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A Finding Love Novel

Paris Hansen

Breathless Copyright © 2018 Paris Hansen

All rights reserved.

Without limiting rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be

reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by

any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without prior

written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. The scanning, uploading, and/or distribution of this document via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and is punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events or real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Cover Design by James,

Chapter 1


“Where do you think you’re going, Princess?”

Stopping before her hand could touch the door to the exit, Brooklyn St. James fought back the urge to punch the man following her in his handsome face. She wanted to hit him for following her, for using the nickname he knew she hated, for being a sexy, arrogant, asshole…the reasons were varied and plentiful. She’d never go through with it though. Even if it would make her feel a bit better, she knew it wouldn’t do her any good. No matter what she did, she knew he wasn’t going away. Especially not now that her sister and his best friend were tying the knot. She was stuck with Declan Reese for better or worse, even if she wanted to cause him bodily harm every time she was near him.

Since the day they’d met the infuriatingly gorgeous man standing a few feet away from her had been nothing but a pain in her ass. They fought like cats and dogs over everything and anything. It was a wonder they hadn’t killed each other yet. Especially since Savannah and Gabriel had named them best man and maid of h; onor for their wedding. The job she was honored to have ended up making her spend more time with the man who drove her crazy. Declan, of course, poked at her whenever he got a chance, knowing exactly what would set her off and she always took the bait no matter how hard she tried to ignore him.

Knowing he wouldn’t hesitate to drive her crazy over the weekend, Brooklyn had done her best to avoid him. From the minute they landed in Las Vegas for the bachelor/bachelorette weekend, she’d stuck like glue to her friend Meghan. Brooklyn knew it was only a matter of time before Meghan went off with Oliver, the man she was dating, so Brooklyn made plans with her friend from college who lived in town. She didn’t want to spend her first night in Vegas alone and she sure in the hell didn’t want to spend it with Declan and Braeden doing whatever the hell Braeden had planned.

She honestly didn’t think anyone would notice she left the club. When she’d looked back at their VIP booth, it was empty. Brooklyn assumed they’d all went their separate ways and she was free to spend the night however she wanted. Instead, the last person she wanted to deal with was following her through the casino expecting her to answer to him. She refused to give him the satisfaction of her attention, so she did her best to ignore him, putting her hand on the door in front of her so she could push it open.

“I know you can hear me. Quit being a brat and tell me where you’re going?”

Pissed, she turned to face the man who made her breath catch every time she looked at him. She glared at him, her body tense with the urge to punch him. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize my father came on this trip to Vegas with us.”

“Cute. I’m not asking for myself. It’s almost midnight, and if your sister found out I let you wander around Vegas alone, well let’s just say I don’t want to leave my daughter without a father.”

“Damn it.”

Playing the kid card was decidedly unfair, but effective. Brooklyn sighed, her body relaxing.

“Fine. If you must know I’m going out to meet up with one of my college roommates and her boyfriend. I haven’t seen her in years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

“Okay, I’m coming with you.

“I’m sorry. Did I accidentally invite you and not remember it? I don’t need a chaperone, Declan.”

“This is non-negotiable, Princess. Either I go with you, or we can call your sister and Gabriel and see what they have to say.”

“Are you fucking serious right now?” Brooklyn asked through clenched teeth. “Where the hell do you get off? I’m not a child, Declan. I’m not your daughter. I’m a big girl, and I’m more than capable of taking care of myself.”

“Take it or leave it, Princess,” Declan said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket.

She seethed, her fists clenched at her sides. It wasn’t that she thought her sister would tell her she couldn’t go out, in fact, she knew Savannah wouldn’t care. It was the fact the asshole in front of her was willing to bother her sister over something so ridiculous. Like Savannah, was Brooklyn’s keeper. She wasn’t a child, she was in her thirties; she’d been married for crying out loud. She was an adult, and this man was treating her like she was anything but.

“Fine, it’s a free world after all. If you want to follow me around like a creeper, go for it, but I don’t have to acknowledge your presence. Don’t bother talking to me, don’t talk to my friends. You have no say in how this evening is going to go. Don’t pretend that you’re following me around has anything to do with my sister either. That excuse is fucking bullshit, and we both know it.”

Turning back around, Brooklyn pushed through the door, the stifling Vegas heat assaulting her the second she stepped outside. Even though it was nearly midnight, it was still over 80 degrees, which was a shock to the system when leaving the overly air-conditioned casino. With Declan hot on her heels, she followed the signs to the line she needed to wait in to hail a cab.

They stood in awkward silence, while groups of people laughed loudly around them. Pulling her cell phone out of her clutch, she sent a quick text off to her friend Becca to let her know she was on her way. She didn’t bother to mention that Declan was coming with her. Brooklyn planned on ignoring his presence as much as possible. Giving her friend a warning would result in a lot of questions that Brooklyn didn’t want to answer. Instead, she’d show up at the Neon Museum, buy her ticket for the tour, and forget all about the shadow she’d picked up along the way.

There’s no way she’d let Mr. Tall, Dark and Overprotective ruin the first vacation she’d been on since her marriage started to go downhill. Even if the weekend wasn’t truly a vacation, the rest of the evening was, and Brooklyn was bound and determined to forget about everything she’d been through over the last few years. She was going to enjoy the hell out of her freedom, and she didn’t care what anyone thought about how she did it.

✽ ✽ ✽

“Seeing all those old signs was pretty incredible; especially the ones they fixed-up so they’d light up again. Vegas is fun now, but I bet back in the day it was even better. The glitz and glamour, the Rat Pack…”

“The Mob…”

“Nobody was talking to you, Declan,” Brooklyn said reacting before she could even think about it.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she mentally slapped herself for acknowledging his presence. She’d done such a good job ignoring him throughout the entire tour of the museum she hated ruining her streak. Ignoring him wasn’t easy, not when she’d catch a glimpse of him backlit by the neon lights, his dark hair disheveled, the scruff along his jaw dangerously close to needing a trim. She could feel his eyes on her at all times which both thrilled her and made her angry.

The man absolutely drove her crazy. At any given moment, she wanted to punch him or fuck him, neither of which were good options for her. Of course, the first man she felt any kind of attraction to since her divorce was Declan…the brooding, sexy as sin, thorn in her side. He was the last man she should want, but she couldn’t seem to help herself.

Nobody with eyes could deny that Declan Reese was gorgeous and despite the way he treated her, Brooklyn knew he was a great guy and a great father. He was everything a woman should want in a man, but he wasn’t for her, no matter how badly she might wish otherwise.

Shaking her head, Brooklyn tried to focus on what Becca was saying. They’d left the Neon Museum a half an hour earlier to head to a nearby bar that was equal parts dance club and adult play area. They stood around a tall table, waiting for their turn at giant beer pong, talking about the history of Las Vegas. Brooklyn had to admit there was a lot about the party town she didn’t know and it was genuinely fascinating.

Becca’s boyfriend Derek and his friend Colin excused themselves to head to the bar to get drinks for the table. Although Declan was nursing water, he offered to join them. Brooklyn guessed it was more to keep an eye on the guys than to help them out. On the cab ride to the museum, Declan had gone on and on about accepting drinks from strangers, touting stats about how many people were drugged every year in Vegas.

Although she’d wanted to tell him she wasn’t an idiot, she kept her mouth closed. The number was staggering, and she was sure most of the women that’d been drugged had said the very same thing. While Brooklyn trusted Becca, she didn’t know Derek or Colin, and if Declan hadn’t have gone with them, she would have offered to get her own drink just to be safe.

“If I’d known you were bringing that delicious piece of meat, I wouldn’t have brought Colin along with us. I thought since it’d been a while for you, that having a nice no-strings-attached Vegas fling would be just what the doctor ordered.”

“Seriously, Bec? Come on. You know me better than that.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t need to step outside your comfort zone now that you’re single. It’s been a long time since your divorce, Brooklyn. You need to move on.”

“It’s not like I’m not trying to, you know. I’m not sitting around brokenhearted that Frank and I are over and that he’s moved on and already married again. Things were over between us long before we made it official.”

“I know. Doesn’t mean it didn’t hit you hard when you found out he’d gotten someone else pregnant after everything you’d been through.”

“Can we not talk about this now? I don’t want to think about any of that. I want to enjoy the evening and forget about the past. I want to catch up with you, have a few drinks and kick some ass at beer pong. The rest of it can wait.”

“Fine. I won’t mention any of it again. But how about you tell me more about Declan before the guys get back.”

Brooklyn shook her head, then downed the rest of her drink. “There’s really nothing to tell. He’s best friends with Savannah’s fiancé and the bane of my existence. I don’t know why he decided to follow me out tonight. Maybe I remind him of his daughter or something, I don’t really know.”

Becca laughed so hard, her blue eyes filled with tears. “Oh, honey. You definitely don’t remind him of his daughter. In fact, I’m pretty sure his daughter is the furthest thing from his mind when he looks at you.”

“Well then maybe I remind him of his sister. All we do is argue. He constantly pushes my buttons and treats me like I’m barely worth his time.”

“Oh Brook…you are so damn oblivious.”

Becca started to laugh again, so Brooklyn glared at her before tipping her cup back again, hoping there was at least one last drop of alcohol at the bottom. She needed the fortification, the bit of courage alcohol gave her.

What she really needed was for her friend to stop talking. For Becca to stop noticing and stop pointing out the little things Brooklyn had been seeing all night. Hell, since she met Declan if she was being honest with herself. Of course, Becca wasn’t the first person to point out the way Declan looked at her or the fact that the way he treated her was definitely not like a daughter or sister.

“If we were in elementary school, that man would be chasing you around the playground, pulling on your pigtails then pushing you into the mud. He wants you just as badly as you want him, but neither of you is willing to make the first move.”

“That is so not true,” Brooklyn scoffed. But she could feel the lie on her tongue as the words poured out. She did want Declan. At least part of her did. The part that knew what kind of man he was. The part that knew he’d be unbelievable between the sheets and against the wall and anywhere else they could find.

The part of her that knew he’d break her heart …that was the part she listened to the most. That was the part that kept her from ever making a move on the man that made her feel like lava flowed through her veins whenever he touched her. Declan Reese made her feel things she’d never felt with her ex-husband, which meant that when things inevitably ended between them, the heartbreak would be even harder to get through. Finding out her husband had cheated on her and got someone else pregnant nearly destroyed her. Losing her heart to Declan would definitely finish the job.

