Authors: Rainey Anne
Wait, what was he thinking? He must be insane to even consider spending time with a reporter. Ever since River had been forced to endure Larry’s abuse, it’d been an unspoken agreement among the Jennings that reporters were right up there with lawyers, basically bloodsuckers and ambulance chasers and nothing more. But Brodix had a feeling Sarah was different. For one, she wasn’t Larry. Even though Brodix had spent only a few minutes in her company, he could see he’d been letting his attitude about River’s foster dad color his view of Sarah. Still, she’d dragged Coburn’s name through the mud, hadn’t she? It was clear the woman was no saint. Did that mean Sarah didn’t deserve to be heard, though? What harm could it do?
The bigger question was, what would his brothers want? Reilly didn’t want anything to do with an interview, which meant River most likely wouldn’t either. But what of Vance and Sammy? If they knew how important it would be to the success of the grand opening, would they agree to do whatever was necessary? A nasty dose of guilt washed over him. Hell, just bringing her into the bar seemed like a betrayal to all River had been put through. Sarah had pegged it, though. They did need the publicity. They couldn’t afford to turn up their noses based solely on what Larry had done. As for the disastrous article about the mayor, it was in the past. Like the horrors of River’s childhood, it was over and done with. Time for all of them to move on. Besides, the free promotional opportunity wasn’t something to scoff at, not this late in the game.
When he grabbed some ice out of the freezer and turned to get a towel, Reilly was standing there, glaring at him. Shit. “Might as well say it,” Brodix muttered as he picked up a towel off the counter and wrapped it around the cubes of ice.
Reilly pointed to the door leading to the main room. “What the hell is she doing sitting at the bar? I thought you were going to get rid of her.”
“I was until I saw her ankle.” He held up the makeshift icepack he’d taken out of the freezer. “She’s hurt and on our property. That’s not good no matter how you slice it.”
“So ice her ankle and send her on her way,” he bit out. “We don’t need her kind here.”
Brodix didn’t much care for his brother’s attitude toward Sarah. She was a veritable stranger, but a sense of protectiveness shot through him all the same. “Look, I’m not any crazier about Sarah snooping around than you, but she’s not Larry. I don’t think it’s fair to measure her by his misdeeds.” Brodix left off the part about Sarah’s own misdeeds. He didn’t think Reilly needed more of a reason to hate the woman. Hell, if Reilly didn’t remember the Coburn article, then Brodix sure as hell wasn’t going to remind him.
“She’s committed a few sins of her own, and you damn well know it,” Reilly gritted out.
Brodix felt his face heat. “I was hoping you’d forgotten about that,” he admitted.
“Not damn likely. Now she wants to interview us, Brodix,” he said, his tone rising right along with his temper. “And we both know the questions she’d ask. ‘What was it like growing up in foster care?’ ‘Where are your biological parents?’ ‘Why’d they give you up?’ And if she gets even a tiny hint about River’s lousy foster homes, she’d go for the jugular, and we both know it.”
“Keep your voice down,” Brodix warned as he leaned against the refrigerator. “I hear what you’re saying, but before we dismiss her completely, let me talk to her.”
“Is this because she’s hot? Is that it? You’re attracted to her, so you’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt?”
Brodix knew Reilly had it at least half right, but to hell if he was willing to admit it aloud. “Let’s stick to the facts, shall we? First, this restaurant is teetering on the brink, and we need all the help we can get to bring it back into the black. Second, this is Dad’s legacy, and it’s close to disappearing in a puff of smoke. Third, the publicity she’s offering could do us a world of good here. Do we agree so far?” When Reilly nodded, Brodix continued. “We need the grand opening to be a hit in a bad way. We need the exposure she’s talking about giving us. Give me a chance to talk to her. That’s all I’m asking.”
Reilly shoved a hand through his hair. “Do you even know what her master plan is besides dissecting our entire life and plastering it on the front page for everyone in Blackwater to see?”
