Kammi didn’t know why she’d agreed to this. Her father didn’t usually try to set her up with one of his colleagues. Heck, he didn’t usually set her up at all. She was his baby girl, as he liked to remind her. And Kelan Hunter had to be at least a decade older than her. That made this even harder to believe. If she hadn’t wanted to go to this show anyway, she probably would have turned him down. She startled at the knock on her bedroom door.
She walked over and opened the door to see her father standing there. “Kelan’s here,” he told her.
“Are you sure about this, Dad? I don’t even know him. What do you know about him?”
“He’s a good teacher and a pretty good guy. One of his younger brothers is marrying your Uncle Ewan’s niece’s fiance’s sister.”
She blinked a few times, trying to sort that out. Uncle Ewan’s family was always hard to follow. But, the only niece who was engaged was…”Caitie. She’s marrying Mark Young. But, his sister…I don’t think I know her.”
“You should. Her son’s in your class. Apparently he’s always talking about Ms. Yates.”
“I’ve got about a dozen little boys in my class, Dad,” she said as she started down the hallway toward the living room. “That doesn’t narrow it down.” Although there were only a couple who seemed to adore her.
“How many of them have a soon-to-be stepfather who’s a firefighter?”
That brought a smile to her face. “Finn,” she said with a smile. “He is a sweetheart. He hasn’t stopped talking for the last week that Nolan’s going to be his daddy now.”
“Nolan’s pretty excited about that himself.”
She glanced up at the man who had just spoken and had to admit he wasn’t bad looking. A bit on the tall side, well taller than her anyhow, although that’s not a hard task to accomplish. His dark red hair was swept back from his forehead, and thin-rimmed glasses covered his sharp blue eyes. His smile, though, made a rather angular face look a bit softer. If she was into the hot, but nerdy type, this one would probably do it for her.
She wasn’t, although even at twenty-seven, she wasn’t exactly sure what her ‘type’ was. Still, she smiled at him. “According to Finn, your brother is the next thing to a superhero.”
Kelan chuckled at that. “Just don’t tell Nolan that. He hates being called a hero. ‘Just doing his job’, he’d tell you.”
She grabbed her wrap, but he took it from her. “And,” he said as he put it around her shoulders, “I imagine Finn will want to bring him in for the school’s Veteran’s day assembly, too.”
“He was in the army, too?”
Another chuckle from Kelan. “Oh, Lord, do not say that to him. He was a Marine and damn proud of it, although he doesn’t carry that badge of honor the way Mark does.”
“Nothing wrong with the army,” her dad said with a sniff.
“Not at all,” Kelan said, turning his ready grin on him. “Our dad did a stint in the army, too.”
“I’ll be home later,” she told her dad before this went any farther.
“I won’t wait up,” he threw back.
“Ha. Funny, funny.”
She didn’t plan on staying out late with this man. He seemed nice enough, and she could hear the obvious affection in his voice for his brother. But, this was their first date. She made it a point not to go home with a guy after one date. She didn’t even know if they’d have much to talk about other than teaching. “So,” she said as he started to pull out of the drive, “Dad said Nolan is one of your brothers. How many do you have?” Family. That should be a safe topic.
By his smile, she figured she was right. “Three brothers, one sister,” he told her as he flipped on the turn signal before taking a left. “One’s older than me, the rest are younger.”
“Wow,” she said. “That’s a lot of kids.”
He chuckled. “Tell me about it. Try having to share a bedroom. I was twelve when the youngest two were born. They were…a surprise. Not always the word we used,” he said with a wink.
She laughed at that. She knew just how vicious sibling teasing could be. “So, they’re twins, I guess.” He just nodded as he merged into a line of traffic. She wondered if they were all going to the showing, too. “I only have two,” she told him. “A sister and brother. Both older.”
“I know. Your dad talks about the three of you quite a bit.”
“So, do you hang out with my dad a lot?”
He shook his head. “Mostly just in the staff lounge. I was talking about going tonight, though, and he thought it was something you’d like, too. So he suggested I take you.” He cast a quick glance at her before looking back at the road. “I don’t have any other ideas about tonight. I hope you know that. It’s not that…” He took a deep breath. “You’re a beautiful girl, Kammi, but you’re barely older than my kid sister. That’s just-”
“It’s fine, Kelan. I get it. I didn’t have any ideas about tonight either. But, I have been looking forward to checking this show out.”