“Fine. Have it your way. Lie to yourself if you want to, but I’m not blind, and I’m not stupid. I don’t think you’ll be able to ignore the chemistry between you for much longer, but you can try. Almost makes me want to move back to Washington to watch the fireworks.”

Brooklyn opened her mouth to respond but stopped when she saw the guys approaching the table. She took a long look at the three of them, noting that Declan was by far the best looking one of the bunch. Derek was cute in a Leonard from Big Bang Theory kind of way. He was taller than Becca, but shorter than Brooklyn, with dark brown hair. He had glasses he pushed up his nose every so often and wore a button-down shirt over a Justice League t-shirt.

Colin was…well, Brooklyn didn’t really know what to think of Colin. How Becca thought Brooklyn would want a one-night stand with the guy, she wasn’t sure. There was something about him that seemed a bit skeevy. It could have been his slicked-back hair or the nerdy, yet oddly suggestive t-shirt he was wearing, or the fact his jeans were tighter than any of the jeans she owned. More than likely though, it was the way he looked at her like he wanted to eat her up and she should be happy he was willing to give her his time.

She shuddered at the thought and looked back at Declan. Suddenly, she was actually thankful he’d come, although she’d never admit that to him. Without him there, she would have felt at least obligated to talk to Colin, but now she didn’t have to. She could ignore him and his leering eyes and roving hands. How had Becca ever thought she was that desperate? She’d really need to have a talk with her friend about the kind of people she tried to set her friends up with. But she’d save the conversation for after she left Las Vegas. She was still bound and determined to have a great time, even if one man at the table gave her the heebie-jeebies and the other man made her think about all the dirty things they could and should do together.

It was going to be a very long night.

✽ ✽ ✽

“How the hell did you two get so good at this?” Derek asked as he and Colin lost their second game of beer pong to Brooklyn and Becca.

The two guys had stupidly wanted to play guys versus girls, no doubt thinking they’d get the women good and drunk. What neither of them had seemed to remember was the girls had met at college where beer pong had been a staple of nearly every party. Someone had to be the reigning champions of those parties, and if it wasn’t Brooklyn or Becca, it was Kerrigan or Chelsea. Especially, during their senior year, when they were the ones throwing the majority of the parties in the big house Chelsea’s parents had rented for them.

“We tried to warn you, babe, but you didn’t think two girls could beat you guys. You should’ve listened,” Becca told her boyfriend as she wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Derek pouted a bit before he started to laugh. Brooklyn looked over at Colin, who did not seem to think losing to girls was the least bit funny. She rolled her eyes and looked behind her at Declan, who was quietly taking everything in. He gave her a wink before taking a drink of his water.

She couldn’t believe he was still bothering to hang out with them. He had to be exhausted and annoyed. It was already after 2 am, and none of them had plans to stop anytime soon. She wouldn’t blame him if he wanted to leave, but she knew he wouldn’t. He was just stubborn enough to stick it out all night if that’s what she planned to do.

Although she wouldn’t admit it, Brooklyn was torn about heading back to the hotel. She was tired and ready for bed, but she had no idea where Meghan and Oliver were doing their thing, and she didn’t want to interrupt them. Plus, it was just depressing to think about everyone else having someone to share their bed with. Savannah had Gabriel. Finley, Savannah’s best friend, had her boyfriend, Liam. Meghan had Oliver. Even Braeden, the perpetual playboy, probably had someone with him. She hated the fact being around couples made her feel like she was missing something.

“Alright, who’s up for a rousing game of giant connect four?” Brooklyn asked the group, trying to shake off her suddenly somber mood. “Or maybe giant chess?”

For the next hour, they played multiple versions of ridiculously oversized games. Colin had wanted to make them all drinking games, but the rest of them had declined. It was getting late, and they were already well over the line to buzzed. Everyone except Declan of course, who continued to sit on the sidelines and watch the shenanigans. Brooklyn had tried to get him involved in more than one of the games, despite the fact she’d vowed earlier to ignore him. Each time he politely declined, telling her to enjoy her time with her friends.

As four in the morning quickly approached, Brooklyn was finally starting to hit a wall. It had been a really long time since she’d been out that late and she was definitely feeling the effects of lack of sleep mixed with alcohol. While they argued about whether or not a pawn could move diagonally, Brooklyn excused herself from the group so she could use the bathroom.

After waiting in a surprisingly long line, she took care of business, then splashed some cold water on her face to help wake her up. When it didn’t do the trick, she realized it was time to head out. She’d text Meghan on the way back to the hotel to let her know she was coming, in case she and Oliver were using the girl’s room instead of his. The last thing Brooklyn needed was to walk in on them in the middle of…well, anything.

Using the band on her wrist, she piled her thick, dark hair into a messy bun. Although she’d darkened her hair nearly two months earlier, it was still taking some getting used to. While it had taken her a while, Brooklyn was finally feeling like she could move forward with her life. Changing her hair color, was something she’d always wanted to do, but never could while she was married. Seeing the change in the mirror was a great reminder she was free to do whatever the hell she wanted, whenever the hell she wanted.

Brooklyn took one last look at herself in the bathroom mirror to make sure everything was back in place before she stepped out into the hallway. The black shorts romper she wore was cute and super comfortable but made going to the bathroom a chore. The open back meant she couldn’t wear a bra, so each trip to the bathroom, she had to make sure the girls were covered back up before leaving the room. The last thing she wanted was to give anyone a show because she had a wardrobe malfunction.

“There you are. I was beginning to get worried,” someone said from her right. Brooklyn didn’t recognize the voice, so she continued down the hall to head back outside figuring the person was talking to someone else.

“Hey, I’m talking to you, Brooklyn. I’ve been waiting out here for you for a while, don’t just walk away from me.”

Turning to see who was talking to her, she found Colin leaning against the wall next to the women’s bathroom, a lascivious grin on his face. He pushed off of the wall and walked toward her, the smile never leaving his face. The way he looked at her made her skin crawl. She backed up a step as he moved closer.

“I’ve been trying to get you alone all night, but your bodyguard has been making that nearly impossible. Becca said you were single and we could hook up tonight. I had all sorts of plans for you, but you haven’t been very cooperative. Hasn’t anyone ever told you ignoring people is rude.”

“Look, Colin, I’m sorry if Becca promised you something, but I’m not interested, okay. I’m tired, and I don’t feel well. I’m going to go back to my hotel and get some rest. I have a busy day planned tomorrow for my sister’s bachelorette party, so I’m just gonna go.”

Brooklyn turned to walk away from him but was halted in her tracks as he grabbed on to her arm. His gripped tightened as he pulled her to him. She stumbled a little, her heels catching on the floor.

“Come on, Brooklyn. I’m sure you have a couple of minutes to spare for me. I’ll make it quick,” he told her, his tongue darting out to wet his lower lip.

Brooklyn tried to pull her arm out of his grasp, but he held her tighter, hurting her in the process.

“Let me go, Colin. You’re hurting me.”

“Stop fighting, and I won’t have to hurt you. All I’m asking for is a quick BJ, and then you can be on your way. You owe me at least that much after I wasted my night on you.”

“Jeezus. Does Becca know she’s trying to set her friends up with sick assholes? I’m not giving you a fucking blow job, Colin. Now let me go before I scream.”

“Listen here you little cock tease. You fucking owe me.”

Brooklyn tried again to wrench her arm out of his grip as he stared at her angrily although the creepy grin never left his face. The situation was quickly going downhill, and as she realized no one had walked past them since Colin had accosted her in the hallway, she knew she was in trouble. Now that she desperately needed him, Declan was nowhere to be seen.

She shouldn’t have been so rude to Declan. She should have taken him up on his offer to escort her to the bathroom, but she’d foolishly thought things would be fine. They’d been at the bar for hours, and nothing terrible had happened. She’d gone to the bathroom multiple times throughout the night without incident. Of course, Becca had been with her each time, but she really hadn’t thought Becca’s presence would have been that big of a deterrent against creeps. Apparently, she hadn’t been worried about the right creep.

She started to struggle again, which only made Colin smile more. He seemed to be getting off on the fact that she wanted nothing to do with him. Bile rose in her throat, a cold sweat breaking out along her skin.

“Let me go,” she yelled, hoping someone else might hear her cause she was sure Colin wasn’t going to listen.

Ignoring her protests, he started to pull her down the hall toward the emergency exit. She struggled, hoping he’d get tired of fighting against her. She yelled at him over and over again to let her go.

“Stop fighting. I’ll let you go once you live up to what I was promised. Five minutes…ten tops.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you. Let me go, Colin,” she screamed.

She thought about throwing herself into him, wondering if the sudden movement would knock him loose. Then she realized it would put the rest of her within grabbing distance which would only make matters worse. She looked around for things to grab onto, a pipe, a pole, a handle of some sort, but the walls were smooth. There was nothing for her to hold on to, there was nothing she could grab onto to use as a weapon, like a fire extinguisher. She had no idea how she was going to get out of the mess she was in.

“I believe the lady told you to let her go.”

Brooklyn’s shoulders sagged in relief at the voice coming from behind her. While the words coming from someone else’s mouth would have probably meant the same thing, she couldn’t have been sure she wouldn’t have left the arms of one creep for the arms of another one. Now that he was here, she was safe. She felt it with every fiber of her being. He wouldn’t let anything happen to her and not just because his friend was marrying her sister.

“Fuck off,” Colin said as he whipped around to face Declan.

The force of the move threw Brooklyn off balance sending her hard into the wall. As she fell, her arm came free of his hold. On the floor, she scrambled away from Colin, crawling on her hands and knees toward Declan, toward safety. He helped her up off of the floor, then pushed her behind him, his eyes never leaving Colin.

“You need to walk out of here now. You need to forget you ever saw her. As much as I don’t want to spend the weekend in a jail cell, I will do whatever it takes to make sure she stays safe,” Declan said his hands fisted at his sides. “Walk away, man, just walk away. It’s not worth it.”

Colin growled, taking a step forward, but then seemed to rethink his plan. Shaking his head, he took a step back, his hands held up in the air.

“Fine. You can have her. Fucking cock tease was a waste of my God damn time.”

Brooklyn watched as Colin left the hallway. She held onto the back of Declan’s shirt, preparing herself in case he came back. Her knees buckled the minute Declan turned to check on her. His eyes filled with concern as he looked her over. He caught her in his arms, pulling her against him as he comforted her.

