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When We Touch

By:Brenda Novak

When We Touch
Brenda Novak

       A Whiskey Creek Novella



Chapter 1



Returning for her sister's wedding would've been difficult had it merely  meant pretending to be a happy and supportive bridesmaid. But being in  charge of the whole event? That added insult to the most heart-wrenching  emotional injury Olivia Arnold had ever sustained.

As she drove back to Whiskey Creek for the first time since learning  that Noelle would be marrying Kyle Houseman-the man she'd been dating  herself until three months ago-she wished she'd had the nerve to refuse  her parents. Noelle tried to beat Olivia at anything and everything she  did. It had been that way since they were children.

But Olivia planned weddings for a living. She was also the family  peacemaker, so it came naturally to try to forgive, to move on. And, as  her mother had pointed out, she was the one who'd asked Kyle if they  could take a "break" while she moved to Sacramento to build her  business. She'd wanted one year to see if she could develop it into  something spectacular in a bigger city before marrying Kyle and settling  down in Whiskey Creek.

Given all that, how could she refuse to help? Especially when she could save her father so much money?

Despite her determination to soldier on through everything that was  happening, an odd sense of panic welled up as she reached the edge of  town. Pulling over just beyond the sign that said Welcome to Whiskey  Creek, The Heart of Gold Country she tried to get hold of herself but  almost turned her Acura around. Within an hour, she could be home in  Sacramento. She could hide away until this wedding was a distant memory  and, if she was lucky, avoid her sister and new brother-in-law for a  decade or two. Maybe by then she'd be able to face them without wanting  to cry.

And why shouldn't she turn back? If she stayed, the humiliation of the  next few days would be as painful as the heartbreak. Whiskey Creek was a  town of only two thousand people. Thanks to the fact that she and Kyle  had been a couple for two years, and had separated so recently, she  couldn't possibly escape the whispers, the pitying looks or the  condolences of the friends and neighbors who'd known her most of her  life.

"Shit. Shit, shit, shit!" Bumping her forehead against the steering  wheel, she pictured Kyle kissing "the bride" and groaned at the  disappointment and betrayal. Noelle had waited for just the right  moment. When Olivia was in Sacramento, trying to experience something  new before starting her life with Kyle. When he was alone and not coping  well with the separation. Then she'd made her move. Olivia wasn't sure  she'd ever be able to forgive her sister, especially since it was  Olivia's own tears and confidences that had armed Noelle. They'd never  been particularly close, but they came from the same family and had  lived under the same roof until Olivia relocated to Sacramento last  February. That gave Noelle certain insights she wouldn't otherwise have  had.

But if she left, if she ran, her sister would know she was just as hurt  today as she had been that terrible evening the horrible truth-that Kyle  and Noelle had been seeing each other-came out. Why give Noelle the  pleasure? Why confirm that her sister, younger by two years (which only  made it worse), had finally landed the coup de grâce of their sibling  rivalry?

"Ahhhhh!" She pounded the steering wheel with her fists this time,  before hitting everything else in sight. Somehow, seeing her hometown  looming ahead had destroyed her restraint. Rage seemed to be a monster  growing in strength and power until it was bursting out of her chest-

A knock on the window interrupted her midsob. She'd been so focused on  her distress, on screaming and beating her dashboard, she hadn't heard  anyone approach.

Mortified to realize she had a witness to her behavior, she turned to  see a tall, blond man dressed in a white T-shirt, khaki shorts and  flip-flops. His mouth, tense with some emotion, made a slash in his face  beneath a pair of mirrorlike sunglasses.

Oh, God …  Despite those glasses, it wasn't a cop, as she'd expected.  Worse-it was Kyle's stepbrother, Brandon Lucero. He was younger than  Kyle by a year, which made him almost a year older than her, and he  appeared to be … concerned. No doubt he thought she'd lost her mind.

