How am I supposed to guard my heart against this man when he knows it so well?

Chapter Twenty-One


“Tonight, drinks are on me,” Stella says as we head into Smithy’s.

“You don’t need to spend your money on my drinks,” I say. Especially since, come Monday, all of our jobs are up in the air.

She shrugs. “I don’t need to, but I want to.” She gives me a sad smile. “I just went through a breakup too. Let me treat you in solidarity.”

“You ready to talk about that breakup yet?” I ask.

She ignores me. “Ooh! Ten-dollar pitchers tonight!”

I frown at my friend, who’s rubbing her hands together as she studies the sign advertising the special. “I thought you didn’t like beer.”

“Hate it, and don’t you go thinking it’s a beer night for you either. You canceled your wedding. This calls for the hard stuff.”

I’m thrilled to be spending a rare girls’ night at Smithy’s, but the truth is, thanks to my talk with Marston at the dock, I would’ve been okay if my girls couldn’t get together. It’s funny that my talk with Marston was exactly what I needed to knock off some stress when a few days ago, it felt like Marston was my biggest stressor. But it was good to connect with him today—good to know he understands where I stand on us, and good for us to open up to each other. It doesn’t matter that he’s leaving soon or that I need to file for divorce. He’ll always be one of my favorite humans.

“I told you I’m fine.” I spot Abbi and Savvy in a booth opposite the entrance and point their way. “They’re already here.”

Stella waves at them but saunters to the bar. “Smithy, baby, we need a pitcher of cosmos,” she says, batting her lashes sweetly.

“I’m sure you do, baby girl,” he says, “but that’s not actually a thing.”

Stella flips her hair over her shoulder and leans over the bar, giving Smithy a generous view of the cleavage already spilling out of her hot-pink halter dress. “But shouldn’t it be?”

“I can make it, but the special applies to beer, not booze.”

“Please? My girl had a shit week and a shittier day.” She bites her red lip, and I snort at how thick she’s laying it on. Stella has never been interested in my cousin, but she loves tormenting him. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s a pretty big fan of her particular brand of torture.

“Fuck me, woman. You don’t play fair.”

Straightening, she beams. “You can bring it to the table. Thanks, Smithy.” She throws him a wink over her shoulder as she saunters away, hips swishing, and my cousin doesn’t take his eyes off her until she slides into the booth.

I slide him my credit card. “Charge us whatever is fair.”

“Nah, I got you.” Smithy pushes the card back to me. “Least I can do. Sorry everything’s so messed up right now.”

Smithy is rarely serious, and I want to squirm under his sympathetic gaze, but the word is out, so I’m going to need to learn to deal. “Listen, I run a business too. I know you can’t give everyone special deals. It’s fine.”

Smithy takes my card. I have a sneaking suspicion he won’t run it, but at least I tried. “Why don’t you talk to Stella for me? Convince her to give me a shot?”

Aww. This poor guy. “I thought you wanted Savvy.”

“Um, yes to either? Or preferably both—at the same time?” He winks at me, back to his fun-loving self.

“I’ll let them know you mentioned it,” I lie. I cast a glance around the bar. “Hey, have you seen Marston around tonight?”

“Nah. Haven’t seen him since Julian took a swing at him.”

I wince. “I’m sorry about that. I never would’ve expected Julian to come in here and make trouble.”

His lips twitch. “I can handle him. In fact, after what Abbi told Kace about the way he’s been acting this week, I’d like a chance to handle him.”

“Don’t do that.” I smile. “Thanks again for your help with that. If Marston comes in, don’t bring up anything about Julian? I don’t want things to get ugly if they run into each other again.”

Smithy grumbles something under his breath about Julian deserving ugly, but I decide it’s close enough to agreement and head back to sit with the girls.

Savvy looks over my shoulder as I slide into the booth. “Please tell me Smithy’s coming with the booze.”

“I told you I took care of it,” Stella says.

“You said you ordered a pitcher of cosmos,” Abbi says. “That’s not a thing.”

Stella rolls her eyes. “It’s totally a thing, ladies.”

Savvy shakes her head and shifts her attention to me. Her mouth pulls into a grimace, as if she can see every bit of this morning’s stress written on my face. “How’re you holding up, Brinley?”

Tags: Lexi Ryan Orchid Valley Romance