Because he wasn’t here all the time.
He could’ve been meeting a woman. What did I know?
“Are you single?” I blurted out the question and made myself hold firm when he looked at me.
He raised one eyebrow. “I assumed your PI would’ve included that information in his report.”
I shrugged, telling myself my cheeks weren’t hot or flushing as I looked away. “He didn’t, but I just thought I should ask. Because of Nova, I mean.”
Nova, who was starting to wander into the other room.
I moved off the barstool and went over, gently herding her back to the kitchen.
He hadn’t answered. “Are you?”
Pausing, Nate stared at me for a moment, a long moment.
An emotion was there, simmering just beneath the surface.
I was staring back, the back of my neck heating again.
My throat dried.
He hadn't answered the question.
I could’ve sagged from the relief.
“Oh.” I looked down, still herding Nova forward.
“What?” My head jerked up at his soft question. He was staring at me. Oh. Right. “No. I’m not—that’s not me.”
“What’s not you? Being single?” He put a few slices of bread on a pan, laying it out. There was a bowl of melted butter next to it with garlic seasoning beside that. “Or don’t you do relationships? Or just sex?”
He was teasing me.
God. My throat was suddenly so parched.
He flashed me a side grin. “Sex?”
“Why are we talking about this?” I felt like I was a shy and clumsy junior high school girl all over. I groaned. “I bet you were popular in high school.”
Both his eyebrows shot up at that. “I can guess how you jump from one thought to the next sometimes, but not that one. You lost me.”
I pressed my mouth tight. I wasn’t explaining that jump either.
I said instead, “You were, weren’t you?”
“You weren’t?” he countered, a small sparkle in his eyes.
My whole body was warm, and my organs were all melting as he was coating me with a blanket inside my body. It was nice and not at all normal for me. “No. I wasn’t.”
“Daddy Duke didn’t let you party with the delinquents?”
I barked out a laugh. Nova looked content to go through her emptied bottles and cups again, so I sat down to help block her in. I started stretching once I was down there, and I bent forward, my forehead going to my knees. I took a deep breath in, resting my arms behind me on the floor. My fingers moved to grip my shirt’s sleeves, knotting them, and I took that one moment to center myself.
I missed dancing.
Moments like this reminded me of the reasons that I danced.
I needed to dance again.
Pushing that thought away, I sat back and blinked a few times. Nate was watching me, almost curiously. He was finishing up buttering the bread. “You do that so naturally as though you don’t even know you do it.”
I considered his statement. “I probably do. I’ve been dancing since I was three. It’s just what I do.”
“You danced through school, too? Is that why you weren’t ‘popular’ as you put it?”
He was teasing. I recognized the tone, but that just took me back to those years.
“There were times I had some people over to the house, but it was weird. They were all ‘approved’ by my dad to hang out for that day or that event, like a birthday. And after, I couldn’t keep them. I wasn’t allowed to have friends except for Ricci.” That wasn’t totally true. “I had another friend. We danced together until she was hospitalized in seventh grade. They moved away after that.”
“What was she hospitalized for?”
There was a big boulder sitting smack in the center of my chest. I spoke around it. “An eating disorder.”
He was quiet, but he had paused. All his focus was on me, and man, it was a lot of focus. Intense focus. Unwavering focus. A girl could fall in love simply from the focus he was giving me.
I needed to tell him.
“We both had it. We were eating disorder partners, which, if you know anything about the disorder, is not a good combination.” I didn’t want to look at him. I couldn’t. I pulled my gaze to Nova, who had chunky legs, chunky arms, and a chunky face, and she was so perfect, I wanted to cry. “One of my therapists told me it made sense that I developed an eating disorder. Not because of my dancing, which you’d think, right? But because of my dad. She said it had to do with not feeling loved by him. That got transferred to looks, my dancing, and that’s what I could control. I couldn’t control him loving me, but I could control what I thought might make him love me. I kinda over-controlled it, if you know what I mean.” Gah. I made it sound so trivial, and it wasn’t. “Surrah and I danced together. We worked out together. We stressed together. And we were competitive. When Surrah left, I kinda stopped trying with friends. There was no point.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“What?” I lifted my head, looking at him.
He was frowning, but not at me. “You had a friend. You both had eating disorders. She got better and moved away?”
I stared at him a moment. “She didn’t get better.”
His head jerked around, his eyes lifting to mine.
I recognized the stricken look in him. I used to feel that way, back then.
“She never got better. She was hospitalized, and for some reason, they thought her being around me wasn’t good for her. They moved away because of me.”
He was staring so hard at me now.
Shame crept up in my throat. It was threatening to coat over my neck and up my face. I felt it starting to squeeze around my lungs, putting them in a chokehold.
“What happened to her then?” he rasped out.
“Jesus. I’m sorry.”
I had to say the rest. He needed to know. “You asked me before what my father might use against me. That’s what he’ll use against me. Surrah’s parents sued us after she died. They blame me for her eating disorder.”
He took a beat. Just one.
“You know that’s bullshit.”
I frowned, and my voice came out raspy this time. “What?”