Chapter 1

1737 Words
Chapter One Brodie Sinclaire stood pacing in front of the large stone fireplace that anchored the living room of the Big House. Even though he’d grown up here, he could count on his hands the number of times his family had gathered here. They’d always been more of a front porch family. Fine by him. The living room felt… confining. As confining as the starched shirt and fancy onyx and silver cufflinks he wore. But hell, today was his oldest brother Blake’s wedding. He’d do whatever was asked of him. Including wait patiently in front of the fireplace with his soon to be sister-in-law’s wedding ring tucked safely away in his pocket. He could do this. Today of all days, he – Brodie Sinclaire, town clown and target for gossip, would get this right. He’d f****d up a lot of things in his twenty-eight years. His brother’s wedding wouldn’t be one of them. “You have the ring?” His older brother, Ben, strode into the room wearing the same get-up. Shined up boots, black denim, starched shirt, fancy cufflinks. Brodie rolled his eyes. “Of course.” “Just checking,” Ben chided. “You’ve been known to misplace things.” “Yeah, but not a wedding ring,” he shot back. He might have misplaced a pair of diamond earrings meant for his mother, once upon a time. God only knew why his father, Jake, had entrusted a gift of that value to a twelve-year-old, but he had. With disastrous consequences. Brodie had tucked the earrings away for safekeeping, only it had taken until Easter to find them, stuffed on top of a stack of comics in his bedroom. In plain sight. Something his brothers still ribbed him about. Brodie shook off the memory. It still bothered him. Especially when he looked at his half-brother, Simon, who was roughly the same age as he’d been during what had been fondly named as “the diamond incident.” He’d never put that kind of pressure on a kid. Simon had begged to keep the ring while the men were suiting up, but Brodie had stepped in and offered to take it. Someone had to look out for Simon in the way no one had looked out for him. Ben cuffed him on the shoulder. “Just kidding. No need to be touchy. Are you sure you have it?” “f**k you, asshole.” Brodie couldn’t stop his grin. If the comment had come from Blake, he’d have been more uptight. But this was Ben. Solid Ben. The brother who’d been there for him, no matter what. Maybe it was their age difference. Blake was already in college when things had become unbearable at home. Maybe it was the fact that Blake kept their young half-brother Simon a secret from everyone until five weeks ago, but his relationship with his oldest brother had been… challenging. In spite of that, Brodie was determined to turn over a new leaf. Put together the kind of family for Simon they’d never had growing up. But there was still ground to cover. Brodie hoped that by agreeing to be Blake’s best man, they were taking a step in the right direction. And making up for lost time. Ben leaned against the stone hearth. “Come on. Show it to me.” “I buried it in the stable for safekeeping,” Brodie deadpanned. Ben threw his head back, laughing. “Fine. I’ll quit harassing you.” “Who’s harassing who?” Mason Carter, Blake’s best friend from college, and an honorary Sinclaire, strolled in. “If you’re going to harass Brodie about anything, harass him about Jamey O’Neill. What’s up with the two of you?” “Nothing,” Brodie grunted. “Not my type.” Ben chortled. “Everyone’s your type.” “Shut up.” He liked his women soft, curvy, and sweet. Compliant. Not bossy and prickly like Jameyson I Love Irish Whiskey O’Neill. Maddie’s best friend. Brodie loved the sashay of swaying hips and lush curves. Not the strong, purposeful movements of a woman who might serve his balls on a platter. She and her horde of loud, Boston brothers had descended two days ago to help with the wedding. They’d taken over the bunkhouses, the kitchen, couldn’t ride horses, and had been the source of twice the usual ribbing. But that hadn’t deterred the ladies of Prairie. Oh no. They’d fallen all over themselves to meet the firefighters and cops from Boston. “Oooh, your accent is so cute.” If Brodie heard that one more time at the Trading Post, he’d eat his socks. Truth be told, Jamey fascinated him. She rubbed him the wrong way – like coarse sandpaper moving against the grain. But try as he might to ignore her and go about his business, he was drawn to her like a moth to flame. She made him want to poke at her like he would a marshmallow in a bed of coals, just so he could watch the sparks fly. Hell, teasing her was more fun than teasing his little sister, Emma. Where Emma just rolled her eyes at him, Jamey… shot off sparks. Big sparks. Roman candles. And it was glorious. Put a grin on his face every damned time. His lips cracked into a half-smile. Jameyson O’Neill was as fierce as the whiskey she was named for. He was a scotch man himself, but Jamey’s gangly movements and her sassy mouth intrigued him. She wasn’t like the women around here, and not just because of her accent. Hell, he’d never seen anyone openly challenge Dottie Grace, Prairie’s