“You’re okay,” he whispered over and over as he rubbed her back.

Her hands shook against his chest where she’d grabbed on to his shirt as she started to fall. Brooklyn buried her face in the crook of his neck and tried to absorb his strength. She tried to convince herself she was okay that she never had anything to worry about, but that was easier said than done when her hands were shaking, and her heart felt like it was going to break free from her chest.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner. I’m sorry he had time to get his hands on you.”

Brooklyn took a deep breath, inhaling his scent. Like some kind of essential oil, it calmed her nerves and slowed her erratic heartbeat. Or maybe it was his arms wrapped around her that did the trick. She really couldn’t be sure, although she knew she liked the way it felt to be held by him, to be comforted by him.

“Let’s get out of here,” Declan suggested after another minute of assuring her she was safe.

She didn’t say a word, just nodded her head against his chest. She knew she was ready to leave, but she wasn’t so sure she was prepared for him to stop holding her. It was the nicest Declan had been to her since they met. It was the first time they weren’t at each other’s throats picking a fight, and she had to admit to herself she was enjoying it. Of course, she hated what led to the moment, but she couldn’t hate the outcome.

Letting him lead her down the hallway and back toward the club, Brooklyn realized the adrenaline was starting to wear off. Her arm throbbed where Colin had grabbed her. His grip had been hard and unrelenting, she wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up with a hand-shaped bruise around her bicep. Her shoulder also ached from the impact with the wall. Another bruise she was probably going to have to explain. It wasn’t like she could walk around in long sleeves for the rest of their time in Vegas. Even inside the air-conditioned casino, it would look weird for her to stay covered up given the ridiculous desert heat.

As they pushed through the crowd, she kept her eyes down. She could only imagine the wreck she looked like with her red-rimmed eyes and tear streaked face. Most of the people in the club would have just assumed she was drunk. No one but her and Declan would know what almost happened, what could have happened if he hadn’t shown up.

“Wait, I need to get my purse. I left it at the table.”

The last place she wanted to go was back to the table. Would Colin be there? Would she have to explain to Becca and Derek what happened? Her head filled with questions she couldn’t answer and wasn’t sure she wanted to if she could.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your purse. Let’s just get out of here. Get you back to the hotel.”

Declan pulled her clutch out of his back pocket and handed her the small bag that held her phone, ID and some cash. Thankful they wouldn’t have to go back to the table, she gave him a small smile, then continued to follow him out of the club. It only took them a few minutes to hail a cab, which Brooklyn was grateful for. The longer they waited, the more opportunities they had to see Colin again. After he left the hallway, she had no idea where he went. Although she’d hoped he’d left the club, he could have easily been sitting around waiting for another shot at her.

Pulling her phone out of her purse, she checked the time. It was nearly five in the morning, but she didn't want to head back to the hotel anymore. She wasn’t ready to be alone, and she had no idea whether or not Meghan would be in their room. Brooklyn knew the minute she tried to sleep she’d only be able to think about what could have been. Looking over at Declan as he stared out the window, she hoped he’d be open to staying out a little longer.

“All of this craziness has made me hungry. Would you mind stopping to get some breakfast or something? I’m starved.”

Declan turned to her, concern warring with something else in his eyes. For a moment she thought he would deny her. She could tell he wasn’t sold on the idea of staying out and not just because he was exhausted. Declan was worried about her which was an interesting change of pace. She’d never had a man worry about her well-being before. Which was just another sad reflection on her failed marriage.

“Look, I’m hungry, and I’m not ready to head back to the hotel. I can go alone, but I’d rather not, okay…just another hour or two…please?”

She hated how desperate she sounded. She hated the look on his face when she said please. Although it was fleeting, it made her second guess whether or not she had read the situation right. Maybe Declan wasn’t actually worried about her, he was just worried about what Gabriel and Savannah would say when they found out what happened.

“Fine,” he said before telling the driver about the change in destination.

A few minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of a 24-hour restaurant and lounge, a place she’d heard about many times, but never had a chance to visit. It would be good to spend the next couple of hours stuffing her face with delicious, greasy food while trying to forget the horrible evening she’d had. If only she had a clue as to what her companion was thinking.

✽ ✽ ✽

Stuffed full of French toast and a ridiculous hot fudge sundae, Brooklyn sat back against the booth waiting for the waitress to bring back their change. She might have eaten her feelings for breakfast, but she didn’t regret one single bite. Gorging herself on sweets was what she needed to put the night behind her. That and the totally normal conversation she and Declan had while they ate.

They mostly talked about sports, especially the Mariners since Declan was a huge baseball fan. It was one of the most mundane yet stimulating conversations she’d had with a man in a long time. The comfortable back and forth, even when it turned to lighthearted arguing, went a long way to help her forget what happened. Although she’d been one hundred percent against Declan following her around for the night, she was glad he didn’t listen to her. And not just because he’d saved her from Colin, but because he’d actually made the night tolerable. All of the Colin stuff aside, she’d enjoyed the time she spent with Declan more than she ever thought possible.

Once the waitress returned, they left some money on the table and headed outside to find a cab. It was nearing seven in the morning, and the sun was out in full force already. Brooklyn shielded her eyes while Declan hailed a cab. As soon as she climbed inside, she sat back and closed her eyes. The ride down the strip to their hotel would be quick, but she knew there wouldn’t be much if any, time for rest once they got back to the hotel. Bachelorette festivities were supposed to start around nine with a mimosa breakfast before a day at the spa. With any luck she’d be able to get in a cat nap during her massage otherwise she was in for a very long day.

“Hey, we’re here.”

Brooklyn popped an eye open to see they had indeed arrived at their hotel. Somehow, she’d been so out of it she hadn’t even noticed the car had stopped. Climbing out of the cab, she thanked the driver as Declan paid their fare. They slowly walked into the casino, the sounds of the slot machines filled the silence between them. She could tell Declan was nearly as exhausted as she was and for a moment she felt sorry for keeping him out all night.

“Thank you for coming with me last night. I know I was a bit of a bitch at first, but I appreciate you being there,” Brooklyn said as they stepped into the elevator.

She leaned back against the wall as the doors closed. Declan stared at her like he wasn’t sure what to do with her. He was probably shocked by her apology since she’d never really apologized to him before, at least not without her sister prodding her to do so. He took a step toward her and then another until he was nearly touching her. She stared up at him, wondering what was going through his mind as he crowded her against the elevator wall.

Brooklyn licked her lips, suddenly realizing how dry they were. She took a deep breath, her chest barely brushing against Declan’s as she did. Not for the first time she felt the spark between them, the one she desperately ignored every time they were in the same room together. Why was he so close? She wished she could read his mind. The man was an enigma, a mystery she wanted to solve.

He leaned into her, lips slightly parted, his eyes dropping down to focus on her mouth for the briefest moment. Instead of looking back at her, Declan turned away toward the panel, pressing the button for their floor before stepping back.

What the fuck, she thought, her heart nearly racing from his closeness. He’d been about to kiss her. That almost happened. She hadn’t imagined the moment or how close he’d been to brushing his lips against hers. Why had he pressed the button again? Was he that eager to get away from her? Anger coursed through her, replacing the lust that had nearly taken over and made her do something monumentally stupid.

“Pushing it again doesn’t make it go any faster,” she snapped.

“No, but pressing it once does,” he told her, a hint of amusement in his voice.

“I pressed it when I came in here.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did,” she argued, ignoring the urge to stomp her foot like a child.

“Then why were we still on the first floor, Princess? Can you answer that?”

“Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass? I’m tired, okay. I swear I hit the button.”

“Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree because you didn’t.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, she turned away from Declan and watched the floor numbers pass by in a flash. It took very little time for the elevator to reach their floor, but that was all it took for Brooklyn to remember how much Declan annoyed the hell out of her. Kissing him would have been a disaster of epic proportions, yet a part of her couldn’t help but wish they’d taken the plunge.

As soon as the doors opened, she was off the elevator and walking away from Declan. She didn’t say a word to him before she took off, which she felt a little bad about, but she needed to get away from him and the things he made her feel. Even though he annoyed her to no end, she couldn’t ignore the fact he was under her skin. No matter how bad the idea of them was, she wanted it…even if just for a moment, she wanted to see how electric they could be together.

Standing outside her hotel room door, she imagined what could have been had she leaned forward in the elevator. What could have been if she’d taken things into her own hands and took what she wanted from him. She hadn’t realized she’d gotten lost in thoughts of Declan until she heard someone approaching her. Turning to her right, she found Meghan walking toward her, disheveled and happier than she’d been when Brooklyn had last seen her.

“Well, well, well…look what the cat dragged in. Doing the walk of shame, I see?” Brooklyn teased as she unlocked the door with the keycard and let them into the room.

She spent a few minutes checking in, loving how happy and carefree Meghan seemed after a night with Oliver. It was apparent there was still something weighing on her friend, but Meghan wasn’t letting that get in the way of having a great time in Vegas. Brooklyn wished her night had been as good as Meghan’s, but it’d been a roller coaster of confusion. Between the Colin situation and the way she felt when she walked away from Declan, she wasn’t sure what the heck to call her night.

All she knew was she wanted a long, scalding hot shower, so she could wash away the night and move on with her life. The day before her could only be better than the one she was leaving behind. She had to believe that, or she’d end up spending too much of her day thinking about Declan and every single way he made her crazy. She just needed to spend the day with the girls and forget the infuriating man who made her feel things she wasn’t interested in feeling.

Chapter 2


“Come on. How can you call that a strike? The ball nearly hit him.”

“You need your eyes checked, ump. You wouldn’t know a good call if it hit you in the face.”

“You’re a bum. I thought the Mariners were playing the A’s today…didn’t realize they were playing against you too.”

Declan smiled as he listened to Brooklyn yell a continual barrage of disparaging remarks at the umpire behind home plate. Since the game started, she’d spent more time on her feet screaming at the ump then she had sitting in her seat. Unlike most of the people around them, she focused on the game, maybe a little too focused if he really thought about it. He loved baseball more than the average person, but even he wasn’t as openly passionate as Brooklyn was.

