“I don’t know why I can’t make up my mind.” Selina, Angeline’s sister, laughed.
“Because there are too many choices,” Angeline lovingly pointed out. They’d just spent the whole day at the bridal boutique. Though the bridal consultant highly discouraged her from trying on more than seven dresses, Selina had tried upward of twenty.
“There should not be so many options.” Now back at Selina’s and exhausted, they plopped down onto the couch. Selina slid so her head nestled against Angeline’s shoulder.
“Agreed.” Angeline sighed. “Who knew dress shopping would be so grueling? I think we need a drink.” She had kicked her shoes off by the door and now pulled up her stockinged feet to rest on the coffee table.
“I surely did not.” Selina got up, presumably to get them each a glass.
Angeline yawned and laid her head back. “I think you need to check out some venues. Maybe that will help with finding a dress that fits the whole feel of your wedding.”
“I have been thinking about that. I don’t see why I need two separate locations. We could just get married at The Lounge.”
Angeline had finally started her jazz club, and she’d named it The Lounge, sort of an homage to another simply titled business she’d once owned. Honestly, she laid no claim to originality. Her bait shop had literally been called Bait & Tackle.
“I think that is the best idea either of us has had all day. That is, except the wine.” Selina held up the bottle from the open kitchen before trying to pop the cork with just her bare hand.
“Nathan!” Selina opened the door to the basement. “I cannot find the corkscrew,” she called down to him.
“Okay,” Nathan hollered back.
The stairs creaked as he walked up. When the voices became louder and more pronounced, the hairs on Angeline’s body stood on end. Nathan wasn’t alone. Who was he with? She hadn’t seen a car in the driveway.
“Here you go, honey.” Nathan handed her the corkscrew. “I brought you one from the bar in the basement.” He kissed Selina’s temple and then made a side step.
With Nathan out of the way, Angeline could clearly see the other guest and suddenly couldn’t breathe. Time hadn’t dulled the kick she felt every time she came face-to-face with him.
“Angeline.” Dylan smiled at her, holding her gaze. His eyes were like magnetic electricity—shockingly blue. They forced her to keep her gaze trained on him. He was easy to look at, which made it hard to force herself to look away.
“Dylan.” She strained for her voice to come out aloof-sounding—disinterested.
“What’s for dinner, babe?” Nathan stood behind Selina with his nose in her hair. He wrapped his arms around her while she uncorked the bottle of wine.
“I do not know yet.” She leaned back against him.
As disgusting as they were to watch—sighing, kissing, saying sickeningly sweet things to each other—it still beat looking at and being tempted by Dylan. She hated the way her body responded to him without her consent. She felt him watching her, and it was enough to make her weak and hot. She couldn’t breathe. She’d not found a room yet that felt large enough for the both of them.
The open floor plan of Selina and Nathan’s house usually made it feel comfortable and airy. Yet, it wouldn’t have mattered what size room they were in if Dylan was also in it. Everything felt too tight and prickly with him around.
“How’ve you been?” Dylan asked.
The marbled design of the counter suddenly became very interesting to Angeline, for it was the only place she dared to look.
“Fine,” she responded. She saw out of the corner of her eye that he took a step nearer. She felt him smirk. It flared her temper. She was fiercely attracted to him, and for that she hated herself a little.
“Aren’t you going to ask how I’ve been?” he teased. She didn’t want to be rude. She didn’t hate him. She only wished she did.
“How’ve you been?” Angeline made the mistake of glancing up at him. He was rugged in that he was all rough hands and football coach through and through. His looks, though, were all Hollywood playboy rogue—cocky persona, chiseled jaw, and an air that made women lose their minds. The blond hair and blue eyes made him seem harmless while the sexy tug at the corner of his mouth and the knowing set of his brow proved otherwise.
“I’ve been good.” He took a step closer, which had every nerve ending in her body on alert. She needed to get away, and fast, because the brush of his gaze over her made her skin zing as if she’d just been caressed.
