Lily left after her parting shot. Brock couldn’t argue with the statement anyway. The direction things seemed to be running lately, he very well could have run off the only woman who was interested in anything longer than a few days commitment with him.
None of it made sense. And why did Lily despise him as much as she did?
Oh, well, at least that was over. He secretly referred to Lily as the Wicked Witch of the West. She never smiled at him and she had her glare down to a science.
And yet… She was gorgeous. Her blond hair didn’t have a platinum sheen to it that was so popular. There was a honey tone to her strands that left Brock feeling like he might be a grizzly bear chasing after the elusive treat.
Never mind the way she kissed. Brock tried his best to ignore the goosebumps running up and down his arms, but that was worthless. For a second, he gave over to the memory of kissing her. He didn’t want to think about her. He didn’t want to consider that she was as attractive as he feared.
Shaking his head like he was trying to erase an image from one of those old Etch a Sketches, Brock stood from his chair and took a deep breath. He needed a reset.
The only way he could effectively reset was to get on his horse, Samson. He would have to leave the office for that.
Fine. He needed a personal day anyway. Not to mention the work day was almost over. He grabbed his jacket and pulled it on as he left the office.
Walking down the hallway, Brock paused in the kitchen. Roman stood at the counter with a crème-filled donut in his hand, suspended halfway to his mouth. He stared at Brock before slowly lowering the donut to the paper plate in front of him. He cleared his throat and then offered a sheepish smile. “Yeah, this pregnancy has given me all kinds of uncontrollable cravings.”
Brock rolled his eyes, unable to restrain his smile. “Okay, enough. You’re not even the one that’s pregnant.” He shook his head and moved further into the kitchen, leaning his hip against the counter edge running along the dual-sink. He folded his arms and crossed his ankles. He just needed a minute to talk to someone who wasn’t Julie or Lily or would even mention them. He could talk about the pregnancy with Roman. Brock could ask Roman a question and Roman would take off talking and not stop. He was that proud of his new unborn baby.
Before Brock could ask anything, Roman cut in. “So, two girls in your office at once? That’s bold, even for you.” Questions in Roman’s eyes quelled the irritation in Brock’s chest.
He didn’t want to talk about Lily or Julie or the two of them together. He didn’t want to have the conversation end up a lecture or even another form of shame that Brock was already wallowing in. He knew he wasn’t doing well in the romance department. He didn’t need to be something that his brother or even brothers talked about.
“It’s not like that. It was strictly business.” And yet, could Brock really say that the meeting that started with a proposal and ended with a fake declaration of marriage to a different woman was really business?
No. But lying to Roman was the least of his concerns.
“Oh, come on. They’re beautiful. What do you mean, just business?” Roman copied Brock’s position as he turned and leaned his rear against the counter. He picked up the donut from the side and licked the cream as he stared at his brother.
“Yeah, they’re beautiful. I’m not going to argue that. One’s psycho and one’s mean. I don’t need either in my life.” Brock shook his head.
“I used to say it was better to choose the quiet ones, but I have to be honest, the one I have ended up being perfect for me.” Roman took another bite of the donut and nodded his head thoughtfully at Brock.
“Well, I think you just got lucky. Plus, you knew her from before. You’re lucky she’s so forgiving. I don’t think many women are like Taylor.” Brock jerked his chin toward Roman’s hand. “Are there any more of those? You’re making me hungry.”
Roman leaned forward to peek out the door to the kitchen and then glanced conspiratorially toward Brock. “I have one more you can have. I wouldn’t share with Austin when he asked earlier. He was kind of cranky.” Roman pulled a small white box from behind him and offered the pastry to Brock. He grinned while Brock picked up the last chocolate-frosting creme-filled donut from the box. Slightly chuckling, Roman put the now-empty box back behind him. “Those Dean women are pretty amazing, though. Sassy, yes. But that seems to make them even more multi-dimensional.”
“I’m not going to date a Dean girl. Stop.” Brock took a bite as he shook his head. “I’m not interested in anyone like that.”
“Maybe that’s your problem.” Roman shook his head and finished the donut, walking past Brock as he turned on the sink and rinsed his hands. “It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry. You’ll find someone.”
But Brock wasn’t so sure. “Why do you think it’s so hard for us?”