Although this wasn’t the first game they’d been to together, this was the first time Declan was so keenly aware of Brooklyn’s every move. Normally Erin was there drawing most of his attention. Even when he could hear Brooklyn over the din of the crowd, he could easily ignore her because he had other people to distract him. Then again, they weren’t usually sitting next to each other, their legs brushing against each other, their arms continually touching whenever she was actually sitting in her seat.

Normally he wasn’t cursing, yet praising the lack of personal space in the jam-packed rows of the stadium. Normally he didn’t notice the way her jersey strained across her chest or how if she moved just so, he’d get a glimpse of her sexy as hell cleavage. Normally he didn’t look at her and feel like a sex-starved teenager that was going to die if he didn’t get his hands on her soon.

Declan was pretty sure his “normally” wasn’t nearly as fascinating as his current predicament, but it was definitely a hell of a lot safer.

“Is your sister always this intense at baseball games?” Braeden asked Savannah as Brooklyn jumped up and yelled at the ump again.

Declan turned away from watching Brooklyn and toward the conversation his friends were having. Not having her in his line of sight didn’t make him any less aware of her every move. In fact, he almost felt more aware of when she sat back down or when she shifted to get more comfortable. The entire situation was driving him crazy. He tried to pay attention to what Savannah was saying, while he tried to decide whether or not he needed a break from his ultimate distraction.

“She’s that intense when it comes to any sporting event she’s watching, no matter where she’s at. She’ll stand up and yell at the TV if she doesn’t agree with what’s going on. It’s a bit ridiculous, but then again I’m not the sports nut she is. Declan’s been to a few games with her this year. I bet he’s seen her get really into it.”

“To be fair, Andrea’s usually with us and Erin too. Those two are just as bad. Get the three of them together, and I’m surprised we’ve never been kicked out.”

“It’s probably a good thing your company seats aren’t too close to home plate,” Savannah pointed out. “That and they don’t usually scream obscenities at the top of their lungs. I’m sure someone would complain if they were swearing like a bunch of sailors.”

Declan laughed knowing there were times the girls had gotten close to going overboard with their yelling. Separately their passion for the sport was admirable. Together it bordered slightly on insane. He couldn’t imagine it any other way.

“Oliver over there isn’t much better. He’s been known to harass the umps and the players on both teams.”

Oliver shrugged, not caring that he was being called out. “Hey, I’m an equal opportunity critic. I don’t care who you are if you’re making bad plays, I’m going to call you out on it.”

“Come on. Get your crap together, ump. This is getting ridiculous.”

Turning back to watch Brooklyn, Declan couldn’t help but smile as she waved her arms around dramatically. The more she got into the game, the more he couldn’t stop wondering if there were other things she was as passionate about as sports. That thought led to another and then another. He wondered what it would have been like to kiss her in the elevator. Where that kiss might have led if he’d let himself lean in just a little bit more. Would it have stayed in Vegas or would he have spent the last week buried between her thighs?

The woman was a pain in the ass and exactly what he didn’t need in his life. Yet he couldn’t stop thinking about the fact he wanted her. Not just in his bed, which was a terrible idea, but in his life, which was an even worse idea. No doubt, Brooklyn was looking for hearts and flowers, love and romance. She was the kind of woman that wanted a relationship, and a relationship was something Declan couldn’t, no wouldn’t give her. She deserved better than that…better than him.

He just had to keep reminding himself that the beautiful brunette standing next to him was off limits. Brooklyn St. James was not meant for him, no matter how much he might wish otherwise.

✽ ✽ ✽

“You’ve got less than a week of freedom left, how do you feel?” Declan asked.

Since they’d returned from Las Vegas, his impending wedding had taken over Gabriel’s life. While Declan had talked to his friend over the phone or via text, this was the first time they’d seen each other in weeks. So instead of immediately heading back to the Reese Wine Distributions warehouse, Declan had decided to take a break to catch up with his friend. It’d been a surprise to find Gabriel at the restaurant so he figured he might as well take advantage of it.

“I feel like I’m ready to get this thing over with,” Gabriel admitted. “I just want to be married to Savannah already. The rest of this stuff is getting in the way. If I had my way, we would have gone to the courthouse or got married in Vegas like Meghan and Oliver.”

“Why didn’t you? Savannah doesn’t strike me as someone who’s been planning her dream wedding since she was a little girl.”

Gabriel smiled. “No, she’s definitely not. But a big wedding was important to her mom and her sister.”

“God…her sister. The woman is driving me crazy, Gabriel. Seriously, every damn day she’s either calling me or texting me constantly. Did you do this, did you do that? It doesn’t matter if I tell her yes, she still checks in with me again to make sure I really did it. If I’d known the best man duties came with the nagging maid of honor, I would have let Braeden have the honor.”

“Come on, man. It can’t be that bad.”

The second the words left Gabriel’s mouth, Declan’s phone rang. He didn’t have to look down at the phone to know who it was. He’d programmed a very special ringtone for the bane of his existence.

“Seriously man, is that the Jaws theme? Please tell me that’s not the ringtone for my future sister-in-law.”

“Sorry. If I told you that, then I’d be lying.”

“Give me the phone,” Gabriel said as he reached across his desk.

Declan gladly handed him the phone, then laughed when Brooklyn started talking the second Gabriel answered the call. The man hadn’t even had a chance to say hello before she began to pester him with questions. Gabriel put the call on speaker so they both could hear what the most infuriating woman in the world had to say.

“Hello, hello…damn it, Declan. Are you even there? I need to know if you talked to Braeden about his tux. And I need to know if you’re going to be able to come over on Thursday to help put together the favors and the centerpieces. Since Finley can’t be in town until Friday, I need extra hands. And did you get the wine together for the rehearsal dinner?”

“Hi Brook,” Gabriel said as she took a breath.

“Oh hey, Gabriel. How are you? Are you excited for Saturday?”

“You know I can’t wait to marry your sister. Is there anything I can help you guys with? It seems like there might be a lot to do so put me to work.”

“Oh don’t worry, Savannah has a list of things we need you to do. The rest of it is stuff the bridal party can handle. So, Declan can I count on you to be at my house on Thursday? Oliver and Meghan will be there, and I was hoping you could maybe talk Braeden into showing up.”

“Yes, I’ll be there, Princess, but I wouldn’t count on Braeden. He’s got a case he’s been working long hours on. When I talked to him yesterday, he was picking his tux up from the cleaners and heading back to the office even though it was nearly seven o’clock.”

“That’s okay. We can make do with the four of us. Thank you for checking with Braeden about the tux. I know how he can get and if he’s busy at work, he’s even more scatterbrained than usual. Okay, well I’ll let you guys go. I’ll see you around six thirty on Thursday, Declan. Feel free to bring Erin and your sister if you’d like. The more, the merrier. And don’t worry about dinner. I’ve got it covered.”

Declan didn’t even have a chance to respond before Brooklyn ended the call. The woman was a whirlwind, and if she hadn’t been driving him crazy, he would have been impressed with the way she was handling the details of the wedding. He didn’t know anyone else that could have wrangled their group quite the way Brooklyn had…especially given how much of a wild card Braeden could be.

“So that’s what I’ve been dealing with since we got back from Vegas. She’s been harping on me non-stop about wedding stuff. I really can’t wait until your wedding is over.”

Gabriel smiled as he handed Declan back his phone. “I’m sure it’s been a real hardship for you to talk to her.”

“She’s driving me crazy.”

“And you secretly like it. I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

“Shut up, man. Seriously.”

Although he protested, Declan knew his friend was right. He had enjoyed talking to Brooklyn over the last few weeks. Even if she drove him crazy, there was still something about her that drew him in. It could have been the constant arguing they did, the banter that made him laugh just as often as it made him want to shake her. There was something about the woman that had gotten under his skin long before the trip to Vegas. Spending the evening with her had made his awareness of her stronger. There was no way he could ignore her existence after he nearly kissed her in the hotel elevator after he almost murdered a man for trying to assault her.

He was so screwed.

“You need to cut her some slack about this wedding thing. She just wants the wedding to be perfect. Hers wasn’t, and she doesn’t want her sister to go through the same thing.”

Something in his chest tightened as Gabriel’s words registered. If there was anyone who deserved the wedding of their dreams it was Brooklyn. She was precisely the kind of woman who'd been planning the big day since she was a little girl; the type of woman who knew what she wanted long before she ever found a groom. To find out her wedding day had been less than perfect surprised him and made him a bit angry. Any man marrying her should have moved heaven and earth to make sure she got what she wanted. The fact Brooklyn was currently divorced just further proved that her ex-husband was the world’s biggest idiot.

“I didn’t know that,” Declan admitted. “I haven’t said anything to her about the nagging and I haven’t been mean to her to anything, so don’t worry. I know she’s just trying to make sure everything runs smoothly. We all know this group needs someone to guide them around or we wouldn’t get anywhere.”

“I knew it. You’ve been enjoying all the texts and calls.”

Declan scoffed. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been enjoying them, but they aren’t as bad as I made them out to be.”

“Good. Just promise you’ll continue to be gentle with her this week. Just do whatever she asks, no matter how ridiculous it is. Consider it your gift to me.”

“Don’t worry. I promise to be on my best behavior where your future sister-in-law is concerned.”

“I appreciate it, man and so does Savannah.”

“You’re my best friend, man. You know I’d do anything for you.”

Over the decades they’d known each other, they’d been through a lot of ups and downs. They could have easily drifted apart when Gabriel’s family moved out of West Seattle or when Erin was born, but they didn’t let either of those events get in the way of their friendship. Neither of them liked to admit they almost allowed Gabriel’s ex-fiancée get between them, both times she was in the picture because it was embarrassing.

Declan knew no matter what that Gabriel had his back. Even if his priorities were going to change when he married Savannah, he knew Gabriel would be there for him if he asked. And Declan would genuinely do anything for Gabriel, even if it meant dealing with his crazy, gorgeous, captivating sister-in-law.

✽ ✽ ✽


The last week had been stressful. More stressful than preparing for her own wedding had been. Brooklyn wanted, no needed, everything to be perfect for her sister’s wedding. She wanted Savannah and Gabriel’s wedding to be everything hers wasn’t and more. So far everything was looking great. The rehearsal dinner had gone off without a hitch, which was no small feat.

Brooklyn was proud of herself for getting everything together and making sure everyone had a great time. The run through of the ceremony was flawless. Arrow was decorated precisely how she’d pictured it, thanks to Gabriel’s staff. The food had been impeccable, although she wasn’t surprised about that part. That was the one thing she’d been sure of going into the evening. That and she knew there wouldn’t be any issues with the venue, given it was her future brother-in-law’s restaurant.

