|In which Colleen O’Rourke sees the man who broke her heart for the first time in ten years.
“What are you doing?” said a low voice behind her.
Colleen’s heart froze, as though she’d swallowed a large ice cube, and it was stuck right over her heart.
She turned around.
Yep. Lucas Campbell.
None other. Standing approximately two feet from her, looking at her with those knowing, dark eyes.
Her skin suddenly felt tight. Mouth: dry. Brain: dead.
“What are you doing, Colleen?” Lucas asked again.
“Nothing,” she said as if it hadn’t been ten years since she’d last seen him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m here to see my cousin.”
“So go see your cousin.”
“What are you doing to my cousin?”
“I’m not doing anything to your cousin.” So mature. And did they have nothing else to say to each other? Ten years apart? A river of tears (hers) and blood (his…well, she wished it was his blood).
Lucas just looked at her, his pirate eyes unreadable.
Of all the gin joints in all the world, she started thinking, then squelched a blossom of slightly hysterical laughter.
Lucas Damien Campbell was here. Here in her bar. You think he could’ve called? Would that have been so much to ask, huh? Hmm? Would it? Hey, Colleen, I’m coming to visit my cousin, so be prepared, okay?
Colleen took a ragged breath, then coughed to cover. Unfortunately, the cough became genuine, and tears came to her eyes as she hacked and choked.
“You okay?” he asked in that ridiculously sexy, river-of-dark-chocolate voice.
“Yes,” she wheezed, wiping her eyes. “Just great.”
He dragged his eyes off of hers and looked over at the little knot of people at the end of the bar; Jess was laughing, Bryce smiling and Paulie looked like she was praying for a swift death.
“Are you trying to fix Bryce up with Paulina Petrosinsky?” he asked. Damn. She’d forgotten how…observant he was.
“No,” she said, proud of getting that one word out.
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes. You are.” He raised an eyebrow, and her knees wobbled. Sphincter! He was here. Here and beautiful, and damn it, older. A decade older than the last time she’d seen him, and yet it seemed like yesterday when he’d walked with her down to the lake and broke her heart. Irreparably, the bastard.
Her breath wanted to rush out of her lungs, but she held it in carefully, not wanting to induce another sexy choking fit.
She’d forgotten how he looked, like a pirate, like Heathcliff of the moors, dark and slightly dangerous…except for his eyes, which could be so sad. And so happy, too.
His black hair was slightly shorter than it had been years ago, but still gypsy beautiful, curling and black. He’d lost his boyish skinniness, had broadened in the shoulders. He hadn’t shaved today, and he seemed taller now than he had back then.
Back when he loved her.
He seemed to read her mind, because something flickered through his eyes.
In the year after Lucas left her, Bryce would come into the bar and mention him occasionally. Went to see my cousin last weekend, or Hey, Lucas is taking me and Dad to a White Sox game! Finally, in a rare show of vulnerability, Colleen had asked him not to talk about Lucas anymore. And in an even rarer show of understanding, Bryce seemed to get it.
| She knew he was married. No kids—surely Smiling Joe Campbell would’ve mentioned that. She knew he worked for his father-in-law. That was about it.
She had told him never to call her again, never to write, and he took her at her word.
And now, her heart was jackhammering in her chest, and though she hoped like hell her heart wasn’t written all over her face, she was…terrified.
Lucas took a breath. “Colleen, I’m only back in town because Joe asked me to come. I imagine you know he’s pretty sick.”
Her heart gave an unwilling tug. “I do,” she said, then, fearing that sounded a little too matrimonial, she added, “Know he’s sick. I do know he’s sick, I mean. He’s sick, I know it, the dialysis, not easy, I guess, and I’m sorry.” Her Tourette’s of Terror, Connor called it when she babbled. Not that she was terrified often, but hell, she certainly was now.
“Thank you.” He glanced again at Bryce—right, right, there was something going on with Bryce tonight, whatever—then looked at Colleen again. “It’s good to see you.”
“Can’t say the same,” she answered.
His mouth tugged on one side, causing a respondent tug in her special places. Five more minutes, and she’d be back in love.
“Bryce doesn’t need more complications in his life right now.”
“And by complications, you mean what, exactly?”
“The Chicken King’s virgin daughter.”
“Oh, cool! That sounds like a Harlequin romance. I would definitely read that.” The Chicken King’s virgin daughter was nowhere to be seen at the moment. “And how do you know Paulie’s a virgin, huh? Maybe she’s the town slut.”
Yeah. This wasn’t going well.
“I doubt she’s the town slut.”
She bristled. “What are you implying, Lucas?”
He gave her a strange look. “Nothing. Just that Paulie doesn’t seem like the type.”
“Well, what if she is a slut, huh? Maybe Bryce likes sluts.” Time to shut up now, Connor’s voice—her conscience—advised sagely.
“I’m sure he does.”
“So what’s your problem, then?”
“I’m trying to have a rational conversation here.”
“Yeah, and I haven’t seen you in ten years, and you just waltz into my bar and start insulting me and bossing me around. I do know about your uncle and how sick he is, because guess what? I visit him. I like him. I bring him magazines and cookies, and he likes my dog.”
“You have a dog?”
“Yes, I do, so just…you just, um, put that in your pipe and suck on it.” Smooth, O’Rourke. She tried to look haughty and dignified. “Maybe I happen to think that Bryce needs someone to help him through this difficult time.”
“Maybe he has other things to deal with.”
“And maybe I’m right and you’re wrong.”
He tilted his head to one side. “I’m getting the sense that you’re still mad.”
“Leave my cousin alone, all right?”