I was grinning, enjoying this. “No.”
“Damn. Racing? No. You don’t look like a jockey. Oh! A race car driver?”
I shook my head.
Through the drive to the restaurant, Matteo alternated between guessing what kind of athlete I was and what kind of pet Nate had at the house. When he guessed a llama, I was laughing so hard that my stomach started to hurt.
I couldn’t remember when I laughed this hard.
Nate cast a grin at me as he pulled up to the front of the restaurant. He jerked his chin up. “Go on. I’ll park and head in.”
Matteo’s eyes were big as he shut his door. “Okay. See you in a few.” He turned to Dierek. “You should take cover. And you should automatically start forgetting everything you hear from now on so you don’t hold it against any of us. I could be your future client. Quincey is probably already your client. Don’t hold anything against her either.”
Dierek chuckled but patted him on the arm. “It takes a lot to scare me, Matteo. I wouldn’t worry.”
We started to go toward the restaurant, but Matteo stayed put. When we looked back, his whole face was grave. “I’m serious.”
A frown pulled Dierek’s mouth down. “I promise.” He held his hands up. “I think you’re underestimating me.”
Matteo snorted, his large feet and legs now moving past us. “I think you’re overestimating us, but okay. You’re not my agent.”
With that, he led the way inside.
We walked in, and Matteo was hustled, literally hustled, into a back room.
A gorgeous brunette linked her arm with his, then saw Dierek and grabbed him, too.
I’d been heading to the bathroom when I noticed and swung around. I took one step to follow, but they were gone. After that, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I headed into the bathroom anyway.
I was nervous.
It was obvious something was happening.
After washing, I went back out to the front of the restaurant, and I couldn’t see anyone.
For a moment, just a moment, I wanted to leave. I wanted to go outside, call an Uber, and go home to be with Nova. But it was more than that. I wanted to put up those shields around me. It’d been the fortress that my father and his estate had surrounded me with. He had controlled me, but I’d been protected. It’d almost been like a blanket, keeping the cold out, but I wasn’t there anymore.
I was here, and I knew I’d have to go in search of whatever back room they had taken the others. I glanced out the door, but I didn’t see Nate coming in. He probably came in when I was in the bathroom and got grabbed like the others.
These were his people, his friends, his colleagues.
They weren’t mine, but through Nova, Nate was now my family in a way. That meant I would put on a brave face, and I’d walk my rear back there. I’d find wherever they were, and I’d go in to meet whoever was back there.
Unless they truly didn’t want me back there?
Maybe this really was only for Nate?
I turned and recognized her immediately. I would’ve anyway. I was a fan, and I froze for a full beat before an awkward laugh came out. “Sorry. Hi. Yes. You’re Samantha Kade, Mason’s wife.” I held out my hand, and she took it. There was an equally awkward handshake, which I had to laugh at because I hadn’t been fanstruck in a while. “I follow you on your social media since your first Olympics. You became an inspiration for me. I’m Quincey.”
She relaxed, a laugh easing from her, and moved closer.
She was stunning. Jet-black hair. Dark, almond eyes. Heart-shaped face.
“I know. I’m Samantha.”
“Yes…” My breath hitched in my throat. “I—yes. I know. Hi. Quincey. Again.”
I should’ve taken an Uber home.
Samantha tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, her eyes trailing behind my shoulders. “In full disclosure, Mason didn’t want to do this. So I will take full responsibility for this, and I hope we’re not going to be too much for you.”
“We?” I squeaked. “Who’s we?”
She hesitated, cursing under her breath. “Everyone. Like, yeah. Everyone. I’m so sorry. I’m now thinking about it from your point of view, and I’m really sorry. You…” She looked me up and down. “You look ready to bolt.”
I was somewhere between wanting to gush at meeting her, dying inside at the same time, and a trickle of fear was starting to spread at exactly what ‘everyone’ meant. “How many people are in that room back there?”
“Um. There’s me. Heather. Channing. Grace. Matteo, whom you’ve met. Logan. Taylor. Mason, just for tonight because he played on Thursday. And then we invited your brother…” Her voice trailed off when she saw the fear taking me over. “Oh, no.”
I was speculating that Nate hadn’t shared how my night went with my family.
“I thought things were good there?”
This was it. Enough was enough.
I couldn’t bolt. I literally had an Olympian here. She’d catch me.
I put on a smile and thought of puppies. Babies. Nova. I thought of Nova, and instantly, I relaxed. I used that genuineness to help sell it. “No, no, no. I had a moment, but I’m good. And I’m super excited—” Another squeak from me on the super word. “—to meet everyone. Matteo was talking about Channing just tonight, too.”
“He was?” she whispered. She took my hands and squeezed them. “It was supposed to be a surprise baby shower for Nate, except adult-wise. We flew to Fallen Crest. The kids are all staying together at my dad’s. Then we all flew up here. Mason chartered a flight from California. Matteo was here, and Mason can do a night, so we thought we needed to capitalize and officially welcome Nate into adulthood. And we wanted to meet you and Nova. Oh my gosh, we cannot wait to meet Nova.”
This was going to happen. Nate had his people, and I needed to assimilate.
I could do that. I would do that.
“Awesome. Let’s go meet everyone.”
They were a lot, but after hanging out for three hours now, I was pretty sure I had everyone down. Maybe. I might’ve been making up names at this point, but here I went: