Authors: Jessica Prince
I grinned. Yeah, I wasn’t going to have a problem winning over her mother.
“Hi, Mom,” Delilah said once we stood at the threshold of the door. Releasing my hand, she leaned in to give her mother a hug before pulling back to make introductions. “Richard, this is my mom Doris and my brother Jace. Guys, this is Richard. He’s my…” she trailed off, as if she wasn’t quite sure how to introduce me, and looked up at me questioningly.
I wasn’t sure what came over me in that instant, but something primal reared its head at the thought of being introduced to Delilah’s family as a friend. I knew we hadn’t discussed what we were to each other, and really, I hadn’t given it much thought beyond the day by day, but just then, I felt the intense desire to stake my claim, just like I had yesterday in my apartment when I held her against me in front of everyone. It was a feeling I’d never experienced before.
“Boyfriend,” I answered for her, ignoring her wide-eyed look as I extended my hand out to her mother, finally letting go of Delilah’s. “It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Northcutt. Thank you so much for inviting me into your home. I’ve been looking forward to a home-cooked meal all week.”
She blushed the same as her daughter, even letting out the same nervous giggle I’d heard so many times from Delilah. “Well, aren’t you just the sweetest, and please, call me Doris. We’re so glad to have you.”
Delilah snorted from behind me, and I imagined she was in the process of rolling her eyes as Jace coughed, “Kiss ass” into his palm. I stifled my own laughter with a more believable cough when Doris reached up and smacked him in the back of his head.
An ear-piercing shriek, followed by the sound of something shattering emitted from inside. Then I heard another woman shout, “Annabelle! Get off your sister, right now! What have I told you about wrestling inside of the house?”
“It’s called a suplex, Mommy!”
Jace rolled his eyes and grumbled, “Oh, sweet mother of fuck,” before disappearing inside.
“Well,” Doris grinned, seemingly unaffected by the wrestling match taking place in her home. “Shall we go inside?” Then she disappeared down the front hall.
We hung back for a few seconds as Delilah looked up at me, one brow quirked behind her glasses. “Boyfriend?”
I shrugged unable to explain what possessed me to say I was her boyfriend when as far as I thought, we’d just been having fun. “Well, it wasn’t like you were offering up anything. You froze up so I had to jump in and save the day.”
She gave me a funny look, one I didn’t fully understand before speaking softly, “Because I don’t know what this is.”
That made two of us. But I didn’t like the expression on her face, like she was disappointed in my answer, or even… a little sad. I opened my mouth to say something — anything, when another crash echoed from inside. Then a little girl voice screaming, “SLEEPER HOLD!”
Delilah let out a sigh and waved me inside, offering a foreboding, “Welcome to the seventh circle of Hell.”
I got the distinct impression that dinner was going to be extremely entertaining.
HE CALLED HIMSELF MY
Then claimed to have said it for the simple reason that I froze up.
To say I was even more confused about what the heck was going on between us would have been the understatement of the freaking century.
“Hey, snap out of it.”
I blinked with a start when Claudia’s hand suddenly appeared in front of my face, her fingers snapping to get my attention. I guess I’d zoned out while Mom, Claudia, and I stood in the kitchen, finishing dinner while Dad took Richard and Jace to the garage to show off his latest guy toy. That had been fifteen minutes ago. I hoped Jace hadn’t “accidentally” hurt him in that time. The only thing that made me a little more comfortable with the situation was that Dad still seemed to like him. Fingers crossed he’d keep him safe against Jace. But it really was a crapshoot.
I shook my head clear and gave my sister-in-law an apologetic smile. “Sorry. Didn’t get much sleep last night. What were you saying?”
She waggled her eyebrows as she bounced a sleeping Carter in her arms. All three girls were watching a movie in the living room without killing each other, for once, so it was surprisingly quiet in my parents’ house. Which wasn’t a good thing with the way both Mom and Claudia were looking at me just then. I was under the microscope without any hope of a distraction.
“I bet you didn’t.” Claudia grinned lasciviously.
“Oh, God, stop,” I groaned, rolling my eyes. “Not that, you freak. I was up all night with Devon and a couple other friends. She got dumped yesterday so we had a girls’ night in.”
“Poor Devon, such a sweet girl.” Mom tsked as she mashed the potatoes in a pot on the stove. “That Matt boy wasn’t a good fit for her. She’s better off.”
“I’ll tell her you said so, Mom.”
Claudia shook her finger at me. “I see what you’re doing. You’re trying to deflect by bringing up Devon when
the one that brought that mouthwatering piece of man-candy home for dinner. Now spill it, sister.”
I could feel my cheeks burning bright pink as I moved to chop an onion sitting on the cutting board. I didn’t actually know if my mom needed it for what she was cooking, but I desperately needed something to do with my hands. “There’s nothing to spill. We’re…” I sucked in a deep breath, not quite sure how to explain what was going on between Richard and me. “We’re dating, I guess?”
