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Perfect Catch(5)

By:Sierra Dean

Or perhaps it was the reason she wanted to throttle him.

Most days she wasn’t sure.

When she got out of the car, she heard Alex’s car door slam, and he jogged across the street to meet her. The streetlights were on, casting warm yellow circles down the block, and in spite of the late hour a few kids were still out playing on the sidewalk, enjoying the brief reprieve before the heat and bugs became vicious.

“This is me.” She offered a shrug, as if to apologize for the modesty of the house. “It’s not much, but it’s home.”

“Not much?” Alex looked from her to the tan bungalow. “You should see the house I grew up in. Me and five sisters, all sharing two bedrooms and one bathroom. I’m amazed my mom didn’t try to sell us off.”

Not sure what to say, she let the first thing that came to mind pop out of her mouth. “Maybe she did and you have a half dozen more siblings running a circus somewhere.”

He stared at her for a second, making her regret the stupidity of the joke, but when he laughed—loudly and with more gusto than she thought she’d earned—the tension melted away.

“Trust me, if she’d had the option to ship us off with the gypsies, there’s no way I’d still be here. One boy with all that estrogen floating around? How do you think I was as a kid?”

“The words holy terror come to mind.”

Alex nodded. “Nailed it.”

Once Alice realized they were still standing in her driveway discussing his family history, she flushed with embarrassment. “Let’s get off the street. Pizza is probably already here.”

He followed her up the front steps. “Someone was home to get it? You said we earlier.”

Alice wished she could have fiddled in her purse for house keys or something else that would let her pretend she hadn’t heard the question. She wasn’t sure why she was so hesitant for him to know about her daughter. In about twelve seconds the secret would be out anyway, and wouldn’t it be nicer for him to have a heads-up?

“Come on in.” She offered him the opened front door instead of an explanation.

In the front hallway, she hung back and watched him assess the living room and the closet. Purple Converse sneakers—much too small to be Alice’s—and a mint-green sweater with a seahorse pattern were lying in the entrance. The living room contained a veritable Barbie crime scene and a half dozen of Alice’s old The Babysitter’s Club paperbacks.

The hall itself was lined with candid shots of Alice and Olivia, as well as Olivia’s most recent school photo and her baby portrait.

The cat was most definitely out of the bag.

The one thing Alice was grateful for was that the only photo of Matt and Olivia together was in Olivia’s room. In spite of the problems Matt and Alice had dealt with and all the legal bullshit he’d put her through, he was still Olivia’s dad. Once he’d accepted Alice hadn’t been lying, he had put in a bare minimum amount of effort to get to know their daughter. Olivia saw him about twice a year, times which tended to be the most stressful for Alice.

Generally spring training would be one of those times. Matt had yet to call to make arrangements, and Olivia had already begun to ask about it.

When Alex looked back over his shoulder to her, Alice pushed all thoughts of Matt Hernandez out of her mind and tried to focus on the slightly befuddled man in front of her. She stopped herself just short of saying Surprise when Olivia skidded out of the kitchen and down the hall towards them. Spotting Alex, Olivia came to an abrupt halt, her mouth open as if she’d been about to say something, but the sight of him had literally stolen her words.

With Matt still fresh on the brain, Alice could see her ex’s features reflected back at her in Olivia’s face. The big brown eyes were his, the narrow nose that looked nothing like Alice’s. And of course her skin—a sun-kissed caramel that was a cross between Alice’s own paleness and Matt’s Hispanic brown. Liv’s hair was stuck somewhere in between as well. Dark and curly like Matt’s, but wispy like Alice’s. Right now it was staticky as all heck and sticking up in every direction.

“Hello,” Alex said, surprising Alice by his willingness to speak first.

Olivia, long past her shy-toddler phase, gave Alex a bold once-over and pushed her unruly hair out of her eyes. “Who are you?”

“Olivia.” Alice’s voice carried a warning menace, and Olivia seemed to remember only then her mother was in the room.

“Sorry,” she mumbled before she replied to Alex’s greeting with a quiet, “Hi.”

“I’m Alex Ross.” When he offered Olivia his hand to shake, Alice thought she might drop dead right there. She wasn’t in a habit of bringing men home—especially since she never dated—but she’d known a lot of adults to treat Olivia as if she was…well, a child. The condescending tone some people used on her daughter drove Alice up the wall. With one introduction, Alex had completely endeared himself to her.