“No,” he growled, his own temper flaring to the surface. “And until I hear her out, I don’t think we should make any hasty decisions.”
A few seconds of silence passed between them before Reilly finally let out a long sigh. “You need to bring the others in on this.”
“We all agree or nothing,” Brodix said, knowing Reilly was right. “I get it, believe me. First, I need to see if there’s anything to vote on.”
Without another word, Reilly went back to painting. Brodix wanted to say more, to reassure his brother, but he didn’t know what he’d be reassuring him of. Sure, the fact they were all adopted was known around town, but the dirty details of their past weren’t. The abuse and neglect, they’d managed to keep that shit hidden. On the other hand, Brodix was a businessman. He better than anyone knew that connecting their story of triumph over adversity with the diner would win the sympathies of the small-town residents. And that would surely be good for business.
Would it even be worth trying to balance exposing some of their painful secrets while attempting to keep the worst of it private, just to make people curious enough to check out the restaurant? Only one way to know.
When Brodix brought the ice out to Sarah, he found her sitting at the bar where he’d left her. She was hunched over and staring at her phone, her hair hanging on either side of her face like a shiny golden curtain. His body responded with a rush of heat to his groin. God, she was pretty. Yeah, Reilly had been right on the money. Brodix was attracted to little Miss Nosy, and mixing business with pleasure was something he’d always sworn never to do. Some things were worth breaking a few rules for, though.
“Ice,” a deep male voice said close to her ear. Sarah’s heart jumped, and she looked up from her phone to see Brodix standing next to her stool, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. God, she’d been so freaked out by the text message she’d just received that she hadn’t even heard the man enter the room.
She dropped her cell phone on the counter and held out her hand. “I really don’t think it’s necessary, but thanks all the same.”
Brodix held the ice away and sat in the stool to her right. He patted his thigh and said, “Here, let me see your ankle.”
No way was Sarah getting that close to temptation. She knew her limitations, and where the sexy, dark-haired Brodix was concerned, she had practically no sense of self-preservation. The crisp white dress shirt he wore seemed to barely contain the muscular chest it covered. And her gaze had already eaten up the way his black slacks molded to the man’s sculpted legs and buns. He was a work of art. Lean and hard all over. His black hair was neatly trimmed, but he sported a five o’clock shadow. She wondered if he realized how incongruous the facial hair was in relation to the rest of him. He was Mr. Neat-and-Tidy, except for the dark stubble covering his chin. Sarah yearned to reach out and touch his jaw line with her index finger, simply to see if he felt as good as he looked. But to touch would be to drool. Not a good way to start off their professional relationship.
She restrained herself, barely, and cleared her throat before saying, “I think I can manage, really.” Sarah kept her hand in the air, palm up, expecting him to give her the pack. When he reached down and cupped her ankle, then and brought it to his thigh, she let out a startled breath. “What are you doing?”
With more gentleness than she would’ve thought a man his size was capable of, Brodix placed the towel-wrapped ice on her ankle and said, “Do you want to talk to me or not?”
Sarah stiffened. “I want an interview.”
“Then let me see to your pain, and maybe you’ll get one,” he replied, his voice lowering an octave until it seemed to skate over her skin like a tender caress.
Sarah shook the dreamy haze away and attempted to focus on business. With his hand wrapped around her calf, it wasn’t easy. “Brodix is an unusual name,” she said, needing a place to start. She ached to get to know him. To know all the Jennings brothers.
Frustration ate at Sarah that she’d practically had to hunt Brodix down, but what choice did she have? After that pivotal moment last year when she’d been steadily working her way up the chain from the reporters’ pool, only to fall flat on her face, Sarah needed to prove herself again. She could be an outstanding reporter, if only she had the opportunity. She had Wendy Castle, the mayor’s former assistant, to thank for this mess. The woman had given her bad information on Coburn, and all because she’d been pissed the mayor had fired her. God, Sarah had been so naïve, proudly writing the article about the mayor’s sketchy campaign contribution, only to have it come back and bite her in the ass. Now Sarah was left with the odd jobs, like writing about a restaurant opening.
