I swallow the urge to guide my hand over the crown of her head. To let her know there’s nothing there. “She puts pressure on you,” I say quietly. “Why? About what?”
“Decisions I’ve made.”
“You don’t seem the type to make bad decisions.”
“I almost walked in here with dusty shoes.”
“Well, call the goddamn firing squad.”
She laughs into her wrist and something heavy moves in my stomach. “You seem like you’re feeling better.”
That catches me off-guard. “Who said I wasn’t feeling fine?”
“You had the shaky sweats when you blew in here.” I’m still trying to decide how to feel about her noticing my weakness and pointing it out—pissed off or less pissed off—when she lays a hand on my shoulder. “My granddaddy used to get the shaky sweats and the only thing that helped was telling war stories. Isn’t that ironic? I remember them all like the back of my hand. Do you want to stop trying to scowl me to death so I can tell you one?”
“I’m fine now,” I rasp.
“But you weren’t fine before and the first step is admitting it.” She tucks her hands under her chin and blinks innocently. As if she isn’t the first person who’s ever been brave enough to call me on…anything. I should get in her face and tell her to back off. Instead, I just stand there staring at her tempting, bow-lipped mouth, waiting for more words to come out. “Let’s go with the First Battle of Bull Run—it was the first major battle of the Civil War and it resulted in Stonewall Jackson earning his nickname—”
“Could you please speak a little louder?” Orioles cap stage whispers from down the table. “I want to hear this.”
Turns out, so does everyone else. Thirty seconds into the recitation of the battle facts, everyone has turned to face my sister’s pageant coach, beers poised in front of their mouths, and Keith is watching her with a dreamy smile, obviously more than happy to be interrupted. I have to grip the edge of the table to keep from snatching Naomi up and taking her to a quiet corner, so I can have the story—and her—all to myself. In the end, though, I just want her to keep going. I’m interested in hearing every last detail. And damn, she’s even more beautiful when she’s excited. There’s a peachy flush on her cheeks from having everyone’s undivided attention and being wrapped up in the story herself, although she seems surprised when she finally comes up for air and finds everyone watching in rapt silence.
“‘There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians.’ Brigadier General Bee said that first part about Jackson—that’s where he got the nickname.” Naomi takes my chocolate beer and drains the reminder of it. “His pep talk didn’t really make sense, though, did it? Unfortunately, he was shot through the stomach right after and died the next day. So no one really knows what he meant. Maybe he didn’t even know.” She stares down at the empty glass. “Did I just drink this?”
“Time to go.” I pluck the glass from her hand and set it on the table. “Come on, beauty queen. You’re going home.”
She’s about to protest but thinks better of it. “That’s probably for the best.” I catch her elbow as she slides off the stool, throwing off her balance with a wave at her adoring crowd. “It was lovely spending the afternoon with all of you. My favorite was the wine beer. What was all of your favorites—”
“You’re not finding out today,” I say, guiding her to the exit.
“Oh.” She gives another flutter-fingered wave. “Next time, then!”
“Bye, Naomi,” they chorus as one.
Keith’s voice reaches us as we walk out the door. “Storytelling gets you a discount next time you come back. How about Friday—”
I smack the door shut behind us, cutting him off.
We settle up my admission ticket at the front desk, the receptionist still clearly miffed that I didn’t respect her authority. Naomi gets her smiling in no time, though, leading to a longer conversation about local boutiques, and it’s another fifteen minutes before I get Naomi to my truck. She stops just short of climbing into the passenger side. “Oh, no. Thank you for the offer, Mr. Bristow—”
“But I think a walk sounds lovely.”
“That’s okay,” she says breezily.
My eyes narrow. “Are you nervous about getting into the car with me?”
A hand flies to her throat. “No, of course not. It’s just…oh, now you’re just making me feel impolite.” With a grumble, she climbs into the car and engages her seat belt with a dainty hand. “Happy now?”
I leave her with my grunt and circle to the driver’s side, but something still isn’t right. For one, Naomi is tense as all get out. Her knees are going to pop if she presses them together any harder. Palms rake nervously up and down her thighs, which is pretty fucking distracting, considering she’s wearing a T-shirt for a dress and it’s leaving those endless, tanned thighs exposed. The kind of thighs one associates with pristine, white tennis skirts. Enough with those thoughts. She’s nervous driving with me for some reason, the least I can do is not fantasize about fucking her, now that she’s trusted me enough to get in the truck.