I Only Have Eyes for You, p.1part #4 of The Sullivans Series
Author: Bella Andre Chapter One
Sophie Sullivan surveyed the final wedding preparations with satisfaction. In less than two hours, her brother Chase and his fiancee, Chloe, would be saying “I do” beneath rose-covered arches with three hundred guests looking on. The Napa Valley vineyard owned by her oldest brother, Marcus, was not only the perfect backdrop for the wedding, but was also where Chase and Chloe had first met and fallen in love.
The bride and the other bridesmaids were already in the guest house having their makeup and hair done. Sophie should have been there half an hour ago, but she’d wanted to make sure everything outside was perfect first. She was a librarian, not a wedding planner, but she’d leapt at the chance to help plan Chase’s wedding, and it had been so much fun. Well, apart from all those meetings with—
“Hey, Nice, looking good. ”
Every muscle in Sophie’s body tensed at the low drawl from behind her.
Her brother Zach’s closest friend. . . and the object of twenty years of her unrequited love.
Of course, not once in those twenty years had she ever been anything more to him than Zach’s little sister.
“My name is Sophie, not Nice,” she said, without turning to face him.
She felt him move closer, his innate heat searing her even from several feet away. She’d always been overly attuned to him, instantly alert to his presence in a room. As a little girl, she’d made excuses to hang out with her older brothers just to be near Jake, keeping extra quiet so no one would remember she was there while they played pool in the basement and made off-color jokes.
The urge to turn and drink him in, to lose herself in the spark of wicked in his chocolate-brown eyes, was so strong she almost gave in. Instead, she kept her gaze trained over the wedding layout and the rolling hills of grapevines and mustard flowers as if she didn’t care one way or another if he stayed to talk to her.
“Hard to believe the day has finally come. ” He paused, and she could hear the humor mixed with a faint disdain in his voice as he said, “A Sullivan is actually taking the plunge. ”
Sophie was known as the clear-headed, soft-spoken one in the family, the one who always thought things through before taking action. She’d never been prone to violent outbursts. . . or to giving in to crazy inner urgings. That was her twin sister Lori’s territory, which was why Lori’s nickname was Naughty and Sophie’s was Nice. But Sophie rarely felt level-headed anymore around Jake. How could she when her heart always beat too fast at the thought of what it would feel like to be in his arms. . . or because he was making her mad with some macho comment? Usually both at the same time. Just as he was doing right now.
Her fingers curled into fists as she lost the battle with self-control and whirled around to face him. Unfortunately for her traitorous hormones, Jake was more gorgeous than ever in his tuxedo. His crisp white dress shirt opened up just enough at the neck for her to see the dark hair curling up at the vee of his chest. His tattoos were covered up, but just knowing they were hidden behind a thin layer of fabric always sent a kick of forbidden desire rushing through her.
“Chase and Chloe are in love,” she told him in a sharp voice made even sharper by her disappointment with herself for not being even the slightest bit impervious to Jake’s good looks. “Their wedding is going to be beautiful and perfect and incredibly romantic. ”
It was even more beautiful and perfect and romantic that Chloe was pregnant and absolutely glowing. Sophie couldn’t wait to babysit, to endlessly spoil her niece or nephew.
“It’s going to be one hell of a party, at least. ”
What was wrong with him? Sophie wondered for what had to be the thousandth time in twenty years. How could he look at a lifetime of love and only see a party?
Then again, given the fact that he blew through women at a shockingly fast rate, it wasn’t hard to guess that he was one of those imbeciles who didn’t believe in love. A rich, good-looking guy like Jake McCann would just be in it for the sex.
Sophie was neither a virgin nor a prude, despite what people might otherwise assume about librarians. On the contrary, if people knew just how well-read she was on the subject of sex, they would likely be shocked. Especially Jake. Wouldn’t it be something to shock someone who thought he was so utterly unshockable?
But she knew better than to let her fantasies run away with her where Jake was concerned, even if her body had stupidly fallen in lust with him from the first stirring of teenage hormones. Even now, she couldn’t help but breathe in his scent, a faint hint of hops and something she’d never been able to categorize beyond night and darkness.
She moved to straighten an already perfectly straight chair. “I checked over the bar setup earlier and it looks like everything is in place. ” She grudgingly had to admit, “You’ve done a good job with it. ”
She could feel his dark eyes on her as he said, “You sure I can’t hire you to run my pubs? We could use someone like you to whip the business into shape. ”
A burst of pleasure at his compliment shot through her, warming her all over. That was the problem with Jake. Even when she was irritated with him, even though he’d never return her feelings for him in a billion, kazillion years, she couldn’t help but be charmed by him.
Still, knowing she’d never forgive herself if she melted into a gooey puddle of lust in the middle of Marcus’s vineyard, she simply told him, “I’d miss my books too much, thanks. ” All her life, Sophie’d had stacks of books in every room, beside her bed, and in the kitchen. She loved the way her new e-reader fit in her purse.
Knowing that prolonging their close proximity in this uber-romantic setting would only mess with her head, she said, “I’d better get over to the guest house. ” But just as she was turning to go, a sudden gust of wind whipped her hat off her head.