Eyebrow raised, Roman glanced sharply at Brock. “Us? I don’t remember you walking out on your fiancée and not marrying her. I don’t remember you doing anything against what your family told you to do.” Roman shook his head and stepped back, regret heavy in his expression. “I’m nervous, to be honest.”
Surprised, Brock lowered the donut and studied Roman with a careful eye. If Roman was nervous, there was something to be worried about. “That doesn’t make me feel very confident.” The flavor of the donut dimmed with the shift in tone to the conversation.
“What if I mess this baby up? What if I make a bad choice or hurt the baby’s feelings?” Normally a more rough and tough guy, Roman’s comments seemed out of sync with who he was.
“You okay, man? I mean, how can you hurt a baby’s feelings?” Brock blinked at his brother. None of them had really been around babies or even kids. None of them had since they worked in the matchmaking industry and none of them had gotten married, until Roman.
Having a niece or nephew was going to be new territory for Brock and he was more nervous than he was comfortable sharing. “What do you mean? You’re going to be a terrific dad. You gotta be better than ours.” Brock clamped his lips shut. He shouldn’t have gone there and he knew it.
Roman furrowed his brow. “Dad? What about Dad? He was a good father, don’t you think?”
“Forget it. I shouldn’t have said anything.” Brock pushed off the counter and shook his head. He walked across the tiled floor to retrieve his cowboy hat from a hook on the wall beside the stove hood. The last thing Brock wanted to do right then was get in an argument about the true personality and type of person that their father had been. “I better get going. It’s my turn to check the fences.” Another lie to add to his list of things to feel guilty about.
“I’d like an answer, Brock.” Roman moved to stand in front of him, his shoulders broad as he pressed his chest out as if to make himself bigger than Brock.
Settling his hat on his head, Brock looked Roman square in the eye. All the brothers were close enough in height, they were fairly even. Some of the guys were wirier than the others while some of the brothers had some muscular bulk to add to their intimidating appearances.
But Roman didn’t intimidate Brock. Not even a little bit. They stared into each other’s eyes and Brock spoke low and slow. “You’re going to want to move, Roman. I’m not the little brother you left behind when you went.” He set his jaw. If he didn’t want to talk about his father, then no one was going to make him.
Roman studied Brock’s expression, his eyes shadowed as he searched for an answer to his question and probably to gauge just how serious Brock was.
Brock wasn’t backing down. For far too long he’d been the acting older brother to the rest of the guys in the Wilson family. He knew when to cave and when to stand firm. Right then, as he faced Roman with all of the other pressures around him was not one of the times he was going to buckle.
“I just want to know what you meant.” Roman’s tone changed as his expression softened. “Please, I don’t know why you would insinuate that Dad wasn’t the best father and husband.”
Brock swallowed at the constricting sensation in his throat. The unfamiliar emotional reaction made Brock bristle and he narrowed his eyes. “It’s not right to speak ill of the dead. And he is dead. You would know that if you’d been home.” Brock let his bitterness toward his brother’s abandonment well up inside him, growing and mounting. He could very well be upset by his loneliness but also the cause of his loneliness could simply be because of the things he’d learned about his father and the fact that Roman had run away.
Roman softly shook his head and reached out, setting his heavy hand on Brock’s shoulder. “I know. I’ve tried to apologize, but I don’t think that’s enough. You were here, carrying the burden for so long by yourself. I can’t imagine you feel good about me either some days.” He nodded; his smile rueful. “Maybe when it’s easier to talk about, you can answer my questions. I honestly didn’t see him the same way you guys did. He told me not to marry Taylor. That’s why I left.” Roman stepped to the side, unblocking the doorway and motioning Brock through. “I’ll let you get going.” His gentle gaze left Brock confused as he walked out of the kitchen.
Brock blinked in consternation at the small revelation he hadn’t really understood before. Their father had told Roman not to marry Taylor. He’d told him to do that and then he’d told the family he had no idea why Roman left.
Brock climbed into his Ford F350 and turned on the growly diesel engine. He loved his truck, but the vehicle just didn’t give the same sense of satisfaction driving it that Brock got when he mounted his horse and they rode off into the wild.
The sunny September day taunted Brock as he drove out of town and headed toward the family ranch. All too soon, the sun would disappear and the golden fields with their burnt orange and dark yellow tamaracks would be covered in white.
The snow would come and with it the Christmas season.
