Where I Belong(3)

By: Claudia Connor



“Oh.” Kyle took a second to process that then moved on. “We live there.” He pointed to a second-floor balcony. “See my Batman towel?”

“I do. Do you like coming to the beach?”

“Yes. I love coming to the beach.”

“Kyle, time for lunch.”

He looked at his mom then back at her. “It’s time for my lunch. I love lunch. Do you love lunch?”

She laughed softly. “I do.” Could he be any cuter?

Owen stood and used his shirt to wipe his face before returning his sunglasses.

Kyle ran to his mother, who wrapped him in a towel. Owen stayed where he was. Water dripped from his dark hair onto his wide bronzed shoulders, sliding and spreading into tiny droplets that glistened in the sun. His wet swim trunks clung to his thighs and other places she shouldn’t have been looking.

Charlotte grabbed her own towel from the nearby lounger just to be sure she didn’t. She knew she wasn't much to look at in a modest two-piece suit—or any kind of two-piece, really. Not tall enough to be considered long and willowy, and not curvy, with her barely B-cup breasts. Not that she was looking to show them off.

“I’m taking our boat out this afternoon,” he said. “But maybe I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Yeah, maybe? Not “I hope so” or “sounds good” or “nice to meet you”?

He started toward his family then stopped and turned. “How about tonight?”

She swallowed, nearly choking on her own spit. “Tonight?”

“Seeing you. Tonight. My family’s going out for dinner. You should come.”

“Oh, no. I couldn’t intrude, but thank you.” And she didn’t do spontaneous invites. Didn’t do spontaneous anything.

She was more likely to sit at home with a good book than hunt up outside entertainment. But Owen was smiling and waiting… and she wanted to say yes.

His smile widened, his lips curving up more on one side than the other. “I only said family to make you feel more comfortable, but…” He walked back until he was right in front of her. “It’s more like a big noisy group of people who know each other. My aunt and uncle, my parents, probably my parents’ friends, and then…” He gestured toward the other end of the pool. “All the rest of them. I think you’d have fun.”

A drop of water slid from his throat then tracked lower.

“Charlotte?”

Heat flooded her cheeks, heading swiftly toward her neck. “Um… I don’t think…” She didn’t take chances. She followed the rules. Always opted for predictable. Always took the safest route. Seconds passed, and even though she wanted to say yes, old habits won out. “I mean, I’m sure I would have fun, but no. I can’t. Thank you, but I can’t.”

“Hmm.” He studied her, his head slightly tilted as if she were a puzzle he was trying to figure out.

Funny, because she was about as simple as they came. Boring even.

“Okay then,” he said after another moment. “I guess later will be later.”

“Yeah.” Later.

She couldn’t help being a little disappointed in herself as she walked to her condo. Gorgeous man, sweet with his nephew, a smile that gave her the sexy tingles she’d read about but never felt for any of the perfectly nice men she knew in New York.

And still, she hadn’t said yes to dinner because… because she didn’t know him. Because she hadn’t had time to think about it, to sit down and make a list, and to plan it all out. Because she was just boring enough that she didn’t say yes to dinner at the drop of a hat.

And how’s that working out for you?



***

FIVE HOURS later, Owen quickly showered off hours of sun and sea. It’d been the perfect day. Sparkling water, biting fish, and family he knew he was lucky to have. God had given him an older sister, by two years. And a cousin, Colby Winters, whom he’d idolized as a child and loved like a brother. Winters was a former Navy SEAL and still had a job where he got to blow things up.

He also had a brother-in-law he genuinely liked: Neal West, who was married to Trish and removed wisdom teeth for a living. All in all, it was a pretty good deal.

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