Moments later, he led me across the ballroom toward another group he’d spotted.
“Do you enjoy working with your brothers?” I asked, still thinking of the men’s eager faces as they’d grabbed cards from Cooper’s waiting fingers. “It’s an odd business. To be family-run, I mean.”
Cooper smirked that lopsided grin I was coming to like. “I guess it is a little weird. But I like working with them . . . some days. Other times, they drive me fucking nuts. I think that’s normal, though. Who likes their siblings one hundred percent of the time?”
“How did you guys get involved in . . . what you do?” I didn’t want to sound judgmental, because truly, I was only curious.
His eyes met mine, appraising me, as we joined a group of men in front of the bar. Then Cooper leaned down to whisper, “Hold that thought.”
After we had a similar conversation with this group of men, Cooper led me away once again, but this time toward a high-top table overlooking the action, and pulled out a bar stool for me.
“Your feet must be killing you,” he said, glancing down at my heels.
I let out a thankful sigh. “How did you know?”
“My mom wore heels to work every night. Sometimes, when she’d get home, she’d ask me to rub her feet if I was still up.”
I smiled. “You’re a good son.”
“I was.” He smiled too, sadly. “She’s been gone for many years.”
“I’m sorry. Do you miss her?” The moment the words left my lips, I wanted to smack myself. What a stupid question. Of course he missed her. But Cooper surprised me, thinking it over for a long moment before answering.
“In some ways.”
His response struck me as strange. I’d expected him to say very much so, or every day. Instead, it sounded like he wasn’t quite sure.
“We had an interesting upbringing.”
“Interesting, how?” I asked, unsure if I was overstepping.
“It was colorful. But it’s not my place to fill you in. If it were just you and me spending time together, it would be one thing. With Gavin in the mix . . . he’s more private than I am. He might not appreciate me opening those doors. I’ll let him decide how much he wants to share on that front.”
I tensed at the mention of his name and forced a smile. “And you think he’ll tell me?”
Cooper looked thoughtful for a moment, considering it. “If you win his trust, he will.”
As much as Gavin grated on my nerves and shook me up from the inside out, there it was again. The lure of a mystery. It sounded like an interesting challenge.
“Noted,” I replied.
Cooper waved to someone across the room, and moments later a familiar-looking man strode toward us. I could almost hear the sound of ovaries exploding in his wake and knew right away that they were related. After all, he had Gavin and Cooper’s height and their chiseled good looks. He wasn’t as stern as Gavin, nor was he as playful as Cooper. He was somewhere in between.
“Emma, this is Quinn. My oldest brother.”
The gorgeous and intimidating Quinn took my hand in his large palm. “Damn. They make me sound ancient. I’m thirty-six, not dead, motherfucker.”
When he shot me a smile—complete with straight white teeth, blue eyes, and a dimple—my knees went weak. They were all beautiful. Tall. Handsome. Deadly to the libido.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I managed.
“You as well,” Quinn said, still holding my hand. He reluctantly released me a few seconds later, but I was thankful none of the butterflies that swamped my senses when Gavin was near seemed to erupt.
“Is Gavin here too?” Not that I cared. I just hadn’t expected to see him tonight, but since both his brothers were here . . .
“No.” Cooper shook his head. “We usually split up these types of appearances. We’d never have a night to ourselves if we had to attend them all.”
Quinn nodded. “Divide and conquer. And on that note, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few people I need to catch up with. It was nice to meet you, Emma.”
“You as well.”
“You doing okay so far? Or are you ready to get out of here?” Cooper asked before I had the chance to ponder it more.
“I’m okay. I just feel a little . . . out of place.” I looked down at my lap, smoothing my hands over my dress again.
Cooper’s gaze darkened. “Do you see those men looking at you, princess?” He nodded toward the corner of the room where a cluster of three men in business suits were watching us—or rather, me.
I nodded, feeling his fingers return to my lower back.
“It’s because you’re beautiful. You know that?”
I turned toward him, my cheeks flushing. “I forgot to thank you for the dress.”
“It has nothing to do with the dress. You could be dressed in a garbage sack and still be the most beautiful woman in the room.”
My blush deepened. “Thank you.”
For the next while, we made the rounds of the room. He introduced me to people he knew and we chatted casually with groups of men and women, with Cooper handing off his card surreptitiously when the opportunity arrived.
True to his word, though, he led me toward the exit just over an hour later. He had the gift of small talk and was lethally charming, but I was grateful the night didn’t drag on. The weight of hungry gazes was heavy, and I was already feeling drained. I was quite surprised, however, that we didn’t stay for the five-thousand-dollar-per-plate dinner Gavin had told me about. Then again, Cooper wasn’t impressed with the champagne, and I had a feeling he’d be even less so with the food. And the last thing I wanted to do was sit around a table listening to stuffy conversation.
On the way home, he asked if I was hungry. When I said yes, he directed the limo driver to pull into a plaza where there were several chain restaurants and a few fast-food places.
“Burgers or tacos?” he asked.
My stomach growled. “A cheeseburger sounds pretty great, actually.”
Cooper instructed our driver again through the intercom, and soon we were pulling away from the drive-through with two cheeseburgers, fries, and bottles of water. We ate together and chatted easily during the ride home.
It was strange how smoothly tonight had gone, in spite of everything—and even more surprising was how well I got along with Cooper. What little I knew of him, he seemed like one of the good guys. Those were hard to find these days.
When the limo pulled to a stop in front of my brownstone, Cooper opened the door and climbed out to escort me up the steps.
I paused on the stoop, unsure what might happen next. “I had a great time.”
“I did too.” He brought my hand to his lips, pressing a soft kiss there, and for a moment I thought he might pull away and cup my cheek to bring me in for a full, intimate kiss.
I wet my lips, unsure what I was feeling. Curiosity? Desire? Gratitude that he’d made me feel so comfortable?
Leaning toward me, Cooper pressed a soft kiss to my mouth, lingering there but not deepening the kiss, not taking—just asking.
“Good night, princess,” he murmured, pulling away reluctantly.
Letting myself inside my dark house, I closed and locked the door, then pressed my back against it and heaved out a sigh, my brain in overdrive.
My date with Cooper had gone well, though it had left me with more questions than answers where Gavin was concerned. But what did that matter? It was like I was looking for trouble, and that needed to stop. Things had gone swimmingly. Date one, down, and true to his word, Cooper hadn’t tried to sleep with me.
So, why couldn’t I shake the feeling that I should end this all here and now? Before my next date? Before this got out of hand?
Maybe I really didn’t want an adventure after all. Maybe I still wasn’t over everything that had happened with Nathan. Maybe I needed more time.
Hell, who was I kidding? There was only one reason I was all in knots.
And that reason?
Was named Gavin Kingsley.
Stripping my tie free from my shirt collar after a long day, I let out a tired groan. This week had kicked my ass. Between work, my nonexistent social life, and the punishing kick-boxing workouts I forced myself through, I was ready to relax.
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