“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” Sofia sang along to the music blasting from the speakers. “With the kids jingle-belling and everyone telling—”
She stopped singing and turned to her phone when the music halted. What had begun as a scrunched-nosed scowl turned into a huge smile. The picture on the screen of her phone as it rang made her heart beat wildly. It was the one set to Eric’s contact info of the two of them on the deck of the cruise they’d taken earlier that year on spring break.
Putting down the garland she’d been so happily decorating the tree with, she rushed to her phone, feeling giddy. “Are you home?”
“Yes and no. I’m in San Diego, but I’m at the airport now.”
Eric explained how he’d gotten home from helping move his dad’s fiancée’s things to their place: how they’d worked fast to empty the U-Haul truck so they could turn it in before being charged another day.
“But the rental is under Tina’s name, so she had to go with my dad to turn it in, and my dad asked if I could do the airport run for her instead.”
“Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve gone with you.”
“Because it was all so rushed. We emptied the truck and I flew out of there. The flight lands in like two minutes, and I’m just now parking at the airport.”
Pouting, Sofia took in her half-decorated tree. “Will I still get to see you tonight?”
“Yeah. I’ll head over to your place as soon as I drop these relatives of hers off at my house.”
Angel and Sarah walked in just then with the food they’d gone out to get. Sofia nearly laughed at the number of bags they were carrying.
“Have you had dinner?” she asked Eric.
“No. I’ll pick you up when I’m done with this, and we’ll go get some.”
“Actually, we ordered Chinese for dinner. Angel and Sarah just walked in with it. But you know this family. They bought enough for an army.”
Eric agreed to come over once he was done with his errand, and Sofia continued to decorate. She hadn’t even noticed how long it’d been until Alex got home from the restaurant, but it had been nearly an hour since Eric had called and he still wasn’t there and hadn’t checked in.
Giving into the temptation because she’d been trying to hold off eating until Eric got there, she picked up one of the many boxes of food still on the table and ate a forkful of chow mein.
“I thought you said Eric was coming over?” Angel asked as he plopped down on the sofa next to Sarah.
“He is.” Sofia wiped the corner of her lips. “But he had to pick up some of Tina’s family at the airport first.”
“He’s home now,” Alex said, digging into one of the boxes on the table. Sofia turned to him, and he nodded but waited to finish chewing before adding, “At least his car’s in the driveway. Saw it just now when I drove past his house.”
“Hmm.” Sofia picked up her phone and hit speed dial then cradled it between her ear and shoulder as she dug into more of the chow mein. “Maybe he just got home.”
“Sof, I was gonna call you.”
Sofia held a hand over her mouth as she chewed. “You home now?”
“Yeah, but my dad and Tina aren’t.” He explained about Tina’s car still being loaded because they’d only had time to unload the truck before they took off to turn it in. “I guess the drive from Colorado here was a bit much for her car. It overheated and they’re waiting for it to cool down. But if it doesn’t, they’re just gonna call Triple A. Might be a while. It feels rude to just leave her mom and sister here alone. They haven’t had dinner. I was about to order a pizza in the meantime then call you.”
Eyeing the ridiculous amount of food on the dining room table, some boxes still unopened even, Sofia had a thought. “Is it just the two of them?”
“Yeah, her mom and sister.”
“Don’t order pizza. I’ll bring over some of this Chinese—”
“No way,” he said quickly. “You can’t take your family’s takeout—”
“We ordered way too much. Everyone but me has already eaten, and there’s boxes that haven’t even been touched.”
Eric started to protest again, but Sofia’s mom was already gathering some of the unopened boxes. “Yes, take him and his dad some. I don’t know why your dad orders so much. Then nobody likes leftovers. I don’t have room for all this in the fridge. You.” She pointed at Alex, who was still grubbing. “Are you going to Valerie’s tonight? Take her some too.”
“You see my mom’s giving it away over here. We seriously have like way too many unopened boxes.”
“I’ll be right over.”
She blew a kiss into the phone before hanging up. Eric had only been gone three days, and already she could hardly wait to see him. If it hadn’t been for the final she had scheduled the day after he’d left, she would’ve gone with him.
Quickly gathering the boxes of food Sofia was taking to Eric’s place, she rushed off to change. Within minutes, she was walking out the door with a bag full of Chinese and her purse. With Eric’s house just outside her cul-de-sac and her speed-walking, she was there within minutes.
Eric opened the door with as big a smile as Sofia was already wearing. She was instantly wrapped into a bear hug as he closed the door behind him and she giggled. They were ridiculous. It’d been three days and, except for the hours she’d been taking her final and while he was driving, they’d Facetimed and texted day and night all three days. It warmed her that he was always clearly feeling as anxious to see her as she was to see him.
With a groan, he finally loosened his hold on her just enough to kiss her. His kissing her deeper made her legs weak as a moan escaped her. “Shh,” he said, pulling away and motioning with his head to remind her they had company.
Sofia giggled, swatting him playfully as they came apart. “Well, it’s your fault,” she said under her breath. “You can’t kiss me like that and not expect me to react.”
Groaning again, he leaned in and kissed her neck. “It’s on tonight,” he whispered just as he kissed her below her ear. “Listen,” he said, still speaking in almost a whisper. “My dad just called. He and Tina are on their way. They got the car going. Why don’t you just wait for me to come over. I’d rather be alone with you tonight, not stuck here.”
They’d hardly be alone at her place, but she knew what he meant. If they stayed here, they’d likely be forced to be polite and hang out with Tina and her family. Not like back at her place where they could escape to Sofie’s room as they did so often. Her family was used to them hanging out for hours in her room. They trusted Eric wouldn’t dream of doing the many naughty things Sofie had talked him into over the years, despite his dread of getting caught and murdered by her brothers.
Sofie smirked. “Alex and Angel are home.”
“Then we could leave,” Eric said, arching a brow. “We stay here, my dad might guilt me into hanging out.”
Glancing into the front window, Sofia caught a glimpse of someone walking into the kitchen. She had long red curly hair, and then Sofia saw the other one sitting on the sofa. She looked older, and her hair was cut in a short bob and also red, just not quite as bright and eye-catching as the one in the kitchen.
“Redheads like Tina.”
Eric didn’t look back at the window. Instead, he stared straight at Sofia and nodded but said nothing. Curious because she was surprised by it, Sofia glanced back at the one with the long hair walking into the front room again. “That her sister with the long hair? She looks really young.”
Again, Eric nodded but didn’t comment. “Go wait for me to come get you. My dad gets here and smells this food, we ain’t going anywhere.”
“My mom’s gonna be mad if I come back with the food.”
Taking the bag from her, Eric pecked her. “Then leave it here. But I want an out as soon as my dad gets here. He knows I’m dying to see you.”
That made Sofia smile. “Fine,” she said, smiling even bigger. “But don’t make me wait too long. Pretty sure Alex is going to Valerie’s. My dad ate a ton, which means he’s already passed out, and Angel has Sarah to distract him. We can go study in my bedroom.”
The door opened behind Eric. “I’m sorry,” the girl with the long curly red hair said. Her bright blue eyes went from Sofia’s to Eric. She was a lot younger than Sofia had expected when Eric mentioned his soon-to-be stepmom’s sister. “I was just gonna check your car to see if I left my charger in there.”
Sofia did a double take when she glanced back at Eric and his eyes were closed for a moment. But he opened them fast enough then glanced back at the girl and smiled.
“That’s fine. Sofie was just dropping off some food.” He turned back to Sofia. “Sof, this is Jennifer, Tina’s sister.” He turned to Jennifer.” Jennifer, this is my girlfriend, Sofie.”
The girls greeted one another politely as Eric went inside to grab his keys so he could unlock the car for Jennifer.
Sofia took in Jennifer’s big blue eyes with curiosity. “I didn’t expect Tina’s sister to be so young. Not that she’s old,” Sofia added quickly, glad that it made Jennifer laugh. “It’s just that, you know, when I think of Eric’s dad, I think, you know, parent age. You look more our age.