gossip queen and owner of the local diner. Not even her daughters. He’d witnessed more than one altercation between the two women over the last few days. The battles were mighty, and Jamey more than held her own. Mason snapped his fingers. “Earth to Brodie.” Brodie waved his hand. “I’m here. Just practicing my toast.” Ben chuckled. “Keep telling yourself that.” Axel Hansen, one of Maddie’s cousins, walked in, wearing the same clothes as the other men. “Time to get this show on the road. You ready to join our families?” “Not if it means I have to smell you from the driveway, Axe,” said Brodie. “Shut up, bison breath.” Axel clapped him on the shoulder. Ben moved to the sideboard. “A toast?” “High time someone offered us a beverage.” Gunnar, Axel’s older brother, walked in. Brodie moved to help Ben pass out glasses. Blake and Simon stepped through the threshold. “Were you going to toast without us?” Blake asked. Brodie handed Blake a glass. “Here. And for you, kiddo,” he ruffled Simon’s head. “Ginger ale. Ben has a glass ready for you too.” “Can’t I have a taste?” Brodie shook his head. “No way. You’re plenty man with ginger ale.” Ben handed Simon a small glass of ginger ale, then Brodie raised his glass, looking each man in the eye. “To burying the hatchet. To joining our families. To Blake and Maddie.” The group raised their glasses and drank. Blake clapped him in a hug, then pulled back, his eyes swirling with emotion. “I know it hasn’t always been easy between us.” Brodie nodded. “Thank you for being here.” Blake’s voice thickened. “For forgiving me.” Brodie’s throat tightened. “Shut up. Your ring’s burning a hole in my pocket. Let’s get this show on the road.” They moved to the foyer, where Maddie’s father, Warren Hansen, waited for them. Warren had nearly died few months back, and Blake had saved his life. He was a tough old cuss, but Brodie had learned Warren was responsible for saving the Sinclaire ranch years ago. And while Brodie didn’t like owing a debt to a neighbor, it was better than being homeless. The men took their places at the foot of the staircase. Hansens on one side, Sinclaires on the other. Brodie stood next to Blake in the best man’s spot. Simon headed upstairs to escort the women down. First came his sister, Emma. She caught his eye and winked. Once she cleared the last step, Simon scampered up the steps for Jamey. She glided around the corner holding Simon’s hand, and Brodie’s breath stuck in his throat. Her brilliant red curls bounced lightly with each step, and her green dress hugged her narrow frame. Scrawny, really. She was sinew and bone. Yet he couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Sound faded away as he zeroed in on her floating down the stairs. Too soon, someone nudged him and whispered loudly. “The ring.” Shit. He’d totally forgotten his duties. He dug the ring out of his pocket and slipped it to Blake, who was staring goofy-eyed at Maddie. God help him if he was ever that whipped. Blake pulled Maddie’s fingers to his lips, reverently kissing each one. Words washed over Brodie, but he paid no attention. He kept staring at the curve of Jamey’s neck. It had the same arch as his favorite horse in the barn. Was her skin as silky? Blake was speaking again, all moony faced. Brodie clapped his brother on the shoulder. “I know you want to start the honeymoon now, but the natives are getting restless. Time to kiss on the porch.” Laughter erupted from the men. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jamey roll her eyes. “Is that all you men think about, kissing?” “Nope. Much more,” He muttered as he stepped around her. He wouldn’t take her bait. Not this time. “Oh you’re one of those are you? All talk and no substance?” On second thought, he couldn’t resist. He reached out and pulled her close. “I’ve got plenty of substance whenever you’re ready, honey.” He winked broadly and waggled his eyebrows. Her cheeks turned the most adorable shade of pink. “Enough, Brodie.” Blake spoke sharply. “She’s our guest.” He was just joking. He’d never say something like that in earnest. She wasn’t even his type. He opened his mouth to explain, but before he could speak, she jabbed him in the chest. “Back off you arse w**d. You might think you’re Mister Hotcakes, but if you can’t make soup outta chicken s**t, you better not piss off the cook.” Prickles of shame licked up his neck. Shit. He’d f****d up. Again. He always seemed to mess things up at the important times. He studied his boots for a moment, gathering himself. Surely if he turned on the charm she’d realize he was joking? Meeting her eyes, he winked and put on his best charmer smile. The one that always worked when people were mad at him. “Aww s**t. I’m sorry, hon.” “Don’t you honey me. I’ll serve your balls for dinner if you cross me.” She twirled on her heel and swept through the door. His heart squeezed in disappointment as he stood staring at the empty doorway. Blake shook with laughter, clapping him on the back. “Better watch out. I think you just met your match.”
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