“That’s probably very wise,” Audrey told him, and picked up her glass of wine, sipping it. “Wine’s nice.”

“Yes,” Cade said, and took a sip of his own.

Audrey stared at the menu, trying not to feel strains of . . . boredom. They’d been at the small restaurant for about an hour, the place crowded with locals. There weren’t many restaurants in the small mountain town, and this one was jam-packed. That was fine, though. They’d waited at the bar and sipped wine, chatting about the cabin and the weather and Logan’s relationship with his new fiancée, Brontë, or the fact that her sister Gretchen had just moved in with Hunter Buchanan, another one of Cade’s friends.

It was all very pleasant, like meeting up with an old high school buddy or a distant cousin and getting to know each other again.

It was nice. Just nice.

Audrey stifled a yawn behind her hand, blinking her eyes to focus them on the menu. So why was she so incredibly bored with everything? She should have been beside herself with excitement that she was finally getting some one-on-one time with Cade. Going out on a date with him? That was what she’d dreamed of for years. And yet she found herself jealous of her twin, holed up and cozy with flirty, playful Reese.

Kind of where she wanted to be, if she allowed herself to admit that.

“So what do you think Daphne and Reese are up to?” she found herself asking, then winced. God, could she sound any more obvious?

Cade glanced at her over his menu and smiled. “I’m sure they’re fine. Don’t worry about them.”

“I’m not worried.” A little jealous, maybe, but not worried.

“You don’t have to fool me,” Cade told her, setting down his menu. “I know you’re a mother hen to Daphne. You worry endlessly about her.”

And now all of this was making her feel guilty that she wasn’t more worried about her twin at the moment, but instead she was thinking about Reese. What did he think of her being out with Cade? And why did that send an awkward squirm through her body? “She needs someone to take care of her,” was all she said.

“She does,” he agreed, and she heard a bit more passion in his voice. “Someone who has her best interests at heart. Sometimes I think her team doesn’t think about what’s good for Daphne in the long run, just how they can control her.”

“I’d agree with that,” Audrey said. Oh, great, now they were back to agreeing with each other again.

Cade looked troubled for a moment. “You know, she insisted on this.”

“Insisted on what?”

“That we go out. She told me . . .” He toyed with one of the knives on the table. “That you had developed feelings for me. And it wasn’t fair to you if I didn’t give you at least a date to test the waters.”

She wanted to smack her face with her palm. “Daphne has a big mouth.”

He gave her another gentle look. “But she wasn’t lying, was she? This must have been hard on you, all this time in the cabin with us and I never realized. I guess I’ve been preoccupied.”

“Reese tells me I have a pretty good poker face,” she said blandly. “So don’t go blaming yourself. So you’re here with me out of obligation?”

He said nothing, but the glint in his eyes was kind.

It should have bothered her or hurt her feelings. That he’d gone out with her simply to “test the waters” as a favor to Daphne. He did care for her and wanted to let her down gently, unless they had a wild spark tonight that surprised them both. And she should have been hurt by this, but all she felt was . . . relieved.

And still bored, if she was honest with herself.

Cade was nice. So nice. She could say honestly that he was the nicest man she had ever known. She was pretty sure there wasn’t a mean or selfish bone in Cade Archer’s body. He was thoughtful and kind and generous to everyone he met. And she’d known him since grade school, and he hadn’t changed in the slightest. He was nice and responsible . . . just like her.

And that was why there wasn’t an ounce of spark between them.

It had taken her so long, but she’d finally realized it—Cade wasn’t exciting to her because he was just like her. He’d put obligation to friends and family first. He’d leap when someone needed help and be the first one on the scene to help organize and take care of things. And there was not a bit of attraction between them because she wasn’t drawn to that.

She needed someone a little bit unpredictable to draw her out of her nice, wholesome comfort zone. Someone like Reese. He sparked her. Hell, he set her on fire with all the sparks he set off in her.

She should have realized this before dinner. Before things got all awkward between her and Cade thanks to her well-meaning twin. She hadn’t told Daphne how she truly felt about Reese in comparison to Cade. Her twin thought she was simply lonely and “nailing” Reese to cover a broken heart over Cade.

Except Audrey hadn’t given much thought to Cade since Reese had shown up. She should have indicated that to Daphne, but she’d been too busy lying to herself about things. It was hard to give up on a childhood dream, and Cade was the living embodiment of all of hers.

“Cade,” Audrey began quietly. “I’m glad we’re here because I do think we need to talk.”

He nodded, waiting patiently. So patient, always patient.