“What do you two want?” Selina asked Dylan and Angeline about dinner.
“I don’t care.” Dylan slid his hands into his pockets, looking between his two friends and Angeline. The way he looked at her led Angeline to believe he was well aware of the zinging she felt in the air between them. They knew she was resistant. Did he think she challenged him to try harder? Because he had that look in his eyes that told her he planned to.
It was true she did resemble Selina, though mostly in coloring. They had dark hair, dark eyes, and tawny skin. There were other things too, like those sexy arching eyebrows. Both women spoke with that melodic, lilting French accent. Hearing someone speak French wasn’t uncommon in Sudbury. Most people at least had working knowledge of the language, but Angeline’s voice was something he took notice of. It was deeper and far more sensual than Selina’s—or most other women’s, for that matter. Dylan was dying to find out how pillow talk would sound coming from her lips.
Selina’s body and face, every part of her, was petite. Angeline wasn’t. She was curvy and sexy. She tried to hide it under flowing, breezy tops and plain clothing, but Dylan could see it. He only wished he could see more of it.
She had plump lips that he wanted to sample. He just wanted to taste her anywhere, like the skin just below her jaw for instance. It drove him crazy, wondering what was really under those clothes. He wanted her.
Having only known her a short time and then feeling the electricity so hot he nearly burned himself with it, he was sincerely more attracted to her than he’d been to anyone for a while. No one had ever resisted him so steadfastly. It was more than just interest at this point. It was a personal challenge. He needed to win her before he could move on.
“How does cashew chicken sound?” Selina spun around to face Nathan.
“You cooking it?” He laughed as she shook her head.
“No. I’ll call it in if you two will go pick it up,” Selina spoke, gesturing with a finger between Nathan and Dylan.
“Deal.” Nathan kissed her cheek and then rounded up his wallet and keys.
Angeline sighed and visibly relaxed as if in relief. Normally, with another woman this would have been a bad sign, but Dylan didn’t think it was him necessarily that she fought. She fought whatever it was that snapped between them, and he couldn’t be discouraged by that.
Angeline sipped her wine, looking anywhere but at him. Selina was on the phone placing the order, and Nathan was busy digging for keys. Dylan stood there and willed Angeline’s gaze to meet his just one more time. He was convinced that even a small glance would confirm that she was at least marginally receptive to him chasing after her. Eventually, she held her breath and took a peek at him out of the corner of her eye.
His grin came quickly, and he knew it probably was as mischievous-looking as the Cheshire cat’s. He didn’t blame her for looking away just then. It didn’t matter. In his mind’s eye she’d just tossed the coin. Kickoff. The chase for Angeline was on, and as far as he knew, he was the only contender.
When the guys finally left and Selina was off the phone, Angeline took a deep breath. She exhaled and let all the crazy pent-up tension ease from her shoulders. “Thank God.” Angeline slumped against the counter.
“What’s the matter?” Selina sat her glass down and intently looked at her.
“I’m just glad that Dylan’s gone.” Even Angeline had to smile at her own silly discomfort around him.
“You don’t like Dylan?” Concern flashed in Selina’s dark eyes.
“No.” Angeline shook her head. “He is fine…I guess. I just—” Angeline sighed. She hadn’t wanted to explain this, but didn’t see any way to avoid it now. “I don’t like how he looks at me.”
“Oh? And how is that?”
Angeline tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and rolled her eyes at her sister’s request, bringing her wine to her lips to taste.
“Tell me,” Selina begged.
“Just like…” Angeline had to stop and think about it. She had to remember the way her skin burned wherever his gaze passed over her. “Like I’m naked when I’m fully dressed. Like he can see me despite my clothes.”
A surprised smile spread over Selina’s face. It rocked on Angeline’s nerves.
“Don’t smile like that. I don’t like it. He rattles me.”
“Okay.” She held up her hands, and then leaned in to ask, “Do I need to do a little recon mission, find out if he likes you?”
