All day Brock had dodged calls from people he just didn’t want to talk to. He wasn’t sure why he was in the mood he was in, but more potential clients definitely didn’t make his priority list at the moment.
He finally sequestered himself in his office and turned off his phone shortly after the lunch Roman ordered from the diner. Everyone made it to the catered lunch meetings. Roman liked to say he was putting on weight because he was having the same cravings as his wife during her pregnancy, but it was more than likely he just wanted to brag more about the upcoming arrival of his child. And the man wasn’t putting on an ounce. He was still as fit as the day he arrived back in Mistletoe.
Brock wasn’t even doing anything productive in his office. He was in between clients and debating the proposal his mom had given him a few weeks ago. She wanted him to consider running the Wilson side of the matchmaking contest that year. Roman and Taylor were no longer options since they would ultimately be working and living with the enemy wasn’t considered ethical. Plus, with the newest addition to their family, they would expectedly be busy.
Honestly, though, Brock didn’t want to compete. He didn’t see the point in doing the contest. He wasn’t even sure he believed in love anymore. At least not for himself.
Sure, a guy like Roman was going to find love. Nothing seemed to ever go wrong for Brock’s older brother.
But that didn’t mean that’s how things worked for Brock. At all. He wasn’t even sure he believed in the kind of love they marketed in his family’s company. If love was that attainable, then why hadn’t he found it?
He was in a place of limbo. He could feel it and the only way he was going to get out of that spot was to figure out what he needed.
What did he need?
Staring at the wall across from his desk, Brock tapped his fingers on the armrest. He had nothing else to do that was of any urgency. Not that he could think of anyway. Sighing, he leaned his head back on the chair and shifted his gaze to focus on the ceiling.
The door to his office slammed open, the handle hitting the wall beside the doorjamb.
Brock sat up, staring at the suddenly present woman whose raven black hair contrasted nicely with her brightly painted red lips.
He scooted his chair back in a subconsciously defensive effort, on edge at even the mention of the woman’s name, let alone her unannounced or planned presence in his office. “Julie. What are you doing here?”
The woman scanned Brock’s office with a hungry look in her eye. “Who’s in here with you?” She licked her lips and narrowed her eyes when she found no one.
“As you can see, my office is empty.” Brock half-stood, motioning toward the set of chairs across the expanse of his desk. “Julie, come in. What can I do for you?” Brock wasn’t sure if he needed to call for backup or what. He wanted to ask her to leave his door open, but she wasn’t the type to give up any privacy with Brock.
Julie was one of those women you stopped dating after the second date because she came to dinner with a scrapbook of their future life together, complete with photoshopped wedding pictures and baby pictures. That’s not including the offer she made the morning of their second date on an address in town.
She was all kinds of territorial and Brock wasn’t ready for that kind of a commitment. Okay, he was ready for that kind of commitment, but not after only two dates. He didn’t know anyone who was ready for that. Breaking up with her had been a no-brainer.
When she didn’t like that, he’d said that maybe they could see each other again some time and left it at that.
Julie didn’t like that either.
Sitting across from her after all of the drama and craziness that had happened over the last six to eight months, Brock wasn’t sure he felt safe. He wasn’t a small guy by any means, but he was horribly opposed to striking a woman – in the defensive or otherwise. He couldn’t justify hurting her, even if she struck him first. Even though she had left a dead rat on the front seat of his car at the Fourth of the July celebrations he’d gone to with his family in the north part of Glacier, Montana.
Even Roman had been sure he’d seen her around the campsites and cabins as they’d played and enjoyed their vacation.
Everything around Julie left Brock feeling like he’d been dipped in a vat of oil. He couldn’t get the sensation off his skin. She was gorgeous and smart which made her that much more dangerous.
Brock shifted on his seat and took a deep breath. “What can I do for you, Julie?”
Julie glanced around again, then turned her gaze filled with longing toward Brock. She perched on the edge of the seat, her hands folded at her knees as she pressed her lips together and stared. She stared so long; the silence became distinctly uncomfortable.
Shifting on his chair again, Brock glanced at the door as if someone would barge in there to help him. For once, Brock needed his own knight in shining armor. No one was going to come in. He didn’t have his phone immediately available to text for someone to help him. Essentially, he was stuck with no way out.
Breaking through the silence, Julie cleared her throat and then leaned forward ever so slightly. “Brock, I know what we need.”
