“Hey, kids, Hannah brought a friend,” Rick noted, turning toward Grace. “Forgive my rudeness. I should have asked your name—”
“What?” Kyle said, his eyebrows plowing into each other.
“Gracie!” The twins hollered, suddenly realizing she was there and immediately wrapping long girly arms around her neck.
“Gracie?” Rick said.
“What’s with you, dude?” Kyle said. “You know Grace. How could you forget her? You guys were always mean to her.”
Stone silence took hold of the loft. Rick’s gaze met Grace’s, his shock almost tangible. He blinked twice, as if trying to match the Grace of yesteryear to the Grace of today and make sense of it.
Grace made herself take a breath to avoid fainting. Her silence had him running his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his brow in shock.
“Wow. I-I didn’t recognize you. It’s been—”
“Five years,” she said.
“Yeah. Man, have you changed!”
“She let her hair grow long,” Hannah offered.
“Yeah, I see that,” Rick said, although his quick but polite perusal of her entire figure told Grace he was admiring more than her hair. “It’s… amazing. It makes your eyes stand out. They’re so…”
“Blue?” Hannah narrowed her eyes at him, probably wondering what cat had got his tongue.
“I meant, well, beautiful, even prettier than I remembered, but yeah, they are blue. Like, what, cornflower blue? Right, Hannah? That’s what Mom called them.”
“Yeah, she did,” Hannah agreed.
“I remember,” Grace said, the bitterness seeping into her voice. “I heard her say it when I was sitting on the kitchen island waiting for her to put a Band-Aid on my knee. I managed—with a little help from Sean—to trip over one of your inline skates and skin it.”
“Yeah, you were always tripping over something,” he said. Then his eyes widened and his cheeks drained of most of their color, proof he realized he said the wrong thing.
Kyle and the twins muttered at him, making sure he knew they knew it, too. Grace thought Hannah looked ready to faint.
As for Grace, she wanted to punch him—but she’d probably only hurt herself—and scream at him for all the years he and his brothers made her feel small and ugly and stupid, though it would only make her seem petty.
She also couldn’t help the part of her that, despite it all, wanted to lean into him and wrap her arms around him and see if he felt as sensational as he looked