Trouble on Tap(9)

By: Avery Flynn

Chapter Three

Olivia closed the thick oak front door and knocked her forehead against it three times, hoping to pound the last few minutes from her memory. Like just about everything else in her life right now, it didn’t work. She couldn’t stop seeing the millisecond of hurt that flashed in Mateo’s hazel eyes before the emotion drained out, replaced with a hard-edged bravado. Regret and shame burned through her like battery acid.

“You are a total ass.” Miranda echoed the words ringing in Olivia’s ears.

Olivia spun on her heel to face her older sister. “Thanks, oh wise one, I hadn’t figured that out yet.”

They may be only minutes apart in birth order, but Miranda had always been the Type A leader, insisting her way was the only way to get something done. Without meaning to, Olivia slipped back into the role she’d always played when they were growing up: rebellious smartass.

Logan and Sean, obviously sensing a Sweet triplets brouhaha on tap, smartly hung back in the living room, seemingly engrossed in Uncle Julian’s erotic sci-fi book collection.

Natalie, ever the middle-child peacemaker, stepped forward to join the fray. “She was just shocked. It wasn’t like she meant to hurt Mateo’s feelings.”

She hadn’t, but the end result was that Olivia had made him feel like shit, even if he wouldn’t show that to the world. She couldn’t let that stand. Even after he’d squashed her heart under his steel-toed boot, he deserved better than her moronic, unfiltered reaction.

“I’m sure the fact that I didn’t mean to be a total bitch really makes a difference to him.” Olivia grabbed a pair of rubber boots and shoved her bare feet inside the fake-fur-lined interior. “I need to go help move the car. It’s the least I can do.”

Natalie scrunched her nose, dislodging her glasses and forcing her to push them back up. “I don’t think he really wants you around right now.”

Wasn’t that the story of her life? The town of Salvation didn’t want the crazy Sweet family, but she’d grown up here anyway and spit in the eye of anyone who gave her a cross look. The modeling world didn’t want her in the beginning because her voluptuous curves didn’t fit with the stick-thin catwalk models in New York. One magazine editor had even gone so far as to call a picture of her standing in a bikini “vulgar” because she had big boobs. Internet commentators had called her fat and there were entire thinspiration boards devoted to detailing her supposed faults. She’d refused to back down and had become one of the top-paid models in the industry before the newness wore off and the pendulum swung back to long, lanky, thin models. Then she’d decided to explore the corporate world. She’d retired from modeling, taken a job as a public relations and marketing specialist, found a non-industry boyfriend and rescued the world’s meanest cat from a kill shelter.

Okay, that last one hadn’t turned out so well since she was now broke, homeless, jobless and her shithead of an ex was posting naked photos of her to revenge-porn websites.

There wasn’t fuck all she could do about any of that at this moment, but she could fix things with Mateo. And she would.

She turned, facing both sisters head on. “I made a mistake. I need to make it right. Anyway,” she shrugged. “When have I ever done what was expected of me?”

Her sisters stared at her, Natalie pensive and Miranda all judgey. But then, Miranda shook her head and laughed. Tension seeped out of Olivia’s shoulders.

“There was that time…no wait, that was Natalie.” Miranda reached in the hall closet and retrieved a pair of men’s shoes. She tossed them to Logan before sinking her feet into her own. “We’ll go with you.”

Backup would be awesome, the three musketeers—sort of. Instead of the Sweet triplets it would be Olivia, Miranda and Logan. Not quite the same. She sighed.

God, she should have thought her trip out more before coming home the second the idea hit her. The impulsive, balls-to-the-wall, all-in Sweet DNA ran strong through her veins, but that didn’t mean it didn’t sour her reality every once in a while.

Time to suck it up and take her medicine by herself. “I appreciate it, but I’m good.”

Miranda paused in the middle of yanking up a boot, cocking her head to one side. “Are you sure?”

Surprisingly, she was. “Yeah, I’m a big girl. I can take whatever he’s pissed off enough to dish out.”

Slip-sliding her way down the steep, muddy driveway, Olivia tried to come up with something to say that would fix what her impulsive first reaction had fucked up. Halfway down the hill, she spotted the glow of headlights in the distance but still had jack shit. Three-fourths of the way down, the light grew to create a warm orange-yellow beacon in the drippy night, but she still had nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

She skittered to a stop a few feet up from the highway and her breath caught.

Mateo stood outlined by his portable floodlight as he bent to hook the towline to the back of her Fiat. Broad shoulders, narrow waist and a butt that was as close to perfect as possible. He’d ditched his jacket and his wet T-shirt clung to him, showing off his back muscles almost as well as if he’d been naked. He straightened and rubbed the back of his neck, the floodlight’s beams spotlighting the corded muscles on his forearm, before reaching down for the towline and tugging it to make sure it was secure. The mutt trotted over to Mateo’s side and nuzzled his leg.

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