Everything that had to do with the people involved in the wedding was what she’d been worried about. Having both sets of parents at the restaurant at the same time had been nerve-wracking. After years of being estranged following the death of his brother, Gabriel was still rebuilding his relationship with his mom and dad, and her parents admittedly weren’t their biggest fans. Brooklyn would never be rude to their faces, but she couldn’t understand how anyone could treat their only living son the way they had.

Then there was the bridal party. Braeden was unpredictable at best, and the way he acted around Declan’s twin sister was confusing and at times hilarious. With Finley came her boyfriend Liam and the potential for out of town guests to get star struck over the Hollywood actor. Hell, Savannah still occasionally got a little flustered over being in the same room as Liam, and really, Brooklyn couldn’t blame her. The man was gorgeous.

Although she’d been told she didn’t have to worry about cleaning up, Brooklyn couldn’t help herself so she’d taken to rinsing off the dishes they used so they could go through the industrial dishwasher. She wanted to leave as little behind for Gabriel’s staff as she could. Plus she wasn’t ready to head home yet. She needed some time to wind down, to prepare herself for the whirlwind of the next day. Her big sister was marrying the man of her dreams, and she knew it was going to be magical, but until the reception was over, Brooklyn was going to be on edge waiting for something terrible to happen.

“You did a great job today.”

She didn’t need to turn around to see who was speaking to her. Brooklyn had been aware of him the moment he entered the kitchen. The fact he was complimenting her was pretty out of the ordinary though. The fact he hadn’t run out of the building the moment dinner was over was another shocker. She hesitated for a second, wanting to turn and look at him, but knowing if she did, he was going to be nothing but a distraction like he usually was.

“Thank you. I’m glad everything went well. Savannah and Gabriel deserve to have everything go flawlessly throughout this entire process. Speaking of, are you all set for tomorrow? Can you…”

“Don’t worry, Princess. I’ve got everything handled. The centerpieces and decorations have been taken down and are in my car. I’ll bring them to the hotel first thing in the morning so they can decorate the ballroom for the reception.”

“I’m sorry. I just don’t want anything to ruin Savannah’s big day. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that nothing gets in the way of my goal.”

“I promise you. We’ve got this. Nothing’s going to go wrong. Gabriel told me how important this is to you.”

“Damn it, Gabriel.”

“He didn’t give me any details; he only said your wedding day was less than ideal. I didn’t pry or ask any questions.”

“I just…my wedding was nothing but problems from beginning to end and then so was my marriage. I don’t want the same thing for my sister,” Brooklyn admitted as she rinsed off the same plate she’d been holding since Declan walked in.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get the perfect day you planned. I promise I’ll do everything I can to make sure your sister and Gabriel don’t have to worry about anything.”

“Thank you for understanding why I’ve been so crazy the last few weeks. I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain.”

“Hey, I get it. Will you look at me for a second?” Declan asked.

Brooklyn hesitated for a moment but then turned to face him. Her breath caught the way it always did when she first looked at him. Though he drove her crazy, Declan checked off every single item on her most wanted list. He was tall, dark, and incredibly handsome. He had a smile that made her weak in the knees, a smirk that nearly incinerated her panties and eyes that seemed to see right into her soul. His forearms were the sexiest damn forearms she’d ever seen, and he had an ass she could bounce a quarter off of…which was a saying she never quite understood, but she was 100% certain it was the case with Declan. He was a great friend and an even better father.

How he was still single was beyond her, and despite knowing it was a bad idea, Brooklyn wanted to be more to him than the sister of his best friend’s future wife.

“You know everything that went wrong at your wedding had nothing to do with your marriage not lasting right? Mishaps happen all the time, and people stay married for their entire lives. Your wedding could have been perfect, and you’d still be divorced. Your marriage didn’t work because your ex-husband is an idiot. Simple as that.”

“You don’t know anything about my marriage,” Brooklyn protested, although she didn’t know why. Frank didn’t deserve her defending him, though she was probably defending her poor decisions more than the man she’d married.

Her ex-husband was an idiot and a philanderer and an asshole. She knew he was the reason their marriage ended. Not the fact his sister spilled red wine on her pristine white dress before the wedding, or because his mom was an extremely loud drunk, or because the best man speech was embarrassing and completely inappropriate. It was because Frank had a tough time keeping it in his pants…even on their wedding day. Of course, Brooklyn didn’t learn of that particular infidelity until after their divorce, but she should have figured it was what he was doing when he was missing for nearly thirty minutes during the reception.

“No I don’t, but I know you. And anyone who would let you get away is an idiot. Plain and simple.”

Brooklyn’s jaw dropped as she watched Declan leave the kitchen. The man was usually an antagonistic thorn in her side, arguing with her about every little thing and pushing every single one of her buttons. He rarely ever said anything nice about her, especially not to her. Yet he just had and then walked away from her like what he said wasn’t a big deal. He had no idea how much his words genuinely meant to her, but someday he would.

Turning back toward the sink to finish up her task, Brooklyn continued to run Declan’s words through her head. To hear someone unrelated to her and who wasn’t a friend tell her she wasn’t responsible for her marriage ending, meant the world to her. The fact that it was Declan who said it, only helped to solidify the crush she was developing on the hard-to-read, difficult to avoid man. He was the last thing she needed, but all she could think about. She needed to figure out how to get him out of her system. Too bad she was fairly certain it wouldn’t be that easy.

Chapter 3


Looking around the ballroom, Declan had the sudden urge to pat himself on the back. Sure, he wasn’t responsible for the set-up or the dinner. He wasn’t the reason people were having a great time, some mingling near the bar while others danced to the greatest hits from the 80’s and 90’s. It didn’t matter that his contribution to the evening was minuscule when compared to how massive an undertaking it all was. When Declan watched his best friend slow dance with his new wife to an upbeat song he hadn’t heard in twenty years, he felt like he’d been a part of a miracle.

The ceremony was beautiful, filled with laughter and love and a bunch of tears. Declan wasn’t too proud to admit some of those tears had come from his eyes as he watched Gabriel vow to love Savannah for the rest of their lives. It didn’t help that he’d already shed a few tears when he watched his daughter walk down the aisle as the flower girl. Although at 17 she was far older than most traditional flower girls, Erin had been so excited when they asked her; she didn’t care if the honor usually went to little girls.

Declan smiled remembering the look on her face as she threw rose petals along the aisle. It was adorable, but it also reminded him that she was growing up. In no time she was going to be eighteen and too soon after that she was going to go off to college. Even if she went to a school nearby, she’d still have to stay in housing on campus, meaning for the first time since she was born, Declan would go home to a house that didn’t have her in it. The thought made him rethink the wine he’d had with dinner.

The song changed to a slower one, drawing his attention back to the dance floor. People paired up or left the floor altogether, but Gabriel and Savannah didn’t even seem to notice. They were lost in each other, which was just how things should have been. On the other side of the dance floor, he saw Brooklyn watching her sister. She looked happy for the couple, yet there was a hint of something else in her eyes. If he had to guess he’d say it was longing. If anyone was the poster woman for love, it was Brooklyn. It didn’t matter that her first marriage didn’t work out, he knew she still believed in happily ever after. She wanted to find it, and he had no doubt she would.

She looked up then, her eyes meeting his, a huge smile blossoming on her face. For once, she seemed happy to see him. Surprisingly, they’d made it through the day without a single argument. They’d worked well together making sure everything within their control went perfectly. For one day they proved they made a good team. Without overthinking it, Declan crossed the dance floor, his eyes never leaving hers.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked as soon as he was close enough she could hear him.

He reached his hand out to her as he asked; holding his breath until she gave him an answer. She didn’t hesitate to place her hand in his and let him lead her into the crowd. Part of him wondered if he was making the right decision, but the other part didn’t care. He just wanted to hold her in his arms, even if for only a song or two. Stolen moments were all he could ever let himself have.

The second they found a place on the floor, her eyes lit up with a smile. With their hands still clasped, he pulled her against him, her free hand moving to his shoulder. Placing his other hand against the small of her back, he began to move them slowly. As her eyes locked with his, it felt like everything around them seemed to fade away. They were the only people on the dance floor moving to a song he could no longer hear.

Having Brooklyn in his arms felt better than he’d ever expected. It felt right to be with her at that moment reveling in the love that filled the ballroom like air. When he looked at her, he could see forever in her eyes, and it no longer seemed like a scary concept. For eighteen years, he’d convinced himself that forever wasn’t something he wanted, though as he pulled her closer, forever didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

“I told you everything would work out,” Declan said, needing to do something to take his mind off of his struggles.

“You just couldn’t wait to say that could you?” she asked, a knowing smile gracing her lips.

“Hey, I’ll have you know, I’ve been waiting hours to say those words,” he joked. “But seriously, you did a great job organizing everything for your sister. You should be proud.”

She looked up at him, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion at his compliment. He couldn’t blame Brooklyn. He didn’t spend a lot of time saying nice things to her. It wasn’t that she didn’t deserve them, it was that he couldn’t be nice to her without wanting more. If he angered her, if he pissed her off, then the chances things would go further diminished. She’d get mad and stomp off, and he wouldn’t have to worry about kissing her when he knew it was a bad idea.

“Thank you. I’m just happy that Savannah and Gabriel are happy. Things could have fallen apart, and I think they’d still be over the moon. Those two are more in love than anyone I know.”

Declan watched something unmistakable pass over her face. A blink and you miss it moment where he saw a hint of sadness in her eyes. She wanted what her sister had, everyone knew that. She thought she had it once upon a time, but apparently, her ex-husband was the biggest dumbass in the world. He wanted to assure Brooklyn that someday she’d find a man who would love her the way she deserved to be loved, but he bit his tongue.

He didn’t want to dwell on the anger that boiled in the pit of his stomach as he thought of Brooklyn with another man. He had no right to claim her, yet that’s what he yearned to do. It didn’t matter that his brain was working overtime telling him how bad that idea was. Having her in his arms for something other than a comforting hug had the rest of his body working overtime to prove his brain wrong. Even his heart seemed to be overlooking the memo his brain was sending out.

