JEANNE’S CHAMPAGNE sloshed over her glass as she tried to find it with her lips. Lordy, was this her third . . . or fifth? She’d never been much of a drinker, but it was the only way she was going to get through this night. Either that, or one of her pecan praline pies. Not just a nibble, either—the whole dang thing. In the end, the champagne would do less damage to her hips, so here she was, drowning in the bubbly.
As she aimed the flute toward her mouth, it disappeared when someone plucked it from her sticky fingertips.
“Hey!” she protested, grasping at the air.
Brad towered over her, frowning as he snatched the glass. “Jeanne, what’s gotten into you? Tonight of all nights?”
A few people turned to stare.
She hiccupped. Covering her mouth, she shot Brad her nastiest glare, but ugh! The man, with those chiseled cheekbones and that pitch-black hair falling in his eyes, was handsome even when he was mad.
“Shoot, Brad!” She stamped her stiletto and wobbled, grabbing his arm for balance. Her hand locked onto rock-hard muscle, and she nearly whimpered. Instead, she lied. “I’m fine! I need that drink to ring in the New Year.” She shouted over the music and laughter at the party and plastered on a great big smile.
Seemed like everyone in Willowdale, North Carolina had turned out for the bash, even old Chester Miller. He hadn’t left his house since 1998, and here he was chasing the old Mercer twins around the living room—and they were enjoying it. Was she the only one here faking the fun?
Brad’s stern look disappeared, and out came a smile that could blind the sun. “You don’t need any more. Not tonight. Now, get over here, girl. The ball’s dropping.”
He linked his fingers with hers, pulling her through the crowd until they had a good view of Times Square on the giant flat screen TV. Couples bunched up together in the crowd preparing for the countdown. Brad snaked his arm around her waist, his thumb stroking her black satin dress. The warm feeling coursing through her body had nothing to do with the all those glasses of pink bubbly.
They counted down together. “Three . . . two . . . one!”
Horns blared, confetti flew, and it felt like a slow-motion movie scene. She turned to him, fixing her eyes on his, bright blue and smoldering under a lock of hair. His eyebrow hitched while his mouth formed a perfect pucker. A shiver shimmied down her spine then back up again. With a swipe of her tongue across her lips, she sucked in a breath, closed her eyes—
And Brad planted a big kiss on her cheek. “Happy New Year, kiddo,” he whispered in her ear.
Her heart sank faster than the ball they’d just watched. Just like it did every time she realized her perfect guy could never be more than a friend. Dang. She swallowed back the sob crawling up her throat. Didn’t go down as easy without the champagne.
She forced a smile. “Happy New Year, Bradley.”
Then she grabbed her glass, slurped the last of her drink, and pushed away from him. Stumbling through the crowd, she made her way toward the back deck of her friend Kate’s enormous house. The damn place was probably bigger than the Smart Mart over in Whitesville.
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