He smiled at her, but he had that sad look in his eyes again.
“Sort of. She’s pregnant and newly on bed rest, so I wanted to bring her some cheer.”
“Oh no, your poor cousin. Okay, some cheer, coming right up. How many do you want?”
Carlos put his bags of books on a chair.
“A dozen. At least. If I know my family—and I do—everyone is going to be coming by her house in the next few days, and they’ll all eat one, minimum.”
“Okay, got it.” Courtney pulled out a big pink box. “Here, I’ll put together an assortment of Cupcake Park’s greatest hits, and Nik can take you into the back to show you my kitchen, aka my pride and joy. One question: how do you feel about spicy food?”
He looked at Nik and they both laughed.
“I feel great about it. Why? Do you have a spicy cupcake?”
Courtney grinned her slightly evil grin.
“Nik, you tell him all about my spicy cupcake while I put together this box of treats, okay? And yes, yes, I’ll give him some of the confetti cupcakes.”
Nik led Carlos through the door marked employees only and tried to ignore Courtney’s knowing look. It was like she thought the whole reason Nik had brought Carlos here was for Courtney to start up the rebound refrain again.
To be fair . . . she’d been thinking a lot about that moment on the couch the other night. Maybe too much about it. If Courtney did start up the rebound refrain again, she might be somewhat more receptive. Maybe.
“How long has this place been here?” Carlos put his hand on her lower back to steer her around some cardboard boxes stacked on the floor.
“Just over a year.” Would he slide his hand up her back to put his arm around her shoulders? Come on, give her this one thing. YES. YES, HE WOULD. She leaned toward him and tried not to let her smile show her triumph.
“Did she have another bakery somewhere else?”
Nik shook her head. How could he expect her to have an actual conversation with his arm around her like that, and his warm body right next to her?
“No, she used to be an investment banker, isn’t that wild? But she’d saved up a ton of money and had always loved baking. About a year and a half ago, she saw this place for lease and took the plunge.”
“Wow,” he said as they walked through the kitchen. “That’s inspiring.”
She nodded and looked up at him.
“Agreed.” She wanted to touch his hair so badly. It was slightly too long and a little messy from the wind. If she could just brush it back with her fingers . . .
She felt a buzz from his pocket, and they both jumped and pulled away from each other. He shook his head and reached for his phone.
“That was Jessie, wondering when I’m coming over. I should probably . . .”
“Yeah, let’s go get your cupcakes from Courtney.”
They emerged back into the store. Courtney’s smirk was in full bloom. Nik glared at her, but it didn’t make the slightest impact.
Carlos pulled his wallet out of his pocket and handed her his credit card. “Thanks so much for the cupcakes. I’m sure Jessie will love them.”
“My pleasure.” She ran his card and handed him the receipt. “Thanks for coming by, and I hope this isn’t the last time. And make sure you warn everyone about the spicy chocolate cupcakes; they’re the ones with the chili pepper on top.”
He laughed and waved good-bye as they left the store.
“Thanks for bringing me here,” he said to Nik as they walked to his car.
They stopped in front of his car, parked just a few doors down from Cupcake Park.
“Keep me posted,” she said. “About how she liked the cupcakes, and how she’s doing.”
He opened the trunk and put the books and the cupcakes inside.
“I will,” he said. “And about how she likes those fucked-up books, too.”
He opened his arms for a hug.
“Thanks for all of your help today. With the books, and everything else. Now I definitely owe you a drink. Next week?”
She let the hug linger and kissed him on the cheek when she eventually pulled away.
“Absolutely. Text me and let me know what works for you.”
She pulled out her phone as soon as he drove away, certain about what she would find.
If you don’t get your ass back to my store, I’m going to murder you with my bare hands.
Nik grinned and walked back to Cupcake Park.
* * *
• • •
Why did Jessie have to text him right then? He’d been about two seconds from kissing Nik, and unlike Monday night, he’d been pretty sure she would have kissed him back. And then the damn text from his cousin had to get in the way.
He was already mad at Jessie for how nonchalantly she was treating her preeclampsia, and she had to go and do this to him, too? Now she was in for it. That was, if he could concentrate on anything other than how good Nik smelled, and how soft her skin was, and how he’d wanted to pull off her clothes right there in the bakery kitchen.
Jon opened the front door almost as soon as he knocked. Carlos walked in, carrying the bookstore bags in one hand and the cupcake bag in another.
“Hey, man, how’re you holding up?” Carlos asked him. Carlos had been very suspicious when Jessie had introduced him to the skinny, white, bearded English professor she was dating, but now he liked Jon a lot.
“Okay, except for your cousin over here trying to kill me.” Jon smiled at Jessie with so much love and worry in his eyes that Carlos had to look away.
Jessica was reclining on the couch like a pregnant Cleopatra. Her long dark-brown hair and big brown eyes added to the resemblance.
“Carlos!” Jessie smiled up at him. “I was wondering when my good-for-nothing cousin was going to stop by.”
He set the bags down on the coffee table and leaned in for a hug.
“What’s your blood pressure right now?”
Jessica pulled away.
“Come on, Carlos. This is your cousin, not your patient. Take a deep breath.”
He knew she was his cousin. He wouldn’t be half as worried if she were his patient.
“Don’t give me that ‘take a deep breath’ nonsense. Come on, what’s your blood pressure?”
Jessie reached for her bottle of water and took a swig.
“Now that we’re on the topic, what’s your blood pressure, Carlos? When’s the last time you went to the doctor?”
“Oh my God, Jessie, don’t do that right now. This is serious!” Jon shot a look at him, and he realized that snapping at his pregnant, sick cousin probably wasn’t the right move.
“Yes, yes, I know it’s serious. Can we get to that?” She pointed at the bag on the coffee table. “What’d you bring me? Wait, I mean . . .” She arranged her face into a perfect fake look of surprise. “For me? You didn’t have to bring me a present, Carlos! No really, you didn’t! Okay, fine, if you insist.” She grinned at him. Despite his irritation with her, he couldn’t keep from grinning back. “How’d I do? Did I look just like Taylor Swift?”
“Fantastic, you were perfect. No one would have known the truth.” He gave up on the medical questions for the moment and handed her the carefully wrapped stack of books. “Here, dig in.”
She squealed and tore into the wrapping paper. He had to remember to thank Nik for getting the bookstore to wrap the presents. He would have just handed Jessie the bag.
“Oooh, I’ve been wanting to read this book! I didn’t know it was in paperback, awesome.” She tore through the books, and when she looked back up at Carlos, he was surprised to see her eyes full of tears.
“You asshole. These are all so perfect. Thank you.”
She reached her arms up, and he hugged her again, longer this time.
“I know how you feel about being bored, so I thought some reading material was in order. I’ll be around all weekend, so if you get tired of reading, I can come entertain you.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“What do you mean you’ll be around all weekend? Angie told me you were leaving tomorrow to go up to Berkeley for Drew’s engagement party.”
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