The Look of Love (The Sullivans #1)


by Bella Andre

Chapter One

It was good to get out on the open road. Sure, thought Chase Sullivan, his windshield wipers were barely making a dent in the driving rain from this freak late-May storm, but it had been long past time to get out of his mother’s seventieth birthday party.

All eight siblings together under one roof meant lots of laughs, plenty of ribbing…and at least a couple of major arguments. It didn’t help that Zach’s date for the evening had gone out with Gabe a couple of months ago.

Throw six brothers between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-six together and things were bound to get messy. But since it was obvious that neither of his brothers was serious about the girl, there was a zero percent chance that they were going to come to blows over her other than as an excuse to blow off some steam with their fists. Besides, as soon as Smith showed up, the girl had become so starstruck she hadn’t paid any attention to anyone else in the room.

Chase always laughed at the way people lost it around his movie-star brother. Smith was just as normal as the rest of them. Well, maybe owning a 150-foot yacht and filling it with stars wasn’t exactly normal.

In any case, the real reason the party had been on the verge of implosion was that his twin sisters weren’t speaking. Hell, they hadn’t needed to say a word, not when the evil glances they were shooting at each other across the room spoke volumes.

Long ago, he’d christened Lori and Sophie Naughty and Nice. Were it not for the fact that they were physical carbon copies, Chase wouldn’t believe for a second that they were related to each other. Strangely, at the party it had looked like Nice was the one intent on murdering Naughty. If he wasn’t mistaken, Lori had actually been hiding from Sophie at one point.

Good thing he’d had a reason to get out of there before the hair-pulling started, he thought as he rounded a curve in the narrowing road that led to the Sullivan Winery in the Napa Valley wine country.

For the next four days, Chase was doing a photo shoot at his brother's winery for Jeanne & Annie, a quickly growing fashion house that combined haute couture with homegrown style. The models and crew would be staying in town, but Chase was going to be staying in Marcus’s guest house.

A bolt of lightning lit up the sky and if there had been enough of a shoulder on the road, Chase would have pulled over to take some shots of the storm. He loved the rain. Big weather changed the way things looked, could transform an ordinary field into a marsh full of a thousand birds making an impromptu pit stop. Conditions that sent most photographers into a tizzy—especially if they depended on the perfect sunset to nail their pictures—were exactly what got him going.

It was in those moments, when everyone was cold and nothing was going “right,” that magic would happen. The models would finally drop their guard and let him see all the way past their put-on beauty to who they really were. Chase believed there needed to be a true emotional connection with the camera for real beauty—along with the beauty of the clothes or jewelry or shoes that they were wearing—to really shine through.

Of course, early on in his career, being around all that physical beauty had made Chase just as big a player as every other straight guy in the business. At first that had been one of the bonuses of his job, but then when he hit his late twenties and realized that his flavor of the night hadn’t made it a full eight hours but his photographs were forever, he’d slowed down some.

Between his recent trips in and out of Asia and the fact that there hadn’t been anyone who got his motor going, he’d abstained for the past month. He was planning on breaking his dry spell tonight with Ellen, one of Marcus’s head managers whom he’d met briefly while setting up details for the shoot. A strings-free night of n**ed fun was just what the doctor ordered.

Anticipation had him almost missing the flickering light off on the right side of the two-lane country road. In the past thirty minutes, he hadn’t passed one car, because on a night like this, most sane Californians—who didn’t know the first thing about driving safely in inclement weather—stayed home.

Chase slowed down and turned his brights on to see better in the pouring rain. Not only was there a car stuck in the ditch, but there was a person walking along the edge of the road about a hundred yards up ahead. Obviously hearing his car approach, she turned to face him and he could see her long wet hair whipping around her shoulders in his headlights.

Wondering why she wasn’t just sitting in her car, dry and warm, calling Triple A and waiting for them to come save her, he pulled over to the edge of his lane and got out to try and help her. She was shivering as she watched him approach.

“Are you hurt?”

She covered her cheek with one hand, but shook her head. “No.”

He had to move closer to hear her over the sound of the water hitting the pavement in what were rapidly becoming hailstones. Even though he’d turned his headlights off, as his eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, he was able to get a better look at her face.

Something inside of Chase’s chest clenched tight.

Despite the long, dark hair plastered to her head and chest, regardless of the fact that looking like a drowned rat wasn’t too far off the descriptive mark, her beauty stunned him.

In an instant, his photographer’s eye cataloged her features. Her mouth was a little too big, her eyes a little too wide-set on her face. She wasn’t even close to model thin, but given the way her T-shirt and jeans stuck to her skin, he could see that she wore her lush curves well. In the dark he couldn’t judge the exact color of her hair, but it looked like silk, perfectly smooth and straight where it lay over her br**sts.

It wasn’t until Chase heard her say, “My car is definitely hurt, though,” that he realized he had completely lost the thread of what he’d come out here to do.

