“You didn’t have to do that,” I scolded gently. “I’m a big girl now, Hap. I can deal with my own security issues. I was planning to call my company today and have them post an additional guard.”
“Uh-uh. You’re firing that company,” he said bluntly. “They failed. This guy’s the best in the business. And he’s a personal friend. I’d trust him with my life—and with yours. Anyway, he’s already on his way over.”
I worked hard to keep from gritting my teeth, though my nails bit into the flesh of my clenched palms. “Who is it?”
Please don’t let it be him. Don’t say Wilder.
“Wilder Lowe. Remember him?”
As if I could forget. Of course that was who Hap would call. Wilder ran an elite security firm based here in Eastport Bay.
More importantly, he’d been Hap’s closest friend since middle school, the first person to befriend him when his sitcom had been canceled and our family had moved from Los Angeles to Eastport Bay.
Hap had always said Wilder was the most loyal person he’d ever met. They’d maintained their friendship during the years Wilder played college football and later when he’d served as a Navy SEAL.
“I don’t think you’ve seen him since you left to go work on that Disney Channel show,” Hap said. “He used to come over to the house all the time—big guy, football player?”
Swallowing a lump in my throat, I nodded tightly. “I remember. Actually I saw him last year—at Sullivan Reece’s wedding reception. He was in charge of security. We didn’t talk much.”
Understatement of the year.
I’d invited Wilder out for a drink to catch up, and he’d shut me down cold, claiming his duties with the star-studded wedding would keep him busy the entire night and into the next morning right up until I was scheduled to fly out again.
Of course I’d recognized the excuse for what it was—Wilder Lowe had no more interest in the grown-up version of me than he’d had in the shy, awkward sixteen-year-old I’d been back when I’d carried an adolescent torch for him so bright he’d probably needed sunglasses whenever I was around.
Even now the memory of our brief exchange at the wedding reception caused my face to heat and my stomach to sink.
I can’t believe I asked him out.
“Oh yeah, I forgot you flew in for that. Such a celebrity… jetting in and out in a day,” Hap teased. “We little people barely got a glimpse of you.”
I didn’t laugh. I was concentrating too hard on keeping down the breakfast I’d just eaten. My stomach was a mass of raw nerves.
Wilder was on his way over.
Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe I could tell Hap to call it off. Maybe—
The doorbell rang. Hap set down his fork and left the table, walking swiftly toward the front door. He turned back to shoot a glance over his shoulder.
“That’ll be him. You finished?”
Though my plate was still half-full, I nodded and stood. I’d always had a nervous stomach and couldn’t eat another bite now to save my life.
I deposited my plate in the sink, thanked Rachel for breakfast, then popped into the powder room to check my face before joining Hap in the foyer. I could just imagine greeting Wilder with a big ole blueberry stuck in my front teeth.
When I reached the foyer, Wilder had already come inside and was standing there with my brother, towering over him and making Hap’s six-foot height look insignificant by comparison.
Of course no one could compare to Wilder Lowe. No one had ever come close.
He’d been six-foot-five by the tenth grade with thick, dark hair and hazel eyes that had given eighth grade Jessica no end of song-writing inspiration.
Of course he’d been lankier back then, not nearly as filled-out and muscular as he was now, but to my mind, he’d been the most beautiful boy on earth.
And he’d been the best at everything—the best football player in our school and probably the entire state, a talented baseball player, a straight A student with a quick wit and even quicker smile.
It had gotten him out of more than a few incidences of “boyish mischief.” He’d been idolized by all the guys and desired by all the girls.
I had been no exception. But I’d resigned myself to simply orbiting his magnetic sphere—close but always on the periphery. I’d stood no chance against the other girls vying for his attention, all of them prettier, older—and bolder.
As he’d spent so much time at our house with Hap, I’d made several futile attempts to capture his attention. Once I thought I might actually have succeeded in making him see me as something other than his best friend’s annoying little sister, but that transcendent moment had been long ago and hadn’t lasted nearly as long as I’d wanted it to.
And it had been tarnished by the utter humiliation that had followed.