Just One Touch: A Black Alcove Novel (The Black Alcove Series Book 3) (5 page)

Paramore fills my ears
as I open the passenger door and get in. Beth is texting away on her
cell phone, but she still greets me.

“Hey girl,” she
says without looking up.

“Don’t you know
it’s nine in the morning? You’ve got this radio turned up like
we’re about to go out on the town partying,” I say, turning the
music down.

“Hey.” She snaps
her view toward me and cocks her head. “Don’t be turning my radio
down like we’ve been friends forever. We only just met yesterday.”
A smile slowly appears and she twists the dial to the right.

“Okay, new friend,
what am I allowed to do in your car? And how far away is this said
lake?” I ask. I’m waiting for the gym to tell me whether or not I
have the job she mentioned earlier. I assume they won’t call me
back this soon, but I want to be available and not out of service
just in case they do.

“It’s about a
twenty-, thirty-minute ride. Nothing too intense,” she answers,
placing the car in gear and pulling away from the curb. “And what
you can do in my car this time is tell me all about your afternoon
with Conner yesterday.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Oh, come on, it
couldn’t have been that bad.”

“It wasn’t that
bad, but I still don’t want to talk about it.”

“Hmm, did he hit on
you?”

“Beth,” I say with
a warning tone. Although it clearly wasn’t intimidating enough
because she goes on as if I didn’t say anything at all.

“He did, didn’t
he?” Her fingers tap on the steering wheel. “I can’t believe he
did it. I have to give the guy some credit though. Impressive.”

What does she mean,
impressive? There is nothing impressive about a guy who is willing
and openly showing that he would cheat on his girlfriend or whatever
they are.

“You might be into
that sort of behavior, but I am definitely not. It’s repulsive and
completely disrespectful.”

With my feet on the
dashboard, I cross my arms and look out the window. I like Beth and
she’s the only person I know in this town besides Skylar, so I’ll
probably let this topic go, but it still sucks that she is pro
cheaters.

“Whoa, okay, first,
although I am a fan of the feet dashboard position, it’s totally
unsafe.” She stares at me until my flip-flops are safely back on
the mat. “And second, are you telling me you didn’t enjoy Conner
hitting on you?”

“That’s exactly
what I’m saying.”

“Sooo, does this mean
you’re into women? Because it’s totally cool if you are.”

“What are you talking
about?” By the yikes frown she has on her face, I’m going to
assume that whatever look I have going on right now is giving her the
answer.

“Okay, whoops, my
bad. I must have missed something. What’s so wrong with him
flirting with you?’

I take a moment before
I answer her. There is a reason she is so interested in whether I’m
attracted to Conner. Maybe Jake’s mother is a bad egg. Still,
nothing is a good enough reason to cheat.

“Nothing about being
the other woman excites me, therefore his flirting is fully
repulsive.”

When Beth doesn’t
respond right away, I’m relieved that the conversation is over. But
no, I was premature with that assumption. She erupts into laughter.

I don’t join her.
What sort of friendship have I’ve gotten myself into? Beth really
is a different person.

“What’s so funny?”
I finally ask.

“Well, to start,
Jake’s mother is not in the picture. They are sharing custody right
now. Conner only gets every other weekend and occasionally during the
week when Heather lets him.”

Conner is single.

“By the lusty look
you have going on again right now, I’d say I’ve just made your
day.”

“I don’t feel bad
about ogling him anymore, is all. Still, I told you the other night,
I’m not in that place right now.” Pretending to not be ready for
a relationship is a much safer route than saying I came here for
another guy, my brother to be exact, who hasn’t seen or heard from
me in more than fifteen years.

“You might not think
it’s the right time, but the world may have another plan for you,”

I laugh at this both
because I really enjoy the way she speaks her mind and also because
what was a serious conversation turned into a pretty good one. One
thing is for sure: I owe Conner an apology for the way I acted
yesterday. If I thought he had no manners, I must look ten times
worse.

“I was kind of rude
to Conner yesterday,” I admit.

“That’s okay. He
probably thought it was hot.”

“What?”

