By: Sierra Kincade


“Happy . . . dammit!” Marsella Talent stepped out of the driver’s seat of her black BMW, and immediately planted the heel of a new Prada pump in the gravel lot outside her father’s latest restaurant venture. The dirt road added to Rare’s rustic appeal—reviewers had called the converted hunting lodge “country swank” in last month’s Gazette article—but it was hell on her wardrobe.

“Happy dammit to you, too.” Cole Talent grinned down at her from the wraparound porch, adjusting his thick, black-framed glasses with one hand. In typical Cole fashion, he’d forgotten to shave and get his hair cut; dark waves fringed around his ears and collar. But he actually filled out the wrinkled, green button-down shirt he was wearing, and when she paused for a closer look it became apparent the scruff on his jaw was actually deliberate.

Good God. The Change had happened. Scrawny, computer-obsessed Cole had become a man.

“Sorry,” she said as she reached the solid footing of the bottom step. “Thought you were my little brother. Maybe you’ve seen him—sort of awkward. Total geek. Getting his second master’s in London right now. International business or something. It’s hard to keep up since he never calls his family.”

The last time she’d seen him had been almost a year ago, when he’d breezed through Reno on his way to a bachelor party in Tahoe. Being close to him reminded her just how much she’d missed him.

“I saw him,” said Cole with a wince. “He was blown over by Hurricane Elaina on her way into the building.”

“Tragic. He had such potential.”

Their youngest sister was a bitch on her good days, and a force of nature on her bad. It had taken an hour to convince her to get in the car, and after a sullen, silent ride, she’d been out and halfway across the parking lot by the time Marsella had turned off the ignition.

Before she could apologize for missing him at the airport, Cole had met her halfway down the steps and swept her up in his arms. A squeak slipped out of her throat, but before she could object, he’d turned and set her in front of the door.

“You have muscles now, too?” She squeezed his hard shoulders, then straightened her knee-length pencil skirt. “Seriously, who are you?”

“Cole, two-point-oh,” he said. “Modifications were made during the last update.”

“Oh good.” She clutched at her heart. “You’re still a nerd. I was worried.”

He scrunched his nose. Okay, the glasses were seriously an improvement from the wire rims he’d been sporting when he’d left for Europe.

Inside they were greeted by dim lights and a raven-haired hostess in a shimmery black halter-top jumper. Though most of the daily operations fell on Marsella’s shoulders, Candi with an i had been their father’s choice.

“Ms. Talent, I didn’t know you were bringing a date.” Candi looked up at Cole with a devious smile, curling a lock of hair around her finger. “Nicely done.”

Marsella blinked at her brother. Apparently modifications had been made. “This is my brother, Candi.”

“Cole.” He shook her hand. She touched his elbow. Somehow her boobs brushed his arm. It was hard to say how that happened.

“Don’t worry,” said Marsella. “We can seat ourselves.” She grabbed Cole’s shirtsleeve and dragged him onto the main floor, where they passed the cozy stone fireplace and made their way to the private room in the back.

“She seemed nice,” said Cole.

“I’m sure that’s why Dad hired her,” she muttered.

They reached the table, carefully nestled in the corner beside a bay window overlooking the Truckee Trickle—a local joke, since Nevada had been in a drought for the last billion or so years—and took their seats. She may not have been on time to pick up Cole from the airport, but she’d come to the restaurant this afternoon to make sure everything was in place for his special birthday dinner. There was a T-bone steak waiting for the head chef, and an actual Funfetti cake in the kitchen fridge with his name on it. Even the bartender had been notified that Cole liked a certain kind of bourbon and to serve it upon their arrival.

“Looks good, Marsi,” he said, making her beam. She wondered what had made him say that—the ski lodge décor, or the pristine glass tabletops? Maybe the iron chandeliers. She’d put a lot of thought into those damn chandeliers. Whatever it was, she liked that he saw her influence when he looked around. She just hoped their dad did, too.

“Thanks.” Holding up her hand, she crossed two fingers and whispered, “Hope paying my dues pays off.”