He couldn’t help it, he laughed.
He got that immediately, but as she fumbled for the door handle it was all he could do to hit the locks before she escaped. “Wait,” he said, knowing that if she got out, she would take off like a bat out of hell. “Wait a minute. Let me catch up.”
She whirled back to him, brow knitted, lips—those perfect red lips—ready to blast him. “I’m waiting.”
“You’re mad that we’re at a family party.”
“Give the man a point,” she said.
“And you’re mad that we’re late.”
“Another point,” she said. “Want to go for a three-pointer and win the game?”
“No one’s going to care that we’re late,” he said to soothe her. “I’m the only son; they’re going to be grateful I showed up at all. And having you with me, you’re like my get-out-of-jail-free card.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little early for this?”
“No,” he said. “We missed the ‘Surprise’ already. I hate that part.”
“Your family,” she said. “Don’t you think it’s a little early to have me meet your family? We’re not even…” She trailed off, clearly at a complete loss.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said.
She gave him a look that he imagined could shrivel a guy’s balls right off. But the truth was, he liked her show of temper. Her eyes were sparking, her skin was flushed, and she looked like she wanted to kick his ass from here to next week. He had a good fifty pounds on her, but he wanted to tangle.
With her in that costume.
And out of it.
She made him feel so damn…alive. He looked down at the erection he was sporting—not smart in the stupid pirate pants that didn’t hide a damn thing—and snorted.
She followed his gaze and narrowed her eyes. “Are you kidding me? My pissiness is turning you on?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s just you,” he said. “No worries. I’ll do multiplication. That usually works. Twelve times twelve—” He caught movement at the front windows. “The coven’s watching.”
She just stared at him. “You call your sisters ‘the coven’?”
“And they’re watching us.”
“Little bit. They like to stick their noses in my business. It’s like they can’t help themselves.”
“And you’re still hard?” she asked, heavy on the irony.
“Good point,” he said. He looked over and saw Cindy peeking out the window and pointing at him, probably to Clare or Cara. “Problem solved,” he muttered.
“I should have eaten the brownies first,” she said.
Cole was beginning to understand that family meant something entirely different to her than it did to him. “Hey, it’s going to be fun.” He wished he knew what had put that look on her face, that distrust, that…vulnerability. He hadn’t wanted to push because she’d been so reluctant to talk about her family, but he was undeniably curious.
And more than that. He was concerned that maybe her past wasn’t anything that she wanted to remember. And he hated thinking about why that might be.
He really wanted to know more about her, but now wasn’t the time. Now was the time to try to get her to relax and enjoy. Reaching across the console, he squeezed her hand. “Listen,” he said, dipping down a little to look into her eyes. “I know you’re skittish about this, but it’s going to be okay.”
She didn’t respond, but he could read her now, or he was starting to be able to. She had a wealth of old soul in those dark depths. And pain.
It killed him.
He cupped her jaw. “I promise not to hurt you, Olivia.”
She shook her head, her eyes never leaving his. “People can’t promise things like that.”
She stared at him some more, got out of the truck, and then started walking toward the front door.
They didn’t even hit the first step before the door flew open and the music and laughter spilled out.
So did a sister or two.
“Clare, Cindy,” he said, pointing to the two people dressed up as Dr. Seuss’s Thing One and Thing Two.
If it hadn’t been for the five-year-old minion gripping Thing One’s thigh—Clare’s son, Jonathan—he couldn’t have said who was who. “This is Olivia.”
“Gorgeous costume,” Clare said. “You look fantastic.”
“Thanks,” Olivia said.
“Is that hair real?” Thing Two asked, reaching out to touch it.
“No,” Olivia said. “It’s just a wig.”
“Good,” Cindy said. “Or I’d have to hate you. It’s amazing. You didn’t get this at any old costume shop.”
“No,” Olivia said, “I didn’t.”
“She owns the Unique Boutique,” Cole told them. “She’s got some pretty amazing stuff in there.” He felt Olivia’s glance and turned his head to meet it.
He’d surprised her. Getting that his family could be completely overwhelming to him, and he’d known them all his life, he could only imagine how bad it might be for a perfect stranger. Reaching out, he grabbed her hand in his and pulled her in a little closer, smiling at her.