“Well, for starters, Tina is a lot younger than Daniel,” Jennifer said, still smiling. “Almost thirteen years younger, I think.” Sofia nodded, trying not to look as surprised as this made her. She knew Eric’s dad was older than Tina but not by this much. Thankfully Jennifer went on without noticing. “And I was an oopsie baby. Came along long after my parents thought they were done having kids. Tina’s the oldest. So, there’s a big gap between her and me.”
The car beeped as Eric reached the door. “It’s open now.”
“Thanks.” Jennifer started down the stairs of the porch but turned back to Eric as she reached the car in the driveway. “I was just telling Sofia about the age difference between your dad and my sister.” She opened the passenger door and reached in. “Here it is.” Jennifer held out the charger for them to see. After grabbing the charger and closing the door, she started back to the porch. “But you’re right.” She addressed Sofia this time, smiling even bigger. “Eric and I are the exact same age.”
Smiling smugly because she’d finally nailed someone’s age—something she’d always been so bad at—Sofia did another double take when she glanced back at Eric, about to comment on the age thing, and noticed his eyes closed again.
Thankfully, Jennifer went inside with the food before further commentary about them being the exact age. Eric thought he was home free. He’d kiss Sofie good-bye and she’d be gone. He prolonged the kiss as he always did when they were saying good-bye. But a few minutes later, as if she’d waited for Jennifer to be out of hearing range, Sofie pulled back and peered at him. “Something wrong?”
With his insides tightening, he did his best not to show the instant alarm he was now feeling. “No. Why?”
“Twice I saw you close your eyes like you were frustrated.”
“I was getting frustrated.” He lowered his voice, thanking God he’d been able to think so quickly. “I don’t want my dad to drive up and you still be here. I don’t wanna get stuck here.” He tightened his grip around her waist, shaking off the guilt about lying like this, but he had no choice. He was desperate. “I need to be alone with you tonight, babe.” He groaned, kissing her lips again. “It’s been three days.”
Just like that, those big sexy eyes brightened, and she smiled. “Okay. I can hardly wait too.”
Pecking him one last time, she was off. He watched her until she was out of sight before exhaling big time. His dad had mentioned Tina’s mom flying out a few days early, but he’d said her sisters would all be flying in the night before the wedding then leaving the next day. It’s why, when Eric was told today that he’d be picking up Tina’s mom and Jennifer, he panicked and hadn’t called Sofie to come with him to the airport like he’d originally planned.
Eric and Sofie had agreed to let bygones be bygones last year. She knew nothing about his time with Jennifer in Spain, except that he’d spent New Year’s with his dad, Tina, and her sister. When he got back from Spain last year, she hadn’t even asked him about the beautiful girl he’d mentioned throwing herself at him while he was over there, and he sure as shit never made it clear that said girl had been Tina’s sister.
Ever since, they’d had this unspoken agreement that they’d leave that unpleasant time in their relationship alone. Discussing it for any reason wasn’t worth the inevitable feelings of hurt and anger it brought on. When he’d mentioned having spent New Year’s Eve with his dad, Tina and her sister, like today, she’d obviously assumed Tina’s sister was about Tina’s age. It’s why he never gave her specifics about how much younger Tina was than his dad. That she was even younger than him, he’d let slip once but changed the subject quickly, and Sofia had never asked about it again. It’s also why he’d made it a point to mention that Tina had three sisters. He figured if things stayed serious between his dad and Tina, the possibility of Sofia meeting Jennifer someday was a good one. He’d hoped she’d meet all three sisters at the same time, and the other two were just a few years younger than Tina. Their choice in clothes and hairstyles were also far more modest and reserved than their baby sister’s.
Now Sofie knew Tina had a stunning sister who was exactly Eric’s age. As far as he could tell, she hadn’t made the connection, and unless his having spent New Year’s with Jennifer last year came up, Sofia might never make the connection.
Eric had zero intentions of ever having a conversation about his internship in Spain again. He knew even Sofie avoided bringing it up because it was tied to that other subject they never spoke of anymore.
Bracing himself, Eric walked back into the house and saw the unopened bag of food on the dining room table. “You guys aren’t hungry?”
“We were waiting for you,” Jennifer said, eyeing the bag. “But, yes, I’m starving actually, and it smells delicious.”
“Get some.” He rushed to the table, feeling guilty about prolonging his time outside. “I’m gonna eat with Sof at her house as soon as my dad and Tina get here.”
“You can go now,” Cheryl said, approaching the table. “You don’t have to wait on our account.”
“No, no, I’ll wait until they’re here. They’re already on their way.”
Eric would leave in a heartbeat—anything to get away from Jennifer ASAP. Just seeing her brought on the guilt of almost having kissed her. The guilt of having been that close to giving into the temptation of devouring her mouth—and maybe do more—since she had given him the go-ahead.
But he couldn’t leave because he knew his dad would be beyond annoyed with him for leaving them alone in his house. He tried shaking off everything else he was feeling as well. Eric had almost given in. And he probably would’ve gotten away with-it scot-free. But he hadn’t because he would never do that to Sofia, and now he’d stop thinking about it. He’d stop before he worked himself up about something he’d promised Sof and himself he’d let go.
Fortunately, his dad and Tina arrived just as Jennifer and her grandmother had sat down to eat. Eric left almost as soon as they arrived and was in his beautiful girlfriend’s bedroom, studying against her bedroom door within minutes.
There was no way Jennifer could be doing it on purpose. No way she could predict when Eric would wake and make his way to the bathroom in the hallway. Both times she was on her way back from the bathroom to the spare bedroom she and her grandmother were sharing while he was headed to the bathroom. So, it wasn’t like she’d heard him get up and then Mother Nature conveniently called just as he opened the bathroom door. And he sure as fuck wasn’t planning this. But there they stood in the hallway face-to-face as she smiled sweetly, bidding him a good morning.
Jennifer was a nice girl. He’d established that back in Spain. Her apology for having come on so strong, despite knowing he was in a committed relationship, was unquestionably genuine. But Eric wasn’t stupid. He knew Sofia too well. Despite the apology, he knew it still wouldn’t go over too well if she knew Jennifer had been more than willing to overlook his relationship status for a onetime night of passion.
“Morning.” Unlike yesterday when she moved it along quickly after running into him like this, she stopped this time. Not sure what she was waiting on, he threw out a generic question. “Sleep well?”
She nodded then smiled a little bigger. “But I got up in the middle of the night and snuck a slice of leftover pizza.”
Eric smiled now, sure where she was going with this and why she still wasn’t moving. “I do that sometimes too.”
Gulping, Eric kept his eyes on hers because she wore a thin white cotton camisole that did little to hide the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath. She may as well be standing there topless for as much as he’d already seen the swell of her breasts and nipples.
Jennifer pulled all her thick locks over the front of one of her shoulders, looking a bit nervous. The freckles on her bare other shoulder and neck were just another thing he struggled to keep his eyes off.
“I wanted to ask you something, but I hadn’t had a moment alone with you until yesterday morning and I chickened out.”
Eric stared at her as a curious dread crept up his spine. “What?”
Glancing back in the direction of his dad’s bedroom and the spare, she lowered her voice. “Does she know?” Eric started to shake his head, not sure who she was referring to. “Sofia,” she added. “I mean did you tell her any of what happened in Spain?”
“I didn’t,” Eric admitted, and damn it if saying it out loud didn’t make him feel guilty all over again.
“So, she doesn’t know anything? Does she even know I was there?”
Hit with yet another guilt grenade, he shook his head. “Well, I told her I spent New Year’s with you guys—my dad, Tina, and her sister—she just hasn’t followed up to ask if it was you.”
“Oh good. I’m glad I asked. I was afraid I might put my foot in my mouth if she didn’t know anything.”
Eric shook his head but stopped short of asking her not to bring it up. He felt guilty enough and asking her not to mention it felt like he was covering it up when really there wasn’t anything to cover up.
