“Oh, I don’t believe this.” She thwacked him on the chest. “Is Rennie the girl you hated in school? It’s been so many years…it’s her, right? The picture. The darts.”
He grappled for control. “Drop it.”
She chortled and he glimpsed doom. “She’s the pitcher who threw the curveball when you were watching the younger kids play. I’m right, aren’t I?” When he set his jaw, she laughed. “Big brother, you’ve made my day.”
“Let’s move on.” He refused to reminisce about the fastball Rennie nailed him with when she’d been in elementary school. Stiffly, he tapped his meddling sister on the shoulder. “Have any other questions? I need to check on the other crews.”
Dianne wasn’t listening. She remained focused on Rennie, whose Mediterranean features went obligingly pink in a way that made her breathtaking. The mellow gold of her skin deepened, accenting the rich brown of her eyes and bringing her rosy lips into high relief. She’d done a hasty job of putting up her hair and a long curl hung loose against the curve of her cheek. She swiped at it, brushing away the barest hint of moisture from her brow. Troy forced his attention away.
To Rennie, Dianne said, “Even if you did knock out my brother’s tooth, I can’t imagine why the dolt threw darts at your yearbook picture. You’re stunning.”
The unexpected compliment darted pleasure across Rennie’s mouth. “Thank you.”
Troy seared his sister with a look. “That’s enough strolling down memory lane.”
“We’ve just started!”
He grabbed her by the arm. “Time for work.”
“Okay—I’m going.” She elbowed him in the ribs before beaming at Rennie. “It’s been a pleasure. I have to hurry now to the factory.”
“It was nice to finally meet you,” Rennie said.
Dianne waggled her fingers in Troy’s face before dashing off, her heels pecking on the sub flooring. No doubt she’d regale everyone at the factory with the story of the girl whose curveball knocked out Troy’s tooth.
Rennie wavered. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. It was unprofessional.”
He studied her features for an under note to the apology. Mockery, something. Concluding she was sincere, he said, “Your assistant left a dog tied up outside.” Why, was beyond imagining. The mutt looked like a burn victim with its missing ear and scar tissue running down its snout. “Mind explaining why Squeak thinks this is a kennel?”
She swallowed. “He brought Princess with him?”
“Princess?” It was the ugliest dog in North America. Troy was about to tell her to get the mongrel off the site when she began wringing her hands. Her sudden vulnerability made him back off. “Just keep the dog outside. All right?”
“Sure,” she said, clearly relieved. “I’ll tell Squeak.”
She walked away, and he meant to get back to work. Instead he watched her move past the carpenters and hurry up the stairwell. He didn’t relish having her on the site even if she was the best electrician in the county. He didn’t relish having her stir up emotions he’d spent years suppressing, the sad and the sweet.
Day by day, her presence would prove an excruciating reminder of his late brother. If Jason hadn’t been murdered, if he hadn’t been on Cleveland’s mean streets at precisely the wrong moment, his relationship with Rennie might have evolved into something deeper.
And Troy? He knew he bore responsibility for every misstep he’d ever made with her. He’d bullied her until he’d left for college. It would’ve been far more courageous to admit that, like Jason, he’d harbored complex emotions for the wild-hearted girl.
His emotions were a tangle, still.
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