“You’re going to need a suit.” I stand up and start to collect plates and bowls, pushing Elijah back down into his chair when he gets up to help. “If you want to pretend like nothing ever happened, you can’t show up wearing your wedding tux.”
“I’m in the public eye. I can’t pretend at all, Goose.”
Just like every other time he’s called me that, warmth expands in my chest, but I go cold as ice when something occurs to me. Something I’d completely forgotten in my haste to play Elijah’s getaway driver and my subsequent—and misplaced—mooning over him. How could I have forgotten such an important detail? “I have to tell you something.”
A groove appears between his eyebrows. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” I sit down again, the plates and bowls forgotten in a stack. “I didn’t think very hard about this today. I just…I figured you would want to get away. So I went to get my car.”
“I’m grateful for that.” He leans forward. “Whatever it is, Addison, it can’t be worse than me being left at the altar.”
“Hold that thought.” My pulse is ticking in my ears. “Elijah, Naomi is my cousin. Our grandmothers were sisters.”
That brings his eyebrows up. “Really.” It’s almost imperceptible, the way his gaze roams over me, very likely making note of the dark hair and lack of upper-crust polish. “And we’ve never met because you’ve been in New York?”
A nervous laugh breaks free of my lips. “Partly. But mostly because my mother didn’t get along with Naomi’s mother. At all. My mother did some things that didn’t exactly endear her to the family.” I meet his eyes and find only curiosity there. But the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet, has it? When it does, how long until he’s out the door? “When my mother was young—around my age—she made some bad decisions. She…slept with Naomi’s mother’s fiancé.” I laugh without humor. “Hold on, it gets worse. There was never a paternity test taken and the possibility was never acknowledged by anyone except my mother, but…there’s a good chance I’m the product of their affair. Naomi and I are cousins, yes, but we might be half-sisters, too. Trust me, I have no plans to prove we share a father, but there it is. Bottom line, we’re related.”
Elijah remains silent.
“Even though my mother was pregnant, Naomi’s parents went ahead with the wedding. They got married and my mother never really got over it. Asshole or not, she loved him.” I swallow a handful of gravel. “My mother left when I was a child. I stayed with my grandmother.”
His frown intensifies. “Addison.”
“Someone recognized me at the wedding. By now, they all know who you left with and being with the black sheep is not a good look for you.” My laughter is strained as I stand up again, collecting the dishes with clumsy hands. “It’s been real, Elijah. But you should probably cut your losses and go.”
Before meeting Elijah, I would have cackled and patted myself on the back knowing I’d hijacked the groom. I would have thought it perfectly poetic. A middle finger to the past. But the possibility that I might have hurt his reputation bothers me. A lot. I’ve never felt more like my mother than I do at this moment. Without realizing it, I’ve become the one woman he shouldn’t be caught with.
I’m startled when big hands appear to take the dishes from me. We play tug of war for a few seconds, before I give up and cross my arms, glaring as Elijah sets everything down in the sink. “First off,” he says, wheeling around. “I’ll admit this does not look good.”
“No,” I whisper, dropping my arms. “It doesn’t.”
“Charleston loves to live in the past.”
“But I don’t. Every time we erect another monument or memorial downtown, I wonder why we’re not building a school. Or continuing to revitalize North Charleston. I’m more interested in the present. Are you still reserving judgment on us being friends?”
Caught off guard, I sputter. “I—what?” Why is my chest aching? “No.”
“No, you’re not reserving judgment or no we’re not friends?”
“No, I’m not reserving judgment anymore. We’re…good.”
“All right, then.” His head dips and I catch the ghost of a smile. “I’m a grown man and I’ll spend time with whomever I choose. I don’t know what a black sheep is, but I’m sure they don’t go out of their way to offer getaway rides and guest bedrooms without asking for anything in return.”
It takes me a few beats to get a breath. “I didn’t mention I’ve been running a tab? That grilled cheese cost you twenty bucks.”
His hearty laugh, I swear to God, it makes me want to sob. This is bad. I almost wish he would curse me for being so thoughtless and compromising his political future. That way, I could lock the door behind him and go back to business as usual. Forget I ever met this unique and interesting man.