I tugged on my tie, uncomfortable wearing a suit to represent my family’s business, Fletcher & Sons Contracting at the Wilde Ski Resort. The Wilde family was hosting a charity event tonight, spearheaded by their youngest child and only daughter, Kylie Wilde, or as I liked to call her when we were kids, Baby Wilde.
It was a good cause. She was collecting new or gently used athletic gear for use on the ski hills and monetary donations for kids that couldn’t afford lessons or the lift ticket.
I’d been content staying on the outskirts of the crowd, nursing a drink at the bar. When Kylie crossed the room in a black, form-fitting dress with stiletto heels, my gaze went to the curve of her hip and that delectable ass I wanted to squeeze. When she came closer, I noticed how her hair curled around her shoulders, touching the bare skin I wanted to be intimately familiar with.
When we were growing up, she’d been a tomboy, forever chasing after her brothers, trying to keep up with their antics. They thwarted her at every turn, so she became sneakier. We’d have epic hide-and-seek games in the lodge, and she’d hide, only to jump out at us. Her brothers were annoyed by her, calling her a pest. I’d thought so too, but as she got older, she filled out, lost the leanness from youth, and became harder to ignore.
Her brothers made it clear to their friends that she was off-limits. There were a few times we found ourselves alone during hide-and-seek, and I’d like to say I kept my hands to myself, but that last time, I didn’t. I’d always been impulsive and a little reckless, and I’d been the same with Kylie.
I felt guilty about it over the years. I’d betrayed my best friends with their sister. But Kylie left after high school and hadn’t returned, other than for short visits—until now. Her being home was difficult because that pesky attraction I’d always felt for her hadn’t gone away.
I should have been focused on business. Usually, Mac or my dad would attend community events and fundraisers, but I’d been tasked with attending this one since Dad was doing less these days, and Mac spent more time with Natalie and her daughter, Delaney. Sam had a daughter, Maggie, so I was the only single one without a life.
This was my chance to prove that I was responsible and could take on more tasks surrounding the business. I couldn’t get distracted by the Wilde brothers’ younger sister, who looked a lot like temptation on a stick.
My goal for the evening was to talk to Kylie about the possibility of us working together on a sports charity. Mac came up with the idea after talking to other contracting businesses about their fundraising projects. We’d settled on sports since we’d all played baseball growing up, and Kylie seemed well-versed in the fundraising aspect.
I needed to talk to her, but she was already speaking to a man in a suit who was in his thirties and looked all too happy to touch her bare shoulder and lean in close.
My jaw clenched as she tipped her head back and laughed.
I clenched my hands into fists, uncomfortable with the tightening sensation in my chest. When we were younger, I listened to her complain about her brothers, but I didn’t realize until she was older that we had a connection. One that wasn’t friendly.
Xander approached me and followed my gaze to his sister. “As much as I like having her home, she’s trouble.”
“Kylie?” I asked nonchalantly, as if he hadn’t caught me eyeing her from across the room.
He shook his head in disgust. “I don’t like the way he’s touching her.”
Me either, but I wasn’t saying that to her brother. Because I was having the same naughty thoughts that the other guy was having, and I was positive Xander wouldn’t appreciate it.
Xander shifted so that I couldn’t see Kylie and the man anymore. “Apparently, he has deep pockets, and Kylie wants her little charity to be successful.”
“Little charity?” It sounded like Kylie’s brothers didn’t respect her any more than they had when we were kids, even though she’d grown up, worked on her own in Europe, and returned home.
Xander braced one hand on the bar while he signaled to the bartender that he wanted a drink. He shifted and leaned an elbow on the bar top. “I want her to stay, and if running this side thing is what she wants, I’ll let her.”
“You’ll let me?” Kylie asked, her eyes spitting fire, and one hand moved to her hip.
I shouldn’t be thinking about what she was wearing under that form-fitting dress. Not when her brother, who was my best friend, stood next to me.
“You know that’s not what I meant. I love having you back.” Xander pulled her into a hug.
I remembered Kylie complaining that they didn’t take her seriously. It appeared that not much had changed from when we were kids.
I understood when she left. She’d felt stifled by her family’s lodge and this small town, but now that she was back, I was dying to know why.
Kylie’s cool gaze moved to mine. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for Fletcher & Sons.”
“Doesn’t your father usually do that, or even Mac?” Xavier asked.
“Dad’s taking a step back. He wants us to take on more of the responsibility, and both of my brothers have kids now.”
Kylie’s face softened. “Mac’s with my friend, Natalie, and Sam is with Alice.”
“I see someone I know,” Xander said by way of apology, when someone in the crowd caught his attention.
Kylie stepped closer. “What are you really doing here, Tyler? I never see you at these events.”
My throat tightened at her proximity, making it difficult to breathe. It was probably best to talk about the reason I was supposed to be here and not why I enjoyed being close to her. “We’re looking to get into some charity work.”