“I’ve had a crush on you since we were thirteen,” Audrey admitted with a smile. “And you gave me my birthday kiss. I thought I’d grow up and you’d notice that I’d grown into someone smart and intelligent and capable, and that I’d be the perfect assistant for you. That’s actually how I started out as a personal assistant. I thought I’d get some experience in and wait for the opportunity to become yours, so we could work closely together. Silly, isn’t it?”

His look was friendly, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Not so silly. Logan tells me you do an admirable job.”

“I am good at what I do,” she agreed. “But that’s because I like my job, not because of my crush on you. And it took me a while, but I realized that I was making myself into someone who I thought you might like—someone quiet and industrious and never causing any trouble. And I realized that while I like being that person, I like it even more when I let my hair down a little.” She smiled at the metaphor, thinking of Reese. “And somewhere along the way, I’ve fallen for someone else. I hope you understand.”

His shoulders relaxed and a real, genuine grin crossed his face. “Is it bad if I say that I’m incredibly relieved to hear that?”

She laughed and reached over the table to squeeze his hand. “Not in the slightest. Is it bad if I say I’m relieved that you’re relieved?”

“I do love you, Audrey,” Cade said seriously. “You’re like the sister I never had.”

“I feel the same way,” Audrey said. “And I’m sure Daph does, too. You’ve always been there for us.”

His smile faltered a little at Daphne’s name, but he nodded. “It was her idea to bring us together, you know. She desperately wants you to be happy. I think she feels guilty that she was monopolizing my time at the cabin.”

“I am happy,” Audrey pointed out. “No sisterly interference needed. But I’d like for us to remain friends.”

“Of course! Always.”

She raised her glass of wine toward him. “To friendship?”

He lifted his glass and clinked it against her own, and they drank. Audrey relaxed and, oddly enough, felt a bit lighter. Strange how without her crush on Cade adding a layer of invisible pressure to her, she felt more free than ever. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d strove to be so good and saintly that she’d crushed all the fun out of her life.

At least until Reese had shown up.

“So,” Cade said, setting his glass down. “Do I know the man you’re in love with?”

She fiddled with the edge of the tablecloth. “I didn’t say love. We’re more in the ‘dirty fling’ stages of things.”

“No,” Cade said. “I can see the look in your eyes when you mention him. You light up and seem to glow with happiness. You’re in love, Audrey.” The look on his face became a little sad. “Trust me when I say I recognize it.”

Audrey downed her wine, thinking hard. Was she really in love? How many days had they been at the cabin? She’d lost track because Reese had destroyed her phone. It was at least a week, probably more. Was that quick enough to fall for someone? Maybe so. All she knew was that she loved being with him, and he made her body sing. And she felt like a different—and better—person with him.

“Maybe love,” she admitted. “I don’t know yet. I want to give it more time.”

“I understand,” Cade told her.

“And it’s Reese,” she blurted. “I’ve kind of got a thing for Reese. We’ve been sort of seeing each other since the day you caught us.”

“I thought as much,” Cade told her, and the look in his eyes was troubled. “I didn’t want to say anything before now, since I thought perhaps it wasn’t serious, but . . .” He sighed. “I’ve known Reese for a long time, Audrey. Almost as long as I’ve known you and Daphne. Reese is . . . brittle when it comes to women. He doesn’t commit.”

“I know,” she said simply.

“He’s a playboy. He’s out for fun and not much more. I just don’t want you to get your heart broken over him.”

“I know, Cade.”

“He’s dated a lot of women—”

“Okay, Cade. I get it.” Jeez. “I knew Reese was a man-slut when we hooked up. Trust me. I’m well aware of the situation. I’m having fun with him, and that’s all. If it means I need to strap on my big girl panties and take my licks when we move apart, then that’s what I do. I understand this.”

He still looked cautious. “If you’re sure—”

“I’m not,” Audrey admitted. “And that’s part of what I like. I had my future all mapped out once upon a time, you know, and went after that. I like the uncertainty of not knowing. And I like that Reese pushes me past my boundaries. Whatever happens, happens. I can handle it.” She shrugged. “And if we finish our thing and he moves on to someone else, I accept that, too. Like I said, it’s just a fling.”

Even as she said the words, they tasted sour in her mouth.

If we finish our thing and he moves on to someone else, I accept that.

Like hell she did. Just the thought made her chest ache.

It was too late for caution as far as she was concerned. She’d already fallen head over heels in love with Reese Durham, the biggest player in the entire world.

Chapter Thirteen

They drank wine, ate a lovely dinner, and just chatted about family and friends and good times. It was pleasant to be able to sit out for the night and just relax with a drink, since the cabin was dry due to Daphne’s substance abuse problems. They ordered extra plates of pasta for Daphne and Reese back at the cabin, drank a few cups of coffee with dessert, and then headed back to the lodge.


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