When they come into the kitchen, they’re still laughing. The tops of Nic’s ears are bright red, and she’s pulled her snow-dampened hair into a sloppy bun on top of her head. She looks gorgeous. Stunning.
“You two have a good time out there?” Levi asks, and Carter kicks him in the shin. “Ow. Fuck you, Carter.”
Nic is oblivious to Levi’s double meaning, and beams. “Jake took me out on the four-wheeler. I’ve ridden those through the mud before, but never through the snow. And then I refused to go down the sledding hill on it, so I jumped off, lost my footing, and totally rolled all the way down. I’m soaked.”
Jake meets my eyes. My annoyance is probably all over my face. “You were upstairs with Lilly, and I saw her heading back out there. Considering how clueless she is about snow, I didn’t think she should be alone.”
Nic pulls something soggy and fuzzy from the pocket of her sweatpants. “But it was worth it. Look what I found.”
“You found Mr. Wiggles?” I step forward to take the stuffed rabbit from her.
“Girl,” Shay says, “you’re going to be Lilly’s hero.”
“I couldn’t just leave him out there to freeze. No one gets left behind, right?”
Lifting my eyes to meet hers, I swallow hard. I was half right about her that first night. I was wrong thinking she’d be after a long-term relationship, but I was right in thinking she’s too sweet for me. Sweeter than I deserve. How ironic that now I want to give her all the things I was scared a girl like her would want—the family, the home, the promises.
“Thank you,” I say.
“You’re welcome.” She shivers, and her whole body shakes.
I look her over. “Nic, you’re soaked through.” Her long-sleeved T-shirt clings to her breasts and stomach, and her sweatpants sag off her hips.
“See what I mean?” Jake says. “Clueless about snow. Thinks cotton’s gonna keep her warm.”
“You need to get into some dry clothes.”
She shivers again. “I didn’t bring any,” she says, still smiling.
“She can borrow something of mine,” Shay says. She’s been oddly silent since Nic came in, no doubt because I more or less confessed my unrequited affection for Nic to my whole damn family.
“Come on. I’ll find you something to wear while I throw your stuff in the dryer.” I head toward Shay’s bedroom to raid her closet, but as we leave the kitchen, I hear Jake say in an extra-deep voice, “Let’s get you out of these wet clothes,” and Shay giggles.
I ignore them.
“As soon as we get back home, we’re shopping for some winter clothes for you.”
“I thought these were winter clothes.” Nic’s shivers are nonstop now.
“Not for rolling around in the snow.” I shake my head. “And not if you don’t want my brothers ogling your breasts.”
I gape at Ethan as he digs through the old dresser. Was the thing about his brothers and my breasts a dig at me or at them?
He comes up with a pair of Shay’s black leggings, and motions to the closet. “There are probably shirts hanging in there.” He hands me the pants, but instead of leaving or even moving to the closet, he stays where he is, his eyes roaming over me. His gaze pauses at my curves. I never thought much of my body before Ethan, but when he looks at me, I’m conscious of the round of my breasts, the dip in my waist, and the hips he gripped so tightly when we made love. My clothes are soaked from the snow, and if I’d realized before now how much they cling to my breasts and thighs, I probably would have been embarrassed in the kitchen. But I didn’t. And now, in this very moment, I’m not embarrassed. I’m half turned on and half angry.
I relish Ethan’s greedy gaze on me, and I’ve missed this the last few days. He’s made every effort to avoid it. But the thing about his brothers ogling my breasts kind of implied I wanted them to.
“Thank you for finding the rabbit.” His voice is gravelly as he lifts his gaze to mine.
I’m definitely overreacting. He’s already moved on, and I should too. “You’re welcome.”
“I was going to search for it later with Lilly. I’ve told her again and again she needs to leave him behind during outdoor activities, but she’s pretty attached.”
“I saw there was more snow coming, and I was worried he’d be buried until spring.” I smile, because suddenly having him close is making me nervous about keeping all the promises I’ve made to myself, and smiling is what I do when I’m nervous. “I’m glad I found him.”
“Me too.” He rubs the back of his neck. “It was nice of Jake to help you.”
“It was. I’d probably be even more drenched if he hadn’t.”