Tuck bit back an all-night-long quip. He really had to get his craving for her under control.
“This is about Dixon,” said Amber, her tone going crisp. “In the past, when he was young, what made him happy? What made him angry?”
“I made him angry,” said Tuck.
She broke a grin at that. “Why does that not surprise me?”
“Because I’m the villain in this story.”
“How did you make him angry?”
“I stole Nanny Susie’s candies,” he told her. “She kept a jar of them in the pantry as treats for good behavior. I dragged a kitchen chair into the pantry and piled a step stool on top, then I climbed up and filled my pockets. Dixon was freaking out. He was sure we’d be caught.”
“That’s bizarrely ironic.”
“That I stole the good-behavior treats?” He grinned. “I get that now. I didn’t get it then. They were delicious.”
“Did you get caught?”
“Did Dixon eat the candies?”
“Yes. He held out for a while, but eventually he gave in. Maybe the experience scarred him? Should we be canvassing the local confectionaries?”
She rolled her eyes. “What else have you got?”
“I used to sneak out my bedroom window and meet girls in the middle of the night.”
“Did Dixon sneak out with you?” she asked.
“No. By then, I guess he held firmer to his convictions. Or else he was loyal to his girlfriend. Which, now that I think about it, he really was. He only had two of them before Kassandra. Bettina Wright and Jodi Saunders. They were both gorgeous, but they also struck me as boring and a little stuck-up.”
“You have different tastes than your brother.”
Tuck let his gaze rest on Amber. “I do.”
He knew that if he’d been working side by side with her for five years, married or not, his loyalty would absolutely have come into question.
The air seemed to thicken and heat between them. If he’d been closer, he’d have reached for her.
“So Dixon is dependable,” Amber said into the silence. “He’s honest, loyal and hardworking.”
“You sound like my father.”
“Even in the midst of an emotional crisis, first he tries to get your father’s permission to leave. Then he leaves your father a letter of explanation and me as a fail-safe.”
“You weren’t much of a fail-safe.”
“I told you I thought you could handle it. I still believe you could handle it if you’d apply yourself.”
“Apply myself with no knowledge or experience to the running of a multinational conglomerate?”
“Whose fault is it that you have no experience?”
Tuck wanted to say his father’s. He wanted to say his brother’s. But he knew it was also his own fault. He’d sat back and allowed this to happen.
Had he always chosen the shortcut? Steal the candies instead of earning them? Make out with the girls without dating them?
“Do you think people can change?” he asked.
“I think we can try.”
He felt the magnetic pull between them again.
Her expression turned guarded and she rose to her feet. “I should really go to bed.”
He stood with her. “Any chance that’s an invitation?”
He immediately regretted the joke. “I know.”
She looked up at him, eyes deep blue, cheeks flushed, the breeze teasing her hair. Her lips were slightly parted and they looked so incredibly kissable.
“Is your flirting reflex really that strong?” she asked.
“It’s not a reflex.”
“Then, what is it?”
“It’s you, Amber. It’s all you.”
“I’m not trying to send signals.”
“You’re not trying, but I know you feel it, too.”
“Can you make it stop?” she asked, her voice a rasp.
He slowly slipped his arm around the small of her back, settling it there. “Why?”
She leaned slightly away, but she didn’t break his hold. “Because it won’t end well.”
“We don’t know that.”
“One of us does.”
“You can’t predict the future.”
“I can predict the next sixty seconds.”
He gave a cautious smile. “I’m afraid to ask.”
“You’re going to kiss me, Tuck.”
“That’s a relief.” He tightened his hold on her and leaned in. “I thought I was getting a knee to the groin.”