Well Played by Vi Keeland



The following morning, Levi walked right into me as he exited the bathroom off the kitchen.

Flustered, I stammered, “Oh…uh, I’m sorry. Didn’t expect you.”

He simply nodded and brushed past me, heading toward the kitchen table.

His cologne lingered in the air when I entered the bathroom. I looked down to find goosebumps covering my arms. This forced me to deal with the uncomfortable realization that my body had reacted to his hard chest against mine. I cringed. This was proof that you absolutely can’t choose who you’re attracted to, even if it’s the most inappropriate person on Earth. After years of not being touched by a man, it seemed any contact could cause a visceral reaction. I just wished it wasn’t my ex’s brother, who I was pretty sure hated me.

After I used the bathroom and washed my hands, I found him sitting at the table eating some cereal. His knees bounced up and down, like he couldn’t wait to eat and run. His jeans were ripped, and his knee poked out of the right leg. It was a sexy look, particularly with his strong, muscular legs. Again, I cursed myself for noticing such things.

But Levi’s appeal was undeniable. Half of America likely agreed. He was ruggedly handsome, his features a bit stronger than Tanner’s. Levi’s jawline was more angular, and right now he had quite a bit more facial hair than his brother. When you looked at Levi, you knew he was someone who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Tanner was more of a pretty boy. But they were both handsome in their own ways, and both had dark hair and blue eyes. Whatever their mama fed them growing up had helped turn those boys into very beautiful men.

Just when I’d decided to sit across from him and try to make conversation like a reasonable adult, Levi got up and put his bowl in the dishwasher before booking it out of the kitchen.

Well, so much for that.

A few minutes later, Fern came up behind me.

“What’s this mess you’re making? Is Grumpypants getting under your skin?”

The paper napkin I’d been holding now resembled white confetti strewn all over the countertop. I hadn’t even noticed I’d done that.

Fern might have been tiny, but she was a spitfire. She wore hot pink lipstick and currently had a smear of it on her teeth. Her hair was the type of gray that looked blue. Unlike most older women around here who wore the standard puffball hairdo, Fern kept her hair in a long braid. It whipped around sometimes when she spoke.

I nodded. “Yeah, Levi is getting under my skin. He just left faster than a bat out of hell so he wouldn’t have to talk to me. I think my being here upsets him.”

“Not that hard to do, sweetheart. He seems like a loose cannon. I heard you and him arguing the other day. He seems to have a stick up his ass. The air blowin’ upsets him. And he certainly has no respect for this place.”

My son suddenly entered the room. “Uncle Levi has a stick up his butt? For real?”

Fern answered before I had a chance to. “It’s just an expression. It means uptight.”

“What’s uptight?”

“You know that grumpy character, Luey, in that show you like?” I asked. “The one who always disagrees with everyone and never wants to do anything with his friends?”


“That’s sort of what being uptight is.”

“But what does that have to do with Uncle Levi having a stick in his butt? I bet that hurts.”

I shook my head. “He doesn’t really, Alex. That’s just something people say to describe people who are uptight. It’s a figure of speech.”


“Yeah, don’t worry.”

The sound of Levi’s voice froze me in my tracks.

“It doesn’t hurt, buddy.”

I cleared my throat. “I didn’t realize you were still here.”

“Yeah. The Big Bad Wolf with the stick up his butt forgot his wallet.” He took it off the counter and tucked it in his back pocket. “Incidentally, wanting to do what’s right for everyone involved in this situation doesn’t make me the bad guy.” He turned to Fern. “Or Grumpypants.”

He turned to my son. “Alex, go grab your ball and meet me in the yard, okay? We’ll play a quick game before I leave.”

Alex ran out to retrieve the ball, and once he’d disappeared, Levi turned to me with daggers in his eyes. When he took a few steps toward me, I got chills.

“You seem to think I have no regard for my grandfather’s legacy. Wanting to do the sensible thing is not disrespect.”

I swallowed. “Sensible doesn’t make it the right decision or what he’d truly want.”

“My grandfather certainly never said he wanted you to run this place. You show me where he wrote that down. He left half of it to Alex so the money from the sale would go to him. Period. You’re taking his intentions and twisting them into some convoluted fantasy to suit your own needs.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Fantasy? Well, if that means wanting to do the right thing, then bring it on.”

“The right thing is to sell.” He blew out an exhausted breath. “You’re in way over your head.”

“I’m just attempting to do what I think your grandfather would want.”

“By trying to turn his fucking house into a goddamn Hallmark movie for your own damn entertainment?”

Seriously? “Fuck you, Levi.” I felt steam coming out of my ears. I hadn’t meant to be so abrupt, but he’d brought it out in me.

Fern interrupted our fiery exchange. “With all due respect, I spent more time with Thatcher than either of y’all in recent years. And I can tell you one thing he absolutely wouldn’t want, and that’s to see you fighting!”

