The One Real Thing Page 38

Just then I thought it might be.

So I nodded my silent thanks, and he nodded at me in return. I walked away feeling as if I’d just caught a glimpse of a man that Bailey refused to see.

Bailey eyed me suspiciously the next morning. “Why are you being so cagey about what you’re doing today?”

Avoiding the question, I laughed. “People are right . . . you don’t like secrets.”

“What people?” She frowned. “Did Tremaine say that? When did he say that to you? You shouldn’t listen to a man who is morally defunct. Morally defunct, I tell you!”

Covering my laughter, I just shrugged, not wanting to fuel her fire.

The bell above the front door to the inn tinkled before she could question me further, and we both turned.

I lost my breath a little at the sight of Cooper striding toward us.

Did he seem even taller today?

“Coop,” Bailey said, happy to see him as always. “What brings you here?”

He cut me a look and I couldn’t tell if it was annoyed or amused. “Doc didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“I’m taking her out for the day.”

Bailey’s eyes grew round as they swung to me. A little smirk played around her mouth. “No. The doc did not tell me.”

“I was going to,” I lied.

“Oh, of course . . . after all the evasion.” She smiled sweetly and turned back to Cooper. “So where are you taking my Jessica?”

“The fun park.”

“Good choice!” Bailey hit his shoulder playfully. “I haven’t been there in an age. Tom says I’m too old.”

“No such thing, sweetheart,” Cooper assured her.

She flicked a glance back at me. “So this is a date?”

“No,” I hurried to say, noting that Cooper hadn’t denied it.

Hmm.

That made Bailey grin harder. “Sure.”

“Ready to go?” Cooper asked me.

I nodded, definitely ready to get away from Bailey’s teasing.

“Some advice—avoid Myrtle’s Shooting Range because that’s a fix.” She followed us to the door. “And don’t eat too much of Hilly’s candy floss because I’m pretty sure there is alcohol in it—otherwise, that was the weirdest sugar high I’ve ever had—and don’t try making out on the Shake because you’ll pull something in your neck.”

I felt an unexpected thrill at the idea of making out with Cooper again and shot Bailey a glower for putting the thought in my head. “It’s not a date, Bailey.”

Cooper smirked and gently guided me out the door.

We walked quickly down the porch, hurrying (well, I was) to get away from her.

“Sure thing!” she called, following us out. “But just in case, Cooper, don’t feel her up anywhere near Old Patty’s Psychic Tent . . . for an apparent free spirit she sure is a prude!”

“Is Old Patty still alive?” Cooper called back, completely oblivious to the fact that I was flushing at the thought of his big hands touching me, and plotting a thousand ways to kill Bailey without getting caught.

“She’s been alive since my ancestors founded this place.”

Cooper just grunted at the joke and opened the garden gate for me.

“Have fun on your date!” Bailey shouted. Really loudly.

“It’s not a date,” I snapped back, ignoring Cooper’s laughter.

“Right,” she said as she turned to go back into the inn.

“Are you sure she’s thirty-three?” I said as we walked down the boardwalk.

Cooper shook his head. “Bailey Hartwell hit eighteen and decided she was done growing up.”

I laughed lightly and we walked on in silence for a little bit.

“Wouldn’t have her any other way, though,” he suddenly said.

I liked that.

A lot.

“Me neither.”

We shared a warm look, one that put far too much heat in my blood, and then we continued on in silence.

I felt guilty for enjoying the idea of Bailey’s suggestive comments. Andrew had texted me, something that was supposed to be sexy, and I guess from the right person probably would be, but I’d felt embarrassed by it—embarrassed and guilty—and I hadn’t texted him in return. I should not have been having hot thoughts about another man when I couldn’t even text my current friend with benefits back.

Plus—I glanced surreptitiously up at Cooper—I couldn’t let myself get carried away here. The reason this was not a date was because Cooper was all wrong for me.

There was no forgetting the way he’d reacted to the apology in Sarah’s letters.

That reaction was still there, still bothering me, despite Bailey’s explanation.

And yet . . . this . . . right then with him . . . oh, this was nice.

As on the morning we’d met, we walked to the fun park in silence and it was good. There was no awkwardness, no feeling like we needed to fill the quiet with mundane conversation. It was easy and it felt great.

Despite our hot interlude the other night, there was peace in walking with Cooper Lawson.

The truth was, my feelings for him (and despite all my misgivings I had to admit I did have feelings for him) were only compounded by how strangely detached I was beginning to feel about my life back in Wilmington. There was so much warmth in Hartwell. So much warmth directed at me.

I felt connected here.

And in all honesty I selfishly didn’t want to talk to anyone back in Wilmington for fear of breaking whatever spell I seemed to be under in Hartwell.

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