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Brittany Evans hated to be late. But parking had been a pain in the butt, and she'd spent way too much time trying to decide what to wearas if it really mattered.
She surveyed the scattering of people standing around the college baseball stadium's hot dog stand as she came out the door that led from the locker rooms.
And there he was.
Standing under the overhang, out of the gently falling rain, watching the players on the ball field. Leaning against the wall with his back to her.
At least she thought it was him. They'd never really metat least not for more than two and a half seconds. Brittany, this is whatever-his-naval-rank-was Wes Skelly. Wes, this is Melody Jones's sister, Britt.
Hey, how are you, nice to meet you, gotta go.
The man who might or might not be Wes Skelly glanced at his watch, glanced toward the main entrance of the stadium. His hair was longer and lighter than she rememberedof course, it was hard to remember much from only two and a half seconds of face time.
She could see his face better as he turned slightly. It was a face. Not stunningly handsome like Mel's husband, Harlan "Cowboy" Jones. But not exactly Frankenstein's monster, either.
Wes wasn't smiling. In fact, he looked a little tense, a little angry. Hopefully not at her for being late. No, probably just for being. She'd heard a lot about Wes Skelly over the past few years. That is, assuming this was really Wes Skelly.
But he had to be. No one else in the place looked even remotely like a Navy SEAL.
This guy wasn't big, thoughnot like her brother-in-law or his good friend Senior Chief Harvard-the-Incredible-Hulk Beckerbut there was something about him that seemed capable of anything and maybe a little dangerous.
He was dressed in civilian clotheskhaki pants with a dark jacket over a button-down shirt and tie. Poor man. From what Mel had told her about Wes, he would rather swim in shark-infested waters than get dressed up.
Of course, look at her. Wearing these stupid sandals with heels instead of her usual comfortable flats. She'd put on more than her usual amount of makeup, too.
But the plan was to meet at the ball game, and then go out to dinner someplace nicer than the local pizza joint.
Neither of them had counted on rain screwing up the first part of the plan.
Wes looked at his watch again and sighed.
And Brittany realized that his leaning against the wall was only feigned casualness. He was standing still, yet somehow he remained in motiontapping his fingers or his foot, slightly shifting his weight, searching his pockets for something, checking his watch. He wasn't letting himself pace, but he wanted to.
Gee whiz, she wasn't that late.
Of course maybe her five-minute delay wasn't the problem. Maybe this man just never stood still. And wasn't that just what she neededa date with a guy with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Silently cursing her sister, Brittany approached him, arranging her face into a smile. "You have that same 'Heavenly Father, save me from doing favors for friends and relatives' look in your eyes that I've got," she said. "Therefore you must be Wes Skelly."
He laughed, and it completely transformed his face, softening all the hard lines and making his blue eyes seem to twinkle.
Irish. Darnit, he was definitely at least part Irish.
"That makes you Brittany Evans," he said, holding out his hand. It was warm, his handshake firm. "Nice to finally meet you."
Nice hands. Nice smile. Nice steady, direct gaze. Nice guygood liar, too. She liked him instantly, despite the potential ADD.
"Sorry I'm a few minutes late," she said. "I had to drive almost all the way to Arizona to find a parking space."
"Yeah, I've noticed that traffic really sucks here," he said as he studied her face, probably trying to figure out how she could possibly be related to gorgeous, delicately angelic-looking Melody Jones.
"We don't look very much alike," she told him. "My sister and I."
She'd surprised him with her directness, but he recovered quickly. "What, are you nuts? Your eyes are a little differenta different shade of blue. But other than that, you're a a variation on the same lovely theme."
Oh, for crying out loud. What had her sister's husband told this guy? That she was a sure thing? Just liberally sling the woo, Skelly, and she'll be putty in your hands because she's lonely and pathetic and hasn't had a man in her bedlet alone a datein close to a decade?
It was her own stupid fault for giving in to Melody's pressure. A blind date. What was she thinking?
Okay, she knew what she was thinking. Mel had asked her to go out with Wes Skelly as a favor. It was, she'd said in that baby sister manipulative manner of hersthe one that came with the big blue eyes, the one that had enabled her to twist Britt around her little finger for the past several decadesthe only thing she wanted for her upcoming birthday. Pretty please with sugar on top ?
Britt should have cried foul and gotten her a Dave Matthews CD instead.
"Let's set some ground rules," Brittany told Wes now. "Rule number oneno crap, okay? No hyperbole, no B.S. Only pure honesty. My sister and your so-called friend Harlan Jones manipulated us to this particular level of hell, but now that we're here we're going to play by our own rules. Agreed?"
"Yeah," he said. "Sure, but"
"I have no intention of sleeping with you," she informed him briskly. "I'm neither lonely nor pathetic. I know exactly what I look like, exactly who I am and I happen to be quite happy with myself, thank you very much. I'm here because I love my little sister, although right now I'm trying to imagine the most painfully horrific way to torture her for doing this to meand to you."
He opened his mouth, but she wasn't done and she didn't let him speak.
"Now. I know my sister, and I know she was hoping we'd gaze into each other's eyes, fall hopelessly in love and get married before the year's end." She paused for a fraction of a second to look searchingly into his eyes. They were very pretty blue eyes, but her friend Julia had an Alaskan husky with pretty blue eyes, too. "Nope," she said. "Didn't happen for me. How about you?"
He laughed. "Sorry," he said. "But"
"No need for excuses," she cut him off again. "People think alone means lonely. Have you noticed that?"
