Home > Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(10)

Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(10)
Author: Tessa Bailey

He pointed toward the far end of the table. “That wine glass has a smudge.”


As soon as Bethany turned to handle the phantom smudge, Wes pilfered Stephen’s name card and switched it with his, putting him on Bethany’s right.

“I don’t see anything,” Bethany said, lifting the glass to inspect it. Their eyes met through the goblet, magnifying her sexy pout. “Very funny.”

“No one would have noticed a smudge.”

“I would have.”

“You notice everything.”


Wes smiled.

She narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously, but he was saved from her finding out about the name-card switch when the rest of their party appeared at the restaurant’s entrance.

Wes saluted the new arrivals. Dominic kept his head down and stuck to the sidelines, scouting for Rosie. Stephen rolled in like a ball of nervous energy and Travis strutted through the awestruck patrons like the goddamn mayor. If Wes didn’t like the son of a bitch so much, he’d hate him.

The Castle parents walked in behind Travis, their entrance causing a ripple of comforting energy in the small room. Everyone in town revered Morty and adored Vivian. In the short time he’d lived in Port Jefferson, he’d learned they were an institution. Half the town had either sold their homes to the Castles or purchased one from them—and the rest would get there all in good time.

Wes hung back and watched Bethany, as was becoming his unbreakable habit. How she kissed her parents, guiding her father to his seat with one hand, taking her mother’s coat with the other. She nailed Travis with a well-placed quip, softening it with a grudging smile. Then she mouthed Dominic his wife’s ETA.

Bethany was a graceful, flawless one-woman welcoming committee, and she was ridiculously out of Wes’s league. That unfortunate fact didn’t keep him from thinking about her nonstop, now, did it?

She turned and caught his eye over her shoulder, the candlelight giving her complexion a rosy glow, and something heavy clenched in his gut. Not sure if he wanted to explore the growing frequency of that reaction, Wes pulled out his chair and sat down. Bethany’s mouth formed an O, her attention dropping to the swapped name card. “Wes,” she said through her teeth.

He winked. “Howdy, neighbor.”

Lucky for Wes, the female contingency joined the party at that moment, or Bethany might have stabbed him with a butter knife. Instead, she was rendered speechless by her little sister. Georgie was dressed in an off-white, form-fitting dress with long sleeves and an abbreviated hem and her legs looked about fifteen miles long in the silver pumps she’d borrowed from Bethany’s closet. How could this be the same person who’d once gotten her braces stuck to a radiator valve?

Bethany had almost missed the chance to know Georgie better. What if they hadn’t ended up in that stupid Zumba class all those months ago? They’d opened up to each other by accident that night, sprawled on the floor in their workout gear. Sure, Bethany would still have planned this party. They would still be sisters, break bread on the occasional Sunday, buy each other Christmas presents. But they were friends now, too.

God, she was so grateful for that. And now, in just two short days, the scruffy tomboy was getting married. Bethany’s sight started to blur and, with visions of running mascara in mind, she tipped her face up toward the ceiling, begging the tears to ebb. She couldn’t very well host this dinner with raccoon eyes. Pull it together.

Something soft pressed into Bethany’s hand and she looked down to find Wes passing her a cloth napkin. “Oh, but it’ll ruin the table’s flow,” she mumbled, fanning her eyes. “You’re behind me. How did you know I was crying?”

“Maybe you’re not the only one who notices things, darlin’.”

Even as his low tone blew an unwanted shiver down her spine, Bethany turned slightly to slide him some side-eye. It was her default where Wes was concerned. Sighing in the face of her skepticism, Wes took off his cowboy hat and dropped it on the table. “Fine. Your ass was clenched.”

A surprise laugh rocketed its way out of Bethany. She threw the napkin at Wes and he caught it in midair. “Idiot.”

As Bethany went to greet her sister, she couldn’t help but notice the tears no longer threatened to erupt from her eyeballs. Wes had said the exact right thing. By accident, of course. And wow. Her standards must be dropping at an exponential rate if that jackass admitting he’d been staring at her ass was now the right thing to say.

