“Gee, this has been fun,” he said. “But I have to go watch paint dry now.”
“She dumped you two years ago—”
“Not going there, C,” he said.
“Two. Years,” she repeated.
Like he didn’t know. It’d been Gil’s funeral, a couple weeks short of two years ago now, and he remembered exactly.
Just as clearly as he remembered why. “Don’t you have to get to work?” he asked. “Or, I don’t know, stir your cauldron?”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
He stared back, holding the silence. It was his only weapon against her. Clare couldn’t handle a silence. Not one of the coven could. Though in the old days, she’d used other techniques. Sitting on him had usually worked. Or ratting him out. His dad had never failed to fall for one flash of her baby blues, for any of his daughters’ baby blues. He’d had a real soft spot for the girls. For Cole, too, if he was being fair. He had no doubt of that, but he’d been taught that a female was to be loved, cherished, and pampered, and above all else, she was to get her way.
And he respected that. But he had different boundaries now, and he held his tongue.
“Fine,” she finally said. “Subject closed. For now.” Moving in, she hugged him hard, brushing a kiss to his jaw. “Love you, you big, stubborn ass.” She pointed to the bag. “Heat the chili on the stovetop for dinner tonight. Save the bread to eat with it.”
“And Cole?” She flashed him a smile as she pulled her keys from her pocket. “Maybe you could ask this Olivia out sometime.”
“For all you know, she’s married with kids,” he said. “Maybe she’s a senior citizen and doesn’t even have all of her own teeth. Maybe—”
“Maybe she’s perfect for you, you ever think of that?” She smiled at his expression and wisely stepped back out of range. “Why don’t you just try dropping some of those unrealistic expectations, baby brother, okay? Not every woman is going to be a hormonal wreck like your sisters or dump you like your ex.”
That was the second time in three days he’d been told about his unrealistic expectations, and he rolled his eyes. His expectations, realistic or not, were just fine, thank you very much.
Clare shook her head at his lack of a response, blew him a kiss, and vanished.
Cole started to shove his hands into his pockets, but the left one couldn’t bend that way thanks to the sling—and the bolt of pain. So only his right hand entered his pocket, and encountered soft silk.
He’d forgotten they were there, and they must have gotten washed with his pants. Like a shockwave, arousal punched through his system, and he let himself get lost in that for a moment.
Olivia wasn’t a mom—at least he didn’t think so. She sure as hell wasn’t a senior citizen. But beyond that, he didn’t have a clue.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true, either, was it. He knew she had amazing eyes, dark and full of secrets. He knew she could make him laugh. He knew she would literally risk her own life for a stranger’s.
He’d told himself it didn’t matter if he never talked to her again. He’d even bought it, at least in his waking moments. But in his sleeping moments he’d been dreaming about her. Fantasizing, really; hot, dark, erotic fantasies where they’d been back on the boat with none of the danger and all of the nakedness…
Okay, so yeah, seeing her again was a really bad idea. Clearly he was all sorts of fucked up.
And then there was Olivia. She was guarded, and not exactly eager. Cole fingered her panties again and let out a long exhale.
But she had attempted to save his life. That was a big deal. It’d be rude not to at least give her back her undies.
Three days after taking that unintentional swim, Olivia moved through her shop, reshelving and restocking, one ear cocked toward her tablet. She had it propped up on her desk, tuned to an American Pickers episode on Netflix.
Lord, she loved that guilty pleasure show. She loved all of them, Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, anything and everything about old stuff. It didn’t take a shrink to tell her why, either. The art of digging through the neglected and discarded, giving those things a new lease, was a thinly veiled metaphor for her own life.
She’d been neglected and discarded.
She was working on that. She looked around. Unique Boutique was three rooms, two for her customers to wander through and one that was both a storeroom and an office. She’d done her best to re-create the same sense of warmth and mystic adventure that Mrs. Henderson had instilled within her all those years ago.
The location was great, near the end of Commercial Row downtown, in the bottom floor of a “quaint” old Victorian that her landlord claimed had been renovated before the turn of the century.
It was probably true. Olivia just wasn’t sure which century.
The three rooms were tiny, but she’d made the most of them. They had the timeless look she’d always wanted, an old-fashioned parlor crammed full of wonderful old things that were strewn about, things that drew the eye and made you want to reach out and touch. She’d been careful with scents, too; today she’d used the vanilla oil and the whole place smelled like Grandma’s kitchen.
If she’d had a grandma who’d baked.
She sold vintage clothing and assorted other things ranging from accessories to knickknacks to antique furniture. She’d accumulated everything herself, whether from estate auctions, garage sales, eBay, Craigslist, or her own closets.