Craving Him Page 35

14

Ben

I’d always known Emmy had grown up differently from me, but this wasn’t what I had imagined. I pulled the rental car into the gravel driveway that Emmy pointed out and cut the ignition. Her parents lived in a rust-colored old trailer with a crooked front door and a bare patch of dirt where the grass had been trampled away over the years.

I glanced over at Emmy. She chewed nervously at her lip, watching for my reaction.

I grabbed her hand, lacing my fingers between hers. “Ready, babe?”

She gave a tight nod and climbed from the car.

Gravel crunching under my boots, I followed her lead to the front door. She hadn’t told me much about her parents, only that her mom and dad and younger brother would all be here for Thanksgiving. I hadn’t really had the typical experience of meeting my girlfriend’s parents before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The door opened when we got closer and Emmy’s mom came barreling out to launch herself into Emmy’s arms. They were sobbing and hugging and talking in animated voices while I stood there uselessly holding Emmy’s suitcase and my duffle bag.

She hugged her dad next then leapt into her brother’s arms, calling him, “Bubba!” He shook his head and her mom leaned over to explain it’d been her nickname for him since he was born. She’d been two years old and couldn’t say Porter.

Her mom had long brown hair like Emmy’s, with a few threads of silver in the braid hanging down her back. As soon as she released Emmy and wiped stray tears from her cheeks, she turned to face me. I couldn’t imagine such an emotional homecoming with my own mother. The last time I went to visit her two years ago she couldn’t even be bothered to come and pick me up from the airport. She sent a driver, with the excuse that she had a manicure appointment to keep.

“Heaven above, Emerson Jean. He’s hotter than the month of July.”

“Mom,” Emmy scolded, turning pink as her mom looked me up and down. “This is my mom, Sue.”

“Hi, Mrs. Clarke.” Before I had time to decide between a handshake and a hug, she was launching herself toward me. Twining her arms around my waist, she gripped me in a hug as I patted her back under the watchful scowls of Emmy’s father and brother.

Clearing my throat, Sue finally released me and stepped back. I crossed the weathered front porch and extended my hand. “Mr. Clarke, it’s nice to meet you. Thank you for having me.”

Never in my life had I felt so scrutinized, even when strutting down the runway dressed in next to nothing. I felt the intensity of the glares served up by the men in Emmy’s life.

Emmy stepped in between us. “This is my dad, Tom, and my brother, Porter.” They continued glaring at me. “Dad,” she hissed, and her father slowly raised his hand to shake mine.

“Welcome to Tennessee.”

The relaxed smile that overtook Emmy’s mouth told me she’d been more worried than she’d let on about her father’s reaction to me. Her brother was still watching me with a frown etched into his face. Porter was about my height and spent more than his fair share of time in a weight room. Judging by his tense posture and expression, he was considering challenging me to a wrestling match out in the front yard.

A huge black dog came barreling out the front door and charged straight for me. His snout hit me squarely in the nuts. “Ompf.” I doubled over as the breath was forced from my lungs.

“Buck!” Emmy yanked him back by the collar, successfully dislodging the beast from between my legs.

I looked up to see Porter smiling for the first time. “Good boy, Buck.”

Emmy elbowed her brother in the ribs.

“What? He’s just being protective, Em.”

“It’s fine,” I bit out. My voice was several octaves too high and my balls were aching but I took the hit like a man. I straightened and felt my balls descend back to their proper place. Fuck, that hurt.

“Come inside, Ben,” Sue said. “I can get you something for your . . .” Her eyes darted down to my crotch.

Emmy let out a groan.

“I’m fine. Thank you, though.”

Sue placed her hand in the crook of my arm and led me inside. “It’s not much, but it’s home.”

The inside of the trailer was cramped and dim and the floor groaned under my feet, but it seemed comfortable and homey. “It was very kind of you to invite me.” I let her guide me to the little front room that held a matching sofa and loveseat in baby-blue corduroy fabric. It didn’t escape my notice that I had to pass by the well-stocked gun cabinet on my to the sofa. I was sure Tom designed it that way.

I sat in the center of the smaller sofa, Emmy on one side and Buck hopping up to sit on the other. He sat there like a damn grown man, looking down at me. It was clear I was going to have to work to win over the Clarke men. Dog included.

Her mom handed us glasses of sweet tea and sat down across from me and Emmy. “So tell us about yourself, Ben. Or is it Benjamin?”

“Ben’s fine. And what would you like to know?”

Porter settled onto the sofa next to his mom and Tom sunk into a worn armchair across from the television.

“Well, Emmy tells us you’re a model,” her mom offered.

Tom rolled his eyes and stifled a groan. It wasn’t a profession he respected. At least not for the man dating his daughter.

“Yeah. I’ve been modeling since I was seventeen. I enjoy it. I get to travel all over the world and meet lots of interesting people. It’s actually how I met Emmy.”

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