He might as well have caught her with her pants down. It would've been  less embarrassing. Her only consolation was that Brandon wasn't likely  to tell Kyle what he'd seen, even if he connected it to the upcoming  wedding. There was no love lost between the two men. They'd lived  together while in high school, after Kyle's mother married Brandon's  father, but that hadn't made them friends.                       
       
           



       

Brandon waited to speak until she rolled down the window. "You okay?" he asked, his teeth a stark contrast to his golden tan.

After getting abusive with the interior of her innocent car, her right  hand hurt so badly she was afraid she'd fractured it. She cradled it in  her lap, hoping he wouldn't notice the swelling, and wiped her other  hand over her wet cheeks. This kind of behavior wasn't like her.

"Don't I look okay?" she countered as if she hadn't just lost control.

"Babe." He shook his head. "Tell me this has nothing to do with Kyle."

She dabbed at her eyes, inadvertently smearing her mascara, which she  wiped onto her white shorts. Cut low at the hips and high on the leg,  they'd been purchased with one goal in mind-turning male heads. In her  current situation, she needed the ego boost. But her pride in the body  she'd worked so hard to slenderize and tone had gone out the window,  along with her composure. What did it matter if she looked better than  she ever had? Noelle was marrying the man Olivia thought would be her  husband. "Would you believe I broke a nail?"

His biceps bulged, stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt as he folded his arms. "Not a chance. Want to try something else?"

"No. Who cares if you think I'm an idiot?" she grumbled as she pushed  her long hair out of her face. "You've never liked me much to begin  with."

This seemed to surprise him. "What gave you that impression?"

"I don't know." She managed a facetious smirk. "Maybe the way you scowl  every time you see me? Or, if you can't avoid me, which is always your  first choice, you just grunt so you don't have to say hello?"

He scowled when she'd expected him to laugh. "Would you believe I was saving you from myself?"

"No."

"I can be chivalrous when I want to be."

"That's definitely not an adjective I'd use to describe you. I'm sure  all the women with broken hearts you've left behind would agree with  me."

His scowl darkened. "What women with broken hearts?"

She could've named a few. Some of them were acquaintances. He was a  tempting challenge-few women could refuse him. But he didn't give her  the chance to be more specific. He was still talking.

"I'm going to assume you're angry or you wouldn't have said that. You're obviously having a bad day."

Ah, the understatement of the year. And since she had to face Kyle and  Noelle as well as her parents in the next few minutes, her day was going  to get worse.

"We had a class together, remember?" he added. "I took you to my junior prom. I've always liked you just fine."

She couldn't see his eyes, but she sensed that they were moving over  her, taking inventory of what her clothes revealed. Instinctively she  wanted to cover up. The only thing stopping her was the sure knowledge  that doing so would draw more attention to her atypical attire. "And-"  he grinned "-from what I can see so far, I'm going to like the new you  even more."

What had she been thinking when she'd put on this outfit? If Kyle didn't  regret what he'd done by now, a pair of short shorts and a low-cut  blouse wouldn't do the trick. It was too late to save what they'd had,  anyway. It wasn't as if she could take him back.

"I dressed in a weak moment," she explained, her face burning. "I needed to feel attractive."

"Mission accomplished." He whistled. "You could stop traffic. You stopped me, didn't you?"

She considered the amusement on his face. "I'm pretty sure you thought I was having engine trouble."

"To be honest, I thought a bee had gotten into your car and you were under attack."

"Thanks for the visual. That helps with the embarrassment. But it wasn't that bad."

His eyebrows rose above his sunglasses. "It was alarming. But back to  your changed wardrobe. I don't think showing that much skin is the best  way to recover." He scratched his smooth-shaven chin. "I mean … I'd hate  to see you wind up with the wrong kind of guy. Again."

"Kyle was the wrong kind of guy?" She was anxious to hear his  justification for that statement. The general belief was that Brandon  was the less reliable of the two. Kyle had attended UC Berkeley on an  academic scholarship while getting a degree in electrical engineering.  He'd started his own company manufacturing solar panels after that,  which was currently making him rich. He was strong, kind, talented.                       

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