We. When Brock thought about him and Julie it certainly wasn’t with the word “we”. He kept his mouth shut. He’d learned with Julie that engagement only encouraged her.
She inclined her head as if he’d asked a question. “I think we need to see a couples’ therapist. We obviously aren’t connecting like we used to.”
“Like we used to?” They’d literally had two dates. Brock had avoided her at all costs any chance he had. He’d dated multiple girls after her, none of which had stuck around after three dates.
On second thought, maybe he should go back to Julie. She obviously was the only one who had any lasting interest in him.
“Yeah, we had such a great time when we first got together, I just want us to get back to that.” Julie smiled at him, her expression open and warm. She almost seemed like she had no idea that Brock had been avoiding her for half a year.
The scent of blackberries rode on the air. Rather than being refreshing, the scent was more cloying and sickly-sweet than anything.
Brock shook his head, trying his hardest to keep his manners in check. “Julie, I had a good time with you, but like I said before, I don’t think we’re right for each other. I’m a matchmaker. I know these things.” Not to mention, he just didn’t like her the way she wanted him to. His feelings had to be taken into account as well.
Julie’s expression darkened for a brief moment and then it faded away like dirt being rinsed from cement. “You don’t mean that. I think you’re just not giving me a chance. Us a chance. We need to have some time together, just the two of us. I could make you happy, Brock.” Julie slid from her spot on the chair, the furniture piece squeaking as she moved. She rounded the desk, coming to stand beside Brock as she stared down at him.
Brock returned the look, unsure just how far she’d gone mentally.
Julie stepped forward, dropping into a kneeling position with one knee up. She rested her hands on her raised knee and stared at him.
Great. Not again. Brock clenched his jaw. No. he didn’t want to go through this again. Every time he saw her, she proposed to him. No. He couldn’t handle anymore. There had to be a way out. He had to get free from her insane obsession.
“Brock.” Julie reached up and took his resisting hand in hers. The door opened to Brock’s side, but he couldn’t look away like he watched a rodeo going wrong. Julie continued staring at Brock. “I love you. Will you please marry me?”
From the doorway, a woman gasped. The sound filled the room.
Julie jerked her gaze to the side, narrowing her eyes and thinning her lips into a flat line. “Who is she?”
Brock whipped his gaze to follow Julie’s, grateful for the interruption.
Lily Dean stood in the door with her hand over her mouth and her eyes wide. Normally, she annoyed him, but Brock had to admit, she’d never looked more appealing than in that moment when he realized just how much he needed her.
Jumping from his seat, he edged around Julie where she still knelt and stared at Lily as he moved toward the door.
Approaching Lily, Brock begged her with his eyes to go along. Lily lowered her hand and shifted her gaze between Brock’s face and Lily’s kneeling form. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Are you kidding, sweetheart? I’m so glad you’re here.” Brock reached Lily and bent down, kissing her briefly on the lips like they greeted each other with a kiss every day. He ignored the tingling as his skin touched hers. He pulled back, trying to ignore the questions in her eyes. He was hyper aware because of the situation he was in. Anything would probably make his lips tingle at that point. She had to play along. He needed her on his side. If only for a moment.
Brock turned, facing Julie while snaking his arm behind Lily and wrapping it around her back.
Julie slowly stood from where she’d been kneeling. She blinked at Brock and then at Lily, shifting her gaze between the two of them as if she couldn’t figure out who to focus on. “What’s going on? Why did you kiss her, Brock?” Julie folded her arms, her eyebrows raised high. A deep pink flush spread from her collar up her neck to her hairline.
Brock cleared his throat, tightening his hold on Lily in case she decided to run. He wouldn’t have another chance. He had to make it convincing or he would have Julie hounding him for marriage for the rest of his life. “Julie, I’m happy to introduce you to my wife. This is Lily Dean.” He laughed, shaking his head. “No, wait, it’s Lily Wilson now. I keep forgetting.” He laughed and then glanced at Lily, his eyes begging with more intensity than anything else he’d ever felt.
Julie turned her incredulous gaze from Brock to Lily and blinked. “Is this true?”
Brock stared into Lily’s green eyes, silently begging. Please, help. Please. Please.
Her lips curved with a knowing smile.
She would turn on him. Lily Dean wasn’t an ally of Brock’s. He knew that. Was he stupid turning to her for help?
