Love is Lovelier by Donna Simonetta
Love is Lovelier
by Donna Simonetta
Heather and Mick have a long history together, and Heather wants to leave it in the past where it belongs. Yet, here Mick is, very much in her present, thanks to her brother Jeff, who hired Mick to be her boss at the Retreat at Rivers Bend.
It wouldn’t be so bad, except Heather and Mick are still attracted to each other like metal to a magnet. Oh, and her brother is considering offering Mick a partnership in the Retreat, which by rights should be hers. And even if they act on their attraction, Heather is a small-town, country girl, and proud of it, whereas Mick can’t get far enough from his West Virginia coal-mining roots.
Will they be able to get a second chance at their first love and find their happy ending together in Rivers Bend?
Love is Lovelier
By Donna Simonetta
She sat in the sun, and he was shadowed by the overhang of the porch, so she just noticed the bruise on his strong jaw line. “What happened to your face?”
“I walked into something.”
He grinned ruefully. “Your brother’s fist.”
Her head fell back and thumped against the post. “Jeff did that to you? Why? What the hell is going on at work? I knew I shouldn’t have taken this week off.”
“It wasn’t a work-related disagreement. It was more of a...well...you-related dispute.”
Damn D.C. traffic!
Michael ground his molars together and conceded it might not have been the most appropriate thought given he was standing in the doorway of a church where his friends were currently christening their baby. But double damn, now he was late and the only open seat was next to Heather Braden—the one person he’d hoped to avoid as much as humanly possible here in Rivers Bend.
He walked as unobtrusively as possible, which wasn’t very, given he was six-foot-three and the church was roughly the size of a postage stamp. As all eyes turned to him, he felt grateful he’d traveled in his favorite custom-tailored charcoal gray suit. At least he looked appropriate for the occasion.
He slid into the pew next to Heather whose eyes reminded him of stormy seas. Mostly it was because of the glare she bestowed upon him, but their steel gray color, with hints of blue sparking at him were reminiscent of the Atlantic during a hurricane.
“Nice of you to show up on time, Mick,” she whispered.
“Traffic from the airport was a bitch. I got here as fast as I could,” he whispered back out of the corner of his mouth. His gaze was trained forward to the altar where two couples stood at the baptismal font with a baby wrapped in a fluffy, white blanket. The older lady behind them clicked her tongue in disapproval, and Heather glanced back through her stylish, choppy bangs. “Sorry, Mrs. Warren, we’ll be quiet.”
She looked at him and narrowed her eyes in warning, before turning to face forward.
In spite of the situation, he felt a smile playing at the corner of his lips. Heather always managed to entertain him. Actually, she alternated between infuriating him and driving him crazy with lust, and once again, his thoughts took a distinctly non-church- appropriate turn. Given their current situation, he had to squash all those emotions where Heather was concerned. He was here to start a new job as the CEO of the Corporate Retreat at Rivers Bend, owned by the two men at the altar, both old friends of his, and one of whom was Heather’s big brother. Her very protective big brother.
Francisco Cardoso and his wife Bethanne were the proud parents of the baby, who was held by his godmother, a tiny blonde with a head full of crazy curls. Jeff Braden was the godfather, and he stood behind the cute blonde with his hands resting possessively on her shoulders. Interesting—she must be Jeff’s new squeeze. She wasn’t Michael’s type, but he could see her appeal, and Jeff certainly looked smitten.
“Don’t let Jeff catch you eyeballing Magda like she’s the last slice of pizza in the box, Mick.”
“Michael,” he corrected through gritted teeth.
Heather rolled her eyes and made some sort of symbol with her hands.
“What the hell does that mean?”
The old biddy behind them huffed her disapproval
Heather shot her a furtive glance, before whispering in response, “It’s a ‘W’ for ‘whatever,’ Mick.”
“I don’t go by Mick anymore.”
This time the old lady actually smacked him on the shoulder with her rolled up program. “Young man, some of us are here to listen to the service; not to pick up young women. Would you please be quiet?”
Heather’s smothered giggle at his mumbled response did nothing for his already bad mood.
He’d never imagined Jeff’s sister still lived in Rivers Bend, Virginia. And in his wildest dreams he wouldn’t have thought they’d meet up in a church on the first day in town.
Heather fidgeted in the pew to try to move her leg from where Mick’s muscular thigh pressed into hers. The man took up way more than his fair share of space.
Did he have to be just as devastatingly handsome as he used to be? Mick—she couldn’t think of him as Michael—was very bad for her peace of mind.
Darn her brother for dragging this man out of her past and into her present. And he threatened to be as big a pain in her ass in the present as he’d been in the past.
She scooted over a little to her right until her younger brother, Jason, used his shoulder to shove her back into Mick’s big, solid, warm body.
“A little personal space here, sis? Hey, Mick.”
She frowned at Jason but pulled her arms into her sides and pressed her legs together as tightly as possible. She took a deep breath and tried to concentrate on the service, which felt interminable since Mick had arrived. Probably because she had herself twisted up like a pretzel on the already uncomfortable wooden pew. She heaved a sigh of relief as the service finally wrapped up, and she could flee from Mick’s close presence. Heather jumped to her feet, which caused her small clutch bag to fall to the floor with a thump.