Angeline rolled her eyes. “I am not thirteen, Selina. Besides, I’m not interested. He is too much for me. If I were looking—which I am not—I think after everything, I’d need a softer man, and Dylan could not be that man.” Angeline laughed, and Selina wrinkled her nose. Apparently, she found little appeal in the idea of a soft man.
“You do not need a soft man. You need a real man, and maybe Dylan is just man enough for the job, eh?”
“I should never have told you.” Angeline smiled amusedly, but then shook her head. “I’m serious, Selina. Swear to me and make Nathan swear too that neither of you will try to match make. On top of that, under no circumstances can he know about my past. I do not like the way he looks at me now, but I would hate it even more if it was replaced by pity. No, thank you. He can’t know.”
Selina frowned. “It might be easier if he knew.”
Angeline leveled her eyes seriously at her sister. She was adamant about this. “No.” It was a sound of absolute desperation. “This is mine to tell or not to tell. No. Now promise me.”
“All right. I promise.” And with that, she drew an invisible X over her heart with her finger.
* * * *
Selina and Angeline were already seated at the set table by the time Nathan and Dylan were back with the food. Selina had set out nice plates, silverware, opened another bottle of wine, and even lit some candles. Angeline relaxed into her second glass of wine.
“Wow.” Nathan smiled, looking at the setup. “I’m guessing we’re not eating out of the carton tonight?” Nathan laughed and kissed her on the top of the head before he rounded the table to sit across from her.
Angeline had been too cozy to notice the mood setting Selina had obviously been attempting. Once she did, she shot an unmasked scowl in the direction of her sister.
“I think it looks nice.” Selina lifted her chin but avoided Angeline’s gaze. “Don’t you like it, Dylan?”
Angeline noted the curious look she gained from Nathan just as her ears tingled with heat. It wasn’t long before she felt her face flushing as well, partly from the wine but mostly with embarrassment.
“Yeah, it looks great.” Dylan fell into the only open seat across the small table from Angeline. His sparklingly blue-eyed gaze immediately tracked to hers. With a little liquid courage in her and candlelight flickering in his crystalline irises, she found herself holding his gaze for longer than she had ever dared to.
“Angeline, can you pour Dylan some wine?”
Angeline stared at her sister. The wine was situated directly between the two of them and it would have made more sense for Selina to pass Dylan the bottle. Angeline didn’t want to be rude, so she lifted the wine bottle. She had to stand a little to reach his glass.
Dylan lifted the wineglass by its dainty little stem. It seemed out of place in his big hand—if he moved his fingers just right the stem might snap with no effort at all.
Angeline’s heart raced. She felt him watching her. She felt his gaze on her where the neckline of her white tunic had dipped away from her skin. Her hand shook so badly she had to reach out and hold his glass still to make sure she wouldn’t spill any.
She brushed her fingers against his, and it felt as if she’d been bit. Jolts of electric chemistry shot from his hand into hers. When she realized she still touched him, she moved it farther up the glass, reluctant to pull away entirely in fear she’d spill the red wine all over Dylan.
He shifted his hold on the glass so he could brush a finger against her wrist where a pounding heartbeat lay. The touch was a surprise that caused her to shake even more as the wine kept sluicing into his glass, and he kept nuzzling against the surprisingly tender skin of her arm.
“That’s good.” Dylan spoke, and Angeline nearly sighed in agreement. “That’s enough.” Was it? She followed his gaze to his glass. Seeing it was nearly too full, she immediately stopped pouring and pulled her hand away.
“Sorry.” She laughed at herself and sat back down, placing the wine between her and Selina again.
The food got passed around, and everyone filled their plates. Angeline was a little buzzed and more than a little embarrassed. She kept her head down, enjoyed the food, and hoped dinner would be over soon.
“Angeline?” Dylan’s voice flowed over her like a smooth, dark sip of the burgundy in her glass.
Her head rose from her plate. “Oui?”
“Selina told me that you own your own business.”
“What kind?” Dylan watched her take a bite of food, and even that seemed carnal under his watchful eye.