Jake reached out and caught it before she even had time to react. “Got it. ”
He moved in front of her and slid a lock of hair that had caught on her mouth back under the hat as he settled it into place. Her cheek tingled from the gentle brush of skin on skin and she nervously licked her lips.
His hands stilled on the brim of her hat, his dark eyes turning almost jet black as his gaze held on her mouth. Neither of them moved for several moments, but then, suddenly, he was stepping back from her, the slightly cool wine-country air pushing in where his heat had been just seconds before.
His frown was deep, heavy, as he tore his gaze away from her mouth and quickly scanned her outfit. “You’re not wearing that to the wedding, are you?”
Still working to catch her breath from the shock of his touch, it took far longer than it should have for her to register what he’d said. She couldn’t miss the mocking tone, however.
Months ago, when Jake had volunteered to run the bar at Chase and Chloe’s wedding, she’d impulsively decided to teach him a lesson about his arrogance, along with the way he insisted on continuing to look at her as little more than a child, rather than a full-grown woman. She’d planned to make him want her, to somehow figure out a way to make him desperate with longing. . . before she scorned him, leaving him high and dry for the first time in his life.
Only, had she made good on those big plans to attract and then reject Jake in the past four months?
“Of course this isn’t what I’m wearing for the wedding,” she finally replied, her words a hard snap of breath and teeth. “I’m one of Chloe’s maids of honor, with Lori. ”
The perfect planes of his face shifted again from frown to scowl, before settling back into indifference. “You’d better go get pretty then, s
Jake’s harsh words landed with a hard thud between them. She didn’t know if he’d intended to hurt her with his words, with the implication that it would take some time, along with a good amount of effort, to pretty her up. . . but whether or not that had been his intent, that was exactly what he’d just done.
A few minutes ago she’d felt proud of what she’d accomplished with Chase and Chloe’s wedding. Now, that pride was all but erased by the way Jake looked at her and found her so wanting, so utterly devoid of female allure. Because even though she knew better than to care, even though she knew better than to give him the power to hurt her, a handful of his careless words did more damage than her twin’s hair-pulling ever had.
Had she imagined that hunger, the longing, in his eyes? Or had she simply wanted to feel those sparks so badly that she’d manufactured a split-second connection that would never actually be there between them?
Oh, how she hated the way he’d just talked to her—like she was still a little girl rather than a fully grown, successful, adult woman. Princess. He’d called her princess.
Somehow that was worse than Nice. At least her family nickname had been born of love.
In one fell swoop, all the resolve she’d had such a hard time holding on to where Jake was concerned gathered up inside her, settling in just over her breastbone. What she wouldn’t give to shock him, to show him that he didn’t know a darn thing about who she really was, that the “nice” girl he’d seen grow up was more than woman enough to run him in circles.
Growing up in a family of extraordinary siblings, Sophie had known better than to try to compete with them. She’d never glide across a dance floor like Lori, or lead a team to a national championship like Ryan. She didn’t save people’s lives on a daily basis like Gabe. She’d never be passionate enough about photography or cars or vineyards to turn them into successful careers and businesses.
But as she stood with Jake in the middle of Marcus’s vineyard barely an hour before Chase and Chloe’s wedding, Sophie couldn’t have been happier that she’d read thousands of novels. Enough, she hoped, to pull together a quick plot that would give Jake a taste of his own medicine. . . and at long last, a run for his money.
“You’re right,” she said softly, “I should leave soon to get pretty. ” The words tasted like grit on her tongue and she could have sworn he almost winced as she repeated them back to him. “But there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you first. ”
“What’s that?” he asked in an easy voice. One she thought sounded a little too easy.
“Well,” she said slowly, “I just found out that an ex-boyfriend is one of Chloe’s last-minute guests. ”
It was true, she’d dated the guy—Alex—for a few months last year. Neither of them had been particularly serious about the other, however. She hadn’t even slept with him.
Still, that didn’t stop her from spinning the truth a bit for Jake’s benefit. “He’s someone I’d really like to make jealous. ” She slowly lowered her eyelashes as if she still wasn’t over the pain of being left so callously.
Although she’d only been in the chorus of a handful of elementary-school stage productions, she tried to channel the way she imagined Smith would play this scene onscreen. With pathos. And a faint hint of shame at the way she’d never managed to be good enough for her ex no matter what she did. She waited a beat before lifting her gaze to Jake’s again.
“Would you help me?”
He stared down at her, clearly unable to believe what she was proposing. “Hold up a second, Nice. You want me to help you make some loser ex-boyfriend jealous?”
She gritted her teeth at his use of her nickname—and the fact that he immediately assumed any boyfriend of hers had to be a loser—but forced herself to let it go. For now.
“You didn’t bring anyone to the wedding, right?” A few weeks ago he’d told her he was coming stag so that he could keep watch over his staff at the bar. Sophie figured it was also a good way to make sure he had his pick of hot single guests for an after-party in his bed. She forcefully tamped down the surge of jealousy at that vision as she said, “Please, Jake, will you help me?”