She cocked her head to the side and looked out the window. “Well the storm’s certainly been challenging. I heard the roads were bad, so wasn’t sure you’d all even be able to get here. I’m glad you made it. So, the O’Ryan party . . .” She turned to her computer. “I’ll get you checked in.”
“O’Riley,” Sean corrected. And why was she playing like she didn’t know him? “Lotti, it’s me. Sean.”
“O’Riley,” she repeated, fingers clicking the keyboard. “Yes, here you all are. Twelve guests, two nights. Wine tasting tour tomorrow. Bachelor/bachelorette here tomorrow night. Checking out Sunday morning.” She then proceeded to check them in with quick efficiency, managing to avoid Sean’s direct gaze the entire time.
It wasn’t until she handed him a room key and their fingers touched that she actually met his gaze, her own warm chocolate one clear and startled.
Again she recovered quickly, lifting her chin and turning away.
“You really going to pretend you don’t remember me?” he asked quietly.
She didn’t answer. This, of course, delighted Finn to no end. He grinned wide at Sean as they all turned to head up the stairs to their rooms.
“What’s so funny?” Sean snapped.
“It finally happened. You being put in your place by a woman. And she was hot too.”
Pru cuffed Finn upside the back of his head.
“I mean she was smart and funny and had a great personality,” Finn said.
Pru rolled her eyes.
“And,” Finn went on, “she didn’t remember you. That’s the best part. Where do you know her from anyway?”
Sean shook his head. “Never mind.”
The ass that called himself Sean’s brother was still chortling to himself when they all vanished into their respective rooms. Because the B&B had only six guest rooms total, and eight of their group were coupled off, the four singles had been forced to pair up. Sean keyed himself into the room he was going to share with Joe. They both tossed their duffle bags onto each of the two beds.
Twin beds. And shit, those beds were small.
Sean stood there hands on hips, the bedding that was thick and comfortable looking, but done up in a girlie floral print, situated way too close to Joe’s bed to please him.
Joe was looking less than pleased himself. “Damn.”
“Yeah. Sucks to be single in a wedding party.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed. “But hey, positive spin—it doesn’t suck to be single.” He flopped onto his bed and grabbed the remote, bringing up an MMA fight.
Sean blew out a breath and turned to the door.
“It’s nearly midnight,” Joe said to his back. “Where you off to? Back down to the hot chick who didn’t recognize you?”
“She totally recognized me,” Sean said.
“Dude, then that’s even worse.”
Sean flipped him off and left as Joe laughed, heading back down the stairs. Because Joe was right, being recognized and ignored was worse. And it was all his own fault.
The night had gotten noisy. Wind battered the old Victorian, rattling the windows, causing the trees outside to brush against the walls, which creaked and groaned under the strain. Sean hoped like hell that the carpenters back in the day had known what they were doing and that the place would hold.
For the second time in ten minutes, he strode up to the check-in desk. Pru had been the one to insist on this B&B because it’d been built in the late 1800s and had a cool history that he’d been told about in great detail but couldn’t repeat to save his life because he hadn’t listened. All he knew was that Pru had wanted to stay here so badly that he’d made it happen for her.
But it didn’t mean he had to like it.
Lotti was no longer in sight. There was a small bell for service on the desk and just as he reached out to hit it, he heard a male voice from inside what looked to be an office.
“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” the unseen man was saying. “But you know we’re not working. You’re so closed off that I can’t get close to you.”
Sean froze for two reasons. One, Lotti had always hated her full name. Hated it to the bone so much she’d refused to answer to it.
And two . . . those words. You’re so closed off that I can’t get close to you . . . They reverberated in Sean’s head, pulling memories he’d shoved deep. That long-ago summer night they’d shared had been the accumulation of several years of platonic friendship, started when he’d needed help in English and she in chemistry. They’d tutored each other, the perennial bad boy and the perennial good girl, and then one night they’d been each other’s world in the back of her dad’s pickup on the bluffs of Marin Headlands.
Afterward, she’d told him she loved him. He could remember staring into her sweet eyes and nearly swallowing his own tongue. Love? Was that what this all-consuming, heart and gut wrenching emotion he felt for her was? And even though he’d suspected that yes indeed it’d been love, he’d wanted no part of it because it hurt like hell.
And then proving just that, she’d gone on to tell him that her family was moving away, but since they were in love, they could stay in touch and write and call and visit.
She was going to leave. Even with all he’d felt for her, he’d known he wouldn’t, couldn’t, be the guy she’d needed. She’d indeed written him, and being the chicken-shit, emotionally stunted kid he’d been back then, he hadn’t written back. Or returned her calls. Losing her had been like a red-hot poker to the chest but he hadn’t been able to see himself in a long-distance relationship, or in any relationship at all.
Hell, he couldn’t have committed to a dentist appointment back then.
He’d thought of her, always with a smile and an ache in his chest because he deeply regretted how he’d behaved. By the time he graduated, he’d grown up enough to try to find her to apologize, but he’d had no luck. He’d never seen her again—until now.
A guy came out of the office, presumably the one who’d spoken, and headed straight for the front door, walking out into the storm without looking back.
Sean waited a minute, but there was only silence coming from the office. No sign of Lotti, nor a single sound. Clearly it was the worst possible time to try to talk to her, but her eerie silence worried him.
Then suddenly came the sound of glass shattering, but before he could rush into the room, she came out.
She wasn’t crying, which was a huge relief. Her eyes were . . . blank, actually, giving nothing away. That is until she saw Sean. Then they sparked, but not the good kind of spark.
“You,” she said.
Yep, he had the bad timing thing down pat.
Of course Sean O’Riley would be the one standing there, witness to the fact that she had a problem letting people in. Gee, wonder where she’d learned such a thing.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t turn back time. He’d clearly overheard her being dumped by Trevor, a guy she’d gone out with six and a half times. The half date had been the other night when he’d brought her dinner and had pushed the issue of becoming lovers.
She hadn’t been ready and he’d been frustrated with her. She got that, she did, but intimacy was a big—and not easy—step for her and dammit, she’d just needed a little more time. Trevor had said he understood, but clearly that hadn’t been true. He’d dumped her.