“Who carries a screwdriver and a…lock-fix-it-thingie in their pocket?” she asked, a little desperate for a subject change.
“Me,” he said.
“What else do you have in there?”
He smiled. “Come to dinner and I’ll show you.”
She arched a brow. “You’d bribe me into going out with you?”
“I’m a man without shame,” he said easily. He hopped down from her desk and waited with what she was beginning to realize was characteristic patience for her response.
It was just dinner, she told herself. A simple invitation.
But they both knew nothing about it would be simple.
There would be…hard stuff.
She wasn’t particularly good at that. She’d spent her entire childhood weighed down by the obligations and heavy expectations that had been placed on her. And when she’d failed to meet those expectations, people she’d cared about and counted on had abandoned her.
As an adult, she’d come to realize that she was much happier going without the weight of those things.
Giving up relationships had been a by-product.
She was okay with that. Very okay.
“This isn’t brain surgery, you know,” he said. “Just dinner. Hell, we don’t even have to commit to needing utensils. We can grab a burger. How does that sound?”
Sounded right up her alley. Nothing serious.
Problem was, Cole, with his sexy MacGyver ways and those cargoes with the screwdriver sticking out of his pocket, had a little bit of serious in his eyes. “I can’t,” she finally said. “I’m busy tonight. But thanks for fixing the lock and light. Good-bye, Cole.”
He met her gaze, his own lit with amusement and the knowledge that she wasn’t the only one who thought she was a chicken.
And then he was gone.
Leaving her wondering why, if she’d done the right thing, her heart was burning with disappointment.
It was late afternoon two days later when Cole walked into the Love Shack and nodded to Jax Cullen, who co-owned the bar and grill.
“Sight for sore eyes,” Jax said. “I’ve got a broken dishwasher—again—and no plumber for two days. Tell me you can jury-rig it to work that long, and I’ll feed you all week on the house.”
This was a good deal for Cole, who could cook but would rather have a hot poker shoved beneath his toenail. He went into the back and fixed the dishwasher with a roll of duct tape and his screwdriver. “A bacon blue with fries,” he told Jax.
“Done,” Jax said. “Your boys are already here. I’ll bring the burger to you.”
Cole headed to his usual table. Indeed, Tanner and Sam were already there, with burgers in front of them, along with a pitcher of beer, half gone. Tanner kicked out a chair for Cole.
Cole poured himself a glass and the three of them made their usual toast.
“To Gil,” they said in unison.
“You’re late,” Tanner said.
Cole scrubbed a hand over his face. He’d been at his mom’s all afternoon, building her a set of shelves for the hundreds of books she kept buying even though he’d given her a Kindle.
It had been the last thing on his to-do list.
He was bored out of his mind, not a good place to be. Plus, he was still overthinking Olivia’s flat-out rejection. And she hadn’t been playing coy, either. She hadn’t been playing anything. She honestly hadn’t wanted or expected a thing from him.
He didn’t know what to make of that, or understand why he even cared. “I’m coming back to work,” he said, half expecting them to fuss like old women.
They didn’t. Sam thumbed his way through the calendar on his phone. “Talked to Josh today. The doc said another week, right?”
Cole blew out a breath. “Yeah. But not one day more.”
“Great,” Sam said. “Because I’ve already got you on the schedule for next week.”
Cole looked at him. “Great?”
“Yep. Looks like your first client is already scheduled for six a.m. one week from today. It’s all yours.”
Cole looked at Tanner, who was studying the ceiling like it held the secret to life. “Alright,” Cole said. “Why did that feel too easy?”
Tanner smiled. “’Cause it’s for Lucille and her cronies. They want fishing lessons.”
“She said all this talk of you dating Olivia gave her the idea,” Tanner said.
“And both of you told her the truth,” Cole said, “that I’m not dating Olivia. Right?”
Neither responded to this. “Shit,” he said. “Seriously?”
“Hey, if she’s focused on you,” Tanner said, “then she’s not focused on us.”
“Nice. Thanks.” But Cole didn’t bother to sigh, as the reasoning was pretty rock solid. “Either of you know anything about this woman I’m supposedly seeing?”
Sam and Tanner exchanged a look.
“What?” Cole asked.
“Nothing,” both Tanner and Sam said, and sipped their beers.
“It’s something,” Cole said.
“Okay,” Tanner said. “It’s the first time you’ve asked about a woman since Susan— Ouch! Shit, man,” he said to Sam, and rubbed his kicked shin. “What’s your problem?”
Sam ignored him and said to Cole, “I know she’s a loyal, fierce friend to Becca.”