Beautiful Beast (Enchanted Fairytales)

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Authors: Cindy C Bennett
splash.”
    “Don’t ever underestimate me, Alex,” she said sternly, shaking a finger at him.
    He held up both hands. “Never again.”
    She laughed and challenged him to a race, which he won without effort. In the water, he seemed looser, more comfortable than he did out. She wondered if it felt better on his scars. Whenever he bounced up out of the water, the wet shirt molded to his shape, showing the clear results of all his workouts. She thought of telling him that with a body like that, he didn’t need to cover up, scars or no. Then she decided this was one of those cases of wisely remaining silent, and did so.
     
    * * * * *
     
    Alex tried to ignore the feeling of happiness settling in his chest. He shouldn’t be so happy to have Calli home again. She was a pain in the butt more than not—and bribing his father. They were goofing around in the water, having cannonball contests, when his father came out. The laughter died immediately on his lips.
    “Well, Callidora, you’re back,” he said.
    “Of course I am,” she said. “Where else would I go?”
    “I mean I didn’t expect you back until after dinner.”
    “I’d probably feel guilty about coming back early and expecting you to feed me dinner,” Calli said, “except that I know Javier always makes way too much food, so feeding one additional person doesn’t make any difference at all. Have you ever thought of sending some of that extra food down to the shelter?”
    Alex just stared at her. He’d never heard anyone speak to his father so casually.
    “So you just came back for the food?” his father asked.
    “Javier’s food is definitely worth a lot.” She looked at Alex. “But I had other reasons for coming back.” Then, as if realizing what her words implied, she said, “A swim for example. Can’t do that at home.”
    His father didn’t seem to know what to say to that, so he simply turned and reentered the house. Calli turned to face Alex.
    “Wanna sit in the hot tub for a while?”
    Calli sat in the warm water while Alex sat on the edge. The heat could be too intense on his back and shoulder sometimes. He didn’t want Calli to see that. She didn’t ask why he didn’t get in. She moved so that she sat right next to his legs.
    “Alex, I wanted to say thank you.”
    “For what?”
    She rolled her eyes at him. “For the shoes and the workout clothes. You didn’t have to do that.”
    “I didn’t want to see you working out in jeans and slippers again.”
    She bumped his leg with her shoulder. “Still, it was really nice,” she said. “I appreciate it.”
    “You’re welcome,” he said.
    She took a breath, and he got the impression she was nervous about something. She stood, and turned to face him.
    “Do you think you might eat dinner with us tonight?”
    He shook his head. “I prefer not to eat with my father.”
    “Well, then I’ll eat with you. Where do you eat?”
    “In my room.”
    “So?”
    “So, what?”
    “Can I eat with you?”
    “Why do you want to eat with me?” he asked.
    “Seriously, Alex? I have my choice of eating with you or your father, and you wonder why?”
    “Is he so bad?”
    “No,” she answered honestly. “I kinda like giving him a hard time. But I’d still prefer to eat with you.”
    “Okay.”
    She smiled brightly at him, and he was awestruck again by how incredibly beautiful she was, even without a drop of makeup and her hair tangled from their swim, especially when she smiled at him like that.
    “It’s a date,” she said.
    “Not a date,” he refuted. “Dinner.”
    A flicker of hurt reflected in her eyes, and he wished he could take the words back. He wasn’t even sure why he’d said it.
    “Semantics,” she said, turning and sitting down in the water next to his legs again.
     
    * * * * *
     
    Calli showered, dressed, and dried her hair before dinner. She hated to admit how much Alex’s words bothered her. She’d only been teasing when she called dinner a date. His quick

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