Unplanned Love: A Love In Spring novel, page 18
He pulled a towel off the rack and wrapped it around his waist. “Stay here and be quiet. He won’t come into the bedroom,” he said, when he noticed her panicked expression when she couldn’t find her panties. “I’ll see what he wants and get rid of him.”
She looked up from the floor and nodded, then peered under the bed looking for her underwear.
He opened the door to find Adam with his fist in mid-air, ready to knock again. “Well, hello. It was about time you opened the damn door.”
Kean frowned. Adam wasn’t one to lose his temper quickly, maybe because raising a daughter as a single parent had taught him the meaning of patience, and he definitely wasn’t one to use curse words, also because of living with a little one.
“What’s wrong? Are Sophie and Ellie okay?” he asked, taking a step aside to let his brother in, and suddenly feeling a little worried about Adam’s unexpected visit.
He walked into the cottage and looked at Kean. “Yeah, they’re fine. Have you seen Charli?”
The blood left Kean’s face and plummeted down to his feet. Had they been busted? Charli was going to kill him. “Uh… Charli? Um… why should I know where she is?”
“Her car’s not in the driveway. Ellie tried to call her several times, but she’s not answering her phone. We’re worried something might have happened to her.”
“Maybe she just got up early and went to the marina for a morning workout.” And if his brother hadn’t interrupted them, they’d definitely be doing a workout together. He shook away the vision, afraid his brother might see where his mind had gone. “I think pregnancy hormones are making your wife worry over nothing.”
Adam smiled and got that silly-ass expression on his face, the one he got whenever Ellie was around or someone mentioned her.
“Yeah, it’s probably that. Between Ethan not showing up for their Skype chat the other day and those crazy hormones, she gets a little antsy lately.”
Phew. Disaster averted.
“I’ll let you get back to your shower.”
Kean froze and had to remind himself to play it cool. There was no way Adam knew Charli was in the other room waiting for him. “Yeah, uh… Let me know if you find her. And tell Ellie to chill. You should probably take her on a romantic weekend somewhere, with a king-sized bed, spa treatments and chocolate-covered strawberries. I bet that would help. Both of you.”
Adam laughed. “I probably should.” He turned toward the door but stopped mid-spin as his eyes settled on something beyond Kean. “Hang on. Is that Charli’s bag?”
Kean’s blood effectively iced over in his veins. “Huh? What?” Playing dumb probably wouldn’t work, but it was worth a try.
Adam moved past him toward the kitchen counter. “Yeah, that’s her bag.”
The damn woman couldn’t have a more common bag, something black and inconspicuous. No, she had to strut around town flaunting that red and zebra-printed thing that only she owned. “Uh, she, um… She probably forgot it when she, uh… She stopped by yesterday.” Beads of perspiration formed on his brow. Damn, he’d always been a lousy liar. “But she left. Of course. I don’t know where she went, though.”
He was nearly thirty-two, for heaven’s sake—he shouldn’t be scared of his younger brother finding out he’d been sleeping with a woman. He should actually kick Adam out of the house and go back to that shower his brother had interrupted. He hoped Charli was still waiting for him.
Adam whirled around, his fists on his hips. “Please don’t tell me she’s here.” The glowering coupled with his harsh tone told Kean playing dumb wouldn’t be a good idea now. When he didn’t immediately reply, mainly because he was thinking of a way to explain the situation without his brother freaking out, Adam rolled his eyes and let out a grunt. “Damn, Kean. You’re going to put me in an awkward position now. You’re my brother, but she’s Ellie’s best friend, and if I have to take sides, I’ll have to take my wife’s.”
“Whoa, wait a minute. Take sides? What are you talking about?”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Seriously? You haven’t had a girlfriend since you came home from Portland. If all you wanted was sex, you could have picked someone else. Ellie’s going to kill you for using her friend when she was most vulnerable.”
“Hang on right there, brother.” His temper spiked and he couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his tone. “Not that I have to share my sex life with you, but the fact you haven’t seen me with a woman hanging off my arm in the last four years doesn’t mean I haven’t dated.”
