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“Peachy,” Cooper says, holding his hands up in innocence. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find my date.”
I let him walk away, run a hand down my suit jacket, and try to shove aside Cooper’s brand of pop psych trying to take root in my brain. He thinks I turn into a caveman where Bailey is concerned, and he assumes it’s because I have feelings for her. Maybe I just don’t want my brother screwing my employee. Maybe that’s a headache I’d rather avoid.
This is stupid.
I grab another drink from a passing waiter. It’s crisp, bubbly champagne, and though I’d rather sling the glass against the wall to release some of this pent-up anger, I down it in one go then drop the flute back on the waiter’s tray. His eyes are wide. I’m probably the first guest he’s seen shotgun a glass of champagne tonight.
I finish my other drink and hand it off too.
“Uh, sir…can I get you something else?”
I shake my head and brush past him, unsure exactly where I’m headed until I spot Bailey across the room at the bar talking to my parents.
Hilarious. What in the world could they be discussing?
Cooper’s nowhere in sight, but I’m sure he’ll reappear near Bailey soon and do something else to raise my hackles, like kissing her cheek or wrapping an arm around her lower back. He held her hand during the ceremony. Fucking ridiculous. I don’t like PDA, the touchy-feely bullshit. He did it to make me mad—he just admitted to that—and yet I don’t forgive him. If anything, it makes me angrier. Does Bailey know she’s just a pawn in his game?
It doesn’t look like it. She got dressed up tonight. Her silky blonde hair is down and curly. Her makeup accentuates every one of her flawless features. She doesn’t put this much effort into her appearance for work, and really, it’s not necessary. The makeup and the outfit are nice, and sure, she’s turning heads tonight, but I actually prefer her fresh-faced complexion. The cheekbones, the light blonde hair, the winning smile—she has a sort of girl-next-door charm that shines on its own.
Just for a moment, I indulge in the idea of considering her as I would any other woman. I ignore the complications of our relationship and think only of her fiery personality, her confidence and strength in the operating room. I drag my eyes down her tight blue dress and toned legs. A burning ache grips hold of me, but then it’s doused with a healthy dose of guilt. Bailey isn’t just a woman. She’s my surgical assistant, and she doesn’t want me checking her out.
“Matt!” my mom says as she sees me approach. “Bailey here was just explaining that you two work together. I had no idea!”
“I’m afraid we’ve been pestering her with questions,” my dad adds, sending Bailey an appreciative smile. “Mostly about what you’re like as a boss.”
“I’m not technically Bailey’s boss,” I clarify with a hard tone. “I don’t sign her paychecks.”
My black cloud temporarily sours everyone’s pleasant mood, but Bailey salvages it. “Just this week, we had an especially grueling surgery. Dr. Russell succeeded in doing a procedure only a handful of surgeons in the country could even attempt.”
My parents’ eyes are alight with wonder. I never talk about my job with them. “It wasn’t that exciting,” I clarify, slightly embarrassed by the attention.
My mom’s hand bats my shoulder. “Oh stop. Now, Bailey, what do you do during surgery? I’ve never even heard of a surgical assistant.”
“She’s like my right hand. Closing, dressing the wound, passing me instruments. I wouldn’t be able to operate without her.”
I’m staring down at my drink when I say all this, but then the deafening silence is too much to ignore. I finally glance up and Bailey is staring at me with wide, shocked eyes. My mom’s watching me with a curious little smile. My dad—thank God—is drinking his beer and keeping his lips zipped.
I sigh and rake a hand through my hair. “Bailey, can I speak with you for a second?”
Before she answers, I step forward, place a hand on her arm, just above her elbow, and lead her to an empty cocktail table across the room.
“Slow down,” she insists. “You’re nearly running and I can’t move that fast in these shoes.”
I sigh and slow my pace, aware of how tightly I’m gripping her arm—not painfully, but unyielding all the same.
Once we reach the table, I deposit her on one side and walk around until we’re facing one another.
“Just to be clear,” she says, pleasant tone gone. “I was just being polite in front of your parents.”
“What did Cooper say about this wedding when he invited you here tonight?” I ask, all business.
Her cheeks redden and she wrings her hands. “Um, I don’t know…just that it was a small ceremony. No pressure, that sort of thing.”
“He didn’t mention me at all?”
“Obviously not.” Her tone hardens. “Even though he definitely should have.”
I nod. The next few minutes are going to be extremely painful, but I have to be honest with her about the situation or it’s going to explode in my face. Cooper might want to play with people’s emotions, but he doesn’t have to face Bailey at work come Monday morning. I do.
“Do you have feelings for Cooper?” I ask, my head tipped to the side, eyes narrowed.
Her brows shoot up. She glances away. “Feelings? Ah…”
She’s all but grimacing with disdain and I want to grin, but I have enough sense to stifle the urge. “That’s what I thought, and it’s just as well, because Cooper only brought you here to make me jealous.”
Nothing like having the truth shot right out of a cannon.
Her light brown eyes are focused on the cocktail table and there’s untold emotion simmering there. Is she hurt by the revelation? Or just curious to hear the rest of the story?
I sigh and steel myself for her reaction as I continue. “It’s too complicated and stupid to have to explain, but essentially, Cooper got it into his head that I didn’t like you two dating. He’s under the assumption that I have some burning desire to be with you, and he thought bringing you here tonight was the perfect way to test his theory.”
Her brows scrunch together as she shakes her head. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” At least we agree on something. “Burning desire? For me? Pfft.”
Her gaze lifts to mine and a fist grabs hold of my chest.
Then, she does the absolute last thing I ever expected: she smiles.
“Honestly, I can’t even be mad that he invited me here under false pretenses. I wasn’t the one who agreed to this date.”
Now I’m the one leaning forward, waiting for answers.
“It was my little sister.” She shrugs. “I really hate texting, so she started doing it on my behalf and got a little carried away. I didn’t even know about this wedding until after she had agreed I’d go.”
Relief floods my veins. “You’re kidding.”
She bites her bottom lip to stifle her smile and shakes her head. “No. She thinks I need to get out and date more. Cooper just happened to be the first guy to show any interest.”
“That can’t be true.”
In a flash, her smile is gone. “Well it is. We’re not all famous spine surgeons with thick hair and the brooding personality of Mr. Darcy.”
I frown. “‘Brooding personality of Mr. Darcy’…what in the world are you talking about?”
“Oh, c’mon.” She waves her hand in my direction. “I don’t have the energy to feed your ego. You’re a doctor and you’re attractive and if you bothered to go on a dating app, your thumbs would fall off from the amount of matches you’d get in 24 hours. They’d have to add a new server just to handle the overflow of traffic.”
I shoot her a disbelieving smile. “How many drinks have you had?” She doesn’t like my joke, rolling her eyes and moving to walk away, but I grab her wrist. “Wait.”