I think i love you, p.10

I Think I Love You, page 10

 

I Think I Love You
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  “A little bit loaded, yeah,” Brit admitted with a grin to put the other woman at ease. “But I don’t mind. And, no, I’ve never felt any sort of spark. Hunter’s the best, but he’s just like my brother.”

  Not entirely true but necessary. Necessary for Mrs. Cross to believe, and definitely necessary for Brit to remember.

  “Awwwwkward.”

  Brit’s head whipped around toward the drawn-out pronouncement, saw that it had come from Hunter’s foster brother.

  Malik gave her a cheeky thirteen-year-old grin, but he wasn’t the one she was worried about.

  A quick glance at Dennis Cross revealed Hunter’s dad’s attention entirely on his iPhone, where he was painstakingly typing something in the slow one-fingered tap of someone who hadn’t grown up with touch-screen phones.

  Maybe she’d get lucky. Maybe Hunter’s attention would also be on his cellphone. Maybe he hadn’t heard her dismissal of him as a brother. . . .

  She looked toward him, hoping. . . .

  Nope.

  Their eyes collided. Brit felt a little drop in her stomach. He’d heard. She could read him better than anybody, and she knew that he’d heard.

  It shouldn’t matter—hell, she’d done it before, calling him a brother. Heck, she was pretty sure he’d described her as a sister at some point in their friendship.

  But now it felt . . . different.

  It felt wrong. Or at least not entirely true.

  And the way he held her eyes for only a moment, his smile brief and a little forced, gave her a strange ache in her chest.

  “Oh, you guys already paid the bill!” his mother said, oblivious to the quick moment of turmoil between Brit and her son.

  “What the heck took so long?” Dennis mumbled good-naturedly.

  Gail tucked her arm in his and grinned up at him. “All these years of marriage and you still don’t know that we ladies need time to powder our noses?”

  Hunter’s dad leaned down and kissed her, smudging her lipstick slightly and causing her to giggle girlishly as she lifted a hand to wipe the lipstick from his mouth.

  Malik rolled his eyes and made a subtle gagging gesture while Brit stared at Hunter’s stony profile and begged him to look over at her, to reassure her that he wasn’t bothered by what she’d said.

  “So, what’s next?” Malik asked, rolling from his heels to his toes and back again with the impatient energy of a teenager.

  “Well, I’m beat after the flight and all this eating,” Mr. Cross said. “I was thinking bed sounded pretty good.”

  “Bed! It’s eight-thirty!” Malik said in protest.

  Hunter leaned down. “Perks of sleeping on the living room couch . . . Xbox and Nintendo await.”

  “Hell yeah,” Malik said, changing his tune and pumping his fist. Then he caught Mrs. Cross’s warning look. “Heck yeah,” he corrected.

  The five of them left the restaurant, and hoping to ease any awkwardness, Brit caught up with Hunter and linked arms. “I know you and the guys sometimes do the Xbox thing like a bunch of college kids, but since when have you had a Nintendo?”

  He looked down and smiled. “Since my friend offered her couch, and I used my hotel budget for a gaming system I’ll probably never use.”

  “Ah, right. Must be some friend.”

  “She is,” he said. “Practically like a sister.”

  Brit went still and he pulled his arm free. He stepped away before she could reply, lifting his arm to hail a cab, which stopped immediately at the curb.

  “All right, Crosses,” he said, opening the door. “Say goodbye to Brit, and in you go.”

  Brit gave both of his parents a hug, accepted a fist bump from Malik, with promises to see them for brunch on Sunday.

  As his parents and brother slid into the cab, Hunter turned toward Brit. “I’m going to take them back to my place, get everyone settled for the night. It still cool if I come over?”

  “Yeah, of course! Maybe we can finally get around to watching Hitch.”

  “Sure. You cool getting home on your own?”

  She rolled her eyes. “You know, I do manage to navigate the city without you. Especially considering my building’s four blocks that way.” She pointed west toward her building.

