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IT WAS SUPPOSED to be a quick trip to her hometown of Trusty, Colorado. A few days of hanging out with her parents and catching up with old friends, and then she was off to Los Angeles to meet up with her best friend, Trish Ryder. At least that’s what Fiona told anyone who asked—other than Trish, or Fiona’s sister, Shea, of course.
Fiona tipped her margarita back and finished it off, thinking about how surreal it had been the night Trish had called her to say that she’d been cast as the lead female in the upcoming action film Raiders of the Past. Trish was going to be working with the most famous director in the country, Steven Hileberg. It was one of the biggest events in her acting career to date, aside from the nomination for the Academy Award last year, and she and Fiona had celebrated with a virtual party for two via Skype. That was four months ago, which to Fiona felt like forever, given how Trish’s career opportunity had unlocked a door Fiona had spent years trying to figure out how to open. It had taken Trish exactly ten words to convince Fiona to take a leave of absence from her job as a geologist at the Bureau of Mines and Geology and become her personal assistant during filming.
Jake Braden is cast as the stuntman for Zane Walker.
“Sis, are you even paying attention to me?” Shea was four years younger than Fiona, and the youngest member of the Steele family. She was as fair as Fiona and her twin brother, Finn, were dark. Shea was also Trish’s public-relations rep. Fiona and Trish had met in college, and by the time Trish needed a PR rep for her career, Shea had become well-known in the industry. Fiona had been thrilled with their instant connection.
“Of course.” Fiona tossed her chin, sending her long brown hair over her shoulder, and held up her empty glass, indicating to the waiter that she needed a refill.
“Sure you were. Then, what do you think?” Shea blinked her baby blues expectantly.
Fiona winced. She hadn’t meant to zone out, but she’d come to the Brewery, a local bar, hoping to see her ex-boyfriend Jake, who she knew was in town visiting his family, and he was nowhere in sight. Her stomach had been tied in knots for the past two hours she’d been watching the door, as if she could will him to walk into the bar. She was sure that when Jake finally came face-to-face with her, he wouldn’t be able to resist her. Their connection had been too deep, their love too strong, and their passion had always left them both craving more.
“Just as I thought.” Shea leaned across the table, her shiny golden locks curtaining her face. “He’s. Not. Coming.”
Fiona rolled her eyes. “That would be just my luck, wouldn’t it?”
“Finn called me yesterday,” Shea said.
“What’s my evil twin up to?” Finn was anything but evil, but their family had always joked that one of them had to be more evil than the other. Fiona had dubbed Finn the evil twin. She didn’t even know how to be evil—not that he was any better at it.
“Not much. He was visiting Reggie in New York, and when I told them that you were going to finally try to reconnect with Jake, Reggie got all big brotherish and said he was going to check him out. Whatever that means in the world of private investigators,” Shea said with a laugh. Reggie was their eldest brother, and a private investigator.
Fiona rolled her eyes. “I’ll be surprised if Reggie doesn’t call Jesse and Brent, just to add a little torture to the next few weeks. As if I’m not nervous enough.” Jesse and Brent were younger than Fiona, and they were also twins. Reggie, Jesse, and Brent could be overpoweringly protective. She was glad to have Shea to buffer her in this situation. But Finn had a softer touch, and she wasn’t surprised he’d called Shea instead of her.
“Don’t worry. I told him to call off the dogs. He knows you don’t need hounding right now. I’ve got your back.”
“Thanks, Shea. Do you think there will ever come a time when our brothers aren’t looking out for us?” She was just waiting for Jesse and Brent, to get wind of her going to LA. She half expected them to hire a bodyguard for her.
“No way. I think when a brother is born, they come with protective genes, and we sisters are born with big tattoos on our heads that only brothers can see, which read, Oh my. I’m a girl. Help me. Help me!” Shea laughed.
The waiter brought Fiona’s drink. She thanked him and gulped half of it down. Margaritas served two purposes: They alleviated the ability to focus and provided a false sense of courage. She didn’t need alcohol to hinder her ability to focus. The mere thought of Jake took care of that. But she desperately needed the liquid courage.
“The one time I get up the guts to finally try to talk to my ex, he decides not to go out for a beer. Jake always goes out with his brothers when he’s home.” Fiona had been trying to figure out how to reach out to Jake for the last few years, but Trusty was so small, it was impossible not to realize he avoided her every time he was home. Fear of rejection had kept her at bay, but with the trip to his movie set in hand, she felt like it was now or never. She was finally taking the risk, despite the possibility of being rejected.
“Have you considered that maybe he heard you were going to be here and decided to skip it? This is Trusty, Colorado, where gossip spreads faster than chicken pox.” Shea finished her drink and sat back, eyeing the men in the bar. “You have a great life, Fiona. And I know you have your pick of men back in Fresno. Besides…” Shea eyed the guys at the bar. “There are plenty of good-looking guys here.”
Fiona glared at her. From an outsider’s perspective, her life probably did look pretty damn good, and in some ways it was. Taking a leave of absence to try to reconnect with Jake had been an easy decision when she’d made it, because she’d made it from her heart, completely ignoring her brilliant brain, which was waving red flags and urging her to remember why she worked so hard in her profession and what she was working toward. For a girl who loved geology more than shopping, Fiona’s job was exciting as hell. And her social life…Well, her social life probably looked good, too, from the outside. Trish was a great best friend, and they got together as often as their schedules allowed. Shea split her time between Colorado, Los Angeles, and New York, so they also saw each other fairly often. And while Fiona was asked out a few times each month, she’d gone out on only the occasional date. And she couldn’t really count the invitations, considering that for the last two years she’d turned down all but a few. She guessed that most girls would kill to be asked out by some of the scientists who had tried to woo her. They were well educated, well mannered, and, well, stable. Boring. Why was it so hard to find a real man? The kind who could make her go damp with one hot stare and had hands and a talented mouth that could finish the job. The kind of man who took what he wanted and liked a woman to do the same.
Shea held her hands up in surrender. “I know. I know. You’re done sowing your oats and wasting time. There’s only Jake Braden. Jake, Jake, Jake.”
Exactly. Jake Braden is the only man I want.
Shea lowered her voice. “Fi, it’s been sixteen years since you dated him. Sixteen years. And rumor has it, he’s not the guy he used to be. You broke him, and you broke him bad.”
Like she didn’t know that? Fiona and Jake had dated for two years in high school and had planned to attend the same college, and then they were going to get married. Her life had been planned in a nice, neat package. She’d had every girl’s dream at her fingertips. Jake had been attentive and loving, and he wasn’t the least bit afraid of commitment. The Bradens were a loyal and kind family, and Fiona knew her life with Jake would have been stable and adoring. Jake would have followed his dream of becoming a stuntman, and Fiona would become a geologist, and they’d have lived happily ever after.
That was the plan.
Reality wasn’t quite as pretty.
On her mother’s insistent advice, Fiona had ended things with Jake two weeks before they were set to leave for college. She’d taken off for Penn State the morning after breaking up with him, unwilling to stick around for two weeks for fear of giving in to his pleas of staying together—and to see what she was missing. While Jake was hundreds of miles away, she’d buried herself in a new life, which included working her ass off to maintain good grades, sowing her wild oats—which was a ridiculous notion, because she had none—and finally, securing her graduate degree. It wasn’t until a few years later, after her career was settled and she slowed down long enough to breathe, that she realized the enormity of her mistake. She hadn’t been missing a damn thing. Jake was all she really needed.
And now here she was on a Tuesday evening, back where she’d ended things with him so long ago, wishing she could go back in time.
“Well, Shea. Maybe it’s time I put him back together.”