“Does she know you went to a concert with Tina’s sister.” Eric’s heart sped up when his eyes inadvertently dropped to her very perky breasts again, and she crossed her arms, covering them. “I mean . . . I don’t know what she’s like, but I know, if you were my boyfriend, I’d be mad about just that, so if you didn’t, I totally understand. Why upset her for no reason? I just don’t want her asking me something and I not have my story straight.”
Gulping hard, Eric shook his head, determined to keep his eyes on hers because she’d dropped her arms again and was now fiddling with the bottom of her camisole. “We didn’t talk a whole lot about my time over there. She knows the very basics and that I did spend time with Tina’s sister but nothing more. She hasn’t brought it up since, so she may’ve forgotten any of the details. I doubt she’ll bring it up.”
“Good to know. I won’t either. I just wanted to be clear.” She smiled, glancing down at Eric’s slippers. “Homer Simpson slippers. Nice.”
Finally easing up a bit because she started to move back toward the bedroom, Eric chuckled, glancing down at them. “Yeah. Birthday gift from my girlfriend.”
Eric glanced up at her just as she turned all the way around and started walking to the bedroom. Unlike yesterday, curiosity got the best of him, and he allowed himself to take her in entirely. His eyes started at her bare feet and up her milky white legs then zeroed in on her short pajama shorts that hugged her nice little ass. He’d just started to swallow hard when he saw the writing across her ass, and he nearly choked on his own spit.
Don’t you wish your girlfriend was a
His jaw dropped, and he rushed into the bathroom, afraid she might turn around and see the rise she’d gotten from him, if that’s what she’d been going for, not literally but figuratively. His mind was racing, trying to decide if he’d go with the hasty assumption. Had she really worn them for his sake? As nice a girl as he’d thought her to be, she had to know walking around in pajama shorts that short and tight and a very thin camisole with no bra on, in his house, was a little if not very inappropriate.
Because of the writing on her ass, he now wondered if those were her panties, not pajama shorts. Sofie had similar panties. She called them boy shorts because they resembled men’s boxer briefs but were shorter and tighter like Jennifer’s snug pajama pants. The more he thought about it, he was pretty damn sure Jennifer had just walked to the restroom half naked even after having run into him like this just yesterday morning.
As if having to deal with being reunited with Jennifer much sooner than Eric had ever anticipated wasn’t uncomfortable enough, this just raised the awkwardness of being around her and Sofie at the same time tenfold.
The buzzing of Sofia’s cell phone in her pocket had her smiling instantly. Eric and his dad had gone in to pick up their suits for the wedding tomorrow. It’s why Eric hadn’t picked her up at the restaurant as soon as he was off work as he normally did on Fridays, but he said he’d call when he was done with the suit business and on his way there.
“Hey.” She smiled as she spoke into her phone. “You on your way?”
“I just got home, but I’m about to walk out. You hungry? ’Cause I’m starving.”
Sofia winced, glancing down at the chips and salsa behind the bar. “Actually, I’ve been munching the whole time I’ve been here. They’ve been making the holiday tamales all day, and they were just too tempting. But I can have them start you a plate so it’s ready when you get here.”
“Ooh, tamales sound good.”
“Green chili and cheese?”
“Yes,” he said so quickly Sofia smiled bigger. “And a pork one. Oh, and the sweet corn and—oops, sorry, Jen.” Sofia heard Jennifer’s voice. She didn’t make out what she said, but Eric said something about tamales. “Sof,” he said in a slightly lowered voice. “You got me so excited about the damn tamales I nearly ran over Jennifer, trying to get out of here.”
Already headed to the kitchen, Sofia laughed then had a thought. “What is she up to tonight?”
“I don’t know. Probably just hanging out here. Tina and her mom are working on something in the kitchen, wedding favors or something. Jen’s watching TV in the front room. I’m out,” he said loudly, and Sofia could hear the door open or close.
“Wait.” She slowed down. “Why don’t you bring her with you? She can hang out with us tonight.”
Sofia knew Eric so well she could practically picture him shaking his head adamantly in that tone he only used when his answer was an absolute no way. “Why? You said she’s cool people. Isn’t she bored there with all the oldies?”
Eric was quiet for a moment, but in the next moment, Sofia heard what sounded like his car door opening and then the beeping of his seatbelt alarm. “Too awkward.”
“Awkward?” She heard the car start up and figured it was futile at this point to insist, but she was still confused. “Why awkward?”
“I don’t know.” She thought he heard him huff then add quickly, “I’m in a hurry, babe. If I invite her to come along, I’d have to wait for her to get ready and shit. Who knows how long that’ll take. I told you I’m starving. Besides, her other two sisters are arriving soon. She’ll be fine.”
“Alright.” She shook her head. “I just thought maybe she’d want to hang out with peeps her age on a Friday night. Romero’s here. I’m sure he’d be happy to keep her busy for you.”
This time she heard him chuckle. “Yeah, I said she’s cool peeps, Sof. I wouldn’t do that to her.”
Sofia laughed but had to get off the phone when Alex pointed at the table she’d been waiting on. Apparently, the customers were asking for something. She finished up with the table and put in Eric’s tamale order then went to the backroom to freshen up since technically her shift was over. She’d been in there for a while when Alex walked in and sat down at the desk.
“You done for the night?”
“Yeah, but I’ll be here for a while because Eric’s gonna eat. So, if you need me, just let me know.”
Alex said he was good. She walked out into the restaurant when she was done refreshing her makeup and hair. Angel was standing behind the counter, talking to Romero, who sat at the counter.
“She’s on her way,” Angel said, handing Romero a napkin. “What are you and Eric up to tonight?”
“Not sure, but he’s gonna eat here first.” Just as she said it, she saw Eric walk through the front door of the restaurant. “Speaking of.”
Both Angel and Romero turned to the door. “Hey, your ears burning, bud?” Romero asked as Eric approached them.
“Why? You talking shit again?”
“Not me.” Romero laughed. “Sofie’s been talking all kinds.”
Eric turned to Sofia, who shook her head with a smirk and rolled her eyes. As if she’d even have to explain that Romero was full of it. She pecked him hello when he reached the counter then rushed off to get his food since she knew he was starving.
Eric was nearly done with his fourth tamale, when Romero, who’d since walked around the counter and was facing the door suddenly, clutched his heart all dramatically. “Well, hello, sweet ginger.”
They all turned to see what he meant, including Sarah who’d since arrived. Eric’s dad and his brood were at the door. The hostess at the door walked them to a table, and Sofia waved at his dad, smiling at Tina and the other women when they looked her way. Sofia turned to Eric, who was back to eating and had barely acknowledged them. “Did you know they were coming?”
The nope was different from the one on the phone. This time he sounded annoyed?
“Eric, who’s the redhead with the long hair in your dad’s group?” Romero asked before Sofie could comment on Eric’s strange demeanor. “She’s smoking hot.”
It was fleeting, and if Sofia hadn’t been studying Eric so closely, she might’ve missed it. But she didn’t. He’d done that same thing twice the night she met Jennifer: closed his eyes for a few moments longer than a blink before digging into his tamale again.
“That’s Tina’s youngest sister.”
“That’s her sister?”
“She’s very bright,” Sarah noted, taking a sip of her soda. “They all are. But she really stands out.”
“Hell, yeah, she does. You know who she reminds me of,” Romero said, still looking right at them. “That chick from that animated movie about the bear or some shit. Only hotter.” He looked at Eric, who said nothing, then at Sofia, who still wasn’t sure who Romero was talking about, but he went back to looking at Jennifer. “That movie. I think it’s a Pixar movie. She has big red curly hair and—”
“Dude.” Eric nudged Romero’s hand when he pointed right at them. “Can you not be so fucking obvious?”
Even Romero, who was used to getting chastised often—by everyone—looked at him strangely. Romero was the one with the quick temper and foul mouth, not Eric.
“Brave,” Sarah said, snapping her fingers.
“Yeah, that one.” Romero pointed at her, smiling big and seemingly forgetting about Eric’s request because he was back to obviously eyeing Jennifer.
“Since when are you into redheads?” Angel asked with a chuckle.
“I’ve never been, but fuck, I’ve never seen one look this good.”
