Your Inescapable Love (The Bennett Family Book 4)(10)

By: Layla Hagen


“I’ll be there with you this time.”

And cue the fluttering in my stomach, which feels dangerously close to butterflies.

“Let me know when you want to go,” he continues. “Let’s move on to more cheerful things. Do you still like pancakes?”

“Absolutely. Once a pancake girl, always a pancake girl. Only now I almost always pair it with decadent toppings.”

“Describe decadent, Emilia.”

His voice has a husky undertone that sends ripples of heat down my arms. Also, I realize, it’s the first time he used my first name, and it sounds so perfect coming out of his mouth. Almost… decadent.

Damn, I’m losing it.

“Let’s see,” I reply in an uneven voice. “Whipped cream and caramel. Sometimes chocolate topping on top of everything. Decadent enough for you?”

Is it my imagination, or did I just hear him swallow hard? Definitely my imagination, because when he speaks again, his voice is perfectly composed. “Absolutely. Just concerned you might overdose on sugar.”

“There is no such thing.”

“Do you still clip photos on notebooks with all the places you want to visit?”

My jaw drops. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

“You stole my car magazine. Of course, I remember.”

“I didn’t steal it,” I argue, recognizing our familiar bickering routine. I pull the blanket up to my chin and wiggle my butt on the couch. “I borrowed it when you weren’t looking.”

Max snickers. “And returned it with a hole.”

“You didn’t need the picture anyway.” Vividly I remember that moment when he realized his pristine magazine collection wasn’t so pristine anymore. There was an ad about London, promising cheap flights and accommodations, with Big Ben in the background. I couldn’t help myself; I cut it out and clipped it in my notebook.

“It’s a matter of principle,” he volleys back. “Anyway, do you still do that?”

“Well, I don’t glue pics on notebooks anymore, but I do collect pics on my laptop. Traveling is still on my to-do list. Haven’t been out of the ol’ US yet though, but I will eventually. So, why did you return from London?”

There is a long pause before he starts talking again. “I loved it there, but something was just missing. I worked sixteen hours a day, so building a life there was hard. And I wanted to be closer to my family.”

I melt at his honest response, happy to learn the Bennetts are as tight-knit as I remember them. I loved being at their house. They were loud and fun, and they made me feel as though I was part of the family—an adopted Bennett, they used to call me. Feeling a yawn form at the back of my throat, I fight to stifle it and fail.

“Was that a yawn?” he asks.

“No,” I answer too quickly. Max chuckles. “Fine, it was. This was a long day.”

“Go to sleep, Jonesie. We’ll have time to catch up. And this will go down in history as the world’s shortest longest phone call.”

After battling another yawn, I say, “I’m glad you’re back. Grams used to say that some people show up in your life when you need them the most. I first met you after Mom died and Dad left, and now you’re back in my life when I’m losing Grams more each day. I missed you, Max. I’m happy you botched your knee ligaments. Good night.”

“Ah, your concern for my health is touching. I missed you too, beautiful. Good night.”

As I hang up, my breath catches in my throat at the way his voice dipped as he said beautiful and heat singes me in my most intimate spot. What the hell? I’m reading way too much into this—well, my body is. Friendly banter, that’s all this is, and it has to stay this way.

Yet as I hug the pillow in my bed a little while later, smiling as I recall the care in his words, the huskiness of his voice, every fiber of my being disagrees.





***

“Darling, you’re staring at that clock as if you can make it go faster just by looking at it. Are you going on a date after we finish?”

“No,” I tell Mrs. Devereaux. “I have four more patients today.”

Mrs. Deveraux gives me a questioning look, clearly wanting to know more, but I keep my mouth shut. She loves gossiping, and once she senses a story, nothing stops her. Right now she is sitting on her exercise mat, her snow-white hair up in a bun. Even in workout clothes, Mrs. Deveraux never looks anything less than regal. She is in her late sixties, and as healthy as they come, aside from the odd joint or back pain due to age. She has no real need for physical therapy, but she insists on having regular sessions. I think it’s because she feels lonely. She has five kids, but they don’t visit her often.

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