Chase was reluctant for the evening to end. He felt like he was just getting to know Brooke, and he wanted to spend more time with her. He hadn’t enjoyed talking with a woman for a long time. He pulled into the driveway and shut off the truck. “I’m sorry that Ben embarrassed you.”
“I hope everyone will forget about it, but I don’t think they will. I’m not used to being the center of attention.”
“It’s no fun to be publicly humiliated.”
“You sound as if you know what that’s like.”
He grimaced. “You’ll probably hear about it, now that you’re back in town.”
“I don’t listen to gossip.” She started to open the door.
“Hold on.” Chase went around the truck and opened her door. When she debated on how to gracefully exit the truck, he lifted her and gently set her down on the pavement.
Her hands rested on his shoulders for balance. “Thank you, Chase.”
“I’ll walk you to the door.”
“It’s a safe neighborhood.” He could hear the amusement in her voice. He could also hear some reluctance, as though she didn’t want the night to end, either. He was surprised when she said, “Would you like to come in for coffee?”
“Are you sure? Aren’t your kids here?”
“No, they are at Mom’s for the night. I wasn’t sure what time I would be home.”
Anger flashed in her eyes. “I’m not inviting you to spend the night. Forget I asked.”
“I didn’t think you were. I was going to say I can’t stay long. And for the record, I would love to have a cup of coffee with you.”
The anger faded. Her mouth quirked. “Sympathy for the embarrassment at the reunion?”
“No, not sympathy. Maybe for me, that I haven’t had a decent conversation with a woman for a long time.”
She smiled. He noticed that her eyes sparkled in the porch light.
“Sympathy coffee. I’m sorry I can’t offer you something stronger.”
“No, I don’t drink alcohol.” She looked surprised. “I gave it up after Josh was born. I figured I had enough of the partying scene, and it was time to be a responsible family man.”
She unlocked the door and opened it.
“I never did get started drinking. Carl was a social drinker, but I stick to tea and coffee.”
He stepped past her and she closed the door. He turned and grinned at her.
“I like coffee.”
That made her smile again.
The entryway opened into a small living room. A couch and stuffed chair took up most of the space. There was a small flat screen TV in a cabinet with a stereo and DVD player. Everything was neat and clean.
He looked at Brooke. “This is a nice place.”
“It’s small, but it suits us for now. If you would like to sit down, I’ll have the coffee ready in a few minutes.”
He sat down on the couch. The coffee table was an old trunk covered with glass. There were other antiques in the room.
She popped her head in the doorway. “What flavor do you like?”
“I’m not much of a flavored coffee drinker,” he said.
“I have a dark roast or a mild blend.”
“Definitely dark roast.”
She smiled. “The caffeine won’t keep you awake tonight?”
“How old do you think I am?”
Her laugh drifted across the room as she disappeared into the kitchen.
He felt his heart pound with nervousness while he waited for her to bring the coffee in. What had he been thinking? First, asking her to dance had taken guts. Then he got involved in the altercation with Ben, who was a first-class jerk. He had felt sorry for her, and he had offered her a ride home. He wasn’t going back into the reunion if she left, anyway.
But this? Sharing a cup of coffee in her living room? What was he thinking?
When she walked in with two mugs of coffee, he knew what he was thinking. She looked gorgeous in that dress, with her hair styled up off from her slender neck. She had taken off her heels, and she was barefoot.
“That was fast.”
“I have one of those single-cup coffee pots. It brews a cup in two minutes.”
“It’s nice in here,” Chase said. “I can see you like antiques.”
“I do. I especially like hunting for them.”
“My mom does, too.” He was embarrassed that he had brought his mom into the conversation.
Brooke didn’t seem to notice. “Your mom has had a rough time, hasn’t she?”
It was common knowledge that his dad had been diagnosed with ALS a few years ago and passed away last winter.
“Yes, she has. After Lisa passed away, the kids and I moved in with her, so I could help out with his care. He’s been gone six months now, but we still live there.”
“I’m sure she appreciates the help.”
“It helps us, too. She watches the kids after school and vacations. I pay the mortgage and utilities. She has some income from their investments but not enough to live on by herself.”
Brooke gave a wry smile. “I couldn’t move in with my parents. My dad likes his own space, and my mom can be pretty neurotic. Since we lived downstate for so long, the kids don’t know them well enough to be comfortable there. This works out well. We’re close by but not too close.”
“Are you working here in town?”
“No, I haven’t worked since the accident. The kids and I were pretty much in shock. It’s taken some time to recover.”
“I get it. I did the opposite, though. I started working overtime, to kind of forget about things, I guess.”
“People handle grief differently.”
Chase did not want to think about his grief. It brought up other feelings, like the anger he felt when he discovered Lisa’s betrayal.
“I think I will get going now.” He drained his coffee cup and stood up.
Brooke rose, also, and took his cup.
“Thank you for standing up for me, and for bringing me home.”
She looked nervous. He remembered her being shy in high school, and realized she had not changed all that much. In looks, maybe. Her cuteness had matured into a real beauty. It’s no wonder all the guys were asking her to dance tonight. And for some reason, she had danced with him.
It was hard to leave, but he felt like he was hovering.
