Where I Belong(4)

By: Claudia Connor

But as he dried off, his thoughts drifted to Charlotte. There was no shortage of women in Greenville, South Carolina. He never had too much trouble getting a date if he wanted one. Problem was, he hadn't wanted one in some time. Definitely hadn’t met anyone who’d made him want to get to know her better.

Charlotte’s shy smile made his heart turn over. And she had a body that made a man look twice. Look and linger.

And then he’d asked her to join his family for dinner. Okay, so that hadn't been his smoothest move. Asking her out on another night would have been better, but that hadn't occurred to him. He hadn't wanted to wait, and her ease with Kyle made it feel natural somehow to include her.

He dressed in jeans and a black polo and joined the men on the deck for a beer before dinner. The sound of the ocean pounding in the distance was almost as relaxing as the feel of it beneath the boat.

He’d barely sat down before Winters started in. “Heard you met a nice girl at the pool.”

“What?” Owen took the cold bottle from the cooler.

“Girl. Pool.” Chuckling, Winters tipped back his beer. “Golden hair, pretty smile.”

He studied his cousin’s shit-eating grin. “How would you know?”

“Have you met my wife?” Winters shook his head, still laughing.

“Word gets around. You know how they are.” Neal shrugged. “Married women love a project.”

Owen scowled and took a long drink from his bottle. “I don't want to be anyone's project.”

His father chuckled. “And you think you get any say? Especially in this family.”

Right. Owen pictured Charlotte’s golden hair dripping down her back, the blue-and-white two piece, and her smooth golden-brown skin that he hadn’t gotten enough of a look at before Kyle dragged her into the water.

But her shoulders had still been bare, her throat visible as she bobbed in the water. And she’d been sweet to Kyle—not everyone was. Neal hadn’t mentioned that, but surely, he knew, if he’d gotten the lowdown from Trish.

He should’ve pushed harder for her to join them. Was she eating alone tonight? Hell, he’d known her for five minutes and had tried to get her to eat with him. Good chance someone else had tried harder.

“Don’t look so down,” Neal said. “She could be a loon.”

Winters went on even as he scooped up his son, Ace, and opened the box of Dots his son handed him. “Neurotic, disturbed, gassy…”

Owen opened his mouth then decided that defending someone he didn’t really know would only incite more harassment.

Winters gave Ace a gum drop and downed a handful himself. “Your mama’s going to kick our butts for this. Where’d you find these?”

Neal shook his head. “I’d expect better from you, Winters. Every kid in this place knows where you hide the Dots.”

“Is that true?” Winters tickled his son. “Do you know where my stash is?”

“No!” Ace laughed and kicked before scrambling away in a fit of giggles.

“Well”—his father glanced at his watch—“time for us to do our thing.” He stood and dropped his empty bottle in a trash bag someone had hung on a nail. The rest of them followed.

As was protocol, the men went ahead to wait for a table, leaving the women and kids to follow shortly. The system worked for everyone. The men relaxed at the bar, the women had more time to get ready, and most importantly, the kids didn’t destroy property while waiting for a table.

He was almost to the door when his phone buzzed in his pocket. “Owen Anderson. Yes. Hi, Carol. No, no problem at all.” He hung inside the door as the others walked out, signaled one minute to the men. “Okay.”

She wanted a cost estimate to change the laundry room to a mud room entrance and move and expand the laundry room. It would take a bit of rearranging, but she was the customer, and he wanted her to be happy. “Sure, let me get to my laptop, and I’ll be able to tell you the difference. You’re welcome.” He held the phone away from his ear and mouthed to the guys to go ahead.

He ended up being fifteen minutes behind the women and kids, who’d left a good twenty minutes after the men. He walked the short distance down the private drive from his beachfront condo to the main road.

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