Home > Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(11)

Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(11)
Author: Tessa Bailey

He bit his lip.

Bethany pinched her eyes shut. “Say it and die.”

Wes leaned back in his chair, wisely refraining from another innuendo. Yet she still couldn’t keep her knee from bouncing beneath the table. Why did this man thwart her composure like this? No one else could get under her skin with such efficiency. Or scramble her brain with a well-placed grin.

A grin that said, I see your flaws. I see them all.

God, she couldn’t stand him.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Wes seemed to see straight through her, it was impossible to reconcile all of his moving parts (thank goodness she hadn’t said that out loud). According to Stephen . . . and perhaps some Web sleuthing, Wes was a good ol’ boy with a wild streak. She’d confirmed that one evening after too much wine via his long-neglected Instagram account, which was essentially just photo upon photo of him riding bulls, being treated for injuries in the ER—usually with a thumbs-up and a smile—or pounding a pint while his buddies egged him on in the background.

Such evidence should validate her utter dislike of Wes. She’d dated irreverent party guys who could become the center of her universe simply by being the most interesting dude at the bar. She was past men like that. They never failed to turn into bitter douchebags when they weren’t the center of attention.

And yet.

He’d come to Port Jefferson to raise his niece.

He didn’t seem to want a cookie for it, either.


Bethany realized she and Wes were sitting a little too near, scrutinizing each other way too closely. She abruptly leaned away.

“Did you manage to find some capable souls to help us on the flip?”

Wes remained focused on her mouth for a few beats. “Oh yeah,” he said, nodding. “They are . . . something else.”

She let her suspicion over that vague response show, but chose not to comment. “I’m going shopping tomorrow for bathroom materials—”

“Great. When and where? I’ll meet you.”

She was already shaking her head. Spending time with Wes when it wasn’t absolutely necessary? Not a good idea. They were going to be in close enough proximity on the job site. They didn’t need to become shopping buddies. Besides . . . she didn’t exactly know what to buy for the bathroom and she didn’t need a witness there to watch her muddling through every purchase. “That’s not necessary.”

“As foreman, I’d really like to be aware of all details, big and small.”

Bethany reared back. “Foreman? Who gave you that title?”

He eyed her curiously. “Which title would you suggest for me?”

“I don’t know. Head clown?”

Humor rippled across his features. “If it makes you feel better, I was mentally referring to you as manager.”

“Oh.” Feeling silly for being so defensive, she shifted in her seat. “Then . . . I suppose those titles work.”

He winked. “Just trying to please the boss.”

The guilt over her defensiveness spun like a stupid lead ball in her belly. “I’ll text you the address of the bathroom supply place. We’ll meet there in the morning. Just . . .”


The irritated skin on her neck glowed hot, so she squeezed her hands together in her lap. “I don’t know exactly what we need.”

Some of Wes’s amusement faded. “I got you.”

Exposed, Bethany pushed back from the table and stood so fast, she almost knocked over her chair, but Wes caught it in time. With a mumbled thank-you, she went to make sure everyone had fresh glasses for the switch from champagne to red wine, very aware of Wes cataloguing her every move.

Tomorrow morning suddenly loomed much closer than before.

Chapter Six

He’d been a complete idiot for telling Bethany sex was off the table.

That was Wes’s first thought when she strolled into the bathroom supply showroom in high-waisted jeans that looked like someone painted them on with a brush and a loose T-shirt tucked into the front—just the front. Why was that hot? And heels. He’d never paid much attention to clothing women wore, definitely not the finer details, but there was so much thought put into every garment that Bethany chose to put on her body, it felt like a sin not to catalogue them.

There was a pencil holding her bun together on the top of her head, almost like she wanted people to believe she hadn’t spent actual time making herself look delicious. What would she look like first thing in the morning? Without a scrap of clothing on, fucked-up hair and no makeup? That’s what he wanted to know. She looked beautiful put together like this, but he had a feeling she’d be something else altogether if he took her apart. Laid her out bare.