Adam frowned. “Nobody in town saw you with a woman. I would have heard about it.”
“You were too depressed and miserable to even realize I was gone most nights. And yeah, I purposely chose to hang out with women outside town just so nobody would want to stick their nose in my relationships.”
Adam opened his mouth to retort but Kean cut him off. “And for the record, I didn’t take advantage of Charli. She was more than willing to participate, and the fact that she’s been showing up at my door since then tells me she isn’t exactly against it.”
“That’s beside the point. She made it clear she wouldn’t be staying. You knew this could never work, yet you slept with her. After the way things ended with Vanessa, you should’ve known better—”
“Okay, I think you should go now.” He stepped around Adam and opened the door. The last thing he wanted right now was to talk about the way his ex had stomped on his heart, choosing her career over him. Especially since he knew Charli was going to do the same. “Tell your wife her friend is safe and thoroughly taken care of.”
“Go back to your family.”
Adam gave him one last worried glance before finally walking out. Kean resisted the urge to slam the door, knowing it would make him look like a sulky teenager. When he went back to his room, Charli was sitting at the foot of his fully made bed, already dressed and looking as if she was ready to bolt at any moment.
“Why are you dressed?” He stalked toward her with a smirk, holding out his arms to pull her to him. She stood up and shook her head.
“I heard your conversation. I should get going. I bet Ellie will be waiting on her doorstep to interrogate me. I knew this was a bad idea. I should’ve gone home last night.”
He placed his hands on her elbows and pulled her close. She took a step back, putting space between them. “Charli, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know anything about us.”
“There is no us, Kean.”
His heart squeezed even as he put on a fake smile. “Well, it didn’t look like that when we were just about to step into the shower. Or when you were screaming my name last night. Four, no wait, was it five times?”
She chuckled. “That was a moment of weakness.”
“Then how about another one? Just to start off the day.” He leaned into her and kissed the side of her neck. She sighed, then pushed him away with her hands on his chest.
“I have to go.”
“No, you don’t. Not yet.”
“Yes, I do. The whole town’s going to know we slept together. They’ll think I’m a slut.”
Kean rolled his eyes. “Don’t be a drama queen. Adam’s not going to hang posters around town. And what do you care what other people think, considering you weren’t planning on staying anyway?”
She huffed and threw her hands in the air. “Don’t go there. I can’t take it right now.”
He didn’t want to fight with her. Not after such an amazing night, and not while he was standing in front of her with only a towel around his waist. So he put his hands on her shoulders and stared straight into her beautiful hazel eyes, which were currently shooting daggers at him.
“Chill, Lioness. Nobody’s going to call you names, and if anyone dares, I’ll punch them in the face and make them take the words back.” He squeezed her shoulders and smiled. A corner of her lips lifted. “I won’t keep you hostage, if you want to go. And we can take a rain check on the sh
She nodded with a weak smile, but from the worry line that still wrinkled the space between her eyebrows, he was sure she was seeing all the worst-case scenarios in that pretty, ultra-organized head of hers. He bent and kissed her, a mere peck really, because she moved away before he could deepen it.
“I… uh… I’ll see you around,” she said, as she spun around and walked out of his bedroom. She might as well have told him to go hang himself, from the way she said the words. He had a feeling she wasn’t planning on coming back with takeout bags of Mexican food and a sexy smile tonight. Or any other night. And he hated that the thought hurt so bad.
Okay. That had been absolutely awkward. There was no other definition for it. Getting caught red-handed by Kean’s brother would’ve been embarrassing enough, but the fact that he was also Ellie’s husband made it all downright uncomfortable. Now he’d think she was one of those women who slept around and had no principles. Not that she should really care what Adam thought but, well, she didn’t like people thinking she was easy. Although what had happened with Kean, especially the speed at which it had all evolved, was unusual for her standards, she couldn’t bring herself to regret crossing that line. She’d felt the chemistry long before she’d ended up giving in to the attraction, and she couldn’t chalk it up to being heartbroken over Lousy Pig. The sting of betrayal still bothered her, but she definitely wasn’t pining over him. With hindsight, she could tell for sure she’d never really been in love with him. She liked spending time with him, but if she had to be completely honest with herself, it was probably because they spent most of their time talking about work.
