Justin wasn’t sure what was wrong with him. He barely knew Karmen, but the sight of seeing someone who wanted to cause her harm had him suddenly seeing red. Luckily, Harrison was with him to stop him from knocking the guy out because seconds later, the man let her go, and he watched Karmen’s shoulders relax.
“Uncle Pappy!” Karmen shrieked as she threw her arms around his neck.
“Hi, there, pumpernickel!” He chuckled.
“Uncle Pappy?” Justin muttered under his breath.
He wanted to run to her. It felt like he had been waiting lifetimes to meet her, but his immediate anger coursing through him scared him a little. It had been years since he had found himself wanting to fight, and he desperately needed to punch something. Karmen couldn’t see that side of him. Not yet.
Karmen turned to greet Justin. Her heart sunk when he was nowhere in sight.
“C’mon, kiddos,” Uncle Pappy motioned for Karmen and Cee to join him. “Aunt Mary is fixing her famous peach margaritas, and I’ve just pulled the pork off the smoker. Aunt Mary probably already has it pulled, and the BBQ sauce added.”
“Her Dr. Pepper sauce?” Cee asked hopefully.
“Of course.” Uncle Pappy replied.
“I thought you guys weren’t coming until next week?” Karmen inquired.
“Your Aunt Mary wanted to come to help you with the move.”
“I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.” She sighed.
“I tried telling her you could handle it, but you know your Aunt Mary.” He smiled.
“Mmhmm, and you weren’t willing to come jump at the chance to build some shelves and paint a mural on one of the walls in my home office?”
“You’re like a daughter to us, sweetheart. We want to help you get settled.”
Karmen rolled her eyes but smiled before she looped her arms through his as they walked back to her aunt and uncle’s beach house.
There were a lot more people at the beach house than Karmen expected. She was only expecting to see Aunt Mary standing in the kitchen, but there were four other women Karmen didn’t recognize in the kitchen and three men sitting in the living room, also whom she didn’t know.
Aunt Mary screamed at the sight of Karmen and almost knocked her husband to the floor as she made her way to her niece.
Karmen chuckled as Aunt Mary squeezed her like she never expected to see her again. She returned her tight hug.
“And beautiful Cee!” She kissed her on the cheek.
“Hi, Aunt Mary.” Cee smiled.
“I didn’t know you had company. We can come back.” Karmen informed her.
“Don’t be silly. I saw you girls walking and sent Bob to go send you.”
“Who?” Cee asked.
“Well, I certainly don’t call him Uncle Pappy. I’m his wife!”
Karmen and Cee both giggled.
“I didn’t realize that was his name.”
“Karmen, this is Anna,” Aunt Mary introduced her to the woman at the kitchen island, chopping cabbage. “She lives in the house next door and keeps an eye on this place for us in the spring and fall.”
Karmen nodded in understanding. “It’s nice to meet you finally. I’ve heard a lot about you.” She smiled.
“Likewise,” Anna responded. “Mary has been talking about you wanting to move to Connecticut for years.”
“Yes. I finally made the leap to New England.”
“You could have visited in the past five years, ya know?” Aunt Mary scolded her.
Karmen narrowed her eyes at her aunt, but then they softened. “You know I’ve been struggling, Aunt Mary.”
Cee placed a comforting hand on Karmen’s shoulder.
Aunt Mary was wise enough not to say anything, and Uncle pappy finished the introductions.
“Just drop it.”
Everyone in the room turned in the direction of the angry voice.
“Dude, I’m just sayin’, something’s up with you,” Harrison informed his friend before he noticed all the eyes on them.
Justin’s eyes were locked with Karmen’s, and the entire room could feel the tension between them.
Karmen finally broke their stare and smiled shyly, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.
Justin found her reaction adorable.
“It’s about time!” Anna shouted at Justin.
“You’re still chopping cabbage, sis.” He motioned to her knife with his head.
Karmen giggled, and Justin became even more smitten.
He moved to stand next to Karmen. “I don’t have to call him Uncle Pappy, do I?” he whispered so only she could hear. “I’m a middle-aged man.”
Karmen giggled again, and Justin realized he would do anything to hear her laugh.
“You can call him Bob.”
“Hey, Mary?” Uncle Pappy yelled to get her attention.
“Yes?” She inquired in response.
“Will you make me another peach margarita, my bride?” He smiled at her.
“Of course, sweetie.” Aunt Mary blew him a kiss.
Karmen smiled at the gesture, and Justin smiled at her reaction. He was having trouble keeping his eyes off her.
“Mary?” Uncle Pappy asked again.
“Where is the pulled pork?”
“In the crockpot, dear.”
She sighed, “Yes, Bob?”
“Where are the buns?”
“In the bread box, dear.”
“Oh my god,” she mumbled under her breath. “Yes, honey?”
“Where do we keep the bread knife?
“In the same place we have kept it for the past forty years, in the knife block.”
“Bob!” Mary frustratingly yelled, “My clitoris has eight-thousand nerve endings; if you insist on getting on my nerves, could you at least get on one of those?”
Karmen’s face turned beet red. “We have company, Aunt Mary.”
“We’re all adults here. We know what married people do.”
Karmen looked at Justin, “I’m sorry.”
“Are you kidding me?” He raised an eyebrow at her, “I can’t tell you the last time I was this entertained.”
Justin wasn’t big on people, but he enjoyed the company that surrounded him. A group of rare gems with big hearts, could hold conversations, and had more to offer than their unsolicited opinions. Of course, the rarest treasure of them all was the beautiful woman sitting next to him, and as much as he enjoyed the company around him, he wanted nothing more than an opportunity to spend some time alone with her.
She placed her hand on his arm, and as if she could read his mind, she asked, “Would you like to go for a walk on the beach with me?”
To be continued…