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The Other Brother, Page 2

Lucy Felthouse

  Patrick coughed a little. “You…what?”

  “You heard me. I found out about this charity calendar and would love to submit a photo of you. You could be Mr. June.”

  Appearing utterly bemused, he sipped his drink before responding. “Mr. June? Why Mr. June?”

  He hadn’t refused, but he didn’t seem impressed, either. Melodie decided to play her trump card. “It’s for the Hero Family Fund. And I said Mr. June just ’cause it’s June, that’s all.”

  He raised his eyebrows then took another, almost fierce, bite of his cookie. Chewing slowly, deliberately, he seemed to consider it. She smiled hopefully.

  After what seemed like years, he finally swallowed and opened his mouth. “No, I don’t think so.”

  Her jaw dropped. “Seriously? I would have thought that charity meant something to you.”

  “It does. Christ, you know it does. I’m not saying no to be awkward or an asshole, or because I can’t be bothered. I’m saying no because I don’t think I’m the right kind of guy you need. The models that will get chosen for the calendar are exactly that—models. Attractive guys with great bodies. I’m no match for men like that. If you sent a photo of me, it wouldn’t even be considered. I think it would be better to save my time, and yours, and not bother. I’m sorry. But, if I see anyone around who looks like a male model, I’ll send him your way.”

  By the time he’d finished speaking, a maelstrom of emotions churned in her brain. Anger, disappointment, disbelief. Anger and disappointment, because he’d said no. Disbelief, because she couldn’t get a grasp of his so-called reason. Had he seen himself in the mirror recently? He acted as though he were Quasimodo’s identical twin, when in fact, if Patrick were famous, he could give Channing Tatum, Bradley Cooper, and Ryan Reynolds a run for their money in People’s Sexiest Man Alive polls.

  An intense wave of guilt rolled through her. Thinking about him in that way made her feel as though she betrayed Sean. Which was ridiculous. He’d been dead for two years. He’d never be coming back, and would want her to move on.

  Probably not move on with his brother, though.

  She shook her head. What the fuck? Why were Patrick and moving on even in the same thought space? Because she’d come to the conclusion that he was attractive? It didn’t take a genius to work that one out. And finding someone attractive wasn’t the same thing as being attracted to them. Absolutely not.

  One day, she’d get over Sean. Maybe when she found someone she liked in the same way. But for now, she’d concentrate on convincing Patrick to do the calendar—to help raise every cent necessary. Those people needed the cash, deserved the cash, and she’d make sure they got it.

  She’d better say something. He couldn’t read her thoughts—definitely a good thing. “Are you serious? Since when have you had self-esteem issues? The Patrick I used to know always had a new girl on his arm.”

  “Well, things change, don’t they.” It wasn’t a question.

  “Yes, they do. And not always for the better. Whoever gave you confidence issues is an idiot. If you don’t do it, we’re both missing out on a fantastic opportunity to help out. Can your conscience live with that?” A low blow, but she had to change his mind. Her heart was set on it and she wouldn’t give up.

  His green eyes glinted with irritation. “My conscience is fine. It’s not as if the charity is going to struggle to fill twelve spots, is it? They aren’t exactly going to miss our contribution, are they? If I was one of the last twelve men on the planet, then I’d do it. But I’m not.”

  Fuck. He had a point. If the Hero Family Fund never received a photo, they couldn’t miss it. But still…she wanted to make a contribution. Patrick’s photo.

  “And thank fuck for that,” she said, suddenly angry. Fury forced the words before her brain had a chance to stop them. “I’m beginning to think you’re fishing for compliments now. Is that what you want? For me to tell you that you’re perfect for the calendar? That you’re gorgeous, you’re sexy, and you could give any male model a run for his money? Well, there you go, I’ve said it. I hope you’re happy.”

  She stood so abruptly her chair fell backward, but she didn’t care. She had to get out of there. Get away from the stares, the pointed fingers and whispers. Mostly to get away from him. Grabbing her purse and, with the specific purpose of being extra annoying, the remaining cookie on the plate, she left.