Bethany stopped in front of him with a smile. “Nope.”

“Sorry, was I talking out loud?”

“Your horndog expression was speaking on your behalf.”

“It’s your fault. Thanks to that rat, now I’ve had those legs wrapped around me.”

She took off her sunglasses and snapped them closed, sliding them into a hidden compartment in her purse. “Well, I hope you enjoyed the first and last time.”

“Come on, now. You’ve still got a few good years left in you.”

Wes frowned when she faltered a little, a rejoinder seeming to die on her lips. Instead of cutting him off at the knees like she normally would, she moved past him and beckoned to one of the sales clerks. “Hello!” Of course her smile was one hundred watts for the thirty-something dude in ill-fitting khakis and company polo shirt. “Kirk,” she said warmly, reading his name off the tag fastened to his shirt. “We need to place an order for bathroom supplies. Would you mind setting us up with some catalogues and a place to sit?”

Kirk almost sprained an ankle scrambling off to do her bidding. “Sure thing.”

Wes followed her to the back of the showroom, but he still had an itch under the collar over her reaction to his stupid joke about her age. She knew he needled her about being older in the name of sarcasm, right? The seven years between them was nothing but a puddle jump. Thirty was young. Hell, she could be forty-five and he’d still be panting after it. So why had she clammed up on him?

He took a seat beside a straight-backed Bethany at a cluttered table and studied her profile. Something told him he needed to smooth out this one misconception—that he actually thought she was ready for pasture—or he’d regret it. Before he could say anything, though, Kirk came back with a stack of books up to his chin, dropping them on the table with a slap. “Here you go, Miss Castle.”

“Oh.” She beamed up at him. “You know my name.”

“Sure. You’re Stephen Castle’s sister.”

Some of the spark faded from her eyes and Wes wanted to throttle the dumbass. “Right,” Bethany said, opening one of the books. “We’ll let you know when we’re ready to put in the order.”

Captain Foot in Mouth took his exit and Wes leaned back in his chair, wondering why the hell he felt so jumpy all of a sudden. Lust was an inevitability when he was in the same room with Bethany, but right now, he was more interested in holding her hand. Or cupping the nape of her neck and running a thumb up into her hairline to comfort her. And that rattled him a little.

Maybe there was a way to comfort her without being too obvious. She’d admitted at last night’s rehearsal dinner that she was nervous about picking out bathroom supplies when she didn’t know where to start, hadn’t she?

Wes cleared his throat hard and slipped his cell out of his pocket, pulling up the picture app and thumbing through a couple pictures of Laura dancing on the front porch before finding what he wanted. “Went back into the house last night and grabbed some pictures of the bathroom. Took measurements.”

Bethany blinked at him and Wes could see her playing back their conversation from last night, too. I told you I got you. That’s what he wanted to say, but . . . it wasn’t gratitude he was after. What was it? Her trust?

“Oh. Oh . . . good,” she breathed finally, squaring her shoulders. “Thank you. My plan was to order extra tile and return what we didn’t use, but this is better.” She snuck another glance at him before resolutely focusing on his phone. “Did you run into the rat again?”

“No, but I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of his children.” Wes shivered. “Several of them.”

Bethany made a sound. “I wish you hadn’t told me that. Now I feel guilty about calling the exterminator.”

“They were squealers.”

“May they burn in hell,” she deadpanned, going back to trading glances between his cell phone and the book. “Should I be worried about inappropriate text messages popping up on your screen and scarring me for life?”

Wes reached over and stopped her from turning a page, tapping a square of tile that was moderately priced and on trend. “Inappropriate texts from who?”

Bethany slapped his hand away from the book and flipped to the next page. “I don’t know,” she muttered, distractedly. “Women.”

A smile prodded him. “I’ll admit I receive a pretty high volume of texts from women.”

Her shrug was jerky. “Well, you can put it away now. I know what the bathroom looks like—”

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