Tomorrow!! No, I’m not channeling my inner theater nerd and belting out an Annie classic, I am making a giddy, ecstatic, and slightly over-the-top reminder that Dean, the baby of the Carlisle family, gets to share his happily ever after with you TOMORROW!! Here’s a little extra sneak peek of he and Jillian’s hilarious and crazy journey to love.
Chapter One Part II
If she hadn’t been delirious from a lack of sleep she probably would have handled the entire situation far better. She would have waited to drop the news—hell, she would have made it more of a request than a demand—at least until they were in his car. Her stomach growled. Preferably after she’d had food and at least six consecutive hours of rest…a luxury she wasn’t sure she could even remember.
Playing it off as a joke wasn’t an option. It was more deceitful than the actual plan she’d hatched during her nearly thirty-six hours of travel home from the small village in Sierra Leone back to Asheville.
One she’d have to talk Dean into if she had any hope of fixing everything that had shattered in her absence. But that at least had to wait until they were somewhere slightly more private than the baggage claim at Asheville Regional Airport.
Dean blinked three times, each more painfully slow than the one before. “What did you say?”
Heat licked across her face as she disentangled herself from him. “I’ll…” What? Bury my head in the sand because I am beyond embarrassed I actually just blurted that out? “I’ll explain in the car.” The next best thing.
She yanked one enormous bag after another off the slowly rotating machine and lifted her brows to look at him. “Think you can fit all of this in your chick magnet?”
Ever since the first time Dean had skidded to a stop in front of her house in the crimson sports car, she’d given him endless grief about choosing a car based solely on what appealed most to the female population.
The twitching at the corners of his mouth was both encouraging and concerning. She was hopeful she’d at least pushed the M word off the table long enough to collect her scattered, not fully logical thoughts before diving back in. But the mischief lighting his sapphire eyes was anything but settling.
“What do you have up your sleeve, Dean Carlisle?” She pulled up the handles of her two largest cases and wheeled them over to him, silently requesting he take them out as she repeated the action with her smaller bags and drug them behind her.
He arched a brow and cut a sideways glance at her as they exited through the sliding doors. “You propose marriage to me in the middle of a crowded airport without any notice and you wonder what I’m plotting?” He winked. “Not that I minded. I’m only shocked it took you eighteen years to see that you wanted this entire package.”
Jillian rolled her eyes and muttered curses in a stage whisper that made him laugh. “Yeah, that’s it. All the Carlisle men are just completely irresistible and I couldn’t hold out any longer.” The legs that had been cramped up for far too many hours on various planes screamed at the movement as she struggled to keep up with Dean’s pace through the parking lot. “Where the hell did you park, Sparky? Timbuktu?”
“Nope.” He popped the P on the end of the word as he swung her cases to a stop at the bumper of an enormous black truck that sparkled in the sun. “Timbuktu adjacent.”
She frowned as he effortlessly lifted the bags she knew were exceptionally heavy into the bed. “This is what you drive now? Have I really been gone that long I missed the Dean Carlisle transition into adulthood? I may never forgive myself, little butterfly.”
Before her brain had a chance to catch up to her mouth, Dean crowded her against the rear panel of the truck, bracing his hands on the metal ledge on either side of her head. “You demand my hand in marriage in a decidedly unromantic way and have the nerve to give me shit?” The grin on his face belied his words. Heat from the vehicle warmed her spine. “Maybe you need to watch a few more rose ceremonies to see how it’s really done.”
Jillian pushed his shoulder lightly and ducked beneath his arm when he didn’t move. “Why don’t you get in your big boy car and I’ll explain what I really meant.”
Dean took advantage of the extra foot he had on her and crossed in front of her to open the door before she could reach for the handle. Once she had climbed inside he slapped a palm to his chest and sighed. “Are you telling me I don’t get wined and dined? Damn, you’re a shitty date.”
She clicked her buckle into place and dipped her chin, offering a sardonic smile. And a good natured middle finger. “Good thing you’ve never dated me.” With that, she reached for the handle and jerked the door out of his hand, slamming it shut.
In usual Dean fashion, which was one of about a million reasons she knew she could only go to him for this kind of help, he hopped into the driver’s seat and backed out of the parking space without pushing for more information. Several minutes had passed as he eased back onto the highway with only silence between them. He knew her so well he gave her the time she needed to collect her thoughts. The nerves she tried to cover with the sarcastic, biting remarks so representative of their friendship ramped up with every rotation of the wheels drawing her closer to home.
Shit. Home. No, the conversation she needed to have, the massive favor she would have to beg for absolutely could not happen there.
“Do you have to get back to…whatever it is you do at Wyatt’s?”
A shadow passed over his face and for just a moment his expression was indecipherable, even with nearly two decades of experience reading Dean like the back of her hand. As quickly as it appeared, it faded and a grin slipped easily into place.
“Whatcha up for?”
The childhood nickname she’d always treasured wrapped around her in a new way after her latest, and longest, absence from home. And Dean. “Fredrock?”
His impish grin grew into a broad smile as he flicked the arm of the turn signal. “I thought you’d never ask.”
For the first time in more than two weeks since she’d first gotten wind of a problem, a portion of the mantle of responsibility that weighed heavily on her lifted. She settled back into the surprisingly plush seat, tilted her head back on the rest, and closed her eyes. If anyone could right her spiraling world, it would be Dean. He was the one constant she could always count on.