He let out a relieved breath. “Okay. There’ll probably be champagne and finger foods there. Knowing the artist, he’d probably prefer it was beer and pretzels.”
She laughed. “You know the artist, huh?”
“Pretty well, actually,” he said as he parked. “Come on, let’s get inside.”
She followed him into the building, looking around at all the people already inside. “Pretty good turn out, and it’s still early,” she said.
“Yep. If we move, we might be able to get to him before he gets sick of people and tries to escape back to his studio.”
She let him drag her through the crowd and managed to snag a flute of champagne on the way. Kelan laughed as they broke through to the main showing room. Two people were facing them and one had his back to the doorway. He was shorter than her date and a bit on the scrawny side. Slim at least. His hair was darker than Kelan’s too, but still with red in it. She shook herself. She didn’t even know why she was comparing him to her date.
“Where is he?” she murmured. “Did he already make his escape?”
Kelan chuckled under his breath, then he was stepping forward and tapping the man on the back of the shoulder before shifting over to the other side.
Jace felt the tap on his shoulder and turned the other way. And saw his older brother grinning at him. He’d known it was him from the look on his mother’s face. “You’re still an idiot, Kel,” he said shoving against his shoulder. “I haven’t fallen for that since I was a kid.”
“Which was what? Five minutes ago.”
He shoved his brother again, a little harder this time. “Just because you’re an old man now doesn’t mean I’m still a kid.”
“At least I could get a date. It’s your special night, and you still show up alone.”
Before he could respond to that, he heard a light laugh from beyond his brother and turned his gaze that way. It was like something struck him right in the chest. She was beautiful. her black hair went halfway down her back, her skin almost looked like it had been kissed by gold. He didn’t think it was just a tan, though. It looked more like her natural skin tone. The slightly slanted green eyes took him by surprise though.
“You two sound just like my brother and sister. I, of course, am above such things.” But, there was a twinkle in her eyes when she said it. “Are you sure you aren’t related?”
Jace glanced over at his brother and saw a smirk on his face. “Guess I forgot that part, Kammi. This is my baby brother, Jace. And those two back there are our parents.”
They exchanged greetings, but his mouth had gone dry. She was here with his brother. He was just lusting over his brother’s date, possibly his girlfriend. It was always hard to tell with Kelan, he kept so much close to the vest. From what anyone could tell, he didn’t even have a social life.
Kammi blushed slightly but held a hand out to him. “It’s nice to meet you, Jace. I’ve been looking forward to coming to this show.”
“I work with her dad at the high school,” Kelan informed him. “He suggested we come here together tonight.”
“Oh, well, that’s nice,” he said. “I hope you enjoy it.” That was the truth, so why did he feel this burning down in his gut?
“I’m sure we will,” Kelan said. “We’re going to look around. Just wanted to let you know we were here.”
“Thanks for coming, Kel.” As his brother led the woman away, Jace turned back to his parents. Everything in him still felt tight, as he turned back to his parents. “You two can go as well. You don’t have to stand here with me.”
His father was still looking after his brother and his date. He almost looked…disapproving. Not a look he was used to from the man. “What’s the matter, Dad?”
He shook his head. “Not my business, but he shouldn’t be with that girl.”
He really wasn’t used to his dad being judgmental. “Why not, Dad? Because she’s-”
“A good decade younger than him,” his father finished. “And I know age is just a number, but really.” Then, his father’s eyes narrowed. “Did you really think it would bother me that she’s half-Japanese?”
“How?” He wasn’t even sure of her heritage, how did he seem so sure?
His dad only smiled, though. “I built a house for Dillon and Hisa Yates. She’s their youngest daughter. Related to Caitie somehow too.”
Of course she was. Everyone seemed to be related to the Riley, and Magaldi, clan someway or another. “Thanks for coming, both of you. I suppose I should mingle.” He gave a little shudder. “Worst part of these things.”
His dad gave a little laugh. “You’ll handle it. And congratulations, son. I’m proud of you.”
It always gave him a nice rush of warmth to hear those words. He’d carry that with him while he made his way through the throngs of people. He saw his brother and his date once more, from a distance. And he turned in the other direction. It didn’t matter if Kelan should be with her or not, he was. Which meant Jace would have to shut away any feelings he had. Instead, he’d focus on making sure this showing went well. That was his main priority right now.