"Six Brothers Construction was built to reunite a family and heal a painful past. So far it’s opened to rave reviews. But the youngest sibling is about to discover that the right woman can shake even a rock-solid foundation . . .
Wyatt Thorne was so traumatized by his mother’s abandonment he didn’t speak until he was six. At 26, he’s still the quiet type—strong and silent, most comfortable with a hammer in his hand and work to do. But the reassuring rhythm of his life is interrupted when his brother Beckett decides to pay forward their unused office space to a needy start-up. Enter Rhia Hollis, flighty, impulsive, and outspoken—everything that drives Wyatt crazy. Only this time in the sexiest, most irresistible way . . .
Rhia is determined to disprove her reckless, party girl image by making her new company, Seize the Day, the premier event planning firm in Raleigh. She has big dreams, and the Thornes’ offer of a free command center is a huge help. But Wyatt’s gruff, stubborn resistance to her presence is an annoying hindrance. They’re as different as night and day, yet when they begin to meet in the middle, the sparks fly hot. Is this a case of opposites distract—or the beginning of a beautiful long-term project? . . .
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.47(d)|
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"No. No 'uh oh.' You swore on your stack of Scientific Americans that this time your experiment would be fine. You assured me this trial had zero chance of failure." Steph had also pulled the older sister guilt trip on me. Don't be a baby, Rhia. Besides, you owe me for helping you pass organic chem in college.
"Just because you're showing signs of anaphylaxis, doesn't mean my experiment is a failure." She frowned as she examined my face.
"Anaphylaxis? Don't forget we had a deal. I agreed to help you if we swung by the Business Expo after. It closes in an hour, and I need to go apply for the 'Pay it Forward' grant. Today's the last day for applications."
"Why in the world did you wait until the last day?" Of course, I got the older sister eyebrow quirk from her. Because my sister, Steph, my whole family really, had no idea what it was like to second guess yourself. They came into the world with confidence, an agenda, and a to-do list.
"I wasn't sure if I was ready to make that big of a commitment." That was a lie. I was so ready to jump at the next step in my new business endeavor. What took so long was tackling my inner doubts first. And getting past all the doubts of my family.
"I don't think you know what commitment is, Rhia. You only stuck out teaching English, what? Two years?"
See what I mean? I taught for two long years. In college, I'd kept my options open with a double major in business and English, but I tried my hand at teaching first. Turned out I wasn't made for teaching. I fell for every excuse my students gave me. I was a sucker for a sob story. And once the kids figured that out, I lost control of the classroom.
I didn't let myself get discouraged, though. No, ma'am. Instead of wallowing in my failure, I remembered I was the "go-to" person in my sorority for planning all the parties and events. In fact, I was the Event Planning Chair for two years running.
That's how I came up with the idea of starting my event planning business, Seize the Day. I felt good about it. Like maybe I'd finally found something I could succeed at and feel passionate about. Just like the rest of my family. I was excited and inspired. Until I ran the numbers.
"You should have majored in one of the sciences like the rest of us," Steph said while she jotted something down on her clipboard. She set her paperwork aside and moved up close to peer into my eyes. "Your pupils look normal. Maybe if you'd gone into a STEM program, you'd be employed right now."
Or maybe not. "You do remember those agonizing hours of organic chem tutoring, don't you?"
Steph winced at the memory. "Painfully so, but there were science degrees that didn't require organic chem. Plenty of less rigorous programs even you could have managed."
Even you. I only flinched a little at that. I knew my sister hadn't meant it as an insult. It was simply a fact in my family.
"Besides, I do so have a job. I'm self-employed."
The long-standing joke that I was adopted stopped being funny by middle school when my average grades became a source of friction in the family. If only you'd apply yourself, Rhia. If only you'd try harder, Rhia. Rhia, stop daydreaming and focus. Oh, I tried. But my brain simply wasn't wired like the rest of the Hollis clan.
So, no, I'd never really fit in with my brilliant family. But that hadn't stopped me from trying. I was tired of disappointing everyone. Especially myself. That's why I was determined to make my event planning business a success.
"How's your airway?" Steph placed her fingers on my wrist and glanced at her watch. "Breathing feel okay?"
Was my breathing okay? My family always told me I was overly dramatic, but I don't know, maybe my throat did feel a little closed up. I swallowed to check. No. My throat felt fine. Must be that whole power of suggestion thing.
"I thing I'm othay." Wait, what? That didn't come out right. Probably because my tongue suddenly felt too big for my mouth.
"Uh oh. Open your mouth and stick out your tongue." My sister's face slid into her serious scientist expression, and she spoke into her mini handheld recorder. "Test subject number one is showing signs of glossitis and uticaria — one-inch diameter, bright red with a pale center."
"Whath's glossithith and uthitharia?" Dammit. My speech slurred even worse. And my head felt like it had last New Year's Eve when I'd imbibed too much champagne. A giggle escaped past my thick tongue. Ha! Imbibed. "Imbibed ith a funny word, don't you thinth?"