Things were different with Kean. She didn’t know how he’d managed to get to her so fast, but she found she enjoyed talking to him about trivialities, as well as more serious things. She enjoyed listening to him telling her things about his life, as well as the occasional funny tale of his childhood, as they lay snuggled in his bed. She’d never told anyone the story of how her parents had fallen in love—except for Ellie of course, but she was her best friend, so that didn’t count—but she’d liked sharing it with him. None of the guys she’d dated in the past knew her middle name or its meaning. Nobody had asked what her brothers’ names were. Nobody had ever bothered getting behind the wall that protected her most private details, those things she’d only ever shared with Ellie and, some, not even with her.
But Kean had. He’d wanted to get to know her, really get to know her, even though she’d made it clear this thing between them, whatever it was, was doomed to fail, since she wasn’t going to stay in town longer than it was necessary. Even so, he’d climbed over that wall, asking questions and sharing personal things from his own life, thus turning them from barely strangers who’d accidentally slept together once, to some kind of friends with benefits.
She reached her car at the far border of his property and got inside. Although he insisted she could park in front of his house and nobody would notice, she still preferred to hide her car from view. Not that it had made any difference when Adam had shown up. He hadn’t seen the car, but had caught her anyway.
She banged her head against the headrest and let out a frustrated groan. She didn’t feel like going home just yet. If Adam had gone blabbing to Ellie, she was sure her friend would wait for her on the doorstep of her cottage, arms crossed and a scowl on her face, ready to chastise her. She wasn’t ready to face her. She would rather have stayed with Kean a little while longer, have breakfast with him and enjoy a few more cuddles while they ate pancakes.
Her stomach grumbled. Thanks for making me skip breakfast, Adam.
She started the car and drove away, albeit a little reluctantly, glancing briefly at his parents’ ranch as she passed by, just to make sure nobody spotted her. The road was clear, so she drove past it and onto Hillside Road, the street that led into town. She passed the church opposite the elementary school and the high school, and as she drove past the preschool where Ellie worked, her stomach grumbled again, louder. She wasn’t sure she had anything edible at home, considering she’d set out to go grocery shopping yesterday and had quite inexplicably ended up at Kean’s instead. Perhaps stopping in town for breakfast wasn’t a bad idea.
She turned left onto Cypress Road—seriously, who names their main street after a tree?—and parked her car in the free parking lot behind the Shark’s Tail. As she walked down the street toward Spring Delights, her step had a lightness to it. Maybe it was the sun peeking out of the clouds now, or maybe it was the endorphins—or whatever they were called—that the night with Kean had woken up and set free in her body, or maybe it was the town’s quiet that little by little had been growing on her.
Her phone rang just then, effectively killing her happy buzz when she read the name on the display. Adam had already spilled the beans, great. She considered letting it go to voicemail, but she’d done that all the time she’d been with Kean and, if the positions were reversed, she would be worried about not knowing where Ellie was.
She swiped her thumb across the screen and had to move the phone away from her ear when Ellie’s voice nearly pierced her eardrum.
“Oh, thank God, you’re all right! I’ve called you at least ten times but you never picked up. I was so worried I nearly called 911.”
She’d said it all on one breath, and Charli couldn’t help rolling her eyes. She’d survived in San Francisco—what could possibly happen to her in such a tiny town?
“Ellie, you live with 911. And you actually did send him out on a search, so chill out. I’m fine.” She swallowed and braced herself—there was no reason to delay it. “As your husband has probably already told you, nobody kidnapped me.”
