Every Little Thing

Page 3


Deep down I knew Vaughn wasn’t a bad guy. I discovered that when he helped out my friends Cooper and Jessica last year. When Jess was convinced that things between her and Cooper were falling apart, Vaughn gave her a place to stay in town so that Cooper had time to win her back.
And the truth was we all felt safer with Vaughn around: there was the matter of Ian Devlin and his sons.
Devlin owned a lot of property in Hartwell, including the Hartwell Grand Hotel in town, and the amusement park behind the boardwalk. But he didn’t own anything on the commercial north end of the boardwalk. And just as he’d used less than honorable means to gain properties on the popular, touristy Main Street, he’d tried underhand ways to gain property on the expensive coastline. He was desperate to add boardwalk property to his portfolio. In fact, I guessed he was desperate to one day own the entire length of the north boardwalk. He had it in his head to turn it into a five-star resort, which would decimate what made Hart’s Boardwalk so charming.
When the old boardwalk hotel went up for sale, we, the close-knit community on the boardwalk, thought we were done for. Ian Devlin was the only man we knew who could afford to buy it.
But then came Vaughn. A hotelier with more money than God and a better pedigree than most Manhattanites. For whatever reason, he bought the old boardwalk hotel, knocked it down, and put up his own establishment.
The good thing though—despite the modern appeal of his hotel—was that Vaughn liked the boardwalk as it was. And even I had to admit that he seemed to genuinely like and respect Cooper. So when Devlin threatened Cooper’s boardwalk bar by bribing someone on the city board to deny Cooper his liquor license renewal, Vaughn stepped up alongside us to put a stop to it.
And despite the fact that was the moment he told me he didn’t like me, I saw what I hadn’t wanted to see.
Vaughn Tremaine may have been a pompous, smug, wealthy, arrogant businessman who thought he was better than me, but he could also be kind of honorable when he wanted to be.
Moreover, he was our defense against Ian Devlin.
According to Cooper, Vaughn had said something that made Cooper feel confident that Vaughn would never let Devlin do anything to damage what we’d built on our boardwalk.
And Vaughn had the money and influence to back up that sentiment.
“What? Do I have something on my face?” Vaughn said.
I realized at that moment I’d just been staring into those startling gray eyes of his. No one had a right to eyes like those. He must have known what those eyes did to a woman.
To women. Other women. Not me.
“No.” I stepped away from him, even if doing so did give him the upper hand.
“What? No sharp reply? You sure you’re feeling alright?” He cocked his head to the side, studying me. A crease formed between his brows. “You do look a little tired.”
I huffed, running a hand over my hair. I hated when he scrutinized my personal appearance. “Always so complimentary, Tremaine. It’s a wonder you don’t have a trail of panting ladies following after you. Oh, wait a second. It’s not.”
He just stared at me, which for some reason made me feel worse, because it felt like he could see right into me, and that he could see how unhappy I was and—
“No wonder you’re single.” I gave him a look that would have made a lesser man’s balls jump back up inside him. “You’re cold through and through. You haven’t got anything real to offer a woman. Nothing but money. And sooner or later they’ll realize not even money is worth a lifetime of nothing.”
It was harsh.
It was horrible.
And it was all about me, not him.
Immediately I wanted to take the words back, but they were out there.
Me and my stupid no brain-to-mouth filter.
Like the ice I’d accused him of being, Vaughn’s expression turned an arctic level of cool. “I’m single because I want to be, Miss Hartwell. Unlike you I’m strong enough to be alone rather than settle for mediocre. But then like attracts like, doesn’t it.”
And on that parting shot, a shot he had no idea hit dead center on target, Vaughn Tremaine sauntered away like he hadn’t just had a bitter encounter with me.
I didn’t touch him.
But he always got me.
And it always hurt.
Pissed, I marched off in the opposite direction back to the inn, trying to will Vaughn’s words out of my head, trying to shake off what he made me feel.
After all, I couldn’t be angry and pissed when I showed up to “raincoat and sexy lingerie” Tom to get us back on the right track.
For not the first time, Vaughn fought the urge to turn back around, find Bailey, get on his knees in front of her, and beg her for forgiveness.
No one else pushed his buttons like Bailey Hartwell. He’d had people say worse things to him than Bailey did, although always in that passive aggressive, superficially polite manner he couldn’t stand.
Yet, Bailey was the only person he ever lost his cool with. He retaliated. Lashed out like an immature teenager.
And he hurt her every time.
She wasn’t like the women he’d grown up around. They had learned from a young age the art of masking one’s emotions.
Bailey’s emotions were out there for all to see.
For instance . . . he knew she was attracted to him. He also knew she hated that current of attraction because she may have been attracted to him but she didn’t like him. Bailey hadn’t liked him from the moment they’d met and that was partly why he lashed out at her, too.