Her delight in red beans and rice and a shrimp po’ boy this afternoon brings a smile to my lips. The woman can eat unlike anyone else I’ve ever been with. Most women pick at lettuce and turn their nose up at walking anywhere, not to mention walking for blocks and blocks, wandering through shops full of overpriced gaudy knick-knacks.
Not that I typically pay attention to those sorts of things, as long as they’re fun in bed and don’t get too attached.
But Kate’s different. Yes, I want to tumble her into bed and mess her up more than I want my next breath, but I enjoy her company just as much. Making her smile makes my stomach clench. Listening to her laugh makes my chest ache.
And when she slid her hand in mine and linked our fingers when we crossed the street, it was the easiest touch I’ve ever had.
I walk up the stairs to the master bedroom, toe off my shoes, and stare at my balcony, wondering if she’ll go out to enjoy the rest of her evening.
And if so, would she mind if I join her?
God, I’ve become a pussy.
I just saw her five minutes ago, and I’m already craving her company. And that’s exactly what it is: I crave her. Her body, her thoughts, her smile.
All of her.
She’s made parts of me come alive that have been long dead, and I’m not sure if I can trust this yearning in my gut, yet I can’t stop it.
I cross to the doors and open them, but before I can step out onto the balcony, I can hear her voice. And a man’s.
I shove my hands in my pockets and finger the half-dollar in my right hand.
“Well, hello, gorgeous. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“Hey, handsome. Back at you.”
“How are you down there in the Big Easy?”
I inch outside and see that her back is to me, and she’s talking via FaceTime on her iPhone.
“Things are great down here. How are you? Are you taking care of yourself? I know you work so hard, and I worry, you know.”
“Stop worrying about me, love. I’m strong as an ox.” I raise a brow at the term of endearment, and feel my breath catch in my throat.
“Stubborn as one, too,” she replies. I can hear the smile in her voice.
“You miss me and you know it.”
“I do,” she replies with a sigh. “I miss you very much. When do I get to see you?”
I turn and quietly let myself back into my house, gently closing the doors behind me. So, she does have someone. I shake my head and laugh ruefully. I’m such a fucking fool. Sharing beignets and palm readings means nothing.
She means nothing.
I can hear her laugh trickle in from my door, and every hair stands up on the back of my neck.
She’s not nothing. She’s the least nothing I’ve ever met in my life. And I can’t have her.
“Uncle Eli, I want to go outside and play catch.” My youngest sister’s son, Sam, is staring at me with hopeful hazel eyes, his Chicago Cubs hat planted firmly on his head, baseball mitt and ball in his grubby little boy hands.
“I know you don’t have a hat on in my kitchen,” Mom gives Sam a stern look, and he takes the hat off and lowers his chin to his chest.
“After dinner,” I inform him, and pull him in for a hug and to ruffle his shaggy dark hair. “You can take both me and Beau on.”
“I throw better than both of you,” Sam says, and grins at Beau, who is chopping vegetables for Mom on the other side of the counter, across from where Sam, Gabby, and I are sitting.
“You don’t throw better than me,” Beau insists with a frown.
“Do too,” Sam says, and eyes the pecan pie sitting on the counter cooling. “Nannan, can I have some pie?”
“Don’t even think about touching that pie until after dinner.” Mom shakes her spatula at Sam, making him grin. “You’re just like your uncles. Always diving into dessert first.”
“I’m a growing boy. Right, Mama?”
Gabby smiles down at her son and kisses his head before he can pull away with a cringe. “You are a growing boy. Growing on my nerves.”
Sam smiles and walks toward the back door. “I’m gonna go toss the ball in the air until dinner.”
“Good plan. Stay close!” Gabby calls, as the screen door slams.
“He’s adorable,” Charly, at the stove next to Mom, says with a grin. “And knows it.”
“He’s seven going on thirty-five,” Beau says with a laugh. “He tried to talk me out of twenty bucks the other day when he dragged the garbage cans down to the road.”
“He what?” Gabby asks with a gasp. “I’ll kill him.”
“Oh, please,” Mom says with a scoff. “Y’all tried to pull off more ‘n that with your daddy ‘n me when you were young.”
“Never got away with it, either,” Charly says happily, and tosses some corn on the cob into a boiling pot. We’ve been wealthy for generations, but we’ve never hired household staff. Mama and Dad always said that there was no reason to live in a house too big for the eight of us to take care of. Mama loves to cook, loved raising us kids, and we had our own share of chores growing up. “Where are Savannah and Dec?”
“Here we are,” Van answers, as she comes into the kitchen, passing hugs and kisses out to everyone.
“You did not!”
I freeze at the sound of her voice, then feel my hands clench into fists and my eyes narrow when Kate and Declan walk into the kitchen, his arm around her shoulders and hers around his waist, leaning into each other and laughing their fucking asses off. It’s the leaning that pisses me off the most. They’re way too cozy for my comfort level.
What is she doing here?
“Kate!” Mama exclaims, and hurries around the kitchen counter to pull Kate in for a hug. “Ah, dawlin’, it’s been too long since I laid eyes on you.”
“You look wonderful, as always,” Kate returns and hugs my mom tightly. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“You’re family, babe. You don’t need an invitation. You’ll come for Sunday dinner while you’re still in town.”
I take a deep breath, but feel my blood boil. She was invited, but she didn’t call me to give her a ride? Instead, she chose to ride with Declan?
What the fuck?
Suddenly, Sam comes running in from outside, letting the screen slam loudly behind him. “Mama! I threw the ball way up high and it hit the oak tree and bounced off the trunk and hit the roof!” He comes to an abrupt stop when he sees Kate, pulls his hat off his head, and shuffles the toe of his worn sneaker on the hardwood floor. “Ma’am.”