“Um, yeah… Adam said you, um…”
“Spent the night at Kean’s. You can say it, Ellie. We’re adults, there’s no need to beat around the bush. Yes, I slept with Kean. Multiple times. There, it’s out in the open now. Happy?” She looked over her shoulder to make sure she was still alone. She didn’t feel ashamed of what she’d done, but she didn’t want the whole town to know about it either.
“No, I’m not, actually.” Ellie’s tone was grim, and it took Charli by surprise. She didn’t expect Ellie to be over the moon, but she definitely wasn’t expecting such a curt reply either. “Of all the men you could sleep with, why did you have to pick Kean? He’s a good guy.”
“And I’m not? I’m not the one who was dating a married man.” That was a low blow, and she regretted the words as soon as they were out. But her friend implying that she wasn’t good enough for her brother-in-law stung. Ellie didn’t reply, and guilt gnawed at Charli, knowing she’d hurt her. “That was uncalled for, sorry. But seriously, you make it sound as if I’m some sort of man-eater—”
“I’m just saying that since you knew you weren’t going to stay, you shouldn’t have led him on.”
Charli huffed. “I didn’t lead him on. We both agreed to a temporary thing, and nobody was forced into anything. We’re consenting adults who enjoy spending time together, simple as that. Not everyone wants a husband and kids.”
A long silence followed, and Charli checked that the call hadn’t been disconnected.
“We really need to talk about this, but not on the phone. Where are you now?”
“In town. I was going to get some breakfast. Your husband barging in was a major buzzkill, so I thought I’d better get going.”
“It’s not his fault. If you’d only told us—”
“Stop. Right. There. As much as I appreciate your worrying about me, you aren’t my mother. I don’t have to tell you who I sleep with.” Her tone probably came out a tad too harsh, but they had to set some boundaries. The fact that Kean was her brother-in-law didn’t mean Ellie had to know everything he was up to. She was pretty sure, from the way he’d talked to his brother earlier, that he didn’t go around telling everyone who he was dating or sleeping with. “I’m going to have breakfast now, and we’ll talk about it when I come home
Ellie agreed, although her tone said otherwise. Well, she could suit herself. After she hung up, Charli took a long, fortifying breath before resuming her stroll toward the bakery. Perks of small towns, her foot. If they’d lived in a city, nobody would’ve wondered why Charli wasn’t back home. They would’ve thought she was probably in a club, and she was pretty sure Kean’s brother wouldn’t have shown up if he lived ten blocks away. Just the ride would have discouraged him from going out. But since pubs and diners closed no later than one in the morning in this godforsaken place, it was obvious that if she wasn’t home, she couldn’t be in a bar. How Ellie had found out Charli wasn’t home was beyond her. Did she spy on her? Did she go and knock on her door, then use her spare key to walk in and make sure she wasn’t dead? And why wasn’t she in bed with her own hunk instead of checking on Charli’s whereabouts? She hated small towns—nobody would change her mind about that.
“Hi, there, Charli.”
A voice coming from her left made her flinch. She turned to find the owner of the pub—Myles, was it?—walking toward her with a to-go cup from Spring Delights and a paper bag with some kind of treat. She was a bit surprised he remembered her name, considering she’d only been at the pub a couple of times.
She smiled. “Hi.”
“Good to find another early bird under fifty.” He chuckled and brought his cup to his lips. She bet being friendly with strangers came with the territory when you owned a pub, but his amiable approach was a nice change. He could’ve said hello and walked past her, or he could’ve ignored her and carried on walking with his head hanging down, just like almost everyone in the city. “Heading for the bakery, are you?” She nodded, and he lifted his cup in a toast. “I won’t keep you, then. I have a sweet tooth myself, and if someone tried to stop me on my way to get my breakfast, I would probably bite.”
Charli chuckled. She wouldn’t put it past herself to bite someone right now—but mainly because if she didn’t eat something in the next three minutes, she’d probably end up lying flat on her back. After the nightly workout with Kean, she barely had the energy supply to walk up to the bakery and collapse in a chair.
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