“I’m joking. Just
say sorry and explain what happened. Conner is one of the most
understanding people I know. He has to be, what with the cards life
has dealt him.”

“What do you mean?”

Her car starts to slow
down as we turn, passing a sign welcoming us to the lake. We wind
around turns and go up and down a few hills until a beautiful lake
surrounded by the red hills and sandy beaches comes into view. We
pass a marina, a boat club, and many lake houses. Now, I’ve seen
the ocean and been on a boat, but a lake is new for me. I watch as a
neon green boat jets across the open water before I realize Beth is
speaking.

“I think I’ve told
you enough about Conner. You should get to know him and let him
answer these questions for himself. I only know what Sara has told
me, and being the best friend’s wife doesn’t exactly mean she
knows the facts to a T.”

Sara? My
sister-in-law’s name is Sara.

“Sara who?” I ask,
all thoughts of Conner and me gone.

“Sara Parker. She
owns the bar Conner and I work at with her husband,” Beth says as
she parks the car. It takes me a moment for me to look away. She
knows my brother. Conner knows my brother. She said they were best
friends. I could run into Logan by hanging out with these people. I
should go. I need to go.

“Hey, are you okay?
You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine,” I
answer quickly, opening the door. Fresh air should help. I can’t
ask her to take me back home now—that would lead to too many
questions.

I stumble out, grabbing
my bag and swinging it over my shoulder. Cool air hits my face and I
shiver. Is this the type of weather they go to the lake in?

“Are you going to be
okay walking to boat on your own? I need to grab my cooler.”

I nod.

I can feel her eyes
watching me. “We going right over there, to the boat Conner is next
to.”

What?

Sure enough, Conner is
squatting beside a boat in all his sexy glory. He’s got on a pair
of swim trunks that fall to his knees and a cut-off blue shirt that
reads HYPERLITE across the chest. He looks up then, as if he knows I
am watching him, and waves.

With my head held high
and pretending I didn’t just learn a lot of new facts to overwhelm
me, enough to fear that I could be meeting my brother today I head in
Conner’s direction, completely unprepared for whatever this day
decides to bring at me.

Conner

I can’t for the life
of me figure out what—other than breaking a picture frame—I did
to piss Alex off so much. The way she acted when Lucas and I ran into
her and her friend on our run yesterday made it clear she doesn’t
like me. I lost too much sleep over it, and when I woke this morning
I made the decision to just let it go. So she didn’t like me. Who
cares? I have the people I need and want in my life, and they are the
people I need to give my focus to.

But I didn’t prepare
myself to see her again so soon, so everything I decided is now
shattered. I’m attracted to her, damn it, no matter how snippy she
can get with me.

The way her eyes are
frozen to mine and they don’t move with each step she takes makes
my heart race. I swallow as I tear my gaze away to check her out. She
has those same cut-off jean shorts on, a pink t-shirt with the word
LOVE written across it in big silver letters, and a simple pair of
black flip-flops. Her hair curls over her shoulders and down her
back. The sun shines off her hair, providing a glow, and beautiful
doesn’t even begin to describe her. I lick my lips, bringing
moisture back to my dry mouth and I look away. Whatever this tingling
feeling she’s causing in me, I need to be rid of it because she can
see it.

“Hey, Conner,” she
says, stopping in front of me. I continue tying the knot I’ve been
tying for at least two minutes thanks to her distraction, and I
finally secure the boat against the dock until the others get here.

“Hey,” I say.

“I didn’t know you
had a boat,” she says with a half smile.

“It’s my parents’.
Beth asked the other night before you all left the BA if we could
take it out.”

“Well, that was nice
of you.”

Our already awkward
conversation comes to a halt. It’s not that I don’t want to talk
to her, but she’s made it very clear I’m not her favorite person.
I’m not going to act like everything is fine just because she
decides she wants to talk now.

I hop into the boat,
leaving her standing on the dock. Without making it obvious as I pull
out some lifejackets to have handy, I sneak a few glances her way.
Her hands are curling and uncurling as she looks all around her. Then
she steps onto the boat.

“Look, Conner, I’m
sorry about the way I acted yesterday. I know I didn’t make a good
impression, but I have a very good reason.” Her voice has perked up
and sparked my curiosity.