Her man hiatus was responsible for this attraction to Wes. It had to be. Maybe it was time to consider getting back on the market. Because if she continued at this rate, she might actually start considering one of Wes’s not-so-subtle invitations to jump each other’s bones—and that surmounted to the worst idea in life. In history.

Not happening. Never happening.

Even if she didn’t hate him, even if he wasn’t seven years her junior, Wes was messy. Not literally. Gun to her head, she could admit he actually cleaned up pretty well. Very well, in fact. The removal of his cowboy hat had revealed his shock of dirty-blond hair that never seemed to fall in the same direction, amber eyes that held a perpetual humorous twinkle, and richly sun-loved skin that called to mind farmer tans and Texas back roads and—what was she doing? Writing lyrics for a country-western song now?

The man’s attractiveness was neither here nor there.

The real problem was, Wes knew she wasn’t perfect and put together and effortless. She hadn’t fooled him, not for a second—and that was unacceptable. His awareness of her faults was one of the main reasons Bethany had such a hard time believing he was actually interested and not just amusing himself with an older woman who could play a decent game of hard to get. But did he actually want to catch her? His irreverence made it so hard to tell.

Okay, so he had gotten hard for her when she’d jumped him to avoid the rat.

Wouldn’t a stiff breeze make a twenty-three-year-old hard?

Stop thinking about erections at your sister’s rehearsal dinner.

“Georgie,” Bethany breathed, finally having reached her sister. At the sight of Georgie dressed to the nines, hot moisture crowded the backs of her eyelids again and she almost wished for another inappropriate comment from Wes before she caught herself. “You look magical.”

“Did you have something to do with this?” Travis asked at her elbow, sounding as if he’d slipped into a daze. “How am I supposed to sit through a three-hour dinner with her looking like that?”

Georgie poked her fiancé. “You’re talking about me like I’m not here.”

“You’re not here. You’re a hologram. That belief is the only thing that’s going to keep my hands off you.” Travis dragged a hand down his face. “Can we move this dinner along, please?”

Unable to keep the smugness off her face, Bethany wedged herself in between the bride- and groom-to-be and guided them toward the table, standing behind their place settings. “Everyone, please take your seats.” She snapped a look at the college-student waiter and he lurched forward, pouring champagne into everyone’s glasses, one by one. When the final flute was bubbling with Dom Pérignon, she picked up her own and held it high. “Stephen gets to say his piece as the best man at the reception, so it’s only fair that I get to put in my two cents now.”

She sniffed, shooting playful dagger eyes at her older brother, who mostly looked confused as to why he’d been seated three spots away from his wife.

“It’s no secret that it took me a while to warm up to Travis. Decades. I’m still reserving the tiniest bit of judgment. We’re, like, ninety percent there.” She patted her future brother-in-law on the shoulder. “However. I am one hundred percent positive that no one else could make my sister this happy. Or get her, quite like Travis. They’re a match made in heaven and I’m definitely not bitter about being the last single Castle. Pay no attention to my mile-long therapy bill.” Bethany squeezed them close, emotion catching her in the throat. “On a serious note, I’m so happy for you both. I mean that. This is what the real thing looks like.” She raised her glass a touch higher. “To Travis and Georgie.”

“To Travis and Georgie,” repeated everyone.

Bethany eased out from between the future newlyweds and took her seat, enjoying the way conversation unfolded around her naturally, drinks being refilled before they were fully empty. The evening had been set into motion without a hitch. Second by second, the tension in her chest eased until she was once again all too aware of the man sitting beside her.

“Nice speech,” Wes drawled. “If I didn’t know better, I’d almost be fooled into thinking you have a heart.”

“Oh, but I do. In the same place as yours.” She sipped her champagne. “It’s located about nine inches below where your brain should be.” He opened his mouth to respond, but Bethany cut him off. “If you make a ‘nine inches’ joke, I’ll dump candle wax on your head.”

“Damn, girl, that’s kinky as hell.” He winked. “I like it.”

She ground her back teeth. “Is this why you wanted to sit next to me? So you could poke me all night?”

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