulder. “Your boyfriend isn’t here yet?”
“Boyfriend?” She couldn’t be talking about Edward, could she? A niggle of suspicion took root in Vee’s mind.
“Yes, he was very specific when he called this morning and made tonight’s reservation,” Jennifer explained. “He apologised you couldn’t phone yourself and speak to Morgan, but promised you’d catch up with him while you dined.”
“Oh, he did, did he?” It took everything Vee had not to make a scene. Edward deserved a dressing down for his liberties, but she wouldn’t be delivering it in public. Besides, the least the presumptuous arse could do was pay for her meal. She’d be sure to pick the most expensive item on the menu, of course. “Edward is not my boyfriend and I’m a little perturbed that you took his word for mine. Then again, he is a salesman, so I’m sure he talked a good game.”
Vee stopped Jennifer’s words with a raised hand. “Not your fault.” She leaned closer to the other woman. “But Jen, you have to know neither I nor my brother would ever throw our personal connection to Morgan around like this.”
“Yes, of course, I know that. But we haven’t seen you since Emily went into labour and, to be honest, I was looking forward to seeing you and catching up.” Jen squeezed Vee’s hand. “I don’t think Morgan was too thrilled by your choice of dinner companion though.”
A smiled curled Vee’s lips. “Mm, imagine that.” Morgan, like her brother and Brent, had never hidden his dislike of any man she dated, and she had no doubt he
The door behind her opened and Edward stepped next to her, placing a proprietary hand on her hip. The action made her pause. Was he attempting to connect them more solidly than just having a meal together? Vee was not too happy with him, but when he raised his voice so that it travelled through to the dining area she was ready to stomp on his foot with her stiletto heel.
“Valentine, darling, you didn’t wait for me.”
Vee’s jaw clenched as she moved away, breaking Edward’s grip. She wasn’t going to draw more attention their way. Instead she smiled at Jen and said, “Please lead the way to our table, Jennifer.”
It was impossible to stop Edward from placing his hand on her lower back as they followed Jen between tables so Vee held her head high and looked at the back of Jen’s head. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone. Obviously Edward had other ideas. He waved and said hello to everyone he knew. By the time they reached their table, tucked into the back corner of the restaurant, Vee had come to the conclusion that she’d been played, used for her position within Sydney’s moneyed circles.
Angrier than she’d been in a while, Vee took her seat and waited for Jennifer to leave them alone. With her friend out of earshot, Vee leaned forward and beckoned Edward closer. Once he bent over and their faces were only inches apart, she let him have it.
“Don’t ever use me like this again. I have no idea what you’re playing at, but I can tell you now, Edward, I will squash you like a bug if you ever try it again.” Satisfied, Vee sat back and picked up her menu.
“I, I…” His face flushed and a fine shine of sweat coated his forehead and upper lip. “I don’t know what you mean, Valentine.”
She eyed him closely. Edward had seemed harmless, if a bit of a social climber, but she hadn’t thought he had the brains – or the balls – to use her to elevate himself higher. He turned his gaze away and picked up his menu. To anyone watching them, he appeared an average man perusing the list of meal options, and Vee had a niggle of doubt about her suspicions.
Deciding to leave it for now, she concentrated on the menu in her hand. It didn’t take her long to make up her mind. She couldn’t deny herself the Lobster Mornay. Vee put the menu on the table edge and reached for her water glass. Glancing around, she noticed quite a few of her acquaintances and wondered what they must be thinking. The last man she’d dated seriously had been from Melbourne, so being seen out with him had been infrequent and no gossip had ever made the rounds. Before that she’d kept her dates limited to single evenings at public functions. Until this evening the only men she’d been seen with in an intimate setting in public were her brother and Brent.
She sighed. Accepting Edward’s invitation had been a monumental mistake. And she had no one to blame but herself. She’d let her anger and frustration at another man goad her into proving she didn’t need him or his approval. Another sigh left her chest as Vee resigned herself to suffering the consequences of her actions.
They remained silent until Jennifer returned to take their orders. With that out of the way, neither of them spoke and Vee realised she’d pegged Edward right. He had used her to advance his social standing. She wasn’t a fool; she knew she was one of Sydney’s most eligible single women. There were so many obstacles to her dating that avoiding it had been easy.
Of course she knew where Mr Right was; she just didn’t have the courage to catch him. Again. The last time she’d connected with Brent had nearly destroyed her and she wasn’t prepared to go another round with him. Pulled from her depressing thoughts by the appearance of Morgan, Vee smiled and stood to offer him a hug.
“You okay?” he whispered in her ear.
His concern caused her eyes to sting, but Vee refused to let this mess of a date get her down. Morgan cooked the most sublime food and she planned to enjoy it even if she couldn’t enjoy the company she ate it with. Letting go, she stepped back. “I’m good. Better now that I know I’m having your wonderful Lobster Mornay for dinner.”
