Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre

  "Of course I want to dance with the most exquisite woman here," Buck replied.

  Her laughter rang out, attracting even more male attention. Despite the fact that Roman didn't want anyone to guess that his feelings ran deeper than merely a bodyguard's looking out for his client, he couldn't keep himself from scowling at them all.

  "That's nice of you to say," she said, as if she didn't believe a word out of Buck's mouth. "I'm sure I'll have plenty of open dance slots tomorrow if you want one, and it's been really nice talking with you. I should go check with Christie, who runs the Inn, to see if she needs help with anything."

  Though the movie star looked a little flummoxed at Suzanne not falling all over herself to spend more time with him, he played it smooth. "The pleasure's been all mine."

  A woman with long, golden-brown hair waved at Suzanne from the door to what looked like the kitchen. "There's Christie," Suzanne said. "Roman, did you mean it when you offered to help earlier? I'm sure there are a million last-second details to take care of."

  "Of course I did," he said, working not to feel too smug at the way Suzanne had already forgotten Buck was there.

  The smile she gave him could have lit up the darkening sky outside. They left the main room and headed into the Inn's kitchen, where the two women hugged. "Christie, it's so good to see you again. This is Roman. Roman, Christie runs the Inn along with her fiance, Wes." After they shook hands, Suzanne said, "I haven't seen Wes yet. Is he busy setting up for tomorrow?"

  "Unfortunately, he had out-of-town plans he wasn't able to change. He's really sorry to miss this wedding. He'd be here if he could."

  "Which is where I come in to save the day," a man with dark hair and broad shoulders joked as he walked into the kitchen from the door on the other side of the room.

  Suzanne went in for another hug, one that twisted Roman's gut up even tighter than it had been out in the main room when the movie star had been trying to make his moves on her. Because she was clearly close to this guy. And he wasn't wearing a ring, which meant he could very well have his eye on Suzanne.

  "Roman, this is Calvin, Summer Lake's esteemed mayor. Saving people in town is what he does."

  Suzanne grinned at Calvin as she made the introduction, treating him like nothing more than a buddy. By now, however, Roman knew better than to think any of the guys she spent time with felt the same way. Just because she was blind to her own irresistible beauty didn't mean anyone else was. Roman silently told himself to prepare for Buck Elroy, part two.

  Strangely, though, the smile Calvin gave her didn't have any more heat in it, any more longing, any more sparks than hers did for him. And he definitely wasn't looking at Roman as if he were a potential rival.

  "It's great to meet you, Roman. I always wondered when Suzanne would find a guy who could keep up with her."

  "Oh no," Suzanne said, her flushed face only making her prettier. "We're not dating." When both Christie and Calvin looked confused, she clarified, "He's my bodyguard."

  All night long they'd been having this conversation, one that was always awkward for Suzanne, while also being extremely worrying for the people who loved her. Smith had grilled her for a good thirty minutes before accepting that Suzanne and Roman had things taken care of.

  "Tell us what we can do," Christie said.

  "How can we help?" Calvin asked at the same time.

  "Please, don't worry." Suzanne held out her hands to touch each of theirs. "Everything's fine."

  "We've got everything under control." Roman put in to further reassure her friends. "Suzanne is perfectly safe." He wanted to reach for her, wanted to put his arm around her and pull her closer. Instead, he stuffed his hands into his pockets while working to divert any further discussion of Suzanne's problems. "We'd like to help with the wedding preparations. Please tell us what we can do."

  Though both Christie and Calvin still looked worried, thankfully they took Suzanne's and Roman's reassurances at face value, at least for the time being. "The flowers just came in for the gazebo," Christie said. "The florist guaranteed that they'll look good for the next thirty-six hours, so I was trying to figure out if I could sneak away tonight at some point to begin decorating the gazebo."

  "I took a flower-arranging course a few years ago," Suzanne said.

  Calvin looked shocked. "How could we have been friends all these years and I never knew that you were a closet flower devotee?"

