Heat of Passion
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“Quit bothering Holly,” Caroline said to Todd, her green eyes flashing with anger. “She said no.”
Todd swallowed. “I wasn’t—”
“You were being an ass**le, expecting her to drop everything to help you study for an exam that for weeks you should have been reviewing for,” Caroline snapped. Her cheeks flushed. “Actually, we were all being ass**les to Holly. Even you, Daddy.”
Their father frowned.
“I’m serious,” Caroline insisted, her eyes filling with remorse. “I know we’ve all had a tough couple of years, but yesterday I realized how unfair we’ve been to Holly. We expect her to do everything.”
“Because she’s so good at it,” Kyle offered. His expression grew pained. “You know, the way Mom was.”
“Well, she’s not Mom,” Caroline replied. “And she shouldn’t have to do whatever we ask her to. Did you guys know she has a boyfriend?”
The three males glanced at Holly in surprise. She suddenly felt uncomfortable, not to mention confused. What on earth had gotten into Caroline? For two years her sister hadn’t seemed to have any qualms about asking Holly for every favor imaginable—what the hell had changed?
“That’s right,” her sister said, shaking her head to herself. “She’s got a boyfriend, and none of us even knew about him.”
“Caroline,” Holly began, wanting to tell her that Carson wasn’t exactly her boyfriend.
Her sister silenced her with a sharp look. “No, don’t explain. You have a boyfriend, and you didn’t tell us, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that none of us even cared to ask if you were seeing anyone new. We’re jerks, Holly. We expect you to fix everything in our lives and don’t bother being interested in yours. All we do is make demands. It’s no wonder you got your boyfriend to hang up on me. I deserved it.”
A short silence fell over the table, until Holly’s father finally cleared his throat and shot her a gentle look. “Honey…is it true? Do you think we make too many demands of you?”
Holly swallowed. “Sometimes.”
Her dad looked away, but not before she saw a flash of guilt in his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said after a moment. “You always seemed so eager to help out, doing all the stuff around the house that your mom used to do…” Sorrow creased his features. “And I was too busy missing your mother to notice how unfair I was being to you.”
“It’s okay, Daddy,” she said, her voice coming out shaky.
“No, it’s not. Caroline’s right. Your mother’s gone, and it’s time we figured out how to take care of ourselves.” He suddenly straightened his shoulders, his stern expression reminding her of the way he’d been before her mother had died. Strong, commanding. “First things first, I want you go home.”
She faltered. “What?”
“You said you have an exam to prepare for.” Her father’s gaze was determined. “Go home and focus on that, honey. And while you’re taking care of yourself, the rest of us are going to clean up and do the dishes and figure out exactly how we’re going to make it up you. Got it?”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Got it.”
She was still smiling as she left her father’s house and headed for her car. Although she was still a bit stunned over what just happened, she wasn’t about to complain. For some reason, her family had come to their senses tonight.
No, not for some reason. Because of Carson.
Carson had gotten through to Caroline last night. Instead of letting Holly go clean up another one of her sister’s messes, he’d forced Caroline to deal with it herself. And the tough-love approach had worked. Holly had been babying them all for so long, and thanks to Carson, she wouldn’t be doing that any longer. How could she have ever thought he was selfish?
I know you want to be with me…we’d both be a lot better off if you’d just admit it.
The memory of Carson’s parting words made her heart squeeze, reminding her again of just how much of a moron she was. He was right. She did want to be with him. She’d walked away from him that first night at the club because she’d been scared of the intense desire he’d evoked inside her. And she’d walked away from him yesterday because that intense desire had somehow transformed into something a little too close to love, and that had scared her more.
But she wasn’t scared anymore. Steve might have broken her heart, but Carson had put the pieces back together.
So maybe it was time to quit acting like an idiot and give him what he wanted. What she wanted.
Starting the car, Holly reversed out of the driveway, knowing exactly what she needed to do.
Carson wasn’t picking up his phone. Holly left him three voice mails, but by the next day, he still hadn’t called back. She would have driven over to his apartment, but she was ashamed that she didn’t even know where he lived. She’d tried so hard to keep him at a distance, to keep things on her own turf, that she hadn’t bothered to find out his address.
By the time the early evening rolled around, she was getting frustrated. She needed to see him, damn it! Apologize for asking him to leave, for calling him selfish, when all he’d tried to do was show her that it was time to quit letting her family take advantage of her.