Authors: Katie Lane
Tags: #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Western, #Fiction, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary
“Does your heart hurted, Aunt Cassie?” Kyle, the other twin, asked.
Fortunately, Megan answered for her. “No, Ky. Aunt Cassie doesn’t have a real broken heart. Brokenhearted is just another way to say her boyfriend broke up with her, and she’s very sad. Isn’t that right, Aunt Cassie?”
Cassie rolled her eyes as she jerked up a dish towel and wiped off her hands. “Something like that.”
“So you’re sad.” Kelsey looked on the verge of tears.
“How can I be sad when Santa comes tonight?” Cassie leaned over and tickled her ribs. “And it’s a good thing we’ve got plenty of cookies to give that jolly old elf.”
“Santa! Santa!” Chase screamed from his high chair, which in turn set the three-year-old twins to shrieking.
It was more than Cassie’s head could take, so after tickling each belly, she left the room.
But she didn’t go downstairs to the game room to play pool. Instead, she slipped inside her father’s study and closed the door behind her. She had always loved the room. It smelled of leather and lemon furniture polish and was dark, quiet, and soothing. Which was probably why it didn’t have a pack of McPhersons in it. Her family loved to be together. Loved the mass confusion and excitement that went along with every family gathering.
Usually, she did, too.
Not today. Today she just wanted to be home in her little condo with her throbbing headache and her anger and, yes, even her broken heart. Because as much as she hated to admit it, her heart did hurt.
Why did James have to be so much fun to talk with? And why did he have to have soft, wavy hair and deep, golden eyes? And why did his body have to be so perfectly fitted to hers? But most of all, why did he have to be James Sutton? Lying, cheating, job-stealing James Sutton.
She released a long sigh and pushed away from the door. Even though she probably should lie down for a few minutes, she bypassed the cozy sitting area with its throw-covered couches and crackling fireplace and walked to the window by her father’s desk.
The skies were dark and growing darker but had yet to produce heavy snow that would make traveling difficult. Not that anything short of a major blizzard would keep her mother and her aunts away from midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It was sacrilegious to even think about it.
Every year for as long as Cassie could remember, after they filled their stomachs and played games, the entire McPherson clan would load up and head to Saint Paul’s.
Last year, Mike had already been history so Cassie had sat between Mattie and Patrick. In the flickering candlelight, she’d watched her nieces and nephews snuggle into their parents’ shoulders and laps to sleep. While they dreamed about Santa and sugarplums, Cassie had dreamed about the strong shoulder she would someday rest her head on while her children slept.
Of course, tonight she wouldn’t have such thoughts. Tonight she would be trying to forget about a certain man
with a set of shoulders that looked strong enough to hold up a woman who sometimes felt weak.
Her eyes burned, and she swallowed down the lump that had risen to her throat. Okay, so she had gone and fallen for the wrong guy. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. She was a big girl; she could take it. Tears trickled down her cheeks. She just needed some time. Like a good twenty years.
The door to the study opened, and Cassie quickly brushed at her eyes before turning around.
“Hey.” Amy hesitated just inside the door.
“Where have you been?” Cassie studied her friend, who looked all sparkly eyed and giddy. “I was beginning to think that you weren’t coming.”
A smile spread across her face as she held up her hand. A hand with a huge diamond on the ring finger. “I’m getting married!” Before Cassie could even register the words, Amy came flying across the room and threw her arms around Cassie.
“Wait a minute.” Cassie pulled back. “I thought you’d decided not to marry Derek.”
“I did.” Amy giggled. “I’m marrying your brother.”
A guilty look took the sparkle out of Amy’s eyes. “I know I should’ve told you that I loved him, Cassie. After all, you’re my best friend. But I just didn’t want you telling Rory. Not when he was already married to Tess. Can you forgive me?”
