It was pitch-black when Cade went back to Nick and Holly’s place that night, hat in hand. Or, more accurately, fire extinguisher in hand, along with a whole host of home security essentials, including a flashlight, first-aid kit and fresh batteries for the smoke detectors.
Nothing said “I’m sorry” like fire safety equipment, even though he didn’t have a clue exactly what he was apologizing for. All he knew was he didn’t like the uncomfortable feeling he got in the pit of his stomach when Ivy was upset with him.
He turned off the ignition and hit the overhead light so he could look at his watch—10:25 p.m. Was that too late? He wasn’t privy to Ivy’s sleeping habits. He clicked off the overhead and stared at the semidark house, feeling a little like a crazed stalker, if crazed stalkers came bearing carbon monoxide alarms.
He was about to bail when a light flicked on in the bay window. So Ivy was awake. No excuse for chickening out now.
Juggling his Home Depot bags, Cade climbed out of his SUV and rang the doorbell. A second later, Ivy opened the door wearing a V-necked What the f/Stop T-shirt that clung to her obviously braless breasts and a pair of loose, pink-and-yellow plaid sleep pants that shouldn’t have been so sexy.
“A little late for a social call, isn’t it?” she asked, hanging on the half-open door.
He held up the bags. “Am I forgiven if I brought gifts?”
She eyed the bright orange Home Depot logo. “I take it it’s not flowers or candy.”
“Nope.” He smiled. “Something longer-lasting.”
“A hacksaw? Socket set? Cordless drill?”
“Let me in and you’ll see.”
“Okay.” She stood back and let him pass. “But only because I’m a sucker for power tools.”
He went into the kitchen, put the bags on the butcher-block counter and started pulling items out one by one. Setting them down with a flourish, he said, “Sorry, no power tools today. Maybe next time.”
Ivy scowled. “I told you I’d get my own fire extinguisher.”
“Hey.” He held up a hand, palm out. “This is a peace offering, not a declaration of war.”
“A peace offering implies we’re already at war.”
“Aren’t we?” He pulled out an eight-pack of AA batteries and leaned back, arms braced against the counter. “You’ve been freezing me out since the ballgame.”
She slid to the floor, her back to the row of cabinets opposite him, and hugged her pink-and-yellow-clad legs to her chest. “About that…”
“Me first.” He sat down next to her, suppressing a smile at her slippers. Fluffy neon green frogs with bulging eyes and broad smiles. She may have changed a little on the outside, but inside she was still the same funny, spunky, self-assured girl who had staged a sit-in when the school board tried to cut the high school jazz band.
Qualities he’d been too superficial to appreciate as a teen. But he wasn’t superficial now. So why was he resisting what she’d so willingly offered?
Because it wasn’t just her he stood to lose. It was Gabe. Holly. Noelle. Their parents. The closest thing to a real family he’d ever known.
Cade turned his head and met Ivy’s clear, gray-green gaze. “I know things have been awkward between us since our kiss.”
One corner of her mouth lifted. “Don’t you mean kisses?”
“If you want to get technical.”
He scrubbed a hand through his hair, still damp at the ends from the shower he’d taken when he got off duty. “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”
She shrugged. “You want easy, there’s always Sasha.”
He grimaced. “Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt.”
Ivy laughed, and just like that the tension between them deflated.
“So are we okay?” Cade asked. “You gonna stop avoiding me?”
“I have not been avoiding you.”
“Bullshit.” He held out a hand. “Let me see your cell. Guaranteed there’s at least ten unanswered calls from me and probably twice that many texts you ignored.”
She smacked his hand away. “Fine. I’ll stop avoiding you. On one condition.”
“Stop treating me like your best friend’s pain-in-the-ass sister.”
“You’re not a pain in the ass.”
She laughed again, a sweet, soft, musical sound that made his chest tighten. “Now who’s bullshitting?”
“You’re not,” he insisted. “But you are my best friend’s sister.”
She sighed and closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the cabinets and exposing the long line of her neck, a line he wanted to trace with his tongue from her ear to her collarbone. “Couldn’t you conveniently forget that for, like, an hour or so?”
“An hour?” Now it was his turn to chuckle. “You underestimate me.”