“You know what you need?”
Gage Deveroe groaned as his sister squared up to him, right in his face. They stood in the middle of her living room with a lively party going on around them. This was the worst place for one of her lectures. “I suppose you’re going to tell me I should have had a V8.”
Gia’s eyes narrowed. “I’m serious. Kyle’s been gone four months—”
Gage pointed a forefinger at his sister, the same hand that curled around a sweating glass of whiskey on the rocks. “Watch yourself, Gia. You’re about to cross a line that no one breaches.”
“You don’t cut your hair. You don’t shave,” she said. “You don’t see women.”
“My grooming and love life have nothing to do with you.”
Gia reached for his drink, determination in the set clench of her jaw. He held firmly to the glass. She tugged. Honey-brown liquid sloshed over his fingers and onto the floor.
“Fine. Take the glass if you want it. I need some air.”
The tense conversation couldn’t have taken place at a worse time; wall-to-wall people filled Gia’s house, there to celebrate her new business venture. They laughed, flirted, and drank. Some turned their heads curiously in his and Gia’s direction. To hell with this.
Gage edged through the boisterous crowd. A few tried to engage him in conversation; he gave terse answers, not capable of more.
In Gia’s kitchen, he poured himself a glass of water. Tipping back the water glass, he drank deeply; alcohol would not have agreed with him tonight. He knew that. Knew Gia had been right to take the alcohol from him. He felt so damn angry.
He set his glass aside. TJ, his best friend, would understand how he felt. TJ had lost Kyle as well. He pulled out his cell and tapped in TJ’s number.
“What’s up? I thought you were going to your sister’s party tonight?”
“I am at her party. I thought you were coming.”
“No way. I know how your sister is. I want no part of her schemes. Did she say I’d accepted?”
“I guess I assumed…”
“The party’s that bad, huh?’
Gage shrugged to himself. “No. It’s just that I was trying to get drunk, and she took my glass away. Like I’m some damn teenager.”
“You deserved to have your glass taken away. You don’t need to resort to that.”
“I wouldn’t have gotten drunk. Hell, my whiskey was already watered down when she grabbed it out of my hand.”
“You told me this celebration means a lot to Gia. Just enjoy it. Stay for another hour or so, and you’ve done your duty.”
“You’re right. I’m being an ass.”
A couple of women burst into the kitchen. Their laughter was another thing he did not need. He froze, feeling as if a spotlight shone on him. They slid to a stop, their eyes on his dark gaze, the thick beard on his face.
Gage told TJ he’d see him soon and ended his call.
“Ladies,” he said. He slipped out the back door into the night.
The air was crisp. Just what he needed. He inhaled deep and tipped his head back to the sky. Stars glittered down at him.
When would this madness end? He could not stop thinking about Kyle. Feeling like shit because of Kyle.
Kyle should be here. With his family. With his friends.
Gage squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, the horror. He had to stop focusing on that. Life was short. Life sucked. But there was always hope. There had been hope for Kyle.
Gia was right. Gage needed to start living again, but shock and grief had its stages and he was patient enough to deal with each step.
Gage blew out his breath. He and Kyle had been best friends since they were teenagers. In the early years of college, they met TJ and had become best buds with him as well. Then Kyle dropped out of college and entered the military. Gage and TJ continued to hang together.
Rolling his shoulders and taking a deep breath, Gage told himself to focus on the present.
He wasn’t sure that was a good idea either.
Gage wanted to blame his agitation on having to attend this party when it was the last thing he wanted to do. He wanted to be angry with his sister for her raw, verbal, in-his-face, get-it-together commands. He wanted, still, to be angry over Kyle’s death. However, it was true what they say about time. The anger and shock were slowly fading.
His irritable restlessness was due to his not having a woman in months.
But what woman would want him in his current mood?
Damn it. He needed his sister to kick him in the ass. It would go to her head if he told her how right she was.
He needed a woman. A soft, warm, willing woman to bring him back to life.
His aversion to the last few women who had come on to him hadn’t surprised him; they’d left him craving something more. Dating bored him. If Gage was honest with himself, and he usually was, no sex had ever been as satisfying as the sex he’d shared with a woman and his closest friend, TJ.
“Serious eye candy,”
his sister had once called TJ.
Unfortunately, those encounters with TJ and shared women had been achingly brief. More like one-night stands. There weren’t that many women, in his opinion and with his brief ménage experiences, who wanted to be with two men at once.
Gage inhaled the crisp autumn air, lifted his face to the sky as he absorbed the rich quiet of the woods surrounding the deck, and tried to let thoughts of Kyle’s PTSD and his horrific suicide fade into the background.
He needed to follow up with Kyle’s family soon to see how they were doing, but at this point, he doubted he’d ever have closure.
With purposeful intent, Gage let the total lack of a woman in his life take precedence.
A shoe scraped against the wood on the other side of the deck. Gage cursed beneath his breath. He’d been hoping for a few moments of solitude. It was rare that Gage got a Saturday night off, but right now, he wished he was at work, taking orders for drinks and chatting with the customers. That was a crowd he knew how to handle.
Turning his head toward the shadowy corner, Gage leaned against the railing. His breath caught.
A woman stood there alone in the shadows. There was just enough light for him to make out the color of her hair and her exquisite bone structure.
“Do you mind telling me what you’re staring at?” the woman said. Her low voice had a smoky quality to it.
At the sound of her voice, lust slid down his spine like tiny shards of ice.
Gage frowned, trying to place her, but he knew without a doubt he’d never met her, never heard her before either, because surely he would have remembered that low, smoky voice.