“Seems more than dating when he introduces himself as your boyfriend,” Mom spoke thoughtfully.
“And I saw the way he was staring at you before Jace and Dad dragged him off,” Claudia added, very
helpfully. “He couldn’t stop staring.”
I snort-scoffed and began chopping the onion with more fervor, matching each whack of the knife with the erratic beat of my heart. I didn’t want to think too much into what she was saying, but I was a girl, damn it! It was impossible. “He was not.”
“He kind of was, darling.” Mom looked over her shoulder and winked at me. “I’d say the boy’s smitten. Even your father said it seemed a little more than “friendly” when he met him at the shop last week.”
“God!” I cried out, not wanting to talk about what my
thought of my romantic life. “Can we not? Look, I brought him to dinner despite the risk of Jace’s wrath. Can you maybe stop with the third degree? It hasn’t even been a week with this guy. I can’t really tell you what we are, or what’s going on, because I don’t know myself. And if I’m being honest, I’m a little freaked out. So if you’d please, just… be normal for one Sunday I’d be super appreciative.” After I finished my little mini freak out, I sucked in a much-needed breath. Who knew spewing so many words in a handful of seconds could use so much oxygen?
The kitchen grew suspiciously quiet for several seconds. “So…” Claudia finally said, “…is he good in bed?”
The knife dropped to the counter with a clatter as I threw my hands in the air. “I can’t even!” I shouted as I stomped from the room, my mom and sister-in-law’s laughter trailing me from behind.
TEN MINUTES LATER, I’D
escaped into the living room with the girls, only to get sucked into whatever movie it was they were watching.
I sniffled and batted a tear from my eye. “Auntie Lilah, it’s okay,” Madison soothed, rubbing the back of my hand with her tiny palm.
“But… Arlo loved Spot. And now he’s leaving to go off with that other cave family and leaving him all alone,” I said in a watery voice.
“Hey baby. What are you guys doing?”
At the sound of Richard’s voice behind me, I quickly brushed away the remaining tears that had fallen from my eyes. “Nothing,” I said with another sniffle as he walked around the back of the couch where we could all see him.
“Aunt Lilah’s crying over
The Good Dinosaur
. I tried telling her it was just a cartoon, but she wouldn’t listen.” Sarah piped up, the Judas. Ever since Richard walked through the door she’d had stars in her eyes. Needless to say, my seven-year-old niece had a mad crush and just threw me under the bus to make herself look better in his eyes.
“I wasn’t crying,” I glowered at Sarah. “I just had something in my eye.”
“You were crying like a baby.”
We were in an epic stare-off when I announced, “Madison is officially my favorite niece.”
“YAY!” Madison cheered from beside me before Richard took my hand and pulled me from the couch, wrapping his arms around my waist and nuzzling my neck in that way that made me all melty inside.
“Aw, was the movie making you sad, baby?”
“No,” I pouted, trying to look unaffected by the way he was holding me, even though I wanted nothing more than to wrap myself around him like bubble wrap just then. “It’s just… it’s a super cute movie. And now I want a Spot of my own.”
He looked back at the TV just as Spot disappeared with his new family. “Is Spot the kid or the dinosaur?”
He grinned down at me. “Well, first of all, I think keeping a kid as a pet is illegal in every state in the country. And second, Shady would probably get jealous.”
I frowned and gave his shoulder a light punch. “Buzz kill.”
His chest shook against me with his laughter and I had to pull away before I did something stupid, like mount him in the middle of my parents’ house with children present. I was pretty sure there wasn’t enough therapy in the world that would help them get over something like that. “How was guy time?” I asked, looking him over for any visible bruises or abrasions. “You look like you came out of it unscathed. Jace actually managed to behave?”
“I think being in your dad’s good graces offers me a certain level of protection, but it doesn’t make your brother like me anymore, knowing your folks approve.”
I hummed pensively. “You know, you don’t have to put on an act to try and impress them.”
He frowned down at me, his head tipping sideways in confusion. “Who said anything about an act? I like your family, Del. They’re good people.”
“I know,” I answered in a quiet voice, feeling really self-conscious all of a sudden. I shoved my glasses up my nose before twining my fingers together in front of me. “I just mean there’s really no reason to try and impress them, you know?”
His frown deepened. “I’m not trying to impress anyone, Delilah. I’m just being myself.”
I let out a frustrated huff, feeling uncharacteristically morose. I’d never been so twisted up over a guy before. We were both adults, yet I felt like I was in high school all over again. Did he like me? Was it just sex? Was there a label to put on us, explaining what we were? We’d only been sleeping together for a few days and I was already too into him. I was treading on dangerously thin ice. “Seems like you can charm just about anyone,” I grumbled under my breath.
He reached out and tilted my chin up so I was forced to look at those crystal clear eyes. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Jury’s still out on that one.”
He opened his mouth like he wanted to ask what I meant by that, but luckily I was saved by my mother sticking her head out of the kitchen, announcing, “Dinner’s ready. Everyone head to the table.”