“Or a pissed-off, tired-of-keeping-your-fucking-secret brother?” he asked.
“Oh, get off your high horse,” Cara snapped. “You’re one to talk.”
“We’ve had this conversation. I’m not lying to everyone I care about.”
“No, of course not. You’re better than that, right? Your world is black and white, right and wrong. There’s a clear line drawn, and if someone crosses it, you’re done with them.”
“Jesus, dramatic much?” he asked. “Your costume’s fitting tonight.”
“Cara, look at me.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
“Shut up, smart-ass,” he said. “I’m here bitching you out. Does that seem like I’m done with you?”
Olivia shook herself, realized she was eavesdropping, and crossed the room to tell them she was standing right there, but by the time she poked her head into the pantry, they were hugging. She jerked back out of sight, leaving the kitchen to stand in the hallway, both uncomfortable at interfering and incredibly moved by their relationship, which seemed…real. More real than anything she’d ever had with her own sister.
Too late she realized Cara had stepped out of the pantry and was now right in front of her. Damn. Way too late to make it look like she was doing anything other than listening in on a private conversation. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”
“The more the merrier in this house of crazy,” Cara said. “You like him, right?”
Olivia shot a startled glance toward the pantry. “Oh. Well…I—”
Cara smiled. “Yeah. You do.” She started to pass by Olivia, but then stopped and met her gaze. “Thanks for coming with him,” she said. “It’s nice to see him smiling.”
And then she was gone.
Olivia sucked in a breath and thought about how close the siblings were. About how the concept was both alien and yet something she yearned for with all her heart and soul.
She wasn’t used to this sort of group dynamic, hadn’t been for a long time. But suddenly she missed the feeling of being on a set, the family sense of the crew.
Because that’s what this felt like to her, one big, happy set.
Only this couldn’t be canceled when ratings tanked. This was Cole’s real life.
Which reminded her how different they were. She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be a part of a family like this, one that stuck, that stayed no matter what, whose members loved each other and all their individual faults.
They weren’t dependent on each other financially. They each had their own jobs and took care of themselves.
But they also took care of each other.
They loved each other.
A hand slipped into hers. Cole. He smiled and drew her back into the kitchen, where he pressed something in her hand.
Which was when she realized she had tears on her cheeks.
“Hey,” he said softly. “We overwhelming you with our obnoxiousness?”
She blew her nose. “No. I’ve got something in my eye is all.”
He smiled with such understanding that she nearly cried some more. “We’re harmless,” he promised. “Well, mostly.”
He was about as harmless as a python. “You’ve got a pretty great family,” she said. She was trying to wrap her head around that while reminding herself that this wasn’t her future, much as she might secretly love it to be.
Because she’d lied to him.
“Great?” Cole asked. “Or terrifying?”
He looked at her for a beat and then backed her into the pantry, pressed in close, and shut the door at his back. “You look like you need a moment.” He leaned against a shelving unit filled to the gills with cans and bins and spices. His pose was relaxed, his smile easy, his eyes appreciative.
“We can’t be in here,” she said. “Your mother—”
“Knows her son is an adult.”
She stared at him. “But…”
“I’m the youngest,” he said. “Do you really think there’s anything I can do to shock her that one of my sisters hasn’t already done? And besides, she’s the consummate pro. She’d never get mad at a guest. And you’re a pro at this social thing, too,” he said. “You really know how to charm a guy’s family.”
Olivia sucked in a breath and tried to look like she deserved credit for that, but Cole went still, and then cocked his head. “Tell me you’ve done this before, met a guy’s mom.”
Actually, no. No, she hadn’t. Not once.
“Olivia? Am I the first guy who’s ever brought you home?”
Her throat was tight again. Damn it. She decided to ignore the embarrassing and far too revealing fact that yeah, he was her first…whatever he was. “What’s important here is that I think your mother actually likes me. I’m not going to get caught in the pantry with her favorite son and jeopardize that.”
“I’m her only son,” he said. “But you’re right, she does like you.”
The knowledge made Olivia glow a little bit, even as she squirmed with…discomfort. His family cared about each other, and it was genuine. Even the thing between Cole and his sister wasn’t dysfunctional. They didn’t throw booze bottles at each other, light each other’s bedrooms on fire, sleep with each other’s boyfriends, steal money…