Knowing he’d been drinking her in like he was dying of thirst, he worked to recover his balance. He could already see he’d been right about her car. It didn’t take a mechanic like his brother Zach to see that her shitty hatchback was borderline totaled. Even if the front bumper wasn’t half smashed to pieces by the white farm fence she’d slid into, her bald tires weren’t going to get any traction on the mud. Not tonight, anyway.

If her car had been in a less precarious situation, he probably would have sent her to hang out in her car while he took care of getting it unstuck. But one of her back tires was hanging precariously over the edge of the ditch.

He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Get in my car. We can wait there for a tow truck.” He was vaguely aware of his words coming out like an order, but the hail was starting to sting, damn it. Both of them needed to get out of the rain before they froze.

But the woman didn’t move. Instead, she gave him a look that said he was a complete and utter nut-job.

“I’m not getting into your car.”

Realizing just how frightening it must be for a lone woman to end up stuck and alone in the middle of a dark road, Chase took a step back from her. He had to speak loudly enough for her to hear him over the hail.

“I’m not going to attack you. I swear I won’t do anything to hurt you.”

She all but flinched at the word attack and Chase’s radar started buzzing. He’d never been a magnet for troubled women, wasn’t the kind of guy who thrived on fixing wounded birds. But living with two sisters for so many years meant he could always tell when something was up.

And something was definitely up with this woman, beyond the fact that her car was half-stuck in a muddy ditch.

Wanting to make her feel safe, he held his hands up. “I swear on my father’s grave, I’m not going to hurt you. It’s okay to get into my car.” When she didn’t immediately say no again, he pressed his advantage with, “I just want to help you.” And he did. More than it made sense to want to help a stranger. “Please,” he said. “Let me help you.”

She stared at him for a long moment, hail hammering between them, around them, onto them. Chase found himself holding his breath, waiting for her decision. It shouldn’t matter to him what she decided.

But, for some strange reason, it did.

* * *

Chloe Peterson had never felt so wet, so miserable…or so desperate. She’d been beating the speed limit for the past couple of hours, before the storm had kicked into overdrive. She’d slowed down considerably on the super-slick pavement, but her tires were old and bald, and before she knew it, her car was skidding off the road.

Straight into a muddy ditch.

It might have been easier—smarter, too—to sit in her car and wait out the storm. But she’d been too keyed up to stay still. She’d needed to keep moving, otherwise the thoughts knocking around in her head were going to catch up with her, so she’d slung her backpack over her shoulders and stepped out into the rain, just as it turned into out-and-out hail.

The hard little pellets hurt her skin, but she’d been glad for the cold, for the sting. Because it gave her something else to focus on, something besides what had happened just hours ago.

She hadn’t been sure exactly where she was—or what she was headed for–but she’d hoped she was walking in the direction of town.

All night long the roads had been strangely empty, but she’d barely starting walking away from her car when she’d realized headlights were coming up behind her.

Fear had knocked into her again as the car pulled over to the side and she’d had to stop to brace herself to withstand it. She was all alone on a dark, wet, country road. She didn’t have her cell phone, and even if she had, she doubted there was enough reception out here in the storm for it to get a signal.

And then a man–a large man–had gotten out of his car and started walking toward her, telling her to get into his car.

No way.

He’d tried to convince her that she was safe with him. He’d said all the right things, but she’d had too much experience with people like that, who easily said one thing, then did another.

“I don’t know you,” she told him. He could be an axe murderer. She had feet. She’d walk and find a place to dry off later.

She could see the frustration on his face, knew he was about to try and reason with her again, when suddenly, the sound of skidding tires came at them. Before she knew what was happening, he was pulling her into his arms. She didn’t have time to think of fighting him, didn’t even consider it when she realized a fast-moving motorcycle was practically on top of them.

She closed her eyes, bracing for impact, when the man effortlessly lifted her and jumped into the ditch, holding her tightly against him.

She opened her eyes just in time to watch the motorcycle’s back tires skid and then finally catch hold just in the place she’d been standing. Her heart, which had all but stopped, started racing again as she watched it speed away.

“Are you okay?”

Chloe looked up at the man who had shielded her from harm with his own body, and for the first time since he’d stepped out of his car, she was hit hard with the realization of just how attractive he was.

No, she silently admitted to herself. Attractive was a paltry word for a man like this. Even in the darkness, she could see that he put other men to shame. As big as she’d first thought, even in the cold rain, he was utterly gorgeous.

And her body was reacting with surprising heat.

Or maybe, she suddenly realized, that heat was coming from the fact that he was still cradling her in his strong arms.

The way he’d moved her out of the way of the too-close motorcycle had her teetering on the edge of trusting him. And on any other night, perhaps it would have been enough. But was it?

They were both splattered with mud from where he’d landed with her in his arms and now that they were safe again, she struggled to stand up, to try and right her thoughts so that she could come to some sort of rational decision.

“Wait a minute,” he said, “let me get us out of here.”