One More Time (Paradise Bay Book 2)(5)

By: Ella Linden

And the police, if there was any reason to have to talk to them again.

Jack Weston, Livi’s cousin, was sitting at a table with Sean and Nathan, two more of the town’s volunteer firefighters and friends of theirs.

How much longer would he have to stay before he could leave without it being considered rude?

Carter smiled at Livi and excused himself, walking down toward the water and onto the long wooden dock that stretched out into the lake. Woods and lakes. Andrew and Livi had picked a peaceful little spot to start their life together. It wasn’t as peaceful as his farm, though.

Slowly but surely, the party made its way down to the lake as well, and soon he wasn’t alone on the dock as their friends and some of Livi and Andrew’s family members sat, dipping their feet in the water, talking and laughing.

He made his way back down the dock and toward the patio, where his brother and Holly were still sitting, along with Livi. He’d just taken a seat nearby when the back door opened and Iris stepped out.

Carter gripped the arms of the Adirondack chair he was sitting in and did his best not to obviously stare at her as Iris greeted Livi and Holly with hugs, a wave for Scott, a cool nod for him.

Damn, she looked good. She always did. No-nonsense little sleeveless black dress that clung to her petite form in all the right places, her glossy black hair trailing down her back.

He wasn’t sure if he was pleased or annoyed when she took a seat and joined their little group on the patio. Soon, she was chatting with Holly and Livi about some comic they were all reading, and Scott and Jack, who had just joined the group, were talking baseball. He half-listened to their conversation, adding a comment every once in a while, but his focus was shot.

He really had to stop staring at her. She’d made it clear they were done three years ago and had pretty much acted like he didn’t exist since. He stood up and joined Andrew near the table where all the food was spread out.

“Hiding from your ex again?” Andrew said around a mouthful of fried chicken.

“I’m not hiding.”

“Uh huh.”

“Man, I’m six-four and two hundred and fifty pounds. I spend my days doing actual manual labor, not sitting behind a computer like some people. I don’t hide.”

“And yet you’re over here cowering from a tiny little woman. Weird,” Andrew said, and Carter cursed. “Though she is a little tiny woman with a gun, so maybe you’re smarter than I thought.” Andrew clapped him on the shoulder and walked over to where Livi was sitting.

Where Iris was sitting.

He moved away again, and ended up sitting with Sean and Nathan.

He was not hiding from Iris. He was giving her space to enjoy the party without him nearby. He knew she wasn’t excited about being anywhere near him. Why hang around where he wasn’t wanted?

“Hiding from Iris again, huh?” Nathan asked him, and he shook his head and gave him a dirty look.

He sat there, but his gaze kept returning to Iris. His hands practically itched to run themselves through her long, silky hair again. He remembered more than one good night, Iris sitting cradled between his thighs in front of the big fireplace at his house as he ran a brush through her hair. The little contented sighs she used to make when he did that had driven him nuts. Having her hair brushed had always relaxed her. And there was that one little spot at the side of her neck he’d loved nibbling, and she’d loved it just as much.

She turned and her eyes met his. He pulled himself together and quickly looked the other way.

Smooth, Daniels. That was smooth.

Iris looked down at her drink. Was she already buzzed or had Carter been looking at her like he actually saw her?

And, more, liking what he saw?

She watched as Nathan brought a bottle back to the table and Carter, Nathan, and Sean each knocked back a shot. And then another.

She glanced at Scott to see him watching his brother with a furrowed brow.

“I guess I’m driving his dumb ass home tonight,” he muttered, and Iris looked back at where he was sitting.

She watched as he stood up and walked toward the lake.

But before that, he’d definitely been looking at her, and that sure the hell hadn’t been indifference in his eyes.

She watched as Maggie from the comic shop approached him, as he listened while she talked to him. He smiled at whatever she said, and Iris narrowed her eyes.

Maggie was definitely much more his type. Quiet, reserved, shy.

Maggie spent a few more moments talking to him, and then stepped away. She watched him knock back another shot.

She knew he could handle his liquor, but he usually wasn’t a heavy drinker.

Iris glanced at Scott. “Does he usually drink like that?”

He shook his head. “Only sometimes.”