Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 19

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He put the phone down and asked Christie, "Will Alice be here at five to take over the front desk?" When she nodded, he said, "Good. Because I'd like you to come to dinner at my parents'."

"Me?" She couldn't hide her shock. "Why would you want me to come with you?"

"First, because it's the only way I can guarantee that you'll actually eat something rather than work through your next meal."

His obvious concern for her well-being made her throat feel tight. Men, in her experience, rarely took care of her. She had always been the one to take care of them.

"Second, because I think you could use something to take your mind off the festival. And third--" He paused for a moment before finishing. "Because I'd really appreciate not having to sit across the table from them by myself."

God, she thought as she couldn't stop herself from nodding. She was such a sucker.

A sucker for the desire she saw in his eyes.

A sucker for the pain inside him that she couldn't help but want to heal.

And most of all, a sucker for the breathless hope that one day he'd let down his walls and give her a smile that was full of real joy, true happiness.

Because despite knowing better, despite trying to stay strong, she was already falling for Liam Kane. Harder than she could ever remember falling before.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

"You're beautiful."

Christie's heart, which was already beating too fast, jumped so hard behind her breastbone that she was afraid Liam would see the front of her dress thumping to its rhythm. This wasn't a date, so it didn't matter what she looked like. Still, she'd tried on one outfit after another upstairs and even put the blow dryer and her makeup bag through their paces.

Worried that her voice would give away how nervous she was, she simply smiled her thanks. That silence lasted through the drive to his parents' house and was broken only when they got to the front door.

"Thank you for being here with me tonight," he said in a low voice. "Doing this alone would have been--" He shook his head. "Hard. Really hard."

"You're welcome," she said softly, wanting to reach out to take his hand and give it a squeeze. If he were any of her other friends, she would have. Only, she wasn't sure what they were--if friends was the right word for what was beginning to happen between them. "Just kick me under the table when you're ready to go, okay?"

She was rewarded with one of his rare smiles--and she actually lost her breath.

The door suddenly opened. "Liam, what are you doing standing out here in the cold?" His mother registered Christie's presence a moment later. "Christie?" Susan shot a confused glance at her son.

Liam's father was far more welcoming. "Christie, what a nice surprise. I'm so glad you could join us tonight. Come in, you two."

Christie managed a smile for Henry as she let him take her coat. She could feel Liam's eyes on her, could practically hear him worrying that he'd brought her into the lion's den. But these weren't her parents. They were his. And clearly he had problems with them, big enough that he'd needed her as a buffer. She shot him an encouraging smile along with the silent message not to worry about her.

But his frown only deepened as he looked around the kitchen. "Is something on fire in here?" There was a distinct odor of smoke, but everything in the house looked okay.

"Susan burned the first pie she made," his father explained.

Susan shot Henry a furious glance. "I didn't hear the timer. It was an accident."

"I wasn't implying anything else," Henry said. But his tone seemed to say otherwise.

Christie had never seen Susan and Henry act lovey-dovey with each other. But she'd also never seen them like this, sniping and going out of their way not to touch as they moved around the kitchen getting her and Liam drinks.

A short while later, they sat down to a delicious-looking meal. The problem was, Christie wasn't sure she'd be able to eat much. And not just because Henry and Susan were so clearly at odds--but because sitting so close to Liam at the small dining table, with his thigh pressed against hers, was twisting her insides up in knots.

Susan immediately asked Liam, "How is your business doing, honey?"

"I sold it." His parents were both clearly stunned by the news.

"Why would you sell your business?" his mother asked, obviously concerned. "You're so good at venture capital."

Henry didn't give Liam a chance to answer. "Maybe he was ready to move on, Susan."

Christie swore she saw moisture dampen the other woman's eyes at the words move on.

"I'm toying with a few other ideas," Liam said into the chilly air that hung between his parents. "And for the time being, Christie has been showing me the ropes at the inn."

"It's so nice of you to help out your brother with his inn while he's away, Liam," Susan said once she'd recovered herself.

Almost choking on her food, Christie turned to look at Liam. Don't they know you're co-owner? When he shook his head at her silent question, she gave him a look he couldn't misinterpret. They're your parents. You should tell them.

Surprisingly, a moment later, he put down his fork. "When Wesley decided to buy the inn, I made an investment in it, as well. I actually own half of it."

Susan's face creased into a humongous smile. "That's the best news I've heard in a very long time, honey. I hope this means you're going to be staying in town with all of us from now on."

"We'll see." Liam's response was the most noncommittal answer possible.

Christie tried to ignore the pang in the center of her chest at just how low the odds of his staying were. It was yet another good reason not to let herself fall for him.

If only good reasons had any sway over her foolish heart.

At last, however, Henry seemed to be in agreement with his wife. "I agree, that's great news, son. As for whatever you do next, we're behind you every step of the way." But then, Liam's father cleared his throat, looking a little nervous. "If you've got any free time coming up, with what looks to be our last snowstorm of the year behind us, I was thinking about doing some hiking. I'd love it if you could join me."

Henry was a very sweet man. And yet Liam didn't exactly jump at the offer to spend time together. "I'll have to see how my schedule looks."

What, Christie wondered, could Liam possibly have against his father?

Obviously working to swallow his disappointment, Henry turned to her. "How's the festival coming along?"

She should have expected the question. After all, she'd been talking incessantly about it for m

onths. "It was coming along fine, but--"

When she paused to figure out how to best explain things, Liam said, "We're currently dealing with some Adirondack Park regulations surrounding whether public tapping of the maples is allowed under the preservation rules."

Christie lost sight of everything but the we at the beginning of Liam's sentence. How many times had he told her to give the festival to someone else? But now he'd just said we, as though they were a team.

Obviously upset on her behalf, Henry said, "I'm sorry to hear this when you've worked so hard on the festival, Christie."

"Wesley said everything was going well," Susan put in. "Before he left, in any case. And, honestly, while I'm sorry to have to be so blunt--" She pinned Christie with a hard look. "I still don't understand what happened between the two of you. Someone doesn't just pack up and leave the way he did. Did something else happen that you haven't told any of us?"

With each word out of Susan's mouth, Christie could feel her face growing hotter and hotter. How could she possibly continue to keep Wesley's secret under such direct scrutiny? Especially when she knew how worried her own mother would be if she just up and disappeared one day, leaving nothing behind but a note.

But before she could say a word, Liam said, "What happened between them is between them. It's none of our business."

Christie didn't even come close to masking her surprise. Not only had Liam stood up for her again, but it sounded like he was actually defending her right to keep his brother's secret.

"He's my son," Susan protested. "He's your brother. Don't you care what's happening to him?"

"Of course I do." Liam pushed back his chair and reached for Christie's hand to help her up too. "But I didn't ask Christie to join us for dinner tonight so that you could harass her and make accusations."

Christie realized she had to make a choice. To stay with the Kanes. Or to go with Liam. The Kanes lived permanently in town, and disappointing them would have long-term ramifications. Whereas Liam was planning to stay for only a little while.

Which was why it made no sense to choose Liam. But she couldn't have made any other choice.

It wasn't just the little sweet things he did so unconsciously, like always bringing her something to eat. It wasn't just how he'd rushed into her room in the middle of the night because he'd been worried about her. It wasn't just the way he looked at her, with more heat than she'd ever known before. It was also how he'd defended her in front of his mother.


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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