Reunited with the Lassiter Bride(7)

By: Barbara Dunlop



Sage grinned. “You don’t need any of my advice on Lassiter Media. Evan’s the one who—” He abruptly stopped himself, looking apologetic.

“You’re allowed to say his name,” said Angelica.

“Have you spoken to him? I mean, since the day you took over?” asked Dylan, handing her a glass of the red wine.

“I have,” she confirmed. “We talked yesterday.”

All three men looked surprised by the news. They waited for her to elaborate.

“We’re standing up for Kayla and Matt,” she explained. “They’re getting married at the end of the month.”

There was a further beat of silence all around. All three men looked decidedly worried.

“It’s fine,” she assured them.

“How can it be fine?” asked Dylan.

She waved away their concern. “We’re friends—” She stopped herself, realizing that lying to her family was ridiculous. “Okay, we’re not friends. We’ve hurt each other in too many ways to ever even contemplate forgiveness. But we can pretend to be friends—we have to pretend to be friends—for Kayla and Matt’s sake.”

“You want us to talk to him?” asked Sage.

Angelica fought a bubble of laughter. “And say what?”

“If he steps out of line,” growled Chance.

“Stop it,” she ordered. “You guys like Evan. You’ve always liked Evan.” She straightened the silverware in front of her, telling herself it was vital to keep the honesty flowing. “There were times when you liked him better than you liked me.”

“Never,” said Dylan.

“It’s fine,” she assured them again. “It’s going to be just fine.” Her voice went softer. “But, thank you. Thank you for caring, and thank you for supporting me.”

Dylan raised his glass, and they all followed suit. “This is long overdue. To J.D.”

“To J.D.,” they echoed.

“To Dad,” Angelica whispered, her heart beginning to heal as she took a first sip.





Three

“Why are you even still here?” Evan asked Deke as they slowed to a walk on the beach pathway north of the Santa Monica Pier.

“I’m helping,” Deke answered through labored breaths. He angled his way through the colorful afternoon crowd of tourists, buskers and rollerbladers, going toward the slushy kiosk. They’d ended their jog a couple of blocks from Evan’s building.

“You’re not helping at all.” Evan followed along without complaint because he was incredibly thirsty.

“I got a hot lead this morning.”

“I got a hot lead this morning. You just answered my phone.”

“I provided excellent service. Two large lemon mangos,” Deke said to the kiosk clerk.

“How do you know I want lemon mango?”

“You want something else?”

“I don’t care.” As long as it was cold and wet, Evan would be happy.

Deke handed a twenty to the clerk. “Then why are you griping?”

“I want a little control over my life.”

“You want a little control over Angelica Lassiter.”

“Say what?” How had Angie gotten into the conversation?

“You’re sexually frustrated, and you’re taking it out on me.”

The clerk smirked as he handed Deke his change.

“I’m not sexually frustrated,” Evan said in a loud voice, as much for the clerk’s benefit as anything else. His lack of a sex life was purely by choice.

“You want Angelica. You can’t have her. So you’re pissy.”

“Hey, I kissed her. Just last night. And she kissed me back.”

The clerk had turned away to operate the slushy machine, which was chugging out the lemon mango, so Evan couldn’t tell if he’d heard the brag.

“The hell you say,” said Deke.

“I say.”

“Where’d you kiss her?”

“Conrad Norville’s.”

“Is that above or below the waist?”

“Ha, ha.”

“So, what does that mean?” Deke asked, going serious again.

Evan shrugged, already regretting having shared the information. “I don’t know,” he admitted.

It meant nothing. He was a fool to have mentioned it. He’d all but forced that kiss on Angie. Her return kiss had been reflexive, an obvious result of shock and surprise. It might have been fantastic, but she hadn’t meant it. Afterward, she’d been nothing but annoyed.

The clerk slid the slushy drinks across the counter, and they each took one.

“When are you seeing her again?” asked Deke as they turned away.

