Story of Us (Love Unexpected)(2)By: Jody Holford
Shoving his hands back in his pockets, he tipped his head and gave her a smile that made her forget—for one second—that she was off men.
“Marc said you traveled a lot and tended to like the big cities, so I’ll take it as a compliment that you think my place is nice.”
She grinned and shook off the haze of unwanted attraction. It was nothing. She was only human, and Declan James was enough to test the restraint of a monk. “More than nice. It’s gorgeous.”
They stared at each other a moment, and she was transported back in time to when she’d wanted to be one of the girls Declan James helped onto the back of his bike. She’d wanted to ride off and never come back because she was sure that was the only way she’d feel free. She hadn’t ever gotten on the back of his bike, but she had escaped, and sadly, it hadn’t ever felt the way she’d hoped it would.
“What are you doing, Sophia? Does your family know you’re here? Marcus didn’t say anything to me.” He moved behind the bar and started what she assumed was prep work for opening.
Stop stalling. “They don’t know.”
He froze, hand in midair. “Your dad doesn’t strike me as the type who likes surprises. And I know they were pretty sad you didn’t make it home for Christmas again this year.” He resumed his task, grabbing lemons and limes and setting them on a cutting board on the counter below the bar top.
Her heart muscles tightened painfully with his words. She knew she hurt them. Repeatedly. But having others know sucked.
“It’s not always easy to get away for the holidays,” she said lamely, boosting herself up onto one of the stools. Especially when she’d spent most of her holidays preparing to come home. Disappointment had dripped heavily during conversations with both of her parents over the holidays. She’d wanted to tell them she was coming home for good soon enough, but a small piece of her had feared they’d gloat over being right.
He glanced up through thick lashes and arched his brows. He knew she was full of it.
“I didn’t want to come back before I’d made a name for myself,” she said, staring at the shiny surface of the bar.
She heard him set the knife down but didn’t expect his hand to cover hers. She looked up, her heart jolted, and she told it to settle down. She’d come here for one reason, and she needed to get that out. As soon as the heat of his hand stopped distracting her brain. And her senses.
“You have a name. It’s a good one.”
She pulled her hand from under his. “I wanted my own name. One that didn’t come with familial expectations and scrutiny.”
“You find it?” He went back to slicing.
“So, I’ll ask you again, Sophia, what are you doing here? And I don’t mean here in Brockton Point, since it’s your home no matter how far you run. What are you doing here, in my bar?”
Taking a deep breath that smelled of the limes and lemons he chopped, she exhaled sharply. She’d prepared for this, knew what she wanted to say and how to make him take her seriously. Knowing that didn’t stop the wicked pounding of her heart in her throat. “I’m here for a job. I want to work for you, and before you say no, let me just say, you won’t be sorry.”
As the words tumbled from her lips, she said a silent prayer that they were true. That, even though she couldn’t be one hundred percent honest, she’d be able to make giving her a chance worthwhile for both of them.
Declan had his own list of life rules. He’d never written them down or any shit like that, but they were as ingrained in his head as the ink was on his arms. Top of the list—even before he’d started thinking about wanting to settle down—was not hooking up with any females related to any of his buddies. With just a few close pals and his best friend being an only child, this had never been an issue.
Shouldn’t be one now. But as Sophia Strombi stared at him with those big, heart-stopping chocolate brown eyes, he couldn’t help but think that karma was a bitch. She was as off-limits as a woman could get for him. Personally and, hell, professionally, even though that was a loose connection at the moment.