Peering at Eric, who hadn’t even looked up from his plate since his outburst, Sofia leaned against the counter in front of him. “You gonna go sit with your dad?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Romero said before Eric could answer. “I’ll go with you. You could introduce me to Red.”
“No.” Eric finally looked up with a scowl. “I’m not gonna go sit with them, and I’m sure as shit not introducing you to her.” He turned to Sofia, who must’ve looked as confused as she felt by his reaction because he quickly softened the scowl. “I’ve been with my dad all night, babe. I’ll be with him all day tomorrow. Besides”—he pushed his plate away— “I’m done eating and I’m stuffed.”
Sofia didn’t even get a chance to respond to that because Eric excused himself to use the men’s room, leaving a grumbling Romero behind all but accusing Eric of cock-blocking. Angel laughed, egging Romero to go talk to her by himself. Sofia took advantage of the guys’ distraction as they carried on, to pull Sarah aside.
“Does Eric seem weird to you?” she asked in a hushed voice.
Sarah stared at her as the crinkle between her eyes made an appearance. “Like how?”
“I don’t know.” Sofia shrugged, wondering if she was reading too much into it. “Being so testy isn’t like him, and he snapped at Romero twice.” “It’s funny you’d ask.” Sarah went a little wide-eyed. “Angel and I were just talking about this the other day.”
That surprised Sofia. “About Eric being moody?”
Sarah shook her head. She explained that the subject of Eric’s dad’s wedding came up and Sarah had asked Angel if Eric had mentioned how he felt about it. Sarah admitted she’d definitely feel a little weird if her mom suddenly remarried and brought another man to live with them. Eric was like Sarah. He’d been raised by a single parent and was used to it being just the two of them.
“Maybe he is feeling a little weird about it. And now”—Sarah motioned to Eric’s dad’s table— “Eric’s whole new family is invading his space.”
Glancing back at Eric’s new family, Sofia felt stupid now. Why hadn’t she thought of that? She and Eric had discussed how he felt about it way back when his dad first told Eric that he was asking Tina to marry him and that meant she’d be moving in with them. He’d been fine with it. He was even glad his dad had finally found what he called his soulmate. But they hadn’t discussed it since, and it did stand to reason that, now that things were getting real, he might not be feeling so fine with it after all.
“That makes perfect sense,” Sofia said absentmindedly as she continued to take in Tina, her mom, and her sisters. “Because Eric is never like this. What else could it be?”
She’d also been right about something else. Poor Jennifer seemed bored at the table with the older folk. The other sisters also looked much older than her. Eric’s dad and the other women seemed to be into whatever they were discussing, but Jennifer didn’t look the least bit interested in their conversation. Instead, she was glancing around the restaurant. Sofia caught the sudden double take Jennifer did; then she was smiling big.
Curiously, Sofia turned to see what had Jennifer smiling so big. To her surprise, it was Eric. He’d just walked out from the hallway that led to the men’s room. He was smiling back at Jennifer too, but just like everything else about him in the past few days, it seemed off. Sofia knew that forced smile all too well.
She was still observing him curiously when he turned, and their eyes met. The forced smile flattened instantly, and there was no denying it now. Something was up.
“Damn it all to hell,” Eric muttered under his breath as he glanced away from Sofie, who was still staring at him, her expression understandably as confused as it appeared earlier.
Why the hell did his poker face suck so bad? And how in the world did he think he could pull this off? Get through this wedding, being around Jennifer and Sofie without letting his nerves get the best of him? At least now he’d be making sure they got the hell out of there ASAP. But tomorrow would be a whole day of this shit.
To his surprise, Sofia didn’t immediately question him when he got back to where she was waiting for him. It wasn’t even until they’d gotten in his car after they left the restaurant that she asked the inevitable unnerving question. “Something going on with you, Eric?”
Staring straight ahead as he drove, he took a deep breath and shook his head then turned his attention to her momentarily. “No,” he said then brought his eyes back to the road.
“You’ve been acting a little strange ever since you got back from Colorado. Anything you wanna talk about?”
Swallowing hard, Eric prayed she didn’t notice his unease, but he shrugged. He figured he had to give her something. “Just gonna take some time to get used to this whole new arrangement in our lives.”
Sofia reached over and squeezed his knee. “It’s okay if you’re not as fine with it as you said you were way back, Eric. It’s gotta be weird having someone new living with you when it’s been just you and your dad all these years.”
Eric turned to his beautiful girlfriend as they reached a red light and came to a stop. The reassuring smile she wore only added to the mounting guilt he was beginning to feel about not telling her the truth. But he just didn’t see the point of opening that can of worms when it happened so long ago. What good would it do to upset her now?
He leaned over and kissed her softly with a smile. “Sorry if I’ve been a grump. This whole wedding thing right around the already busy holidays has been a bit much.”
She smiled sweetly, kissing him back. “You haven’t really been one with me. I just noticed you’d been a little weird.” She giggled, touching his face. “You might wanna apologize to Romero though.”
For once that evening, Eric felt at ease enough to laugh. He turned back to the road as the light turned green. “Me apologize to Romero? Never. But I’m sure he’ll weasel an introduction to Jen tomorrow.”
The subject was changed to the menu for the small wedding the next day and then got even further off when Sofia told him about the weird noise her car had been making. They were off the subject of his moody ass at least for the night.
Eric’s dad was at it again. Just like back in Spain and when he and Tina had suggested Eric be paired up with Jennifer in the ceremony because it was cute, when they left to the chapel, his dad suggested Jennifer jump in with Eric since they’d all be too cramped in his SUV. It was annoying as fuck. Did his dad not remember that he had a girlfriend who might not take too kindly to his continually pairing her boyfriend up with another girl. One whose family had given them a huge discount on this wedding dinner.
Thankfully, Sofie wouldn’t be attending the ceremony. Eric had assumed she’d want to be there, but last night she’d asked if he minded her not making the ceremony. Between the holiday parties at the restaurant and the wedding dinner, the restaurant was extra busy this weekend, and they could use the extra help. She assured him she’d be there for the dinner and not just as part of the serving crew.
Of course, he’d been quick to say that was fine. Though he was mindful not to sound as relieved as that made him. The less time Sofia was around Jennifer, the easier he could breathe. Already, he’d been preparing himself for the unnerving day ahead. Having them both in the same car would’ve made for a nightmarish ride to and from the chapel. They’d already established that his poker face when it came to this sucked ass.
As expected, the ceremony was short and sweet, and Eric braced himself for the rest of that perturbing day at Moreno’s. This wedding couldn’t be over fast enough. When they arrived at Moreno’s, they’d just finished setting up the corner of the restaurant they’d reserved for the wedding party. To Eric’s surprise, they’d even set up a small dancing area, and there was a trio of Mexican musicians already playing as the bride and groom made their way to their table.
Eric had been forced to arrive alone with Jennifer minutes before his slow-mo driving dad got there with the rest of his herd. Thankfully, Sofia had been too busy to notice. Not that she would’ve had an issue with them walking in together alone, but his paranoid ass was trying to avoid planting any sort of seed that might have her remembering Spain and asking questions.
The ride to and from the chapel had been comfortable enough, despite Eric still having his doubts that Jennifer hadn’t worn those panties on his account. The fact that he was pretty damn sure now that he’d been privy to her panties in the first place was enough to have him leery of her trying to pull anything. But, as usual, Jennifer’s conversation during the rides had been pleasantly polite and proper otherwise. He’d begun to chide himself for being so damn paranoid. He’d get through this unscathed, and Sofie would never be the wiser.
Until halfway through the dinner when the Jaws music started . . .
Alex and Sal, who were sitting at the same table with Eric, Sofia Angel, Sarah, and Romero, kept getting up to check on things in the kitchen, which left open seats at their table. Eric was certain Sofia’s actions had everything to do with Romero’s ongoing comments about getting a chance to meet Jennifer. Still, he nearly choked when Jennifer walked by and Sofia invited her to have a seat with them.
“Aren’t your brothers sitting here?”