  “All right, smart-ass,” he said with a smile as he shut the back door of the cab and then opened the front to sit beside the cabbie.

  At the last minute he turned back and kissed her cheek, startling her with the unexpectedness of it. “See you in a bit.”

  Hunter disappeared into the cab with his family, and Brit waved until the cab disappeared from view a few seconds later.

  The tingle from the kiss on her cheek?

  Lasted much longer than that.

  Chapter Twelve

  “So, what do we think?” Brit asked, her legs swung over the tops of Hunter’s thighs as they lay on her couch, the credits from Hitch rolling in the background.

  “That Cole and Penelope were right. Eva Mendes is super hot,” Hunter said.

  “Very pretty,” Brit said in agreement.

  Hunter put a hand on the tops of her shins to hold her legs steady as he leaned forward to grab a handful of popcorn.

  “I don’t get how you can do that,” she said, grimacing.

  “What?” he asked as he chewed.

  “Eat cold popcorn. Something about cold butter just grosses me out. I have to eat it when it’s freshly popped or not at all.”

  “More for me, then.”

  He’d been over at her apartment for a couple of hours, long enough to watch Will Smith get his ass kicked by love, the two of them sprawled on the couch that would be his makeshift bed for the weekend.

  He reached for another handful of popcorn and she made a gagging motion.

  “Oh, what, I have to watch you eat cold pizza, but you can’t handle this?”

  “Cold pizza is different.”

  Hunter shook his head and chewed. “Nope. Cold, congealed cheese is no different from cold, congealed butter. Actually, it’s worse.”

  “Um, how about we ban the word congealed from our conversations,” she said, rolling off the couch and standing.

  She stretched, the hem of her shirt riding up just enough to show a sliver of skin. A couple of weeks ago, he wouldn’t have noticed.

  Now? He noticed.

  And it wasn’t just that. He noticed the way she walked. The way a strand of hair tended to fall across her lips after she’d applied lip gloss and then laughed. He noticed the way she was with his family, as though she was a part of it. . . .

  Brit tilted her head and gave him a curious look. “You okay?”

  No. Not even fucking close.

  “Yup.”

  “Okay, well.” She leaned down and nudged the side of his knee. “Off your ass. Let’s turn this couch into a bed.”

  Hunter didn’t move. “Nah, it’s long enough for me to sleep on it as is,” he said.

  She looked doubtful.

  “It is,” he insisted. “Hell, it’s probably more comfortable. I don’t have to worry about a spring poking up my ass.”

  Brit shrugged and went to her bed, scooping up a pile of blankets. “Let’s at least put sheets down. So we don’t get your man-ness all over my leather.”

  “First of all, my man-ness has been all over your sofa for the past two hours, and second, this isn’t real leather.”

  Her only response was to flick open the sheet and start the process of putting it over the couch. Over him.

  He laughed. Clearly it was either help her make the bed or be made into the bed.

  Hunter shoved out from under the sheet and helped her tuck it haphazardly under the couch cushions so it’d stay put.

  He appraised it skeptically. “Were pink sheets my only option, or did you select them just for me?”

  “No, I have a spare white set too,” she said. “I thought these would look nice with your red hair.”

  “It’s brown,” he muttered, not knowing why he wasted his
breath. His hair was brownish red. He chose to see only the brown. His friends liked to point out the red because they knew it annoyed him.

  A few moments later, his bed was made, and Hunter hauled his duffel bag onto the bed to dig through his stuff.

  His packing job had been shit. Unsurprising, though. He’d been distracted by his parents’ million questions about the thermostat, the window latches, and the crime rate in his neighborhood, to say nothing of Malik peppering him with excited exclamations about the games Hunter had picked up for the new Nintendo console.

  As a result, Hunter’s packing process had been continually interrupted, and he had . . . well, not much.

  He’d remembered sweatpants to sleep in but not a clean T-shirt. Toothbrush, no toothpaste.

  The latter, at least, Brit could help with.

  He heard water running, and since the bathroom door was open, he wandered over, toothbrush in hand.

