I’ve never felt entirely comfortable at the Knox mansion. Despite knowing Brenton since I was in diapers and growing up together, being at the Casa de Knox was always kind of a surreal experience for me.
Today is no exception. Brenton stayed at his parents place after some sort of Knox Industries board dinner the previous night, so he told me to meet him here before we head out to the inn in the countryside for the official groundbreaking. Under normal circumstances, I’d go just for moral support, but since there’s going to be press, Brenton and I are going to have pose for the cameras. Because apparently hard work is nothing without photographic evidence.
I push my sunglasses on top of my head as I ring the doorbell, knowing that Brenton’s probably already waiting, seeing as he’s never had the same issues with punctuality as I have. But I’m surprised when the door swings open to reveal Harrison Knox instead of my fake fiancé.
“Raina!” Harrison smiles widely, stepping aside and gesturing for me to enter. “Come on in.”
“Harrison,” I reply, a little anxious as I step into the large foyer, “Sorry, I don’t mean to intrude. When Brenton told me to meet him here, I assumed you and Colleen were out.”
He doesn’t usually make me nervous. He’s intimidating for sure, being the head of a major corporation and all, but our interactions up until this point have been on more of a human to human level. Except now I know he’s the reason I could end up getting a huge promotion and that makes me queasy.
“Nonsense, you don’t need to apologize for being here,” he says warmly, guiding me towards the nearest living room and sitting in large leather chair as I perch myself on the end of the couch, “You’re practically family after all. So, how are things at the gallery?”
I know he’s wondering if I was already approached by Larissa, so I say, “Fantastic, actually. We were just picked to participate in an exhibition program with the CMMA.”
“I’m so glad that worked out!” he beams, “I put in a good word for you.”
“So I’m told,” I respond, a little surprised that he’s so open about his involvement. Harrison hasn’t ever been opposed to nepotism, but seeing as we’re not actually related I expected him to keep the situation a little more hush-hush. “Larissa Collins said you highly recommended the Harrington Gallery. I suppose I should thank you.”
“No need,” he shrugs, looking genuinely proud of me. “Like I said, in no time you’ll be part of the family. And family helps each other out.”
That statement makes a knot of guilt twist in the pit of my stomach and I wonder if he would still feel that way if he knew the true nature of my engagement to Brenton. Unable to speak at a normal volume, I whisper, “Well, thank you anyway.”
“Any time,” Harrison grins in response.
I’m saved from having to further the conversation when Brenton bursts into the room, shooting me an apologetic glance as he tugs his arm through the sleeve of a green and white flannel shirt.
“Hey!” he grins, “Sorry I’m running late. Ready to go?”
“Yes,” I nod, grateful for the interruption. As I stand, I politely say, “Good to see you, Harrison.”
“A pleasure as always, Raina,” he replies, standing as well, and I can feel his eyes on my back as we leave the room.
I don’t breathe normally again until I’m in the passenger seat of Brenton’s SUV and we’re speeding along the highway leading to the suburbs.
“You alright?” Brenton asks, glancing over at me with a furrowed brow.
Of course he can tell something’s bothering me. I’m not particularly great at hiding my emotions in general, but Brenton’s also got a sixth sense for knowing when I’m upset. Still, I’m pretty sure telling him about his father’s involvement in my recent success at work isn’t a good idea. Brenton will want to get involved and right now I’m not entirely sure how I want to handle the situation. So I say, “Yes.”
“You sure?” he asks, frowning slightly, “You’re being unnervingly quiet.”
I laugh, smiling as brightly as I can to assure him that nothing’s wrong. “I’m fine. I forgot how beautiful it is out here.”
I’m not sure he buys my reasoning, but he doesn’t push the issue, nodding as his grin grows. “Isn’t it amazing? You’d want to come here for a romantic weekend away, right?”
“Absolutely,” I assure him. I’ve always loved the countryside. Wide open spaces and rolling hills that eventually lead to lush forests. It’s all so magical.
“Perfect,” he grins, turning down a wide gravel road lined with large oak trees which will eventually lead to the front door of the inn.
I tilt my head to the side. “Are you asking?”
“Of course,” he laughs, parking the car in front of the construction site. “Thanks for coming with me.”
Stretching my lips into my cheesiest smile, I say, “Well, we couldn’t miss a photo opportunity, could we, darling?”
“I guess not,” he replies, his eyes flashing with guilt as he turns of the engine and shifts in his seat to face me. “I know it’s a little weird.”
“It is,” I agree, “But I get why it’s necessary.”
Having the press cover the groundbreaking was good publicity for the inn and it would increase hype so that when it came time to start booking guests, there would undoubtedly be a lot of buzz around the place.
Letting out a sigh of relief, Brenton leans over to press a kiss to my cheek. “You’re the best.”
“Don’t you forget it,” I wink before pushing open my door and sliding out of the car.
Brenton comes to meet me after doing the same on his side, crossing his arms over his chest and surveying the workers already present in search of a certain best friend. “Do you see Bodhi?”
