The resort had a live band playing tropical versions of non-tropical songs that Elliot had done his best to tune out. They weren’t bad. Just not his thing. But when they segued into a Johnny Cash song, Tyler shot to his feet.
“Mommy! It’s the face song. You gotta dance!”
Lena’s pale cheeks flushed red, but she didn’t argue. She stood and took her son’s hand. He climbed onto her feet, put one hand on her waist and held the other, and they danced as a man with a thick island accent crooned about the first time he ever saw her face.
Cher leaned over to Elliot. “Oz told me she’s been singing this song to Tyler since the day he was born. They are so adorable.”
Elliot turned his attention back to Lena and her son. Yes, they were adorable. And it was obvious how close they were. Even more reason for him to leave them the hell alone. But he couldn’t. Even though if things went south with her, it wouldn’t just be her life he messed up.
The song ended, and Tyler bounced back to the table.
“You are an excellent dancer, little man,” Elliot said, high-fiving him.
“Thanks.” Tyler shoved a piece of pineapple into his mouth. “Do you want to dance with my mommy?”
Elliot opened his mouth to say no but couldn’t seem to get the words out. The truth was he’d love to dance with her. He just couldn’t. Or shouldn’t. But oh yes, he wanted to.
Not that it mattered. Lena beat him to it. “No, Tyler. We don’t need to bother Elliot. Besides, I’m all danced out.” She smiled down at her son, and the sheer beauty of her in that moment had a small headache forming between Elliot’s eyes.
The internal fight between wanting to charm his way into Lena’s life and knowing he should do no such thing was going to make his head implode.
Perhaps he was going about it all wrong. They didn’t need to have a relationship. He was no good for her and wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with a child in his life. But he’d caught her eye on him when she thought he wasn’t looking, so she wasn’t totally immune to him. And while they were on the island, their real lives were put on hold. Why couldn’t they have a little fun together?
“So, have you ever been to the island before?” he asked her, determined to capture her attention.
Lena yanked a sugar packet from Tyler’s mouth and barely spared a glance for Elliot. “No, I don’t travel much.”
“That’s too bad. Well, you’ll have to make the most of it while you’re here then.”
“Huh?” she said, squinting at him. “Tyler, put that down and sit in your seat,” she said, grabbing a coconut that Tyler had snagged from the centerpiece in front of them.
“I said you’ll have to make the most of it while you’re here,” he repeated.
“Oh. Yeah.” She yanked Tyler back into his seat with one hand and rescued a nearly overturned cup of water with the other. Multi-tasking at its best.
“So, if you don’t travel much, what do you do for fun?” he asked, trying another line of questioning.
She gave a short, humorless laugh and snagged the knife Tyler was trying to cut the table with and placed it out of reach. “I don’t really have much time for fun.”
She kept her attention on her son and his antics, avoiding eye contact and interaction with him whenever possible. She answered any questions he asked her, but despite turning on the charm higher than he’d ever had to before, he couldn’t pull her into a conversation. Granted, she continued to have her hands full with Tyler. The kid was a hyper ball of energy. He bounced in his seat, climbed under the table a few times, and almost over it once.
Since the sugar rush that had apparently hijacked the little boy’s system was 100 percent his fault, Elliot tried to assuage his guilt by helping to distract him. But his efforts only succeeded in Tyler climbing all over him until Oz finally got up, plucked Tyler from Elliot’s shoulders where he’d lodged himself, and plunked him into his seat. A stern warning, complete with finger waving and the parental look-of-death, and Tyler settled into his seat to pout. Wow. Impressive.
Tyler perked up once the food came. A boy after his own heart. While the kid was busy stuffing his face with pulled pork, Elliot tried again to draw Lena into some kind of conversation. But she barely paid attention to him. She fussed with her plate, with Tyler’s plate, and with Tyler himself until the kid finally groaned in exasperation and she let him alone. She did nothing overtly rude or standoffish, but she more than got the point across that she wasn’t interested.
He’d never, in his twenty-six years of life, ever had a woman ignore him so completely. Usually, one glance and she was his. But since flirting, winking, casual, innocent brushes of his body against hers, and all the other tricks in his bag weren’t working, perhaps he should try being direct and asking her out?
He hesitated, a weird sensation in the pit of his stomach. It took him a moment, but he finally realized he was nervous. That realization surprised him enough that he sat there for a second, unsure of how to proceed. The thought that she might actually turn him down was so foreign he didn’t know what to do. Maybe it would be better to ask her in private. If she was going to shoot him down, he didn’t want her doing it in front of their family.
“Hey, Len,” Oz said, raising a glass that vaguely resembled multicolored cracked safety glass. “This reminds me of those mugs you tried to sell once.”
Lena rolled her eyes at him, and her brother laughed.
“What’s he talking about?” Elliot asked her.
Her cheeks blushed a gorgeous pink, and she shook her head. “Oh, nothing. Just one of my ideas that crashed and burned.”
She shrugged. “Until Tyler started school, I stayed home with him, but I still wanted to help bring in some money, so Oz didn’t have to work so hard.”
“Mommy makes really cool stuff!”
Elliot’s eyebrows rose. “Yeah? What kind of stuff?”
“She made me name letters for my room.”
“Yeah, I got new ones this year. Soccer balls. I had dinosaurs for a while.”
Elliot looked at Lena, totally lost. She pulled out her phone and scrolled through some pictures before holding it out for him to see. She had taken wood letters that spelled Tyler’s name and painted them to look like soccer balls. She flicked to the next picture, and the name Brianna was decorated in pink and purple with sparkles and jewels and ribbons.
“Those are really cool.”
She shrugged, but her shy smile showed she was pleased. “I have an Etsy store where I sell some crafty-type stuff. I’m always trying to bring in some extra cash. I keep hoping one of them will take off so I can get out of my generous brother’s house,” she said. “No luck so far.”
“And one of the ideas was cracked glasses?” Elliot asked.
“No,” she said with a little laugh. “I used to take this pottery class, and my instructor showed us how to make these really fun mugs. She had several shaped like dragons and trolls, really cool shapes. And I made one that turned out really well. I carved this pretty leaf design into it. It was nice.”
“That sounds like a good idea. People love mugs. They always make great gifts.”
She gave that little self-deprecating laugh again. “Yeah. That’s what I thought. Problem was I had no idea how much all the equipment would cost. Plus, I didn’t have a kiln or anything and firing them in my oven didn’t quite work.”
“Oh, no.” He laughed.
“Yeah. I ended up with fifty cracked mugs that weren’t good for much more than pencil holders. I sold a few at a craft fair…but not nearly enough to actually make a profit. Heck, even if they’d turned out great, I’d have had to make thousands of them to turn a profit. Not something I really had the time or resources to get going.”
Before Elliot could say anything else, Tyler knocked over his water glass.