Setup? I suddenly lost my appetite. “I don’t need a setup. I’m leaving in a few days.”
Nate shrugged. “I know. But you can’t tell Bliss that. She says it’s not. I just think deep down it may be. She just isn’t admitting it. She worries about him. Either way, the woman can cook. You’ll enjoy it. She’s also fucking precious and hard not to love. You’ll see. I can’t blame the guy.”
I nodded. “Okay.” What else could I say?
“Here, grab the tray there with the fancy-ass muffins on them. I’ll grab the casserole,” Nate said. “She’ll want it all on the table before we eat.”
I followed behind him with the food. “By the way Lila, I’m proud of you. Leaving isn’t easy.”
I smiled. I didn’t need Nate Finlay to be proud of me. But it was nice to hear someone tell me they were. “It was easy for you.”
“Yeah, but for you . . . it’s a big deal. I’m impressed. Your mom’s worried sick, but you’re a woman now.”
I started to say something else, but the words vanished. I stopped walking. Because as I stood there with my damp hair, bare feet, and hands full with a tray of muffins, my first adventure came walking into the room. Bliss York was walking in with Eli. My Eli.
He was talking to Bliss and hadn’t looked our way. I couldn’t move. I was stuck there. Nate’s words were running through my head, taunting me. Eli was Bliss’s best friend that was in love with her? Of all the guys at that bar, this had to be the one to approach me. This had to be the one that made my heart flutter and made me want to be near him.
I wasn’t sure if I should move and draw attention to myself. Would he tell them? Would he say my name like he knew me? Or would he pretend like last night didn’t happen?
“You look rough this morning. Wild night?” Nate said, and at that moment Eli turned his head in our direction. Our gazes locked. He squinted as if I were a blurry image and he needed to focus to see me.
“Eli this is Lila Kate. She’s Nate’s friend. They’ve known each other their entire life just like we have. Lila Kate this is Eli. He’s normally more verbal, but he seems to be a bit hungover,” Bliss said with amusement in her tone.
I waited. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do here. My guess was we weren’t going to share with these two we’d had sex on the beach. At least I hoped he wouldn’t.
“We’ve met,” he said a smile finally touching his face. The smile I remembered from last night. “At least I think we did. I drank more than I should have last night so it’s all a little fuzzy, but you’re the girl from the bar last night. Live Bay? I talked you into eating the potato skins?”
He sounded incredibly convincing. I went with it. “Yes. That was me,” I replied.
“So that’s where you were last night,” Nate said. His voice sounded surprised and almost impressed. “Explains a lot.”
I didn’t look at him. I also stopped looking at Eli. Instead, I decided to study the food on the table. This was me being awkward. I was good at awkward. I was a pro.
“Those potato skins are delicious,” Bliss said with pleasure in her voice. “I’m so happy you two met last night. Nate and I will get the rest of the food in here. Y’all get comfortable. We will be right back.”
Bliss was a little too happy about this. I realized that this might have been a setup after all and her reaction made it clear she thinks we made it easier by meeting last night. Once they were out of the room, I chanced a glance at Eli. He was still studying me.
“My memory was correct. I’m a little surprised. I thought for sure it was the alcohol vision making you appear as perfect and prim as you are. I see that it wasn’t.”
I blushed and fidgeted with my hands. That was nice of him to say. I think?
“If I’d known you were exactly what I thought I was seeing I’d have figured out a way to get you to leave with me. But I’d had too many whiskeys to make any smooth moves. I regret that now.”
There was a friendly tease to his voice. But that wasn’t what made me pause. It was what he’d said. He would “have figured out a way to get me to leave with” him. As in, I didn’t leave with him. Surely he was just saying that in case Bliss and Nate could hear us. He wasn’t that drunk. Was he?
“Oh,” I replied needing to say something.
“The dancing was nice. Real nice,” his voice lowered. “I could still smell you on my skin when I woke up this morning.”
Was he talking figuratively or in code? I glanced back at the door, and neither Bliss or Nate were anywhere in sight. This was confusing.
Before I had to think of something to say to him Nate appeared with a fruit tray. “If you two aren’t planning on hooking up, just tell her. She’ll drive us all crazy with the matchmaking if you don’t get to the point.”
Nate was blunt. I’d always liked that about him until now. Right now, it was not the time. He didn’t know that though. Thank goodness he didn’t know what had happened.
“Although you look like shit and this one got in late looking a little messy. So, I have my suspicions, but I won’t pry. Just keep it to yourselves,” Nate said with finality. Then he waved his hands at the table. “Y’all sit. I’m starving.”
I took the chair closest to me. Nate sat at the end near the door that led toward the kitchen. Eli sat across from me. His gaze was serious at times while he looked at me like he was trying to remember something. I was afraid that something was what happened after we left the bar. The more he stared with that confused frown the more convinced I was he didn’t remember the beach at all. Sex with me had been that forgettable. My happy thoughts this morning were gone.
“I did savory and sweet. Eli, I have some healthy for you,” Bliss looked at me. “He may have talked you into the potato skins last night, but normally he eats like a health nut. It can be annoying.”
SHE HADN’T BEEN a dream. But the flirty girl from last night with the shy smiles and gazes was gone. This one was tense and obviously uncomfortable with the situation. She even seemed upset. I for one thought I was still dreaming when I walked in and saw her there. All fresh faced with hair damp from the shower looking as damn perfect as I remembered.
I tried to get her to look at me, but she kept focusing on her food that she barely touched and only looked up to speak if asked a question by Nate or Bliss. It was becoming obvious to everyone that she didn’t want to be at this table with me. Bliss had even begun giving me questioning looks like I’d done something wrong. Hell, I was drunk last night. I just remember her eating the potato skins with a fork and how good she felt in my arms while we danced, and then things went black. The one time my never drinking much has kicked me in the ass. I decided to get drunk, and my low tolerance knocked me out.
I needed to call Larissa when I got home. Ask her about it. She’d know. She knew it all working behind that bar.
“Where are you headed next, Lila Kate?” Bliss asked too cheerfully. I also noticed they were calling her Lila Kate. Not just Lila. She’d introduced herself as Lila. That I was sure of. Lila Kate was cute but sounded childish. Was that annoying her? Because it was bugging me. I was ready to correct Bliss.