Anna hadn’t meant to eavesdrop. Really. She was just walking from the front door to the kitchen, after handing out another round of Halloween candy, when she heard voices in the living room. The man she’d been in love with for years and his brother.
She’d planned to keep on walking when—
“Are you coming to the farm?” Marc asked.
“With you and Anna?” Luke scoffed. “No thanks.”
“Jesus, would it kill you to be a little nicer? She’s had a crush on you forever.”
Her face heated with embarrassment and anger. Maybe someday Luke’s adamant rejection of her wouldn’t hurt so much. It might help if Marc quit trying to throw her at his dude-bro of a brother every time they were in the same building.
“Exactly,” Luke said. “I don’t want to encourage her.”
Marc sighed. “I don’t get it. She’s beautiful and smart and fun. She would be so much better for you than one of those brainless clones you keep hooking up with.”
She echoed his sigh. Best friends were always in your corner, but his friendly support wasn’t what she wanted.
“If she’s so great, why don’t you ask her out?”
Anna’s heart hammered at her chest and she held her breath. Silence filled the house as she strained toward the doorway.
“Oh, no, wait.” Luke laughed. “Really?”
Really what? Had she missed Marc’s response? All through junior high and high school, she’d worshipped his older brother. Just like every other girl. Luke had been Mr. Jock, Homecoming King, Student Body Vice President—which just proved that no one was perfect—and he’d gone on to play football at Notre Dame.
But then he’d come back to Sacramento, moved into his childhood home in the Fab Forties, taken a job in software sales, and…that was it. He was still exactly the same. A handsome, outgoing, life of the party playboy. Just. Like. High school.
Marc, on the other hand, had become a public defender with his own condo in Midtown, who fostered rescue dogs, volunteered his legal expertise at the local senior center, helped Anna with house repairs, and had brought her chocolate when she got laid off from her last job.
And he was gorgeous in his own, far less flashy way. The way that lit her up inside.
“She’s my best friend. I’m not going to mess that up just for—”
The doorbell rang and she froze. If she answered it, the brothers would see her. They might suspect she’d been listening. Without giving herself time to think, she bolted for the back door and slipped into the dark yard.
“Anna?” Marc’s confused voice came from inside the house.
Her red Thing 1 onesie snagged on a bush, but she kept going, ignoring the ripping sound as she emerged onto the sidewalk behind a group of kids and speed walked to her car, which was parked at the end of the blocked-off street.
Driving carefully to avoid all the little Mirabels, Navy fighter pilots, and Minions roaming the beautiful old neighborhood of stately homes, she dictated a text message to Marc.
Wardrobe malfunction. On my way home to fix. I’ll meet you at Garcia Farms.
* * *
Marc frowned at the text from Anna. She’d bolted without even saying goodbye.
He glanced down at his bright red Thing 2 onesie and sighed. He’d talked her into the ridiculous matching costumes hoping to avoid a repeat of last year where she nearly brought him to his knees in a sexy little witch outfit.
Being friends with the kindest, smartest, most beautiful woman he’d ever known was torture enough. Losing their friendship would be worse, though, so he endured.
An hour later, he’d left the trick-or-treaters to Luke and his date—a skinny mermaid in a red wig—and stood outside Garcia Farms, feeling like a fool without Thing 1 at his side.
Scanning for the red suit, he almost missed her.
And then he almost swallowed his tongue. “Anna?” he croaked.
She walked toward him on black heels, wearing something akin to a German barmaid outfit that flirted with her thighs and revealed an alarming amount of cleavage. “Hi,” she said, her smile huge and extra red. “Sorry we don’t match anymore, but I couldn’t fix Thing 2, so Marcy loaned me this.”
Marc didn’t know whether to curse at her sister or send her flowers. “No worries. You look…great. Aren’t you worried about getting cold?” The temperature had dipped into the fifties already, and the breeze had picked up. Even with the long sleeves and tights she wore there was no way she’d be warm enough.
You could keep her warm. His brain was a goddamn traitor.
“I’ll be fine.” She grabbed his hand and dragged him toward the entrance.
Thirty minutes later, while navigating the hay bale maze, she turned to him with a rueful smile. “Okay, you were right.” She chafed her arms. “It’s cold.”
He’d give anything for the right to warm her in his arms, but that would be too far over the line. “I have a long-sleeved shirt on under this,” he said. “I could— Oof.”
She stepped right into his space and curled against him, her hands clasped between the luscious breasts he’d been trying so hard to ignore. “Mmm.” She shimmied a little.
That little hum must’ve short-circuited his brain, because he wrapped her in his embrace, inhaled her sweet scent, and rested his chin on her soft brown curls. Hell, might as well savor the moment.
But then his body started to react and he pulled away. The last thing he wanted was to freak her out. “We can’t stay like this all night.” Though, what an idea. Turning around, he said, “If you unzip me, I can get my shirt off.”
“If I’m going to undress you, I’d rather do it somewhere more private.”
Jesus. “Anna, you can’t say sh*t like that. I know we’re just friends, but I’m still a guy.”
“Do you ever think we could be more?” she asked, her voice suddenly timid.
If only she meant that the way he wanted her to. He faced her, heat prickling across his skin. “My brother might be too much of a fool to see what he’s missing out on, but I’m not interested in being anyone’s consolation prize. Not even yours.”
Her lips turned flat and she put her hands on her hips. “Maybe if you quit pushing him at me for one flippin’ second, you’d realize that I haven’t been into him in years.”
He stared at her for a second, his jaw slack. That couldn’t be right. He shook his head, trying to make sense of things.
She crossed her arms, plumping up her cleavage even more. “When was the last time I said a word to you about him beyond polite conversation?”
“You—” He forced his gaze back to her sweet face. Last Christmas, she’d… No, that was in college. But during the summer… Actually, that was well before she bought her house three years ago, and he’d initiated that conversation. “Wait, you’re not in love with Luke?”
“No. The Tremblay brother I’ve been in love with my whole adult life isn’t Luke. It never was. That was a high school crush that fizzled pretty quickly after graduation.”
Marc’s brain felt sluggish.
But then everything clicked, and his stomach churned with regret. Ever since he’d moved back to Sac, he’d been putting her firmly in the friend zone, throwing her at his brother, all to protect his own heart. Meanwhile, she’d wanted him the whole time. “God, I’m the fool.”
She gave him a twisted smile and held up her thumb and forefinger in the sign for “a little bit.” Sighing, she said, “Me too, though. I didn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“I’m sorry.” So, so sorry. “I just wanted you—and my brother—to be happy.”
She stepped closer. “I know how you can make me happy.”
“How?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
So he did.
And a year later, when they were dressed as Thor and The Mighty Thor/Jane, he got down on one knee in that same hay maze and proposed. Anna said yes, and the best friends-turned-lovers became partners for life.
Luke brought another clone to the wedding, but after he called her by the wrong name for the third time, she left with the DJ.