“Alex is gonna keep going back and forth to the kitchen, and Sal’s sitting with my parents right now. You’re fine.” Sofia motioned to the open seat next to Romero’s and winked. “Come sit with the cool young-ins.”
Sofia introduced everyone to her then turned to Jennifer. “This is Jennifer, you guys. Eric’s new . . .” She turned to Eric then Jennifer. “What does that make you to him?”
Nothing. She means nothing to me!
Eric’s paranoid ass had been that close to blurting it out until Jennifer smiled big and clarified, “Technically, since my sister is his stepmom now, this makes me his step aunt.”
They all laughed at that as Jennifer took the seat Sofia had motioned to—directly across from Eric. Thankfully, Romero was all over the opportunity to chat with Jennifer, which kept the subject on very safe stuff, like where she lived, how long she’d be out here. To Eric’s relief, she’d be leaving the very next day. All he had to do was get through today, and he’d be home free.
Then his dad and Tina, who were walking around thanking everyone for coming, came by their table. They were just about done thanking Sofia and Angel for their family’s graciousness with the restaurant when the musicians started playing something upbeat. Eric’s dad started moving his ass as offbeat as only he could, making Tina laugh.
“I swear if I didn’t know any better,” Tina said, “I’d think you did that on purpose.”
“Did what?” his dad asked, smiling and still shaking it.
“Missed every single beat.”
“You kidding me?” His dad waved his hips around even more exaggerated but still way offbeat. “I’m a fabulous dancer.” His eyes went wide, and he pointed at Jennifer. “You remember at that New Year’s party who that dancer chose to dance with her?”
He pointed at himself smugly with two fingers, and, as if that wasn’t enough to make everyone laugh, the stupid expression on his face should’ve had Eric laughing too. Instead, he sat there frozen, willing his dad to shut the fuck up about the New Year’s party.
Fortunately for Eric, the musicians noticing Eric’s dad’s dancing, picked up the tempo and started playing an even livelier tune. It had his dad rushing away with his bride to the dance floor as the crowd cheered the couple on.
If Sofia made the connection about New Year’s last year and Jennifer, she didn’t mention it. Eric could only hope she’d forget all about it. With a few more couples joining the bride and groom on the dance floor, Eric took advantage of the opportunity to get Sofia away from Jennifer. Sofia gladly took his hand and followed him onto the dance floor.
Leave it to Romero to nearly ruin even that by following them up there with Jennifer, but at least there wasn’t much talking going on, not between Sofia and Jennifer anyway. When the music slowed, Eric pulled Sofia to him tightly and buried his face in her neck. As paranoid as he’d been these last few days, he could hardly wait for this day to be over. He hated the threat of anything spoiling how perfect things had been between him and Sofie ever since they got past last year’s drama. Kissing her neck softly, he pulled away, reminding himself where they were.
“Feeling better?” Sofie asked, glancing up at him.
Eric nodded, looking into her sexy-as-hell eyes. “I love you, Sofie. So much.”
He almost kicked himself when he saw the surprise in her eyes. Of course, she’d think it odd that the declaration would come so out of nowhere. But the fear of losing her, or at the very least upsetting her when things had been so perfect for so long, was a reminder of how bad he’d always had it for her.
The surprise in her eyes softened, and a sweet smile replaced her questioning expression. “I love you too, baby.” She leaned her face against his chest. “You’re gonna be just fine with this new change in your life. You’ll see. Before you know it, having a new stepmom living with you and your dad will feel like the norm.”
“As long as things stay just like this between you and me, I don’t care how much everything else around me changes.” He pecked her softly on the lips. “All I need is you in my life to be fine.”
Sofia smiled that smile that’d owned him for as long as he could remember. “Always, babe. I ain’t going anywhere without you.”
With the wedding over, so was any weirdness she’d picked up from Eric. A week later Sofia was over at Eric’s because she wanted to be there for him on his first Christmas with his new stepmom. Since her family had celebrated the night before, as they always had, there was no issues about her spending Christmas day at his place.
Turned out she hadn’t needed to hold his hand through anything. Not only was he completely back to being himself, he didn’t even seem to care that his dad wanted to take Tina to experience Sea World’s Christmas celebration since she’d never been. In fact, Eric was glad he and Sofia had the place to themselves.
Sofie cuddled next to Eric on his sofa as they finished up watching Elf. “What’s that?” Sofia pointed to a jar under the tree with a ribbon around it, trying to make out what was in it? “Cookies?”
“Not sure,” Eric said, pulling her to him. “Neighbor brought it over. She always makes homemade gifts for us.”
“Oh, I wanna see what it is.”
“No, stay here with me.” Eric held her back when she tried to get out from under the blanket they were sharing.
She wrestled with him, giggling as they toppled off the sofa onto the carpet. “Eric,” she whined, trying to get loose from his hold as she peered at the jar. “I think it’s candy-covered pretzel sticks. I love those.”
Giggling and grunting the whole way to the tree because Eric continued to pull her back, she stopped only when she finally had her hands on the jar. “It is pretzels,” she announced with a big smile even as Eric pinned her body down underneath him.
She managed to open the jar anyway and bit into one with a groan then let Eric bite it. He crunched for a moment until he finally eased up on his hold on her. “Oh, shit, that is good.”
“I told you.”
Eric sat up, freeing her as he took another bite of the pretzel. Sofia bit again too as she glanced under the tree. “You still have unopened gifts under there.”
“We always do. Probably people we won’t see for a while or someone from my dad’s work.”
Feeling nosey, Sofia reached for one of the cuter wrapped ones with a big fancy gold ribbon around it. Eric leaned against her as he reached for the jar of pretzels.
“This one’s for you, silly.”
Eric glanced up at the gift, showing little interest, and went back to choosing a pretzel. The little tag on the gift had his name on the outside. Sofia opened the tag to see who it was from. “It’s from Jennifer?”
Seeing that Eric had a gift from Jennifer felt slightly odd. But feeling his body instantly tense, coupled with the undeniable alarm in his eyes as he jerked his head up to see it, had Sofia suddenly stiffening.
Home free. He’d been home free. God damn it! Jennifer had said it herself. Unless Tina made the trip out to New York to see her before then, it’d likely be until the following Christmas before she saw her sister again. Eric wouldn’t even have to think of the possibility of being in that uncomfortable situation again until then, and he hadn’t planned to. Sofia hadn’t even asked about the Spain reference his dad had made. It was over and now this.
“What’s wrong with you?” Sofia stared at him, touching his tensed arm.
“Nothing,” he said too quickly but somehow was able to keep from flinching.
Still peering at him questionably, she glanced down at the gift, then up at him again. “Did you get her a gift?”
Swallowing hard, Eric managed to at least not close his eyes, as he’d done so often when he was trying to calm himself. Sofia knew him too well. She’d already picked up on all the tension brought on by Jennifer from the moment she’d arrived, and she was reading him now as well. A gift from Jennifer could be harmless and it probably was. But he was giving Sofia reason to question it with his reaction.
Eric attempted to bite into the pretzel stick as unphased as he had earlier. But his mind was racing now. What could Jennifer had gotten him and why was the gift hidden way in the back of the tree? Was it really as harmless as he was hoping?
Sofia held the gift out to him. “Open it.”
He started to get up, so he could buy himself some time to figure out how to get out of having to do this. Sofia’s tone was more curious than suspicious. He still had a chance to salvage this.
“Eric, open it.”
“I will.” He stood up and bit into the pretzel again then motioned with it to Sofia. “I’m just thirsty. I’m gonna grab something to drink.”
How could he possibly get out of this? What if it was something bad? What if it was a message like the one on her panties? Sofie could be reasonable, but she also had the potential to lose her shit in an instant. Stalking into the kitchen, he wondered why Jennifer would do this?
“Why are you being so weird—?”
“Jen— I mean, Sof.” Idiot! “I’m just—”
“Did you just almost call me Jennifer?” Her tone had officially crossed to the annoyed.
“Yes, because of what you’re holding, Sof.” He yanked the refrigerator door open, mindful not to rip it off the fucking hinges. “Her name was in my head, okay?”
