“You know, I may not be the genius of the family, leading the family business into the new millennium, but I’m not slow, Eli.”
“I’m sorry.” I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Say that you like Kate.”
“It’s not a matter of liking her.”
“Well, why are you here, alone, while she’s right next door, also alone? That’s ridiculous.”
“Because she’s an employee, a friend of the family, and it sounds like she already has someone in her life.”
“Yeah, an asshole of an ex-husband.”
My jaw drops as I stare at Charly. “Rhys?”
“What?” She frowns and shakes her head. “No, Rhys is her cousin. Her very hot, baseball star cousin. Daniel is her asshole of an ex.”
I stand, circle my desk, lean my hips against it, and push my hands into my pockets. “What did he do to her?”
“Oh, no, that’s her story to tell.” Charly shakes her head as she stands and crosses to me, wraps her arms around my waist, and hugs me tight. “Daddy wouldn’t want you to live like this, Eli.”
I cringe, but don’t reply. No one was in that room with Dad and me right before he died. No one else knows what he said.
What, exactly, he expected of me after his death.
“I’m fine, bebe,” I reply, and smile reassuringly as she pulls away.
“But you want me to leave now.”
“No, you know you can stay here for as long as you want.” There are four women in my life that I’d do anything in the world for. My three sisters and my mother.
Scratch that. Five. It seems Kate has wormed her way onto the short list.
“I love you, big brother.”
“I love you too, brat.” I grin as she laughs and walks back out of the room.
“Get some sleep! You look like shit!”
“Thank you!” I call just before the front door closes. She really is a pain in my ass. I pour three more fingers and let myself out onto the balcony, my eyes immediately turning to the left, and sure enough, Kate is sitting out with a glass of wine in her small, perfect hand.
She turns her head, leveling me with a cool glare.
“Problem?” I ask and sink into my chair. She’s sitting only a few feet away, with a simple wrought iron railing separating us. I could reach out and touch her.
But I don’t.
“Yeah, I think there is a problem,” she replies, as calmly as if we’re talking about the weather.
“Would you care to share it?”
She’s quiet for a moment, then sets her wine on the table beside her and turns to face me, and her green eyes, full of anger and frustration, take my breath away.
“I promised myself that I would never again let a man determine the way I feel about myself. I wouldn’t play games. I’m worth more than that.”
I raise a brow. “Agreed.”
She laughs humorlessly and stands to pace around her small balcony.
“You confuse the heck out of me! You were so fun and easy to be with yesterday. I actually thought we were…friends.”
Friends. That particular word leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
“And then I see you today and you barely speak to me, then run out on your own family dinner!”
I stand and lean my hands on the railing, looking her in the eye. “I’m trying to keep my hands off of you, Kate.”
“Oh, please.” She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms over her chest. “I’m not irresistible, Eli. Trust me, I know.”
“You’re wrong. You’re practically family—”
“I’m not part of your family.”
“And I didn’t know if you were already taken.”
“I wouldn’t have spent all day with you yesterday, not to mention let you kiss me the way you do, if I were taken.”
“Is your divorce final?”
This makes her pause. “Of course it is.”
“And Rhys is your cousin?”
She scowls. “Are you kidding me right now? You can’t be jealous of my cousin.”
“Oh, dawlin’, it seems I’m jealous of my own fucking brother when it comes to you. I wanted to rip Dec’s arm off his body when y’all came in Mama’s kitchen today.”
“Declan and I are friends!” She stomps away again, really worked up now, and I have to work to keep the smile off my face.
My God, she’s magnificent.
“Friends the way you and I are friends, Kate? Does he kiss you like I do?”
“It’s none of your bloody business!” She points her finger at me and keeps railing. “You don’t want me anyway! I’m bloody divorced, and I have bloody male friends, and I’m not going to apologize about any of that to you!”
“Come here,” I reply softly. She stops in her tracks and stares at me, chest heaving with temper.
“I won’t tell you again, cher.”
She narrows her eyes and steps closer. “You don’t get to talk to me like—”
Before she can finish, I cup her face in my hand and brush my thumb across her soft cheek. Her skin is smooth and simply irresistible. I lean across the railing and stop my lips from covering hers by just a breath.
“Say fuck, Kate, it’s okay.”
“I don’t swear,” she whispers. “I have enough Catholic guilt as it is.”
“Just this once. I won’t tell.” My lips are tickling hers as I talk, and I feel the shiver run through her. She licks her lips and swallows thickly, and I’ve never been so hard in my damn life. “Say it.”
“Fuck,” she whispers, and I crush my mouth to hers, kissing her with all the pent up frustration and need that I have inside me. I push both hands to the nape of her neck, holding her still as my tongue tangles with hers, then lick to the corner of her mouth to tease.
She moans, gripping onto my forearms, but not pushing me away. I want to be in her arms. I want to wrap my arms around her and pull her into me and lose myself in her.
I want to strip her bare and feast on her.
But I pull away, gently caressing her face, tucking her auburn hair behind her ears, keeping her gaze caught in my own.
“Say goodnight, Kate.”
“Bad idea,” she whispers, still gripping my arms with all she’s worth.
“Maybe not such a bad idea,” I reply hoarsely. But not tonight.