But Cole wasn’t buying what she was selling, which she realized when he gently squeezed her waist like he was offering her comfort on top of support. She turned to Mrs. Donovan. “This house is beautiful. Is it yours?”
“Yes, and call me Amelia. It was built in 1905, and you wouldn’t believe how cranky it can get.” She patted Cole on the shoulder, which she had to reach up to do. “Cole helps me keep it fixed up. I don’t know what I’d do without him, especially since his dad died last year. He’s my rock.”
Thing Two was back, holding a two-year-old dressed up as the Lorax. “I want Ariel to tell us about when she knocked Cole into the ocean.”
Cole swore beneath his breath, and got smacked upside the head for it. “Watch your mouth,” Elvira said.
Cole straightened his dreads and bandana and slid his mom a look.
The toddler started fussing as a stunningly beautiful woman came up to them. She wore a long white column dress and dazzling bling. “Wait for me, I want to hear about the chick who got the best of Cole, too!”
“Cara,” Cole said to Olivia before turning back to his sister. “And who are you supposed to be?”
“One of the Real Housewives of Lucky Harbor.”
“But you’re not married,” Thing Two said.
Cara shrugged. “Details.” She smiled at Olivia. “Normally Cole counts on us to take him down a peg or two, so we appreciate the assist.”
“Maybe you should’ve dressed as the family comedienne,” Cole said.
There was something here, Olivia thought, a different dynamic between these two than the others. Tension, for one.
And a lingering anger and resentment that surprised Olivia.
Thing Two shoved her fussy, drooling two-year-old into Cole’s arms. “Mom’s kitchen sink isn’t draining again. Can you fix it?”
Cole bounced the Lorax up and down in his arms, making the toddler give a full belly giggle and drool some more. Olivia was having a similar reaction watching him easily handle and charm the baby.
“Grannie’s sink isn’t draining ’cause she keeps putting food into it,” Cole told the little guy, lifting him high in the air, “even though she’s still on a septic tank and not the sewer system.”
The boy gave another belly laugh that was utterly contagious, and Cole brought him in for a smacking kiss that had the toddler’s legs kicking in sheer joy.
Something deep within Olivia quivered.
“Why does he always stop crying for you?” Cindy demanded, and took the Lorax back.
The baby lifted his hands back out to Cole. “Mine! Mine Cole!”
Cole grinned at him. “You and me later, dude. We’ve got ‘nap’ written all over us.”
The baby cooed.
Cindy was staring at Olivia, head cocked. “You know,” she said. “You look really familiar. I feel like I’ve seen you before, somewhere.”
“Her shop,” Cole said while Olivia’s pulse kicked, knowing where that somewhere had been.
“No, not her shop,” Cindy said. “Somewhere else.”
“Cara, offer our guest something to drink,” Elvira said.
“What’s your poison?” Cara asked Olivia.
Olivia looked around and saw that everyone was drinking wine or beer. “I’ll have a beer, thank you.”
Clare pointed at Cole. “Keep her,” she said.
Cindy was still staring at Olivia. “You look familiar,” she said.
“I have that kind of a face,” Olivia said.
Cindy let the subject drop, though her gaze never left Olivia. She was close to figuring it out. On borrowed time, Olivia thought…
The party engulfed them then. There was a pool table, and some fierce games were going on there, and also on the two dartboards. Turned out the Donovans took their competition extremely seriously. That was okay, because so did she.
In college, she’d kept to herself, but had been drawn to both pool and darts. They’d appealed to her competitive nature, and also were games she could play without being on a team. She was good.
But Cole was better. He killed her at pool.
And then he had his ass handed to him at the dartboards.
The crowd went nuts, and she was toasted by everyone in the family for keeping Cole humble.
Cole ignored them all and good-naturedly high-fived her, and then shocked her by dipping her low over his arm and kissing the hell out of her.
They were separated for a while after that. Cindy’s husband grabbed Cole for another game, and Olivia found herself at the bar with someone dressed up as an orc, helping restock. Afterward, she grabbed two more beers and went in search of Cole.
She didn’t find him in the living room or the courtyard, where people were milling and dancing. He wasn’t in the den, either, or in the large kitchen that was filled with every sort of kitchen appliance known to man, along with the personal signs of a big family. Family pictures decorated the fridge, and then there was stuff scattered over the counters, including a stack of mail, empty food containers, a cat sniffing around in the sink, and…
Cole and Cara’s voices, coming from…
“I said I would,” Cara was saying, sounding irritated. “Happy? You’ve finally worn me down. I’m telling Mom everything.”
“When?” came Cole’s voice. “When are you going to come clean with everyone?”
“Jesus, Cole, you’re like a dog with a bone.”