She appeared to be quite tall despite her slouched position near the rail. In seconds, he’d noted her wheat-blonde hair scraped back from her face, her thin black coat over a slim black skirt, and black boots up to her knees. Small silver balls glinted in the lady’s earlobes; she had no other jewelry that Gage could see. She slowly straightened, her back as stiff as that of a fearful virgin.
The word classy
came to mind—a woman definitely not for him.
He liked a sexy woman with a sense of humor, and this lady looked uptight.
He liked a woman who wasn’t afraid to step out of the mold and just go for it, a woman who was comfortable and confident.
Hell, he might as well start a list.
He wanted a woman who wasn’t afraid to try something new. He wanted a creative lover. He wanted a woman to help take his mind off Kyle and his grief.
Damn it. He wanted sweaty, out-of-control sex with a willing partner and all of the above.
Gage wished this woman would step out of the shadows so he could see her eyes. They had barely exchanged words, but suddenly, there was no place else he’d rather be.
Her one word tugged a grin out of him. “I’m staring at you, sweetheart. What’s your name?”
“It’s not sweetheart.”
Surprised by the brittle tone of her comeback, Gage tipped back his head and laughed. Then he felt guilty, because he knew with certainty it was his first laugh since Kyle’s death. “I’m Gage Deveroe. Gia is my younger sister. This is her party. Now it’s your turn. How do you know her?”
“You must be Gia’s irritating older brother.”
Another laugh burst from him. “I already told you she was my younger sister. You’re supposed to respond with introducing yourself.”
“And then? Is it all right if I tell you to get lost?” she asked sweetly.
“Ouch,” he said with some feeling and a grin. He knew now what he needed to do. Although he would never forget Kyle, he needed to move on with his life.
JAMI PANTANO BIT her lip. What am I doing?
She’d had a bitch of a day. No reason to take it out on other people.
She’d spent another day fantasizing about her boss. She’d left work eager to get home, shower, and change, only to look in her rearview mirror and see Nick in the car behind her. Now she felt dressed wrong. She was the only woman wearing a skirt. Everyone else at this party was dressed in casual jeans, shirts or sweaters.
Wearing the wrong party clothes wasn’t a huge deal to her. Jami just didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now. She felt too worried to hold a decent conversation. As if seeing her ex today weren’t enough, she had thoughts of her sexy boss on her brain.
Her bald, earring-wearing boss. His smooth coffee-toned skin, broad shoulders, biceps so muscular she doubted both of her hands together could span one of them. Ty had been uppermost in her mind and body for weeks and weeks. Mr. Tyree James, former college football star, and a walking, breathing advertisement for every woman’s fantasy man.
Forget him. He’s not only your boss, he’s a good friend, and friends don’t fantasize about each other.
Jami shook her head, determined to get her mind off Ty if it killed her.
She needed a lover. She knew that. Knew Tyree was not for her. But she had bigger problems than that right now. Her ex finding out where she worked and following her couldn’t be good.
She narrowed her gaze on the man watching her. Gia’s brother.
A few minutes ago, she thought she’d heard him say shit
under his breath. That brought a faint grin to her lips.
In the weak light, she noted his longish hair, the strong lines of his jaw and cheekbone structure despite the thick beard. The width of his shoulders was massive, his legs long and muscled in his brown slacks.
He had a bold, hungry look about him, his eyes smoldering in masculine sexuality as he watched her checking him out.
He was so gorgeous that any residual thoughts of her sexy boss flew out of her head.
Gia had once shown her several photos of her brother, and Jami remembered he’d looked quite sexy. In one photo, he’d lain sprawled on the grassy ground, a big dog on top of him, licking his face; the broad grin on his face told her he’d been laughing at the dog. In another photo, he’d been on a beach at sundown, walking out of the waves, his sculpted body dripping with water, his head flung back, and the camera captured water droplets midair.
“You don’t look like Gia’s brother,” she said shortly, and for a moment, she thought she glimpsed sadness in his eyes. “In photos I’ve seen, you didn’t have facial hair.”
She watched Gage with curiosity and interest.
Jami wanted a lover. Not just any lover. She wanted a man who knew what to do in the bedroom. She wanted a man to show her how making love could really feel. And even though she’d recently discovered she was tired of being alone every night and weekend, she wanted a man who treated her with respect.
Her ex certainly had not been capable of that.
Dare she even think about men right now? If her ex saw her with a man, he’d go ballistic.
If she did contemplate dating again, did she really want to imagine her best friend’s brother, or her boss, for that matter, as a potential lover? Damn. The sexy amusement on Gia’s brother’s face told her she had been staring at him for far too long. “Jami Pantano,” she said and quickly introduced herself. “I’m a friend of Gia’s.”
“Ahh,” he drawled and nodded. “Yeah, my sister talks about you all the time.”
Jami hesitated and then strode forward. Forcing herself out of her comfort zone, she extended her hand; her slim fingers slipped into his hand. His warmth and strength pierced her bad mood. Her fingers trembled slightly. She couldn’t help it; her nerves were still shot from being followed by her ex.
“I apologize for sounding like a bitch a few minutes ago,” she said, feeling as if she owed him an explanation. “It’s been…one of those days.”
Jami dropped her hand. His blond-streaked brown hair was much longer than what was currently in style and reminded her of a sleepy lion. But she liked it. It was tousled, sort of windblown.
A broader smile touched Gage’s lips. Good Lord, she hoped he wasn’t smiling because she was staring at him with fascination.