On Sunday, Brooke took her kids to her parents’ house on the lake so they could swim. Her sister, Michelle, was there.
“Why am I just now hearing about your date with Chase? You should have called me and let me know he asked you out.”
Brooke hadn’t wanted to tell Michelle because her sister tended to blow everything out of proportion.
“I haven’t had time.”
“Ha. You were just afraid to talk about it. Was it that bad?”
“No, it was good. We went to the Italian restaurant. Chase is a gentleman. I had a really good time,” Brooke said.
Michelle huffed. “Come on, details. Spill.”
“He is nice. Not like what I thought he was.”
“Did he say why he was dating you?” Brooke’s face burned. “I mean, not that he shouldn’t date you, you’re beautiful and nice, but it just seems – “
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, you weren’t even friends in high school. And you had a crush on him.”
“It’s kind of funny how life turns out, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You two together, after all these years and heartaches.”
It was amazing, Brooke wanted to say. But she tamped down her excitement. Michelle wasn’t careful about who she shared details with. Megan wasn’t, either. Brooke hadn’t even called her friend to tell her that she’d gone out with Chase.
“That doesn’t mean it will go farther than a few dates. I’m not sure I am ready for a relationship, nor do I think he is.”
“I don’t know. He might be.”
Maybe he was. He seemed to be pursuing a relationship with her pretty quickly. She hadn’t expected him to ask her out on a first date, let alone a second and third.
“He must be ready to move on,” Michelle said. “He had it pretty rough with Lisa.”
“With the cancer, you mean?”
“I guess I never told you, I mean, I thought you wouldn’t be interested. But Lisa cheated on him. She—”
Brooked held up her hand.
“Wait, Sis. Don’t tell me anymore.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“No.” Brooke’s tone was firm. “Anything you tell me is gossip, and it isn’t fair to Chase. If he wants me to know what happened, he will tell me. I don’t want to hear it second-hand. You might not even have the details right.”
“Wow, I guess you are hooked on him. What makes you think he is going to tell you?”
“If we continue to go out, he will eventually want to talk about it.” If he did not there would be no future with him. They had to work through the past to move forward.
“I’d rather hear it from him.”
“All right.” Michelle sounded disappointed. It was clear that she had wanted to tell Brooke the story. “I forgot you aren’t a gossip.”
Brooke turned to teasing. “Not like you. And Mom.”
“I’m surprised Mom didn’t tell you when it happened. I’m sure she knew about it.”
“She may have. At the time, I was grieving Carl. I wouldn’t have cared what was happening with Chase.”
“But now you care.”
Yeah, now she cared.
Monday morning at nine o’clock, Brooke received a phone call. The caller ID was Reed’s Heating & Cooling.
“Hello, is this Brooke?”
It wasn’t Chase. It must be his brother, calling for an interview. She willed herself to remain calm.
“It’s Darrick, Chase’s brother. “He sounded gruff, borderline rude. Chase said you are interested in the bookkeeping job.”
“Yes, I am.”
“It’s part time.”
“That’s what I’m looking for. Part-time while the kids are in school.”.”
“Can you come in this afternoon for an interview?”
“This afternoon? Yes, I can. What time?”
“Two o’clock.” It wasn’t a question. She wondered if Chase’s brother was always so commanding. She knew he had been in the Army. Maybe that had something to do with it.
“I will be there.”
After the phone call, she immediately called Daelyn. “Would you be available to watch the kids this afternoon?”
“I don’t have anything going on. Sure, I can babysit.”
Neither of the kids sounded happy about the job interview.
“Who will take care of us?” Brinley asked.
“I won’t be working until you are back in school.” At least, she did not think so. “And Daelyn is a good babysitter, isn’t she?”
“Yes, I like her. She plays ponies with me.”
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Devon, we’ve been through this before. I don’t want you and Brinley to stay alone—not yet, anyway. I don’t know how long I will be gone. I don’t want to have any unexpected phone calls if you two can’t get along.”
She looked through all of her clothes, and decided on wearing a suit that she had worn only a couple of times. Her work had been business casual, and she had a feeling that Chase’s company was informal. But she wanted to put her best foot forward. She pulled her hair up, as it was still hot out. She needed to get it cut and styled. She would make an appointment later this week.
The business was located just outside of town on the main highway. She walked in, and saw it was a spacious room. There were rows of shelves with parts, a section of heating units. There was a counter, and a desk with a computer behind it. In an office off to the side, there was a second desk and computer. Brooke was not sure, but she thought the woman who was sitting there was Chase’s younger sister, Baylee. She got up and walked out to the counter.
Her smile reminded Brooke of Maddie’s. “You must be Brooke. I kind of recognize you. I’m Baylee, Darrick’s sister.”
Right, Baylee wouldn’t know she was dating Chase. Or she might know but chose not to mention it.
Baylee pushed a button on the intercom.
“Brooke is here.”
A few minutes later, a tall man with dark blond hair and a clean-shaven jaw walked in. She tried to see the resemblance between him and Chase, but one must look like their dad and one more like their mom. He was wearing a gray button-down shirt and black pants with expensive leather shoes. He studied her for a long moment, then smiled. The smile did not reach his eyes, though. She noticed they were the same caramel color as Chase’s, but they did not hold the warmth that Chase’s had.
“Brooke, it’s good to see you again.”
