I grunt. “I’m a regular knight in shining armor.”
She shakes her head, and her smile is genuine this time. “Lilly thinks you walk on water.” Her brow creases. “By the way, I thought she was with you tonight. Where is she?”
“What? I thought you had her.”
Panic flashes in her eyes for a beat before she realizes I’m joking. “Touché. You can crack a joke. I guess I owe Teagan ten dollars.”
I shrug. “Sometimes.”
“A sense of humor looks good on you.” She narrows her eyes and cocks her head to the side. “You’re too stingy with those dimples.”
I grin, flashing the dimples she’s referring to. “Now that I know you like them, I’ll have to use them to my advantage.”
She arches a brow. “What do you mean by that?”
“That bread you left on the counter?” I rub my stomach. “If dimples will get me that again, I’m not ashamed to use them.”
She laughs. “Food prep is in my job description. You don’t have to bribe me with smiles, but they’re always welcome. Childcare is also in my job description, if you recall, so if you needed a sitter tonight, I wish you would have told me.”
“You would have worked on your birthday?” She shrugs, and I know without a doubt that she would have—even if Teagan hadn’t canceled their plans. “Don’t worry. It was unplanned, but Lilly’s having a girls’ night with Aunt Shay. Which means I’m free to entertain the birthday girl. So, tell me what we’re going to do to celebrate.”
Her cheeks flush. “It’s just another day. Not a big deal.” She scoots around to the side of the booth opposite me and stands. “How’s Jake’s coffee?”
I make a face and look at my watch. “At this hour, you’d better ask him to make a fresh pot. It’s probably been on there since lunch.”
“Thanks for the tip.” She heads to the bar, and I take a minute to appreciate the sight of her. She’s wearing a skirt and the cowboy boots she had on the night we met. An image of her in those boots and nothing else flashes through my mind, and I follow her to the bar like a man on a leash.
I lean against it and study her as she waits for a drink. “You can’t spend your birthday alone. Let me take you out. Pick your poison—dinner, dancing, trivia night?” I look outside. If it weren’t already dark, I’d offer to take her out to the lighthouse. I bet she’d love climbing to the top and looking out over the harbor.
“Where’s trivia night?” Nic asks.
Jake appears on the opposite side of the bar. “Trivia night at Howell’s? Why the fuck you gonna turn on me like that, bro?”
I shrug. “It’s her birthday. If she’s into trivia, you’ll just have to deal with us drinking another man’s beer.”
Jake’s scowl falls away as he grins at Nic, his gaze skimming down to her breasts before returning to her face. I want to drag him out back and tell him to keep his eyes off her. Then again, he’s human and she’s fucking . . . stunning.
There’s that word again.
“Your birthday, huh?” Jake says.
Nic scowls at me. “You don’t need to tell everyone.”
“Tell everyone what?” Ava asks, sidling up to Jake.
Jake turns to Ava, and the tension I felt about the way he just looked at Nic fades away when his eyes land on his best friend. Ava might be oblivious, since she’s been Jake’s BFF since grade school, but he’s got it bad for her. If there was heat in his eyes when he looked at Nic, there’s an inferno when he looks at Ava. “It’s Nic’s birthday.”
“Happy birthday,” Ava says. She leans on the bar and grins at Nic. “By the way, I’m Ava. It’s nice to officially meet you. Jake tells me you’re in education too.”
Nic’s eyes go wide. “What?”
“Early childhood, right?” Ava asks. “I teach tenth-grade English. Always good to meet another teacher.”
“I don’t . . .” Nic looks at me and then back to Ava. “I don’t actually have any experience in a real classroom, unless you count preschoolers.”
“Hell, girl. That counts. In fact, it counts for everything. As far as I can tell, it’s practically a done deal by the time they get to me. You set the foundation for their future.”
Nic blinks at her. “Thank you. That’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about my work experience.”
“Well, I mean it. And I’m sorry about the way I treated you the first night you were here. When young things come in here set on taking shots, it always makes me a little nervous.” She looks at Nic’s empty water. “Jake said I’m probably the reason you’re afraid to drink when you come in now.”
“Don’t worry about it. You were right, and I’m glad you slowed me down.”