With her body pressed against his, it was hard to ignore how perfectly they fit together. How easy it would be to lean in, press his lips against hers and instigate the kiss they’d both been wanting for a long time. The kiss he almost started in the elevator in Vegas. If it weren’t for that asshole Colin the night might have ended differently, but there was no way Declan was going to make a move after what happened. It was probably for the best though. Making a move was the last thing he should do. He just had to keep reminding himself of that.

One slow song melted into another. Declan knew he should let her go, but he couldn’t. Thankfully Brooklyn didn’t seem eager to walk away, so he tightened his arm around her and brought their clasped hands in to rest against his chest. The moment felt so right. He wasn’t surprised when Brooklyn laid her head against his shoulder.

Neither of them said a word. Declan couldn’t be sure about her, but he didn’t want to ruin what was happening between them. He was the king of saying the wrong thing, especially with Brooklyn. For once, he didn’t want to piss her off. He just wanted to savor her. Savor the intoxicating berries and vanilla scent of her and the way she absently played with the hair behind his ear.

As the second song came to an end, Declan slowly released his hold on her. He didn’t want to let Brooklyn go, but he knew there was no way the DJ would play three slow songs in a row. Plus, he needed to back off, so he didn’t get caught up in how natural it felt to have her in his arms. They needed to go back to arguing and driving each other crazy. She lifted her head off his shoulder, her eyes meeting his. He could tell she was just as affected by their dance as he was. It wasn’t just a dance. It was a moment they’d been avoiding for months.

“Hey Brooklyn, sorry to interrupt, but we’re going to start putting some things away, and no one seems to know where the boxes for your centerpieces ended up.”

Saved by the bell, Declan thought as Brooklyn turned from his arms to face the hotel’s event coordinator.

“Hey Sarah, I think Eric said he put them in the supply closet with the rest of our stuff. Let me go get them and then I can help with clean up.”

“I’ll go with you. You’re going to need help getting the boxes down,” Declan said as he followed Brooklyn off the dance floor.

“I’ll be fine. I can handle it on my own.”

“No, you can’t,” Declan insisted, which was met with a groan and Brooklyn nearly sprinting toward the exit.

Pissing her off wasn’t really what he wanted, but it was what they needed to shake off the intimacy of their dance. He continued to follow her out of the ballroom and down the hall. He could tell by the tension in her shoulders she was irritated with him. Good. It would make things easier.

“Just go back to the ballroom, I’ll get the boxes,” he said as he tried to reach for the handle to the door.

“I don’t need help, Declan.”

“I’m not offering to help. I’m saying I’ve got this and you don’t need to be here.”

That was definitely the wrong thing to say. Brooklyn glared at him before batting his hand away from the door handle. She pulled the handle down and pushed the door open with much more force than necessary. Oh yeah, she wasn’t happy with him, which he hoped meant they could get back to their usual routine.

She didn’t hold the door open for him, and since he wasn’t paying attention, it nearly hit him in the face as he walked into the tiny closet. The door closed behind him, engulfing them in darkness.

“Damn it, why didn’t you just hold the door open?” Brooklyn asked irritation evident in her voice. “Did you see where the light was?”

“I think there’s a chain for the light near where you’re standing,” Declan told her.

Of course, he could have pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and used it to make her life a little easier, but what fun would that be? If she was going to be annoyed with him, he might as well enjoy it. She swore a few times, cursing him at least once before she found the chain. There was an audible click before the room was lit up by a single light bulb above their heads.

“Alright, let’s get this over with,” she said as she looked around for the boxes they’d brought in that morning.

Declan knew just where the boxes were since he’d helped put them up which explained why he knew she was going to need help getting them down. He wasn’t just trying to annoy her, although he was enjoying himself. Even if she’d still been wearing her heels, she wouldn’t have been able to reach the shelf the boxes were on. It’d been a stretch for him, and he was at least four inches taller than her.

Brooklyn spotted the boxes before he had a chance to point them out. Moving over to the wire shelving unit she reached up, her fingers barely brushing the bottom of them. Standing on her tiptoes, Brooklyn tried to push the boxes closer to the edge and then over, but they hardly moved. He watched in utter fascination as she continued to work out a way to get the boxes down. She tried jumping up to reach for the boxes, nearly falling on her ass as she came down on unsteady legs.

“You’re going to hurt yourself. Let me help.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got this,” Brooklyn said with a grunt as she tried again to push the boxes off the shelf. She was now using the bottom shelf to make herself just a little bit taller, but it still wasn’t doing the trick.

Declan knew she was two seconds away from climbing the wire shelving in her dress. If he didn’t stop her and she got hurt, he’d never forgive himself and neither would her sister. The woman was one of the most stubborn people he’d ever met, too bad for her; he was just as stubborn. She needed to realize he was trying to be helpful, not trying to keep her from being independent or whatever the hell her deal was currently.

The room was tiny with very little room to maneuver for one person, let alone two. There wasn’t enough room to stand next to Brooklyn and reach the boxes, and he couldn’t pick her up to get her out of the way. The second he stepped forward, he knew he was going to regret the move in one way or another, but it was too late to change his mind.

As soon as his chest met her back, she stilled, her arms above her head still reaching for the boxes. He waited for her to move or say something, but nothing happened. She didn’t even continue to try for the boxes. Like a frightened animal, she froze, waiting to see what he would do next. Before he even made it, Declan knew his next move was epically stupid. He should have backed up and left the room, let her figure things out on her own. Instead, he reached over her to grab the boxes, his hands moving along her outstretched arms. His eyes fluttered closed, as his entire body became in tune with hers.

The hitch in her breath, the shiver that ran down her body. He felt it all. The last thing he should’ve done was touch her, but he couldn’t help himself. Touching her was all he’d wanted to do for months, and the desire had gotten harder to ignore since the weekend in Vegas. He knew her skin would be silky soft. He knew she’d feel good pressed up against him. He knew she was having just as difficult a time fighting their attraction as he was.

Yet at the moment he waited for her to react. Waited for her to elbow him in the stomach or yell at him about being in her way. Instead, she relaxed into him, a sigh escaping her lips.

“I knew you’d need me,” he whispered into her ear.

He half expected that to be the moment she decided to punch him. He wouldn’t deny the fact he deserved it, but whatever was about to happen, he wasn’t going to stop it.

“I don’t need you,” she said half-heartedly as she pushed back against him.

He groaned as her ass made contact with his rapidly hardening cock. Things were starting to get real.

“You’re playing with fire, Princess.”

“I’m not afraid to get burned,” she taunted, her ass brushing against him again.

He knew it was a bad idea, but he couldn’t stop himself. Not even if the walls started coming down around them. The moment was over a year in the making. Hours of her prancing around in sexy outfits whenever they went out. Hours of watching her shake her ass and flirt with men that weren’t him. Hours of watching her cheer for the Mariners, getting mad when the umps made the wrong call. Hours of her fretting over her sister’s wedding because she wanted the big day to be perfect.

Hours of arguing with her over the dumbest things because he didn’t want to admit she’d gotten under his skin.

From the moment he met her, Brooklyn St. James had begun making herself comfortable in his brain. He thought about her more often then he’d ever admit. Her smile, the way she smelled like heaven, her passion for baseball that rivaled his own, her laugh. There wasn’t a damn thing he didn’t like about her, and that realization pissed him off.

Declan knew they were destined to arrive at this moment. Since the day they met, he knew they’d end up where they were. Maybe not in a storage closet at a hotel in Downtown Seattle, but in each other’s arms. Maybe they just needed to get it out of their system to move past their antagonistic relationship into something that would cause fewer waves amongst their group. And maybe he was going to grow wings and never have to sit in traffic again.

It didn’t matter that once he had her, he wouldn’t want to go back. It didn’t matter that whatever was between them couldn’t go anywhere. He needed this, needed her.

He didn’t wait for an invitation or for her to make another move. Instead, he moved his hands back down her arms, pushing gently so she’d lower them to her sides. His hands grazed along the sides of her breasts, then down her sides to the skirt of her dress. Pulling it up until he could get his hands underneath it, he nearly groaned when his fingers made contact with the bare skin of her thighs.

“Touch me, Declan.”

He did groan then, her words adding fuel to the fire burning within him. Grateful that her hair was up in a messy bun, he brushed his lips behind her ear, then down along the curve of her neck and over her shoulder. Peppering kisses along her bare skin, he moved his hands along her thighs, heading for the place he was dying to touch. He could feel the heat from her core before he even touched her.

Rubbing the heel of his palm against her clit only proved to aggravate them both. He needed to feel her slickness against his fingers, needed to feel her body clench around him as he brought her to orgasm. She writhed against his hand, then whimpered when he moved back up her body so that he could slide it underneath her silky panties.

“Don’t worry Princess, I’m going to take care of you,” he whispered as he nipped at her earlobe.

“Less talk, more action,” she demanded through clenched teeth. “Just fuck me Declan. I don’t need foreplay. I just need your cock filling me up.”

“Jeezus…” he groaned dropping his head against her shoulder.

Those words falling from the lips of the woman he’d been dreaming about for months nearly undid him. Not wanting to disappoint her, he removed his hand then turned her around to face him. Her skin was flushed, her lips parted, eyes glossy with desire. He met her gaze for just a moment before he removed his wallet from his jacket pocket, then took his jacket off and threw it on the wire rack behind her. He pulled a condom out then threw his wallet on top of his jacket, while Brooklyn went to work undoing his pants.

With precision he was surprised they could muster his cock was free from its confines and covered in the condom in mere seconds. His knees nearly buckled when she took him in her hot little hand, stroking him from root to tip. She needed to stop, but he wasn’t about to tell her to. Instead, he pulled at her skirt until it bunched around her waist. With the dress out of the way, he reached around her until he cupped her fantastic ass in his hands, a groan escaping his lips when his hands slipped against silky skin instead of silky fabric.

Hauling her against him, he lifted her until she could wrap her long, sexy legs around his waist. He used the shelves behind her to hold her still as he pulled her panties to the side and notched the head of his cock at her entrance. His eyes met hers looking for a sign that she’d changed her mind.

“Come on,” she urged her nails digging into his shoulders.

He was thankful for the layers of his tux otherwise he was sure she’d draw blood. She chewed on her lower lip waiting for him to make a move. She wiggled her hips trying to force him into action. If he weren’t so close to losing his mind, he would have continued to tease her. Watching her grow frustrated with his lack of effort made his dick harder if that was even possible. Knowing she wanted him just as much as he wanted her made his balls ache with the need for release. His heart hammered against his chest, and for a moment he felt like he might pass out.