  Brit had already changed into pajamas, baggy red-and-white flannel pants and a navy V-neck T-shirt. She was clearly dressed for comfort more than anything else, and why wouldn’t she be?

  She was going to sleep. And I’m just like her brother.

  Hunter hated how much that comment had been lingering with him all night. It wasn’t a big deal. He knew firsthand how his mother could be. Hell, he was pretty sure he’d used the same Brit’s like my sister line over the holidays when his mom was doing her usual open your eyes and see what’s right in front of you pep talk.

  So why the hell had it bothered him tonight?

  Perhaps because while all he’d been able to think about was that night outside her building, how soft her skin was, she was apparently keeping on the way they’d always been.

  Platonic, sibling-like thoughts.

  Hunter should be relieved—the last thing he wanted to do was cross a line with Brit that they couldn’t come back from.

  But, damn, it sucked to know that the attraction, even if temporary, was also one-sided.

  He’d thought she’d felt it too. The way she’d looked at him that night . . .

  As though determined to prove him wrong, Brit glanced over at him with a toothpaste-filled grin, not caring in the least that he was seeing her foaming at the mouth.

  Silently, she handed him her toothpaste, knowing, as she often did, what he needed without him having to utter a single word. He squirted the minty paste onto his toothbrush, then began brushing his own teeth.

  Their eyes caught in the mirror just for a moment, and Hunter realized . . .

  He’d never brushed his teeth with a woman before. It was a strange blend of mundane and yet oddly intimate and . . . sort of nice.

  Brit looked away first, holding her hair back with one hand as she bent over to spit and rinse.

  She wiped her mouth on the towel hanging on the rack before pointing to a folded white towel perched on the side of the sink. “Yours. I already washed my face; bathroom’s all yours.”

  He nodded, and a few moments later he’d finished brushing, washed his face with her fancy cleanser shit without asking (what was a little shared soap between friends), and peed.

  As an evolved man, he usually slapped on some sort of guy-ish moisturizer that his sister got him for Christmas, but he’d forgotten that too.

  Hunter opened the door and stuck his head out. Brit was flopped on her bed, flipping through her phone. Instagram, if he knew her, and he did.

  “If I use some of your face stuff, will I grow ovaries?”

  “Nah,” she said, not lifting her eyes. “Just leave your man card on the table, and we’ll be even.”

  Hunter turned off the light and abandoned all moisturizing plans. His face could go a day without it.

  He was still in his jeans and button-down shirt and jerked his chin at the lamp. “Better turn that off if you don’t want a front-row seat to a strip show.”

  “Or you could change in the bathroom,” she said, moving the phone aside a bit to look at him.

  Hunter reached for the top button of his shirt and flicked it open. Brit went back to her phone. “I’ve seen you in an undershirt before.”

  True enough. But Hunter didn’t like sleeping in his undershirts. In fact, he didn’t like sleeping in a shirt at all, and if he did, not one he’d worn all day.

  He tossed the dress shirt onto the top of his bag, then tugged the undershirt over his head.

  Hunter glanced at Brit. Nothing. No reaction. Not even a glance. Just her finger scrolling through whatever she was looking at.

  Feeling a devilish urge to push her buttons, to change things, he tugged open the top button of his jeans and then slowly, loudly, drew down the zipper.

  She sat up quickly, eyes wide, phone forgotten. “What are you doing?”

  “Changing. I told you to turn out the light if you didn’t want a show.”

  “And I told you to change in the bathroom.” With a little huff, Brit reached over to turn out the lamp on her nightstand. Not, he noticed with satisfaction, before she’d glanced once more at him in his boxers.

  Brother my ass.

  He tossed his jeans aside and pulled on a pair of sweatpants. A moment later he dropped onto his makeshift bed.

  “How is it?” Brit asked in the darkness.

  Hunter rolled to his back, one hand behind his head. “Beats sleeping on the floor of my living room.”

  “Or with bedbugs.”

  He smiled. “That too.”

  Hunter listened as she shuffled her blankets, thumping her pillow then plopping back down again.

