Chapter Ten

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Nate had evidently gotten most of his features from his father, but he and his mother both shared the same southern accent and a tenderness for each other that made Zoe miss her own mother dearly. This woman was all smiles to match her pretty summer dress, and even though she was blind her kitchen was clean and filled with warmth. Zoe had never been able to replicate such a feeling.

"Oh, you little charmer." Nate's mother reached out to stroke the petals of one of the roses as she leaned toward them and breathed deeply. "They smell beautiful. Would you put them in some water for me?"

"Of course."

"And for Heaven's sake, don't leave that girl standing in the hallway. Offer her a drink or something. I raised you better than that."

Zoe blinked in surprise. Nate's mother looked right at her, and for a moment Zoe was sure that she must have been mistaken. The woman couldn't be blind—how else would she have known that Zoe was standing there? How else would she be looking right at her?

Nate grimaced. "You can come in, Zoe. She won't bite. This is my mother, Celia McKay. Mom, this is Zoe."

"The girl who tried to hit you," the woman mused. Zoe opened her mouth to explain that it had been an accident, but Celia McKay was smiling. "Make yourself at home, sweetheart. And please excuse the mess. I've got five boys in my house. Keeping things clean is almost impossible."

"The house isn't a mess, Mom."

Celia McKay turned to glare at her son. "Don't think I don't know you left your dirty laundry in the hallway, Nathaniel Andre. I fully expect you to put it in the hamper where it belongs."

Nate winced. "Yes, Mom."

He moved to the other side of the kitchen and swung open a cupboard. Out came a glass vase, which he promptly filled with water before placing the roses into it. He set it on the windowsill after that, where the gentle breeze was able to pick up the scent of the flowers and waft it about the kitchen.

Zoe stepped forward to greet his mother, who smiled and held out out her hands for Zoe to take. Zoe hesitated a moment, unsure of what to do, but after a reassuring nod from Nate she took Celia McKay's gentle hands in her own.

But Celia McKay must have sensed her hesitation anyway. She gave Zoe's hands a gentle squeeze. "You don't have to tip-toe around me, sweetheart. I may be blind, but I'm just as tough as the boys."

"Tougher," Nate said with a smile.

"How did you know?" Zoe couldn't help but ask. She shifted nervously. "That there was a girl in the hallway, I mean. I could have been Paris. Or just another guy."

"That boy wouldn't know how to walk quietly if his life depended on it." Celia McKay smiled. "No. You were very light on your feet. Lighter than any man I know." She shook her head. "You could only have been a girl."

"And I did tell her I was bringing you around," Nate added with a shrug.

"I would have known regardless." His mother's head tilted slightly as she added, "Here comes Paris now."

Zoe listened, but it still took another few seconds before she could hear the footsteps herself. Paris rounded the corner and slipped into the kitchen, making a beeline for the carrots on the bench.

As he reached out to take one, Celia McKay turned and swatted his hand away.

"Ow!" Paris withdrew his hand quickly, looking wounded. "Not even one?"

"Only if you wash it, peel it, and chop it up yourself."

Zoe smiled. She was beginning to like this woman.

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