I’ll be the first to admit, I was kind of impressed that she wasn’t more rattled. Hell, maybe even a little turned on. Wasn’t every day you met a woman who could give as good as she could get. I thought for sure she’d get up and storm out like the spoiled brat I’d pegged her for.
“I shouldn’t have assumed that you were all cowboys.” She gave me a smug smile as she shook her head. “You’re clearly just an asshole.”
I’d never seen a woman so manicured and polished and cleaned up, it made me want to get her all dirty. And that sassy streak that ran a mile wide? Fuck, that just made me want to put her on her knees and show her who was boss.
Never in my life had I met anyone more arrogant than the man sitting across from me. And that was really saying something, considering the high-society assholes I’d been surrounded with my entire life.
Didn’t matter one bit to me that his shoulders were broad and he looked like he worked with his hands. I didn’t let the image of him tossing hay bales or shoveling dirt pop into my head, or whatever it was that “not cowboys” did. The perfectly sculpted arms revealed by the short sleeves of his T-shirt didn’t distract me. Not one damn bit.
“Takes one to know one, sweetheart,” he said, narrowing his eyes on mine.
Now that his hat was out of the way, I could see the almost evergreen color of his eyes plain and clear. Or if I really wanted an up-close look, I could glance over at his twin brother sitting next to me. They might have been the most identical twins I’d ever seen—from their green eyes to the slope of their noses, right down to the dimples they both had on each cheek. The two were practically carbon copies. If I weren’t so annoyed by the one sitting across from me, I might have cozied up to the idea of spending a little time with them while I was stuck in this town, because the sexiness factor was definitely doubled too.
“I just came here to eat,” I finally said, wanting to end the pointless argument.
He tugged his hat back around. “Me too.”
Our conversation ended there. The glaring, however, continued for the next several minutes.
I took a deep breath and tried not to let his arrogance get the best of me. The only problem was that he was the sexiest man I’d ever seen in real life. They didn’t make men like him in New York, all rugged and rough around the edges.
“All right, folks,” the waitress said, finally stopping at our table. “Can I get ya some drinks, or just sweet tea all around?”
“I’ll take a water with lemon,” I said as the Wilders all nodded for iced tea.
The waitress nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“And can I get a menu?”
As soon as the question was out of my mouth, the waitress and everyone within earshot snickered.
I was confused. This was a restaurant, right?
“Lunch is up on the board.” The waitress turned to point at a chalkboard on the wall. “What you see is what you get.” She smiled and left to check on another table.
“It’s family-style,” Molly explained.
“What does that mean?”
“One big meal brought out all in big bowls. All served at once.”
“Oh.” I finally realized what she meant. “Like Thanksgiving.”
Not that any of my Thanksgiving dinners had been served that way. My family always had a fully catered meal with some fanciful version of turkey and stuffing. I imagined this particular meal was going to be more like what I saw on television. Happy families, one big bowl of mashed potatoes, and smiles all around. Definitely not like the dinners in my memories.
Family-style wasn’t in my vocabulary. And more than that, I was used to my privacy, not having to fight for elbow room and listen to other people’s private conversations.
I flagged down the waitress as she passed by with a tray of biscuits. “Excuse me, but do you have a booth, or maybe just a private table in back? It’s been a hell of a day, and—”
She tucked a loose lock of hair back into her braid. “I’m going to take a wild guess and wager you’re not from around here.”
What does that have to do with anything?
My gaze wandered back to the hottie across from me. He was smirking.
“Does this make you uncomfortable?” he asked. “Sitting close to me?”
I looked back to the waitress for help, but she was already gone.
“I’m not uncomfortable,” I said, straightening my posture.
His eyebrows jumped up as he studied me. “You look uncomfortable.”
Realizing that my spine was ramrod straight and my hands were fisted in my lap, I huffed out a sigh.
A few moments later, platters generously piled with home-cooked food were delivered, and those seated around me wasted no time in loading up their plates.
“You’re not going to eat?” Duke asked, leaning over to inspect my plate.
And this was why I wanted a private table. I didn’t want someone checking on my progress like I was a finicky toddler who needed supervising. I didn’t generally eat carbs, or things that were deep-fried in lard.
“I am eating,” I told him, forking up one of the beans on my plate. “These green beans are delicious.”
“Probably because they’re cooked in bacon,” the hottie said, his first words since the meal had started. “So, I hope you’re into fat,” he added with a smirk.
Not wanting to give him a bit of satisfaction, I bit into the green bean and smiled as I slowly used my lips to pull it from the fork. I didn’t miss the way his eyes widened as I ate. I learned a long time ago via Clueless that drawing attention to your mouth was always a surefire way to garner a man’s attention. Bacon fat be damned.
“I am, actually,” I said. “Makes it slide down easier.”
I watched with delight as he swallowed hard. Serves you right, pal.
I wasn’t sure exactly why I was so happy that he was caught up in my little performance, but it pleased me and stoked the small fire I could feel burning deep in my stomach when I looked at him. It was too bad he was such a jerk and that I’d sworn off men for the time being. We could have had a lot of fun together.
“You know you want some of my chicken,” Luke said, his voice low and teasing.
I hated the shiver that raced along my spine. “I do not want your chicken.”
“It’s okay. You can have some, duchess.”
Duchess? I wasn’t sure where he’d gotten the nickname until I realized he probably had me pegged for a spoiled little rich brat. To anyone who didn’t know the truth, that’s probably what I looked like. But in my heart, it wasn’t who I was.
Which was exactly why I’d fled and left everything behind.
Once I’d picked my plate clean of salad and green beans, I stood up without a word and went to the register to pay, and then hurried out the door. This entire meal had been a disaster, and I wasn’t even close to full.
“Charlotte,” a voice called out as I walked down the sidewalk toward the auto repair shop.
I turned to find Molly chasing after me, leaving her brothers waiting by the front door of the restaurant. I stopped and let her catch up.
“I’m real sorry about Luke,” she said. “He’s usually not so uptight. I’m not sure what got into him.”
In the sunlight, I could see her resemblance to her brothers. The same sun-bleached brown hair and sweet smile. But where the twins’ eyes were green, hers were brown, and she had no dimples. She was a pretty girl with a good disposition, probably the kind of person I could—or at least, should—be friends with if the circumstances were different.
“It’s all right,” I told her. “You don’t have to apologize for him.” Looking over her shoulder, I sneaked a quick glance at the jerk. Our eyes locked for a moment, but I quickly looked back to Molly. “He’s a grown-up. He should be able to handle himself.”
“I just wanted to welcome you to town. Hope you don’t think we’re all assholes,” she said with a chuckle, and I smiled back.
“Good.” She placed a hand on my shoulder. “I hope I see you around,” she added before hurrying back in her brothers’ direction.