Lotti didn’t just want to get out of town for the holiday, she desperately needed to go.

“It’s a nice place here,” Sean said, looking around. “It suits you, running a B&B.”

Why that made her want to glow with pleasure, she had no idea. “Thanks. I love it on most days.”

His smile was wry, letting her know that he understood today wasn’t one of those love-it days. Which made her feel a little bit like a jerk. “So what do you do for work?” she asked, genuinely wanting to know more about him. Which was so not good.

He looked a little surprised at the question, which made her feel even worse. “Finn and I own a pub in the city. O’Riley’s.”

She had to smile. “Talk about a job suiting a person. That sounds perfect for you.”

Their gazes met and held and warmth went through her, specifically her good spots, which sent off inner warnings. Danger, danger . . . “It’s getting pretty late,” she said. “I should lock up for the night and go to bed. I’ll see you all tomorrow morning for breakfast and then again for the party tomorrow night, as I’ll be your server. Then once more Sunday morning when you check out.”

He gave her a small smile. “You don’t have to look so happy about that last part. Do you have Christmas plans, is that it?”

Sure. That sounded much more logical than the fact that she needed to get far, far away from home and the memories here. “I do.”

“Did you make a list and check it twice?”

She had to smile at that. She’d always been extremely organized and a list maker. That he remembered such a thing surprised her. “Yes, I did as a matter of fact. I asked for kittens and rainbows and peace on earth.”

“A cynic,” he said on a smile. “I didn’t see that coming.”

She started to laugh but caught herself. “Listen. I don’t want you to take this personally,” she said. “But I’ve had a rough year. I’ve screwed up some pretty big things, I’ve worked too hard, and I’m tired. But life is short. Too short. I’m going to learn to eat some of the cookies I bake instead of giving them all away to guests. I’m going to read sappy books with happy-ever-after endings instead of book club reads that make me want to kill myself. I’m going to sing in the rain and jump in the puddles no matter what shoes I’m wearing. In fact, I’m going to do it barefoot without worrying about getting a gangrene infection from a cut. I’m going to live life to the fullest, Sean. No regrets.”

He studied her for a moment and nodded. “I’m all for that.”

“Glad you approve. I’m going on a two-week vacation when you all leave,” she said. “I’m going to Cabo. And you can trust me when I say that I’ve never needed anything more than this trip because . . .” She broke off both speaking and eye contact for a beat, realizing she was revealing far too much. “Well it’s a long story.”

He looked at her for a moment and she thought maybe he was about to say something, but he seemed to change his mind, instead giving her another small smile.

“I hope it’s everything you want it to be,” he said and she could tell he meant it.

She nodded and gave him a far more genuine smile than she had before. “Thanks.”

Twenty minutes later, Lotti lay on her bed in her nine hundred square foot studio apartment above the garage and storage building. Her dad had renovated it for her when she’d come home from college and she loved it. It gave her separation from the B&B, privacy, and yet was a huge convenience if a guest needed anything after hours.

She didn’t have much in it; a love seat, her bed, a small kitchen table, and her inheritance from her dad—Peaches the parrot.

“You’re late!” Peaches yelled.

She’d forgotten to cover him up for sleep time. She got out of bed and draped a towel over his cage. “Goodnight, Peaches.”

“I can still see you!”

Even after nearly a year together, Lotti and Peaches weren’t quite yet friends. “Quiet time,” she said.

“The meat loaf’s dry,” Peaches yelled. “You ruined my meat loaf!”

Lotti’s dad had thought it was funny to teach Peaches to be a nagging housewife. “Go to sleep.”

Peaches sighed and didn’t utter another word.

Lotti got back into bed. Her toes and fingers were frozen to the bone as she huddled under the covers warming herself up with thoughts of sandy beaches and endless sun.

She slept deeply and the next day she worked on the accounting books while her guests took a wine tasting tour with Sean as their DD. That had interested her because the Sean of old hadn’t been a guy to stand back and let others have all the fun.

But they’d come back with everyone but Sean feeling no pain and she’d had to admit, he appeared to be taking this best man thing seriously. Very seriously. It was . . . attractive, seeing him work hard at making his brother happy.

That night she watched from the sidelines as he ran the bachelor/bachelorette party like he’d been born a host, with natural charm and easy laughter.

And the way the others clearly loved him . . . It made her happy to know that he’d made it, that he’d turned out okay and had so much love and light in his life.

Just as it made her feel slightly alone and a little . . . sad. Because she didn’t have that. She had her mom. Her cousin Garrett McGrath. And a few good friends. But her relationships definitely seemed to fall a little short of what Sean had with this group of tight-knit family and friends.

Sunday morning, she woke up before dawn. There was so much to do. She made breakfast, telling herself she was relieved it was check-out day. Soon, Sean would march out of her life again and she’d go to Cabo and forget him.

Okay, so she’d never been able to forget him, but it was past time to learn.

Chapter Three

It was barely dawn when Sean sat up in his bed and looked at his phone’s notifications. “Shit.”

The mound under the covers of the second bed moved. Groaned. Then Joe flopped to his back and gave Sean a bleary-eyed look. “Unless there are two really hot women at our door wanting to jump our bones, it’s way too early to be up.”

“The storm worsened,” Sean said. “There’s flooding and mudslides up and down the entire state of California. The roads in and out of here are closed.”

“Then why the hell are you waking me up?”

“Because mudslides closed Finn and Pru’s wedding venue down. Indefinitely.”

“Okay, that sucks,” Joe said on a wide yawn. “But I think the wedding panic can wait until daylight, yeah?” And without waiting for an answer, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

Sean dressed and went down the hall, knocking on the first guest room he came to. Tina opened the door. The six-foot-plus dark-skinned goddess was in only a towel, damp from the shower. Behind her, he could see both beds, one tousled but empty, the other holding a sleeping Kylie.

“What’s up, Sugar?” Tina asked. “I’m halfway through applying my mascara and it’s a process. I need to get back to it.”

Sean repeated his spiel. “The storm worsened,” he said. “There’s mudslides everywhere between here and home. We’re not getting out for a while.”

Tina smiled. “A few extra days away from the city and work? Love it.”