The One Real Thing Page 39

That meant I didn’t want to text Andrew back.

For that reason and another.

That being . . . that the only thing that would make walking beside Cooper better was if he were holding my hand.

Damn.

I really was all tangled up inside.

Of course I’d seen the big roller coaster and other rides towering up behind the boardwalk, but I hadn’t actually gone near the park yet. The gates were old-fashioned and had a huge arch over them with Ocean Blue Fun Park painted on it. Ticket booths were set up on either side of the gates. Beyond the gates we could hear laughter and screams, announcing the place was already busy. The season had kicked in, so that wasn’t a surprise. The smells of vendor food, like hot dogs and burgers and the sweet thickness of candy floss, were stronger here than on the boardwalk because the sea air wasn’t so dominant this far back from the boards.

I had to admit I was a little excited.

“Hey, Mr. Lawson,” the young girl at the ticket booth said as we approached. She was a pretty, fresh-faced blonde who looked like she was still in high school.

“Hey, Angela. How’s your mom doing?”

“She’s real good, thanks.” She beamed at him and I’m not sure I didn’t see a little hero worship there. “She was so grateful you fixed her car.”

“My pleasure.” He shrugged. “Two adults.” He slipped money to her before I could protest.

Her eyes flicked to me and I saw the speculation. She gave him the tickets, passed him change, and wished him a good day without looking at me again.

Huh.

“Are you a mechanic, too?” I said as we walked into the park.

“I was until I was twenty-one and old enough to work at the bar.”

“Is she a neighbor?”

“Who, Angela? Nah, she’s my sister’s best friend’s kid. Her dad walked out about a year ago, leaving them in a tough place. Last thing they needed was garage bills so I helped out.”

Now I got the hero worship.

“That was nice of you.”

Considerate.

Thoughtful.

Damn.

He didn’t respond.

“Also nice was buying my ticket, but since you bought the tickets, I’m paying for food.”

“Okay.”

“What? No argument?” Andrew always argued about paying for stuff. We didn’t go out a lot, but there were times we had to grab food or order takeout and he always threw a fit if I tried to pay. I let him win for an easy life, but it irritated me.

Cooper stopped in the middle of the walkway. “I don’t need to shoulder all the financial responsibilities of our day together to feel like a man, Doc. I buy tickets, you buy the food, seems like a fair trade. I like that you offered. Hasn’t happened to me a lot.”

God, did he have to be so frickin’ perfect! I smirked so he couldn’t see that such an innocent comment somehow had the power to give me the dirty kind of tingles. “Well, I can’t be the first woman to offer to pay on a . . .” I trailed off, having almost used the d word.

His blue eyes brightened with humor, but he graciously let my slip pass. “Believe it or not, you are the first.”

“Your wife never paid?” I blurted out before considering he might not like talking about her.

“Ex-wife,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure Dana thought a purse was purely an accessory.”

I marveled at the lack of bitterness in his voice but decided to move us off the subject anyway in case he was hiding the bitter.

“So.” I stopped and gaze around us. “What ride do you recommend first?”

“I think we should dive right in.” He pointed to the big roller coaster.

My stomach flipped as I stared up at it.

Suddenly Cooper was blocking my view of it and I looked up to find him frowning down at me. “We don’t have to go on it if you’re scared of roller coasters.”

That was nice.

He was nice.

“I’ve never actually been on one,” I said, feeling I could admit that without him asking too many questions.

Cooper looked surprised. “Never?”

“Never had the opportunity.”

He contemplated me for a second or two. “Don’t tell me life has been all work and no play?”

My smile was more than a little rueful. “You know, ever since I got here I’m starting to think that might be the case.”

At that, Cooper took my hand in his and awareness shot through me. “Well, the only way to know if you’ll like a roller coaster is to get on one.” He started to lead me to it.

Following him, my hand automatically tightened in his and he squeezed it in answer. I felt a little in a daze as he led me because I recognized what I was feeling and I couldn’t actually believe it. The last time I’d felt this aware of the opposite sex I’d been eighteen and crushing on a junior TA in my organic chemistry class at Northwestern. He’d been the first guy I’d slept with and the first guy I thought I could really fall for, but I . . . I wasn’t in a good place back then. I was just a kid and I blew it.

It was a sudden overwhelming realization that Cooper made me feel not only like a teenager again but like a teenager in danger of falling head over heels.

Cooper, completely oblivious to my inner Holy fuck moment, showed our tickets to the ride operator and we stopped to wait in line.

That was when I went back to thinking about the roller coaster.

I had serious butterflies.

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