“Go on,” I say when
it’s clear she’s waiting for a response.

“See, I thought after
I met you that … well, I assumed that you …”

“You assumed what?”
I ask, not understanding what she’s trying to tell me but finding
myself curious as to what could make her this nervous.

“I just thought you
were involved with someone was all, but Beth set me straight and I’m
sorry.”

I grin. “And you were
upset you thought I was taken?”

“No.” She looks
away. I catch the spark of smile before she’s looking fully in the
other direction. “You dropped a box of my things and broke
something special to me, so for that I was upset. My behavior
yesterday was purely because I assumed the worst in you when it came
to your family, and that was wrong of me.”

Her head drops to her
chin as she plays with the bottom of her t-shirt. The emotion she
just displayed toward family grabs at my chest. Then she looks at me
with her eyes sparkling, and I’m at a loss for words. I find them
though, because I can’t pass up the moment.

“Maybe if you take me
up on my dinner invite, we can get to know each other a little better
and you can learn firsthand that I’m not that kind of guy.”

“And what kind of guy
are you?” she asks. She is damn cute when she flirts. I take a step
toward her.

“Come over for dinner
tonight and find out.”

Her gaze flutters over
my body, sending another tingle throughout every inch. The urge to
lean forward and press my lips to hers takes over. The second her
eyes are on my mouth, she touches her lips. My mind doesn’t have
time to process what I’m about to do. I step toward her and dip my
head. My timing, however, couldn’t be worse.

“We’re here!”
Ethan says loudly, clearing his throat right before my lips have a
chance to touch Alex’s. She jumps at the sudden interruption,
allowing her body to fall closer to mine. As if I’ve done it a
million times before, my hand reaches out to steady her at the small
of her back. She blushes and looks away.

A squeal and tiny feet
running along the dock catch my attention. I lunge forward, swooping
my niece right off her feet as I pull her into the boat. She screams
and laughs at the same time. I’ve still got ahold of her, and
because she already has her pink Minnie Mouse life vest on, I’m
about to fake dip her into the water when my sister walks up.

“Conner Davis Brian,
don’t you even think about it! The water is too cold for her to be
in it.” Her mom voice is spot on today. Clara looks up at me, her
little chin ducking into her vest as I set her on the floor of the
boat.

“Alex, this is one of
my good friends, Ethan, and his wife, also known as my sister,
Kelsey. Kelsey and Ethan, this is Alex. She just moved into the
apartment across from mine.” I hold out a hand to help my sister on
the boat while Ethan starts to spray sunscreen on Clara.

“Older sister,
smarter sister, I’m one in the same.” Kelsey shakes her hand.
“It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet
you, too,” Alex says, and I can’t help but enjoy the smile on her
face. Ethan extends his hand as well. They, too, shake but Ethan
doesn’t let go.

“Have I met you
before?” he asks.

“No, I don’t think
so.”

“Are you sure? You
look really familiar.”

“She just moved here
from …” I pause because I don’t know the answer to what I was
saying.

“North Carolina,”
she finishes for me and a little bit of her accent comes out.

“Huh, that’s just
crazy. You seriously look like someone I know.”

“Ethan, stop freaking
her out,” my sister says. “What is taking Beth so long?”

Ethan finally lets go
of Alex’s hand and takes a seat next to Kelsey at the back of the
boat. He leans over, whispering something in her ear, and my sister’s
eyes quickly dart up to Alex. I’ll have to ask him about this
later.

“Should you be in the
boat?” I ask my sister, changing the subject.

“I asked the same
thing,” Ethan answers for her. “Yes, she can, so let’s just
leave it at that.”

“I wasn’t that
mean.”

Ethan’s brows rise.

“I wasn’t.” My
sister laughs.

I shake my head,
laughing silently with my sister, when I catch Alex’s movement to
my left. She’s sitting down now, leaned forward, digging in her
bag. Her shirt inches up in the back, revealing the top of her bright
yellow bikini. Now I can’t wait to see what she looks like in a
bathing suit.
Come on sun, warm
up.

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