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Syleena Webster paused in front of her favorite café. She debated if she had enough time for her usual glass of orange juice and blueberry muffin. She loved her morning ritual, but today she was not in the mood for any breakfast. The past couple of days at work had been hard on her and she was more than ready for a vacation.
Finally deciding against the juice and muffin, she continued down the sidewalk and thought about if she should quit her job as a paralegal. The last couple of years she hadn't felt the same rush as when she first started working for Hall & Ralph firm three years ago. The first two years flew by with all kinds of exciting cases coming and out of the office. She even got to sit in on several trials to take notes. Toward the middle of the third year, things started to go downhill, but it still held some of the excitement. Now in her fourth year with the firm, it was boring her to tears.
Today was her last day at work for two weeks because her employers were taking off for their mother's wedding. She had been invited, but turned down the invitation. She really wanted time alone to think about her future and a way to change the direction in which it was headed.
Work wasn't the only problem in her life either, because Chris Newman, her boyfriend, wanted to move in with her and there was no way in hell she would let that happen. Sure, she enjoyed going out with him, but he wasn't man she wanted to come home to every day after work or spend the rest of her life with.
With his coffee brown skin and hazel eyes, Chris would be considered a good catch to most females, but not to her anymore. She only started dating him because they hit off wellon their blind date. Now, she thought of him more as a friend than a boyfriend. However, Chris couldn't seem to get that little piece of information through his head no matter how many times she told him. But after their yelling match this morning, she doubted he would be back.
Syleena shook off the bad memory from this morning. She continued walking down the sidewalk until she came to the park and paused in front of the gate. It was her favorite place to come and think. She had one place underneath a group of trees that she loved to sit and watch the children play. She really wanted to stop and sit for a while. But she had a stack of paperwork back on her desk waiting for her. Looking at the park one last time, she moved away and made her way to work at the end of the corner.
Opening the front door, Syleena walked inside and the first person she saw was Brian Hall, her boss. He was the oldest of the brothers that worked at the firm and the friendlier one, in her opinion. She liked Brian a lot because he always greeted her with a smile and wanted to know how she was doing.
"Good morning, Brian. How are you doing?"
"Morning, Syleena. I'm doing well," Brian grinned back at her. "Are you feeling any better this morning? How are things going with your boyfriend?"
Taking off her jacket, she hung up on the racket beside the door. "I'm feeling okay. I guess and I broke up with Chris. We just wanted different things," she answered, walking over to her desk.
"Syleena, you know that I'm always her for you anytime you need a friend," Brian said, watching her.
"Thanks, Brian. I needed to hear that after the week I've had." She gave him a quick smile before reaching for a file on her desk.
Brian strolled across the room and relaxed against the edge of Syleena's desk. Leaning forward across the oak desk, he watched her get ready for her day. He loved looking at her because she had a freshness that radiated from her. Today she was wearing her thick black hair down around her shoulders. It had a little windblown look to it and he found that look very sexy on her.
His eyes glanced down at the outfit she was wearing. The pink skirt with a slit up the side showed off her smooth brown legs and the matching sleeveless top only enhanced her blemish-free skin. To him, Syleena would look perfect in anything she placed on her body.
For the past six months, he had wanted to ask her out on a date. But she had been in a relationship and he didn't want to cause any problems for her. Now that she was single again, it was his chance to see if they could become more than employer and employee.
Thinking it was now or never, he took a deep breath and blurted out his question. "Syleena, I know this is short notice and you may already have other plans for this weekend. But, would you like to attend my mother's wedding as my date?"
Syleena twirled around in her chair and looked up at Brian. His azure eyes stared back down at her with a slight wrinkle to his forehead. Brian was a very sweet guy with the boy-next-door good looks. She had known for a while Brian had feelings for her, but she didn't want to encourage them since she was his employee. She didn't think dating the boss was a good idea.
She opened her mouth to tell him no, but was surprised by the words that actually came out of her mouth. "Sure, I would love to be your date. When do I have to be ready?"
Jumping up from her desk, Brian pulled her out of her chair and grinned down at her. "I can't believe you said yes! God, I was so nervous about asking you, because I thought you might turn me down," he admitted.
Syleena heard the pleasure in Brian's voice and she was really happy she decided to go. This trip might just be the thing she needed to get over the bad patch in her life. "No, I never thought about turning you down," she lied. "I think getting away for a few days might be fun."
Bending down, Brian kissed her lightly on the cheek. The aroma of Escape tickled her nose and its light sandalwood scent slowly soothed her nerves. "I know you will have a lot of fun. My family will love having you there," he whispered by her ear.