Kylie crossed her arms over her chest; the effect was pushing up the globes of her breasts. “And what? You’re here to take notes on mine?”
I swallowed hard, looking anywhere but at her chest. “Not exactly. I was hoping we could talk about partnering on something.”
Kylie’s face pinched, and I knew she was remembering how I’d left things. “I don’t think we have anything to talk about. Not after how you left things.”
I’d left her in one of the lodge’s guest rooms, sleeping. I should have left a note or texted her afterward, but I hadn’t. Back then, I was petrified of crossing her brothers. It was a small town, and the Wildes were a prominent family. “I’m sorry for how I handled things.”
Kylie huffed. “I’m a big girl. I’m not hung up on something that happened when we were kids.”
She had been eighteen, but I had always thought of her as younger and more vulnerable. Probably because that’s how her brothers viewed her.
“I’m sorry for the way I acted.” I used the only excuse that made sense at the time. “You know I’m friends with your brothers.”
Kylie rolled her eyes. “They’re why I left. I couldn’t have a life with them hovering and ruining anything good that came into my life.”
My brain snagged on the idea that maybe she thought I’d been some of that good, but I refocused on why I was here. “My brothers and I were talking about starting a charity, and we settled on baseball. Since we played and you played softball, we’d like to help local teams in some way. We’re just not sure how yet. You’ve done such an amazing job in a short amount of time with this event, and I was hoping you could give us a few pointers.”
Her head tipped to the side, and her expression softened. “Is that all you wanted?”
“We were hoping you’d partner with us since we heard you were interested in helping athletes.”
She shook her head slightly. “Tonight was just a test to see if I could fundraise. I want to help female athletes. Growing up, the girls didn’t have the equipment the boys had. But I’m not sure that’s what you were looking to get into.”
When I played baseball and football, I had everything I needed. But then the sports boosters raised money that went to the most popular sports—football, ice hockey, and baseball—all male-dominated sports. “What were you thinking?”
“Our team shared batting helmets and bats. We never had a dugout. Sometimes we didn’t even have a bench to sit on. We sat on the bleachers with the fans. Our field was used for gym class, while the boys’ field was covered in a protective tarp.” Her tone was tinged with disgust, and for the first time, I realized how things might have been different.
“I never thought about it like that.” It wasn’t my experience, and I was embarrassed to say I hadn’t been more curious back then.
“I guess you wouldn’t.”
My pitch had fallen flat, but Mac and Sam were depending on me. “I know you’re busy tonight, but do you think we can talk about this somewhere else? I’ll go back to my brothers with your ideas, and maybe we can still come up with something that will work for all of us.”
“What’s your goal in all of this, Tyler?”
“We want to get more involved in the community and give back. Mac’s contractor friend talked about renovating houses for those who are disabled.”
“I’m almost positive that whoever Mac’s friend is, that cause was something important to him. If you want to get involved in the community or raise money for something, it should be something you’re passionate about. I just don’t see you getting behind female athletes when your business is comprised of men.”
“You never know,” I murmured, a little distracted by the fire I saw in her eyes. This cause was important to her, and I knew she’d be successful at it. “I love your idea. I love what you’re doing here, and I’m confident we can do something together that will be amazing.”
Kylie’s lip curled. “I’m not just throwing the Wilde name up on team jerseys or on a banner on an outfield fence.”
My face heated because those were a few of the first ideas we’d come up with. “We want to do something more meaningful, something that will have an effect on the kids in the community and their ability to play sports. Buy the equipment they need. Sports are expensive, and these days, kids are expected to pay for the helmets, bats, cleats, and sometimes even the uniforms.”
“I’m happy to talk to you about it and give you some direction.”
My shoulders tensed. “But you’re not willing to partner with us?”
She held up her hand. “I didn’t say that. If you still have my number, text me when you want to grab coffee. We can discuss it further.” Her tone was professional, but my heart rate picked up at the idea of meeting her for anything.
“I’ll be in touch.” I wasn’t ashamed to admit I’d transferred her number to my new phones over the years, even if I never reached out. I wasn’t going to ask her if she’d done the same. I was stronger than that.
She sighed and turned to leave.
She paused. Her brow arched. “Yes?”
“I’m glad you’re back.” It complicated things. I was worried about her brothers finding out, but I liked having her home. I wasn’t going to think about why that was.
“I’m not so sure I am,” she said when she spotted one of her brothers stalking toward us. She walked away before I could respond, probably trying to avoid him.
“What were you talking to Kylie about?” Eli asked. He oversaw hotel management, so he was always visible at an event like this.
“I talked to her about the possibility of working with Fletcher & Sons on a nonprofit.”
Eli raised a brow. “Was she game?”
I chuckled. “Not exactly. She has very clear ideas on what she wants.”
“I just wish she’d tell us what that is. She came back after whatever the hell happened at her job in Paris. She won’t say why she left, why she’s back, or how long she’s staying.”