It was hard to smile when your world was crumbling, but Cassie tried her best. “There’s nothing to forgive.” She hugged Amy close. “I’m thrilled that you’re going to be
my sister-in-law.” She pulled back. “So fill me in on all the juicy details.”
Amy shook her head. “Oh, no. Not until you tell me all about what happened with your hunka-hunka-burnin’-love. Was he as good in bed as he looked?”
The wall of depression settled back over Cassie, and she couldn’t keep the smile in place or the tears from her eyes. Amy was instantly concerned.
“What happened, Cass?” Her eyes turned mean. “Did the jerk love you and leave you? What an asshole.”
Cassie swallowed. “You can say that again.”
“Oh, Cass, I’m so sorry,” Amy said. “I feel responsible. I mean, if I hadn’t bought the dress and all those condoms—”
Cassie held up a hand. “Stop right there. I’m a big girl. Everything that happened, happened because I wanted it to. Not because of some stupid dress or a purse full of condoms. I was the one who hired him—at least, I thought I had hired him.”
“What do you mean?”
Needing some space, Cassie moved over to her father’s desk and sat down. The cushions of the leather chair had molded to Big Al’s large frame and were comfortable and soothing. She leaned back and released her breath. “James isn’t an escort. He’s James Sutton.”
“The James Sutton?” Amy asked as she moved over and sat down in one of the chairs across from the desk. “Why would he be parading around as an escort?”
Cassie flipped forward in the chair. “Exactly! Not unless the jerk wanted to make a fool of Big Al McPherson’s daughter and steal Slumber Suites out from under our noses.”
Amy rolled her eyes. “God, Cassie, you sound just like your dad. I’m sure there is some explanation that is far less dramatic.”
“Really? I’d like to know what would make a guy continue to lie for two days straight right before we lost Steve Mitchell’s account.”
Amy’s brow knotted. “That doesn’t make sense. What excuse did James give?”
Cassie flopped back in the chair. “Who cares what he says? He’s nothing but a big, fat liar.”
“So you didn’t even give him a chance to defend himself?”
“I tried to give him a chance,” Cassie said. “Unfortunately, he was making love to another woman when I arrived at his house.”
“He was having sex with another woman?”
“Not exactly.” She nibbled on her thumbnail and refused to meet Amy’s narrowed gaze. “But close.”
“They were making out on his porch.” Not really making out. More like one quick kiss. But one kiss was enough. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care about the other woman as much as I care that the guy is James Sutton. The same James Sutton who’s trying to put us out of business.”
Amy sat back and crossed her legs. “I don’t think he’s trying to put us out of business. And if I remember correctly, neither did you. Maybe he has a very good reason for posing as an escort.” Her eyes twinkled. “Maybe he really is an escort and he uses the extra money to underbid M & M Construction.”
For just a second, the thought had some merit, the second right before Amy tipped back her head and laughed.
“Geez, Cass,” she said. “You
really lost it. I mean, what’s so bad about the guy turning out to be an independently wealthy builder who looks good enough to be hired as an escort? Most women would consider themselves lucky.”
“Well, I don’t consider lying a quality I want in a husband.”
“Husband?” Amy stared back at her. “So you really have fallen for this guy?”
“No.” She tried to backpedal, then realized it was too late. She ran a hand over her face and sighed. “Maybe I considered it, but not now.”
Amy placed her hands on the desk. “But what if he’s it, Cass? What if he’s the one?”
It seemed that Amy had stumbled on what had been bothering Cassie for some time now. What if James was the one? The one and only man who could make her laugh and keep up with her verbal barbs. The man who gave her control when she needed it, but took control when she needed someone to lean on. The perfect man for her.
Except he wasn’t the perfect man. He was the most imperfect.
He was James Sutton. A liar and the enemy.
“Well, he’s not the one.” Cassie pushed up out of the chair and walked back over to the window. “I just let my emotions get away from me, is all. I mean, I’ve just gotten over Mike.” Eighteen months wasn’t exactly “just,” but beggars couldn’t be choosers. “This was just a rebound thing. A sexual thing.”
