His cousin, Bella, walked over to him, carrying her son in her arms. Her husband, Liam, who by all accounts was a real live duke, was by her side. In Caleb’s opinion, there were some really strange things going on in Holland Springs, if a local guy wasn’t good enough.
Then again, wasn’t he being kept up at night with thoughts of their out-of-town houseguest?
“Caleb! Come join the party,” Bella said, simultaneously taking his drink and handing him her sleeping son. “Kids are a great way to meet women.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Families reunions aren’t.”
Liam made a noise. “He has a point.”
Bella nodded at Sofia. “She’s not related to anyone.”
“Already know her,” Caleb muttered, rocking the toddler in his arms. Good Lord, was he that desperate looking?
“Then why aren’t you talking to her?” Bella asked, a mischievous smile sliding on her face. She’d always been like that, full of fun and life. It was one of the reasons why she was a favorite cousin.
Caleb handed the toddler to Liam, and then crossed his arms, just in case anyone else had an urge to hand him something else to attract women.
“I talked to her this morning.” And by talked, he meant muttering, “Good Morning. Thanks for the coffee. See you later.”
“Leave your cousin alone. If he wants to talk to the lass, he will, in his own time,” Liam said, and Caleb was so grateful that he wanted to high five him.
Did dukes do that?
“Fine,” Bella huffed. “We’ll leave you alone. I need to talk to Aunt Dinah anyway.”
They walked off, taking his tea with them.
He exhaled. Guess he’d have to come out of the corner to get another one. Or something to eat. The buffet table was practically sagging under the weight of everything. His brother, Adam, had already blessed it. So… he had no excuse not to get something to eat and drink.
Only, Sofia had designated herself keeper of the food, so she buzzed around it like a queen bee.
Sofia smiled at him and he felt his heart flip in his chest. Damn, she was a pretty woman. Before he knew it, his legs were pumping and he stood at the buffet table. She handed him a plate.
“What would you like to eat, Caleb?” she asked, her voice as smooth as honey.
You. “A little bit of everything.”
She looked him up and down, and then grinned. “A big man like you should eat more than a little bit of everything.”
His mind suddenly went blank at her grin, and he became all tongue-tied, like usual. “I, uh… Great spread, ma’am.” He inwardly winced.
Sofia’s flirty smile turned sympathetic, and that was the last expression he wanted to see on her face. He’d had enough sad smiles and sympathetic looks to last him a lifetime.
She quickly fixed a plate and handed it to him. “Enjoy, Caleb.”
“De nada,” she said.
She smiled again while he stood there, a plate of food in his hand and probably an idiotic expression on his face. Or he could be glowering. His brothers had always said no one could glower and glare like he could.
Please don’t let me be glaring at her.
Say something, he ordered his brain. A question finally popped in his head and just as he opened his mouth—
“Sofia, honey,” his mother, Dinah, called. “Come over here and meet Ima Jean Matthews.”
Without a word, Sofia suddenly walked away.
“How are you?” he asked, a full five seconds after she left.
Tristan—Caleb glanced at him to be sure he had the right twin—joined him at the table. “You really know how to work that Lawson charm.”
Caleb looked at his younger brother, at the tattoos on his arms and his wild hair. The only thing conservative about Tristan was his occupation, but the ladies around here loved him. And they went out of their way to show it.
“Don’t you need to catalog some books?” Caleb snapped.
Tristan laughed. “Head librarian gave me the day off.”
“You’re the head librarian,” Caleb pointed out.
“And I’m an excellent boss.” Tristan’s easy smile turned sour. “Speaking of charming people… who invited her?”
Caleb followed his brother’s gaze and fought back a groan. He did not want to deal with Tristan and Lemon McCoy antagonizing each other the rest of the day.
“Probably our mother.”
Tristan made a noise, something between a grunt and growl, and then strode in Lemon’s direction.
“Wonder when the two of them will figure out what everyone else knows?” his dad said.
Caleb smiled and took a large bite of the chicken salad his mom had made. Then he started searching the crowd of people for Sofia.
Man, he needed to stop.
“Yep, obvious as the nose on my face,” his dad said.
Spices exploded in his mouth. This wasn’t his mother’s recipe. “Did you try the chicken salad Sofia made? It’s really good.” It was more than good. It was downright sinful.
His dad glanced at him. “How did you know she made it?”
“It’s spicy and sweet at the same time.” Like Sofia.
“Did you tell her?”
A large hand clamped down on his shoulder. “You can’t mourn forever, son.”
He wasn’t mourning, not anymore, but he wasn’t sure what to do with the feelings Sofia inspired in him. Heck, they felt rusty from lack of use. “I know.”
“When I met your mother, I didn’t know what to say either. Luckily, she talked enough for the two of us, and you and Adam helped, too.”
Caleb laughed softly. “She sang a lot, too.” Dinah had been in their life for so long that he couldn’t remember a time without her.
Then again, he’d only been fifteen months old when his dad started dating again. Dinah was the only mother he knew, but he did have pictures of his biological mother—a woman who, by all accounts, had loved him and his older brother, Adam. She’d been taken too soon by breast cancer, when he was barely four months old.
“Yes, she did. Still does, and Sofia chimes right in with her. Like the daughter she never had.”
Caleb did not want to think of Sofia as a sister, or as his mother’s daughter. “Mmm-hmm.”
“Heard Quincy Earl was planning on asking Sofia out,” his dad said. “You know anything about him that I don’t?”