  “Hunter?”

  “Yeah?”

  She didn’t reply right away, and he turned his head slightly toward the bed, even though he couldn’t see her in the darkness, nor she him.

  “Do you think we made a mistake?” she asked finally.

  “What do you mean?”

  He was pretty sure he knew exactly what she meant, but better to be sure.

  “On the whole you helping me learn how to date thing.”

  He turned his head again, staring at the ceiling. “Why do you ask?”

  “I don’t know. I just get the feeling something shifted a little after that first fake date.”

  “Well,” he said, not bothering to deny it. “Maybe that’s the problem. That we just had the one fake date.”

  “Meaning?”

  “That it was a first for us, seeing each other in that light, even if it was pretend. Nobody would get it quite right the first time.”

  “Huh,” she said, a little skeptically. “So we need, what . . . practice?”

  “Sure,” he said. “Nobody’s any good at anything without practice.”

  “So you think there should be a next time?”

  “That’s up to you. This is your scheme. You’re the one who wants help with your love life. Unless you think it was all resolved after one date. I mean, maybe I am really that good.”

  Brit snorted, and he heard her roll over. “Please. You may be God’s gift to women, but I’ve yet to crack the code on how to be God’s gift to men.”

  “Have you tried?” he asked, looking toward her again. “I mean, since our fake date have you been on a real one?”

  “No,” she said, drawing the word out.

  Hunter felt something suspiciously like relief, but he shoved it aside.

  “Well, then, how do you know?” he pointed out.

  “I guess I don’t,” she admitted. “But I . . .”

  He waited for her to finish her sentence, but she didn’t.

  “Brit?”

  “You can’t laugh,” she blurted out.

  “I won’t.”

  “I don’t know how to be sexy.” She said the sentence so quickly, in such a rush, it took him a moment to separate all the words into coherence.

  “No, that’s not quite right,” she said more slowly. “I don’t feel sexy. I’ve been thinking about it, and I think that’s my problem. Like, I date, and I feel confident. I can even feel pretty. But I never feel that extra
something, and I wonder if that’s what guys sense. If it’s why they put me in the friend category.”

  Hunter dragged a hand over his face, feeling suddenly out of his depth. And a little . . . warm.

  “Forget it,” she said before he could say anything. “I’m going to smother myself now.” Her words were muffled, as though she’d pulled her pillow over her head.

  “Brit,” he said with a laugh.

  She said nothing.

  “Come on. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”

  Still nothing, and he sat up, looking at her bed through the shadows. There was just enough light coming in from the city for him to see the lump of her body, and sure enough . . . there was a pillow where her face should have been.

  He reached out and pinched her toe. She squeaked but didn’t emerge from beneath the pillow.

  Hunter kicked back the covers on the couch and climbed onto the foot of the bed, crawling up until he was lying alongside her.

  He pulled at the pillow. She held fast.

  “All right, then,” he said in a reasonable tone.

  He reached down and tickled the side of her waist, where he knew for a fact she was brutally ticklish.

  She gave a laughing shriek, and he was ready, tugging the pillow away the second her grip loosened.

  Brit instantly grabbed the pillow back, but instead of re-covering her face, she thwacked him with it. “Out of line. Way out of line.”

  “Desperate times,” he said, pulling one of her extra pillows under his head and lying down to face her.

  She put her pillow under her head and mimicked his posture, facing him.

  “Can we just erase that whole thing I said about me not feeling sexy?” she asked hopefully.

  “Sorry, nope. It’s out there.”

  Brit sighed. “Fine. Then I don’t suppose you have any advice?”

  “I’m thinking,” he said, closing his eyes.

  “Really?” she drawled. “Because it looks an awful lot like sleeping.”

  “Not my fault your bed is more comfortable than your couch.”

  “Just as well,” she said quietly. “I’m not sure sexy is a teachable skill.”

  “Sure it is,” he murmured, not opening his eyes. “Sexy is a state of mind. We’ll get you there.”

 
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