Simone turned her attention from the gentle, lapping waters of the Atlantic Ocean to find Mr. Blue Eyes, looking as handsome in jeans and a gray pullover as he did in his tailored suit last night. Last night. Had she not been wide-awake, she’d swear it was all a crazy dream. Her mother marrying Julian, Chad being her brother, and this guy; a stranger with whom she divulged the whole sordid tale.
“Dylan, what are you doing on the wharf? This hardly seems like your kind of hangout.”
“I like the water, it’s peaceful.” He sniffed the air and frowned. “I could live without the pungent aroma of the sea dwellers, but what can you do?”
She grinned. Reminders of the day’s catch were always around at this particular section of the pier. “Well, it is the wharf.”
“Yeah, it’s the wharf,” he said with a laugh. “Wouldn’t think I’d find you out here, either, but I can’t say I’m disappointed.” He gave her a thorough once over. An appreciative smile turned his lips. “This day is looking up.”
Her cheeks burned and she quickly returned her gaze to the water, suddenly feeling very underdressed in her ankle-length, floral print frock. This guy oozed charm from every pore, and much to her own surprise, she wasn’t unaffected. Perhaps the surplus of charisma Dylan possessed prompted her to share her tale of woe. Or maybe it was something baser. Flattery that an attractive man showed interest in her. Still, she wasn’t inclined to get swept away by a friend of Fox’s. She heard the rumors about her new stepbrother’s playboy past. Birds of a feather and all that. She rubbed her hands up and down her bare arms. Nope, she wouldn’t become the newest notch on some roving Casanova’s belt.
The floorboards of the dock creaked, alerting her of Dylan’s approach. He rested his forearms against the netted wood railing. His clasped hands cast a shadow on the slow rippling water. He nudged her shoulder. “How are you doing?”
“Are you? I couldn’t help but wonder about you after we parted ways last night. I found one Russell listed in the phonebook. Thornton Chandler. I called, but I didn’t get an answer. Was it the right number?”
“Yes, it was the right number, but I didn’t go home. I stayed over with my best friend.”
“Have you heard from your mother?”
“She left a message on my cell last night saying she was okay, but how okay can she be?” Julian’s phone call with instructions to meet him at this out of the way section of the wharf surprised her, but also gave her some hope. Maybe he had some good news about her mother. Perhaps they had worked out their problems or were at least trying. Who was she kidding? Her mother was so upset. Simone covered her eyes and sighed. “God, this is such a mess.”
Dylan draped his arm around her shoulder. “Everything is going to be okay, Simone. “It’s just going to take some time.” His hand trailed up and down her arm, comforting and confusing her all at once.
She dropped her hands and took a couple of steps in the opposite direction. He was getting way too comfortable with her, and his cologne was a lot too intoxicating. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to offer you support,” he answered without hesitation. “As a matter of fact, I have a suggestion. Why don’t you come for a drive with me? I have a convertible and it’s a beautiful day.” He stopped talking to watch a row of squawking seagulls streak across the vibrant blue and puffy, white cloud-filled sky. “I think you could use something to take your mind off things for a while.”
Oh, he was good. They weren’t called playboys for nothing. “You want to take me for ride, huh?”
“When you say it like that, you make it sound like a bad thing.”
“Not bad for you. Do you always ask veritable strangers to get into your car?”
“Just the gorgeous ones.” He grinned. “Besides, we’re not strangers anymore. I haven’t been able to find Fox, and it seems a waste to let this beautiful day go by without taking advantage of it.”
“It’s the taking advantage part that’s giving me pause,” she muttered under her breath.
Dylan met her gaze. An amused smirk graced his lips. “What?”
“You’ve been as smooth as an oil slick since we met. What is your game?”
“Oh, we’re monosyllabic now?” She folded her arms across her chest, studying him. “Where are all those great lines? The ones that roll off your tongue like water off a duck’s back.”
He laughed. “Dear Simone, I don’t do lines. I’m authentic. Beautiful women inspire me to speak the truth.”
She clapped. Once, twice, three times. “See, that’s the Dylan I’ve come to know. The guy with the silver tongue that complements his blue blood.”
“You make me sound like some spoiled brat lothario.”
Simone hunched her shoulders. “You said it, not me.”
“You’ve got the wrong impression.” He tilted his head, his face the picture of innocence. “I’m a pussycat,” he said. “Meow.”
