“I thought you didn’t have any family.”
“This is…extended family.” As in very extended.
“Do you ever miss Kentucky?”
She nearly gave a choked laugh. Kentucky represented her first seven years of life, which had been spent in a single-wide on cement blocks that leaked in the rain, and it’d rained a lot. It had meant a lot of long, cold nights in the winter and longer hot, sticky nights in the summer. It had meant an unhappy, stressed-out mom, hungry bellies, and uncertainty.
But that had been a long time ago, a lifetime ago, in fact.
“No,” she said as simply as she dared. “I don’t miss Kentucky. Why are you here again?”
He pulled something from his pocket. Black lace.
“Oh, my God,” she said.
“Thought you might want them back.”
She gaped at him. “What if they’d fallen out of your pocket? What if you’d gotten in a wreck and been taken to the hospital with women’s underwear on you? What if—”
Laughing, he put a finger over her lips. “You always worry about the worst-case scenario?”
She pushed his hand away from her mouth, snatched the panties, and then turned from him. She needed a moment without his sharp gaze to recover from the oddly electric touch of his finger on her mouth.
And what it had done to her.
“I was hoping to take you out to dinner as a thank-you for saving my life.”
She hadn’t been big on guys in a while. If she was being honest, she hadn’t really even tried since the summer after college. The guy she’d been dating had discovered the Not Again, Hailey! DVDs. He’d had a showing with a hundred of his closest friends and charged admission, thinking it was funny as hell to promise people her autograph.
Instead, it’d been mortifying as hell.
“Long silence,” Cole said. “Doesn’t bode well. You’re seeing someone, then.”
She hesitated, considered lying, and then shook her head. She’d lied about enough already. “No.”
“You sure? You need another minute to decide?”
He was laughing at her. She gave him a long look. “And what about you?”
“What about me?”
He was going to make her say it. She kept forgetting that his smile might be guileless and effortlessly easy, but he was no pushover. He was one of those sneak-up-on-you alphas; all charm and charisma, so that you barely noticed that you were doing exactly what he wanted, giving him whatever he was seeking…and all because of that sexy smile. “Are you seeing anyone?” she asked through her teeth.
“I’m hoping I’m seeing you. For dinner.”
There was a pause, and their gazes locked. And then her pulse jumped the starting gate. “A thank-you dinner isn’t necessary,” she said. “You know exactly how the other morning went, which was you saving me.”
He closed the distance between them.
Refusing to back up, she lifted her chin and met his gaze evenly.
“You put your life on the line for me, Supergirl,” he said quietly, no trace of his usual good humor in his low, husky voice. “I’m going to fix your lock. And then I’m going to buy you dinner.”
Her heart skipped a beat. Dinner had implications. Dinner would be admitting there was an attraction, something she wasn’t ready for, because once she went there, the countdown was on.
The countdown to him walking away.
Why let it get there at all? “No,” she said.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to ask why after you’ve been turned down for a date,” she said. “It’s in the Man Handbook under the instructions on how to deal with women.”
He flashed a grin. “I never read instructions.”
“And I suppose you don’t ask for directions, either,” she said.
“Don’t need ’em. I always know where I’m going.”
Oh boy. She just bet he did. But she couldn’t do this, no matter how tempting his mischievous, sexy smile was. She had no track record, at least no good track record. She never managed to keep anyone in her life, and yes, she knew that was all on her. She’d never quite been lovable enough.
Some things couldn’t be changed.
“Okay,” she said, “this has been fun, but I’ve got to get home now, so—”
He turned and headed out to the front room. To leave, she thought. Perfect.
So why she felt like grabbing him was beyond her.
She followed to lock up behind him, but though he went to the door, he didn’t go. He pulled something from one of his cargo pockets and went to work on the lock. And then two minutes later, slid the tool back into his pocket and locked the door.
He turned to her with a smile. “You’ve also got a few bulbs out in the back office. You got lightbulbs?”
“I’ll do it myself when I borrow a ladder—”
“You don’t need a ladder.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Okay, maybe you need a ladder. I don’t,” he said. “Bulbs?”
“It’s not just the bulbs,” she said. “I’ve already tried replacing them.”
“So something’s wrong with the electrical. I’ll take a look.”
She thought about what had happened on the boat when he’d been working on the electrical wiring. He’d been shocked and had fallen into the water. “Don’t worry about it.”