Their Pact: To keep the peace between them, two brothers vow to stay away from the girl they both love.
Her Promise: Years later, Eden Halloway agrees to marry the eldest St. James brother only to be devastated when he’s killed by a drunk driver.
His Guilt: A year after Quinn’s death, Jesse St. James returns home and finds his feelings for his brother’s almost-wife haven’t changed. But how will he ever know if Eden wants him–or the brother she’d planned to marry?
“Ro, where have you been? I don’t have time to waste cruising the roads trying to find you.” He scratched Romeo behind the ears and got a kick out of the dog’s immediate response. His right rear paw began to pound against the ground and the dog’s eyes took on a glazed look. “You are way too easy, mutt. Can’t you at least act sorry?”
“I don’t think he can,” a feminine voice said from the shadows of the porch.
Jesse’s hand froze mid-scratch at the sound of Eden Halloway’s voice. His response earned a head-bump from Romeo due to the lapse in petting.
Eden stepped off the porch and into the light cast by the security lamp on the garage. Jesse took a deep breath as though that would somehow protect him from the non-brotherly thoughts sliding through his brain at the sight of Quinn’s former fiancé.
Heat slammed him, guilt not far behind.
She was dressed in snug jeans and sneakers, her hands tucked into the pockets of a hoodie. Her bright red hair was loose around her shoulders in wild, corkscrew curls Hollywood actresses paid top dollar to achieve, and her lips had the slightest sheen to them, like she wore lip-gloss.
Put on to come see him?
Maybe it was egotistical but the thought made him stand a little straighter. “What are you doing here?”
“I brought Romeo back. He found me at the lake.”
Jesse couldn’t hide his astonishment. He’d never considered the dog to be all that bright but to have tracked Eden all the way to the lake… That was quite a feat. And quite a few miles. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. He– I live in my grandmother’s old house. After I moved in to take care of her, Quinn used to bring Romeo and let him play in the water. Romeo must have remembered the way home. I mean, to my house.”
Unbelievable. Then again, now he understood why Romeo had taken off. The dog knew a good thing when he saw it. “Thanks for bringing him back.”
“No problem. It’s…good to see you, Jesse.”
“You, too.” She looked good. Healthy and beautiful as always. Not the girl she’d been as a teen or the college co-ed that had nearly brought him and Quinn to blows, but an older, more mature version. An even better one if that was possible.
“Well, I-I should go now.”
Eden had to pass by him to reach her car but Jesse made no move to leave the concrete walkway. Eden paused a split second before stepping into the dew-soaked grass. “Wait.” He snagged her arm gently. “Aren’t you going to ask why we’re here?”
A hint of a smile flickered across her lips, curling corners of her mouth. “Your mother lives in town. I’d guess you’re here to visit her.”
She made it sound simple. Because visiting his mother was what any good son would do. But everyone knew Quinn was the good son.
Growing up Jesse was prone to raising hell and causing his mother and brother more than a little worry. “And if I was a good brother?” he asked, needing to bring Quinn into the conversation between them. Needing a reminder to back off. Throw up a barrier. Whatever it took to get his mind off the kissable sheen on Eden’s lips. Even Romeo was heartsick over her. So much so the dog had traversed several miles just to see her. And knowing she lived at the lake, so close…
A flash of pain crossed Eden’s expressive face and she wrapped her arms over her front as though she was cold.
“I should go,” she said.
That was what he wanted. What was for the best. But something kept him from letting her walk away. “In case Georgina hasn’t told you, she’s selling the house. She asked me to come get it ready to put on the market.”
Eden’s reaction was a startled blink, then a long, deep inhalation as though coming to terms with the news.
“I see. That’s good,” she said, glancing at the house in question. “Your mother needs to let go and move on. Holding onto this place can’t be doing her any good.”
And what about her? The house meant something to Eden or else she wouldn’t be wearing the expression now on her features.
Because it represented her past with Quinn? The life they could have had? Did the house even matter when the whole damned town held so many reminders of the past? “Eden…”
“I have to go. I have a lot to get done tomorrow. Goodnight, Jesse.”
Without another word she cut across the overgrown grass to her car, the night breeze or her fast steps blowing her thick hair back over her shoulders with every step.
Romeo noticed Eden’s retreat and tried to follow her but Jesse caught hold of the dog’s collar and held tight. “No you don’t, buddy. You’re staying here. No more wandering off.”
Romeo whined like a wuss dog and turned his head to give Jesse’s arm a slobbery swipe before he jerked against Jesse’s hold and tried to go after Eden again. “That’s not why we’re here.”
And apparently he needed to remind himself and Romeo both of that fact.
Eden started her car and the lights from the vehicle blinded him momentarily. He remained where he was and watched her go, until the taillights faded from view and the four-cylinder engine picked up speed.
The moment the car was gone Romeo lifted his head and stared up at Jesse like he was the one who should be on all fours and not the other way around. “Don’t give me that,” he ordered. “She made her decision three years ago. She’s not ours and never will be. Got it? Now come on. You aren’t sleeping with me unless we get rid of the pond scum smell. Bath time.”
Romeo knew what bath meant and the moment the word registered the dog sank down onto his belly and rolled to his side like a big sack of potatoes.
“I’m not carrying you, you lazy mutt. Get up. Come on, up.”
The dog’s whine sounded thoroughly pathetic. Romeo loved the water but not baths. And when Romeo knew it was bath time the dog insisted on being carried there.
You owe me for this, big brother. First you take the girl, now I have to bathe your second-hand mutt like a freaking baby?
Guilt slugged him hard in the gut. What did he have to complain about? He was alive, and he should be thankful he was able to handle things for his mother and Quinn. In a matter of days, a few weeks tops, he would be gone and he wouldn’t be faced with the reminders of the past. He just had to suck it up and deal with them while he was here.
Romeo’s tail thumped hard against the ground as Jesse leaned over and scooped the dog into his arms. “You know, Ro, you might be man’s best friend but you’re also a huge pain in the ass.”