Levi and I looked at each other.

Fern got in his face and pointed her index finger. “Now listen to me, ya big lug. I don’t care what you think is right here. Your grandfather would’ve never wanted your nephew—or me, for that matter—out on the street. And as long as we want to live here, you have no right to sell this place.”

“So glad we could have a mature conversation about this,” he said, glaring at me before turning to her again. “Not really sure what say you have in all of this, Fern. But I am trying to do right by my nephew by selling this place. I don’t owe you any explanation for that. I’m sure you’d love to stay here with the minimal rent you’ve been paying, but I have to think about the big picture—not anyone’s selfish needs.”

She stomped her foot. “The big picture is me cutting off your balls if you sell this place with me or your family in it. End of story!”

He raised his voice. “I can’t sell it without her approval anyway. Our hands are both tied if we can’t agree on the fate of this place. So my goal is to knock some sense into Presley here and get her to see the light.”

I straightened, pushing my shoulders back. “Well, my goal is to get you to see that preserving this place as a local landmark is doable. We can make more money over time renting it out, while also upholding an important part of Beaufort’s history.”

“Sure. Go ahead. Keep practicing that ridiculous pitch.” He rolled his eyes.

I had a very long battle ahead of me. But I was willing to fight. I had to wonder if I needed my head examined for wanting to take all of this on, yet something deep inside me told me it would be worth it. I just needed to get through to this stubborn man first.

After he stormed off and went outside to play with Alex, Fern turned to me.

“That man is just as pig-headed as his grandfather. But sexy as all hell like Thatcher, too.”

I’m not going to touch that comment.


That afternoon my phone rang, and when I managed to pull it out, I was kind of sorry I’d bothered. And here I thought my shitty day couldn’t get any worse.

I blew out a deep sigh and closed my eyes for a few seconds before taking a calming breath. When I opened them, I felt only marginally better, but nonetheless, I swiped to answer and used my best cheery voice. “Hi, Tanner.”

“Have you come to your senses and left Beaufort yet?”

I rolled my eyes and shifted the bag of groceries to my other hand so I could dig in my purse for the car keys.

“Alex and I are actually very happy here.”

That statement was only partially true. While Alex seemed settled, the last couple of days—full of run-ins with Levi—had me considering packing up my entire life and moving back to New York. I clicked the key fob and unlocked the trunk of my car.

“How can my son be happy when his mother moved him a thousand miles away? A boy needs to be near his father.”

I dumped the groceries into the trunk and slammed the hatch closed. “Actually, Tanner, a boy doesn’t need to be near his father. He needs to spend time with him.”

“And how am I supposed to do that with you living all the way down in Beaufort?”

I sighed. Back in New York, Tanner had only lived a few miles away, yet he’d seen his son maybe six times over the last year. Distance had nothing to do with why Alex and his father weren’t very close.

“I’m busy running errands, Tanner. Did you call to have this argument again, or was there another reason you needed to speak to me?”

My ex cleared his throat. “I need you to hold off on depositing that check I gave you.”

My forehead wrinkled. “A new check? The last one I received was the one you gave me before I left, almost two weeks ago?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“I deposited that a few days ago.”

“Well...it’s not going to clear.”

I closed my eyes. I’d written a check for Alex’s football camp with that money, not to mention the phone bill and a few other things. “Why this time?”

“I ran a little short this month.”

The last few years had taught me how to translate the language I called Tanner Speak. I swear, if I popped I ran a little short this month into Google Translate, it would return I lost a big bet. Unfortunately, after his injury, when Tanner couldn’t play for a living anymore, he’d started getting his action fix by betting on games. At first it had been just football, but over the years it had spread to most sports.

I sighed. “That check was only half of what you owe me, Tanner. You were supposed to send me the other half by this week, and now you’re telling me you can’t even make good on the first half?”

“What’s the big deal? You have plenty of dough these days since you scored my half of The Palm Inn.”

Though he hadn’t come out and said it, I was pretty sure Thatcher left half of the property to Alex and not Tanner because he knew about Tanner’s gambling addiction.

“First of all, the inn isn’t even covering its costs right now. And second, even if it was showing a profit, that money would be Alex’s, not mine.”

“Why don’t you just sell the damn thing?”

I balled my hands into fists. “Ugh. Now you sound just like your brother.”

“Well, there’s a first. You mean my big brother and I actually agree on something?”

I shook my head in frustration. “I have to go. Is there anything else you needed to discuss?”

“No, I’ll call Alex in the next few days.”

Sure you will. “Whatever.” I didn’t bother to say goodbye before swiping my phone off. Honestly, he was lucky I didn’t hang up on him the minute he told me about the bounced check.

