Brooks and Lolly

“You said you’d wait for me!”

“And I’ve done nothing but for three damn years!”

With that, the eight employees of the House of DuVal scattered. Lolly didn’t blame them. She would have liked to run away too. No question about it. She was on borrowed time with Brooks Bennett.

“First it was your momma’s wedding,” Brooks started in, pacing as he spoke. “Then you had to finish your master’s. Only you weren’t simply finishing your master’s, were you?” he accused. “You, the World’s Greatest Multitasker, were starting a business at the same time. I said, ‘Wait.’ I said, ‘Focus on school. Finish that. What’s your hurry?’ But you couldn’t do it.”

“Brooks, darlin’. Your only sister—my best friend—asked me to design her bridesmaids’ dresses. What was I going to say? No? It was a great opportunity for the House of DuVal and ended up giving me more exposure than I could have ever dreamed. With Darcy’s wedding pictures showing up in People and Town & Country magazines, that was a coup.”

“Exactly. So you move back to Henderson and right into this workshop where you got lost working seven days a week. But I tell myself that’s okay because hey, at least we’re now in the same town and I can come over to bother you whenever I want. Only I start to realize that I’m actually bothering you. That you have zero time for me.”

“Now you’re exaggerating.”

“Not by a long shot, because that’s when another man entered your life.”

“Sweet little Beau is my half-brother, not another man.”

“You’d have thought Hale Evans would have had the good sense to use a condom at the age of fifty-two. Fucking A. Not that I don’t love that kid,” Brooks amended. “Best mistake two people could have made, present company excepted.” He smiled at her then. His first smile in days. “But between Darcy’s wedding, and Beau being born, and starting this company, Laura Leigh, if we found ten minutes together, it was a good date.”

“Oh, I think we’ve found a few more minutes than that,” she flirted, hoping to remind him of what happens when they do get together.

“Well, whatever time we did find flew the coop once Annabelle announced her engagement. Didn’t that just send the House of DuVal into overtime? Along with the debutante dresses and one-of-a-kind orders, you’ve had to hire five, count ’em, five seamstresses to keep up with demand.”

“Hired them all from right here in Henderson. And don’t you forget, I started paying this town a lot of taxes right away because I was doing so well.”

“And I, as mayor, appreciate that. I do. But we agreed we’d be able to see more of each other as husband and wife, only you didn’t want to get engaged until you could focus on our wedding. So I backed off, and I waited some more. Patiently.”

He hadn’t been that patient.

“And I told you that if we just moved in together it would give us the same result. But you, Mr. Proponent of Propriety, wouldn’t have it.”

“Laura Leigh, you know how I feel about that. I couldn’t very well be shacking up with you while I was campaigning for mayor. It just wouldn’t sit well with Henderson’s traditional values.”

“Henderson didn’t seem to have its sensibilities ruffled when your campaign manager raced himself to the altar before Piper started showing.”

“Vance, Jr. was born prematurely,” Brooks defended.

“You were at their wedding!”

“Well … that’s their story, and I’m sticking to it. And now he and Piper are expecting again. He’s popping out future Hall of Famers while my sperm is shriveling up and dying from uselessness and neglect.”

“Uselessness and neglect,” Lolly smirked. “Brooks you do realize you are destined to have the daughters Vance’s sons will inevitably be sniffing around, right?”

Brooks went white. Literally white. He rubbed a hand down his face before he turned and headed for the door. He pushed the screen open and then stopped, letting it slap back against its frame before he turned around and stalked Lolly.

“We are having boys,” he insisted, backing her up until she bumped into an immobile work table. “And I don’t care how young your eggs are, I’m thirty-three and I’m ready to start my family. You are forcing me to play dirty here. So this”—he flailed a finger between the two of them—“this is done. I’m leaving. You have one week, Laura Leigh. You have until the Fourth of July to figure out how to operate the House of DuVal from eight to five, Monday through Friday. That’s it. You need to hire more people? Do it. You need more capital? I’ll get it for you. You need counseling on how to stop being a micro-managing control freak and allow yourself to be the designer you really are? Get it. But this? This is done.”

His mouth clamped down on hers in a punishing kiss. All his pent-up frustration leveraging his desire to be understood and for her to bend to his will. His kiss told her he’d waited long enough. But his hands—his hands told her he cherished her. With his fingers splayed wide and his palms pressing her flesh, sliding over her body and pulling her to him with reverence, his hands spoke of great love.

He pulled away and left her longing for more than she could name.

“One week, Laura Leigh. No more. Figure it out.” He turned and stomped out the door.

To be continued …


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