“Jeez, Heath, where’s the fire?” Jason laughed.
She bent at the knees to retrieve her bag, which put her eyes right at crotch-level with Mick as he stood. Her heart pounded, and in spite of their ugly history, her palms itched to touch him through the fine wool of his trousers.
She straightened as fast as she could, but based on the knowing smirk and raised brow on Mick’s face she hadn’t been quick enough, and he’d seen just where she’d been looking.
Oh, if they weren’t in church, she would knock the annoying grin right off his face, and she hated the blush she could tell was spreading across her cheeks. Mick had managed to make her feel like an awkward seventeen-year-old girl again in under half an hour.
She tried to keep her voice calm and detached, even though her heart pounded in her chest. “I’ve got to get back to the Retreat before the other guests. I need to make sure everything is set for the party.”
Mick cocked his head, and he reminded her of her mother’s old hound dog when he was confused by his humans. He couldn’t possibly be baffled by her lack of warmth. Did he really think she’d welcome him to Rivers Bend with open arms?
“I guess I was too subtle there for you, Mick. You are blocking my way out of the pew and I need to get to the party before everyone else. Please move.”
He frowned, but he did step out of the pew to join the crush of people in the aisle.
“Stick close. I’ll get you out of here.”
He used his broad shoulders as a wedge to propel himself though the crowd. Heather scurried to keep up with him so she could take advantage of the gap he created, not wanting to be so close she could feel the warmth of his body through his elegant suit, but because she needed somehow to beat this crush of people to the Retreat to make sure everything was in place for the post-christening party she’d planned for Bethanne. Only perfection would do for her BFF.
She watched Mick’s back as she stuck close to him; he looked so strong and fit. It was hard to imagine him from ten years ago, when he’d suffered his NFL career-ending injury, but the same business acumen that kept him with the Portland Pintos organization back then was the reason Jeff and Cisco hired him at the Retreat.
He’d be good for business. She’d just have to keep chanting those words in her head like a mantra, or else she’d do one of two things she’d regret—kill Mick, or kiss him. She’d gone the kissing route with him before, and it did not end well. As tempting as the killing option was at the moment, it probably wouldn’t end any better.
He didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed when he cleared the church door and Heather scooted around him and high-tailed it to the parking lot.
“What have you done to send my baby sister running for her car, Mick? Not even in Rivers Bend for one hour and I already have to kick your ass.”
His old friend’s amused southern drawl belied the harshness of his words. At least here was someone who was happy to see him in Virginia.
He turned with an easy smile on his face. “Hey, Jeff! Heather said she needed to get to your house before everyone else to set up the party or something, so I used my NFL blocking experience to get her out of the church.”
They did that awkward one-armed hug men do and Mick added, “But I go by Michael now. I left ‘Mick’ behind after my playing days.”
Jeff smiled. “You’ll always be Mick to me, get used to it.”
The little blonde from the church stepped up beside Jeff and looped her arm through his. Her smile was warm but shy. “Sorry to interrupt, but they need us for pictures.”
“A godparent’s work is never done,” Jeff joked. “Maggie, this is Mick Evans, but he’s gone all high- falutin’ on me and wants us to call him Michael. Mick, this is my girlfriend Magda Horvath, aka Maggie.”
“Nice to meet you, Magda.”
“You too, Mick—I mean, Michael. Sorry, Jeff always refers to you as Mick. I’ll try to remember to switch to Michael.”
Jeff was a great guy, but he hadn’t been serious with anyone since his late wife, and Mick had been none too fond of her. Magda was cute as a bug and seemed friendly and down-to-earth. He heaved an internal sigh of relief Jeff seemed to have picked a woman worthy of him this time around. He smiled down at the little bit of a woman. “No worries, you can call me whatever you like.”
“Hey man, we’ve got to go do the picture thing, but I’ll see you back at the Retreat. We’re having the post- christening reception there, if you’re not too beat from traveling. If you’re up to it, it’s a good chance to get to meet some folks from town, and then afterward I can show you to your cabin.” “I’m not too tired—sounds good. I’ll see you at the reception.” Jeff grinned and looped his arm around Magda’s shoulders, before he turned to say one last thing to Mick. “Oh, hey...I just wanted to say I was happy to see you sitting with Heather in the church. I know you two don’t get along, but I appreciate the effort.”
Sitting with Heather hadn’t been a choice so much as a necessity, and given their history, and her chilly attitude toward him this morning, Mick was fairly certain they’d never be as close as they used to be, but Jeff didn’t need to know any of his problems. He’d grown up in a small town and knew he’d have to run into Heather at social events. He could certainly suck it up and be a grown-up around her when the need arose. It probably wouldn’t happen too often.
“She’s your sister; of course I’ll try to get along with her.”
Jeff smiled with bemusement. “Yeah, she’s my sister, but the reason I want you two to play nice is because she’s the Director of Guest Relations at the Retreat. You’re going to be her boss.”
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