Stern(4)

By: Brenda Jackson


He took another sip of his beer. “I can tell.”

Why did her interest in a man bother him? The only reason he could come up with was that she was his best friend and he didn’t want to lose their special bond. He didn’t want to lose her. What if this guy found it strange that a man and woman were best friends? What if he pushed her to end the friendship they’d shared for years?

His gut twisted. His brothers and cousins had always said they wouldn’t want any girlfriend of theirs to have the sort of close relationship with another man that he and JoJo shared. What if this guy thought the same way?

Stern did not like problems, and he always preferred dealing with them head-on.

Stern frowned. “What’s his name, JoJo?”

She chuckled. “You don’t need his name, Stern. Besides, you’ll find out soon enough when I set my plans into motion.”

Stern took a sip of his beer. He couldn’t wait.

*

Later that night, JoJo lay in bed staring up at the ceiling. Things were going better than she’d planned. When she realized back in the spring that she was developing feelings for Stern, she had been horrified. How could a woman fall in love with her best friend?

Rather suddenly, it seemed. On their last trip here to the lodge in April, she had come downstairs one morning, ready for another great day of hunting, only to find Stern still in his pajamas. Or, partly in them. He had on the bottoms but not the top. And in that instant, on that day, she’d seen him not as her best friend but as a sexy man who had the ability to stir any woman’s blood. He had certainly stirred hers. She hadn’t been able to stop staring at his massive shoulders, his impressively broad chest and perfect abs. And once she’d started thinking of him as a sexy man, she couldn’t seem to stop. By the end of the day she’d been a basket case.

But it was more than just sexual chemistry messing with her mind. By the end of the trip she’d realized she had fallen in love with him. Maybe she’d always loved him, but until that day she had accepted their relationship as nothing more than a very close friendship. Now, her heart wanted her to admit what she’d been denying for years.

She’d known she had to come up with a plan or risk losing her best friend forever. She might have fallen in love with Stern, but she knew he didn’t love her. He was one of the most eligible bachelors in Denver and his weekends were filled with dates.

So one day two months ago, when she read a romance novel a customer had left behind in the break room, an idea popped into her head. She would find another man to fall in love with, someone who could take Stern’s place in her heart.

She’d been inspired by the heroine in the book, who was also in love with a man she couldn’t have. To shift her focus off of the forbidden man, the heroine began dating her next-door neighbor. Eventually she fell in love with her neighbor. At the end of the book the couple married and lived happily ever after.

Okay, so it was pure fiction—but it was still an idea that had merit. On that day, JoJo had decided to become the owner of her destiny, the creator of her own happiness.

She’d just been waiting to run into someone interesting. For the next two months, she’d waited. And just when she thought she would never meet a man who could pique her interest…in drove Walter Carmichael needing a new set of spark plugs for his Porsche.

Something about him drew her attention, and he didn’t have a ring on his finger. She quickly dismissed the notion that his good looks, impeccable style and suave manner reminded her of Stern.

When she did a routine customer-service follow-up call, she found that Walter had a nice phone voice, too. He had everything going for him. Now she had to make sure she had everything going for her. And the best person to help her was her best friend, the man she was trying not to love.





Two

Stern looked up when he heard a knock on his office door. “Come in.”

It was Dillon, his oldest brother and CEO of Blue Ridge Land Management, a firm that had been in their family for more than forty years. Dillon was the one in charge, their brother Riley was next in command and Stern and his older brother Canyon were corporate attorneys. His cousin Adrian would be starting in a couple of months as one of the company’s engineers.