Taking a swig straight from the milk jug, Eric did his best to calm himself. By the time he turned around, Sofie was in the kitchen now too, brows pinched and still holding the gift.
“You’re nervous. Why?”
He chuckled for good measure, but it only further confirmed what she’d just accused him of—he sounded as anxious as he felt. The gift was small and that scared the hell out of him. Suddenly, he couldn’t get the visual of Jennifer’s panties out of his head.
“Then open it.” Sofia held out the gift to him. “Because you’re making me nervous now.”
Taking the gift as nonchalantly as possible, his worry that this might be something completely inappropriate was slightly relieved when it was heavier than a pair of panties might be. He hurried to move this along. Since he had no choice anymore, he figured he may as well get this over with as quickly as possible.
Eric did his best to hide his panic when he saw it was a small white clothing box. He set it down on the kitchen counter and braced himself as he took off the top. Whatever was in it was covered with tissue. He opened the tissue just as quickly. Panties or not, he was ready to be done with this already.
“Spanish churro mix?” Sofia asked as the relief seeped in and Eric smiled.
But the relief was short-lived because after pulling the box of churro mix out, he saw the red envelope underneath, and his breath nearly caught.
“Eric.” He looked up too quickly at Sofia, who was scrutinizing him so hard her brows furrowed even tighter. “She gave you a box of churro mix and that’s probably a generic Christmas card. Why are you so nervous you’re making my heart pound?”
As emphatic as he tried to sound, his response couldn’t be further from the truth, and he knew she knew he was full of shit.
“Really?” She reached for the card. “So, it’s okay if I read this for you?”
“Go right ahead.”
Sofia mimicked his overdone shrug. “You do know that, if this turns out to be just a generic holiday greeting, there’s no way I’m letting this go, right?”
“Letting what go? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She shook her head, rolling her eyes as she opened the envelope, and Eric prayed inwardly this wouldn’t ruin the perfect day they’d been having. At first glance, it was a seemingly harmless Christmas card. The image on the card was of two cookies shaped like Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting in a steaming cup of cocoa.
Sofia read the caption out loud. “Sending warm holiday greetings your way.” She didn’t bother glancing up at him but paused before opening it. “Your hands still shaking, Eric?”
Eric attempted a sarcastic chuckle. He’d wondered if she’d noticed his pathetically shaky hands as he’d opened the gift. Clearly, she had, and she was making sure he knew it. He closed his eyes momentarily in a last-ditch attempt to hold it together but only because he knew her full attention was on the card.
“Happy Holidays to my newest family member. I saw the churro mix while shopping in a market in Spanish Harlem recently and instantly thought of you, so I had to buy it.” Sofia glanced up at him, arching a brow, then down at the box on the counter. “Really? I wonder why that is?” She didn’t wait for him to respond before reading on, “Just wanted to thank you again for giving me hope that there are still good guys out there. I hope Sofia knows how lucky she is to have you. It was so good to see you again. Love, Jen.”
Sofia stopped again to stare at Eric blankly but said nothing. He had nothing for her either. Not yet anyway. He knew there was no way he could keep his time in Spain with Jennifer from her now, but he needed to be sure there wasn’t any more in that card. He’d already decided he was telling her only what he absolutely had to.
Since he said nothing, but it was obvious he’d have to drop the I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about act, she went on, “Redheads. Everyman’s kryptonite, dot, dot, dot, except yours. Hashtag, I’ll always have Madrid.” This time both Sofie’s brows shot up, but she kept reading. “Hashtag, good times. Hashtag, New Year’s to remember.” Unbelievably, her brows went even higher, and as if those last two parts didn’t already have his heartbeat going nuts, she went on, “Hashtag, a sigh is just a sigh. Hashtag, seriously, don’t ya? I kid. I kid. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.”
Eric’s heartrate completely spiked when Sofia put the card down, apparently done. For a minute there until that last part, he’d begun to think this might not be too bad.
“Okay, so she was in Spain with you last year.”
“I told you she was.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.” Eric held one hand up and pointed at her with the other. “I told you my dad had showed up with Tina and her sister.”
“And just like when I first saw her and was surprised by how young she was, I assumed then that she was more Tina’s age, not your age exactly, and of course you let me assume.”
“How was I supposed to know what you assumed? Is it . . . is it a crime that I didn’t tell you how old she was?”
“Why are you getting so defensive? Look at you.” She pointed at him, shaking her head.
He let his hands down, chiding himself because he was beginning to sound like an overly defensive stuttering idiot. “I’m just saying, babe. You’re getting upset over me not reading your mind.”
“Whatever, Eric. You know, if you weren’t acting like this, I wouldn’t be almost afraid to ask, but now I have to know. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?” She picked up the card again and read it then grabbed the box of churro mix. “What’s with this?”
Eric shook his head as if he had no idea why that would be such a big deal because he really didn’t. “We all did some sightseeing one of the days they were out there, and we stopped and bought churros off some street vendors. Box says Spanish churros, so I guess that’s why.”
Going toe to toe with Sofia as she stared him hard in the eyes trying to read more into his explanation no doubt, Eric shrugged. As she did the first time, she mimicked his indifferent shrug, not looking the least bit satisfied, and glanced back down at the card.
“So, how’d you give her hope there are still good guys out there?”
“’Cause I’m a good guy?” Eric couldn’t even keep a straight face with that lame response, and judging from her expression, it sounded just as lame to her, so he added, “I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. It says she wanted to thank you again. So, it’s not the first time it’s come up.”
Feeling defeated, Eric exhaled, but he was determined to keep the damage to a minimum. He was not about to ruin Christmas over something trivial that happened a year ago. “New Year’s Eve she had a little too much to drink. I took her outside to get some air and took care of her. Next day she was embarrassed and thanked me for not taking advantage of her like most guys would’ve.”
Again, Sofia stared at him in question; then her eyes went wide. “The morning after New Year’s you told me the night before you’d had a beautiful girl throw herself at you. Was that her?” He took too long to think of the most appropriate way to respond, so Sofia didn’t wait for his answer. “Was Jennifer the beautiful girl who threw herself at you? Is that what she means by New Year’s good times to remember, Eric?”
“Yes, and no.”
Eric started around the kitchen island because he felt the need to touch Sofia suddenly. Calm her. He could hear it in her tone. This was going south, fast. But she backed away from him before he could reach her holding the card in the air.
“Did you and her—?”
“No,” he said before she could even let those thoughts manifest. “It was her I was talking about, and she did throw herself at me because she’d had too much to drink. But I turned her down flat. That’s what she means by me being a good guy. Because I could’ve gone for it, and let’s face it, I was halfway around the world. You probably would’ve never known, but I’d never do that to you, and I told her so that night.”
Sofia stared at him wide-eyed without saying anything for a moment until she did. “Did she know you were in a relationship before she threw herself at you?”
“Babe, she was drunk.” Eric reiterated that part, speaking quickly now because he already knew where his hotheaded girl’s head was going. He did not want the next time they’d inevitably have to be around Jennifer to be any more uncomfortable than it’d already been. “Very drunk, so drunk she ended up throwing up in the ladies’ room. I had to go fetch Tina to come help her. My dad acted like an asshole with me because he said I’d humiliated her. It was this whole thing, and she was very embarrassed about it the next day.”
“So, she did know.”
It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, and of course, that was the only thing she took away from everything he’d just blurted out.
“She was single in a foreign country. It was New Year’s Eve, and at the time, neither of us knew how serious my dad and her sister really were. For all we knew, we’d never see each other after that.”
“But you will now.” Once again, he didn’t even get a chance to respond to that. “So, you saw her after New Year’s? I didn’t hear from you for days after New Year’s last year. I remember because they were the longest days of my life. Were you with her those days?”
Eric pressed his lips together, refusing to look away from Sofia’s penetrating eyes. The instant he saw them start to well up, he panicked. “I was. But not like you’re thinking.”
She swatted his hand away when he tried to touch her. “Don’t touch me! Is this why you freaked the hell out when I noticed her gift? Is this why you were so strange when she was here?”