He didn't answer right away. Not until it was good and clear that she was finally finished and it was his turn to talk.
"Yeah," he said then. "And people who are togetherpeople who are a couplethey're always trying to pair up all of their single friends. It's definitely obnoxious."
"Well meant," Britt agreed, "but completely annoying. I am sorry that you got roped into this."
"It's not that big a deal," he said. "I mean, I was coming to Los Angeles anyway. And how many times has Lieutenant Jones asked me to do him a favor? Maybe twice. How many times has he bailed out my butt? Too many to count. He's an excellent officer and a good friend, and if he wants me to have dinner with you, hey, I'm having dinner with you. He was right, by the way."
Britt wasn't sure she liked either the gleam in his eye or that grin. She narrowed her own eyes.
"I was having a little trouble there for a while, getting in a word edgewise."
She opened her mouth, and then closed it. Then opened it. "Well, heck, it's not exactly as if you're known throughout the SEAL teams as Mr. Taciturn."
Wes's grin widened. "That's what makes it all the more amazing. So what's rule number three?"
She blinked. "Rule three?" She didn't have three rules. There was just the one.
"One is no bull Um. No bull," he said. "Two is no sex. That's fine 'cause that's not why I'm here. I'm not in a place where I'm ready to get involved with anyone on that permanent of a level, and besides, although you're very prettyand that's not crap. I'm being honest here as per rule oneyou're not my type."
"Your type." Oh, this was going to be good. "What or who exactly is your type?"
He opened his mouth, but she thumped him on the chest as the action on the field caught her eye. It was a very solid chest despite the fact that in her heels she was nearly as tall as he was.
"Hold that thought," she ordered. "Andy's at bat."
Wes fell obediently silent. She knew that he didn't have children, but he apparently understood the unspoken parental agreement about paying complete and total attention when one's kid was in the batter's box.
Of course, her kid was nineteen years old and a college freshman on a full baseball scholarship. Her kid was six feet three inches tall and two hundred and twenty pounds. Her kid had a batting average of .430, and a propensity for knocking the ball clear over the fence, and quite possibly into the next county.
But it had just started to rain harder.
Andy let the first ball go past hima strike.
"How can he see in this?" Britt muttered. "He can't possibly see in this. Besides it's not supposed to rain in Southern California." That had been one of the perks of moving out here from Massachusetts.
The pitcher wound up, let go of the ball, and tock. The sound of Andy's bat connecting with the ball was sharp and sweet and so much more vibrant than the little anemic click heard when watching baseball on TV. Brittany had never known anything like it until after she'd adopted Andy, until he'd started playing baseball with the same ferocity that he approached everything else in life.
"Yes!" The ball sailed over the fence and Andy jogged around the bases. Brittany alternately clapped and whistled piercingly, fingers between her teeth.
"Jones said your kid was pretty good."
"Pretty good my eye," Britt countered. "Andy's college baseball's Barry Bonds. That's his thirty-first homerun this year, I'll have you know."
"He being scouted?" Wes asked.
"Actually, he is," she told him. "Mostly because there's another kid on the teamDustin Melerowho's been getting lots of attention. He's a pitchera real hotshot, you know? Scouts come to see him, but he's still pretty inconsistent. Kind of lacking in the maturity department, too. The scouts end up sticking around to take a look at Andy."
"You gonna let him play pro ball before he finishes college?"
"He's nineteen," Brittany replied. "I don't let him do anything. It's his life and his choice. He knows I'll support him whatever he decides to do."
"I wish you were my mom."
"I think you're a little too old even for me to adopt," she told him. Although Wes was definitely younger than she was, by at least five years. And maybe even more. What was her sister thinking?
"Andy was what? Twelve when you adopted him?" he asked.
"Thirteen." Irish. Melody was thinking that Wes was Irish, and that Brittany had a definite thing for a man with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile that could light his entire being. Mel was thinking about her own intense happiness with Harlan Jones, and about the fact that one night, years ago, Britt had had a little too much to drink and admitted to her sister that her biggest regret about her failed marriage to That-Jerk-Quentin was that she would have liked to have had a childa biological childof her own.
That would teach her to be too heavy-handed when making strawberry daiquiris.
"That definitely qualifies you for sainthood," Wes said. "Adopting a thirteen-year-old juvie? Man."
"All he really needed was a stable home environment"
"You're either crazy or Mother Teresa's sister."
"Oh, I'm not a saint. Believe me. I just I fell in love with the kid. He's great." She tried to explain. "He grew up with no one. I mean, completely abandonedphysically by his father and emotionally by his mother. And then there he was, about to be shipped away again, to another foster home, and there I was, and I wanted him to stay with me. We've had our tough moments, sure, but "
The look in Wes's blue eyesa kind of a thoughtful intensity, as best she could read itwas making her nervous. This man wasn't the happy-go-lucky second cousin to a leprechaun with ADD that she'd first thought him to be. He wasn't jittery, as she'd first thought, although standing still was clearly a challenge for him. No, he was more like a lightning boltcrackling with barely harnessed excess energy. And while it was true he had a good sense of humor and a killer smile, there was a definite darkness to him. An edge. It made her like him even more.
Oh, danger! Danger, Will Robinson!
"You were going to tell me about your type," she reminded him. "And please don't tell me you go for the sweet young thing, or I'll have to hit you. Although, according to some of my patients, I'm both sweet and young. Of course they're pushing 95."