Everyone except your brother, she thought. She moved back from Brian and glanced up at him. The pleasure shining from his face almost made her take another step back. She was beginning to doubt her rush decision. He had read more into this than she wanted him to. She needed to set things straight before they got out of hand. "Brian, there's something I need to tell you."
Brian's rich voice cut her off in mid-sentence. "Hey, how about we close up the office early? I can drop you off at home so you can pack, then I'll come back later and pick you up."
Syleena looked up at Brian and changed her mind. She just didn't have to heart to back out on him now, not when he was so happy. "Sounds like a plan to me. Just let me grab my things," she said reaching down for her purse.
Pulling up in Syleena's driveway, Brian turned off his car and he spun around in his seat. "I'll be back in about an hour to pick up you. I need to make some phone calls before we leave." He couldn't wait until they left because he had to make her look at him differently. If everything went right with his plan, then his mother's wedding could push him closer to boyfriend status.
"What should I pack?"
"It's going to be pretty warm, so pack something light and comfortable."
"Where are we going, anyway? You never mentioned it to me back at the office."
"Oh, don't worry about it. You'll have a lot of fun. I'll make sure of it. Maybe if you throw in a dress, I can take you out dancing or we can grab a bite to eat."
Brian heard Syleena sigh, and then she looked in his direction. He didn't like the look in her eyes. "Brian, you know I'm going to this wedding with you as a friend and not a girlfriend."
He nodded. "Yes. I know we are just going as friends. But I'm not going to lie. I hope we can become more than that."
"We are going to be staying in different hotel rooms?" Syleena asked, looking over at him.
"No. We're going to stay with my mother's fiancée's family," Brian answered. "They wanted to let us stay there as a wedding present to cut down on expenses. They live on a huge ranch with plenty of room for all of us."
"Are you sure it will be okay?" Syleena asked. "I don't want to be an unwanted guest."
"Don't worry. I've have met Charlie's niece and nephew several times and they are very nice."
"If you say so," Syleena replied. She opened the car door and got out. "I'll be ready when you come back to get me," she said, closing the door behind her.
Brian waited until Syleena unlocked her front door and went inside before he drove off. He couldn't keep the smile off his face. "This is going to be the best vacation I've had in a long time." He knew he could make Syleena have fun with him on this trip. It would only take the right setting and a few sweet words before he won her over.
An hour later, Syleena slid back into the car next to Brian, and then shut the passenger door. "I'm ready to hit the road if you are," she said, snapping her seat belt. She was glad Brian decided to come back in an hour. The extra twenty minutes she had left over gave her enough time to tie up a few loose ends. She didn't need anyone worrying about her while she was gone.
"Hey, you changed clothes," she pointed out, noticing Brian's dark pants and cream-colored shirt.
"I hate traveling in suits. So I changed clothes at the very last minute," Brian replied, starting the car.
"Well, you look very nice."
"Thanks," he said, then pulled out of the driveway and drove off.
Syleena knew that Brian wanted to talk at her, but she was glad he didn't. The silence of the car was just what she needed to think. While she had been packing for the trip back home, she began to wonder just what she wanted from him. She enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction he gave her, but it wasn't the passion she longed for. After a while, all his adoration would get on her nerves. She didn't need a man to jump at her every command and Brian would do that even if he didn't mean to. That was the kind of guy he was.
Moving around in her seat, she tried to get comfortable with the seatbelt pressed uncomfortably against her chest. She hated these things more than anything in the world. She gave it a couple of tugs to loosen it some then settled back against the leather seat. Closing her eyes, she laid her head back on the headrest and thought some more about her relationship with men.
She wasn't much of a dater, but over the past several years all three guys she dated more than six months turned out to be losers. You know the reason; you never gave them a real chance, her mind taunted back at her. Shaking her head, Syleena tried to dislodge the thought, but it wasn't going anywhere.
A pair of steel gray eyes flashed in her mind. No, I won't think about him. She couldn't believe after almost six years Storm Hyde still affected her. He took an immediate dislike to her at first sight, so why was she even thinking about him? Because my body became alive when he grabbed my arm in the airport, she thought.
The memory brought a twisted smile to her face. Storm was the only guy she had met in a long time who seemed to get off on her independence. Most of her past boyfriends were like Brian. They wanted to take care of her while she sat around and did nothing. None of wanted her to have a passionate opinion.
"Hey, are you all right?" Brian asked.
"Yes. Why did you ask me that?" she asked.
"You had this faraway look on your face almost like you were here, but not really."
She didn't want Brian to know she was thinking about another man while she was with him. "Ummm ... I was only daydreaming," she lied. "I didn't mean to worry you."
Taking his hand off the steering wheel at a red light, Brian squeezed her hand. "No matter what happens between us, I'm always going to worry about you, Syleena, because we're friends." He winked at her and drove off when the light turned green.
