Then it changed.
And it wasn’t when we took Nova to the ER. It wasn’t afterward, though, that was a whole different level of nice. It was before all of that. I couldn’t pinpoint it.
No. I did know.
I was thinking and remembering, and there’d been one time.
We were both giving Nova a bath. She splashed Quincey, a bubble hit her in the eye, followed by a plastic hippopotamus, and the smile Quincey gave Nova when she handed her the hippo—it was then. It was small, but she loved Nova with every fiber of her being. I saw it, and I felt it then. That was the first chink in my armor.
Now it was mostly gone.
Not all of it.
Some of it.
Enough where I needed to admit that I had feelings for this woman.
Who was I kidding? Of course, I had feelings for this woman. I was here, waiting to surprise her for a night away, and I was almost giddy about it. But I was also content to sit, watch her, and wait.
I could sit here for days, and I’d be okay. That, right there, was another clue to me.
“Miss Quincey, arch your back and grunt like a man!”
Yes. It was a blaring clue to me.
I didn’t care.
If I heard Patrice tell me to grunt like a man one more time, I was going to bend over and fart like a man.
I would never do that, but I was daydreaming about it by the time she said we had it. I collapsed on the stage, legs spread out, arms on both sides of me, and I didn’t want to move, like ever. Every part of me was aching, and I knew I needed to go downstairs, dress, drive home, and then crawl into bed.
I wanted to cry.
I’d been dancing for almost fourteen hours straight today. That was so much more than normal.
Patrice called out, “Okay. I’m going. Must get to sleep and be back in the morning. You can take the morning off. I’ll see you later today, Miss Quincey.”
I raised an arm. “See you, Miss Patrice.”
She left, and I could’ve fallen asleep where I was laid out on the stage.
I might’ve except the floor was disgusting, but then I heard movement.
I jerked upright. “Who’s there?”
Someone was there.
A shadow separated from the back of the seats and moved down the aisle.
“Hello!” I shoved to my feet. Who the hell—fear and fury were in my throat, but then I heard a soft chuckle.
I was back to wanting to collapse.
“I knew you’d go late, but I didn’t think it’d be this late.”
Nate was moving down the aisle, coming to the stairs, and coming up to where I was.
I almost swayed on my feet. “What are you doing here?”
“Emily’s got Nova tonight, and your mom was going to check in with her, too.”
“What?” My voice broke because what was he saying?
He came over to me, eyeing me. “There’s a five-star hotel two blocks from here. I was thinking we could spend some time alone there.”
I was hallucinating. Patrice had seriously worked me too far tonight.
“I’m making this entire conversation up, aren’t I? This is a weird subconscious wish I’m having where you show up, whisk me off my feet, and take me to a hotel for the night.” I pretended to pinch myself. “Wait. That hurt. I must be awake.”
“You’re funny. I never knew that before tonight.”
I grinned, but seriously, I was tired.
“I need to eat.”
“We can get food.”
“I might need you to carry me and pretend you’re smelling lilacs.”
His grin was instant. “I always smell lilacs.”
“Good, then. Only smell that when you pick me up.”
“I’m going to pick you up?”
I nodded. “If you’re going to make a romantic gesture, you have to go all out.”
“And all out means picking you up and carrying you out of here?”
His eyes were warming, then suddenly he bent, and I was whisked up and in his arms.
I squealed, hitting his shoulder. “I was kidding. Totally kidding. Put me down. I’m heavy.”
“Chill. You’re like a buck fifty.”
He just chuckled, spotting where my stuff was and heading over. “I’m going to have to put you down so you can grab your things.”
I considered teasing him, but the fact he picked me up at all had the little girl in me swooning. He set me down, and I grabbed my bag, putting my phone inside, then he was picking me up once more. This time, I was thrown over his shoulder with my ass in the air.
He laughed. “You didn’t tell me how to carry you, and I like this way the best. Makes it easier to manage your buck fifty.” He smacked my ass.
My bag was falling. “My stuff is falling—” No. I grabbed it, looping it up with my fingers.
He paused. “Is everything okay? I don’t want to turn around and give you whiplash.”
I laughed, but ooh, my ribs were even hurting. “I’m good. I got my stuff.”
“Good. Where’s your car?”
“It’s on the ramp.”
“Will it be safe for the night?”
I frowned. Was he serious about the hotel? “Yeah. It should be. We’ve had cars stay there overnight before.”
He carried me downstairs, out the front door, and right to his SUV.
“Nate. I was joking.”
“Hush. I’m wooing you.”
I laughed, but he opened his door and placed me on the seat. The gentleness of it took my breath away. A tingle went through my body as he straightened back up, looking right at me. He was so close. I could feel his breath, and his eyes fell to my lips.
Then a wide and full smile lit up his face. “You gotta wait for that.”
He was gone, the door shutting behind him in the next instant.
I wanted to laugh. I wanted to shake off the very real emotions I was just feeling, but he held my gaze as he walked around the vehicle. Getting in on his side, he reached over and took my hand.
Butterflies were flying all over inside me, but I squeezed his hand tighter.
When I saw the hotel, “Nate.” I was awed, my voice a whisper.
“Hold that thought a second. I need to do this properly.”