Brock’s blue eyes trapped Lily. For whatever reason he’d announced that she was his wife. His wife! How had they gone from enemies to married in less than thirty seconds?
Knowing Brock, commitment wasn’t an option so whatever had made him introduce her as his wife must be serious. Lily turned toward the woman with the straight black hair and tilted her head toward her faux husband. “He is my husband. I’m not going to lie, though, I’m a little upset at him that I had to walk in on him being proposed to by such a beautiful woman.” She turned back to Brock, arching one eyebrow while shoving her hands on her hips. “Care to explain, sweetheart?” Annoyingly, the endearment rolled off her tongue a little too easily.
Brock didn’t let his arm fall from her back. “It’s just a misunderstanding, Lily. Julie and I are old friends. What brings you by?”
Lily ignored the woman standing by the desk with pure fury darkening her features. There was something Native American in the lines of her face and the coloring of her skin. But none of that held Lily’s attention when she was faced with Brock’s beauty and she had to look at him. She couldn’t look away in disgust or even in annoyance. She’d stepped into the ruse with Brock and it was too late to back out by that point.
She’d have to go over her decision to pretend to be his wife later. Right then, a potential client stared at the two of them like they were lying.
Lily peeked at Julie from the side, leaning forward toward Brock and reaching out daintily to grab the front of his shirt with careful hands. She slowly pulled him closer to her, lifting her gaze even slower. He was a solid six inches or more above her and he had to bend his head to meet her gaze. Thick lashes framed his eyes and Lily forgot they were pretending. “I just wanted a kiss from my husband before I head back to work. Is that so wrong?” She teasingly pouted at him, batting her own eyelashes before she slid even closer and not-so-subtly lifted her lips toward his.
As if unable to get out of the role he’d claimed for himself, Brock bent his head and their lips connected, sending a newer, fresher sharp jolt of awareness through Lily. He didn’t deepen the kiss which was a good thing considering Lily might not have stopped him.
She slowly released his shirt, her hands falling to her sides as she moved back. Her breaths came deep and long as she stared at him.
“Why didn’t I know about this? There was no announcement in the paper. You didn’t even have a big wedding. When did this happen?” Julie’s incredulity had a tinge of desperation lacing it.
“Well, it’s fairly recent. We’re trying to keep it secret for now. We don’t want to take the attention off my brother’s new baby.” Brock didn’t even hesitate. The story just slid from his lips. “We haven’t even had a chance to file the marriage license, yet.” He laughed, like it was an everyday thing that he talked about.
“Obviously there’s a lot going on here. I’ll just be on my way.” Julie stepped daintily around the desk and stopped in front of Lily. She held out a hand. “I’m Julie Aspen. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Lily Dean-Wilson. You and I had an appointment at the Dean Matchmaking Company two streets over at two-thirty.” Lily waited for the realization to sink in.
Julie spluttered. “I… I’m sorry. I stopped in here to talk with Brock. I hadn’t realized he’d had enough time to get married since the last time I saw him.” She cleared her throat, then smiled brightly, displaying straight white teeth and a chip on the left canine. “Making a commitment to be matched is a big deal. Just had to make sure I wasn’t leaving any unchecked boxes behind.” She didn’t look at Brock as she played nice with Lily. “Well, if it’s okay with you, I’ll just reschedule through Taylor and Roman. I have no doubt this could be a good situation to rebound in. It was nice to meet you.” In less than a second she disappeared.
Brock turned back to Lily who watched him with a steady gaze. He reached out, pushing the door closed. As he moved his arm, Lily caught the strong comforting scent of his cologne. If nothing else, Brock always smelled delicious. Lily would never tell him that, but she had to admit the fact at least to herself, that a good smelling man was a weakness of hers. Surprisingly, there weren’t that many where she lived. Probably because most of the guys were ranchers and cologne wasn’t advisable around animals.
The door clicked shut and still Brock and Lily didn’t move.
Something caught in Lily’s chest. What had she just done? “Glad that’s over. Care to explain?” Lily forced herself to move away from Brock’s gravitational pull. She couldn’t think when she was that close. She didn’t appreciate her mind being messed with that much. For all she knew, Julie Aspen was another of his conquests.
Brock sighed, running his hand through his thick dark hair. He strode around the desk, flopping into the chair on the other side. He shook his head, half-laughing but without humor. “You have no idea.”
