She laughed. “Yeah—fashion shit. I've loved clothes and makeup since I was in middle school. It’s something me and my mom loved to do together, and I guess I just don’t want to let that go.” It was amazing how suddenly her whole face lit up.
“So what are you going to do with that after you graduate?” I asked.
She dipped her head. “If I could take my hobby and make a career out of it … I can't think of anything I'd rather do for a living. What I really want is to start a fashion blog. Not for celebrities—they have more than enough help already. Just for regular people.” Her smile softened into a strange sweetness. “Soccer moms, old ladies, teenagers figuring out who they want to be. Girls my age who're working minimum wage and living on ramen, but still want a splash of cuteness in their lives. Everyone deserves to feel their best and look how they want to look, no matter how little money or spare time they have.” She paused, suddenly self-conscious, her eyes darting back to me and then away. “But you probably think 'fashion shit' is silly.”
“Hey, I was just kidding.” I waved one hand slightly in a calm your tits gesture. “I can't say I understand what's so magical about it, but you obviously care, so … that's important. And it sounds like you're busting your ass to make your dream happen. I gotta respect that.”
She blinked, as if she'd expected me to make fun of her, then smiled again—big and bright this time. “You need any help cleaning up the kitchen?”
I shook my head. “Nah. I'll just throw everything in the dishwasher.”
Too late, I realized that she'd been making a peace offering. But she didn't seem offended. As she sipped the last of her wine, I started gathering all the dirty plates and pots, still trying to get used to having another person in my space. Seems like the kitten has her cuddly side—when her claws aren't out. Actually, you probably couldn't get one without the other; the same passionate nature that made her fierce also made her warmhearted. She was still a little bit naïve and innocent, but that was cute rather than annoying.
For the second time today, it struck me that I wanted to learn more about her. That was an unfamiliar feeling. My job demanded a lifestyle that didn't mesh well with typical dating stuff, so the getting-to-know-you phase wasn't something I reached very often. But I was stuck with Avery for the next couple months. So why the hell not?
After dinner, I found myself sitting on the living room couch with Nixon, holding a fresh glass of chilled Chardonnay. I was starting to get tired and maybe a little buzzed, but the tension between us had started to lighten, and I didn't want to let it slip away just yet. How did a day that had started with walking in on my naked, erect stepbrother having sex—not to mention the insane argument that had followed—end with us chatting over dinner like friends?
Normally I never talked about Mom's death, especially not in my first conversation with someone new. But for some reason … I couldn't put my finger on it, but I'd felt like I could trust him. And he hadn't disappointed me, even if he hadn't quite known how to respond.
I couldn't forget the way his eyes had lit up when he talked about being a SEAL. His devotion was so intense—but I'd glimpsed a humble, sweet side, too, when he'd waved off my awed compliment. And I definitely hadn't expected him to care about my love for cute clothes. Even though his job was so much more serious, he listened to me talk about my career as if fashion were just as important as nabbing bad guys and saving lives.
However, the easy atmosphere soon became strained again. Nixon was leaning forward on the couch, elbows on his knees, letting his beer dangle precariously between his fingers. “There's still one last thing we need to talk about,” he said. “This whole 'no strange women in the condo' rule...you're kidding, right?”
I swallowed my sip of wine and shook my head firmly. “I'm still one hundred percent serious.”
“Well, then I'm just as serious about my offer from before.” He looked at me, unblinking. “I'm a red-blooded man, Avery. I already told you I've spent nine months in the Middle East, and the only action I saw was with my own hand. So I'm going to get laid and that's all there is to it. If you're living with me until you graduate, and you don't want other women coming around, then … ” His lips quirked and he shrugged. “There's an easy solution. We've got two willing participants sitting right here.”
I scowled, ignoring the spark of warmth that flickered in my belly. This bullshit again? I was starting to think he'd learned his lesson, but that had clearly been too much to hope for.