He didn’t know what caused her abrupt change of mood, or what made her start calling him Thorn, but he wasn’t going to let her shut him out so easily.
“Come then, put some slippers on your feet.” When you have a twin as cold as Bradford, he knew exactly how to get through her cool façade. He could see right through her and he knew that it would be asking too much to have her develop feelings for him, but he could also tell that is exactly what she was trying to prevent. How I adore challenges.
He watched her movements as she slipped into the hospital socks. Making sure there was a comfortable distance between them, he led them through the small hospital to the lounge. He’d seen there was a seat by the window that had a majestic view of the snow capped mountains. He’d hoped that the stillness of the mountains would bring peace to her mind and not make her want to close her mind to him.
Watching her closely to make sure she didn’t hurt the bandaged shoulder, Brighton didn’t want to offer her too much help. If there was anything he’d learned from being around strong women like Layla and Samara, is that if he offered too much help, he was going to get his head bitten off.
“So tell me about you,” he said as he slid into the seat opposite of her. It was early enough in the morning where the sun began to rise high above the mountain tops, casting a golden glow over her skin. I would love the opportunity to sit across from her on more mornings like this. The restless feeling he’d grown to live with eased when he was in her presence.
“There isn’t much to tell. I was born outside of Vegas, and have pretty much remained there. I travel for work, and Vin is a pilot.”
“Oh there is more to you than that. I noticed you didn’t drink your coffee, you cherished it. What’s your favorite blend?”
“French, bah…” Rolling his eyes mockingly and clutched his heart, “I’ll have to forget you said that. You strike me as someone who would enjoy a Sumatra or Ethiopian blend. They have more character and flavor notes.”
“Normally, you would be right, but when I need a swift kick in the guts to get my ass in gear, French is the only option.”
“Yes, the French are like that.” She grinned at him. Her smile was astounding. Her cheeks actually dimpled when she did. He wondered if those were laugh lines or scowl marks around her full lips. He couldn’t help but to think about sucking on the plump bottom lip she’d bitten trying to not laugh out loud.
“Alright, England, so what do you like to drink?”
“I grew up drinking tea with breakfast and lunch, but after being in Afghanistan and in America, I’ve come to enjoy the taste of coffee in the morning. I suppose I would’ve gotten used to coffee if I lived in Vegas because I surely would never get a full night’s rest.”
“Mmmph, it was too quiet here, I barely slept all night.” He watched as she moved her pawn forward.
“I can think of many ways to keep you up all night that would make you need sleep.” She crossed her arms in front of her and hitched her arched eyebrow at him. “Hunting for nightcrawlers, counting stars, and crossing a desert come to mind.”
She laughed. It was a melodious sound full of character which made him think of other late night activities.
“That is not what I thought you were going to say,” her laughter subsided and mirth evident in her brown eyes.
“Miss St. James! I hardly know you!” his teasing was doing the job as her face softened and he was able to see her natural beauty without the scowl he’d seen for the past twenty-four hours.
“Right. So what about you? Why didn’t you go back to England after the war?” Her eyes were on the chess board studying her next move.
“In a word, marriage.” He’d never guessed he would have told anyone besides his close friends about his arranged marriage to the daughter of an earl whom he knew was a self centered socialite and would probably drive him to drinking too much and sleeping too little.
“No, avoiding it with my life. Well avoiding it when it has to do with this particular arrangement. My family has certain plans for me that don’t fit my own plans for the rest of my life.”
“So would that make you the first born?”
“No, Bradford is.”
“That wall of silence you mean?”
“He only speaks when it is necessary or if Wildcat is anywhere around.”
“Who is Wildcat?”
“Katrina Stephens, you just met her.”
“Oh,” she pretended to be studying the board, but he could tell from her eyes she wasn’t really seeing the pieces. “Everyone around here such early risers? They were in my door before most people roll out of bed, let alone out on the job.”
“Any new face around here is going to warrant some attention. You are the new ‘it’ thing for the morning. “
“Oh please, I thought celebrities were always coming through these parts just to get away from it all.”
“Not here in Silver Spring. Grant has the only working ranch for some miles and he refuses to put up with any ‘hoity totty diva shit’ unless it is coming from Samara. His ranch is for ‘work’.”
“Sounds like my kind of guy. Queen to rook two, your losing.” He didn’t want to think of Grant being ‘her type of guy’ and he wanted desperately to know what her idea of fun was or if she was all about work. He looked down at the board and noticed she’d left her king wide open for the taking. He didn’t want the game to end so quickly so he moved a pawn.
“What is your type of guy?”
“You said ‘sounds like my kind of guy’. What is your kind of guy?”
“I don’t know England, I don’t think I have one. At least not that I can think of a type that would be able to deal with Vinny.”
“What does Vinny have to do with your dating?”
“We kind of raised ourselves. We’re the only family we’ve got. Neither one of us are looking to settle down anytime soon. I wouldn’t want Vin to feel…”
“You wouldn’t want me to feel what Vessie? It’s too late for feeling like a fool, I just got my ear chewed off by that ATF chick.” Her brother was walking into the visiting area with a scowl on his face. He’d noticed she didn’t get startled at his presence. Sometimes he even still jumped when Bradford spoke.
“I told you the pilot thing doesn’t impress everyone Vin.” Her eyes never left the chess board.
“It’s a Cessna! I’m impressed with it and I fly it!” Vinny did seem totally exasperated at Wildcat.
“Wildcat wouldn’t be impressed. Believe me I know.”
“And how would you know that Thorn?” he turned his head and looked at Vesta. Did he hear contempt in her voice? A quick glance at her brother’s shocked expression told him her agitation wasn’t normal.
“She was the fourth member of our intelligence alliance with the American Marines. Bradford, myself, Chase, his dad is the one you’ve been seeing, and Wildcat. I know because I worked with her in some hellish conditions for two years.” His tone was measured, he considered Wildcat to be more than a friend.
“Mmmm. She seemed nice.”
“She’s a lot like you really. You should come to dinner tonight, maybe she will show up.”
“I’m in. I haven’t had a home cooked meal…” Vinny trailed off.
“Ever,” Vesta said as she glanced at her brother “but something tells me the thought of meatloaf isn’t what is keeping you here.”
“Getting you back to Vegas safe and sound is what is keeping me here.”
“Vin, please, I’m not only your sister, but your twin. If you want to stick around for dinner, I’m in too.”
Brighton couldn’t help but smile. He didn’t want to let Vinny know that trying to get Wildcat’s attention was going to be like trying to doggy paddle across the English channel, but he wasn’t going to stop him from trying.
“What’s so funny England?” Turning his head to Vesta, he gavge her a wink.
“Not funny, I’m just pleased pet.”
“You shouldn’t be.” Her eyes danced with a hint of mischief that made her face glow. He was enraptured.
“Why shouldn’t I be pleased?” He looked down at the board and immediately realized he’d underestimated her strategy.
“Because you just lost your shirt. Checkmate.”