Looking down at the Persian rug that ran the length of the hallway to Club Tahoe’s ballroom, Bran Cade shook his head at the turn life had taken. No way could he have predicted that he and his brothers would still be running Club Tahoe after their father had passed. Yet here they were, celebrating the first anniversary of taking over the esteemed resort they’d inherited—and had never wanted.
Deep in thought, Bran didn’t notice someone coming from the opposite direction. Not until he nearly ran into the woman he’d been avoiding for months.
Ireland’s arms went up dramatically as though to catch herself. “Oh, Bran… I’m so sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
Unless she’d been looking down too, no one was that blind.
She wore a long navy gown that accented her porcelain skin. Against his will, Bran’s gaze dipped. Ireland’s red hair fell in waves across her forehead and neck and grazed the edges of her breasts. Breasts that must have filled a push-up bra to maximum capacity, and currently threatened to fall out of her dress.
Bran’s brothers liked to call him a monk, but he was a man—he looked. He also knew fake boobs when he saw them.
Ireland was the type of woman Bran had avoided for over ten years. Fast, seductive…beautiful. He had a weakness when it came to sexy, beautiful women.
“No problem.” Bran moved to walk past Ireland, and her hand fell lightly on his arm.
She’d been sending him looks ever since they’d met, and he wanted none of it. Bran pulled his arm away.
“Have I done something to offend you?” She sounded hurt.
Sure he’d hurt her—her pride, that was. No way a woman as attractive as Ireland had suffered a day in her life. She’d take his rejection and move on to the next guy.
“No.” He strode away, but not before he caught genuine pain in her eyes.
So maybe some of the emotion had been real. It didn’t matter.
Bran entered the celebration at the end of the hallway, glancing around distractedly. Whether he’d hurt Ireland or not, brushing her off wasn’t easy. His brothers thought he didn’t date. They were wrong. He liked women as much as his hound-dog brothers; he simply chose different women. He didn’t date the ladies who came on to him at bars. And he didn’t date flashy, beautiful women. The end.
Women as beautiful as Ireland were trouble, because deep down Bran was still weak where they were concerned. Which was why he did everything in his power to avoid them and live by the rules he’d set. No fast women. And always use condoms. That was, if he trusted a woman enough to get laid.
Bran squeezed his forehead and tried to shake off the encounter in the hallway.
Inside, the party was in full effect, with Bran’s buddy Jaeg standing near the door, along with his fiancée Cali.
Jaeg stepped forward and shook Bran’s hand. “Way to go, man. I figured you guys would have thrown in the towel six months ago and hired a management company.”
“You and everyone else,” Bran said, plastering on a smile. “We’ll see how the next year goes.” He leaned over and gave Cali a hug.
She returned the greeting, but her gaze scanned past his shoulder. “Have you seen my cousin?”
Bran’s eye twitched. Ireland was Cali’s cousin. “We ran into each other in the hallway. Bumped into each other, actually.”
Jaeg chuckled. “Ireland’s vision isn’t the—”
Cali elbowed Jaeg in the ribs, and he flinched.
Goddamn funny to see these two together. Jaeg was the tallest of Bran’s friends, at six foot six, and his fiancée was short. Or maybe she was average height, but she looked short next to Jaeg. Yet Jaeg was a pile of dough in her hands.
Jaeg sent Cali a look, and she returned it. “Ireland is a little clumsy, that’s all,” Cali said. “She’s still relatively new in town and I want to make sure she’s having a nice time. She seemed off when she left for the restroom.”
Bran glanced at the crowd. “Ireland appears social. I can’t imagine her having a hard time making friends.” Understatement. That woman knew what she was doing, running into Bran in the hallway like that. And shooting him interested glances every chance she got.
Yeah, she was one to avoid.
“Oh, good,” Cali said brightly. “I’m schooling her.”
Bran’s gaze shot to the pretty strawberry blonde. “Schooling her?” Cali wasn’t as statuesque as Ireland, but Bran noted the family resemblance. Red hair must run strong in their family. Even Cali’s brother Tyler had a reddish-brown version. Though Ireland was the only true red.
Jaeg groaned. “Cali thinks Ireland needs more excitement in her life.”
“Well, she does.” Cali said.
“Babe, do you remember the last time you helped a friend meet men?”
Bran hid a smile. He’d heard something about that one. Cali had originally tried to set up Jaeg with her best friend Gen. Instead Cali had ended up falling in love with Jaeg. Cali’s romance radar wasn’t the sharpest.
Cali waved Jaeg off. “This is totally different. Ireland is shy, and she’s been working nonstop to pay off her school loans. She hasn’t had the opportunity to meet people. No good people, anyway, and that’s what we’re working on.”
Bran caught the eye of the waitress he’d been casually talking to for weeks. A light smile flittered across her face. She quickly glanced away.
Now that was a shy woman. And just his type. He didn’t need or want aggressive women in his life. “Will you excuse me? I see someone I want to say hello to.”
“Catch you later,” Jaeg said, as Cali continued to talk about Ireland.
Bran tuned out the conversation and made his way across the room. He didn’t want to hear about the “clumsy” redhead. The waitress he’d been talking to for weeks was pretty and sweet. Simple. Of course, Bran hadn’t made a move yet. Hadn’t mustered up the energy to ask her out. Which was how he knew he was safe.
Bran’s mind didn’t cloud over when he saw the waitress, and his libido was never in control when they talked.
His desires would never rule over him again.