Heat of Passion
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He blew out a frustrated breath. “She lost her apartment key, for God’s sake. It’s not the end of the world! And what I told her to do is what you wouldn’t have told her if you’d taken that call. You’d have hopped in your car and taken care of everything for her.”
“So?” she said defensively.
“So, it’s not your freaking job, sweetheart.” He looked exasperated. “Caroline is five years older—she should be taking care of you, not the other way around. She takes advantage of you. They all do.”
Discomfort filled her body. Although a part of her knew he was right—the part that had been feeling the same way for two years now—she still couldn’t let go of her anger. So what if her family took advantage of her? They were still her family. Not his. And trying to stop her from taking care of them was presumptuous and selfish of him. This was Steve all over again, making demands on her, telling her to forget about everyone and everything else in her life and just focus on him. Well, she couldn’t do that.
“You shouldn’t have interfered,” she said coolly.
Carson dragged one hand through his hair, looking frazzled. “I won’t apologize for it. It’s time you quit focusing all your energy on them.”
“And do what, focus it all on you?” she replied.
Before he could answer, she stumbled to her feet, suddenly very aware that they’d been conducting this entire argument while naked. Whirling around, she stomped down the hall to the bedroom, where she threw on some clothing.
“Come on, Holly, don’t be mad,” came his low voice from the doorway. “I was only trying to help.”
“By hanging up on my sister? That was unbelievably selfish of you.” She turned to face him, glad he’d put on his jeans so she couldn’t get distracted by his gorgeous body. “I’m not happy with you right now, Carson. And…” She took a breath. “I want you to leave.”
His blue eyes darkened. “You don’t mean that.”
“Yeah, I do.” She clenched her jaw. “Isn’t that what you wanted? Me being honest with the people in my life? Well, I’m being honest. I’m too pissed off to have this fight right now, so I want you to leave.”
His sexy mouth tightened in a thin line. “Fine. You want me to go, I’ll go.” He turned then shot her a glance over his shoulder. “But this isn’t over, Holly. Maybe I stepped over a line tonight, but I did it for you. You spend so much time worrying about your family that you never have enough time for yourself. I just wanted you to have one night that’s only about you, not them. Because I care about you, and I want…” He let out a slow breath. “I want to be with you, and I know you want to be with me.”
Her heart ached as a sad expression filled his face. “And, baby, we’d both be a lot better off if you’d just admit it.” With that, he slid out the door.
Okay, so she was an idiot. It only took Holly twenty-four hours to figure it out, though a part of her had known all along she was being foolish by keeping Carson at arm’s length. Ever since the night she’d met him at the Hot Zone, she’d felt more alive, more free, than she had in years. Instead of holding on to that feeling, she’d sent Carson away, and now she felt more trapped than ever.
Then again, was it possible to feel anything other than trapped when she was having dinner with her family?
“Pass the mashed potatoes,” Todd said through a mouthful of sesame chicken Holly had prepared.
She obediently passed him the bowl of potatoes, then glanced around the table at the rest of them. Her father’s dark head was bent as he cut his chicken, her brother Kyle was slathering butter on the rolls Holly had spent the past two hours baking, and Caroline was pushing peas around her plate with her fork, looking distracted.
And had any of them commented on her dinner? Nope. Even though Caroline had called her at the last minute, Holly had run around her kitchen, cooking, packing up everything in Tupperware so she could bring it over to her dad’s house for this unexpected dinner Caroline had planned. Instead of working on the recipes she was creating for her midterms, she’d slaved to make this stupid meal, and none of them had even thanked her for it.
It only made her realize that Carson had been absolutely right when he’d told her they took advantage of her. She’d always known it, but hearing someone else say it had forced her to really look at the situation. And she didn’t like what she saw. Ever since her mom died, she’d done everything for her family. When was the last time any of them had thanked her for it?
“I have my last exam tomorrow,” Todd spoke up, taking a sip of water. “Hol, do you think you could come over to my dorm after dinner tonight and quiz me?”
Her lips automatically formed the word yes but she quickly snapped her mouth closed. No. No. So what if it was Todd’s final exam? She had her evaluation next week, and if she wanted to impress her teacher, she needed to come up with a recipe that would knock the man’s socks off. Wasn’t that more important?
If Carson were here, she knew he’d say yes, it was more important, and a sudden flare of determination lit up inside her.
“I can’t,” she told her brother. “I have my own exam to prepare for.”
Todd looked startled. “You can’t? But it’ll only take a few hours. Please, Holly?”