Home > Beautiful Burn (The Maddox Brothers #4)(6)

Beautiful Burn (The Maddox Brothers #4)(6)
Jamie McGuire

“How did the party go?” Sterling asked without looking up.

“Oh. I meant to invite you. It was sort of impromptu.”

“I heard it was a bunch of locals.”

“Who else would I invite?”

“Me?”

“Finley isn’t home.”

Sterling glanced up at me for just a few seconds, and then returned his gaze to the menu. He wasn’t reading it anymore. “Don’t tell her about the kiss. I just did it because I owed you one.”

“I won’t. She’d hate me because whether she admits it or not … she loves you.”

“She does?”

I leaned in, annoyed. “You know she does.”

He seemed to relax.

“I invite you to parties all the time. I needed to … I needed something…”

“Uncomplicated?”

I pointed at him. “Exactly.”

“Ellison?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re a terrible kisser. You’re probably doing that guy a favor.”

I glared at him. “Order your eggs-fucking-Benedict and shut your hole. I’m an excellent kisser. That is precisely why I had to scare that guy off with your slobber box.”

“Who are you fooling? You didn’t just kiss that guy.”

The waitress approached, wearing an olive and cream striped apron and a smile. “Hi, Ellie.”

“Chelsea, if you had to guess what Sterling was going to order—”

“Eggs Benedict,” Chelsea said without hesitation.

“Really?” Sterling asked, genuinely forlorn. “Am I that predictable?”

“Sorry,” Chelsea said, sheepish.

I sat back, handing Chelsea my menu. “I’m not judging you. Those are some damn good eggs.”

“Same?” she asked.

“No, I’ll have the Southwest omelet and some OJ. Do you have vodka? A screwdriver sounds great right about now.”

Chelsea wrinkled her nose. “It’s ten thirty in the morning.”

I stared at her, expectant.

“No,” Chelsea said. “We don’t sell liquor here.”

Sterling held up two fingers, ordering orange juice for himself.

Chelsea walked away, and I pressed my lips together, trying to keep from looking too concerned. “You look tired, Sterling.”

“It’s been a long week.”

I smiled. “But you’re here now.”

“Finley’s not.”

“Sterling,” I warned. “She’s not changing her mind. She loves you more than she loves anyone else.”

“Except you.”

“Of course except me. But she loves you. She just can’t be with you until she takes over Edson.”

His face fell, and his eyes lost focus.

“I’m sorry,” I said, reaching across the table to touch his arm. “We should have picked a place that has vodka.”

My mouth suddenly felt dry. Wanting a drink and realizing it wasn’t immediately available created a subtle pang of panic.

Sterling pulled away. “Careful, Ellie. You’re beginning to sound like me.”

The door chimed, and a family of four walked in, already arguing about where to sit. It was tourist season, and although Sterling and I could be considered tourists, we’d both had homes there for more than eight years. Long enough to be annoyed by the non-resident tourists. We were what the locals called part-time families, and most of the time, if we shared the name of our neighborhood, they didn’t even have to ask. Only one of our neighbors was a full-time family, and that was only because they were from Arkansas and moving to Estes Park was a dream not a vacation.

The two waitresses scurried between tables that were filling by the minute. Chelsea’s sneakers occasionally squeaked on the apricot and white tiled floor while she collected orders and rushed to the back through the swinging doors of the kitchen. She would reappear with a smile, stopping on her way back to fill large plastic glasses at the drink station behind the bar lined with stools for the snowboarders who frequented the café.

Body heat filled the room, and I noticed everyone peeling off layers. Chelsea was working up a sweat while tourists walked on the other side of the wall of windows bundled up in coats, scarves, knit hats, and gloves. The door would open, offering a blast of cool air, and Chelsea let everyone know when she would walk through a nice breeze with her sweet sigh.

Snow had just begun to fall in delicate pieces for the fourth day in a row. The resort was happy, and business was booming, but there was a storm coming, and I worried about Finley trying to make it in.

“How’s Fin?” Sterling asked, seemingly reading my mind.

“She’s in Rio. I think she’s coming here.”

“Oh?” Sterling wiped his nose with his knuckle and sniffed, a telltale sign that he was attempting to be nonchalant.

“You’re so far inside the friend zone, Sterling. Time to give up.”

He looked appalled. “I haven’t tried to get her back in a long time.”

“If a month ago is considered a long time.”

He frowned. “I’m too tired for Ellie the Bitch. Can you just try to be nice today?”

I jutted out my lip. “Aw, is Sterling on his period?”

He wasn’t amused. “I’m going to leave you here, alone at this table.”

“Don’t threaten me with a good time,” I said.

“And leave plenty of room for fire boy to join you.”

“What?” I asked, turning to see Tyler Maddox walk in with Zeke and a few more of his hotshot crew. I scooted down in my chair. “Shit,” I hissed. I sunk down in my seat. In my family, uncomfortable situations required something a lot stronger than orange juice, and the urge to go home and raid the liquor cabinet became overwhelming.

A warm pair of lips touched my cheek, and Tyler pulled a seat to the table. “Hi, baby. Did you miss me?”

“Are you mental? Do you hear voices?” I said, incensed.

“Just came in for lunch before we head back,” Tyler said, directing his crew to sit.

Zeke sat on the other side of me, looking uncomfortable. “We can find another table.”

“No,” Tyler said. “We can’t. Who’s your friend?” he asked, motioning to Sterling.

“Fuck,” I murmured. I’d meant to run Tyler off. Instead, he’d gotten jealous and saw Sterling as competition he could easily conquer.

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