Every Little Thing

Page 20


“Whatever,” Hug said.
Cooper continued to glare at the man, while he spoke to Vaughn. “You didn’t have to move.”
“I just want to drink in peace.” Vaughn waved him off. “Not worth the hassle.”
Cooper leaned into him and said something I couldn’t hear. Whatever it was it made Vaughn smile. A real, honest-to-goodness smile. Not a smirk or a sneer. A smile. And it was boyish and mischievous, and it caused a great big flip low in my belly. A sensation that almost knocked me off my stool.
“He’s a handsome son of a bitch, isn’t he?” Dahlia murmured.
“Who? Cooper? Yes, Jess is a very lucky woman.”
Jessica tutted. “Oh, you know who Dahlia meant.”
“No. I don’t.” I refused to acknowledge who they were talking about or why they were talking about him. It was like they’d sensed my belly flip.
So Vaughn Tremaine was good-looking and he liked and respected Cooper, a man I thought of as family. That didn’t erase the past three years of looking down his snotty nose at me.
“You are so full of it.” Dahlia chuckled.
My lips parted in shock. Seriously? “How am I full of it?” I hissed, not wanting Vaughn to be aware of our conversation. “Are you trying to say I’m attracted to the wolf in Armani?”
“You are awfully hostile to him,” Jess mused, taking a sip of her Long Island.
I glanced between my two friends, recognizing the devilish laughter in their eyes. “Stop trying to wind me up. Don’t you know I’m in a delicate state right now?”
And as if the reference to our breakup conjured him, Tom walked into the bar.
A hush fell over the room.
This was another downside to living in a small town.
My ex visibly swallowed as he was bombarded with over two dozen glares. And then he paled when our eyes met across the bar. He gave me a taut nod and then marched across the room, ignoring Vaughn as he stood next to him at the counter. “I just came for that whiskey, Cooper.”
I remembered then that Cooper had offered to get Tom a special-label whiskey for his grandfather’s ninetieth birthday. Why on earth he thought it was smart to approach the bar during its busiest time I had no idea. Silly man.
Cooper shot me a look.
“It’s okay,” I said.
He nodded. “It’s in my office. I’ll be right back.”
My gaze locked with Tom’s. “How are you?” he asked.
“I’m good, thanks. How are you?”
“Getting there.” His voice was a little hoarse on that last word and I noted how exhausted he seemed.
That sensation of guilt twisted in my chest. Tom didn’t look like he was dealing well with the breakup. Not in comparison to me.
The silence was awkward and beyond uncomfortable as we waited for Cooper to return with the whiskey. When he did, Tom paid for it and thanked him, but he didn’t move to leave.
Instead he stared at me as if he wanted to say something more.
I began to worry that he was going to do something that would make me have to embarrass him in public, and I’d hate that. Not for me, because I couldn’t care less what people thought, but for him. I didn’t want to humiliate Tom.
“Maybe you should leave. Now.” Vaughn’s tone was harsh and authoritative. Surprised, we all looked at the stern businessman. He continued to sip his scotch as if he hadn’t said anything, but there was an air of something hard and threatening around him.
Tom seemed just as shocked by Vaughn’s interference, but he took the warning and walked out of the bar.
There was a moment’s continued silence and then the buzz of conversation started up again.
As for me I was staring at Vaughn like I’d never seen him before.
“Sticking up for me now, Tremaine?” I tried to bring some levity to the incident. “Will wonders never cease?”
I swore I saw amusement in his eyes. “It wasn’t for your benefit, Miss Hartwell. The man reeks of bourbon. I just wanted him out of my vicinity.”
“Bourbon?” Worry gripped me.
Vaughn gave me a mocking smirk. “Seems like the ex isn’t dealing with your breakup nearly as well as you are.”
“That’s not funny,” I snapped, concerned for Tom far more than I wanted to be. But as I’d discovered in the past, you couldn’t just switch off caring about someone.
“I didn’t say it was. I’m surprised you care . . . what with all the online dating you’re planning on doing.”
Forcing myself to ignore him, I opened my purse, pulled out some money, and slapped it on the counter.
“What are you doing?” Dahlia said.
“I’m going after him to make sure he’s okay.”
“Sweetie, that’s not your job anymore.” She was clearly unhappy with the idea. “That stopped being your job when he slept with someone else.”
“Dahlia’s right,” Jess added.
“He reeks of alcohol,” I insisted. “That’s not okay. And I’m not the kind of person who’ll just sit here and ignore that.” I swung off my stool and strode through the bar, ignoring Vaughn’s eyes following me, and ignoring my friends calling my name.
Vaughn stared at the door where Bailey had disappeared and cursed himself. Today had just been one bad decision after another. His quarterly stats were in and his hotel in New York was down in profits. Checking an online review site, he found disturbing guest reviews of the hotel. He’d blistered his management via video conferencing for over an hour, ending the meeting with a demand for monthly accounting and improvement upon the problems that were causing the bad reviews. If things didn’t pick up, he’d have to go back to the city for a while to get it back to where it should be and the thought of returning to Manhattan for an extended period made his blood run cold.