Authors: Amber Scott
The Sweetest Fling
By Amber Scott
Table of Contents
“Wholesome?” Jace Hayes repeated, scrutinizing his twin brother Tyler, wondering how much he’d had to drink..
“Yeah. Girl-next-door kind of wholesome. What? You don’t see it?”
Jace didn’t have to look at the lithe brunette coming their way across the grass to remember that she looked about as wholesome as a centerfold. Sensuous. Lush. Dangerous. Sure. But never wholesome. “Uh, no. I don’t see it.”
And he didn’t want to see it. Being attracted to his twin brother’s girl turned his stomach inside out. Claire French—French like the kiss, and she had the mouth for it—and her friend joined them, foofy chick drinks in hand. Jace averted his gaze and shifted his weight. Where was Ashley? He could go kiss the bride again.
A low howl sounded in the distance. The Bakersons’ hound dog protested the music. Jace spotted his sister on the rented dance floor in her new husband’s arms. Just as well. He was too old to be hiding behind her skirts, anyhow. A quick exit might send up signals that Tyler would pick up on, and then the grilling would start.
“Oh, I love this song,” Claire’s friend was saying.
Jace was pretty sure that—Millie, was it?—
love this song. If she did, her hips didn’t, because they were so off the beat to the tune. He also suspected she was trying to instigate something.
If it was getting Tyler on the dance floor with Claire, good luck. If it was a hint directed at Jace, even better luck. No way was he getting anywhere near Millie or Claire’s body in movement to music.
“Let’s dance,” Millie said, nudging Claire’s cup as if to say, ‘drink up.’
Claire grinned crookedly at them and took a healthy sip only to swallow back a coughing fit. “Jeez! What’s in this, Millie?”
Millie’s hands fluttered. “It’s a cosmopolitan. Right? Vodka, grenadine, more vodka. No? Uh ... well, let’s just dance, then.”
Claire coughed, nodded, and handed the drink off to Tyler. “You coming?”
“Nah. I’m a wallflower,” Tyler said, reaching for Claire’s waist. He leaned in to whisper something.
Jace didn’t want to look, didn’t want to wonder what he was saying, and had no business watching her reaction. Because what? Her reaction might make this ugly green feeling in his gut simmer down? Did he want the first girl his brother ever brought home to meet the family in all the twenty-six years of their lives to pull away from Tyler, wincing?
He did. He wanted Claire to look up at him so that all the breath sucked out of him, only to
back in. He wanted that sensation that wiped out logic and sensibility.
Thank God she didn’t look up. She looked down instead and sort of shrugged free of Tyler’s grasp. Jace watched Millie instead, so that when he saw Claire’s polite smile in his periphery, he couldn’t be sure it was polite at all.
Her smile could have been wanton. Or alluring. Outright slutty. Polite fed into a growing delusion that she and Tyler wouldn’t work out. He hated the weed of hope that kept winding around what a polite smile might mean.
Had there been less wedding chaos earlier today, Tyler, Ashley, or their mom—someone would not only have noticed Jace gaping at Claire upon first sight, but might have rushed to his side, pressing a hand to his forehead. Or socked him in the shoulder, depending on which of the three noticed. But no one had.
Thankfully, in perfect matriarchal fashion, Helen Hayes even hid her own shock over meeting Tyler’s latest girl and welcomed Claire with both arms and kisses on both cheeks. Their mother had then proceeded to gush enough to have all eyes rolling so well that no one saw Jace slip out of the kitchen to gather his blown wits back about him.
It hadn’t taken long—no more than a couple of deep breaths and calming scolds from his addled brain—and he’d returned to the kitchen in time to be properly introduced to Claire. Warm green-brown eyes and a long, slender hand reached out to him. And Jace had nodded and smiled back, swallowing his pulse, but not attempting to speak, since it would have come out in a croak.
Wholesome, his ass.
Watching Claire now, nearly alone on the small parquet dance floor, moving to the music like a snake being charmed, the string of lights competing with the stars above, Jace’s chest ached.
Tyler handed Claire’s drink off to Jace. “Seriously, can you blame me?”
Don’t answer that,
an inner voice warned, as he took the drink, eying the bright red liquid. “How’d her friend score an invite?”
It was Tyler’s turn to shift his weight. “Who, Millie?”