Grabbing her bags out of the back seat twenty minutes later, Syleena followed Brian onto the plane. She still couldn't shake off the guilty feeling she felt back in the car. There she was, sitting next to Brian, fantasizing about a guy who hated her at first glance, while Brian was worried about her and promised to always be there for her. What in the hell is wrong with me? Is my chemical makeup to like jerks and not the good guys?
Stepping on the plane, she looked around it with awe. Beige leather seats with a hint of black trim around the interior almost made it too stunning to sit on. "Wow, this is a beautiful plane. I didn't know your family had their own plane," she commented. She handed Brian her luggage and he placed it in an overhead compartment.
"Daniel brought it the year before you started working for us. We only use it for special occasions and I think this qualifies as one," Brian said, falling down into one of the seats in front of her. He caught her eye and smiled.
She down across from him and returned the smile. Turning his head away from her, Brian glanced out the window. The sunlight shined in through the glass and highlighted his profile. Why did she ever notice how handsome Brian was until now? Glancing further down, she saw he had a kind mouth with the bottom lip just a little fuller than the top. Why can't I feel anything for you more than friendship?
Brian stretched his arms above his head. The sun made the fine golden hair on his arms stand out even more. "Do you mind if I take a nap? It has been a long week."
"No, go ahead. I think I'm going to read a book."
"Thanks." He pushed the seat into a reclining position and closed his eyes.
Reaching into her purse, Syleena grabbed the romance book. She flipped it open to the first page and started reading the small typed print. Then it dawned on her she didn't have a clue were they going. She turned toward Brian, "Hey, you forgot to tell me where your mom's wedding is?"
Her mouth kicked up into a slight smile at the snore coming from Brian. "Well, I guess I can wait and let it be a surprise." Dropping her head back in the book, she heard the pilot come over the intercom and tell them they were about to take off.
Hours later, the plane landed. Brian grabbed Syleena by hand and escorted her off the plane. He was so embarrassed that he fell asleep on her during the plane ride. He had been working extra hours covering Daniel's work case, but he still didn't think that was a good excuse. He would find someway to make it up to her.
"Mom wanted us to meet with the family for drinks after we got here. So we're going to the restaurant first, then we go to the ranch."
"Sure, sounds like fun to me," Syleena replied, walking beside him.
He noticed her looking around and asked. "What are you looking for?"
Syleena's face broke into a surprise smile. She almost looked guilty of something and he wanted to know what it was.
"You caught me. I was trying to figure out where we are. I never heard you or Daniel mention where your mother's wedding was."
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I thought I told you. We are in Houston, Texas."
Syleena stumbled over her feet and he caught her arm so she wouldn't go face first into the ground. Standing back up, he didn't miss the shock that registered on her face. What in the hell is wrong with Houston to make her have a reaction like this?
"Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she said, shaking off his grip.
Moving away from Syleena, Brian gave her the space he knew she wanted. In the distance he spotted Daniel waiting for them by his car. "There's Daniel. Let me get our luggage then we can go." He walked a little ways from Syleena, and then looked back at her. He still wondered what the big deal about Houston was. He got the bags from the pilot and went back over to her. "Let's go. I know Mom and Charlie are waiting for us."
"Okay," she replied, following behind him.
Daniel Ralph frowned as he watched his half-brother come towards him with Syleena. He didn't approve of his brother's crush on their employee at all. Brian had been semi in love with her since day one, and no matter how many times he said something, Brian wouldn't listen to him. He couldn't believe Syleena was nice as she came off. She had to have a past and he was going to find out what it was or invent one to scare his brother away from her. Brian didn't need Syleena in his life messing it up.
Plastering on a fake smile, he greeted Brian. "When you called and said you were bringing a surprise, I didn't know it would be Syleena." He moved to the side to let Brian toss the bags into the trunk.
"She agreed to come with me at the last minute," Brian replied.
He watched Brian open the backseat door for her and frowned. He really had to put a stop to this and soon.
"How are you doing, Syleena?" he yelled before Brian shut the door.
"Fine," she answered, turning her head away from him.
Bitch! he thought before craning back to Brian. "We really need to hit the road. Mom is probably wondering what is taking so long."
"We got a late start," Brian shrugged. "I know Mom will understand."
"Sure," Daniel agreed, getting inside the rental car. He waited until Brian got in the passenger side and drove off.
It was her worst nightmare come true. She couldn't believe after she spent the past five years avoiding this place, she was dropped back into it in only a matter of hours. What have I done to deserve this? Wait, Houston was a huge city and it didn't mean just because she was here with Brian that she would have any contact with Courtni or her hateful brother, Storm.