  As she stalked up the path that led her out of Central Park and back toward her loft, her anger slowly, very slowly, began to dissipate. Thinking a little more clearly, she couldn’t work out where the fury had come from. Patrick had irritated her, sure, but not to the extent he deserved her to blow up in his face. Had his refusal pushed her over the edge? His pathetic reasoning? Hormones, perhaps? Maybe because he lived on, and his brother, kind, gorgeous, funny Sean, hadn’t.

  Munching on the cookie, she hoped the chocolatey goodness helped her feel better. She shouldn’t have taken it out on him, not really. Not when she meant every word she’d yelled—he was gorgeous, sexy, and could give any male model a run for his money.

  Maybe she’d have been okay with it if she’d meant it in an objective way, as though she were admiring a bunch of flowers and calling it pretty. But there was more to it than that, far more, and she didn’t like it. Not one bit.

  A big black cloud floated over her head, and she didn’t know what to do about it.

  Chapter Three

  Melodie cringed when her cell rang later that evening. Patrick’s name flashed on the screen. No doubt off work and calling to give her a piece of his mind. She ignored it. The bad mood she’d plummeted into since her outburst in the café still had her firmly in its grip, and an argument certainly wouldn’t help. Instead, she’d probably end up saying something she regretted—even more than she already had.

  The phone trilled again, the vibrations shifting it along the desk, the ringtone piercing the silence of her apartment. She grabbed it before it vibrated itself off the edge. It would probably survive the impact, but a hefty repair or replacement bill was the last thing she needed, both in terms of her mood and her finances.

  Patrick refused to give up. Her irritation grew; he obviously really wanted to talk to her. She tapped her fingers on the desk to give them something to do other than picking up the cell, pressing talk, and shouting, “Bite me!”

  Another noise. The door buzzer to her apartment. Her gaze flicked to the console on the wall. Was Patrick outside her flat? Only one way to find out. Stomping across the kitchen, she wished for the umpteenth time she lived in one of those places where the panels had a built-in screen to show who waited downstairs. Ugh, she’d have to keep on buying lottery tickets.

  Stabbing at the button, she barked, “Yes?”

  “It’s me.”

  Crap. He didn’t sound as pissed as she’d expected him to be—maybe more frustrated than anything. Ignoring him would get her nowhere, so she buzzed him in without replying. Her reaction earlier had been way over the top, way angrier than she had any right to be under the circumstances. Patrick had the right to refuse a request, and she’d behaved like a child. Flipping the lock on the door, she left it ajar so he could get in. She sat on one end of the couch, pulled her legs up, and wrapped her arms around them. Even though he didn’t sound too mad, she still expected some unpleasantness.

  By the time he entered her apartment and closed the door behind him, she clung so tightly to her legs, her arms had begun to ache.

  Crossing the room in a few strides, he surprised her by sitting next to her instead of on one of the chairs. Right next to her.

  “I’ll do it. I’ll do the shoot.”

  Her eyebrows shot up. Wow. She hadn’t expected that, especially after the way she’d behaved earlier. His proximity, the heat of his body so close made it difficult to focus, which irritated her. She inhaled deeply, trying hard to keep calm.

  “Are you serious?”

  “Do I sound like I’m kidding around?”

o, you don’t. It’s just…I was kind of a bitch earlier. I expected you to tell me to go fuck myself.”

  “The thought had crossed my mind.” He grinned, his green eyes full of mischief. “But although you went off the deep end and made me look like a total idiot in front of a room full of people, I kinda know why you did it.”

  “You do?” Christ, he hadn’t figured out she had feelings for him, had he? If so, he’d definitely caught on faster than she had.

  “I think so. That particular charity means a lot to you, for obvious reasons, and you wanted to use your talent and your time to help out. I arrived with perfect timing—for you, anyway—and then said no. I had my reason, but not a very good one.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve been coping reasonably well with Sean’s death, and seeing you, talking about this charity brought it back to the forefront.” He took a deep breath and fidgeted. “I wanted to steer clear, grieve more privately, I suppose.” He gave her a shaky smile. “But it’s a great cause, and I’d like to help. Plus, if Sean could have communicated with me in the café, he’d have told me to stop being such a fucking pussy.”

