Meanwhile, Ethan was leaning against the doorjamb looking extremely cynical about the scene in front of him. His divorce had been finalized last year, and since then, he had been burning even more midnight oil on the road looking after his business.
“Too bad William isn’t here tonight,” Ethan said. “He and I could raise a toast to the happily single.”
The implication was clear: Everyone thought Jack and Mary were dating. Her eyes met his and, instead of clarifying things with his family, she let her mouth curve up just the slightest bit at the corners. The air was knocked straight out of Jack’s lungs.
Did this mean she was finally ready to be more than friends who stole kisses from each other at every possible opportunity? And if so, what had changed her mind?
Mary changed the subject as deftly as she rolled out the dough. “The four of you must have been quite a handful for your mother.”
Max grinned. “Mom looked so delicate and pretty, but she never let us get away with a damned thing.”
“I got away with plenty,” Ethan countered. Although, a moment later he rubbed his right ear and admitted, “I still get phantom pains sometimes from the way she would drag me to my room.”
“What about you?” Mary asked Jack.
He gave her an innocent look. “I was an angel.”
Her blue eyes flared with heat for a split second at his use of the endearment that always spilled from his lips when he was kissing her, but then she shook her head and said, “I doubt that.”
“You’ve got this joker figured out,” Ethan said with a laugh as he sat down at the table with his brother and sister-in-law. “How many times did you nearly burn the house down with one of your inventions gone wrong, Jack? The way I remember it, the fire trucks used to patrol our street on a regular basis, just in case.”
Ian looked up at his uncle, his voice solemn as he informed Jack, “Fire trucks are red.”
He kissed his nephew on the nose. “They sure are. And what do you want to bet that’s the same color your shirt’s going to be after we eat spaghetti tonight?”
Spending time with Ian when he could during these past eighteen months had made Jack realize how much he liked kids. But it wasn’t until he’d met Mary that he’d begun to wonder what it would be like to have his own children.“Spaghetti!” Ian bounced in Jack’s arms as he shouted out the word, and all of them chuckled, the boy’s happiness contagious.
A short while later, Mary cut the pasta she’d rolled out into thin slices and dropped them into the water already boiling on the stove. Max sat down to give his wife a foot massage. Even though she looked as if she was in heaven, Claudia said, “Are you sure you don’t need any help with dinner, Mary?”
“I love to cook. It’s one of those things I didn’t get to do enough of, bouncing around from hotel room to hotel room over the years.”
Mary started on a simple sauce by quickly cutting up the fresh tomatoes Claudia had brought over. Jack’s sister-in-law asked, “Do you have any exciting projects lined up after your campaign with Jack comes to an end?”
“Actually,” Mary said as she lifted her gaze to Jack’s, “I’m trying to figure that out as we speak. I’ve been on the move for so long that I'd like to set down some roots for a while.”
“The exotic destinations. The clothes. The shoes.” Claudia sighed with just the slightest bit of envy. “It sounds so glamorous.”
“Yes, I have been really lucky to have seen the world and to have worked with some truly amazing photographers and designers and makeup artists. It was what I always wanted.”
Jack could see that Mary didn’t want to disappoint Claudia with the truth that he saw more of every time he watched her work. The hours were long, the lights were bright and hot, and she had to be beautiful on command every single day without fail, regardless of what was going on in the rest of her life. So while her job had more glitz and glamour than most, that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard work.
Knowing she’d never say any of that, he told his family, “Mary is so good at what she does that she makes it look deceptively easy.” Never having been in a TV studio before, Jack had been fascinated by the process, the machines, and the people who ran them, and he explained what he’d seen to his family.
Blushing from his compliment, Mary turned her attention to the sauce simmering on the stovetop. Jack could tell that his siblings were blown away by her. Not only because of her stunning beauty—he still lost his breath every time he looked at her and had come to realize he always would—but also because she was as comfortable in couture as she was playing with a child and making dinner for a group of people she’d only just met.
Even more amazing, she didn’t seem to notice the effect she had on people. There was no vanity. No efforts to impress. She was simply being herself.
And he was in love with her.
Jack squeezed Ian a little too tightly as the realization hit him hard in the solar plexus. The little boy tugged on his hair to get his attention.
“Uncle Jack-Jack okay?”
He pressed a kiss to the little boy’s cheek, then shifted his gaze to Mary, who had looked over at them when Ian asked his question. “I’ve never felt better.”
“Hey, Jack,” Ethan said as he got up from the kitchen table, “come help me set the table in the dining room.”
Jack passed Ian to Max, and when they were in the dining room with the door closed, Ethan handed him a stack of plates. “I'm still trying to work out how my engineer brother who’s had his head stuck to a motherboard his whole life has landed one of the foxiest models on the planet.”