“It’s called The Lounge. We’re downtown, with a live house band every night. Occasionally, we’ll have other bands come in to play. Jazz.”
She couldn’t be sure, but he sounded sincere. “Oui. I think so.”
“She owned that bait shop in Niagara Falls.” Nathan tipped his wineglass in Angeline’s direction.
“Get out.” Dylan picked up his ridiculously full wineglass and guzzled some down.
“Guilty as charged.”
“Really?” She knew that Nathan had been there. Niagara Falls was where they’d been working and living when Nathan and Selina had met. It had never dawned on her that maybe Dylan had been with him.
“Yeah, we bought bait.” He motioned to Nathan with his thumb.
“No, we didn’t.” Nathan corrected. “We got free bait.”
“Exactly,” Angeline playfully reprimanded Selina. “Maybe the business would still be afloat if you would not have given bait away to every cute boy, eh?” Everyone laughed, even though that wasn’t why Bait & Tackle had closed its doors. A much more sinister reason had been at play.
“It’s a big leap from a bait shop to a nightclub, isn’t it?”
The way his gaze sought out hers was intimidating. Angeline wished it wasn’t, wished she could find a cool aloofness to show him. She probably should chase him off. Nothing could come of this, yet no matter how hard she fought it, she responded to him.
“No. Business is business, and I found I am actually good at running one.”
“It’s where our wedding and reception will be,” Selina leaned in to tell Dylan even though her gaze didn’t stray from Nathan’s.
“Really?” Dylan lifted an eyebrow before swallowing down his bite of food with a swig of wine. “You’re going to be busy, Angeline.” Her name on his lips sent shivers down her spine. “Since we’re kind of equals in the wedding world, let me know if there’s something I can help you with.”
“All right.” Angeline nodded, but she figured he knew she wouldn’t.
“I’ll have to check out The Lounge sometime.” Dylan eyed her over his wineglass.
Angeline found somewhere else to look, somewhere besides those startling blue eyes.
“You should go one of the nights Angeline sings.”
Angeline could have strangled Selina, especially when she caught the surprised delight pass over Dylan’s face. She wondered why he feigned interest in her like that. There wasn’t anything special about her. She was average. Average height, average weight, average everything. Yet he seemed interested, even though she kept trying to throw him off with her disinterested vibe. Which was difficult because, for some reason, physically, she did respond to him. There was something about Dylan that Angeline didn’t trust, and she most certainly didn’t trust the way she felt around him.
“Are you any good?”
She looked up at that. Maybe it was the wine, but she responded honestly. “Yes.” Dylan didn’t give her a cocky smirk like she thought he might, but his eyes were intense. She willed herself not to look away this time.
“Well then, I’ll definitely be coming down to see you.”
Her heart raced.
“When is the next time you sing, ma chčre?” Selina rarely used that term of endearment with her, and Angeline knew she was doing so to butter her up.
“Thursday night.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she’d lied.
“I have a game Thursday night,” Dylan said regretfully.
“You don’t have to explain yourself. It wasn’t a formal invitation.” Angeline pushed chicken around on her plate with her chopsticks.
“I wish it had been.”
Fierce heat bloomed all over her body, focusing mostly in her cheeks and then down to erupt into a melting between her legs. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel that way in years. Angeline’s eyes came up to steal a glance at Dylan, who leaned back from the table, his interest in the food apparently lost.
“When is the next time?” Dylan asked, and she felt his socked foot fall over hers underneath the table.
It was too much—his heated gaze, his deliberate words, his sexy voice, and now the weight of his larger male foot covering hers. She yanked hers away and then struggled with the strange idea of sliding it back into place. She didn’t. She couldn’t.
“Um—” She had to try to think of what the question was again. “Saturday night.” She shook her head clear. “I sing again Saturday night.”
“Saturday,” Dylan repeated.
Angeline lifted her glass and tried to wash down the fever he had spiked in her.
“I’ll be there.”
She knew he meant it, and she wasn’t quite sure how she felt about that.