Story of Us (Love Unexpected)(3)

By: Jody Holford

“Why would you want to work here?” There were many other questions he wanted to ask her—like who’d broken her heart, since it was obvious someone had. There was a hint of sadness underscoring her tone, and the look in her eyes and the way it twisted his heart surprised him.

He hadn’t seen her since she was about eighteen, and he sure as hell didn’t remember her being so straightforward and full of fire. Or sexy. The way her eyes locked on his and her hip jutted out just a bit. Her shoulders were straight back with all that luscious hair tumbling over them. Christ, without even trying, she was sexier than any woman he’d met. But underneath all that, there was a vulnerability that made him want to tug her close and hang on tight.

“The first reason is I need a job,” she said, a quiet smile taking over her full lips.

“Your family owns one of the longest-running, most successful businesses in town. Your dad has always wanted you there.”

She tapped her fingertips on his bar, drawing his gaze to her delicate hands. A thought of them on his skin jumped into his head, searing his brain. Get a grip, man. For months now, he’d been coming to terms with the fact that he’d outgrown casual hookups and string-free relationships, though he never thought he’d see the day he felt this way. That he’d want things he never had before. He hadn’t even said the words out loud to his best friend yet—mostly because his friend would laugh his ass off and then support him fully—but Declan wanted to find his person. That person is not Sophia Strombi. For more reasons than he had time to list.

But the fire burning in his gut, just from the look of her, from the sound of her voice, and that look in her eyes was something he hadn’t felt in, maybe, ever. You are going into business with her brother. Reminding himself didn’t douse the burn.

“I don’t want to work for my dad. I didn’t want to for the five years I had to before I turned eighteen. I sure as hell didn’t want to when I hit eighteen, and I don’t want to now. Plus, I know you’re looking for a manager.”

He frowned at her, wondering how she knew that. Marcus didn’t talk about Sophia much. The time they spent together lately focused solely on the craft beer recipe they were perfecting.

Scooping the limes into one bowl and the lemons into another, he washed his hands. “You talked to Marcus?”

She nodded. “I talk to him more than any of the others. More lately since he’s been asking me for marketing ideas for the craft beer you two are working on.” She smiled, but it was self-deprecating. “Plus, he’s worried about my dad’s reaction to the news, and as the family disappointment, I’m the easiest to unload on.”

Dec’s stomach knotted at the sadness in her tone. From where he stood, Sophia was about as far from a disappointment as he could imagine. He knew the Strombi patriarch—Pops, to everyone who knew him—was old-school and believed each of his four kids should be part of the family business. Their pizza joint had been part of Brockton Point longer than Declan had been alive. From what he’d heard, though, all the youngest Strombi was guilty of was forging her own path. Since he had a little experience with doing the same, he fell more on the side of admiration for her.

He came around the bar, drying his hands on a cloth. He took the seat beside her and tried to ignore how sweet she smelled. How damn good she looked. It humbled him to admit that the little hitch in his heart when her gaze held his was more about her than the fact that he hadn’t had a date in forever. He didn’t recognize anything going on inside of him right now, but knew he needed to turn whatever the hell it was off.

“Sounds like you have a lot of fences to mend,” he said, holding the eye contact, trying to get a more accurate read on her thoughts.

Sophia’s head dipped down. Her long dark curls cascaded around her shoulders and her face. Declan nudged her face up using two fingers under her chin. He dropped his hand and waited. There was too much to get tangled up in here. The last thing he needed was to complicate his twenty-plus-year friendship with this woman’s brother and the new business venture they were embarking on.

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