He could just as easily have brushed that temple kiss across his sister’s forehead. Not true. That kiss should have been innocent, but nothing about touching Carly felt innocent. The brief brushing of his lips against her temple had lit a few fires.

“I do agree that your daughter is beautiful,” he continued, holding Carly’s mother’s gaze. “And I’ll admit I wanted to date her. I asked her out on more than one occasion, but we’ve decided to be friends.”

Audrey didn’t look convinced. “In-in hopes it w-will lead to s-something m-more?”

Stone’s answer was quick and sure. “I wouldn’t be opposed, but consider it a privilege to be your daughter’s friend.”

“Y-you have my bl-blessing to v-visit our h-home any t-time.”


“Deal.” Rather than stick his hand out to shake on it, Stone placed his hand over Carly’s mother’s on the armrest of her wheelchair. “Is tomorrow evening too soon? Or would that be pressing my welcome too far?”


TOMORROW? CARLY’S EYES WIDENED. Maybe her jaw dropped, too. What was Stone thinking?

What was her mother thinking?

No doubt she was having visions of those grandchildren she’d mentioned the other night. Carly’s cheeks were so hot they might burst into flames.

“You said you’d be in surgery tomorrow,” Carly reminded him, feeling a little surreal.

Stone shrugged. “I was in surgery today. That doesn’t stop me from having a life.”

Panic filled Carly. She wasn’t sure she was mentally, emotionally, or physically prepared to deal with Stone a third night in a row.

Because her responsibilities did keep her from having a life.

A stab of guilt hit her. Not true, just…not true.

“I’m not sure you coming by tomorrow is a good idea,” she began, hoping he’d understand he overwhelmed her.

With little effort, he’d topple the precariously held together bits and pieces of her life.

“Th-that’s no w-way to sp-speak to a fr-friend,” her mother scolded. “Stone i-is w-welcome.”

Her mother smiled toward Stone and Carly knew for sure she was having visions of wedding bells and grandkids in her near future.

Please don’t think that, Momma.

Whatever Stone’s reasons for being there, happy ever after wasn’t one of them.

Maybe there wasn’t any such thing as happy ever after. Certainly, her mother had never gotten one and Tony hadn’t stuck around despite their having planned their future together prior to her mother’s illness.

“Y-you c-could c-cook d-dinner for h-him.”

Because the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach? Was that what her mother was thinking?

Carly didn’t want to cook for Stone. She shouldn’t cook for Stone. But how could she refuse after her mother’s comment?

She was racking her brain as to what she could possibly cook, when he, fortunately, shot that suggestion down.

“Carly has things to do besides cook dinner for me.”

Her mother frowned. “Sh-she can c-cook. I t-taught h-her.”

Her mother was right. Growing up, they’d cooked and baked together many a night. Never anything fancy, just whatever they were having as their meal. Those times were precious memories.

Happy times that had faded into present reality.

“Mom, Stone isn’t doubting my cooking abilities,” Carly explained. “He’s just acknowledging that I have things to do tomorrow.”

“Which is why I’ll bring dinner.”

Pride had Carly puffing out her chest. Or maybe it was rebellion. “You don’t need to feed us, Stone.”

“I’d like to feed you.” His eyes twinkled and she knew he was flirting, that he didn’t care that her mother was watching.

Carly cared. How was she going to explain that he might have an attraction to her, but even under the best of circumstances that would pass.

Carly’s life wasn’t the best of circumstances.

“L-Let the m-man f-feed y-you.”

Carly drew in a deep breath. “First you feed my mother, now she wants you to feed me.” Carly shook her head. “You’re too charming for your own good.”

His grin said he knew it.

Fighting a smile, Carly rolled her eyes. “Seriously, you do not have to bring food.”

She would stop by the grocery and pick up a few items just in case she needed to feed him. Something simple, but that tasted good. Things that if he didn’t come by she could stretch and make last over the week.

Not that she didn’t have enough leftovers in her kitchen to cover a few meals. Still, she could freeze some of the spaghetti.

Carly’s mother stayed with them for another ten minutes before fatigue caught up with her. Carly could see the switch flip as her mother’s adrenaline surge at having a man in the house faded. Her tremor and speech worsened and she struggled to keep her head up.

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