I spot a familiar head of dark hair squatting down next to a pile of wooden beams and part my lips to say something, but find myself unable to speak when Bodhi hoists the beams into his arms and stands up straight turning to carry them towards where the rest of the framing is occurring. My mouth goes dry as I watch his biceps straight against the sleeves of his white t-shirt, but I recover quickly, gulping and nodding in his direction, “Um, yeah, isn’t that him over there?”
“Geez, Rae,” Brenton chuckles, nudging me with his shoulder and lowering his voice to make sure I’m the only one who hears. “Fold your tongue back in your mouth. You’re engaged to me, remember?”
“I wasn’t…,” I begin to protest before realizing that there’s no point, “whatever.”
Bodhi finally notices our presence after depositing the beams where they need to go and grins as he makes his way over to us, pulling off his work gloves so he can shake Brenton’s hand and pull him in for one of those man hugs. His gaze flits to me when they’re in the embrace and for some reason my breathing hitches slightly but I do my best to push down any feelings of attraction. This is not the time or place for me to be anything other than the perfect fiancé.
“Hey, man!” Brenton greets him once they pull apart, “Ready to get started?”
“Pumped!” Bodhi smiles widely, nodding at me, “Thanks for coming.”
“Of course,” I whisper, because for some reason, my voice can’t reach a normal volume.
“Brenton! Raina!” Someone calls from off to the right, “Can we get some pictures?”
“Duty calls,” Brenton shoots Bodhi a sheepish smile before reaching down to grab my hand.
Bodhi glances down at our intertwined fingers and an unreadable expression crosses his face for a split second before he smiles again and nods before turning back towards the work site. “I’ll see you guys later.”
We pose for pictures for about fifteen minutes before the press say they’ve got enough and Brenton and I try to make ourselves useful. Brenton immediately jumps in to help with the manual labor, but as strong as I am, lugging around wood doesn’t sound super appealing, so I go to find the head contractor and see if he can find me a more enjoyable task.
“So,” I say when I find Bodhi standing beside a table with all kinds of papers rolled out on top of it. “How can I help?”
He glances up at me and smiles, crossing his arms over his chest as he asks, “Any good with a hammer?”
“Useless,” I shake my head. I’ve swung a hammer once in my life while trying to hang a picture in my teenage bedroom and it ended with a whole in the wall.
His smile widens, his eyes light with amusement. “What a tragedy.”
I shrug. “I’m sure you can find other uses for me.”
As soon as the words leave my mouth I realize they were a mistake. I hadn’t meant to flirt, but it came almost naturally with Bodhi, and now my mind is racing with all sorts of scenarios where he puts me to good use and I’m fighting back a blush the color of a fully ripened strawberry.
At least I’m not the only one feeling slightly uncomfortable, because Bodhi gulps and quickly averts his gaze from mine before saying, “You can help with the landscaping. If you go and find Logan outside, I’m sure he’ll have something for you to do.”
“You got it, boss,” I say hurriedly, turning and walking away as quickly as possible.
I find the elusive Logan and he sets me to work on doing work in what will be the inn’s back garden. I’m supposed to be putting in sod and soil, and I do just that for a good hour but I’ve always been about the bigger picture, so it isn’t long before I’ve started placing the potted plants in their rightful positions.
I’m at the far end of the garden, my head tilted to the side and my tongue poking through my lips in concentration as I decide on the color scheme for the flower bed when I hear a familiar, shiver inducing voice say, “How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, if I do say so myself,” I beam at Bodhi over my shoulder, gesturing to my work in progress, “What do you think?”
He crosses his arms over his chest once he’s standing right beside me and surveys my work, taking the time to fully absorb my use of color and space before saying, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’ve got an eye for design.”
“This flowerbed is going to be a masterpiece when I’m done with it,” I grin, my eyes wide with excitement. I absolutely love having a new project to complete.
Apparently Bodhi shares my enthusiasm, because his expression softens as he says, “I can’t wait to see it.”
“This whole house is going to turn out amazing,” I gush, reaching out to grab his bicep and squeezing it once, “I can feel it.”
Letting out a soft laugh as he turns to face me fully, he asks, “And you’re usually right about these things?”
“Always. One hundred percent,” I reply confidently, thinking it’s nice that we seem to be having such a normal conversation. Of course that feeling doesn’t last long, because Bodhi’s gaze has dropped to my lips and he’s leaning forward and I’m about three seconds away from being in heaven when I realize the reality of the situation and take a step backwards, putting space between us and promptly breaking whatever moment we were in the midst of having. Clearing my throat, I point vaguely towards the front of the house and say, “I should go.”
“Raina…,” he sighs, his expression riddled with about ten different emotions that I don’t want to comprehend at the moment.
“I’ll come back and finish this flower bed at another time, I promise,” I assure him, as though he actually gives a shit. Before he can respond, I walk away, congratulating myself on my excellent self control but also wondering why, if I did the right thing, it feels like my heart is about to break.