OPENING HIS HOLIDAY HEART
by Renee Ryan
“You didn’t have to offer to help Toby. I would have figured something out. Somehow, I would have--”
“I know, Sutton. You always figure something out. It’s what you do.” The words sounded more like a criticism than a compliment.
She tried not to flinch. “Still,” she persisted, “I’m grateful and I owe you.”
They were nearly the same words she’d said to her father barely an hour ago. By the look on Casey’s face, they didn’t sit any better with him than they had with Beau Fowler.
In fact, Casey just stood there, his face going blank. “You don’t owe me anything, Sutton. Got it?” He leaned in a little closer, held her stare a beat too long. “Not one single solitary thing.”
She’d insulted him. She heard it in his voice. Saw it in the way his shoulders tensed up. “I didn’t mean to imply—”
“Sure you did. Although, I’m not surprised.” He set his jaw and pulled back from her. “You aren’t exactly gifted at accepting help from others.”
Now he’d insulted her. “Look, Casey. If you want to back out, do it now, while I have time to find someone else—”
He let out a stab of laughter. “Oh no. Uh-uh. Don’t throw your doubts back on me.”
“I wasn’t. I was simply saying there’s still time to change your mind.”
“Let’s get a few things straight, shall we? First, I never offer to do anything I don’t want to do. Second, I made a promise to a little boy and I never back out on a promise. Not. Ever. My word is solid. Golden. Unaffected by time, distance or a change in circumstances.”
Sutton sensed they weren’t talking about Toby or the Soap Box Derby anymore. Casey’s tone was too fierce, his expression too intense, his words too pointed. She thought about asking him to clarify, but he was still talking.
“And finally, I like Toby. He’s a great kid. I also like building cars. I’m good at it. Your son and I are going to have a lot of fun. It’s really that simple, Sutton. Don’t make this more complicated than it needs to be.”
He was right. About all of it. She was overthinking the situation. A character trait that had served her well as an attorney. But in this instance, she’d gone too far and now she felt ridiculous and defensive. Should she apologize? Maybe lighten the mood?
Definitely the latter. “Well, I guess you told me.”
“I guess I did.” He cracked a smile, the boyish one that included the infamous head tilt, and just like that the tension between them was replaced by something far more potent. “So?” he asked, eyebrows lifted. “Are we heading inside now?”
He opened the door. She followed him into a gorgeous foyer, unable to keep the awe off her face.
Renee Ryan grew up in a Florida beach town outside Jacksonville, FL. Armed with a degree in Economics and Religion from Florida State University, she explored various career opportunities, including stints at a Florida theme park and a modeling agency. She currently lives in Savannah, Georgia with her husband and a large, fluffy cat many have mistaken for a small bear. Renee can be contacted through her website at www.reneeryan.com