“Try me.” Lily sat in one of the empty chairs and crossed her knees, leaning back as she studied him. “I think I deserve an explanation since we’re supposed to be married, albeit newlyweds.” She wanted an explanation on the kiss that had left her legs weak. No one in the world needed to know she wanted him to kiss her again.
She couldn’t pursue anything with Brock. He was obviously such a womanizer, he had them lining up to propose to him. There was nothing between Lily and Brock anyway. They were fake. She’d kissed him under fake pretenses, they were fake partners, they were even fake friends at the moment.
Brock ran his hands down his face and leaned forward to brace his elbows on his desk. “She’s been stalking me for months. We went on two dates, Lily. She came to the second date with a scrapbook of our life. The life we hadn’t even lived yet. She even made an offer on a house for us to move into.”
Lily shook her head, her lips falling open in surprise. “No way. You’re joking right now. Just being dramatic.” He had to be. Who in their right mind would do that?
He dropped his hands so his arms were folded. “I wish I was making all of this up. There’s nothing I wish more right this second, in fact.”
“So, what does that have to do with us being married?” Lily furrowed her brow. She had no idea what games Brock was playing, but she was now tangled up in them and she needed more information, if she was going to succeed in pulling them off. If they were lucky, they didn’t have to play again, but what if? What if was a dangerous game to get caught up in.
“The thing is, she’s proposed to me seven times already. Even if we were dating or together or whatever it’s called, the girl doesn’t propose to the guy. It just… it isn’t done. Is it too much to ask that a woman let a guy do things for her? Is that such a big deal?” He rolled his eyes. “That’s not why though. She won’t listen to me when I nicely tell her no. She won’t accept the fact that I don’t want to be with her.”
“Sometimes subtle doesn’t work. Have you tried being point blank?” Maybe all Julie needed was a definitive no. Was it asking too much that Brock treat her with civility? “It’s easy to lead someone along when you’re not completely clear on your intentions. Maybe that’s what’s happening here.” She wanted to say that lying probably wasn’t the answer, but she’d be a hypocrite since she walked into that one with her eyes wide open. “How long do we need to do this?”
Brock waved his hand. “Nah, we shouldn’t see her again. That was all it was. Don’t worry about it. Plus, we said it was a secret. It’s not like she’s going to be looking for announcements now or anything.”
“Some secret when you introduced me as your wife.” Saying it out loud made it even more surreal. What exactly had she gotten herself into? “What if she wants me to match her?” Although Lily didn’t really think she’d be back after that embarrassing episode. Julie had been proposing to Lily’s supposed-husband. If she wasn’t ashamed by that, then anything was possible.
“I don’t think she would stick around after that. I’m not worried.” He took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair, slapping both hands on the tops of his thighs. “What brings you over here, Ms. Dean?”
“Julie Aspen.” Lily stared Brock down as confusion covered his expression.
“What do you mean? That was the first time she saw us together. How did she bring you over here?” Brock retrieved an errant rubber band from the top of his desk and fiddled with it in his fingers.
“No. I mean, Julie Aspen was my appointment. She never showed up. Taylor texted Roman and he said you were here with Julie. So, I came over here to clear up who she belonged to.” Lily waved her hand in Brock’s direction. “She obviously belongs to you, but for all matchmaking intents and purposes, she belongs to Dean Matchmaking.”
“Don’t you think that since you’re my wife – as far as she knows – taking her on as a client would be a conflict of interests?” Brock smirked.
He made a solid point. She hadn’t come over there planning on being his fake wife, though. She shook her head, mad and unable to really pinpoint why. Maybe because he pushed her into rethinking the situation. She sighed and stood up. “Whatever, Brock. Fine. Looks like I lost out on a client and you lost out on someone who actually was interested in being with you. Looks like we both lost something.”
Lily turned from his office. She wasn’t sure why she even cared, but something tugged inside her. For the briefest moment, she’d been married. She’d been called someone’s wife.
She’d never realized how much she wanted that sense of belonging. Forget the fact that she was attracted to her gorgeous fake husband. Forget the fact that when they kissed her lips had about started on fire.
Maybe Taylor had a good idea when she’d planned on leaving Mistletoe. She was searching for an escape. Something.
Until she’d been claimed as a wife, Lily hadn’t realized what it was she needed.
Love. She needed love.
And Mistletoe wasn’t the place for her to find it.