The One Real Thing Page 43



All was going according to plan.

Although Cooper hadn’t intended to walk out on the beach the other night and take the kiss he’d been itching for since he’d met Jessica, he was glad he’d done it. That kiss lived up to all his expectations and not even this fuck-buddy situation she had going on with some other guy was going to stop him from getting to know her.

And while he was getting to know her, he was crumbling her defenses.

Cooper planned to seduce Jessica right out of friendship and into his bed. Permanently.

She was smart; she was sassy; she was fun and cute and sexy all wrapped up in one irresistible package. And, Jesus, she could kiss. If the kiss was anything to go by, sex between them would be explosive. More than that, Cooper liked her. He liked how he’d shared a problem with her about work and not only had she listened, she’d even given him advice.

He liked that, despite how strong she appeared, he now knew there was something really vulnerable about her. He didn’t know what it was, except he’d caught a glimpse of it when he’d realized she wasn’t happy. It made her less perfect, more human.

He liked how protective he’d felt in that moment and how he’d wanted to change the subject to take the sadness out of her eyes.

The strange thing was Jessica had seemed startled to consider whether or not her life made her happy.

“I don’t know,” she had said in answer to his question. “I don’t know.”

Well, Cooper knew. The doc was not happy. He could see something was missing for her. Every time she talked about her life in Wilmington she was factual, disconnected, and she quickly changed the subject. But when she spoke about Hartwell she was animated and happy.

Cooper was suspicious that Jessica Huntington was falling in love with his town—a whirlwind romance—and she didn’t even know everything about it yet.

He found himself at Bailey’s place a few blocks from the inn, on the north side. Bailey had arranged a big dinner for Jess since it was one of her last few days in Hartwell. Ira and Iris had joined Tom, Jess, Bailey, and him.

“When you said we were having salad I nearly died,” Ira cracked at Bailey. “But this is damn good.”

Bailey beamed from the head of the dining table. “I’m glad you like it, Ira.”

Ira was right. The crab and apple salad with the crab cake fritters Bailey had put together for the main course was a hit.

“You have to give me the recipe for this,” Jessica said.

She’d moaned at the first bite and put heat in his blood, but Cooper was getting used to that feeling around her. That last walk they’d taken on the boardwalk had been so thick with sexual tension it had taken everything within him not to throw her over his shoulder and carry her back to his place.

“Sure,” Bailey agreed.

“I mean . . . not to use,” Jessica said. “Just to pin it to my fridge and pretend that it’s a possibility I could ever make anything this good.”

“You can’t cook?” Iris said, frowning at the thought.

The doc flushed a little. “Not really.”

“You can save lives, but you can’t cook?”

“You can cook, but you can’t save lives?” Jess countered.

Iris’s frowned turned to a grin as her husband chuckled at her side. “I like you. You remind me of my Ivy.”

“That is a compliment of the highest order,” Bailey assured the doc.

Jessica smiled that pretty smile of hers. “Thank you.” But when her eyes met Cooper’s across the table, that pretty smile wilted a little.

Cooper didn’t take it negatively.

He knew by the jealousy she couldn’t hide on the beach when she thought he was going to take Leanne up on her offer, and by the way she’d rushed to get into the inn and away from him after their nondate, that she was feeling exactly what he was feeling. She was scared shitless about it.

He thought maybe he should be, too.

But she had fired something in him, and he couldn’t ignore it.

“So, Jessica,” Tom said, “are you planning on returning to our little town anytime soon? I know Bailey would love that.”

She gave Bailey a wistful smile. “I will definitely be back, but I work such long hours I couldn’t say when. I do know that my phone bill is about to go sky-high.”

Bailey gave her a sad smile. “I’m going to miss you being at my inn every day. I feel like you’ve been there forever.”

“Me, too.”

Cooper watched the friends share a long look.

It was the way of it sometimes. Like it had been for him and Jack as kids. They were friends from the moment they met.

He immediately threw the thought away.

“Coop, I went into Dr. Duggan’s office the other day to see if they were looking for anyone after his daughter left. They are,” Bailey said, her eyes round to playact a Help me! look. “And he said he’d be happy to talk to Jess about it.”

The doc groaned across from Cooper. “We talked about this all day yesterday.”

Cooper frowned at her downcast expression and looked sternly at Bailey. He didn’t want Jess to feel coerced into staying somewhere she’d only been vacationing for three weeks. He wanted her to stay longer in Hartwell because—even if a little crazy—it felt right. “Don’t.”

Bailey opened her mouth to protest, but Iris cut her off. “I want the recipe for this, too. We could add it to the menu.”

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