“No. Yes. Fuck!” Eric spun around, running his hand through his hair.
“Did you fuck Jennifer, Eric?”
“Hell no!” Eric spun around, catching himself when his voice got too loud. “God, no, Sofia. I would never—”
“Why were your hands shaking?” She backed away when he took a step closer to her. “I’ve never seen you so damn nervous.”
Jesus Christ, he was an idiot. Of course, she’d think the absolute worse. The way he’d been acting, you’d think he had. “I was hurt, Sof. My dad wanted me to entertain her while I was there. He paid for us to attend some concert, and I knew you wouldn’t be happy about even that. But nothing happened.”
“Nothing?” She backed away further. “Really? Just a concert? This is what has you acting and sounding so damn guilty” She looked down at the card again. “A sigh is just a sigh?” She glanced up at him, her mouth dropping open. “Did you kiss her?”
Eric stared at her at that moment, knowing there was no way he could deny it even though he didn’t consider it an actual kiss. “Not really.”
“What?” She’d officially raised her voice to that point where Eric knew she was ready to blow. “Either you did, or you didn’t, and this bitch just stayed in your home for days. What the fuck does don’t ya mean? Is that a cutesie inside joke? Has she said that to you before, Eric? Don’t ya wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”
“No,” Eric started to say but then thought better of it. The truth was worse than what she was thinking. “Okay, I think when we were at a club down in Spain that song came on and she teased about it, but that’s it.”
He tried to reach out to her again, but she flinched. “So, you went clubbing with her too? What else did you two do when you were halfway around the world and obviously had no intention of ever telling me, nor did you anticipate me ever finding out if it hadn’t been for her fucking little note?”
Cursing the fucking little note inwardly, Eric attempted to touch Sofie again, but she slapped his hand away. “Don’t do this, please. This was a year ago—”
“So that makes it okay?” she nearly shrieked. “That you kissed her and went on several dates with her over there then covered up that it was her you’d hung out with, while my dumb ass was over here trying to be nice to the bitch?”
“It was one night out. We stopped at a club after the concert.” Holding his hands up in front of himself, because she looked ready to swing, he continued to speak calmly in hopes he could diffuse this a bit. “Look. I started to kiss her because of all the shit we were going through then.” The reminder of that seemed to soften her expression. “I was pissed and still feeling a little betrayed.” He stopped to swallow, hating that he had to go there, but she had to understand the only reason why he would ever consider kissing another girl. “But, I couldn’t. We’re not that couple, Sof—the kind that does that kind of bullshit—not then, not now, not ever. It wasn’t even a kiss. It was an almost kiss, and I couldn’t finish even that. It’s why she thinks I’m such a good guy.”
Thankfully, Sofie’s resistance eased up. He knew the only reason for that was the reminder of the hell she’d put him through, but he didn’t even care. He was just glad she’d calmed. Pulling her to him, he bear-hugged her when he was able to.
“Sucks because she actually seemed cool. Now I have to hate her.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Um, yeah, I do.” She nudged him in the gut with her fist. “The bitch went after my man then came and smiled in my face, acting all innocent.”
“She was drunk.”
Sofie jerked her head back, glaring at him again. “Was she drunk when you almost kissed her too?” Eric shook his head, feeling stupid for not just agreeing with her when he knew how easy Sofie could go from zero to sixty. “And you said you couldn’t go through with it.” She pushed her finger against his chest. “It’s because of you that it didn’t happen. I’m sure that skank was all for it, despite knowing you had a girlfriend.”
And there you had it. Jennifer had gone from seeming cool to bitch and now skank. To think, for a minute there he’d actually considered coming clean about everything, including those dreaded panties.
He pulled her to him before she could get all worked up again. “Fair enough. You can hate her all you want. I’m just saying it’s a waste of energy. She’s on the other side of the country.”
Just like Brandon and it was the only reason Eric didn’t waste energy on hating the fucker either. But he kept that to himself.
Finally giving in, Sofie brought one arm around him and then the other. “Is that it?” she asked against his ear. “Is there any more I should know?”
“No,” he said, hugging her tight because he’d be damned if he’d mention the panties or the see-through camisole now. “That’s it. And even this I honest to God just didn’t see the point in discussing. It’s why I’d never told you.”
Sofia pulled away to look in his eyes, and he prayed she didn’t read more in them the way she had already. Jesus, could he be more transparent?
“I won’t be nice to her the next time she’s around. You know that, right?”
“Well, that likely won’t be for a very long time,” Eric said, looking straight at her. “And by then, it’ll be even longer since anything between her and me went down.”
Arching a sexy brow, Sofia gave him a knowing look. Eric didn’t bother commenting because he knew exactly what she was thinking. No matter how much time passed, if he ever had to be around Brandon again, things would be tense. But that was totally different, only he wasn’t stupid enough to bring up that debate.
“Are we done with this?” he asked, feeling hopeful that, for the first time since he found out Jennifer would even be in town, he could finally relax.
“As long as you’re sure you’ve told me everything. Aside from her stupid don’t ya remark, did she say or do anything else I should know about before I make an ass of myself being all nice to her and shit?”
Eric kept his eyes on her because he knew she was searching for even the smallest flinch on his part that might give something away. Don’t fucking blow this. This is almost over. You got this. “Nope, that’s everything,” he said as genuinely as he could muster, but his conscience made him add something else he prayed he wouldn’t regret. “Besides, it doesn’t matter, right? You own me, baby. Nothing Jennifer ever throws at me will change that.”
Her brows jumped so fast his heart thudded, and the voice in Eric’s head was screaming at him to shut the fuck up. But he held her tight before she could try to pull away again.
“Did she throw herself at you again, Eric?”
“Nope.” He shook his head adamantly.
“Did she flirt with you?”
All true, right? Technically, she hadn’t and that’s as much as he was saying. He leaned in and kissed her for the first time since this entire nerve-racking conversation had started.
“I’m just saying.” He pecked her again softly. “There’s nothing she or any girl can throw my way that would ever tempt me.”
This was true too. Seeing Jennifer half-naked had only unnerved him. Temptation had been the furthest thing from his mind. The kiss went even deeper, and Sofia gladly responded this time.
After kissing her so long and deep, he was as hard as rock, and he pulled away to look at her. He remembered something he’d gladly tell her sooner than when he planned to, as long as it changed the subject. “And since we’re officially done discussing this”—he slipped his hand into hers and pulled her to his bedroom— “I was going to surprise you with something on New Year’s Eve, but I think right now is as good a time as any.”
“Really?” To his relief, Sofia’s tone actually sounded a bit playful now. “You’re gonna surprise me with something in the bedroom?”
Eric turned back to her with a smirk. “Well, makeup sex is a given at this point. But I have something else for you too.”
He dropped her hand when he reached his dresser and opened the drawer. He pulled out an envelope and handed it to her. “What is it?”
“Open it.” She did, then, as expected, brought her hand to her mouth. “We enjoyed it so much this past year. I thought maybe we could make a spring cruise an annual thing for us. Forever. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s, baby.”
She threw her arms around his neck, and he picked her up, kissing her deeply in the process. Sofia pulled away, cradling his face. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Eric started toward the bed. “Now for that makeup sex.”
She squealed in delight as he tossed her onto his bed, and Eric dove in, ready to release all the pent-up tension he’d built up in the past several weeks. He could only hope that just like with the Brandon issue, now that they’d gotten past this, they’d never have to discuss this again.
As it often happened, Eric started to doze off after their long and lustful lovemaking session. Sofia ran her fingers through his hair, staring at her beautiful boyfriend, thinking about everything they’d discussed earlier. I hope Sofia knows how lucky she is. Of course, she knew, bitch. Despite the annoyance remembering that made her feel, Sofia smiled. She almost felt bad about how nervous he’d been when she’d begun questioning him about Jennifer. Almost.