I wanted to know more about her leaving her last job but asking would arouse Eli’s suspicions. “I can’t say I understand your sister.”
Eli shook his head. “Me either.”
“It might have something to do with us ignoring her when we were kids.” I hadn’t, but her brothers sure had. I’d never been able to ignore her. Every time she showed up where we were, I had this indescribable urge to protect her, to make her feel wanted, because her brothers always told her she wasn’t.
“She was always following us around. We did what any big brothers would do,” Eli said as he leaned on the bar to order a drink.
She was always sneaking out, trying to keep up with us, until that one time she got hurt. No one knew she was skiing on the hill behind us when she fell and broke her arm. I was the one who heard her cry out and carried her to the lodge.
She must have been in pain, but she didn’t cry. Her face was white, and I talked to her until we were at the bottom of the mountain, and I handed her over to her father. After that night, she never showed up when we were out like that again.
I wasn’t sure if it was her parents keeping an eye on her or if she didn’t want to get hurt again. I knew her brothers meant well. They pulled crazy stunts and were a little wild. They didn’t want her attempting to do the stuff they did. They wanted to protect her, but it came across like no one wanted her around.
Whenever I found myself alone with her, she grumbled about how lonely she felt as the youngest of five siblings. Even when her cousins visited, they were boys and played with her brothers. Each time she confided in me, I sympathized with her situation. I thought she was tough.
Eli took his drink, threw a few bills on the bar top for a tip, and turned to scan the room. “I heard you’re looking for a new place.”
“I want some land to build on.”
Not that I wanted to copy my brother, but his place was amazing. He built a large house at the base of the mountains with enough property to grow and enjoy for a long time to come. It was perfect because he’d recently met and started dating Natalie, Kylie’s childhood friend. She had a daughter, and he’d even gotten a puppy. He’d said he was lonely before they moved in and was happy to fill his house.
I tried not to think about the fact that I’d be doing the same, building a house without someone to share it with. But then my goal wasn’t to be in a committed relationship. “Living downtown is getting old.”
“What are you talking about? You always talk about how you can walk to the bars.”
I chuckled and leaned an arm on the bar. “That’s not everything. Not anymore.”
“Your brothers settled down, and you are following in their footsteps.”
“They have their women locked down, but that’s not what I want.” I’d never thought about it too much. Mac had always been a romantic, wanting that relationship from a young age. When he got burned a few times, he took a step back, but we always knew his heart hadn’t changed. And when Natalie came around, we knew she was the one for him. It took him a little longer to figure it out.
Sam was a single dad, so he’d had to grow up in his early twenties. He didn’t think he’d ever have a committed relationship since he had a young daughter, but then he’d hired Alice to be his nanny, and the rest was history.
“I’m busy with work, and I enjoy my alone time too much to be committed to anyone. At least not anytime soon.”
“Same,” I said as I watched Kylie work the room. This was her event, so she was meeting with everyone here, probably to drum up donations and generate interest in her cause.
“I’m proud of her,” Eli said.
“She pulled it together in a short time.” I hoped Eli told Kylie he was proud of her because I had a feeling they neglected little details like that when it came to their sister.
“How long will she stick around? She’s never loved Telluride like we do.”
“Maybe she never thought you wanted her here,” I said, repeating what she’d told me when she was eighteen.
“How can you say that?” Eli asked, shifting so he could see my face.
“She was always trying to keep up with you and your brothers, but you always told her she wasn’t wanted.”
“She was the youngest, and we did some crazy shit back then. I didn’t want her to get hurt. Hell, she did get hurt that one time.”
“Did you tell her that?”
His jaw worked as he thought about it. “Not in so many words.”
“Have you offered her a position at the resort?” I remembered that night we spent together; she was upset because she felt like there wasn’t a place for her at the lodge or in her family. The boys had taken all the available positions, and there was nothing left for her.
“We never wanted her to feel like she had to stay here and work for the family business. We wanted her to have options.”
“Maybe she doesn’t see it that way.” At Eli’s concerned expression, I held up a hand. “I’m just guessing.”
Eli’s shoulders relaxed. “We’d love to have her here, but I don’t know where she fits in.”
“I hope you figure it out before she leaves again.” There was no chance that I’d pursue anything with Kylie, no matter how much I’d wanted her over the years. I’d taken advantage of her that one night, and I felt horrible about it. But more than that, she deserved a relationship, and there was no way her brothers would be okay with her dating me.
I wouldn’t do that to her or to her brothers. The Wilde family had always been good to me. I wouldn’t do anything to screw that up. Especially now that we wanted to partner with Kylie. A personal relationship would complicate things.
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After a bad break-up and losing my job, I moved back to my hometown. Now I’m forced to work with the one person I’d crushed on since I was a teen.
Unfortunately, time hadn’t diminished our attraction to each other, and nothing can change the fact that Tyler’s my brothers’ best friend.
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