Suddenly, she wondered if she was trying to convince Amy or herself. But it really didn’t matter. For some reason, voicing her thoughts seemed to relieve some of the pressure in her head. Unfortunately, her heart still hurt.
“I mean, look at the man. Who wouldn’t think they were in love with someone who looks as great as he does? The man looks like a friggin’ model. And when a person hasn’t had sex for eighteen months, it’s easy to see how they could let bodily urges get tangled up with emotions. I didn’t love the guy as much as I lusted after him.”
There was a soft click before Amy spoke.
Cassie didn’t turn around, not when she had finally gained some kind of perspective on her screwed-up emotions. “It’s the truth. James Sutton was nothing more than a hot one-night stand.”
“Okay, maybe he was a hot two-night stand, but it doesn’t make any difference. It was nothing but sex—”
“What!” She whirled around. Amy stared at her with a look of horror. After looking behind her, Cassie understood why.
James stood in the doorway, his arms crossed and his eyes as chilly as the ice that frosted the window.
Hey, sis,” Mattie said with a bright smile. “You remember James Sutton, don’t you?”
The air left Cassie’s lungs, and all she could manage was a strained groan. James didn’t seem to have the same problem.
“Hello, Cassandra,” he said as he moved into the room.
“And this is Amy Walker,” Mattie continued as if he were introducing his best buddy. “Or did you meet her the other night at the party?”
James’s eyes narrowed on Amy. “The same Amy Walker who called my office?” When she didn’t say anything, he made the correct assumption. “How’s the news room at the
Amy sent Cassie a sympathetic look before clearing her throat. “Well, I better help your mom in the kitchen.” She glanced at Mattie. “Come on, Mattie.”
“Not on your life.” Mattie went for a chair, but before he could take two steps, James stopped him.
“I need to speak to your sister alone.”
The grin slipped from Mattie’s face, and he glanced over at Cassie. “You want me to leave, Cass?”
She didn’t really want him to leave. If anyone was going to leave, she wanted it to be her. But it didn’t look like that was going to happen, so she nodded.
Mattie shrugged and followed Amy out the door. James closed it behind them. This time the click was deafening. He turned and looked at her. No, more like glared at her.
After spending countless hours going over all the things she wanted to say to him since finding the fax, suddenly her mind was a confused jumble. Needing something to do, she returned to the comfort of her father’s chair. If nothing else, the thick wood desk would serve as a barrier between them. Because as much as her mind might hate him, her body didn’t seem to feel the same way. Just being in the same room with him set her pulse to throbbing. She tucked her trembling hands beneath her legs and spoke.
“So? What brings you here?”
“A one-night stand?” His voice was as chilled as his eyes. “Is that what you think of me?”
Cassie tried not to cringe at the fact that he had overheard her. “You lied to me.”
He strode across the room and placed his clenched fists on the desk. “Answer me, Cassandra. Was that what we had, a one-night stand?”
She looked up at him towering over her in the rust
sweater with a collar that framed his smooth, clenched jaw. Snowflakes still clung to his hair, slowly melting into the mussed chocolate brown. Just the sight of him caused something to melt inside of her. It was that melting feeling that drove her to ask, “Wasn’t it?”
He raised a fist and slammed it down. “Not to me! But if that’s what it was to you then there’s no need to stay here a minute longer.” He turned and started for the door.
His condescending attitude cleared her mind, and she jumped up, sending the chair back against the wall. The loud whack had him turning around. “That is such bullshit, Sutton!” She rounded the desk and pointed a finger at him. “You lied to get laid. Don’t try to pretend that emotion was involved.”
He moved toward her, his eyes sharp, his voice low. “Oh, we had sex, all right. No doubt about it. A real hot two-night stand. But the question is, Cassandra, who was the one who initiated it? Because if my memory serves me—”