Her boisterous laughter took her by surprise. Her stomach muscles tightened and tears filled her eyes. Not only was Dylan bewitching, he had a wicked sense of humor. After the previous evening, a big belly laugh was the last thing she expected, but it felt good.
She wiped her tears and fixed her blurry gaze on his smiling face.
“I guess I should say thank you. For listening to me last night, and
for the laugh. I really needed that.”
“You’re welcome. You have a great laugh, Simone.” His thumb brushed either side of her cheeks, massaging the remnants of tears into her skin. “I suspect you don’t use it nearly as much as you should.”
“I haven’t had a lot to laugh about,” she admitted, lowering her gaze.
He lifted her chin with his forefinger. Sincerity shined in his bright orbs. What was that fluttery sensation in her stomach? Simone swallowed the dry knot in her throat as Dylan continued.
“Let’s change that,” he said. “Let’s go for the drive. While we’re out, we can look at the clouds and share what we think we see in them. I know it’s July, but I can always spot Santa in them.” He laughed. “C’mon, it’ll be fun.” He crossed his heart. “I promise to be the perfect gentleman.”
For reasons she didn’t quiet understand, Simone believed him, and trusted his sincerity. Even more surprising, she wanted to join him, but she couldn’t. She expected Julian at any minute. “Dylan, I—”
A throat cleared in the distance before she could extend her regrets. “Simone?”
“Julian,” she said, approaching him. “Hi.”
“Is everything okay?”
Simone nodded. “Yes, everything is fine,” she answered, taking a quick glance at Dylan who followed her over. “How’s Mom? Have you heard from her?”
“We’ll discuss that in a bit,” Julian said with a pat to her shoulder. He gave Dylan a hard glare. “Who’s your friend?”
“It’s Dylan, Mr. Crane,” Dylan answered with a smile.
Julian’s harsh expression remained unchanged. “Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
“Dylan is a friend of Fox’s,” Simone explained.
“Is that right?” Julian grumbled.
The hint of the warm summer wind took a sudden rigid turn. Dylan’s cheeks reddened. The confidence that surrounded him like an invisible force field evaporated like a drop of water in a hot pan. Julian wasn’t too impressed with him, and he did a horrible job of disguising it.
“Dylan’s been looking for Fox. You wouldn’t happen to know where he is?” she asked, doing what she could to literally break the ice.
Julian glanced from Dylan to Simone and back again. “He’s out of town, and I don’t expect him back anytime soon,” he answered, his tone about as friendly as an angry lion’s roar. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, Dylan, I need to have a moment with my stepdaughter.”
Simone didn’t know if she should be angered or touched by Julian’s paternal stance. Married to her mother for less than twenty-four hours in a wedding that could be annulled the next day, he slipped into protective papa mode like he raised her from infancy. What was going on with him? He looked a little sleep deprived, but not like he was up all night pacing or crying. His abrupt reaction to Dylan didn’t make much sense. Once they were alone, she would ask him about him about that.
She touched Dylan’s arm. They stepped a few feet away from Julian, but his eyes remained fixed on them. “I appreciate your offer, but I really need to talk to Julian.”
He nodded. “I understand.”
“I don’t know why he’s so disagreeable.”
“Hey, last night he married the love of his life, and tomorrow he could be losing her. I’d be disagreeable, too.” He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Maybe I’ll see you later?”
Simone smiled. “Maybe,” she murmured.
“Goodbye, Mr. Crane,” Dylan called out to Julian.
Julian said nothing. Dylan sighed. “Okay,” he mumbled. “Later, Simone.”
Julian’s gaze remained on Dylan’s retreating form until he turned a corner and was out of sight. “That is not a good idea,” he finally said.
“You don’t even know him, Julian.”
“He’s Fox’s friend. That’s all I need to know.”
It seemed okay for her to think that, but she didn't want to hear it from Julian. “Look, I don’t want to talk about Dylan. I want to talk about last night and what it all means. Have you heard from Mom? Have you given up on her? You don’t exactly look broken up to me, but you don’t appear to be in the best mood, either.”
Julian slipped his hands into pants pockets. His walnut shell-colored trousers and pristine white linen shirt made an ideal summer ensemble for a man without a care in the world. She expected to see him in a wrinkled tuxedo, his eyes bloodshot, and glazed with tears, but that’s not what she got.
“Looks can be deceiving, Simone. Young Dylan is a prime example of just that.”
Simone rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Julian, will you just tell me why you called me out here.”
“Very well.” He extended his hand to her. “Come with me. Soon,
everything will be crystal clear.”
|Chapter 27,Part 1