  Laughing, she shot back, "It's a good thing your job is running the town, because that way it's okay when you think you know everything. Which, to be fair, you usually do. So I'm extra excited that I've managed to surprise you with my secret flower arranging skills."

  Yet again, Roman was struck by the fact that while Suzanne and Calvin were obviously longtime friends, neither of them seemed to want more. Roman didn't understand why Calvin hadn't made a move on Suzanne, but he couldn't deny that he was glad the other man was happy with just being friends.

  "Anyway," she continued, "I read somewhere that creative work like flower arranging can help you tap into solutions for analytical problems. It actually does help me when I'm having problems with my code."

  "Great, then I know Smith and Valentina will be in good hands," Christie said with a smile.

  "Any hands but mine would be good ones when it comes to flowers," Calvin noted. "Thanks for taking this off our to-do list, guys. Speaking of," he said with a nod down to the tablet in his hand, "I've got to have a word with the bartending staff about focusing on their jobs instead of spending all their time flirting with the guests." He shook his head at Suzanne. "You Sullivans are a distracting bunch."

  "Why do I have a feeling Alec is causing half the problems with your female wait staff?" Suzanne asked.

  Christie, who looked to be a very nice, mild-mannered woman, practically growled at the sound of Alec's name. "I love your brother, I really do. But at times like this, when I'm trying to get things done, I'm tempted to lock him up in the cellar until everything is over."

  "Knowing him, he'd probably have a woman stashed in there, just in case," Suzanne commiserated, making all of them laugh.

  Christie reached under a stainless-steel countertop and pulled out a couple of large lanterns. "We're keeping the outdoor lighting off while we make the finishing touches so that everyone will ooh and aah tomorrow. Which means you're going to need to take these out with you to see what you're doing. The buckets of flowers we're using for the gazebo are along that wall. The florist did a quick sketch of how they could be arranged." She scrolled down the screen on her tablet. "Darn it, where is that picture?"

  "Don't worry, Christie." Suzanne was already heading for the buckets of flowers. "We'll do you proud."

  After Suzanne and Roman loaded up with several buckets of flowers, the two of them were on their way outside when Christie called out again, "Great dress, by the way, Suz. If I were ten inches taller with mile-long legs, I'd ask where you got it."

  Suzanne blushed the way she had all night when people complimented her. "One of my cousins sent it to me, but you can borrow it anytime."

  Yet again, he could see that she not only had no idea how beautiful she was, but it also seemed that the way she was dressing lately was way out of the norm. Almost as if she were dressing to attract a lover.

  Surely she couldn't be trying to catch his eye, could she? Because she damn well didn't need sequins or skin-tight dresses to do that. All it had taken was one look. One smile. One day spent listening to her be both brilliant and kind in meeting after meeting.

  No, it didn't make any sense that she would want to make him take a second look when all she'd wanted from the start was for him to leave.

  Then again...maybe that was what made the whole approach so brilliant. Because if he couldn't stop looking at her, it wasn't too big a leap for his lack of control to extend to kissing her. And if that happened, he'd have no choice but to--

  "Have you ever worked with flowers before?"

  Her question yanked hi
m out of the questions spinning around inside his head. "I've got a black thumb, so I'm going to need you to tell me exactly what to do."

  "You're asking me what to do? Music to my ears."

  "Don't get used to it."

  She laughed, making everything inside his chest go even warmer than it already was just from being near her.

  As they began work on decorating the gazebo, it didn't take long for Roman to see that Suzanne not only had an innate sense of flower placement, but she also knew exactly how to combine the colors and sizes of the flowers.

  "You didn't only take the flower-arranging class because you thought it would help you code, did you?"

  She paused midway through winding a long-stemmed rose around a pillar. "Why do you say that?"

  "Anyone else with your eye for this would have become a florist." He held her gaze in the faint light of the lanterns. "Or a painter."

  "I'm terrible with a paintbrush."

