“What is it that we’re doing?”
With a wink and a crooked smile, he says, “You’re special.”
“For you saying no one in town really likes you, Louisa seems to be a fan,” I say.
Another waitress walks over to give us our drinks. After we’re alone again, Duke takes a deep breath before answering. “Louisa lived next door to us when I was younger. Whenever I’d be having it out with whatever guy my mom let move in, Louisa would let me come over and hang out at her house until things would settle down. She was always a good sounding board. And when the whole town turned against me, thinking I was a dangerous murderer, Louisa was one of the few ones who never wavered. She even gave me a job washing dishes here and got me in touch with Clyde Abernathy, who acted as my lawyer when I was questioned by police.”
“Does she own this place?”
He nods. “Yeah. She has for thirty years or something like that. A few years ago, a bad storm hit the town and about tore this place to the studs. When I was on leave, I helped her rebuild and even loaned her the money until the insurance company paid out.”
Every time Duke pulls back the curtain and lets me glimpse just a little bit more of him, I never cease to be amazed. This man might appear to be nothing more than a big, brooding handyman, but underneath, he has a heart of gold. It makes me like him more and more with each passing day.
Maybe it should scare me that I’m falling so hard and so fast for a guy that I haven’t known all that long. Not to mention the fact that he lives halfway across the country from me. Hell, this whole thing feels like some unrealistic Hallmark movie.
But it’s not.
It’s my life.
And right now, I’m actually pretty damn happy about it.
I guess I’ve been quiet for far too long because Duke says, “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on in that big, beautiful brain of yours?”
“Just thinking about how you constantly surprise me.”
“Is that a good or bad thing?”
I smile to reassure him. “Oh, it’s definitely a good thing. Makes me like you even more.”
For a man who looks so stoic all the time, his face absolutely lights up with that.
A few minutes later, our food shows up, and we dig in. I got the breakfast platter, which is way bigger than I expected. By the time I finish the eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, and hash browns, I feel like I could explode.
But our day is just beginning.
On our way to Duke’s mom’s house, I can’t help but notice how fidgety he is as he drives. The man can’t sit still, and his poor nails are bitten down to practically nothing.
“Are you okay?” I ask, already half knowing the answer.
“Look, Avery,” he begins, taking a deep breath. “I’m sure you can guess from all that I’ve told you that I don’t typically go visit my mother. I will make an appearance during holidays, but I mainly do that for my brothers. It’s not that I hate my mom, but since she had me fairly young, she’s always been more of a sister rather than a motherly figure.”
“How do your brothers feel about her?” I ask, wanting to know as much as I can before walking into his mom’s house.
“Tanner and Devon got a slightly different version of her. By the time they were born, she at least somewhat had her shit together. She still wasn’t winning any mother of the year awards, but she had a bit more of a motherly touch with them.”
I just nod, waiting for him to open up more at his own pace.
“The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t share a whole lot of intimate details about my life with my mother, so I guarantee you she’s going to try to get some information out of you. Just do me a favor, and don’t tell her anything.”
That gets a laugh out of me. Not like a chuckle, but a full-blown belly laugh.
Duke narrows his eyes as at me. “What in Heaven’s name is so funny?”
“Duke, it’s not like you’re exactly an open book with me. What do you think I’m going to tell her? Your deepest, darkest secrets? It’s not like I know them. You don’t have to worry about me spilling the beans about anything.”
He smiles back at me. “You know more than most.”
Him saying that makes me feel more special than I can probably put into words. But knowing how hard this is about to be for him, I decide to try to lighten the mood a little.