“Yeah. Millie.” The invite list was supposed to have been family only.
“Why not? Ashley didn’t care. Mom cleared it.” Tyler shrugged.
Jace took a sip of Claire’s red drink. It was pretty strong. It stung his throat. His mind veered toward what Tyler was up to. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Think about what?”
“Setting me up with that.” He gestured with the red drink. It sloshed.
“What’s wrong with that?” Tyler asked, gesturing too. “You like brunettes.”
Yeah. Jace did. Tyler liked blondes. So, why like Claire? Damn it, he knew why. She’d charmed the entire family within minutes with witty humor and an infectious laugh. Even Ashley liked her immediately and Ash barely tolerated female friends. Too catty. Having brothers as playmates ruined all female friendships for life, she liked to say. Hell, she almost made Claire her maid of honor.
Jace got to keep the title himself, though. Yay. Man of honor. He gulped another swig of the red drink, liking the sting this time. He deserved more than a sting.
“Go dance with them,” Tyler said after a minute.
Jace spewed a sip. “Dance?”
No fucking way.
“Ah, come on. It’s just the two of them out there, and her friend is cute, no?”
“No.” Hell no.
“I’d go out, but you’ve seen me dance.”
“They’re fine. Girls like to dance in groups.”
“Groups, yes. Twosomes, no. And Millie keeps looking this way, like a puppy begging for scraps.”
Jace shook his head and wiped his mouth with a napkin. He set down the half empty glass. “Song’s almost over anyway.”
“You love to dance.”
And? Didn’t mean he was going to get anywhere near Claire. At least the drink was setting in, numbing that hollow ache in his gut. Claire looked up, like she might have felt his eyes on her. Jace looked away.
Jace merely glared at Tyler.
“Okay, okay. If we can get Millie to stay over, Claire will, too. Hey, look. I’m not saying fall in love and marry her. I’m not even saying throw her a bone and feel her up. Just,” Tyler jerked his head a little. “Dance. That’s all. Do me a solid.”
“One small, okay—huge—solid. Claire’s a little harder to get than most. But I think I have a real shot after all this.”
Now Tyler was the one begging for scraps. That inner voice shouted,
But the champagne and cosmopolitan were making it slur a little. Change tone. No became more like nah. And nah became meh and that turned into why the eff not?
If Tyler really knew Claire, he’d never have used the word “wholesome” to describe her. He’d never call Claire “the one.” The one? They’d been dating a few weeks, and Tyler thought she was the one? Please.
A different sort of ache swelled in his chest. Claire. She wasn’t Tyler’s one. Not that Jace would ever say so, though. He loved his brother too much to see that look in his eyes die because of him. He knew that look. He’d felt that look on far too many occasions. But this was Tyler’s first.
The song changed. Michael Jackson. “Billie Jean.” Shit.
“Huh? Huh?” Tyler nudged. “See that? It’s meant to be.”
“Billie Jean” and Jace had a bit of a history. A record, so to speak. Starting with a dare in sixth grade that earned him his first kiss. He wouldn’t give in. He couldn’t. If Tyler knew what kind of fire he was asking Jace to play with, he’d end the torture and never say another word. But he couldn’t know, and that was the droplet that broke the dam.
If Jace grew too adamant, Tyler might suspect what was really going on.
His feet were moving before he could send him an
I’ll never forgive you for
glare. The low chuckle behind him only deepened the desire to keep going. To get closer to the object of both of their desires. As the music turned and his shoes clacked onto the small dance floor, something inside Jace ignited. Letting go of a shaky breath, he joined Millie—looking none too pleased—and Claire.
Her eyes were closed, and dark lashes fanned and shadowed her skin. Millie coughed a fake one and Claire opened her eyes as Jace stopped in front of her. Jace dropped one shoulder and smiled lopsidedly. “Ladies.”
“Jace.” Claire’s face lit up with pleasure, amplifying the breathy note of her voice.
. On her lips, it felt like a kiss.
“Thought you might want company,” Jace said, impressed over how smooth his words came out. Finding the beat of the music and letting his body hit the beat, Jace moved his feet. Minus a cluster of bodies or strobes on a dance floor, the backyard scene might have normally left him feeling too naked to really move. Half of Claire’s red drink, plus two glasses of champagne, solved that.