The One Real Thing Page 75

The bite of pain in her voice actually soothed my ruffled feathers. It reminded me that Cat was a sister who loved her brother and she was just looking out for him. “I’m not going to hurt him, Cat.”

She looked back toward her boys, not saying anything for a while.

My whole body was tense, waiting for her to decide if she was going to accept me in Cooper’s life or not.

Finally she said, “Sadie Thomas was in my year at school. She likes sex and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about that.”

“And Cooper was with her,” I murmured, feeling sick at the thought of him being with someone else. It was ridiculous! It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been with other men.

“One night.” She sighed. “Unfortunately I don’t get the same privilege as other siblings of not knowing anything about my brother’s sex life. We live in a small town. After Dana he went through a lot of women. Mostly tourists who didn’t stay in town for long. I thought for sure you were going to be just another one of those women.” She lowered her sunglasses so I could see her eyes. “You’re not, though. He talks about you a lot.”

Warmth suffused me. “Yeah?”

She smiled reluctantly. “Yeah.”

“I really care about him. I just want . . . I want to give him a little happiness. He deserves it.”

“He deserves someone who will be open and honest with him.” She gave me an assessing look that turned a little sad. “There’s something about you. I can’t put my finger on it . . . but it just doesn’t sit right. I don’t trust you.”

Well, crap.

That stung more than I was expecting.

I blew out a shaky breath. “What can I do to change your mind?”

She shrugged. “Stick around. Only time will tell.”

“So Uncle Cooper says you were a surgeon?” Joey said around a mouthful of sandwich.

He and Cooper had returned from building their sand castle. They had a ton of pictures to capture the moment they broke their sand castle record (it was a pretty epic sand castle), and finally they came back to relieve the tension between me and Coop’s sister.

“I was,” I said in reply to Joey’s statement.

“A head surgeon or a heart surgeon?”

I smiled at his inquisitive question. Was I really talking to an eight-year-old about this? “Neither. I was what you call a general surgeon.”

He scrunched up his cute little face. “What’s that?”

“It’s a surgeon who helps fix problems with the stomach, esophagus”—I pointed to all the places on my body, deciding not to dumb it down for the kid—“small bowel, liver, bile ducts, gallbladder, and pancreas.”

“Huh.” He frowned in thought. “I don’t know what some of those are.” He seemed put out by this. “What’s an eso . . .” He trailed off.

“Esophagus.”

He repeated it until he felt it sounded like what I was saying.

“It’s the tube that connects our throats to our stomachs.”

“Oh.” He nodded. “Was it yucky? Being a surgeon?” He made a face at the thought.

Cooper chuckled beside me and I laughed. “For some people it is a little yucky. But it never bothered me.”

Joey shook his head. “I once saw the inside of a dog. I didn’t like it.”

I raised an eyebrow.

Cat gave me a sad look. “Our neighbor’s dog. She got run over last year. Joey found her.”

“Oh no.” I was a dog lover. We’d had a beautiful Lab, Hazel, when I was a kid and I was heartbroken when she died of old age. I hated any sad stories about dogs.

“You like dogs, Doc?” Cooper said softly.

I nodded.

His eyes smiled at me. “Me, too.”

“Why don’t you have one?” I remembered him playing with that woman’s dog on the beach. I could see him with a big dog, accompanying him on his morning runs along the shore.

Cat grunted beside me. “One guess.”

Confused, I shrugged at Cooper and waited for him to fill me in. He sighed. “Dana. She hated dogs.”

“And kids,” Joey said, piping up.

Cooper and his sister tensed on either side of me and I wondered what that was about. I wasn’t going to ask, however, with Joey around.

“So”—I hurried to change the subject—“I hear that you are something of a musical genius.”

He shook his head, very serious and grown-up. “I am very good, though.”

I bit back my laughter, nudging Cooper with my shoulder. He grinned at me, pride practically bursting from him. “Well, I would love to hear you play. You know, Bailey has a piano at the inn.”

“I know.” He nodded, his eyes lighting up. “She lets me play on it.”

“Well?” I looked to Cat and Cooper. “Would you mind?”

It turned out they didn’t mind at all and were, like any proud family, excited for me to hear how good Joey was.

“Well, this is a surprise,” Bailey said as we strode into the inn. She moved from behind the reception desk and immediately hunched down to hug Joey, who patted her on the back like a forty-year-old man.

When he pulled back he grinned at her. “Jessica would like to hear me play.”

Bailey smiled. “You know I love listening to you, kid. The piano”—she gestured to the Steinway upright she had in the front room of the inn—“is all yours.”

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