Title: Just the Way You Are
Author: Beverly Barton
Publisher: Zebra Books
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
The South sizzles in New York Times bestselling author Beverly Barton’s sultry tale of a woman torn between two brothers…
Mary Beth Caine has always been the good girl in her small Mississippi town. But when a big, protective, shamelessly sexy stranger offers to console her on the night of her disastrous engagement party, Mary Beth lets him—only to discover that Parr Weston also happens to be the older brother of her fiancé, Bobby Joe.
Parr left Mississippi after years spent holding his family together. Now that he’s back, he can’t steal Bobby Joe’s woman, and he sure can’t offer Mary Beth the tidy happily-ever-after she deserves. But everything about the petite beauty—from her flame-gold hair to her artless sensuality—makes him crave her more. Love or lust, right or wrong, all he knows is that nothing has ever felt like this before, and walking away will be the hardest thing he’s ever had to do…
Parr Weston stood just inside the wide double doors that had been left ajar, his broad shoulders practically filling the opening. He hated social gatherings, especially if the invitation specified black tie, but this was one he’d been unable to refuse. The engagement party for his younger brother, Bobby Joe, seemed to be in full swing. The enormous hotel ballroom was jammed with formally attired guests, dancing, drinking, and celebrating up a storm.
But Bobby Joe was nowhere to be seen, which was odd. Maybe he had stepped out for a smoke, something he’d sworn he’d given up long ago. Parr wouldn’t put it past him.
He looked back into the crowded ballroom and shook his head, then went outside. The dimly lit patio beyond the doors was edged with benches set between manicured shrubs, but Parr didn’t want to sit. The night air was warm and balmy, surprisingly pleasant for late April in Iminga, Mississippi. He leaned back against a smooth wrought-iron pillar, relaxing his tall, rugged frame for a few moments in the embrace of the soft night.
Since he’d footed the bill for this extravagant shindig, he thought the least Bobby Joe could have done was be there to greet him at the entrance to the ballroom. He was surprised Mama hadn’t rushed over to introduce him to Bobby Joe’s “perfect” fiancée. During the three months he’d been on the construction site in Canada, the whole family had met and fallen in love with this paragon of virtue his brother intended to marry.
True, Parr had arrived over an hour late, but the delayed flight from Memphis hadn’t been entirely his fault. He couldn’t help it if a last-minute problem with one of his suppliers made him miss the departure of his original flight.
He’d parked himself and the carry-on with his formal wear at the gate to wait for the next flight, and caught up on other pressing business on his laptop. Parr Weston believed in staying focused. He worked off-line, so as to avoid wasting time on the Internet, where Bobby Joe had no doubt posted scads of flattering photos of himself and his true love.
Parr preferred to skip all that and judge for himself when he met her in person.
He had figured his family and the fabulous fiancée were all mad at him. But just what did they expect him to do? His successful construction business had to come first so they could all continue to enjoy their present lifestyle. Parr had taken on the role of head of the household long ago, at the too-young age of twelve, when their old man died. It hadn’t been an easy job then. It still wasn’t.
A low, sobbing sound interrupted his solitude, bringing his mind away from his troubled thoughts.
What was that noise? he wondered. Was someone crying?
He listened for several minutes, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. As if in answer to his confusion, the weeping grew louder. Then he saw her. On the far side of the patio, a small form stood huddled against the wall, her face hidden by a hand that brushed away tears.
Even in the semidarkness, he could see the gleaming, fiery gold length of her hair, not quite concealing the pearly white smoothness of her bare neck and shoulders, and the womanly curves of her satin-covered breasts and hips. Before he saw her face clearly, he knew she was beautiful. Just looking at her made him ache with powerful longing. He wanted to take her in his arms. Comfort and protect her.
He crossed the distance between them without thinking twice. When his big hand came down on her shoulder, she cried out and whirled around to face him. Too late, he realized he should have spoken before touching her.
“Calm down,” he said as his hand eased gently from her shoulder to rest tentatively at the small of her back. “It’s all right. Really. I heard you crying. I was concerned.”
She tilted her head slightly to gaze up at the towering, dark-eyed stranger, her whole body surrendering as his arm encircled her, pulling her against his hard male strength.
She clutched at the lapels of his tuxedo jacket, burying her face in the stiff pleats of his white shirt as the tears began to flow again.
“I’m so . . . sorry . . . I . . . please,” she gulped helplessly between sobs.
He let her lean against him, still weeping as she snuggled closer and closer, as if wanting to lose herself in the warmth of his body. God, but she felt right in his arms.
Parr couldn’t fight the wild idea that she belonged there or the strange feeling that this unknown woman was somehow meant for him.
But she didn’t belong in his arms, he told himself. He sure as hell didn’t believe in fate—or luck, for that matter. But he made no move away. She nestled closer.
What would it be like, he wondered, if they could act on instinct and let this unexpected closeness lead to its natural conclusion? What would her small, round body feel like naked beneath his?
Parr stiffened. That wasn’t his brain talking. He had to regain self-control or this random encounter might go in an unwanted direction. The beautiful teary woman in his arms obviously needed nothing more than to be held for a few minutes. Give her that and then let her go, he told himself.
“Shhh . . . shhh . . .” His voice was deep and rough.
She moved her face up a few inches from his chest, looking into his eyes, trying to smile. “You must think that I’m crazy.”
“No.” He was still holding her close, so close that he could feel the soft warmth of her breasts. “Something upset you, hurt you.”
She stared into his brown eyes, eyes so dark they appeared almost black. “Yes. But I—I just can’t explain. Not now. Not here.”
His hand gently stroked her cascading strawberry blond hair and she rested her head on his chest again as her arms went around his waist.
To steady herself, Parr thought. Not to embrace him.
“That’s all right, honey,” he whispered into her hair. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. Just let me hold you. It’ll do you good.”
Her response was a tiny, relieved sigh.
Parr wasn’t sure how long they stood there hidden in the shadows. No one saw the big, dark man with a small, golden woman in his arms. Soon enough, he realized that they couldn’t stay out there forever. The nearness of her was driving him crazy. He didn’t even know her name, but he wanted her more than he’d ever wanted anything in his entire thirty-two years.
“Hey.” His lips brushed her forehead. “You okay?” She didn’t answer. Her green, catlike gaze raised to meet his, then moved downward to his slightly open mouth. Then up again. The eye contact was as hot as a kiss. Maybe hotter.
Parr guessed that she was feeling exactly what he was. That she wanted him desperately, his lips on hers, his body on hers, his . . .
Oh God, he thought. We’ve got to get out of here.
“Come on,” he said, putting one hand at her waist to lead her across the patio. “Let’s go to the lounge and get something to drink.”
She hesitated momentarily before accepting his proposal and moving into step beside him. “I don’t usually drink.”
He wondered if he’d heard her right. She’d sounded so prim and proper, it almost made him want to laugh. Was she kidding?
No. One look at that beautifully sweet face told him that she was sincere. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t fool around,” he mumbled under his breath.
“What?” She stopped still, her body suddenly tight as a coiled spring.
“Nothing. Just thinking out loud. I’ll get you a Coke or coffee. Okay?”
She smiled with relief. “Yes. A Coke would be great. Thanks.”
Zebra © 2015 Beverly Barton
Beverly Barton was an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including Silent Killer, Cold Hearted, The Murder Game and Close Enough To Kill.