  His words were such a shock, and yet so true, they wrenched a startled laugh from her. Covering her mouth, she giggled. “Sorry. A very inappropriate time to laugh, I know, but I didn’t expect that. You’re right, though. Sean would definitely have said something along those lines. But, whatever your reasons, I’m glad you’re on board. We’re totally going to get you into the calendar.” She kept her tone light. “We’re going to get you in because you’re hot, and we’re going to help to raise stacks of cash for the Hero Family Fund. This is going to be awesome!”

  Holding up a hand, Patrick gave her a high five. “Yeah!” he said. “You’re right. It is going to be awesome. So, when would you like to do the shoot? And what do you have in mind, apart from me being shirtless?”

  “As soon as possible, I suppose. When is your next day off work? It would be a good idea if we allocated a whole day. I doubt it’s going to take that long to get the perfect shot, but at least neither of us will be rushing to get anywhere. The more relaxed we both are, the better.”

  “I have Friday off. Is that good for you? If not, I can look at the schedule for my shifts next week.”

  “No, Friday is fine. I’ll check the weather forecast.”

  He frowned. “Why would you need to do that?”

  “Because the shoot’s going to be outside, of course.”

  “It is? So, not only do I have to take my shirt off to be photographed, you want me to do it in public?”

  “Not in public, exactly. Outside. I’m not about to make you pose in Times Square.”

  “I’m glad to hear it.”

  “Okay, stop bitching and shut up. Want a drink?”

  “You got beer?”

  “I have. If I let you have one, will you hear me out?”

  “I guess.”

  After grabbing two bottles from the refrigerator, she handed one of the beers to him, opened hers, and sat.

  She waited for him to take a slug before she began. “Okay, here’s my idea. If the weather is okay, I’d really like to do the shoot in Central Park. Originally I wanted to see if you could get a cute animal from the zoo to pose with or something, but then thought there’s no way that would be allowed. Plus, animals are a bitch to work with. But, I wanted to think of something that would be you since animals are a very important part of your life. Is there anything else you can think of that would be suitable? And doable?”

  “The idea of doing it in the park is perfect. I’m outdoorsy, so that’s me anyway. Maybe I could wear hiking boots and pants, or something? Are my feet even going to be in the shots?”

  With a laugh, she said, “I don’t know, yet. Though I’m so pleased you’re okay with doing it outdoors. The photo shoot, I mean!” She cringed.

  “Oh, I dunno.” He winked. “I think doing it outside is pretty fun, too.” There was the old Patrick she remembered—the confident womanizer. The words weren’t aimed at her, but heat bloomed over her chest, neck, and cheeks anyway.

  Clearing her throat, she carried on as though she hadn’t heard him, hoping he hadn’t noticed her blushing. “So, Central Park on Friday it is, then. And yeah, if you could dress like you’re going for a hike, that would be great. Want to meet me here at ten and we can head over together, scope it out? I don’t know exactly where I want to take the photos yet—it’s a pretty big place.”

  In the time she’d lived in New York, she’d spent a lot of it in the park, mainly because she’d wanted to get out of the apartment, but still go somewhere she could be alone with her thoughts. As a result, she’d found several quiet spots in the enormous green space, even though it sat in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world.

  She wanted to find one of those quiet spots, or one similar, to set a scene and get a bunch of good shots. With the whole day, it would be easier. They could avoid any possible rain showers—providing they didn’t last the entire damn day—and try different places if some didn’t work.

  She sipped her beer and a warm feeling of satisfaction grew. A whole day doing something she loved with someone she liked, and if everything went to plan, they’d also be helping a charity—what could be better?

  Chapter Four

  At ten o’clock on the dot, her buzzer sounded. She’d been ready for about fifteen minutes and should have used that quarter hour to tidy the apartment. So, rather than inviting him up, she grabbed her stuff and said, “Be right down.”

