Page 55

Figured. I should have known to put India next to the three-year-old if I wanted her to behave.

“I’ve been hearing great things about this new spy movie set in the forties,” Thomas said, clearing the air. I went to the fridge to grab him a fresh beer as thanks.

“Ooh, yeah,” Holly said, pointing her fork at Thomas. “The previews for that movie looked killer.”

“You guys should go next Friday after dinner,” I said, handing the beer off to Thomas. “I could tuck LJ in and you two could go get a drink first and catch the late show.”

Holly was looking at me like I had three heads. Thomas, however, tilted his beer at me. “That sounds great. What do you think, Holly? You up for it?”

Holly’s curious stare shifted to Thomas. “Sure, but do you really want to make the drive again next week?” she said finally. “Are you sure you want to go with me? Isn’t there someone else you’d rather—”

“I’m sure,” Thomas interrupted.

Hello, Mr. Obvious.

“Okay, then,” Holly said. “It’s a date.”

Thomas swallowed. “It’s . . . yeah.”

I smiled into my lap. These two were both so hot for each other, I was dying for one of them to cave and just admit it already. I wasn’t sure who would be the first to do it, but I hoped it would be soon.

After that, dinner was fine. No more awkward moments, followed by even more awkward silences. An hour later, nothing was left of dinner other than a few chip pieces. India and Holly had called mercy and unbuttoned their jeans a half hour earlier, but I—the one in elastic-band boxers—was good to go.

Anton took dish duty while Thomas cleared the table. LJ and the girls piled a stack of blankets and pillows on the living room floor before making the world’s coolest fort with every last sheet I had in the place.

“I’ve got to take a picture of this,” Anton said, rolling his sleeves back down as he wandered from the kitchen.

“No pictures!” LJ said, crawling out from beneath it. “This is top-secret.”

“Good point,” Anton replied, pocketing his phone. “This gets out to the public, every little boy’s going to have one of these.”

Fiddling with the controls, I managed to get the DVD player to cooperate.

“What are we watching?” Thomas asked, crawling inside and throwing himself down close to Holly.

Coincidence? I think not.

“Ice Age!” LJ replied, plopping down right in between Holly and Thomas.

India had already claimed her spot and was two Jell-O shots deep when I crawled in beside her.

When Anton stuck his head inside, I got all self-conscious again. Of course his eyes landed right on me, and a smile crept into position when he saw I was also looking at him.

“Room for one more?”

I was about to say no when LJ hushed him.

“The movie’s starting,” he said. “No talking unless you want to wind up in the time-out corner.”

“India,” I whispered, shaking her. She was almost asleep. “Indie. Trade spots.”

No response.

India was sandwiched between me and Thomas, who had LJ and Holly on his other side, which left the space beside me empty.

Although it didn’t stay empty for long.

“This spot taken?” Anton whispered, crawling beside me.

“Would you believe me if I said yes?”

“Okay. Now you’re just hurting my feelings,” he said, punching a couple of pillows into position.

“I didn’t think you had any.”

He chuckled. “Would you let me know once you’re ready to move past this afternoon? You know, just so I’m not holding my breath.”

My mood was lightening up, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “You start holding your breath now, and I’ll say ‘when’ once I’m ready to forgive you.”

“If I did that, I’m afraid I’d be dead before you’d even considered it,” he whispered.

Apparently, even whispering wasn’t allowed. LJ sat up and shushed us. “Aunt Luce,” he said in that warning voice I’d used with him a half dozen times a day.

I mouthed, “Sorry,” before zipping my mouth closed and throwing away the key. That seemed to satisfy LJ.

“Whose phone is that?” Holly said, looking down the row of bodies.

“Mom,” LJ whined before hopping up and pushing pause on the DVD player. As he scampered toward the bathroom, I checked my pockets for mine. Hold up, I didn’t have pockets. In fact, I hadn’t seen my phone in a couple hours, since I’d changed in the bathroom. It was late, so that meant it was a certain someone making his nightly call.

A Face Time call . . .

I muttered a curse right before LJ rounded the corner, phone in hand.

“Hey, Uncle Jude,” he greeted with a wave.

I cursed again, when what I should have been doing was leaping up and getting as far away from Anton as the apartment would allow.

I didn’t hear what Jude said, but I could guess from LJ’s reply. “Yeah. She’s right here.” Flipping the phone around, LJ came toward me and handed it off.

Jude’s face went from light to dark in the time it took his eyes to move from me to the space next to me.

“Luce,” he said, the muscles of his jaw working. “Who the hell is that?”

“Jude,” I said, feeling my temper fire to life. “Nice to see you, too.”

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