Mary Beth Caine has always been the good girl in her small Mississippi town. But when a big, protective, shamelessly sexy stranger offers to console her on the night of her disastrous engagement party, Mary Beth lets him—only to discover that Parr Weston also happens to be the older brother of her fiancé, Bobby Joe.
Parr left Mississippi after years spent holding his family together. Now that he’s back, he can’t steal Bobby Joe’s woman, and he sure can’t offer Mary Beth the tidy happily-ever-after she deserves. But everything about the petite beauty—from her flame-gold hair to her artless sensuality—makes him crave her more. Love or lust, right or wrong, all he knows is that nothing has ever felt like this before, and walking away will be the hardest thing he’s ever had to do…
Just the Way You Are
By: Beverly Barton
Releasing Jan 27th, 2015
The entrance to the lounge wasn’t far from the double doors. Parr guided her toward it, shouldering through the crush of guests as she followed until they reached the lounge, which was large, overheated, and even more crowded than the ballroom. The music was loud, the atmosphere stimulating.
Couples filled every corner, their eyes, their hands, their bodies speaking a language of sensuous longing and human loneliness. Some—too many, in Parr’s opinion—were staring into smartphones, the tiny, glowing blue screens doubled and redoubled in the mirrored walls of the lounge as the phones’ owners ignored the real people all around them. Parr didn’t get it.
Parr kept her close, easing her through the throng until he found a table for two. He slipped her smoothly onto a chair, guarding her with his big arm as he pulled up a seat for himself.
Then he signaled a waiter, not ordering anything for himself. Parr let her finish one Coke and ordered her another before he felt she had calmed down enough to talk. The entire time they’d sat there together, she’d remained silent, occasionally glancing his way with a strangely puzzled look in those big, feline eyes, once or twice offering a thanks-for-being here smile.
He decided she was definitely the loveliest woman he’d ever seen, and totally different from any he’d ever known. Perhaps it was because she seemed so young and vulnerable, and was obviously in a great deal of emotional pain.
She winced when she caught a glimpse of herself in a background mirror. “I need to fix my face,” she sighed. “Would you please excuse me for a few minutes?”
No argument there. Parr had thought it ungallant to point out that her tears had not improved her eye makeup. A few delicate streaks didn’t make her any less beautiful. But she didn’t have a purse with her, something she seemed to have just remembered. Giving him an awkward smile, she rose and made her way through the crowd.
Every male head turned to watch her walk. Parr couldn’t blame them, not with all that strawberry sweetness on display. Coming or going, she was a stunner.
He leaned back a little in the spindly chair, drumming his fingers on the tabletop, alone with his thoughts. He didn’t need drama, hadn’t ever liked it. He wasn’t remotely tempted to turn this accidental encounter into something else. The last thing he wanted in his life right now was someone with a new set of unknown problems.
Since he’d been a kid, other people had needed him, depended on him, and he’d come through every time. He’d been there for Mama, even before Kenneth Parr Weston, his dad, had been found in a motel room with a bullet through his heart. He’d been there for Bobby Joe, and for his cousin Eve and her family. He’d been provider, substitute father, as well as brotherly advisor, to the whole tribe. By the time he was grown and on his own, it was like women sensed Parr would just naturally step up and take care of whatever had to be done.
And he had. Too often.
Every woman he’d been involved with had wanted, needed, demanded—endlessly. Maybe he didn’t know how to ask for what he needed, but it was still a fact that the giving never seemed to work both ways. When he’d needed to know that someone would return the favor, stand by him, have his back . . . it didn’t happen.
The lounge crowd got liquored up and louder. Parr observed the interactions around him, unable to avoid listening to chitchat that sounded depressingly familiar. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Women wanted their freedom, their careers, their hard-won rights, and at the same time, they wanted a man’s love, his money, his body, and his total acceptance of them just as they were.
Parr was thinking that he ought to stop thinking and order a real drink, a stiff one, when the standing guests stepped this way and that to let someone through.
His cynical mood dissolved in an instant.
She didn’t look right or left but straight at him. Her eyelashes were darker, her cheeks pink. She had fixed what needed fixing with a damp paper towel, he supposed. The streaks were gone.
“Thank you for waiting.” Her voice was gentle, extremely feminine, just like her smile, her face, her body.
Parr rose as she reached the table. “Not a problem.”
He sat down after she did. “Don’t you want anything?” she asked, moving aside the glass of melting ice.
The returning waiter stopped and set down the second Coke, pausing for a fraction of a second to look down at Parr, who shook his head. “Nothing for me, thanks.”
The young man moved on.
“I was thinking we might go somewhere quieter,” Parr began.
“I don’t mind the noise.”
“I mean, if you want to talk. Would it help?”
“I don’t know.” She reached for the Coke the waiter had just delivered.
“Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger.” He didn’t know exactly why he was encouraging her. But he really did want her to talk, to tell him what was hurting her. Seemed like the least he could do, even though they might never see each other again.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her soft, sweet mouth. God, what a smile. Sensual and sincere. Meant for him. She wasn’t checking herself out sideways in the mirrored walls like practically everybody else in the lounge, female or male. A tiny dimple appeared in her cheek. That right there was almost his undoing.
Parr struggled to sit up straight and not lean over the table to taste those full, pink lips and kiss the breath out of her.
“For some reason, you don’t seem like a stranger,” she said. “It’s as if I’ve always known you.”
Her frank admission surprised him. The identical thought had just crossed his mind, unbidden, but he would never have told her. “Same here,” he muttered. Before he could stop himself, he raised a hand and caressed her cheek. Her skin was dewy and cool. She must have splashed cold water on her face in an effort to regain her composure. He was getting more rattled by the second.
“I didn’t mean anything by that,” she said quietly.
“I . . . I have a boyfriend.” She took a deep breath. “Well, he’s more than that.”
“You’re engaged?” Parr couldn’t help noticing that her hands were in her lap. He hadn’t noticed a ring, but then he hadn’t been looking for one, mesmerized by every other little thing about her.
“We were.” Two words that seemed to have been ripped from her heart.
Anger and frustration consumed him. Whoever the other man was or what his reasons might be, Parr wished he didn’t exist. How could any man hurt her? The would-be bridegroom deserved to be broken in two.
“We were supposed to be celebrating tonight, in fact.” Her voice cracked on a sob, her eyes pressed tightly shut to hold back renewed tears.
Parr scooted his chair next to hers and pulled her into his arms, not caring who saw. No one seemed to notice—a noisy game of beer pong had started up at the back of the lounge. Thankful for that, Parr knew his only concern was for her. He wanted to comfort her. He wanted to ease her pain. He wanted to make her happy.
Oh God. He just plain wanted her.
Seeming to draw strength from his embrace, she continued, her voice ragged and low. Parr had to strain to catch every word.
“He says he loves me, that he wants to marry me, but tonight—of all nights—he did something . . . unforgivable.”
The last word was spoken with anguished determination, as if she were making a vow: No matter what anyone says or does, I will not forgive him.
“What did he do, honey?” The endearment seemed right. Parr couldn’t take it back.
“I . . . I saw him . . . them.”
“He was with his old girlfriend. In each other’s arms, to be exact. And that’s n-not all,” she stammered, her face scarlet.
“Maybe she was kissing him.”
“No maybe about it. She was all over him!” Abruptly jerking out of Parr’s arms, his fire gold angel faced him. “And vice versa. Kissing. Touching. He practically had her undressed less than an hour after we announced our engagement.”
“Oh.” Parr wasn’t sure what to say, didn’t know what she wanted to hear. She obviously needed consoling, but he’d bet good money that, gentle as the woman seemed, she had good reason to take her fury out on any representative of the male sex in a fifty-mile radius. And he was a lot closer than that.
The fire in her soul shone in her green eyes. Parr was dazzled. Angry, she was even more beautiful. And available, because some selfish idiot had cheated on her. Parr was suddenly more than ready to volunteer for consolation duty.
It had been a long time since he’d wanted a woman badly. In all honesty, he couldn’t ever remember wanting one this much.
“I knew he’d loved her once. I knew that they’d had a hot affair. But he swore everything ended when she married another man. And I believed him.”
“He used to say that the love he felt for me was so different.” She just about spat the words. “So much
deeper. Then tonight . . . there they were. I caught them almost in the act.”
This was no ordinary drama, not the way she told the story, in few words but with matchless intensity and good old-fashioned righteous, blazing indignation that would do a real angel proud. Even though infidelity happened every damn day, every hour, every second all around the world.
Whoever her fiancé was, he must be the biggest fool ever to walk the earth. What man in his right mind would mess around with an old girlfriend when he could have this gorgeous little redhead?
“I’m sorry,” she said, placing her hand on his where it lay on the table. “You don’t need to know the details. I appreciate your patience. You’ve been truly kind.”
“Whatever I can do.” Parr forced his thoughts back onto the gallant track.
“Thank you. But we are strangers. I can’t ask you for help—I’ve already presumed too much.”
Her hand began a slow withdrawal. The sensation of her soft fingertips moving over his skin was too much for him. “Not at all.” Parr captured her slender wrist.
She gave him a startled look but didn’t pull away.
Impulsively, he took her hand, brought it to his lips, and pressed a kiss to her palm. Then he released her. She didn’t seem shocked or pleased.
“Sorry.” Parr didn’t know what had possessed him to do that. “I just thought—maybe you needed—”
Her reply was swift. “No need to apologize.”
Beverly Barton was an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including Silent Killer, Cold Hearted, The Murder Game and Close Enough To Kill. Readers can visit her website at www.beverlybarton.com