Every year, the matchmaking season got harder and harder to participate in. Even being a bystander in the company still left Brock with a sensation of extreme loneliness. He didn’t have to be the matchmaker of the contest to see the romance in the air, the expectations of the community or even the way the entire town of Mistletoe rallied around romance.
Everyone came to Mistletoe to find love.
The irony was, the residents themselves had no love to speak of. At least the Dean and Wilson residents.
Brock parked his truck in front of the barn and climbed out. He wore jeans to work and for the moment, he didn’t want to go inside to change. He just wanted to climb on his horse and ride into the fall scenery. Saddling his dark brown horse, Brock allowed the tension to leave. His hands grew gentler and his breathing came in a steadier rhythm.
Samson nickered, turning her head toward Brock and nodding.
“Oh, yeah? You think you know, huh, Samson?” Brock murmured. The name he’d chosen for his mare was fierce, to match how she was with all other people. But with Brock, she was a teddy bear. They worked well together. “Let’s get out of here, huh?”
Brock stepped into the stirrup and swung his leg over. He settled into the saddle, holding the reins while holding onto the saddle horn as well. He adjusted his jacket and resettled his hat.
Samson waited until he was ready, her body seeming to sense when he was finished as she started to walk before he even moved the reins to guide her.
Clucking his tongue, Brock steered Samson out of the over-sized barn.
They took the route down across the field and along the fence. Brock didn’t really need to check the fence line, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t do a little bit of reconnaissance on the massive property lines.
Later afternoon and he relished the opportunity to enjoy the scenery of his Montana home.
His thoughts turned back to Roman and their limited contention. Brock wouldn’t want to challenge his brother, but he would do it. The things he’d learned about his father weren’t things he should be spreading around.
Like the fact that the Wilson patriarch had had some kind of an affair before he’d died. Judging by the things he’d said when he knew Brock had found out, it wasn’t the first time, but it was the same woman every time.
That part was hard for Brock to swallow. The fact that he hadn’t known who it was could be both a blessing and a curse.
In one aspect, he wouldn’t have to carry that additional burden of knowing who was trying to destroy his family. In such a small town, it would be hard not to see the woman his father messed around with.
At the same time, the curse was Brock looked at every woman over the age of sixteen as if she was the one chasing his father. The younger ones didn’t make sense, but he couldn’t help it. He’d studied everyone, pictured everyone with his father and no one made sense. Nothing fit in his mind besides the picture of his mother and father together.
Brock didn’t understand that kind of betrayal, that kind of lying. Why would anyone chance their family’s happiness for a few minutes of… what? Excitement? Newness?
All of that probably contributed to Brock’s aversion to deep commitment. How many times were people going to go behind a person’s back? More often than they should be comfortable with.
And that was okay?
He’d never wanted to get married because of it. So, the women didn’t want to date past the third date? That made things easier on Brock, to be honest. He didn’t have to worry about things going too far when the women ditched him.
When he’d introduced Lily as his wife, the words had come surprisingly easy. Something he hadn’t expected he’d ever want to say, let alone say so smoothly.
And about Lily, for crying out loud.
She could have sassier attitude than Samson with a stranger. And she was vastly unapologetic about it. She didn’t care what people thought about her and that came across as oddly refreshing.
Samson sidestepped as they approached the creek before stepping across the three-foot-wide shallow waterway.
Brock didn’t notice much as he continued thinking about the appeal around Lily Dean. She’d gone along with his request, not even demanding anything in return. Which didn’t mean anything. She could come back at any time and demand that he repay her. He wasn’t sure what that would look like, but his obligation sat on his shoulders like a weight.
She didn’t have to pretend. She didn’t have to take that on. He hadn’t given her any other option and he was certainly glad she’d taken it, but at the same time, he wished she hadn’t.
He’d had a glimpse at what it was like to call someone – not just anyone, Lily Dean – his wife, and they’d embraced, kissing like they really belonged to each other.
For a brief moment, Brock had believed the lies. He’d believed he was locked in happy-ever-after with a woman he found insanely attractive. The only problem was, reality had a way of dousing you with cold water.
Too bad he wasn’t crazy enough to chase the façade.
Dang Julie for chasing him so hard.
And dang Lily for going along with his insanity. Now he wanted what he shouldn’t have, what he couldn’t have, but most importantly what he shouldn’t and couldn’t want.