Where I Belong(5)By: Claudia Connor
He passed maybe fifteen houses before he reached the entrance to the little beach community, went through the gate, and crossed the road to the restaurant. He found his thoughts wandering back to Charlotte. Does anyone call her Charlie? he mused, thinking he might like to. Then he had to laugh at himself.
He was almost thirty–two years old and acting like a preteen who’d just noticed his first pretty girl. Owen opened the door of the restaurant and looked around. He’d barely talked to her, shouldn't even be thinking about her or picturing the way she’d looked…
The thought died, because there across the restaurant, sitting right across from his sister and next to his nephew was Charlotte. If anything, she was prettier without the sun shining in his eyes. She wore a white sundress with tiny straps that left her shoulders bare.
Her thick wavy hair had dried to a lighter golden brown with even lighter highlights. It fell thick and long with just a hint of wave several inches past her shoulders. There was a little more color added to her face, not a lot, and something subtle and glossy on her pretty lips.
He made his way across the room, and when he got close enough, he saw that her eyes were brown—a warm, sweet melted-chocolate brown that matched her smile. He didn’t stumble, even if his heart thumped a beat out of step. And in that instant, he felt like someone had punched him in the chest.
CHARLOTTE’S KNEE bounced under the table. Crap, crap, crap. Why had this seemed like an okay idea? The answer was it hadn’t. Owen’s sister, Trish, and cousin, Mia, had been so charming that afternoon. The entire group of women, including Owen’s mother, had been so inclusive when she’d gone back out after lunch. Then there’d been Kyle’s pleading blue eyes. “Come to dinner with me,” he’d begged. “Pleeease.” And she’d caved.
Owen was right about the number of people. His parents, his aunt and uncle, his sister and her husband, his cousin and his wife… she counted ten adults—eleven, including her—plus five children. And every one of them was extremely interested in her. Where was she from? What did she do? The suspense of Owen showing up was killing her, and she envisioned herself back in her condo—couch, pajamas, book.
What the hell am I going to say?
‘Hi, I decided to come to dinner’? Okay. That would be a start, but… Would Owen think she was playing games? Saying no to him then showing up as a surprise? Something like that was so completely out of character for her, it was laughable. But he wouldn't know that.
Owen. All the air backed up in her lungs, and her leg came to a sudden halt as she watched him enter the restaurant, saw the minute he saw her. Heart stopping handsome and calmly confident, he strode straight toward her. His intense gaze held hers and a small smile tugged at his lips. In all honesty, caving to Kyle had been swift because a big part of her, the part that wasn't a ball of nerves, wanted to have dinner with Owen. Desperately.
What if he was only being polite? What if he invited someone else after I turned him down?
“Look who we found on the beach this afternoon,” his mother said.
“I see.” He raised an eyebrow at his cousin sitting at the other end of the table.
Amused, Colby Winters shrugged. “Don’t look at me.”
“I didn’t expect to see you,” Owen said, his attention back on her and a slow, easy smile spreading across his face. He took the last remaining seat at the end of the table, leaving the two of them to share the corner.
“Kyle asked her,” Trish said.
“Kyle, you sly dog.” He smiled at his nephew, who grinned back. “I guess he has better delivery than I do.”
“Really?” Trish shot them a curious glance down the table. “You mean you got shot down? And you shot him down?” She raised her brows and laughed. “That’s priceless. I knew I liked you, Charlotte.”
“I…” All eyes turned to her, including Owen’s, and her fingers curled around the napkin in her lap. “I wouldn’t say it like that. I just—”
“He wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Owen’s mother said, giving Charlotte the same grateful smile she’d given her when she’d accepted the pleading invite from her grandson.