  Emerging from the front door of the building, careful not to let the closing door whack her camera bag, she said, “Hey, good timing.”

  Leaning against the wall, Patrick turned to face her and smiled. “Morning. And is that your slightly less patronizing way of praising me for being on time?” He winked.

  “Good morning. And yeah, maybe.” She stuck out her tongue.

  He held out his hand and she panicked before realizing he only offered to carry her bag. “Oh, thanks. Drop it and you die, Brogue.”

  “Hearing you loud and clear, ma’am.” He hiked the bag carefully onto his shoulder, already laden with his own things.

  Only then did she take in his outfit—beige cargo pants that zipped off just above the knee and hefty black hiking boots, plus a thin, waterproof jacket with a white T-shirt underneath. On his back, he carried a huge backpack.

  “Wow, nice threads. You look like you should be modeling for North Face.” She started to walk in the direction of Central Park and he fell into step beside her.

  “I’m modeling for you instead. That’s a lot better. I thought I’d better make the effort if I’m going to be in a bestselling charity calendar.”

  “Well, it worked. I like it.”

  “I’m glad to hear it. What’s even better is what’s in my bag.”

  “Oh, do tell. I’m intrigued.”

  “I’ve brought a picnic. The works, including soft drinks and beer. I figured, since we’re not driving anywhere, a little alcohol would be nice. It might even loosen me up before you start pointing that camera at me.”

  Melodie raised her eyebrows. He’d never struck her as the domestic type, but then she’d never expected him to feel self-conscious about being photographed for the calendar, either. It seemed he’d changed from the immature, cocky philanderer she used to see on holidays and special occasions.

  “I’m impressed. I’d planned to swing by the bakery on our way there, but it seems you’ve saved us some time. And me some cash.” She grinned. “Though I’m more than happy to reimburse you for my half. Providing you were going to share it, of course, not sit there stuffing your face while I watched!”

  Patrick waved his hand. “Don’t be silly. I liked the idea, that’s all. If we get hungry or thirsty and we’re in a remote area of the park, it won’t matter. Plus, I’m a vet, and you’re a starving artist, so I can afford to pay.” He stepped away quickly as though expecting her to swing a punch or slap in his direction. In
stead, she shook her head.

  “It’s not nice to make fun of those worse off than you.”

  Sidling back toward her, he slung his arm around her shoulders. “I’m only teasing you, Mel.” Her heart skipped a beat at the nickname. God, the only person who’d ever shortened her name that way was Sean.

  When she stopped suddenly, he faced her. “Hey, I haven’t upset you, have I? I did say I’m only teasing. I know damn well you can hold your own.”

  She shifted watery eyes up to meet his, probably looking like one of the doe-eyed damsels from a Disney film. For what felt like the millionth time since he’d walked back into her life, her emotions were getting the better of her. “S-sorry.” Trying to smile, she failed miserably. “Only Sean called me that.”

  Patrick’s jaw dropped. “Ah, fuck,” he said with a mortified expression. “I’m really sorry, I had no clue. I thought it would be a pretty common nickname. I guess I stuck my foot in my mouth… again. Come here.”

  She stepped into his open arms without hesitation. She needed comfort, and he offered it. Snuggling into his tight, hiking gear-clad embrace, she instantly felt better, although unsure whether because of the hug or the person giving it. She breathed in his scent—a combination of freshly laundered clothes and a delicious woodsy cologne.

  Pulling away, she said again, “Sorry. I’m really going to have to get used to that. Sooner or later someone else is going to call me that, and I can’t have a breakdown every time, can I? It’s ridiculous. And somewhat pathetic.”

  “You’re not pathetic. Far from it. You’ve had to cope with a lot and you’ve done remarkably well. Give yourself some credit. Now, come on, we’ve got work to do. Or you have, anyway.”

  “Trust me, it’ll be hard work for you, too.”

  After they entered the park. Melodie paused, thinking, then glanced at Patrick standing beside her, waiting patiently. She gave a decisive nod. “I think we should head to the Ramble.”