I drove home with a giant knot in my neck, grumbling a string of curses about the Miller men. If there were ever a day I was entitled to an afternoon glass of wine, it was today. And since Alex wasn’t being dropped off until later, that’s exactly what I was going to do—sit on the couch, prop my feet up on the coffee table, and let the wine take the edge off. Yep, that was my plan.

At least it was until I walked in the door and promptly slipped and landed on my ass…from the flood.


“What the fuck?”

“Don’t just stand there!” I yelled. “Find me another bucket!”

Levi disappeared back out the front door. He jogged in ten seconds later holding a garbage can and shook his head. “Really? You couldn’t find anything else?”

I’d been using Alex’s football helmet to catch the water pouring from the ceiling. This was the third leak that had sprung in the half hour since I’d gotten home. I was starting to worry that the entire ceiling was going to crash down on my head. Since the helmet was almost full, I pulled it away, and Levi slipped the can into its place.

He looked around at the disaster I’d been dealing with. “What the hell happened?”

“I have no idea. I walked in the door and fell on my ass. The ceiling was leaking in two places. It finally started to slow down, and I’d just finished mopping the floor when this third leak started pouring water.”

“And the best thing you could find to catch it in was a football helmet?”

It was the closest thing I could grab!”

Levi thumbed out front. “Got six empty cans right outside.”

This day had really gotten to me. It had chipped and chipped at my sanity, and I finally lost it. I stood and glared at Levi. The look on my face must’ve forewarned him that I’d snapped, because he smartly took a step back.

Though I followed and jabbed a finger into his chest.

“I’m.” Jab.

“Doing.” Jab.

“The.” Jab.

“Best.” Jab.

“I.” Jab.

“Can.” Jab.

Levi held his hands up. “Okay. Okay. Calm down.”

“Calm down! You’re telling me to calm down?!”

The six-foot-three man of muscle actually looked a little scared. “Just…take a few deep breaths. Everything is going to be fine.”

I growled at him. Literally growled.

Levi’s eyes widened.

Feeling like I might explode, I did what I always did—though usually, my self-calming breathing technique was reserved for the other Miller brother. I shut my eyes and took a few deep breaths, inhaling through my nose and exhaling through my mouth. When that didn’t help, I decided a much stronger remedy was in order.

I stomped to the refrigerator and whipped open the door. Inside was an almost-full magnum of white wine. Using my teeth, I uncorked it and spit the top on the floor. Then I swigged straight from the bottle.

Levi didn’t budge as I continued to glare at him while I drank.

When I finally stopped chugging to take a breath, he raised a brow. “Bad day?”

I cocked my head. “You think?”

He motioned toward the ceiling. “I’m going to go take a look at what’s going on upstairs with the pipes and turn off the water in the house. You got everything under control here?”

I waved the wine bottle around like a crazy person. “Doesn’t it look like it?”

I saw a hint of a smile threaten at the corner of Levi’s lips, though he did his best to hide it. He disappeared to God knows where, while I continued to slurp wine from the bottle and watch water drip into buckets and cans.

Ten minutes later, my cell phone rang. The last thing I felt like doing was answering, but since it was a local number, and Alex wasn’t home at the moment, I had no choice.


“Hi. Miss Sullivan?”


“This is Jeremy Brickson. I run the football camp you signed your son, Alex, up for last week. We met at registration.”

Great. Just great. I knew what this was going to be about. When it rains, it pours—through the ceiling apparently. “Yes, sure. Hi, Jeremy.”

“I’m really sorry to bother you. It’s just that the check you gave us for Alex’s camp tuition… Well, it bounced.”

I shut my eyes. “Yeah, I just found out about that a little while ago. I’m very sorry. I’d planned on calling you to apologize and find out if I could replace the check or if it would be possible to redeposit the one I gave you a second time, but I got sidetracked.”

“We can deposit it a second time. That’s no problem. But I thought I’d let you know about a program we have for kids who can’t afford football camp, just in case that’s something that might help you out. I know you just moved here and all.”

The anger I’d felt a few minutes ago morphed into something else. Why did he have to be so nice about it? Why couldn’t he be a dick like Tanner and Levi? That I could deal with. But him being kind brought me to a new breaking point. The taste of salt filled my mouth, and a large lump lodged in my throat.

I struggled to swallow it down. “No, that’s okay, Jeremy. Thank you for the offer, but I don’t need any help. I just…I was supposed to move money from one account back to the other, and I didn’t. That’s all.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll hang on to this check for a few days before we redeposit it to give you a chance to do what you have to do. I’m sorry for bothering you.”

I’d bounced a check, and he was apologizing. I definitely wasn’t in New York anymore. “Thank you, and I’ll cover whatever bounced-check fees you incur.”

“No need. It’s fine. You take care, Miss Sullivan. We’re looking forward to seeing Alex in action. Rumor around town is he’s got the Miller arm.”