"Test subject is showing signs of slurred speech. Possible intoxication." She clicked off her recorder and peered closer at my face. "Still breathing okay?" "Yeth but I'm ithy." I scratched a spot on my cheek and then noticed the same feeling on my forearms. I held my arms out in front of me to look. "Yithes! I'm going to thill you, Sthephanie. You promithed I'd be fine thith time. Promithed!"
"Apparently, I miscalculated on the formula. This is a great data set." She spoke into her recorder again with way too much excitement. "Decrease amylase dehydrate by fifty percent for second set of trials."
I narrowed my eyes at her. Except, I only had to narrow one eye because the other was already half swollen shut. "Fixth thith."
"Right." She searched through the drawer in her desk, coming up with a bottle of Benadryl. After shaking two out, she slapped them in my hand and handed me a bottle of water. "Take these. You'll be back to normal in six to eight hours."
Six to eight hours? I glared at her with my one good eye. And I kept on glaring at her as I swallowed down the antihistamines. I could kill my sister and hide the body somewhere here in her lab, but I needed her to drive me to the expo, since I didn't trust driving under the influence of both whatever she tested on me and antihistamines. Plus, I loved her, dammit.
I picked my purse up from the top of a stainless steel storage bench with a sign Warning: Radioactive Waste Only and snatched out my phone and car keys. I tossed the keys over to Steph, catching her by surprise so that she juggled them before having them firmly in her grasp. Then I texted her, since my tongue now felt incapable of forming any actual words.
We need to head to the expo. Now. Before the Benadryl knocks me out.
"Or before you blow up like a polka-dotted puffer fish."
I texted an angry smiley face emoji to stress my pissed off-ness in case my swollen eye and hives was disguising how upset I was with her. Although I should have known better. It was only a few months ago when the last trial she'd guilted me into had fried my taste buds. Everything had tasted like cardboard for a week.
"Okay, let's go. And don't give me that face." She pointed at me as we exited the building. "We'll make it in plenty of time for you to fill out the application and make a good impression."
"A good imprethon?" It was my turn to give her the raised eyebrow, because I sounded like a drunk with a lisp. As soon as I let myself into the passenger seat and buckled in, I flipped down the visor to look at the damage.
"Ack!" The face staring back at me had leprosy. Or the plague. Or sadly and too true to be funny: I looked like I'd been created in a lab by a mad scientist. Just like Frankenstein.
I sent a text to myself. Stop saying yes to family.
And then I pulled out my concealer and did the best I could trying to cover the bright red hives on my face and neck. When we parked at the Raleigh Convention Center, I made Steph trade shirts with me, since hers was long-sleeved and covered the hives on my arms.
"I don't like putting on a strip show for any perv walking by, Rhia." Steph grumbled but complied, giving my shirt a disgusted look before pulling it on. "Honestly, your wardrobe looks like the result of a sheep mating with a box ofneon crayons."
I might have rolled my eyes while I slipped on my sister's neutral beige blouse. First, because that didn't even make sense. Second, what was wrong with liking color? Bright colors made me happy. Except of course these bright red hives. Those made me unhappy. And very, very itchy.
Okay, yes, this situation was less than ideal. I'd done my research on Six Brothers Construction, the company offering the free office space for a year, and had planned on talking with them for a few minutes to highlight my passionate, goal-oriented, future-focused, tech-savvy personality. (All qualities listed in the book, Entrepreneur to Mogul in 37 Easy Steps.)
"Let's go, Rhia. You have five minutes to fill out the application, and then we're out of here." Steph slammed the door and beeped the locks behind us. "I'd like to get out of here before someone sees me looking like My Little Pony threw up on my shirt."
Like the necessity for swapping shirts was my fault? I seriously contemplated knocking my sister over the head and pushing her into one of the display model Jacuzzis usually set up at these shows. I'd pick one without water of course. The fact that I might need her to speak for me if they asked any questions helped me stifle that impulse. Barely.
"Fine. Leth's do thith." My eye was swollen shut, the full body hives itched like I was wearing fabric woven from poison ivy, and my tongue was still unable to form words discernable to a human ear. It was fair to say my confidence about getting this grant had decreased by about a thousand percent in the last hour.
Steph grimaced, her eyes avoiding mine. "It'll be fine. Just fill out the form. I'll do the talking if they have any questions. What kind of business is it again?" Wonderful.
Once inside the building, we rode the escalators up to the exhibit space. It was packed with every trade in the building industry pimping their wares like a modern-day bazaar. Rows upon rows, booths laid out into a giant maze throughout the immense space. There were home builders, interior decorators, garage door suppliers, roofers asking passersby how old their shingles were and were they interested in a low-maintenance, metal roof.
I brought up the map of the business expo on my phone to locate the SBC booth. Left side, halfway down over in the general contractor section. Jerking my head to direct Steph to the left, I maneuvered through the press of people in search of the lifeline I needed to secure my future.
It wasn't hard to find the SBC booth. It was the one with the crowd gathered around it. Gosh and heck, of course the offer of free office space for a year was popular. It was a big deal. Lord knew it was the only way I'd be able to afford my first year as a small business owner.
My savings account from my meager teacher's salary wasn't going to be enough for all the start-up costs, and I refused to ask anyone in my family for a loan. The idea of taking out another loan on top of my student loans had me breathing into a paper bag. That's why this grant from SBC was so huge. Not having to pay rent was the only way this would work.
