Story of Us (Love Unexpected)(11)

By: Jody Holford


She smiled, but Declan had to work to keep his mouth shut. Like hell she looked the same. At eighteen she’d been…well, he didn’t really know because he hadn’t fucking looked. Because sisters of friends were off-limits. Then and now, man.

“I remember you, too. You used to try to tag along when your brother got the odd Friday night off,” Adam said.

Sophia’s laugh struck Declan right in the gut like a fist. How could a laugh be sexy? He made women laugh all the time, and he hadn’t been turned on from just that sound.

“I was never allowed to go anywhere. You’d think, being the youngest, they would have loosened the reins, but it was the opposite. They gave Marcus a bit more freedom because he was a boy. Me? I was practically tied to my mother’s apron.”

She said it matter-of-factly, without rancor, but Declan had a feeling the truth of what she’d said had been a catalyst for pushing her out of town.

“You guys want anything else?” Declan asked.

“I’m good right now,” Megan said, still sending Sophia glances.

When Declan looked at Adam, there was a strange glint in his friend’s gaze. Declan swallowed a knot of irritation that he couldn’t quite explain and flashed a smile at Sophia.

“What did you need me to look at?”

She moved farther down the bar, and he followed her, watching as she opened the binder. She had used Post-its in different colors to mark the pages she wanted to show him. It was hard to lean in to see what she was sharing without inhaling the sweet scent of her hair and her body. He wondered if she used one of those fruity body scrubs. Do not go there.

“I think I can get you better deals than these vendors are giving you. I know you have long-term relationships with some, but these guys for produce, these ones for frozen foods, and these guys for to-go bags could easily be bargained with.”

He smiled at her, and she looked up, brushing a thick curl out of her way. He wanted to follow the motion but stopped himself.

“Knock yourself out. I was serious about wanting to cut back, so you taking on the vendors and the ordering is a huge step in the right direction. It’s less stress on me, being here and having that shit taken care of. Especially since Marcus and I are just about ready to do a tasting for our beer. If you have any ideas there, I’m all ears.”

Her slow perusal down, then up his body heated him to a disturbing degree. He wasn’t a damn teenager who got turned on from a look.

“You’re definitely not all ears. And as a matter of fact, I have several ideas. But, um…” She glanced around, and Declan fought the desire to cover her hand with his own. Instead, he just waited for her to continue.

Her eyes moved back, focusing on him. “I’ll write up some ideas, but maybe you could leave my name out of it for now? I know I need to deal with my family, but I’m not ready yet. I need a few days.”

He nodded, telling himself that the hug he wanted to give her was just who he was. He hugged people. Lots of people. Women included. But most of the time, he wasn’t trying to fight an attraction to them. He either didn’t feel it or didn’t fight it. “I can do that. Anything else?”

“I have interviews scheduled for tomorrow and the next day. Depending on how they go, your current staff is about to experience a lot of changes. A staff meeting is great for establishing expectations and all, but I’m thinking with this many new hires, myself included, you need something else.”

Declan did a quick survey of the bar and saw everyone was fine. His eyes caught on Megan and Adam who were unabashedly staring his way. He turned back to Sophia.

“What kind of something else?”

She grinned. “Some sort of team-building activity. I organized a lot of these at my last job in Arizona. There’s a ton of different ideas. Escape rooms, fitness challenges, mock-survival challenges, cook-offs.”

Declan shook his head as the grin overtook him. “Damn, you’re good. I’m already not sorry. That’s a great idea. Let’s go with the cooking thing. I have a couple of friends,” he said, hooking his thumb in Megan’s direction. “Meg’s brother and his husband actually. They’re both chefs, so maybe they could be like celebrity judges or something.”

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