As much as she wanted to forget Storm's words, they still rang out in her mind. She brushed angrily at hot tears that slid down her cheek. Storm's words wouldn't have hurt so badly if Courtni had stood up for her, but she hadn't.
How could I ever think we were friends in the first place? A girl like her is never friends with a girl like me. Courtni had been a girl with champagne taste and the money to afford it, while she had the same champagne taste but only Kool-Aid money.
Anger coursed through her body. After all these years such a small incident still affected her. Her father would be so disappointed in her. He always told her to be a strong woman and never let anyone make her feel she wasn't worth something. Thinking about her father eased some of the tension from her body. He had been a wonderful man who died way too soon. She wanted to think about her father some more, but Daniel's hard voice cut into her thoughts.
"We're here." Daniel said, shutting off the engine. "Everyone one is waiting for you. Like I said earlier at the airport, Mom is really excited to meet your date."
"She knows Syleena from work. At least I won't be introducing her to a stranger," Brian sighed. He looked back at Syleena and gave her a reassuring smile.
Daniel watched the interaction between the two and cursed under his breath. His brother was such a fool that he wouldn't see the truth right in front of his face. "Okay, stop with the looks. We need to get inside." He got out of the car and slammed it behind him. Standing on the sidewalk, he waited while Brian got out of the car and opened the car door for Syleena. He watched his brother grab her hand and walked towards him. He could barely keep his tongue from lashing out at them.
What had happened between them in the few days he left work? The last time he was there Syleena was dating some guy named Chris. Now, she was here with Brian and allowing him to hold her hand. He knew she was a slut and it would only be a matter of time until he proved it.
Holding the door open, Daniel motioned for his brother to go inside first. "Why don't you go on in with Syleena? Go straight back and it's the first table on the right hand side."
"Thanks," Brian said going past him with Syleena on his arm. Syleena darted him a quick look at him then looked away.
He kept his smirk to himself and closed the door behind them. "That's right, Miss Webster. I would be very concerned if I was you," he snickered, following them to the table.
"Mom, sorry we're late, but we got held up back at the office," Brian said. He moved to the side so Daniel could sit down next to their mother.
"It's all right sweetheart. The only thing that matters is you're here now," his mother said with a smile.
"Well, I thought we might be in trouble after the way Daniel lectured us at the airport," he replied.
"You know how your brother is. It's his way or nothing else. I told him not to worry that you would get here on time, but he didn't believe me."
Brian laughed at the disgusted look on his younger brother's face. "Yeah, he has always been that way and he'll probably never change."
"Are you going to introduce us to your date? She looks very familiar."
Reaching behind him, Brian grabbed Syleena's hand and pulled her next to him. "Mom, this is Syleena Webster. She works for us back home. I know you remember meeting her the few times you came to visit us at the office.
"Syleena, this is my mother, Vicky Hall-Ralph. Don't let her sweet voice fool you. She tougher than she looks," Brian teased, beaming down at his mother.
"I do remember you, Miss Webster. It's nice to meet you again," Vicki said.
"Nice to see you too again, Mrs. Ralph, and congratulations on your upcoming wedding," Syleena replied.
Touching Syleena on arm, Brian pointed at the man across the table from his mother. "That man right there is the unlucky devil who's going to spend the next fifty years with my mother, Charlie Nash."
"Nice to meet you, Miss Webster," Charlie said.
"You, too, Mr. Nash."
Brian looked around the table to make sure he didn't leave anyone out. "Well, I guess all the introductions have been made." He started to sit down and motioned Syleena to sit beside him when a deep voice stopped him.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your lovely date?"
Brian glanced around his mother to the part of the booth tucked away in the corner and made eye contact with another person. "Sorry. I didn't see you over there hiding in the dark." Pulling Syleena closer to him, he pointed around the side of the booth. "Syleena, I would like you to meet Storm Hyde, Charlie's nephew."
His eyes narrowed and hardened at the way Storm's gaze raked over Syleena's body. He wasn't fond of Charlie's nephew. Storm was a little too arrogant for his tastes. But, he was about to be family, so he would learn to deal with him for his mother's sake.
"Very nice to meet you, Syleena," Storm's deep voice drawled. A slight smile tilted the corners of his mouth. "Do I know you from somewhere? You look very familiar to me."
"No, I don't think we have ever met before, Mr. Hyde," Syleena answered quickly.
"Sorry. I guess I have the wrong person," Storm mumbled, leaning back against the leather seat.
"Okay, now that all the introductions are over we can sit down," Brian said. He started to sit down again when his mother stopped him.
"Wait. Let me sit next to Charlie. That way Syleena can sit between you and Storm in this booth," Vicki said, scooting out of the booth.