“In an hour. The Emerald Wave faxed Matt and Kayla’s plans for the wedding so we could pick up the ball. We’ll need to contact the florist, the bakery, the musicians. And we need to check out a new caterer.”

“Does Matt know about the fire?”

“He does now. I finally got a text from him this morning. But it looks like they’ll be a couple more days getting back.” Evan plopped down on a bench facing the ocean and took a long, satisfying drink.

Deke sat down next to him. “You’re not meeting her at Lassiter Media, are you?”

“Good grief, no,” said Evan. The Lassiter Media building was the last place on earth he wanted to be.

“You want company?”

Evan’s first reaction was to grin. “You think I need protection from Angie?”

“More like she needs protection from you.”

“It’s all under control.”

Evan had everything in perspective. He just needed to keep his emotional reaction to Angie separate from his intellectual understanding of the situation. And he could do that.

Her lack of trust in him had destroyed any chance they had as a couple. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t attractive. She was just as gorgeous and sexy as she’d ever been. And the fact that he could picture her naked in such vivid and astonishing detail was to be completely expected.

But he could handle it. He had no choice but to handle it.

“You just told me you kissed her,” said Deke.

“It was nothing.”

“Kissing your ex-fiancée is not nothing.”

“It was a slipup. She was standing there. I was standing there...” Evan struggled to keep his mind from going back to that incredible moment.

“And if she’s ‘standing there’ again today?”

“She won’t be.”

Deke gave a choked laugh.

“You know what I mean.” Evan took another drink.

The sun was hot on his sweat-damp head, burning along the back of his neck. The shrieks of children on the sand swirled around him, while the moist, salt air sat heavily in his lungs.

“I’m coming with you,” Deke announced. “And afterward we’re hitting a club or two and dancing with some new, hot women.”

Evan was about to refuse. But he realized Deke was right. He had to nip this in the bud. Angie was his past, not his future. Once they were done with Matt and Kayla’s wedding, they were going their separate ways. Letting himself fantasize about her would only delay his recovery.

“Fine,” he agreed. “Suit yourself.”

* * *

“Thanks for helping out with this,” Angelica said to Tiffany as she drove her ice-blue sports car into the parking lot of the Terrace Bistro where she and Evan had agreed to meet.

“Why are you thanking me?” Tiffany asked. “It’s my job. Kayla needs me. Besides, there’s no way I’m letting you face Evan alone.”

“I faced him alone last night,” Angelica pointed out.

Not that she was looking forward to doing it again. Their kiss last night had completely rattled her. It should have felt awkward. It should have felt strange. She should have recoiled from the feel of his hands and the taste of his lips.

But it had felt familiar. It had felt like coming home.

“You okay, Angie?” Tiffany reached out to touch her arm.

“I’m perfectly fine.” Angelica shut off the ignition and set the car’s emergency brake. Then a wave of anxiety hit her, and she latched her hands on to the steering wheel, gripping hard for a second.

“Angie?”

“I’m over him.” She released her grip on the steering wheel. “And he’s definitely over me. Let’s go.”

“He kissed you, didn’t he?” Tiffany had already heard the entire story.

“That was an... I don’t know what that was. But it wasn’t a regular kiss. He was making some kind of debating point or maybe a power play, or he was mocking me.”

“Well, I’m here for you if he tries anything over dinner.”

“Thank you,” Angelica told her sincerely. “He won’t. And I don’t care one way or the other. He’s just another guy to me.”

“If you say so.” Tiffany sounded doubtful.

“I say so,” Angelica responded with conviction. She pocketed her keys and opened the car door.

The two women made their way across the parking lot to the non-descript, little café. Inside, Angelica spotted Evan at a corner table. The second his gaze met hers, her stomach fluttered with anticipation, and all her hopes of pretending he was just another guy flew out the window. This was Evan. He was never going to be just another guy.

A moment later, she realized he wasn’t alone.

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