Authors: Cher Carson
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Bidding War Copyright © 2012 Cher Carson
“Hey, man,” Jason Stafford said, claiming the seat across the desk from his older brother, Shane. “Have you seen the George Street place since Lacy started working her magic on it? It looks amazing.”
Shane glanced up from his computer monitor, trying to quash his mounting frustration with his kid brother. Not only was Jason interrupting his workday, but he was intentionally baiting him by mentioning the one bone of contention between them: Lacy Watson. They’d both wanted her since the first time they laid eyes on her six months ago, but she’d shut them down repeatedly. Shane planned to convince her he was the man she needed, but he wasn’t about to share that information.
“When did you have time to go over there? You were supposed to oversee the kitchen install on Temperance. We’ve already got buyers lined up for that place, man. We can’t afford to screw this up because you can’t keep your head in the game.”
When they started their real estate business seven years ago, both men were struggling contractors living paycheck to paycheck and working twelve grueling hours a day for a boss who made their lives miserable. One rehab project at a time, they managed to build a successful business that afforded them the opportunity to call the shots, set their own hours, and take home six-figure paychecks every year.
Shane wasn’t about to let his brother forget where they’d come from or where they were going. If they played their cards right, they would enjoy an early retirement on a tropical beach while their real estate investment portfolio ensured they didn’t have to worry about money another day in their lives.
Their business had also given them the financial resources to ensure their mother was well taken care of after their father died and left her with a mountain of debt. In Shane’s mind, her welfare was his top priority at the moment, that and nudging his brother aside so he could finally seal the deal with Lacy.
Jason was a good guy, but he was a womanizer who didn’t appreciate the fact that a woman like Lacy came along once in a lifetime, if you were lucky. He was fixated on adding another notch to his carved up bedpost, but Shane recognized the real deal when he saw it, and she was it.
“Relax, I just came from the Temperance project, and the kitchen is looking great.”
Shane kicked his feet up on the desk, leaning back in the swivel chair with his hands laced behind his head. “Have the appliances arrived yet?”
“Later today,” Jason said, twisting the cap off his water bottle. “Anyways, I passed by George on my way to Temperance this morning and Lacy was there with her crew.” Jason grinned, tipping the bottle to his lips. “I asked her to go to the Blues game with me tonight.”
Gripping the armrests on his chair, Shane leaned forward, scowling at his brother. “And? What did she say?” If she accepted a date with his brother, he was going to go over there and shake some sense into her. The sexual tension between them was palpable. It drove him crazy that she tried so hard to deny it, instead of just giving into it, so they could get on with their lives, preferably together.
Shrugging, Jason said, “She said she has to work late, but I could tell I’m wearing her down.” He tipped the bottle to his lips, taking a sip. “It’s only a matter of time before she comes around.”
“Over my dead body,” Shane muttered. They had never come to blows over a woman before, but if his brother thought he would let him claim the empty spot in Lacy’s bed without a fight, he was delusional.
“Have it your way,” Jason said, getting to his feet.
“Listen, you need to back off before I kick your ass, kid. You and I both know there’s only one reason you want her.”
Jason laughed. “Yeah, the same reason you do. She’s hotter than hell.”
Shane couldn’t deny he was right about that, but in the past few months, he’d taken the time to get to know the woman behind that gorgeous face and stellar body. She was smart and sweet, kind and sensitive. Lacy was everything he’d ever wanted and never thought he’d find. “Listen to me,” he said, pointing his finger at Jason. “You don’t know shit about me and Lacy.”
Jason laughed and said, “I know she won’t go out with you, so whatever you think you two have goin’ on is all in your head.”
He would love to dispute his words, but he was right. Both he and his brother had pulled out all the stops to wear down her defenses and she shut them both down, time and again. “That doesn’t mean it won’t happen for us. Unlike you, little brother, I don’t have the attention span of a gnat. I’m willing to wait for her to come around, no matter how long it takes.” It’s not like dating other women was an option. Every time he went out with someone else, he wasted the night thinking about Lacy.
“Ever consider the fact that she’s just not interested?” Jason asked, tossing his car keys up in the air. “Could be you’re not her type.”
“Oh, but you are, right? Get over yourself, asshole.” Shane pointed to the door. “Get out of here. I’ve got work to do.” He had to admit Jason’s words hit a nerve. He’d never had to work for a woman’s attention before, and Lacy’s apparent lack of interest was definitely a blow to his ego.
“Okay, but I’ll say it again,” Jason said, walking toward the door. “I’m in this thing to win it, so don’t expect me to back down just ‘cause you want me to.”
Shane muttered a curse as he tossed his pen at the closing door.
Lacy directed the movers to position the leather sofa under the oil painting she’d borrowed from her friend’s art gallery. “Shift it just a little to the left,” she said, standing back to the check the placement. “Okay, perfect.” She pointed to the upholstered club chairs crowding the entrance. “Now, let’s place those chairs here, facing each other.”
As the movers positioned the chairs, she carefully set the lamps on the glass end tables.
“Wow, this place is really starting to come together,” her assistant, Melanie, said from the doorway. Grinning, she handed her boss a tall take-out cup from the corner coffee shop. “I knew it was almost time for your fix.”
“Bless you,” Lacy whispered, removing the plastic lid to inhale the strong brew. She enjoyed the aroma almost as much as the taste.
Melanie rolled her eyes. “I swear caffeine is your only pleasure in life.”
Lacy had to admit it was sad but true. “Hey, I’ve got my work and you.”
“Yeah, not that you ever spend any time with me anymore. I wouldn’t even see you if we didn’t work together.”
Taking a long sip of the steaming brew, she tried to ignore the sharp stab of regret. She would give anything to go back to the way her life used to be, but since that wasn’t an option, she chose not to dwell on her circumstances. “You know I’m doing what I have to do,” she said quietly, stepping out into the hallway so she wouldn’t broadcast her personal problems to the rest of her crew.
“I understand you’re in an impossible position, Lacy, but when are you going to take a little time for yourself? Between working and driving twelve hours every weekend, you must be fried.”
It’s true some weekends she woke up at 6:00 a.m. wishing she could hit the snooze button and fall back to sleep, but then she would remember her brother lying in that hospital bed, waiting to see her, and it would motivate her to face the long drive ahead.
“I’m doing what I have to do, Mel. You know that.”
Melanie rubbed Lacy’s arm as she shook her head. “I know. Still, not many sisters would give up their entire lives for a brother who doesn’t even recognize them anymore.”
Lacy wrapped her hands around the steaming cup. “My brother doesn’t have anyone else. I need to do what I can for him.”
“I know, honey,” Melanie said, putting her arm around her shoulders. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but you’re living in that tiny studio apartment, driving that wind-up car, and eating salad twice a day just so you can cover the cost of his care.”
It’s not like she had a choice. Her brother required constant supervision, and she couldn’t provide it. She had to work full-time, and still she barely earned enough money to cover her expenses. That’s why she’d decided to move to St. Louis a year ago, hoping the larger market would provide more opportunities for her to grow her business. Fortunately, it was the right call. Thanks to the Stafford brothers, she was having her best quarter to date.
“Hey, did I see Jason pulling out of the driveway as I was pulling in this morning?” Melanie asked.