Page 52 of Hot Mess

“The last one is the most disturbing.”

“Maybe I should put her on my channel. Could be quite entertaining.”

“You should make them their own and charge them commission for filming and uploading. They’d pay you just to get their names out there.”

She raised her eyebrows. “I am not filming them on a regular basis.”

“It would keep them out of my hair.”

“Ah, so your intentions are purely selfish.”

“Hey, we can’t all be as perfect as you are.”

She laughed, setting the lemonade down. “Oh, be quiet. You’re hardly a walking hot mess. I have the grace of a newborn giraffe with one leg.”

“I might start taking bets for the next time you’re going to fall over,” I said. “Shall we go… in about an hour?”

“Here’s a bet for you.” She showed me her middle finger.

I walked over to her and curled it back into her fist, then slowly dropped her hand down. “Now, now.”

“Now, now, what?”

“That doesn’t help you with your grace thing.”

“And you watched me try to clean paint out of my cleavage two days ago. I’m not really winning any points here.”

I grinned and glanced down. “For what it’s worth, it looks like you got it all.”

She moved to swat at my arm, but I was faster than her and caught her wrist. Before she could do anything about it, I tugged her to me, closing the distance between our bodies, and pressed my lips to hers.

She squeaked in shock, but almost immediately she relaxed against me. I cupped the back of her neck with my hand to keep her against me, relishing the tartness of the lemonade on her lips.

Elle moved onto tiptoes, kissing me back firmly. Heat wound its way through my body, and blood rushed to my cock. It was too damn soon for that to be getting its own ideas, so I pulled away before it ended up becoming too obvious.

Judging by the smirk on her face, I hadn’t moved fast enough.

“Oh, my God, I love her videos!” Ari came rushing in, and we jumped back from each other like we were on fire. She looked between us, confusion on her face.

“Elle slipped. I caught her,” I said lamely.

“Dad, I’m nine. I watch TV. People do that on TV when they’ve been kissing but they don’t want anyone to see. I know that.” She wrinkled her nose up. “Yuck.”

Elle buried her face in her hands.

“Goodnight.” With that, she left, muttering to herself about how gross kissing is.

I laughed because that was not the reaction I’d been expecting.

“So much for hiding anything from Ari,” Elle said, dropping her hands.

“You’re right. Next time I feel the desire to kiss you, I’ll go and make sure she’s asleep first,” I replied dryly. “That won’t ruin the moment at all.”

“Don’t worry. I promise I won’t move a muscle when you do.”

“Smartarse.”

***

I turned around and jumped at the sight of Ari standing in front of me, staring at me, completely expressionless. With her two braids and black outfit, she resembled Wednesday Addams a little too closely. “What have I told you about doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Creeping up on people. It scares them.”

“No, Dad, it scares you.”

“Same thing.” I put the wine glass I was drying in the cupboard. “What’s up?”

“Are you dating Elle?”

I shook my head and answered honestly. “No.”

“Do you want to date Elle?”

“I’m not sure any of this is something you need to worry about right now, sweetheart,” I said softly.

She hopped up onto one of the island stools. “Okay, but do you like her? Because she’s really nice, and you were mean to her when she got here.”

“I was mean to her,” I admitted, putting down the towel and leaning on the island.

“Why?”

“Because I wasn’t sure if she was the kind of person you needed to be around, and I wanted to protect you in case she wasn’t who you thought she was.”

She pursed her lips. “Because not everything you see on the internet is true, right?”

I had no idea where this child got her brains from.

“Exactly that.”

“Elle told me that. When we made sandcastles.” Ari pulled an apple out of the fruit bowl and flicked the stem. “I said I wanted to be just like her when I grew up, and she told me all about the internet. About how it’s all not true.”

She’d mentioned something like that last night when Elle was braiding her hair, but I hadn’t paid it much attention, but now…

“What else did she say?”

“She told me that sometimes she’ll film more than one video in a day. And she showed me Instagram and pointed out how people changed their pictures.”

“Some people do.”

“Why?”

“Because they want people to think they have the perfect life. A lot of the things Elle posts are like that, changed a little bit, because people expect specific things from her and she has to live up to that.”

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