“Thank you for the dances, and the coffee.”
If this were a date, he could give her a goodnight kiss. The thought surprised him. He had not thought about kissing a woman since Lisa passed away. Maybe it was time to take a chance on dating, if he could date Brooke.
“Do you mind if I call you sometime?”
Her eyes widened as though she could not believe he had asked. He thought she was going to turn him down. However, like she had when he asked her to dance, she agreed.
“No, I don’t mind.”
She gave him her number and he punched the digits into his phone. “All right, then. I’ll be seeing you.”
Her expression said that she did not believe him, but there was a light in her eyes that he recognized as interest. He hadn’t read her wrong. She felt this connection between them also.
He let out a breath as he walked into the balmy night air. He could not believe how the night had turned out. He’d hoped to see Brooke at the reunion, but he’d surprised himself when he asked her to dance. Even more surprising was how great it felt to dance with her. And the spark that seemed to exist between them.
He found Brooke fascinating, and wanted to spend more time with her. He wondered how long he should wait before he called her.
Chase drove straight home from Brooke’s. His mom was in the kitchen. She smiled at him.
“How was the reunion?”
“Kind of crazy, really. Everyone’s changed, yet they all stayed the same. It’s hard to explain.”
“Did you see Brooke there?”
He did not think his night with Brooke was the subject of gossip—yet. She was probably just wondering, since she was friends with Brooke’s mom. They may have even talked about the reunion.
“She was there. She looks good.”
“You know she moved back to town.”
Why was she telling him this?
“That’s what she said.” Chase opened the refrigerator and took out a can of pop. “How much do you tell her mom?”
His mom smiled. “Not as much as you think. Nothing that you tell me in confidence. Although you don’t really tell me anything in confidence.”
If she was hinting for details of the reunion, she was going to be disappointed. “How did the kids behave?”
“Maddie went to bed an hour ago, and I’m pretty sure Josh is online with Trevor.”
Trevor was his nephew, his older brother’s son. “I’m not surprised.” On summer weekends Chase let Josh kick back and play video games until after midnight.
“I’ll go and see if Maddie is asleep and say good night to Josh.”
“Do you want some coffee?”.
He shook his head, remembering how it felt to be sitting in Brooke’s cozy living room, drinking coffee and talking. She had been so pretty, and he had felt awkward, like a high school boy on a first date.
“Coffee? No, Mom, but if you have any leftover pizza, I wouldn’t mind having some. They didn’t serve food there.”
“You know me better than that.”
“I wondered, you know, without Lisa there, and being around your old buddies, if you would be tempted.”
“No, it wasn’t like that. I had a good time, and for the record, I drank soda.”
He grinned so she would know he wasn’t offended for asking. They had been through a lot together this past couple of years. He felt closer to her than he had even when he was growing up. He appreciated her help with the kids, but he felt like he was becoming a mama’s boy.
He walked upstairs and quietly went into Maddie’s room. Maddie looked like a mini-Lisa. She was sleeping with her cheek on the pillow, her long blond hair fanning out behind her. He gently raised the covers up to her chin and kissed her cheek. She stirred but didn’t wake up. She was his princess, as he called her. She was into Disney movies, and she loved to dress up. She would be as beautiful as Lisa someday. Too bad Lisa’s beauty had only been skin-deep.
He left her room and knocked on Josh’s closed door.
He opened the door but didn’t walk in. Josh sat in his gaming chair, his headset on.
“Hi, Dad.” Josh didn’t even glance in his direction.
“Everything going okay?”
Josh nodded. He listened to his headset for a moment. “Trevor says hi.”
“Hey, Trev,” Chase called out, and he heard a laugh. “Goodnight, Josh. Don’t stay up too late.”
Chase sat down in the living room with a plate of pizza, a can of cola and his cell phone. He didn’t even want to look at it. It’d been vibrating with text messages ever since he left the reunion. He’d ignored it while he drove Brooke home and had coffee with her.
He hadn’t gone back inside at the reunion and told his friends that he was driving Brooke home. He could bet that Megan had told everyone. His friends would want to know every detail, but he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. They weren’t in the high school locker room. He liked Brooke, and felt a connection with her. He was interested in finding out what that meant.
He wasn’t going to confess that she’d invited him in for coffee. He was certain the invitation was innocent, but his friends wouldn’t understand that. She had only just moved back to town. She didn’t need to have her reputation questioned.
He read the text messages from Logan and Nate. He didn’t have much to do with Nate anymore, but Logan was an especially good friend. He’d stood up with him in his wedding five years ago. Even so, he didn’t feel like he owed Logan any details.
He kept his answering texts simple. “She was upset. I gave her a ride home. Then I came home.”
He looked at Brooke’s number in his contacts. He wondered how she was spending her night, without the kids. Did she enjoy her solitude, or was she like him, feeling lonely? Had she enjoyed the dancing as much as he had? She’d felt so comfortable in his arms, and it’d felt good to hold her. Not just to hold a woman, but to hold Brooke. He’d been shocked when she invited him in for coffee.
Sympathy coffee, they’d jokingly referred to it. But he had a feeling it was more than that. At least, he hoped it was.