Maybe that’s why I can’t keep my eyes off her. Despite all signs pointing to her being too sweet for me, I’m a miserable son of a bitch who’s drawn to the sadness beneath her smile.
“Are you going to chime in with your opinion, or should I leave you alone so you can eye-fuck the new chick in private?” my brother Brayden asks.
“Shut the fuck up,” Jake tells Brayden. “Eye-fucking is the most action he’s gotten in years.”
“Did you see him with her?” Carter asks. “He was smiling. Ethan was smiling.”
Reluctantly, I tear my gaze off the woman in question and find every pair of eyes at the table on me. Brayden is irritated, but Carter and Jake are wearing identical smirks. If Shay and Levi were here, they’d be smirking too, but luckily, I only have to deal with three of my five siblings tonight.
“It’s not healthy,” Carter says. “That shit gets backed up and starts messing with a man’s mind. Let the boy look.”
I shoot my brothers a warning glance. They respect that my love life is off-limits as a topic of conversation, but they view my sex life as something else entirely. Which is fair, I suppose, since I have no intention of having a love life ever again.
“She keeps looking over here,” Jake says.
Brayden groans and drags a hand through his hair. “Why do I even bother?”
“You’re the one who suggested we have the meeting in my bar on the busiest night of the week,” Jake says. “Did you think we were going to have the privacy of the boardroom?”
“Maybe I chose this location because I knew it was one that would make your ass show up,” Brayden shoots back.
Jake just shrugs. He’s not offended—probably because it’s true.
I shift my eyes back to the stack of papers in front of Brayden. When Dad died, he left his business to all six of us in equal parts, so even though Brayden’s the one who runs the business side of the family brewery, he insists we be part of the decisions and the quarterly P and L review. He set this meeting months ago, but Shay and Levi had last-minute excuses and couldn’t make it. Lucky schmucks.
Nic turns away from the bar and catches my eye again—not hard for her to do, since I can’t stop looking in her direction. Her cheeks turn a pretty pink before she looks back to her drink.
“Is she from around here?” Carter asks, following my gaze.
I shrug because I have no idea, but if I had to guess, based on her heavy vowels and sexy Southern drawl, I’d say no.
“I haven’t ever seen her before,” Jake says. Since he runs Jackson Brews—the face of the family business—and spends his fair share of time behind that bar, he has a better grasp of the population of Jackson Harbor than the rest of us.
I rake my gaze over Nic, searching for something that seems familiar. I’m sure I’ve never seen her before tonight, and maybe that’s part of the appeal. In Jackson Harbor, the only faces that aren’t familiar belong to the tourists. They fill our streets and beaches in the warmer months of the year, but once November rolls around and the wind off Lake Michigan turns unforgiving, everyone here is too familiar. Day in and day out, it’s the same pitying glances and judgmental stares.
I should have left years ago, but instead, I endure their whispers as if I don’t have to live with my own doubts every fucking day of my life.
Maybe it’s freeing to meet someone new with winter creeping over the town and the tourists gone. Maybe I like having a woman who isn’t thinking about my past notice me.
“Would you just go talk to her?” Jake asks. “I’m getting a case of secondhand blue balls just watching you two look at each other.”
“Jesus.” Brayden gives up on us and jams his stack of papers back into a manila folder. “Clearly, we’re not going to talk business tonight, so look over the reports I sent you and let me know if you have any questions.”
“See what I mean? This could have been an email,” Carter says. “Every fucking meeting—could have been an email.”
“I don’t know why you think we need to look over the books every quarter,” Jake says. “It’s not like we don’t trust you. And hell, if you ran this company into the ground, you’d be fucking yourself over more than us.”
Brayden grunts in response, and I don’t chime in, but Jake’s right. The family business has become Brayden’s whole life. Between distribution contracts, packaging, and marketing, he’s constantly trying to grow and expand what our father started. He works more and harder than anyone else I know, and I work a fucking lot.
A few of us offered to sell our shares to Brayden, but Mom wouldn’t hear of it. She says the business will hold us together when everything else falls apart. I’m pretty sure there are a thousand family-business-gone-bad cautionary tales out there that would argue otherwise, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone wants to make Mom happy. Present company included.