Again? She wondered at his choice of words. “Thank you—” She reached out her hand.
He gripped it firmly and released it quickly.
“Darrick is fine.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to interview, Darrick.”
She handed him her resume. He took it without looking at it.
“Let’s get this interview started.”
She followed him back to the spacious office with a large, neat desk and a leather desk chair. When he sat down, she sat in one of the vinyl chairs by the door.
There were a few minutes of silence while he read over her resume. Then he looked at her with an unreadable expression in his eyes.
“I remember you from high school.”
She was surprised. He had been a couple of years ahead of her.
“I know you worked hard to get good grades. You graduated with a 4.0, didn’t you?”
She did not know he knew that. Perhaps Chase or his mom had mentioned it.
“Yes. I was valedictorian.”
“I see from your resume you worked in a law firm in Detroit. This is small time compared to what you are used to.”
It was the first interview she had been on where the employer was not trying to impress her with their business. Darrick seemed overly negative.
“I wanted to move back home, and get my kids out of the city.” She was surprised at how confident and positive she sounded, when she wanted to stalk out because of his surly attitude.
“Oh, yes, your kids. Chase said you wanted a part time job while they are in school.”
“Yes, that’s right.” Was the interview going to be repeating what Chase had told him, or did he plan to ask her some questions?
“So, Chase told me you worked as a bookkeeper?”
She guessed she had her answer. “Yes. I have an associate degree in accounting. I haven’t worked for three years, and I am anxious to get back into a job.”
“It looks like you are well-qualified for what we need, maybe even overly qualified.” Darrick leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “My concern is that you are dating my brother.”
She was hesitant to say they were dating. She wasn’t sure how Chase felt about that phrase.
“We’ve gone out a couple of times.”
“I worry that your relationship is going to interfere with your job.”
Her face flamed. “I’m sure we will be professional about it.”
“What if you break up, and you want to quit?”
His question was offensive. She raised her chin. “I’m not sure that question is appropriate for a job interview.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled, making her think her answer had amused him.
“Well, we need a qualified bookkeeper. My mom always handled the paperwork, and you probably know that she quit working here to take care of my dad. Baylee took over for her, but she wants to go back to college and get a teaching degree. We are reluctant to hire an outsider, but it seems that is what we are going to have to do.”
She did not know what to say to that, so she kept silent, dropping her gaze from his.
“I’ll hire you, but I need you to start before your kids go back to school. At least a few hours a week, until you learn the system.” He named the starting salary. “I’m sure you were making more in Detroit?”
“I made more than that, but it was full time. I don’t expect the same wage for part time work.”
“And not in this hick town, right?”
She smiled at the derogatory comment.
“I grew up here, remember?”
There was a bite to his tone. She recalled that he had left, too. He had gone to college, and later joined the service. Maybe he regretted moving back home.
“Let’s go and talk to Baylee. She can show you the ropes, and set up a schedule for you to come in for the next couple of weeks.”
“All right. Thank you, Darrick.”
“Oh, and Brooke, it’s not that formal around here. Not jeans, of course, but you don’t have to get real fancy.”
She blushed, glad he was behind her and could not see her face.
As unfriendly as Darrick had sounded, Baylee was just the opposite. She had the same caramel-colored eyes as her brothers and when she smiled, Brooke was reminded of Chase.
Baylee smiled when Darrick announced that he had hired Brooke.
“I’ve hired Brooke to take over when you leave, Sis,” Darrick said, a bit of his professionalism fading as he spoke to his sister. “She’ll need to come in a few hours a week while you train her.”
Darrick turned back to Brooke. “Welcome aboard, Brooke.” There was no warmth in his eyes, even though he smiled. “I’ll leave her in your hands, Sis.”
After Darrick returned to his office, Baylee’s professionalism dropped and she smiled. Brooke couldn’t remember how many years difference there was between Baylee and Chase, but his sister looked much younger.
“I’m so glad he hired you, Brooke. It’s nice to have someone that we can trust working here, with all the money that comes in. And someone who won’t be a gossip.”
“How do you know that about me?”
“Chase sang your praises.” Brooke blushed, wondering what all Chase had told his family about her. Baylee laughed. “No, I’m teasing. He asked Darrick to give you an interview, but it was my mom who talked him into it. She thinks a lot of you.”
“She doesn’t really know me, except through my mom. But I am trustworthy, and I don’t gossip.”
“Good. We’ve gone through a lot of that in the past.”
Chase had alluded to gossip, and her sister had wanted to tell her details about his story with his wife. There were some hurts there, but she did not want to delve into them. If he wanted her to know more, he would tell her.
Baylee showed her the computer program and ledgers. “I know there is a new program Darrick has been wanting to get, that would combine accounting and payroll and print checks from the computer. We haven’t upgraded. My mom did not want to learn anything new, and I admit the old system is easier for me, also.”
“This is the system I learned on, but we upgraded at my last job. If you want to switch to the new program, I can help get it up and running.”
Baylee looked relieved. “I’m sure Darrick would be happy to know that. Now will you be able to come in a few hours this week?”
“Yes, I can come in as needed. I can hire a sitter for the kids.”
“That’s right, your kids are the same ages as Chase’s. I think that’s pretty cool.”
Brooke did not comment. While Baylee seemed to like the idea that she was dating Chase, Darrick was against her working here for that reason.