Panic, unreasonable as it might be, clutched at Olivia’s heart. Cole joked about Clare, Cindy, and Cara being a coven, but he had no idea. None. She looked up and found his eyes on her, narrowed in concern. He said something to Iron Man, and then he was drying his hands on a towel and walking toward her.
She forced a smile onto her face and started to take a step back, knowing she needed a moment to gather herself. But she got an unexpected helping hand when Amelia stepped in front of Cole, looking animated.
Cole’s gaze shifted from his mom to Olivia as he spoke. His mom put her hands on his arms and he cut his eyes back to her. He spoke softly, and with what looked like a great gentleness, and then he hugged her. Amelia cupped her son’s face, kissed both cheeks, and let him go.
Olivia realized she’d lost her chance to bolt when Cole came right to her. “Hey,” he said. “You okay?”
“Because you just looked at your phone like you had bad news.”
He was far too observant, not that this surprised her. Most men didn’t notice the little stuff, but Cole never missed a thing. “What’s up with your mom?” she asked. “She seemed upset.”
His jaw tightened. “She’s got a problem that is now my problem.”
“Can I help?”
He pulled her in and brushed his mouth over her temple. “Look at you, being all sweet.”
“Don’t get used to it.”
He huffed out a warm laugh against her. “It’s one of my sisters. She had something to talk to my mom about tonight, and some decisions were made. She needs me. Or rather, my mom needs me to butt into her life.”
She pulled back and looked into his face. There was regret there, but no anger. He wasn’t doing this to impress anyone, or to gain favor. “You really do love all of them.”
“Sometimes I have to really reach for it, but yeah, I do. Warts and all. That’s a family, right?”
“Right,” she said as if she knew, when really she had no idea. “It’s Cara?” she guessed.
“Almost always,” he said. “She needs me to help her move out of her husband’s apartment and back into this house.”
It didn’t escape Olivia that both of them had family who wanted something from them, and that only Cole was going to jump in and do whatever was needed, without hesitation. “And what do you need?” she asked.
He stroked a finger over her jaw. “A rain check from you.”
The next day, the bell above the shop door rang and Olivia looked up to see Cindy Donovan. She was carrying Kyle, who gurgled in pleasure at the sight of Olivia.
Cindy looked around. “Nice place.”
Kyle said something, too. “Yabbayabbayabba.” Then he grinned at Olivia with pride, and her ovaries actually ached.
Closing the laptop she’d been working on, she came around the counter. “Looking for anything special?” she asked Cindy.
Cindy shook her head. “Not really.”
Olivia took a deep breath. “You’re not here to shop.”
Cindy’s smile was real enough, but her eyes were bluntly honest. “No. I’m not.”
Olivia forced herself to stay still, not to fidget or shove her hands in her pockets and give away her nerves.
Kyle cooed again, trying to get her attention. She smiled at him and he flashed her a toothless grin that had so much charm in it she couldn’t help but melt.
“I know,” Cindy said. “He’s already a total lady-killer.”
“It’s not his fault, it runs in his family.” Olivia picked a teddy bear from a bin of stuffed animals and held it out to Kyle.
His eyes went wide and he snatched the bear, clutching it to his chest as he bounced up and down in Cindy’s arms.
“Treat it nice,” Cindy told him, and looked at Olivia. “I know who you are.”
Olivia’s heart skipped a beat. “Do you?”
“I watched every episode of Not Again, Hailey! fifteen times. I could recite the entire boxed set. I know it’s you.”
Olivia inhaled a deep breath and confessed to nothing.
Kyle waved the teddy bear at Olivia and yelled some adorable baby gibberish that she figured meant “thank you.”
“Look, I’m sure you’ve got your reasons for keeping this a secret,” Cindy said, patting Kyle on the back. “And you know what? I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want to be associated with your crazy past, either.”
Now Olivia’s heart outright sank into her boots, but she shouldn’t have been surprised. Her wild and crazy days had been well documented. People loved to watch child star meltdowns.
YouTube was the bane of her existence.
But Cindy wasn’t done. “Word to the wise,” she said. “My brother’s a very honest sort of guy. To the core.” She paused and gave Olivia a long look. “And he expects the same out of the people he lets in. Trust me, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to live up to his expectations.”
“I know you mean well,” Olivia said as gently as she could with panic rolling like a greasy wave in her gut. “But your brother and I aren’t—”
“Don’t,” Cindy said. “Please don’t even try to tell me you don’t have feelings for him. I saw you watching him from the dance floor when he was making drinks behind the bar, like he was the puppy you always wanted for Christmas but never got.”