That he’d be so utterly worried today said a lot about how he felt about Sofia. But she couldn’t and wouldn’t feel entirely bad for the anxiousness he’d been put through. He had managed to keep something like this from her all this time. He deserved all the angst he’d had coming as he’d been forced to come clean. Sofia was just glad she knew now without doubt the guy could never outright lie to her. It’d always been too easy when it came to reading him. But since she’d never seen him this nervous, now she knew just how much easier he was to read when he was keeping something from her. Her secret power had now reached super strength, and she sure as hell would be using it to her advantage.
Slithering out from under his arm, Sofia got out of bed. She needed something to drink. Glancing down at her crumpled jeans on the floor, she frowned because she should’ve gone with her gut that morning. She should’ve worn something more comfortable for lounging around. If she’d known Eric’s dad and Tina would be gone all day, she would’ve worn something more comfy.
It’d be hours still until they were back, and she was certain she and Eric still had a few more rounds of makeup sex in them. It’s why she hesitated to put her jeans back on.
She glanced up, surprised Eric was awake. “No, I just wish I’d worn sweats.” She smirked. “Something easy to get in and out of.”
Eric smiled big as he stretched. “Wear a pair of mine. You can tie the string if they’re too big.” He motioned to the basket of clothes on the chair at the end of his bed. “I just pulled that load out of the dryer this morning. Pretty sure I saw a pair in there.”
Sofia walked over to the basket, relieved that she wouldn’t have to put on her tight, cold jeans. “Oh good. ’Cause I’m freezing.”
Eric sat up in bed and grabbed his briefs from the floor. “You should’ve said something earlier. I’ll turn the heater on.”
He walked off into the hallway as Sofia dug through the clothes in the basket. She could tell it wasn’t all his since she saw big flannel men’s boxers in there, the kind she knew Eric never wore. There was also a woman’s blouse, and it reminded Sofia how even this had to be different for Eric. Aside from the occasional sweatshirt and sweater she left at his place every now and again, they’d likely never had women’s clothes in the laundry. Now it’d be the norm.
She literally dropped them when she realized what she was holding, and her insides went completely tight the way they had throughout their argument earlier. Sofia took a deep breath to calm her already boiling insides. Tina was a redhead and there was still the miniscule chance that these were hers and she and her sister shared the same stupid humor. But given what Jennifer had written in that fucking card, Sofia’s gut was already saying otherwise.
“I turned on the fireplace too,” Eric said from the hallway.
Hearing his footsteps making their way back to the room, she picked up the panties and read what the writing on them said out loud, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was a redhead like me?”
She turned around to face Eric, holding the panties up for him to see. If there was any doubt who the panties belonged to, there wasn’t the moment she saw his expression. With the color all but drained from his face and the fear worse than what she’d seen in his eyes earlier, she knew, but now the fear of what it meant was drowning out her anger.
“You wanna tell me about these?”
Sofia hated that the question didn’t sound as demanding as it normally would’ve. But the fact that she was one hundred percent sure he not only knew they were Jennifer’s but there was so much more to how he knew, she’d barely been able to gasp it out. Her heart pounded because, just like earlier, Eric’s sheer unease about this scared the hell out of her.
He started to shake his head, and she waited for the denial with anticipation. Despite the irrefutable trepidation she saw in his eyes, she needed to hear him say he knew nothing about this. That this was just an exasperating coincidence.
“Okay, I fucked up.”
“What?” She gasped, feeling her stomach bottom out. “These are Jennifer’s?” Her heart broke even further when he nodded, but she welcomed the fury she was suddenly inundated with. “And how the hell do you know that, Eric?”
“She wore them when she was here, but—”
Sofia threw the panties at him, feeling ready to spit, in spite of the dread in her heart. When she asked him earlier if he’d fucked Jennifer, it was more for a reaction to the ugliness of the accusation, than her actually believing it. Even with all the rage she’d been feeling then, in her heart of hearts, she didn’t actually believe he could’ve. But now she glared at him. “What the fuck did you do?”
“Nothing!” He reached out for her, but she slapped his hands away.
“But you saw her in her panties and you fucked up?”
“No! Not like you’re thinking,” he said even louder. “I just should’ve told you.”
“Told me what?” Sofia searched his eyes, terrified about hearing the answer to that.
“One of the mornings she was here, I ran into her in the hallway.” He closed his eyes for a second and took a breath but then went on quickly. “She was in the panties. I thought they were pajama shorts at first, but she also wore a tiny little camisole with . . . no bra.” Sofia’s insides were scorching now, but before she could respond to that he went on, “It wasn’t even until she walked away that I noticed what the panties said, and I realized her entire appearance was completely inappropriate and the message was likely intended for me.”
“Likely?” Sofia scoffed.
“Yeah, well, after what she wrote on the card, I knew for sure it was and it’s why I decided to just keep that part to myself. I knew you’d be upset.”
“You fucking think?”
Upset didn’t even begin to cover everything Sofia was feeling about this skank. Knowing she’d thrown herself at Eric in Spain alone would’ve been enough for Sofia to be the biggest bitch to her. But if she’d known about this shit, the claws would’ve come out and things would’ve gotten ugly.
“Listen to me.”
He reached out for her again, and while her first instinct was to slap his hand away again, he grabbed her arm and his hold was too strong. She suddenly needed to feel his arms around her, so her fight waned. He pulled her to him, holding her tightly, and looked right in her eyes with conviction. “What I said earlier about it not mattering what she or anyone threw at me because I’m yours and nothing will ever change that, is the God’s honest truth. This is why I said it. I didn’t want to give you the details of what I meant because I knew you’d be pissed. But I swear to you the only thing I felt the day I saw her in those fucking panties was dread. Dread that you’d somehow find out about it and be upset. But nothing else.”
Sofia stared at him, feeling the slightest bit calmer now; though she was still beyond infuriated with that catty whore. “I hate her.”
“She’s related to you now, but I swear to you, Eric, the next time I see her—”
“You won’t.” Sofia shook her head, not understanding; she was bound to be around the bitch again someday. “I have plenty of relatives I’m never around and haven’t seen in years. You can bet your ass this is one I’ll go out of my way to avoid seeing, and if my dad wants to know why, I’ll tell him exactly why.”
“Maybe her sister needs to know too.” Sofia arched a brow. “I can tell—”
“Babe.” Eric wrapped his arms tighter around her waist. “Let’s not, okay? Tina had nothing to do with this.” He kissed her lips softly, and Sofie exhaled, letting out a much-needed relieved breath. “I’m sorry about all this. But I swear to you, after today, this will be the last we ever discuss her again. In fact . . .”
He pulled away from her but slipped his hand into hers. Pulling her with him, he surprised her when he bent over and picked up the offending panties. “C’mon.” He pulled her along with him out of the bedroom, through the hallway, and into the front room where the fire was roaring.
Sofia smirked when she realized what he might be up to. Sure enough, as soon as they were close enough, he tossed the panties into the fireplace.
“I don’t ever wanna have to even think about those fucking things again.” He turned to Sofie, who didn’t even realize she was still in nothing but her top and underwear until he tugged at her panties and nudged her toward the sofa. “Only good thing about all this is that now we have even more reason for makeup sex.”
Pulling her down with him onto the sofa, Sofia fell over his body, and he was already tugging her panties off. “Don’t ever keep anything from me again.” She nipped at his bottom lip even as he scoffed.
“Like I can. Jesus, I suck at it.”
“Good.” She nudged him playfully, closing her eyes and moaning when he slipped a finger into her. “I love you too much,” she whispered, squeezing her eyes even tighter and trying not to think about how sickened she’d felt when she thought he’d really fucked up.
“I love you more.” His hands were underneath her, pulling down his own underwear now, and she sat up on him as he sprung out of his briefs, ready for her. “Always have.” He helped position her just so, and she sat on him, taking what was hers and only hers, all the way in. His eyes rolled back as he let his head fall back with a smile onto the sofa. “Always will.”
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing and revisiting my Morenos. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’ll be releasing new shorts via my news letter so be sure to sign up for it!
Happy Holidays to all and may you all have a prosperous New Year!!! Stay tuned!!!! I promise to be around more this coming year and have new stories for you!