Story of Us (Love Unexpected)(8)By: Jody Holford
“I bet that even if you had, you wouldn’t crawl home.”
Declan stared at her, his dark eyes too intense for the roller coaster of emotions Sophia was juggling. “Your parents—your family—love you, Sophia. Whatever happened, they’ll be thrilled you’re home. That their entire family is where they belong.”
Her heart ached at the word “belong.” The feeling was an anomaly to her—the sense of rightness and certainty that came with knowing you were where you should be. She’d gotten tired of chasing that dream and decided if she wasn’t going to find it, she might as well be in Brockton where her family was.
“What are you scared of?”
Another word she detested. Even more, she hated feeling it. “I’m not scared. I’m an adult. I’ve moved back into town, and I’ve secured employment. Next on the list is a place to live. Then I can show up and tell them I’m just fine.”
Declan reached over and took one of her hands. He rubbed his thumb over the back of it, and sensations tumbled around like her emotions. It wasn’t even noon yet. How could she feel so freaking much?
Her eyes shot up to his. “Am I what?”
He leaned into her space again, and she wondered what it would be like to press her mouth to his. It was hardly the first time she’d wondered if his lips were as soft as they looked. She wanted to run her hand along his strong, square jaw and feel the rasp of his stubble against her palm. Against her neck.
“Are you fine?” His voice came out a husky whisper.
Blinking back tears and taking a deep breath, she nodded. “I am. Stop worrying. I don’t need another big brother, Declan. I needed a job, you gave me one. And I stand by what I said, you won’t be sorry.”
As they turned back to the spreadsheets and he showed her his accounting program, Sophia wondered if she’d be sorry. Sorry for coming back, for staying away, for keeping secrets. Stealing side glances at Declan while he spoke, she wondered what her life would have been like if she’d stayed. Would she have worked for her family, settled down, married someone they approved of and had a happy little family? Like each of her siblings.
Sophia put a hand to her stomach and swallowed the lump in her throat. No sense wondering “what if” when she had a whole hell of a lot of “what now” to face.
Declan went about his day as usual: changing kegs, filling orders, chatting with customers, but everything felt different. Electrically charged. Sophia spent most of the morning getting comfortable with his computer programs and inventory. She’d already set up three interviews, and he could actually feel the noose of all the tedious chores he hated loosening. While that felt great, he also felt something else. Something he didn’t want to feel. Not for a buddy’s little sister who had trouble and sadness written all over her.
Marcus talked about his family frequently. Mostly his wife and the kids if they were just shooting the breeze, but with them spending more time together perfecting their craft beer recipe, other family members came up. Whenever he mentioned Sophia, a wave of tension rode his words. Her family wanted her home—thought she belonged there—but that didn’t mean they weren’t all pissed that she’d up and left them. From Declan’s perspective, he didn’t see why they were holding it over her head. She’d spread her wings. That’s what kids were supposed to do.
There were other families like the Strombis in Brockton Point. Families who believed everyone stayed in the same place, had dinner every Sunday, and raised their children alongside their cousins. If there was one available, they worked in the family business. Which was part of the reason Marcus hadn’t told his father about the craft beer, even though they were ready to test the market. Declan had always had the support he needed from his parents but felt like he might have responded similarly to Sophia if his mom or dad had tried to box him in.
One of the front doors swung open, and Declan’s moody thoughts shifted and cleared. Megan walked through with Adam right behind her, his hand on her hip. She smiled that adorable megawatt smile at him, and his tension disappeared.