“I’ll go out the window,” I said. “Don’t forget to lock it after me.”
She nodded as she watched me slide up the glass and take off the screen.
“You sure you got this?” I asked.
With a roll of her eyes, she took the screen from me. “I’ve done it before, remember?”
I nodded. “Right. Thanks. Lick you later, baby.”
Her face lit with adoration. “Okay.”
We kissed, hard and fast. When I pulled away, I added, “Love you,” to which she sent me the perfect smile.
“I love you too. Oh! Wait.”
I paused and glanced toward her bedroom door. “What?”
“What did you want to tell me earlier? At your place...right before Zoey passed out. Oh, crap! Zoey. Is she okay?”
I nodded, starting to worry that her bedroom door wasn’t locked at all. “Yeah, she’s doing good. A little freaked out, but she had Ham with her, and...” Shit, I couldn’t tell her what I’d been planning on telling her earlier. Not here, like this. Mentioning the call I’d gotten from Lake Tahoe and the thing I’d found in my luggage after returning from there would freak her out.
Unsettling her was the last thing I wanted to do right now, so I went for the third thing I’d been planning to discuss with her. “I’m going to ask your brother if I can date you.”
I knew I should’ve gone home to check on Blondie and Ham, but I still wanted to be around Caroline, plus now seemed like as good a time as any to talk to Noel and ask for his permission to take his sister on a real, live date. So instead of hunting my truck down, I snuck around from the side of the house to the front. After hopping onto the porch, I drew in a deep breath and knocked on the door.
Gam’s woman answered less than a minute later. She blinked as if confused when she saw me.
I smiled as charmingly as I could. “Can Noel come out and play?”
“Uh...” She shook her head. “Yes, sure. He’s here. Come on in. What’s going on? You look...” She glanced at my rumpled, half-torn clothes. “Out of sorts.”
Shit, I probably should’ve groomed a bit before knocking. Caroline had been a little wild this evening.
Oh, well. Too late for that.
I shrugged ruefully. “It’s been one of those nights.”
“Ten?” Gam’s curious voice came from behind his wife.
I peered around her to grin at him. “Hey, man. Ham and Blondie needed the place to themselves for a while, so I’m temporarily homeless. You take in strays here, right?” I stepped inside around his wife and sucked in a big breath, lifting my nose to the ceiling. “Damn, whatever that is cooking, it smells great. I’d love to stay for dinner, thanks.”
Gamble leaned a shoulder against the framed opening of the living room and lifted a non-impressed eyebrow as he crossed his arms over his chest. But his wife laughed at my antics.
“It’s nothing fancy,” she said. “Just tacos. And you’re welcome to stay, Ten. No problem.”
Ignoring her husband, I flashed her another bright smile. “Why, thank you, Mrs. Gamble. I’ll set the table.”
My offer made her face brighten, but she waved out a hand. “You don’t have to do that, but thank you. And you can just call me Aspen, you know.”
As I followed her into the kitchen, I shuddered. “Yeah, sorry. I don’t typically call women by their first name. It’s some kind of strange tick I can’t control.” I sent her a helpless shrug.
“Really?” She sent me a knowing little smile. “I’ve never heard you call Caroline anything but Caroline.”
“Hmm,” I murmured as I opened a cabinet door and pulled down a pile of plates. “If you want, I can come up with a nickname for you.”
Eyes flaring wide with horror, she shook her head. “No! Oh, no. I mean, really. No. If it’s anything like the one you gave Eva, I’d just as soon pass.”
“Hey, I will have you know Milk Tits loves her nickname.”
Aspen blurted out a laugh. “Yeah. I’m sure.”
“Wait. I have one.” I paused with a plate in hand to study her for a moment and draw out the suspense. Then I pointed and said, “Shakespeare.”
She instantly gasped. “Oh my God, I love it!’ A split second later, she seemed to realize she was acting too girly, so she blushed and covered her mouth. “I mean, thank you. I’ll take that one.”
With a wink, I went back to setting out the plates. “You got it.”