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“Goodnight, Dani.” His voice was strained as he pushed up and away from the porch. Without thinking, she leapt up and grabbed his forearm, trying desperately not to think about how absolutely awesome it felt under her hand. Hot, silky skin covered in soft, golden hair. Corded muscles flexing as he stood there, still not looking at her. “You should go to bed.”
“I’m not a kid.” She swallowed hard and stood her ground. “I don’t get it. You drive me home, but you can’t even stand to look at me. I can’t pay you a compliment without you getting weird. All because you see me as Rafe’s twelve-year-old kid sister. Newsflash, buddy—I’m a woman.”
He turned so slowly that she half expected him to stop long before he did. But he didn’t freeze when his gaze connected with hers, or when his upper body had twisted back in her direction. He didn’t stop until he turned all the way around and they somehow went from her holding his arm to him holding both of hers. His large, strong hands slid up to firmly grasp her upper arms and he pulled her close.
“I know you’re a woman,” he said, his words strained. “That’s the problem.”
“You know…” Suddenly aware of her breathing, Dani tried to play it cool. “You don’t see me as a twelve-year-old?”
He gave her a baleful look that revealed just enough masculine hunger to keep her from feeling silly. “No.”
Dani had read enough romance novels to know what came next. Her heart pounded in her chest as she stared into Jake’s eyes. He was looking at her, really looking at her, and unless she was pathetically mistaken, he wanted to kiss her. Any second now, he’d close the gap between their bodies and she’d feel him hard against her belly. The thought made her weak at the knees and wet between her legs.
But he didn’t pull her closer. He didn’t move away, either, just held her there, staring. She said his name, quietly at first and then repeated it again a little louder, and he cut her off the second time, his voice strained. “I can’t. Your brothers…hell, my brothers would kick my ass.”
“It’s none of their business,” she whispered, pressing up on her tiptoes. Maybe she could arch her back and trick him into kissing her.
He frowned. “It’ll be everyone’s business. And that will be the end of my business before it even starts.”
“Because of one little kiss?”
His brows knitted together. “It wouldn’t be—“ He let out a harsh exhale and released her arms only to slide his hands into her hair and pull her face toward his. But his kiss landed on her forehead instead of her lips, and Dani’s heart cracked. “Go back to college. Forget that your brother’s friend is a dirty old man who likes the way your hips look in blue jeans.”
He squeezed the nape of her neck gently before stepping back and lifting his hand in an absent wave as he walked backward down the front walk. She pressed her unkissed lips together and watched in disbelief as the object of her long-held affection drifted away.
He thought about getting another beer. Then he heard a shriek of delight and strode across the pub to the back room just in time to see Dani slam an empty shot glass down on the table and plant a wet, smacking kiss on Matt’s cheek. His brother waggled his eyebrows at Dani—Jake’s Dani—and it was a miracle Jake didn’t knock the kid out.
What the ever-loving hell? She giggled, but then sighed as Matt caught sight of Jake and waved. She glanced toward him, picking up her pool cue. “You here to play, Jake?”
Her words were sharp and layered with meaning. And even barbed as they were, they were a bit of her attention just for him. No one else knew what was growing between them. “I’ll watch for now.”
She shrugged and moved around the table, nudging Matt out the way with a hip bump. “If you don’t get in the game…”
“Leave the old man alone,” Sean interjected. “If he wants to sit on the sidelines, that’s his prerogative.”
Jake schooled his features into a calm mask, but from the quick look Dani shot him before she leaned forward to take her shot, she knew that landed. “Jake’s not old,” she said softly as she lined up her shot.
“Sure he is. Old and lonely. Next thing you know he’ll be yelling at kids to get off his porch.”
Matt joined in on Sean’s ribbing. “Why do you think he built his house out in the country?”
Dani took her shot, an easy sink in the corner pocket, but missed her next attempt.
Matt hooted and lifted another toxic red drink in the air. “Truth or Dare, baby girl. Truth. Or. Dare.”
Dani licked her lips and slid a sideways glance in Jake’s direction. “Truth.”
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