“It’s twelve even.”
He handed her a twenty, and when she held out his change, their eyes met, and there was such an overwhelming feeling of rightness, the air backed up in his chest. It was true, he wasn’t looking for serious for so many reasons, but he thought of spending time with Paige, listening to her without distractions, drinking in every detail without her rushing around, and suddenly, for the first time in a long time, he felt like taking a leap. “There’s a new Italian place.”
The statement was barely past his lips and he was still formulating his next when the little girl held up her drawing.
“Mommy, look at Eric!”
Mommy? Her gaze swung to the little girl at the end of the counter and so did his. Same creamy skin, same mouth, same blond, blond hair.
He was still staring as she lifted the girl, her daughter, from the stool and held out his change. “Here you go.”
Seconds ticked by with neither of them moving and he had the sinking feeling something was slipping away. Talking to someone over a plate of lasagna was one thing, starting anything with a woman with a child was something else entirely. Especially for him. There were some things you didn’t get a second chance at. Or shouldn’t.
She was still holding out his change while he stood there like an ass. “No, keep it,” he finally said.
She glanced at the large tip in her hand, then back at him, her expression unreadable. “Okay. Thank you.” The she turned and headed for the swinging door behind the counter.
Casey smiled and waved at him over her mom’s shoulder, and he waved back, and that’s when he saw it. Propped on Paige’s hip, her purple skirt spread out and over her knees. But her left leg hadn’t been tucked under her. It ended a few inches below her knee.
Just like his.
“Stupid,” Paige muttered under her breath and rolled her eyes at herself. She pushed through the swinging door and into the back of the restaurant. To the right was the kitchen, to the left a good-sized space that served as the employee break room.
Casey leaned back to see her face. “What’s stupid, Mommy?”
“Nothing, sweet pea.” Just that, for a second, she thought he was about to ask her out. And even more stupid that, for a second, she’d wanted him to.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Casey said.
“Okay.” Paige lifted her most precious baby a little higher on her hip and kissed her neck, making her laugh. They got to the bathroom just as her cousin was coming out.
“Hey, Casey Bell,” Jenny said.
“Hey, Jenny Penny.”
Paige helped Casey get situated in the bathroom, then stepped just outside the door to wait out her daughter’s newly asserted independence. She wasn’t wearing her prosthesis today, nothing new. Though with kindergarten approaching, it was becoming a new worry.
“That was one hot man sitting in your section. Again,” Jenny added with an eyebrow waggle. “Two, actually, though I only got a glimpse of the other one before he left.”
Paige turned her face to hide any remnant of disappointment that might be lingering. “He doesn’t know my section.”
She peeked through the crack at Casey.
“I need privacy, please,” Casey said.
Paige smiled and walked a few steps away to join Jenny at the skinny floor-length mirror leaning against a wall.
Jenny slid out the wand to reapply her mascara, bringing even more attention to her big doe eyes. “Mmm. Just lucky I guess. But even you have to admit he was hot. And don’t act like you didn’t notice.”
Of course she’d noticed. She’d only been here a few weeks, but it was impossible not to. He’d never said more than a few words to her, always polite, always quiet, but his brown eyes and easy smile were hard to ignore.
“So hot.” Jenny sighed dramatically and leaned in, whispering, “The extremely gorgeous, rock my body, please let me touch you kind of hot.”
“Mmm. I wouldn’t know.”
“A travesty.” Jenny stretched her face out to the mirror and raised the mascara to her other eye. “You know he’s been coming here for weeks and not once have I seen him talking to anyone. Until now. Until Casey.”
“Casey could coax a rock into talking.”
“What are you going to do when he asks you out?”
“Do you really think I have time for a man? I barely have time to pee.” It was true. She didn’t have time for a man in between her daughter, two jobs, and school. But if he had been about to ask her out, and then hadn’t because she was a mom…She’d always be a mom. Or had it been Casey’s leg? She hated to think that.