Without warning or a second thought, he thrust into her, surprising them both. He stilled, allowing them both a moment to catch their breaths. It was finally happening. The moment they both knew they’d never be able to outrun. Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the way he’d feel having her wrapped around him. He knew she’d feel good, but the way her pussy gripped his cock like a vice was unbelievable.

He slowly started to move, his body rocking into hers. With each thrust and retreat, Brooklyn's legs tightened around him, like she was trying to keep him buried inside of her. He fucked her slowly at first, but it did nothing to slake his need.

She tightened her grip on his shoulders as he picked up speed.

“Harder…please Declan, I’m so close.”

Her head fell back, eyes closed as he pounded into her. If he wasn’t careful, she was going to end up with a bruise across her back from the shelf he fucked her against. She didn’t seem to care as she tried to pull him closer, her moans and her body urging him to take her harder.

His thrusts became erratic, his balls tightening. Declan reached between their bodies to rub his thumb against her clit. There was no way he was going to come until he made sure she’d gotten off. She shuddered at the contact, so he continued to tease the swollen nub until she writhed against him.

“Oh fuck…fuck…” she muttered as her orgasm came crashing down. If he thought she was tight before, it was nothing compared to how she gripped him as she succumbed to her pleasure. Declan nearly shot off the second her walls started to convulse around him but managed to hold it together so he could prolong Brooklyn’s orgasm.

Once she started to come down, he drove into her, pressing her hard against the shelf. It only took a couple of thrusts before he began to shake. He came a second later, his body tensing as he held himself against her, hot spurts of cum filling the thin barrier between them.

Declan relaxed his hold on her but didn’t put her down. He couldn’t trust his body or her legs. The last thing he wanted to do was explain how either of them got injured looking for boxes in a storage closet. Gabriel would kick his ass if she knew what they’d been doing.

The second he thought about his best friend, the post-orgasmic euphoria fled from his body. He felt like he’d been doused in freezing cold water. If he hadn’t been holding her up, he probably would have jumped back to put some space between them.

Fuck. What have I done? he thought as he tried to figure out how to extricate himself from the situation without making matters worse.

Slowly he set her down, making sure her legs could support her before he backed away. Her brows furrowed as she watched him, the look of satisfaction that had been on her face moments earlier was long gone. His palms started to sweat as he removed the condom, making sure to tie the end in a knot. He looked around the room, looking for somewhere to dispose of the evidence, but found nothing, so he shoved it into his pants pocket.

Without looking at her, he started to do up his pants, not bothering to tuck his shirt back in. He didn’t have to worry about Erin since she was with his sister, so once they finished, he wouldn’t be heading back to the reception. He needed to get the hell out of there. Needed to deal with how being with Brooklyn made him feel. Fuck, he shouldn’t even be thinking about how she made him feel. They couldn’t do it again. It was a mistake. It was too damn good.

He was in so much trouble.


His name falling from her lips always made him feel good until that moment. She sounded hesitant, worried and he’d done that to her, and he was about to make it worse. He couldn’t let her know how much being with her had affected him. She couldn’t know that she was going to be his undoing. He rubbed a hand over his face, then looked over at her. Unshed tears shimmered in her eyes. She knew without him even saying anything that their moment was over.

“Brooklyn, this was a mistake. It didn’t mean anything. I shouldn’t have let you push me into it. I’m sorry, but we shouldn’t have done this.”

“What…how can you say that?” she asked, her voice shaky as she tried not to cry.

“We can barely stand each other most of the time. I just…this…it shouldn’t have happened.”

She winced at his harsh words, her shoulders starting to tremble. His chest burned with each lie he spoke. It killed him to hurt her, but he couldn’t run the risk of her wanting more. There couldn’t be more. He wasn’t good enough for her. She deserved someone who could be the love of her life, and that definitely wasn’t him.

The sound of her sobs filled the tiny closet. Without thinking he took a step toward her wanting to comfort her even though he was the asshole who’d hurt her. She jerked away from him, then pushed him out of the way so she could get to the door.

“Fuck you Declan. Don’t fucking touch me,” she yelled before yanking the door open.

His eyes met those of Oliver’s over Brooklyn’s shoulder. Meghan was standing next to him, but she only had eyes for her friend. Brooklyn barreled out of the room, nearly taking her friend out as she did. When Meghan followed her down the hall, Declan was left alone with Oliver, his friend’s questions written all over his face.

“What the fuck just happened, man?”

Declan had no idea how to answer the question. He was angry at himself for being a dickhead. Pissed that he’d let things go that far then turned around and hurt one of the most amazing women he’d ever met after the best sex he’d ever had. He was a monumental dumbass, and there was nothing he could do to fix it. The realization made him angrier, and instead of holding it in, he took it out on his friend.

“None of your fucking business,” he growled before grabbing his wallet and jacket off of the shelf. He shoved his way through the door, bumping against Oliver, who was blocking his way. He didn’t apologize as he did, just shot his friend a warning look, then stalked off down the hallway until he found the entrance.

Declan wasn’t sure how one of the best nights of his life could so quickly become a shit show, but he knew he was the only one to blame. He just hoped he hadn’t done irreparable damage to his friendships because he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. The minute he realized Brooklyn was worth whatever hell came down upon him, was the minute he realized he was utterly and totally screwed and not in a good way.

Chapter 4


This was a mistake. It didn’t mean anything. I shouldn’t have let you push me into it.

For the better part of two weeks, Brooklyn had done her best to forget about what happened at her sister’s wedding. Every once in a while, she’d have a flashback to how it felt to be touched by him, to be filled by him. Then his words would smack her in the face again like they had that night and anger would course through her.

Thankfully, she hadn’t seen Declan since the night in question. It would have been hard for her to fight off the urge to punch him in the nuts. He deserved it. Hell, he deserved more than that considering the way he’d made her feel like some fucking siren that’d led him to his doom. They both knew they’d been dancing around the inevitable since the moment they met. It was only a matter of time before they broke. Given their close proximity leading up the wedding, it wasn’t a surprise it happened there.

What had been a surprise was Declan’s reaction and more importantly her reaction to what he said. She had no idea why she cared so much about him thinking the moment was a mistake. Or why her chest ached when she thought about how he said it didn’t mean anything.

It didn’t mean anything…at least that’s what she kept telling herself. For some reason, the words that came out of his mouth the night she stupidly gave in to the attraction between them had cut straight to her heart, and she was trying her damnedest to figure out why. All while trying not to think about that night at all.

She was a mess. And there was really no one she could talk to about it. Only a handful of people know about what happened, and Oliver and Meghan were a bit too busy to even think about Brooklyn’s problems. Her best friend Kerrigan was on vacation with her fiancé Ben and thus not available to listen to her whine. So instead of talking out her issues with her friends, she was keeping everything bottled up inside, which made her both depressed and angry.

Her sister said she was a delight to be around, which was Savannah's subtle way of saying she was being a bitch. Instead of working out front, Savannah made her wash dishes in the back where no one could be offended by her. Of course, she couldn’t tell Savannah why she was in such a bad mood. Brooklyn didn’t want her sister to know she’d finally broken down and hooked up with Declan. She especially didn’t want her to know she’d then broken down in tears when he rudely pushed her away.

Brooklyn was embarrassed by the entire situation, even more so by the fact, her body went weak every time she had one of the hot yet inconvenient flashbacks. She hated knowing she’d have a hard time turning Declan down if he wanted to go again. Despite the hurt his words caused, his body had done more damage. A quick fuck in a storage closet had made her feel more than she’d felt in a long time. Had meant more than she cared to admit.

“Hey Brooklyn, do you have a second?”

The uncertainty tainting the words made Brooklyn cringe. The last person she wanted to be hesitant to talk to her was Erin. Even though Erin was Declan’s daughter, Brooklyn liked her and felt a connection with her that went beyond employer/employee. Since she’d started working at Delectable Delights back in June, Brooklyn had gotten used to having her around. Now that school was back in session, Erin didn’t work as often as she had over the summer and Brooklyn found herself missing the time they got to spend together.

“Of course. You know I’ve always got time for you,” Brooklyn said as she turned around to face her. “What’s up?”

After grabbing a towel to dry her hands on, Brooklyn leaned back against the sink and watched Erin pull out one of the stools they kept tucked under the counter. The teenager still seemed hesitant to talk to her, but Brooklyn could tell it wasn’t because of her lousy attitude. Erin was usually bubbly and confident, talking a mile a minute about whatever was going on in her life. The fact that she was sitting on the stool, not making eye contact and wringing her hands together in her lap meant she was nervous about something.

“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” she said, hoping to ease Erin’s anxiety.

“Sorry. It’s nothing big really, but I was kinda hoping you might be able to help me. I need to write a few essays for college applications and scholarship applications and well…words are not really my thing. I’m much better with science and math, but these essays are critical, so I was hoping given you’re a writer and stuff that you’d be willing to help me out,” Erin said before stopping to take a breath. “I could pay you, or we could work out a trade or I mean, I don’t know, I just need help and dad said you’d be the best person to ask and I agree. So, will you…please? It would mean a lot.”

Brooklyn wasn’t sure what to think about Declan recommending that Erin ask her for help. After what happened, she wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d asked her not to work at Delectable Delights anymore. It was already pretty obvious he’d gotten someone else to make the deliveries to DD, or he was coming in when he knew she wouldn’t be there. Usually, she would have seen him at least twice during any given week when he delivered their wine.

“Of course, I’ll help you. I’d love to. I'm sure this won’t surprise you, but I enjoy writing essays and proofreading other people’s work. My sister says I’m weird, but I can’t help it.”

“Oh my gosh, that’s great. I really appreciate it. Just tell me what you want in return, money or I can clean your house or whatever.”

Erin’s glasses fell down the bridge of her nose as she excitedly listed off the things she’d do in exchange for Brooklyn’s help. Every once in a while, she’d do things that reminded Brooklyn of her dad, and it made her heart clench. She had his bright green eyes, but her hair was a few shades lighter. Erin was the total package, brilliant, funny, and gorgeous. It was a wonder she didn’t have boys knocking down her door.

“It’s fine, Erin. I’ve got the time, and I’m happy to do it. I don’t need anything in return. Just kick ass in college, and that’ll be enough for me.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Erin said as she rushed over to hug Brooklyn. “This means so much to me. These essays are everything.”

