“Interesting. So you make people feel better.”
“I hope so. That’s the goal, anyway.”
“I’m sure you do.” The look in his eyes and the tone of his voice left no room for uncertainty. Like if he said it, it must be true.
The waiter interrupted with their appetizers and gave her something to focus on other than the ultra-intense man beside her. Though sitting this close to him, even eating took concentration. She took a small sip of water and tried to relax. “What about you?”
He cut into his filet. “Real estate and property development. Hotels mostly. Resorts.”
“So you make people feel better too, I guess. If it’s a nice hotel.”
“I never thought about it like that, but yes.”
She reached for her water again and bumped the glass, nearly tipping it. Stephen righted it with sharp reflexes and a steady hand, his warm fingers brushing against hers. As much as he was calm and cool, she was taut and twitchy.
“My mom called me the king of spills,” he said and casually sipped his iced tea.
“That’s hard to believe.” More like impossible, but he was trying to make her feel better.
“It’s true. Though I usually blamed it on whichever brother was sitting beside me. Or better yet, my sister.” Amusement warmed his eyes and in turn warmed her.
“How many brothers?” she asked as the waiter set down their entrees and left.
“Five brothers. One sister.”
“Oh, Lord. Poor girl.”
He laughed, a deep male rumbling sound that made her smile. “Trust me, there is nothing poor about Lizzy. She’s been busting our balls since she was in the cradle.”
“Are you the oldest?”
“No. Tony’s the oldest. Then Matt, Andrew, me, Patrick, Lizzy, and J.T. She’s almost the youngest, but still in charge. What about you?”
“Four brothers, all older.”
“I bet you ran the poor guys ragged.”
She’d caused them a lot of trouble for sure. Had there ever been the good kind of trouble? The fun kind? “Yeah, I guess, but…it was a different situation. They’re all a lot older, and…our parents died when I was two.”
Stephen paused and returned his fork to the edge of his plate. He covered her hand with his, made a light caress with his thumb. “I’m sorry.”
The soft expression in his eyes combined with his touch had her heart melting, her guard slipping. “It turned out okay. I was raised by wolves, but…” She shrugged and he uncovered her hand.
“You don’t look like you were raised by wolves.”
He picked up his fork as he spoke and, dear God, that lopsided, dimpled grin could kill a woman. She forced her attention to her plate lest she become the next casualty.
“My sister might say the same thing. About the wolves,” he added.
And just like that he had her smiling again, the tension easing, and they fell into easy conversation about families. He shared childhood antics of the McKinney boys, and her nervous stomach eased as she ate and listened, so completely sucked in by his smooth voice and the movement of his lips when he talked.
They lingered over coffee and dessert, two hours passing more easily than she ever thought they could. Twenty-six years old and she’d lived through her first date. Well, the dinner portion anyway.
Stephen gazed at the woman next to him. Watched another bite of chocolate mousse slip slowly between her full, pink lips. Her tongue slipped out to lick what was left and he imagined doing the same. Just watching her eat made him sweat.
Even more beautiful than he remembered, and he had a damn good memory. Golden hair tumbled seductively in waves around her shoulders. He imagined how it would feel sliding over his skin. Wearing little makeup if any, the porcelain skin of her cheeks glowed in the soft light. She wore no jewelry other than tiny diamond studs in her delicate earlobes. Another place he imagined his mouth.
He’d watched her before, saw her start into the bar, then stop, and he’d felt a strange twinge in his gut, afraid she might turn around and run. He might have been wrong before about the nervous act and he didn’t like being wrong. Being wrong meant you lost, something he hated even more. He liked easy; she was anything but. Though staring into Hannah’s eyes over candlelight, he forgot what he liked. Forgot damn near everything.
Usually by this point in the evening he was more than ready to move things along. Either they were going to bed, or they weren’t and in that case he was done talking and ready to go home. Have a drink. Be alone.
The bill paid, the dessert now gone, he couldn’t put it off any longer. They rose, passing mostly empty tables, and walked outside.