“But…why?” she asked, finally getting a handle on their conversation instead of the need making her sex swell.
“I like having you around.” The gruff, offhand compliment made her heartbeat slow and the heat in her panties pulse.
“But I’ve done nothing to earn all that money,” she said.
He dropped his head to stare at his plate, and she wondered if she’d said something terribly wrong. “If you want more to do,” he said, raising his head to trap her in that penetrating gaze. “Why don’t you tell me a story about your family?”
“What?” she said, astonished by the request.
“You said you had five older brothers,” he added, disarming her again. He’d remembered that? “You must have some awesome stories to tell.”
She blinked, remembering how he had shut her down before, when she’d started nattering incessantly. And now he was actually asking her to talk about her family?
Despite the pragmatic tone, she could see the genuine interest in his eyes and recalled from her internet search that he had no family now of his own.
Her heart expanded as she launched into a favorite family story about the morning one of her many pets—a hedgehog called Spike—had managed to surprise her middle oldest brother, Cormac, in the shower. By the time she finished it—with Cormac charging through the farmhouse, naked, ready to murder her—the hint of a smile on Nate King’s face had turned into a rusty chuckle.
Her ribs hurt. The sense of achievement that she had managed to lighten the load he carried, if only for a little while, outweighed only by the compassion pressing against her chest at the thought of his own family situation.
“It must have been so tough,” she ventured without thinking. “Discovering the last of your own family, your grandfather, was gone when they finally rescued you.”
His smile froze, and the wary watchful frown returned with a vengeance.
“I’m so sorry. That’s none of my business,” she managed, wanting to kick herself again. She reached for his plate, desperate to flee.
But he clasped her wrist, preventing her retreat.
Her gaze locked with his, and her pulse went haywire, his touch electrifying. Could he feel it, pummeling his thumb?
“There’s no need to be sorry,” he said, his face an implacable mask as he released her abruptly. The echo of his touch still lingered, though, as if she had been branded. “My grandfather and I weren’t a family,” he added, the cynical tone slicing through the heady awareness. “Not in the way you mean.”
Her heart rose into her throat. “Then, I’m even more sorry for that. Everyone needs family,” she said, because she genuinely believed it. When her father had left, her brothers and her mother had stepped in to fill the gap. Who wouldn’t need that kind of unconditional support? Especially after what Nate had suffered?
The twist of his lips became condescending, though, the smile almost pitying. “Do they?” he said, but it didn’t sound like a question.
He left her standing in the kitchen as he walked back up the stairs. Her heart galloped into her throat as she watched him go.
Brett Charles had been right. Nathaniel King really did need a friend. He just didn’t know it yet. And she was the only person available for the job.
Now all she needed was to get the inappropriate yearning under control so she could do it properly.
She sighed, the melting spot in her panties still pulsing incessantly, her wrist still branded by his touch.No pressure, then.
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