  "I'll bet you're not."

  He knew he should back off. Knew with every word out of his mouth that he was getting closer to the red flashing lights of the danger zone. Knew he should revert to being strictly professional and apologize for speaking about any of these things with her. But, damn it, he wanted to know the answers.

  He wanted to know her, plain and simple.

  "Though only Drake made painting his career, something tells me that you, Harry, and Alec could have been artists, couldn't you?"

  "Drake didn't know our mother. He didn't see the two of them together. He was just a baby when she left."

  "So were you."

  "I was old enough to remember." Though she was still looking at him, her eyes unfocused slightly as she fell into memories. "There was so much passion. So much emotion. So much angst. And so much sadness after she was gone." She swallowed hard. "Painting meant all those things to me. Whereas computers were safe." As soon as the words fell from her lips, she stilled. She looked stunned as she repeated, "Computers are safe."

  "They're not just safe--you also clearly love everything about technology. I don't know computer code, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that yours probably could go up in a museum somewhere."

  That surprised a shaky laugh out of her. "I'm pretty sure my if:then:else clauses aren't going to be framed and put on display anytime soon."

  "Other people with your talents can't wait to spread the word about how great they are, any way they can. But the Sullivans I've met so far are damned modest. Especially you, Suzanne. Take how Buck Elroy was falling all over himself flirting with you. You honestly had no idea he was interested, did you?"

  Fireflies had begun to dance in the darkness around them. A breeze blew in off the lake. Laughter and conversation drifted toward them from the Inn. But all Roman was aware of was the woman standing with him beneath the gazebo.

  "It doesn't make sense," Suzanne replied. "He could have anyone. And that's not false modesty. I know my face, my body--they're not bad. But I'll never be the kind of beauty my mother was, or that my cousins Lori or Sophie or Mia, or my Aunt Mary are. I've seen it happen so many times, how when they walk into a room, everyone stops. Stares. And because they're such sweet people, it makes them even more interesting to look at." She grinned crookedly. "But no one looks at me like that. No one stops. No one gasps. And, honestly, I'm glad they don't." Her smile faltered. "My cousins and aunts are all strong enough souls to let their looks roll off them, but my mother wasn't. She couldn't bear the weight of it. And..." She let out a breath. "I'm not sure my father could see past her beauty. Not completely, anyway. It's almost like he was so mesmerized by her face and form that he was never quite able to tap into what was beneath her skin."

  Roman wanted to put his hands on her and shake in the truth that she was precisely as attractive as her mother and cousins and aunt. Even more so when a guy spent any time whatsoever plumbing that intense and brilliant brain of hers.

  But that wasn't the full truth. He wanted to put his hands on her, period. Anywhere on her. Everywhere on her. Suzanne was no longer merely an attraction.

  She was rapidly becoming an obsession.


  "I didn't know your mother, and though I only just met your father, I'm sorry for what happened to them. I'm sorry for what you lost." He should shut the hell up right now. But for the first time in his life, he couldn't keep his feelings locked inside the way he always had before. "I can see why you might want to believe you're not as beautiful as your mother when her beauty seemed to be her downfall. But the fact is, people stop, people gasp when you walk into a room. No matter how much you want to believe you're an invisible geek girl--it's all there, Suzanne. Your beauty, your sweetness, your brain. You're right that Buck Elroy could have anyone. But he's smart enough to want you."

  She licked her lips, seemingly as lost for words as he was filled to the brim with them tonight. "The women you've dated, they were lucky."

  It was the last thing he'd expected her to say, and so off base that he barked, "You're wrong."

  Shaking her head, she ticked off her fingers. "First, you defended me and my clothing choices to Alec. Second, you got him to apologize, which is nearly impossible. Third, you just told me all the reasons you believe a movie star would want to be with me. I'm just your client, so if you were anything at all like this with your girlfriends--"

  "I wasn't." He bit out each word. "I'm not." And she was nowhere near being just a client.

  She made a face, one that was far too adorable for his peace of mind. "I find that hard to believe."

  He could have told her any number of stories about the women he'd dated and dropped over the years. The way each woman went in--then out--a revolving door, one after the other. But he didn't want to tell her those stories, because he didn't want to dim the light in her eyes when she looked at him. As though he might be a good guy after all.

  He yanked another rose from the bucket so hard that the petals snapped from the stem. "We should get back to work before Christie starts to worry that we aren't up to the task of decorating this thing."

  Suzanne stared at him for a few moments before picking up another couple of blooms and getting back to work. As they continued in silence, voices and laughter drifted up on the breeze from the beach that had been empty earlier. A couple was walking in the moonlight, their arms around each other. When they stopped to kiss, something throbbed deep inside Roman's chest, right in the place that had always remained so numb and unaffected.

  Suzanne deserved a man who worshipped her the way the man on the beach obviously adored the woman he was with. And yet, the thought of her with anyone else ate him up.

  "I wonder what that's like," she said in a soft voice. "To be with someone you can share all your fears with. Someone you can trust with your darkest secrets. Someone who always makes you laugh. Someone you can't wait to wake up and see every single morning. Someone who will hold your hand on the beach at night and kiss you like they can't live without you."

  Roman had shared more with Suzanne than he ever had with anyone else.

  He'd trusted her with darkness that he'd never before revealed.

  She'd made him laugh from the start.

  He looked forward to seeing her first thing every morning.

  And he was dying to take her hand, out there on the beach, and kiss her.

  Roman had always assumed the biggest mistake he could make would be sleeping with one of his clients. But now he knew better. While crossing those physical lines was undoubtedly bad, losing his heart to Suzanne was what would ultimately break him.

  "Have you ever fallen in love, Roman? Been so head over heels that you couldn't think about anything but her?"

  Yes. The word burned a hole in his tongue. With you.

  But he couldn't say that. Couldn't admit that he was committing the cardinal sin of falling for his client. This wedding, all her cousins who were so deliriously happy with their mates, knowing she was off-limits, being too close to her for too
many hours--all these things had to be playing into the crazy thoughts he was having.

  Roman didn't love. Hell, he hadn't been anywhere close to feeling this way before. So to think that it could happen this fast? And with a woman who was the polar opposite of every other one he'd been with?

  No. He couldn't go there.

  He wouldn't let himself go there.

  And yet, as he stared into Suzanne's eyes, he knew all this lying to himself wouldn't make a damned bit of difference. Because she meant something to him. Something big that wasn't going to go away like the other women who had passed through his revolving door.

  When he didn't answer her question, and she didn't push him on it, he should have been relieved. Should have been glad that the next words out of her mouth were, "Can you come wind the other side of this stem for me to the ceiling beams? I thought I was tall enough to do it, but I miscalculated."

  The space was so tight that in order to reach the long stem, he had to wedge in against her, his chest to hers, their hips and thighs flush. He nearly groaned at being so close to her, at getting to feel the press of her taut muscles and soft curves.

  As he reached for the stem of the flower she'd already partially attached to the ceiling, his hands were shaking with barely repressed need, and his heart was pounding with emotion he had no idea how to deal with.

  "If you wind the stem around the beam and then tuck it into the joint," she said in a slightly breathless voice, "I'm hoping it will stay."

  Not trusting himself to speak again when it was taking every ounce of his control not to lower his hands to her curves--and his mouth to hers--he did as she directed. Quickly, so that he could get out of there as fast as humanly possible.

  But just as he finished tucking the end of the stem between the beams and thought he was home free, she held up a handful of flowers. "Can you do these too?"

  Who would have thought that one totally innocuous question in the moonlight was what would finally make him lose hold of everything? His role as her bodyguard. The fact that her brothers were friends--friends who trusted him with their sister. Even that he wasn't anywhere near good enough for her and didn't have what it took to give her what she deserved.

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