“I don’t know what’s more impressive,” he said. “The fact that you conjured all of this out of almost nothing, or that you’ve got me eating a salad with beets and blueberries and . . .” He lifted his fork and stared at the glistening leaf. “I’ve got nothing.”

“It’s kale.”

“Kale,” he said with a shudder.

“You don’t like beets, blueberries, or kale?”

“I’m not a fan of green stuff but . . .” He showed her his empty bowl. “Either you have great skills or your distraction skills are amazing.”

“I think it was probably the salad itself,” she said.

“I think it was you. That husky laugh of yours,” he said. “Or maybe it’s your amazing eyes. They’re beautiful.” He waited until she met his gaze in surprise. “You’re really good in the kitchen, Colbie.”

Unused to compliments, she looked away and shrugged. “Survivor skills.”

“On your own young?” he asked.

She bought herself a minute by carrying their dishes to the sink, but he grabbed their glasses and came to the sink as well, meeting her gaze.

“My mom was pregnant with twins when my dad walked off his job because his boss was a hard-ass,” she said. “He spent a year on the couch with his booze feeling sorry for himself before he went out for a six-pack and never came back.”

“Sounds rough.”

“Sounds like a country song,” she corrected.

He gave a low laugh. “Or that.”

Her mom had rallied a few times, eternally in love with love, but she’d still managed to self-destruct every single relationship she’d had since.

A tendency Colbie had tried really hard not to inherit. Wanting to make a very long, boring story as short as she possibly could, she said, “My mom worked all the time. She had to. So as the oldest kid, I took care of everything else.”

“Including the cooking.”

“Yes.” That’d been the easy part—when they’d had money for groceries, that is. Raising hell-bent-on-trouble twin boys had been the hard part.

“How old were you when your dad left?” Spence asked.

“Six,” she said and turned on the water to rinse their dishes. “The twins had just turned one.”

“Jesus, Colbie.” Reaching past her, he turned off the water. “I don’t know how it works at home, but here the cook never does the dishes. Especially since I imagine you’ve done more than your fair share over the years.”

“Hey, without those years I’d not have been able to make you this amazing five-course first-class meal.”

He smiled, as she’d intended for him to, and if he felt sorry for her, he was smart enough to hide it.

“You still close to your mom and brothers?” he asked.

She felt her own smile slip a little. “Sure.” She turned the water on again.

And he turned it off. Again. “It’s funny,” he said, “how sometimes when you talk, your mouth says one thing but your eyes tell me another story entirely.”

“Such as?” she asked, not liking where this conversation was going.

“Such as . . .” Not even a little scared off by her “back off” voice, Spence stepped in closer and cupped her jaw, holding her face up to his as he searched her gaze. “You like to put a good spin on everything.”

“Well, I am a pretty good spinner.”

“I bet.” His mouth quirked on one side and it was disarmingly sexy. “I’m not. But I’m actually a pretty good listener when I’m focused.”

Her breath caught a little bit. Or a lot. “And you’re . . . focused now?”

“Very.”

His stare rooted her to the spot as she tried to read the level of his seriousness, while something warm and dangerous slid into her belly and headed south.

“You joked about running away from home,” he said. “But it doesn’t feel funny.”

She gave a slow head shake. “That’s because it isn’t.”

They were standing very close in front of the sink. She had one hand gripping the counter because she needed the balance, needed an anchor in a suddenly spinning world.

“Talk to me,” Spence said and put his hand over hers.

She let go of her grip on the granite, turning her hand over so their fingers could entwine. Talk to him? She didn’t know where to start. Or if she even wanted to. “There’s a lot going on back home,” she said quietly, meeting his gaze. A mistake, as one look into those curious light brown eyes and it all just came tumbling out of her mouth. “So many pieces to the whole puzzle,” she said, “and they all depend on me keeping them in place. Personal and work.” She closed her eyes. “It’s always all on me, you know? Always. And I just felt overwhelmed and . . . tired. And that killed my muse.” She opened her eyes again, knowing he’d be able to see the pain swimming in them but unable to hide it. “I need to find my muse, and to do that, I needed a change of scenery. A break. Even just for a little while. So I got on a plane. I wanted to go to a deserted Caribbean island beach but there was a big hurricane . . .”

“Never thought I’d find a reason to thank a hurricane,” he said, making her smile. “Your mom and brothers depend on you financially?”

And emotionally . . . “Yes. Kurt and Kent are twenty-three. The Peter Pan years, as it turns out. They don’t want to grow up, a syndrome that’s been ramped up since their twenty-first birthday.”

“I remember being twenty-one,” he said. “I’d just graduated Caltech with my master’s degree in mechanical engineering. I had enough debt to sink an entire country and about twenty bucks to my name.”

A mechanical engineer. That . . . fit him. Perfectly. “But you made something of yourself,” she said, gesturing around her. “Kent always says he’d be more inclined to grow up if he saw that it actually worked out for anyone.”

Spence smiled. “I just got lucky.”

“I think I call BS on that. You worked your ass off doing . . .” she raised a brow “. . . mechanical engineering? Whatever that is?”

He smiled. “Still curious, huh?”

“Yes! Of course I am!”

He tugged a loose strand of her hair. “I ran a startup with Caleb, my business partner. We created some technical back-end apps that Google found useful and when it suited us, we sold to them. That’s when I bought this building.”

She sucked in a breath. “Did you just kind of tell me what you do for a living?”

“It was never really a secret. I just liked hearing your guesses.”

She laughed. “It’s actually a relief to know. My next guess was going to be either a spy or a supervillain.” Then his words sank in and she felt her eyes bug out of her head. “You own this whole building?”

Something shifted in his eyes. He wasn’t comfortable telling her all this, but he nodded and she felt something shift inside her too, but in a good way. Because she realized that he too knew exactly what it was like to go from having nothing to extreme success.

She’d felt alone in this for so long she almost didn’t recognize the emotion tumbling through her.

Relief.

Chapter 9

#SonOfABeach

“So other than being a real estate mogul,” Colbie teased Spence, giving him a little hip bump at his sink, wanting to lighten the mood, “what else do you do these days?”

“I still do the app’s updates as needed, but I’m also working on something new.”

“The drones on your coffee table?” she asked.

“They’re part of a big project that’s due in January.”

“How’s it going?”

His gaze met hers. “I don’t know. There’s been a beautiful stranger tossed into the mix and I’m having trouble focusing.”

The air between them seemed to crackle and she got the tummy flutter again. “You . . . think I’m beautiful?”

“I do.”

The air crackled some more and then he stepped into her and then there seemed to be no air at all. He reached for her and . . . from deep in her pocket, her phone vibrated twice in quick succession.

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