“Hey, it’s no problem. I’m glad I can help. I remember writing essays for college applications. They’re difficult, and it would have been awesome to have someone else read them before I sent them in.”

“Ummm…” Erin said as she took a step back. “So now that you’ve said yes, I’ve got something to admit and I’m hoping you’ll be able to keep this between us.”

Brooklyn knew she should have said no. She should have told the girl she couldn’t keep things from her father that would have been the right thing to do. But she wanted Erin to trust her. For some reason, Brooklyn felt it was important the girl had an adult in her corner that wouldn’t judge her, who would help her with whatever she needed. She knew Declan loved his daughter, but he was blinded by wanting to keep her safe. And her aunt, Declan’s sister Andrea, was nearly as bad.

“I swear, it’s not a big deal or anything, I just don’t want my dad to know I’m applying for out of state colleges. I kinda told him I needed an English tutor because I was struggling in class. He thinks I’m only applying to the University of Washington, but I have to get out of here. I’m not applying for any colleges in the state, which is why the scholarship applications are so important. Out of state tuition is much higher.”

That was not what Brooklyn was expecting to hear, although she couldn’t say she was surprised. Given how protective Declan was, it wasn’t shocking Erin wanted to go to school out of state. Brooklyn knew Erin loved her dad more than anything, but it was hard for anyone to figure out who they were when they were under the constant watch of a parental figure.

Although she understood what Erin wanted, Brooklyn couldn’t ignore the fact she felt like she should try to talk some sense into the girl. Declan would be pissed when he found out, pissed and hurt his little girl didn’t want to be around him anymore. Not to mention how angry he’d be with Brooklyn when he found out she knew and didn’t tell him.

“Look, I get it. I do, but don’t you think keeping this from your dad is only going to make things worse? He’s going to find out eventually and then what? He’s going to be mad and probably pretty hurt.”

Erin turned around and started to pace. It was apparent Brooklyn wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know. Erin was a smart girl. She’d probably thought the situation through backward and forward and sideways. Looked at every single variable, pros and cons, worst case scenarios and whatever else she could think up.

“I know. But what if I apply for these schools and I don’t get in? Then I’ve hurt his feelings for nothing. I don’t want to say anything until I have actual news. I’m going to apply for early decision for my number one school and regular timeline for my backups in case I don’t get in. Early decision letters usually come out the middle of December, so I should know more in a couple of months. Then I’ll tell my dad.”

Brooklyn couldn’t argue with her point. Why say anything until there was something concrete to say? Of course, she also had a bad feeling about Erin not saying anything. The decision to go along with Erin’s plan was probably going to bite her in the ass eventually, but it didn’t matter. She wasn’t Declan’s favorite person, and he certainly wasn’t hers. If he got mad at her for helping his daughter, then so be it.

“Fine. I won’t say anything to your dad, but only on one condition.”

“Name it,” Erin said as she stopped pacing. She looked at Brooklyn like she had the answer to all of her problems. “I’ll do whatever you want as long as we can keep this from my dad until I know more.”

“Send an application to the University of Washington. I know you don’t want to go there, but at least do that for him while you’re planning on leaving him behind. He’s gonna be crushed, so at least give him this one thing.”

Erin sighed, but Brooklyn could tell she was relieved that applying for a school she didn’t want to go to was all Brooklyn was asking for in return.

“Okay, if that’s what it’ll take for you not to tell my dad, then I’ll apply. Heck, I’ll send an application to every school in the state that has a veterinarian program so that you’ll keep this secret for a couple of months.”

Brooklyn smiled at the girl. “I don’t think that’s necessary…although if you wanted to apply to Washington State, I could put in a good word for you. It would definitely make a good back-up school, far enough away to get some freedom, but not so far away your dad would lose his mind.”

“I’ll think about it. I mean they are ranked fourteenth in the country and I know it’s a good school, but I really want to go to North Carolina State. The program is ranked third in the country, and North Carolina is beautiful. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the furthest away from here. I promise though it’s not the only reason I want to go there.”

“I know. I promise I won’t say anything to your dad. We’re not talking at the moment anyway, so that won’t be a problem, but I don’t recommend keeping the secret for long if you can help it. I get why you want to go away for school, but he loves you and no matter how overbearing he gets he deserves to be kept in the loop about this.”

Erin sighed again, the kind of overdramatic, exacerbated sigh that teenage girls were known for. Brooklyn wouldn’t have been surprised if there was an eye roll to go along with the sigh. The last thing she wanted to do was lecture the girl, but Brooklyn knew Declan wasn’t going to be happy about his daughter’s plans.

“I know he loves me. He’d do anything for me…which is what he’s been doing since I was born. He gave up his future for me. Going away for college isn’t just about me figuring out who I am, but it’s also for him and Aunt DeeDee. Both of them need to get lives that don’t revolve around me or that stupid company. I want my dad to have all the things he gave up to have me. He’s a little too old for the professional baseball career, but he could fall in love, get married, maybe have more kids. I don’t know, but I feel like he wasted a lot of time putting his life on hold for me and I want him to stop doing that. I want him to stop using me as an excuse to keep from actually living.”

Brooklyn’s mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. She didn’t know what to say, but she knew she had to say something. Most teenagers would have been so self-absorbed they wouldn’t have noticed or cared about what their parents were going through. They wouldn’t have noticed the sacrifices they made for them. Brooklyn was ashamed to admit that was precisely the kind of teenager she’d been. The fact Erin not only noticed but also wanted something better for her dad proved she was more mature than most kids her age.

“You have to know he doesn’t regret the way his life turned out. He doesn’t regret giving things up for you. Not baseball, not being in a relationship. He would give it all up all over again for you without even thinking about it.”

“How do you know that? Has he said something to you?”

“Not in so many words, but you only have to look at the man when he talks about you to know he’d do anything for you. He loves you so much and is so proud of the woman you’re becoming. I guarantee he’d do it all over again if he had to because you’re the most important part of his life.”

“But he could have had so much more. He didn’t have to spend the last eighteen years alone.”

“Technically he wasn’t alone, although I know what you mean. Eventually he’ll get out there and figure out what he wants to do with his life, but for now, he wants to make sure you have everything you need. Your dad and I might not always get along, but I have to say you lucked out in the dad department. I know he can be tough to get through to, but I think he’ll understand where you’re coming from.”

“I’ll think about telling him sooner, I really will, but for now I think its best this way. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him and all that,” she reiterated. “Thanks for the talk Brooklyn and for being open to helping me out. I really appreciate it. I should get back to work though before Jeanine comes back here to scold me.”

With an awkward wave, Erin backed her way through the swinging door that led to the front of the bakery. Shaking her head, Brooklyn turned back to the sink to focus on the dishes she still needed to wash. She had no idea what to do about Erin’s secret. She didn’t want to betray the girl, but she also didn’t want to piss Declan off any more than she needed to.

Despite their differences and everything that’d happened between them, they were going to have to get along for the sake of their friends. It wouldn’t be fair for their friends to have to deal with the constant fighting whenever they were near each other. Now that the awkwardness of their closet rendezvous hung between them, Brooklyn had a feeling the tension was only going to be worse, and it wasn’t like she could explain to everyone why she had so much animosity for the man.

As much as she wanted to punch Declan in the face, she knew she was going to have to be the bigger person and suck it up. She could be hurt all she wanted in the privacy of her own home, but around everyone else, Brooklyn was going to have to act as if Declan hadn’t ripped a piece of her soul out when he let those words fall from his lips while she was still fixing her dress. It wasn’t going to be easy, but Brooklyn had dealt with far more difficult and heart-wrenching secrets, what was one little interlude in the grand scheme of things.

✽ ✽ ✽


He’d been avoiding her for weeks. Not for his sake, but for hers. He’d been an ass the night of the wedding, and she didn’t deserve to have it rubbed in her face. Although she could be a giant pain in his ass, Brooklyn was a fantastic woman. She shouldn’t have to deal with him and his issues.

So instead of fessing up about what was going through his head that night or acting like an even bigger asshole, he altered his delivery route so she wouldn’t have to deal with him while she was at work. He steered clear of the group get-togethers so he could give her the space she deserved. He fought the urge to call her when Meghan’s news made the rounds. He knew he was the last person she’d want to comfort her, even though he wanted to.

Since the moment he opened his mouth and crushed her, he’d regretted it. He’d acted rashly, out of fear, out of necessity, maybe both. He wasn’t too proud to admit to himself that he’d freaked out. It wasn’t just about how amazing the sex was. It was how it made him feel. There wasn’t a single person he could talk to about his feelings and he sure as hell couldn’t admit them to Brooklyn. She was the kind of woman that deserved to marry the love of her life and have children and Declan knew without a shadow of a doubt he was not that man. He couldn’t be that man.

He just wished he could take back what he’d said or at the very least take back how it had made her feel. He’d never meant to hurt her. If he could go back, he’d handle it differently, although the result would be the same. He couldn’t be with her, no matter how badly he wanted to be. He’d thought about steering clear of her forever, but that wasn’t possible or plausible. They had too many friends in common, and now that she was helping Erin with her college stuff, Declan knew it was time to call a truce. With any luck, they could both forget about what happened that night and go back to being normal.

Everything would be fine again.

Except he couldn’t stop remembering how she felt pressed up against him. What it felt like to finally be buried inside of her. He couldn’t forget the way her moans filled the small space or the way she cried out his name when she came. But he also couldn’t forget the pain in her eyes when he accused her of talking him into having sex with her like he didn’t have a mind of his own.

When he saw tears fill her eyes, Declan knew he’d gone too far, but there was no way he could step back at least not in that moment. For the first time in eighteen years, sex had felt like more than just scratching an itch, and it had scared the shit out of him. Instead of focusing on why, he lashed out and blamed Brooklyn, despite the fact it wasn’t completely a surprise. Since the moment he’d met her, Declan knew Brooklyn was different. He knew she could break through every wall he’d built around himself.

Knowing that was precisely why he’d tried to stay away. It was why he’d picked on Brooklyn and pushed her away whenever he had the chance. He would have kept doing it if Gabriel hadn’t forced him into close proximity with her. Why couldn’t he have chosen Oliver or Braeden as his best man? It would have made his life a hell of a lot easier and a hell of a lot more boring. J