And who knew there were so many women becoming small-business owners? I was figuring I'd be in the minority as a woman and thus stand out among the applicants. I mean, yay women! Totally awesome! But standing at the back of a crowd so thick I couldn't even see the actual booth, my chest tightened, squeezing the air from my lungs. Or maybe I needed another Benadryl.
Without this grant I'd be stuck meeting potential clients in the loud and busy Starbucks down the street from my apartment forever. To take my company to the next level I needed a professional office space. One might say I was desperate.
I grabbed my phone from my purse and texted my sister. Being a brilliant geek who lived in her laboratory, Steph was very out of the loop when it came to popular culture, so this move was a long shot. A Hail Mary.
She looked at the text, then frowned over at me with a shrug.
I jerked a nod and gave her my best "just do it" look.
"Oh, look. Look who just arrived. The ... um ..." She consulted the text again and raised her arm, pointing to the far side of the building. "The Property Brothers! Way over there."
There was a mass exodus of excited women as if someone had offered a lifetime supply of zero-calorie chocolate. Or, you know, the Property Brothers.
"Impressive," Steph said, and we fist bumped with each other before approaching the table under the Six Brothers Construction sign.
Ah ... So now I knew what the big draw was at the SBC booth. Three men — no, not just men — but superior males of the extra hot variety, stood looking, well, hot. Talk about impressive.
One man, so gorgeous he was almost pretty, looked amused. A large blond, bearded man, who would look at home on a Harley, looked outright impressed. And the last man who could pass for a young nerdy Jude Law looked ... a bit relieved.
"Goodness. The DNA alleles are strong. You two must be brothers." Steph pointed at two of them, whipping out her glasses to get a better look.
"We're all brothers." The blond biker crossed his arms with a frown while pretty boy snickered. The Jude clone shot the blond a concerned glance.
The corner of Steph's lips curved down, and her eyebrows went up. If I looked up the word doubt in the dictionary, the face Steph was making would be there. Nice. Nothing like hinting that a man was a liar and a bastard to impress them into giving me money.
"You've obviously got super-genes in your lineage. Would the three of you be willing to donate sp — ow!"
I pinched the back of my sister's arm as hard as I could. Good Lord, she'd been in the middle of asking three total strangers — strangers I told her I needed to impress — for a sperm donation for her genetic studies.
"How can we help you? Are you interested in an estimate for a renovation?" the pretty one asked, steering the conversation away from Weird Avenue.
I shook my head and glanced at Steph, who stood rubbing her arm and staring daggers at me. Smiling at the men behind the booth, I texted Steph as fast as I could.
She narrowed her eyes at me and then checked her phone. "My sister would like to fill out the 'Pay it Forward' application for new start-ups."
Darn it, of course they looked confused. She was supposed to explain why I couldn't talk. I whipped off another text.
"Excuse me," Steph said, holding up a finger to read the text. "Oh, right. This is my sister, Rhia Hollis, and she's got a start-up event planning company. She can't speak right now on account of a bad case of lajfoeuja."
WTF? The three men stood staring at us, heads tilted and frowns on their faces. They looked like they wanted to take a giant step back from the crazy we were exuding. Eff sisterly love. I should have pushed her off the swings when we were little.
I shook my head a bit frantically and pointed to my throat, quickly sending Steph another text.
"Oh, sorry. I meant to say Rhia has laryngitis." And then because my sister always had to be right, she hissed, "Well, you spelled it wrong."
My face heated like a tide rolling in, over my cheeks and all the way up my forehead and across my scalp. With my red hair and pale skin, I was sure I was a sight. Then again, maybe my bright blush helped disguise the hives.
"Great. I'm Gray Thorne. These are my brothers Eli and Wyatt. Wyatt, will you grab Ms. Hollis an application?" Gray nodded over, but his brother was a step ahead of him and had already circled to the front of the booth with the forms and a pen. He led me to a small standing table off to the side and slid the forms across to me.
I'd never met a person exuding such calmness. He was like a crystal clear lake with nary a ripple of tension. His eyes, a deep, gorgeous blue, distracted me until I recalled I needed this grant if I wanted to run my own company and eat.
"Does it hurt?" His voice, deep and rich, rolled over me in the most sensuous way.
"Hmm?" Looking back up into his eyes, I blinked, lost in the deep blue lake. I'd been so busy hearing — feeling really — his voice, I hadn't listened to the actual words he'd said.
"Your laryngitis." His gaze flicked down to my throat before lifting back to meet mine. "I've heard it can be painful. Let me walk you through the application, so you can get out of here quicker."
And that's what he did. I filled out the application while Wyatt Thorne stood next to me, explaining anything I looked unsure about.
I nodded and curved my lips up in thanks, turning to address the forms. He was close enough to smell, and he smelled good. Real good. I had to blink a few times at the paper in front of me to pull my focus back. I felt downright fuzzyheaded and wasn't sure if it was from the dose of Benadryl ...
Excerpted from "Give and Take"
Copyright © 2018 Lee Kilraine.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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