When We Touch

By: Brenda Novak

A Whiskey Creek Novella

Chapter 1

Returning for her sister’s wedding would’ve been difficult had it merely meant pretending to be a happy and supportive bridesmaid. But being in charge of the whole event? That added insult to the most heart-wrenching emotional injury Olivia Arnold had ever sustained.

As she drove back to Whiskey Creek for the first time since learning that Noelle would be marrying Kyle Houseman—the man she’d been dating herself until three months ago—she wished she’d had the nerve to refuse her parents. Noelle tried to beat Olivia at anything and everything she did. It had been that way since they were children.

But Olivia planned weddings for a living. She was also the family peacemaker, so it came naturally to try to forgive, to move on. And, as her mother had pointed out, she was the one who’d asked Kyle if they could take a “break” while she moved to Sacramento to build her business. She’d wanted one year to see if she could develop it into something spectacular in a bigger city before marrying Kyle and settling down in Whiskey Creek.

Given all that, how could she refuse to help? Especially when she could save her father so much money?

Despite her determination to soldier on through everything that was happening, an odd sense of panic welled up as she reached the edge of town. Pulling over just beyond the sign that said Welcome to Whiskey Creek, The Heart of Gold Country she tried to get hold of herself but almost turned her Acura around. Within an hour, she could be home in Sacramento. She could hide away until this wedding was a distant memory and, if she was lucky, avoid her sister and new brother-in-law for a decade or two. Maybe by then she’d be able to face them without wanting to cry.

And why shouldn’t she turn back? If she stayed, the humiliation of the next few days would be as painful as the heartbreak. Whiskey Creek was a town of only two thousand people. Thanks to the fact that she and Kyle had been a couple for two years, and had separated so recently, she couldn’t possibly escape the whispers, the pitying looks or the condolences of the friends and neighbors who’d known her most of her life.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit!” Bumping her forehead against the steering wheel, she pictured Kyle kissing “the bride” and groaned at the disappointment and betrayal. Noelle had waited for just the right moment. When Olivia was in Sacramento, trying to experience something new before starting her life with Kyle. When he was alone and not coping well with the separation. Then she’d made her move. Olivia wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to forgive her sister, especially since it was Olivia’s own tears and confidences that had armed Noelle. They’d never been particularly close, but they came from the same family and had lived under the same roof until Olivia relocated to Sacramento last February. That gave Noelle certain insights she wouldn’t otherwise have had.

But if she left, if she ran, her sister would know she was just as hurt today as she had been that terrible evening the horrible truth—that Kyle and Noelle had been seeing each other—came out. Why give Noelle the pleasure? Why confirm that her sister, younger by two years (which only made it worse), had finally landed the coup de grâce of their sibling rivalry?

“Ahhhhh!” She pounded the steering wheel with her fists this time, before hitting everything else in sight. Somehow, seeing her hometown looming ahead had destroyed her restraint. Rage seemed to be a monster growing in strength and power until it was bursting out of her chest—

A knock on the window interrupted her midsob. She’d been so focused on her distress, on screaming and beating her dashboard, she hadn’t heard anyone approach.

Mortified to realize she had a witness to her behavior, she turned to see a tall, blond man dressed in a white T-shirt, khaki shorts and flip-flops. His mouth, tense with some emotion, made a slash in his face beneath a pair of mirrorlike sunglasses.

Oh, God… Despite those glasses, it wasn’t a cop, as she’d expected. Worse—it was Kyle’s stepbrother, Brandon Lucero. He was younger than Kyle by a year, which made him almost a year older than her, and he appeared to be…concerned. No doubt he thought she’d lost her mind.

He might as well have caught her with her pants down. It would’ve been less embarrassing. Her only consolation was that Brandon wasn’t likely to tell Kyle what he’d seen, even if he connected it to the upcoming wedding. There was no love lost between the two men. They’d lived together while in high school, after Kyle’s mother married Brandon’s father, but that hadn’t made them friends.

Brandon waited to speak until she rolled down the window. “You okay?” he asked, his teeth a stark contrast to his golden tan.

After getting abusive with the interior of her innocent car, her right hand hurt so badly she was afraid she’d fractured it. She cradled it in her lap, hoping he wouldn’t notice the swelling, and wiped her other hand over her wet cheeks. This kind of behavior wasn’t like her.

“Don’t I look okay?” she countered as if she hadn’t just lost control.