“I’ll allow your praise to soothe the wound left by your lack of attention in recent months.” Morgan smiled and, reaching over, tilted her chin up so their gazes locked. “Don’t be neglecting me anymore.”
“Oh, stop it.” She brushed his hand away. “It’s been hectic lately, what with moving into Wade’s and organising the refurb of my house. And then there’s little Davie. He’s the biggest time waster on the planet.”
“Emily and Wade brought him in to meet everyone last month. I hadn’t seen him since the week he was born. He’s grown so big.”
Vee’s heart swelled with love for her nephew. “He seems to grow bigger every day. Did Wade tell you he’s trying to crawl?”
Morgan laughed. “It would be simpler to ask what your brother didn’t tell me about that boy.”
She smiled. “I know. He’s the proudest father I’ve ever seen.”
“And he’s happy. Truly happy,” Morgan added.
“That’s Emily’s doing.” Vee retook her seat. “She’s brought back the old Wade, only better.”
Morgan nodded. “Agreed. Now, I know you ordered the cheesecake for dessert, but I’ve been playing with a new recipe and I’d love for you to be the first to try it.”
“Oh, Morgan, I’d be honoured. What it is?” Vee’s taste buds watered. Morgan’s desserts were famous and getting to sample his latest creation was not only a privilege, but a thrill.
“It’s pastry-based, but that’s all I’m telling you for now.” His cheeky smile made her laugh.
“Oh, you. Fine, don’t tell me, but I expect you to join me for coffee while I eat this mysterious wonder.”
“Done.” Morgan leaned down to kiss her cheek and whispered, “If you need rescuing you know the signal.”
Vee’s heart rose to her throat. From the moment she was old enough to date Wade, Brent, and Morgan had been her watchdogs, each of them looking out for her, but not stepping over the line into overbearing. Swallowing, Vee dredged up a smile. “Thank you.”
Morgan squeezed her shoulder. “You’re welcome. I should get back to the kitchen. There’s no telling what trouble my staff will get into left alone.”
She watched Morgan walk away and wondered why she’d never felt anything but brotherly love for him. He was an amazing guy and it would have been so much easier if she were attracted to him. Instead her traitorous heart wanted Brent. Snapped from her thoughts by Edward clearing his throat, she turned to face her dinner companion.
“That was rather rude,” he grumbled.
“Yes. Not once did he look my way and you didn’t even bother to introduce me.” Edward’s thin bottom lip attempted a pout, but without any real substance he couldn’t pull it off.
Vee wanted to laugh at his childish behaviour, but doing so wouldn’t improve their evening. “You know Morgan already, so there was no reason to introduce you.” She ignored the rest of his accusation.
“Well, still, I expected better of you.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
She arched an eyebrow. “Really? After the way you used my name to get a reservation this evening?”
He had the grace to blush, but he brazened it out by saying, “I would have thought using your name to gain a table was acceptable under the circumstances.”
“Which circumstances?” Vee wasn’t about to let him off the hook. In fact, she was close to getting up and walking away.
“I couldn’t exactly take you to a lower class restaurant.”
The indignation in his voice brought her up short. Did he think she was some pampered socialite who demanded nothing but the best? “Edward, if you knew me at all you’d know I’m not a snob and would happily eat anywhere as long as the food was good.”
Their strained discussion was derailed by the arrival of their appetisers. Vee took a deep breath. Picking up her f
They ate in silence, the tension surrounding them thick enough to slice with the butter knife on her bread plate. As dates went, this evening was a stark reminder of why she’d removed herself from the dating scene. There was a good chance she would be giving Morgan the signal before the night was over.
Brent flicked through the channels once more. Nothing had changed in the last few minutes. He turned his wrist to look at his watch. He’d spoken to Morgan over half an hour ago and knew Vee’s date wasn’t going well. The knowledge didn’t bring a smile to his face like it should. Knowing Smithe hadn’t won Vee over did give him pleasure, but he ached for her having to endure a meal with a man she didn’t like. And his friend had been quite certain of Vee’s animosity towards her dinner companion.
He closed his eyes and let the quiet of his apartment engulf him. The entrance to the main house was open, so he could hear her when she came in, not that he expected her yet. He’d be ready though. They wouldn’t go another night without her hearing his apology, and this time he’d tie her to a chair and gag her to keep her still long enough to hear what he had to say. It wouldn’t guarantee Vee would be receptive to any future advances, but it would finally close the door to a past neither of them seemed able to leave behind.
A gentle breeze blew through the open windows and warm, salt-tinged air filled his nose. He loved living this close to the water, loved the smell of summer mixed with the scent of the sea. His apartment was large, three bedrooms – one set up as a home office, a large combined dining-living area, and, of course, a kitchen bigger than boasted by most suburban houses. When Wade had offered to convert this section of his house for Brent to live in, he hadn’t needed to think twice. Although, recently, Brent was beginning to wonder if perhaps he’d outstayed his welcome.
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