The next morning, she woke up to the quiet clank of pots and pans in the kitchen. Audrey yawned and rubbed her eyes, then crawled out from under the blankets and headed for the kitchen.
Sure enough, there was Reese, stirring a large pot on the stove, the smell of fresh-brewed coffee in the air. She appreciated the sight of his tight buns for a moment, then cleared her throat to announce her presence.
He turned and gave her a lazy smile. “Morning, sunshine.”
For some reason, that look of frank appreciation in his eyes made her feel warm and fuzzy. Ugh. Hormones, nothing more. She was just thrilled someone had said something to her that didn’t involve cursing and begging for pills. She leaned over the stove and peered into the pot. “What am I cooking for breakfast this morning?”
“You decided to make a big batch of oatmeal since it’ll be easy on your sister’s stomach,” he said easily, sprinkling some brown sugar on top of the thick mix. “Good call.”
“I’m an amazing cook,” she said dryly. “Care to tell why you told everyone it was me?”
“You’re trying to snag yourself a man,” he said easily. “Wouldn’t hurt to let Cade think you’re a domestic goddess. He likes traditional women.”
“Does he?” She filed that bit of information away. “Thanks, I guess.”
He shrugged and glanced at her hair. “Rough night?”
Her brows drew together. “What makes you say that?”
“Your bun is askew.”
Audrey’s fingers flew to her hair. Sure enough, it was lopsided and puffy on one side. “Damn it.”
Reese set down the spoon and turned to her, reaching for her hair. “Here, I’ll fix it for you.”
She frowned but stood still, dropping her hands. “That’s very domestic of you.”
“Nah. I mostly wanted to see what this looks like when it’s not in a grandma style.” And he reached forward and snipped the band with a pair of scissors.
She yelped, pulling away even as he ran his fingers through her hair, making it puff out into a halo around her head. “You asshole!”
“Look at that! All that loose, untamed hair!” He teased, even as he tried to run his fingers through it again. “It’s like you’re a wild woman. What will people think?”
She gave him a light punch in the gut, trying to get him away from her. “I hate you so much!”
“All that red, luscious hair,” he teased, massaging her scalp, undeterred by her declarations of hatred. “You want to get a man, you need to wear it down instead of dressing like a spinster schoolmarm.”
“I am not a spinster schoolmarm,” she huffed, twisting away and slapping at his hands when he reached for her hair again. “You’re just saying that because you have a secret fetish for schoolmarm hair.”
“You think so?”
“I think that’s why you wanted me to kiss you so bad,” she snapped. “I—”
“Hey, Cade,” Reese said quickly, staring over her shoulder.
She gasped and whirled around to see.
No one was there.
That jerk. Audrey turned and smacked Reese’s arm with her open palm, ignoring his mischievous grin. “You are such an asshole.”
“And you are totally transparent.” He gave her hair one last look of approval and then picked up his wooden spoon again, stirring the oatmeal. “Why not just tell the man you’re in love with him? He’s going to figure it out the way you keep fawning over him.”
“I do not fawn over him,” she said in a curt tone, pouring herself a cup of coffee.
“You do,” he said. “Any man can tell that you’ve got the hots for him. What’s it about him that jerks your chain? Is it the white knight thing? Blond hair? The money?”
She snorted, not bothering to dignify that with a real response.
“It’s the money,” he said smugly. “I knew it.”
“Not the money,” she gritted between her teeth. “Cade’s different than most men, that’s all.”
“Different how? Because he’s not trying to look up your skirts?” He gave her another appreciative look, his gaze lingering on her wild hair. Was that . . . attraction in his eyes? God, he was such a pig. And God, why did it make her want to preen a little? She was just as bad as he was.
“Cade’s a gentleman,” she said. “I don’t know why I have to explain to you why I like Cade, but it’s everything about him. It’s the way he puts others before his own needs. It’s the way he’s always been so protective of us. It’s the way he’s friendly and polite to everyone. He’s smart and successful without compromising his integrity. I’ve met few men like that.” She cast him a sideways look and blew on her coffee a moment before adding, “Most men seem willing to use people just to push themselves ahead.”
“You mean like me with the heiress in the hot tub? You can come right out and say it. It won’t hurt my feelings.”
“I mean exactly like that,” she told him in a crisp tone. “It’s not something that a man like Cade would do.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, and then turned to face her. He didn’t look offended. If anything, Reese had that challenging gleam in his eyes as he studied her. “You want to know the difference between me and a man like Cade, though? I’ll actually get what I want. Cade’s too polite to admit what he wants, and he’s going to end up unhappy. Me? I go after what I want and fuck it all if people don’t like it. You can’t live your life trying to please everyone but yourself, because you’re going to end up the only person unhappy.”
