Dean was unprepared for the combination of guilt and jealousy that were churning in his stomach as the applause around him faded away. Without any real warning he was the last of the Hawke brothers to find the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He was happy for Logan – who was practically still slipping the ring onto Clarabelle’s finger – and he was happy for Blake and Nate, too. And he certainly had nothing against any of his three future in-laws. The problem was him. The problem was that he was starting to think he wanted something like what his brothers had found for himself. But that thought dredged up a whole slew of uncomfortable memories and even less comfortable emotions, and somehow Dean doubted that a crowded beach was the place to try sorting them out.
Truth be told, he was quickly discovering that the crowded, celebratory beach was about the last place he wanted to be just then. Unfortunately, since the crowd had originally gathered for the annual Firehouse Breakfast and he was one of the volunteer firefighters, he was obligated to stay. At least until they ran out of food. Although that didn’t necessarily mean he had to stay right there; he could probably get away with taking a casual stroll closer to the shoreline. Just for a couple of minutes; no one will even notic–.
“Dean!” an unexpected male voice called a heartbeat before a hand was clapping him on the shoulder and practically spinning him around. Suddenly he was face to face with Jay Judd, one of Blake’s coworkers and one of the two lifeguards on duty for the day. Jay was about half a year younger than him and one of the few men in town with an even looser reputation than Dean’s. “The day’s gotten a little interesting, hasn’t it?” Jay wiggled his eyebrows as if Dean didn’t already know what he was referring to.
Clearing his throat, Dean shrugged, shoved his hands into his pockets, and replied, “Yeah, I guess it has.” He and Jay had never really been anything more than associates who occasionally shared a classroom, and none of that inclined him to put special effort into pretending he was feeling social.
Laughing, Jay let his hands land on his hips and said, “Man, I swear it was just this past week when I heard they were finally dating. How weird is that?”
Willing his eye not to twitch, Dean offered another shrug and let the preplanned lie roll guiltlessly from his lips. “They’ve been keeping it quiet for a while. You know Logan; he’s never liked being the center of attention.” That much was true, at least. Dean even wondered if the shock of the public proposal wasn’t part of why he felt so thrown off by it.
Jay nodded and hummed something that sounded like an agreement. “Seems reasonable enough. But, hell, why wouldn’t a guy want to brag about something like that?” Apparently Dean failed to keep his eyes from narrowing into a glare that time, because Jay quickly held up his hands in a defense gesture and added, “Sorry! I just meant in general, when you get a beautiful woman, why not announce it to the world? I swear I didn’t mean anything by it!”
Liar. Still, he forced his expression to slip into neutral and said, “Right. Well, I couldn’t tell you. Wasn’t my decision to make.”
Arms falling back to his sides, Jay grinned and asked, “Hey, have you met the new girl?”
“New girl?” Dean repeated before he could think better of it. Oh, right. There was a new lifeguard in town; in fact, if he remembered what Blake had mentioned, she’d been stuck with the day shift alongside Jay. What was her name again? Clearing his throat, Dean added, “Ah, no, haven’t met her.” Reflexively his gaze slipped to the side, toward the bulk of the crowd, as if looking for a woman he’d never seen before. But he saw no one walking around in a bright red one-piece, so he assumed she was up in her tower.
“Man,” Jay began, an almost wistful tone in his voice, “let me tell you, she is a woman to brag about.” His grin broadened and he winked, adding, “There’s a reason I love this job.”
It took an effort to keep from groaning. Either Jay had devolved since the last time they’d talked or Dean had done a lot more maturing in the last few months than he’d been aware of, because all of a sudden he found himself really wanting to be there the day some woman dumped a glass of water on Jay’s face. In the meanwhile, though, he just needed to figure out an efficient escape plan. So he arched a brow and asked, “Speaking of jobs, aren’t you supposed to be working? Or do you wear those god awful trunks on your off days, too?”
Jay laughed, clapped Dean on the shoulder one more time, and shook his head as he stepped back. “No, I swear I don’t. But I probably should climb back up topside.” He turned, walked a couple of feet, and waved over his shoulder as he called back, “Catch you later, Dean!”
Preferably not for a month or ten. Dean shook his head as he finally turned his attention away from the retreating man. And what had Jay even been doing wandering around so far from his tower? Dean was standing only a couple of yards from the other one, meaning Jay’s tower was halfway across the beach. Idiot was probably thinking he could sneak a flirt with the new girl. And he couldn’t help but think that, whoever she was, she owed him quite the thank you. Taking a deep breath, Dean turned again, thinking he still wanted that distracting walk on the shoreline. He felt like he was being unnaturally irritable, though he suspected someone in his family would argue that that was even possible, so a little distance between himself and people seemed like a good idea.
Then his eyes landed on the nameless, dark-haired beauty stepping down from the nearest lifeguard tower and his desire for ‘distance from people’ vanished.
Her long, brown hair was pulled high and tight in a functional ponytail, the end swaying with each breath of movement. She was fairly tall with slender arms and long, toned legs extending from the abundance of feminine curves and flat stomach that were concealed by the requisite bright red one-piece. Red had always been Dean’s favorite color, but it turned out he’d been wrong about why; it looked much better on her. And then all of a sudden he was staring into her faded blue eyes and by the time he realized he’d been caught staring, it was far too late.
“Hi,” she called as she approached, a confident, faintly-teasing smirk twitching the corners of her lips. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced,” she continued as she held out one hand, “but you must be one of Blake’s brothers.”
Dean had to swallow to keep from clearing his throat like some sort of awkward teenager, and he offered her a faint grin as he replied, “I don’t think we have.” He caught her hand, fighting to keep his fingers from roaming around on the smooth, cool skin, and added, “I’m Dean.”
“Arianna.” The name rolled off of her tongue with the faintest of accents; an accent the rest of her speech hadn’t shared. For an irrational moment he was immensely glad he hadn’t asked Jay her name, and he hoped he never heard another person say it. He never wanted to hear that name butchered by another voice.
Fortunately, by the time his arm fell back to hang at his side, he managed instead to say, “Well it’s nice to meet you, Arianna.” Yep. Not the same.
Her smile widened marginally as she said, “Likewise.” She gestured past him, toward the heart of the crowd, and added, “It seems you’ve got another brother who’s sort of stealing the show today, doesn’t it?”