She desperately needed to prove to her boss that she was worthy of a second chance. With any luck, delving into the personal aspects behind the Blackwater restaurant, Brodix’s parents and what they’d done for the boys and the history of the diner, would be her ticket back into the inner circle. If only Brodix would stop pushing her away.
He shrugged. “I didn’t pick it, and before you ask, no, I don’t know why my biological parents chose it.”
“Have you ever looked it up?” she asked as he moved the ice-packed towel around in small circles, easing the pain with each gentle stroke. The chill went straight through her, but it didn’t douse the fire slowly building inside her body. Nothing would cool that down, except maybe putting a few hundred feet between her and the man hovering over her.
Brodix quirked a brow. “My name?”
She cleared her throat and forced her gaze back to his face and away from his talented hands. “Yes.”
“Why would I?”
“Curiosity, if nothing else,” she replied, surprised by his complete lack of interest in his own name, which was decidedly unique. “I’ve never met another person with your name. And I’ve met a lot of people, so that’s saying something.”
“Me either,” he said as he absently caressed the back of her leg with his thumb. “I guess I don’t see the big deal. A name is a name.”
Sarah’s stomach did little cartwheels as his thumb moved higher. Was he aware of the gentle massage he was administering and the riot of sensations it created inside her? Somehow she thought very little got past Brodix. He seemed a very astute man. “I did an Internet search on it.” His fingers went still, and his gaze caught on hers. “The closest I could find is the name of an engine part.”
“You looked up my name?” She nodded, and he frowned. “What on earth for?”
Heat filled her cheeks. Sarah couldn’t very well tell him the truth—that she’d been wildly curious about him and hadn’t been able to keep herself from learning every little thing. Her interest in the man had started when he’d ignored her phone calls. Most people were at least a little flattered by the prospect of being interviewed by a reporter, but not Brodix. For all intents and purposes, he’d flat-out snubbed her. So she’d done a little digging, come up with practically nothing, and her interest had grown into a full-fledged fascination. He was a mystery and she aimed to unravel him. But Sarah couldn’t very well tell Brodix that. He’d think she was a stalker, for crying out loud. “I always do research on the people I interview,” she replied. Well, it was true, just not the whole truth.
“Huh, interesting. So, they named me after an engine part.” He shook his head and resumed his tender ministrations. “Real, uh, fascinating.”
Sarah cocked her head to the side, wondering at the lack of emotion in his voice. “Doesn’t it upset you?”
“Why should it?” he asked, not bothering to look up from her leg.
“I’d think at the very least you would wonder why they named you after something so…cold. I mean, a lot of times, parents name their children for emotional reasons. A loving grandparent who passed away, a special aunt or uncle, that sort of thing.”
Brodix moved his hand away from her leg, then placed the rapidly melting icepack on the counter. “You’re missing an important point here, Sarah.”
“My biological parents brought me into this world, and that’s pretty much the extent of their involvement in my life. I never even knew my father. He was never in the picture at all. My mother was a drug addict. She cared about getting her next fix and not much else. My
parents, Wanda and Chet Jennings, they’re the ones who gave me a home. Their love is what matters. The people you seem so intent on finding out more about matter to me about as much as a gnat to a dog.” He patted her leg and said, “I think the ice has done all it can. If it’s still sore, you should go to the hospital. Of course, the restaurant will pick up the tab.”
Sarah dropped her leg from his thigh and immediately missed Brodix’s warmth. She stood and tested her ankle by putting most of her weight on it. When no pain radiated through her foot, she smiled. “Apparently, you have the magic touch.”
His eyes darkened as he caught and held her gaze. “No pain?”
“Nope,” she said, then grabbed her purse off the counter. “The way I see it, I owe you. How about dinner?”
He chuckled and picked up her phone, then handed it to her. “Still after that interview, huh?”