“And how do you know what Cade wants?”
“I’m his friend. It’s obvious to me.”
“And I’m not his friend?”
He shrugged. “I think your feelings for him—or what you think your feelings are for him—get in the way of what you really want.”
She rolled her eyes. “I know what my feelings are for Cade, thank you. I don’t need you telling me otherwise.”
“Oh, I’m not. So how good of a kisser is he?”
Her mouth opened, and then closed immediately. “That’s private information.”
“You’re blushing and you’ve got that prissy tone in your voice again. You haven’t kissed him, have you?”
“He’s kissed me before,” she said blandly, thinking of the time he’d kissed her cheek when she was younger.
“On the cheek doesn’t count,” Reese said, as if reading her mind.
She was silent.
Okay, now that was irritating. “What’s that little ‘huh’ supposed to mean?” she asked Reese.
“It’s not nothing.”
“I was just curious how you haven’t kissed the man you’re in love with, but you’ll kiss me just because I dared you.”
“There’s a difference between a dare and blackmail, thank you. I would never have taken a dare like that.”
Audrey gritted her teeth. “I’m not a chicken.”
“You’re too chicken to kiss Cade, it seems. How would I know if you’re too chicken to do a dare? Seems to me like Little Miss Perfect isn’t up for it. Too daring for her blood.”
For some reason, his joke about her being “Little Miss Perfect” really bothered her. He made it sound like it was a bad thing to be a good person. “I’d kiss Cade if I wanted to. I just don’t want him to know that I’m in love with him just yet.”
“I’m not a chicken.”
“Then prove it.” Reese’s eyes gleamed. “You up for a little dare?”
She felt cornered. Cornered, and yet that butterfly was back in her belly. It felt like it was thundering when Reese gave her that sly look, too. “What sort of dare?”
“If you kiss Cade by sunset, I’ll leave.”
Her eyes widened. “That sounds almost too good to be true. Kiss Cade and get rid of the biggest thorn in my side? Where do I sign up?”
He clutched a hand to his chest. “You wound me, Audrey. You wouldn’t miss me?”
“Not in the slightest,” she said tartly, but that butterfly in her stomach begged to differ. “So all I need to do is kiss Cade and you’ll pack up and leave? Challenge accepted.”
“Hang on there,” he said, putting down the spoon and turning off the stove. He moved the oatmeal to a back burner and then turned to face her. “Not so fast. You have to kiss Cade in front of me, where I can see it. None of this ‘oh, I kissed him’ and have it be a bullshit story you’re making up just to get rid of me. I need to see it.”
“On the mouth, tongue and all. Shouldn’t be too hard since you’re in love with the man.” His grin widened. “Just kiss him like you did me last night.”
Hot fire scorched her cheeks. “Fine. You might as well pack your bags, then.”
“Oh, I’m not packing up so soon,” he said, studying her. “I don’t think you’ll go through with it. And if you don’t . . .”
She raised an eyebrow, anticipating what he’d say next. More kissing? Heat curled in her stomach at the thought. Strangely, she wouldn’t be averse to more kissing when it came to Reese, which was dirty and wrong.
“We go skinny-dipping. Tonight.”
Audrey’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”
He moved across the kitchen and loomed over her, planting a hand on each side of the counter. “Did I stutter?” he asked with a grin. “You. Me. Naked. In the lake. Tonight. But that’s only if you don’t go through with this. If you do, well . . .” He shrugged. “I’ll be gone by dawn. Promise.”
She paused, contemplating this. It was a wild, ridiculous bet. She totally wanted to do it. If she won this stupid dare, she’d win big in all ways. Reese would be gone, his irritating presence would be removed from the cozy lodge, and she could devote her time to Cade . . . and her twin. Plus, hello, kissing Cade. That was a reward all on its own. Audrey drummed her fingers against her lower lip, thinking.
But kissing Cade would have to be initiated by her, unless he showed more interest than he had in the past. She knew that with him she was still stuck in the safe “friend” or “little sister” zone. He’d never initiate a kiss—with tongue!—on his own. She’d have to be the one to come on to him, grab him and kiss him just like she’d done to Reese. It would require a bit of nerve.
Okay, a lot of nerve.
But if she won . . .
And yet, if she lost she’d be going skinny-dipping with this smirky, cocky oaf standing in front of her. She’d already kissed the goon, and now she was agreeing to get naked with him if she didn’t follow through?
But he’d leave if she kissed Cade. And wasn’t that what she wanted? Kill two birds with one stone. She glanced up at him. The grin on his face told her that he very much anticipated going skinny-dipping with her tonight.
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