I smiled sadly. “Yeah, I think he might.”

“Bye now.”

After I hung up, I felt defeated. I didn’t even have the energy to wipe the tears that started to flow. I just let them fall from my cheeks to the wet floor.

“Everything okay?”

Shit. How long had Levi been standing there?

I wiped my face. “Everything is fine.”

“Didn’t sound too fine. Sounded like you’re in some financial trouble.”

“I’m not. It was just a little mix up.”


You know what? Fuck it! He wants to poke his nose into my business? Let him. But he’s going to hear the truth.

I straightened my spine and pulled my shoulders back. “If you must know, your brother bounced a check that’s caused a ripple effect now. He owes me about four months of the measly child support he pays, and even though he only paid me half, he still bounced it. Again. I didn’t know the check wasn’t good when I wrote a check for Alex’s football camp.”

Levi looked at me like he wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth. So I swigged another mouthful of wine from the bottle and decided to keep going.

“And since you seem to need to know everything, why don’t we back up and start from the beginning, shall we? First off, I didn’t leave Tanner like you apparently believe I did. He left me—after the second time I caught him cheating. Oh, and your wonderful brother? He also has a serious gambling problem and only saw his son a handful of times over the last few years. And about Thatcher… You’re so suspect of the reason I kept in touch with your grandfather? Well, the truth is, we bonded over Tanner. The two of us tried to intervene and get him help for his addiction on multiple occasions.”

I took another swig from the wine bottle and started to feel a bit lightheaded. “And if you don’t believe what I’m saying, you can probably verify everything with Fern.” I pointed the wine bottle toward the back of the house where she lived. “Because I’m pretty certain she was fucking Thatcher and wasn’t just his friend.”

Levi blinked a few times. He opened his mouth and then shut it. Then opened it. And promptly shut it again. He looked down for a few minutes and then slowly walked over to me and held his hand out. I wasn’t sure what he was asking for until he motioned down to the wine with his eyes.

I hesitated, but let him have the bottle.

His swig finished nearly a quarter of the contents. When he was done, he let out a loud ahhh and offered the bottle back to me. “So Gramps and Fern, huh?”

I smiled sadly. “I’m pretty sure.”

He nodded. “Good for Gramps.”

We stayed quiet for a long time, each sipping from the bottle and passing it back and forth. Eventually, Levi broke our silence.

“Tanner made it seem like you left him because he wasn’t going to be a football star anymore.”

“I figured that. I think he spewed a lot of misinformation around to your family. And I never said anything because the only one who gets hurt when I fight with Tanner is Alex. Your brother really changed after his injury. It was like he didn’t know who he was without football. You boys and your dad have the sport running through your veins. So I tried to understand as best as I could, even when he was treating me badly. That’s why I gave him a pass the first time I caught him with another woman. I knew he was hurting. But the second time, I couldn’t get past it, and we were fighting all the time. Eventually, he moved out.” I caught Levi’s eye. “You’ve known me as long as Tanner has, Levi. Do you really think I’m the type of person who would’ve left someone I cared about because life threw us a curveball?”

Levi’s eyes moved back and forth between mine. He shook his head and looked down. “No.”

After he gulped some more of the wine, he extended the nearly finished bottle to me. But when I went to take it, he pulled it back. Switching it to his other hand, he replaced the wine offering with his hand. “Peace?”

I nodded and put my hand in his.

A heavy silence fell between us as we shook. I figured Levi was busy trying to grasp everything I’d just said, or maybe wondering how the hell he was ever going to get the crazy person standing across from him to sell this mess of a place. But I was tongue-tied by the electricity I felt running up my arm from where our hands were joined. It was so incredibly strong—my eyes jumped to Levi’s face to see if he felt it, too.

But his eyes were cast down, and he seemed unaffected. Unfortunately, that only gave me the opportunity to soak in his face. He’d shaved the beard he’d had a few days ago and now sported a close crop of day-old stubble along his masculine jawline. Levi really was incredibly attractive.

Oh God. It’s the wine. It has to be. I need my head examined for thinking these thoughts.

Our hands were still joined, so I abruptly pulled mine back, which caused Levi to look up.

“Yeah, sure. Peace would be good,” I said.

Levi nodded and looked down once again as he shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “Okay, good. Ummm…why don’t you, uh, go change?”


His eyes came back up, stopping on my breasts.

I followed his line of sight. Oh! Shit. I had on a white tank top with a sheer, nude bra underneath. The water from the flood had soaked them both, and my pink nipples were practically piercing through the wet fabric. I quickly folded my arms to cover up.

Our eyes met again briefly, and for the first time, I saw something other than disdain blazing in my direction. Unless I was crazy, that something other was the exact same thing I’d been failing to control around him lately: desire.

Oh God.

“Sorry…yeah… I’ll, uh, be right back.”