Almost Summer (Page 2)
“Was, but yes. I’m Paige McLean.” She kissed the top of the cat’s head. “Let me get Daytona here back to my neighbor and I’ll bring you something to eat. You must be starving.”
His stomach rumbled. “I am.” He looked at the open window and the blue sky beyond. “Was I out long?”
“That’s not possible.”
“And yet,” she told him. “I’ll be back with food in a minute.”
She left the room. Seconds later, he heard footsteps on the stairs.
Three days? He thought about how hard he’d been working before he’d left Southeast Asia and how many of the children in the village had fallen sick. He should have known better than to travel. Working backwards, he supposed the good news was that he’d likely become contagious about the time he’d driven into Fool’s Gold. With luck, no one had been exposed.
He used the bathroom, pausing to stare at the rash covering his chest and arms. After brushing his teeth, he returned to the bedroom and picked up his cell phone. He dialed Simon’s number.
“I’ve already notified the CDC,” his friend told him.
Alistair swore. “I never meant to endanger anyone.”
“Per my calculations, you didn’t.”
“That’s what I figured as well,” Alistair said. “I’m hoping we’re both right.”
“You doing all right?”
“The fever broke and I have a—” He smiled as he remembered Paige’s comment. “A very impressive rash.”
They finished their conversation. Alistair returned his cell phone to the nightstand and lifted himself into a sitting position. Between the trip to the restroom, a brief conversation with his friend and moving around on the bed, he found himself exhausted. He’d obviously been sicker than he’d realized.
“Here you go,” Paige said, walking into the bedroom. She carried a large tray, which she set on his lap.
She pointed to the various mugs, plates and glasses in front of him. “Tea, because you’re British and I heard you all disintegrate if you don’t have it daily. A sports drink. Simon said you need electrolytes. I don’t know exactly what those are, but apparently you’re lacking in them. I’d be embarrassed about that if I were you. I’m just saying.” She touched a small plate. “A plain cheese sandwich. The bread is homemade and delicious. Not made by me, so I’m allowed to say that. Tomato-basil soup, also homemade, but not by me. And a cupcake, which is probably too much food for you, so I’ll take that off your hands.”
She grabbed the cupcake and retreated to a wingchair on the other side of the bed. It looked out of place in the small bedroom and he wondered if she’d brought it in just so she could sit with him.
He reached for the tea and took a sip. It was perfect. He tried the soup next. Paige had served it in a mug, which made it easier to drink. He took a couple of swallows and found it as tasty as she’d promised. Hunger twisted his stomach and he took several more drinks before looking at her.
“The soup is delicious.”
“I know. I had some last night. Try the sandwich. You’ll die.”
Exactly what he’d been hoping to avoid. “You have a chef?”
She choked on a piece of the cupcake and coughed before swallowing. “What? No. Of course not.”
“Then who’s doing all the cooking?”
Her hazel eyes crinkled with amusement. The first time he’d seen her, she’d worn her long, blond hair back in a ponytail. Now her hair was loose on her shoulders. With her jeans and T-shirt, she was quintessentially American. Fresh-faced, pretty, open. Sexy.
“You’ve never been here before, have you?” she asked.
“Here being this town?”
“This is my first visit.”
“Well, it’s the kind of place that welcomes everyone. We take care of our own. Word got out that you were here and sick and the town responded.”
She tilted her head. “I work several jobs. I teach yoga, I’m a part-time receptionist at one of the local fire stations and I have a couple of shifts at Morgan’s Books.”
“I’m a girl with a plan. Anyway, taking care of you has meant letting people know I won’t be in for work. One person told another and the town stepped in. I am currently in possession of enough food to feed much of the entire state of California. My freezer overflows with all kinds of casseroles. I also have an assortment of homemade remedies for everything from fever to warts.”
“I don’t have warts.”
“Not now.” She smiled. She took the last bite of the cupcake and waved the wrapper. “If you want one of these, there are eleven more downstairs.”
He’d taken a single bite of the cheese sandwich and found it as delicious as Paige had promised, but he was already full and getting sleepy.
“Have you really had to miss work to take care of me?” he asked. “I’m awfully sorry about that.”
“Not a problem. I couldn’t miss all my shifts, so I’ve had a couple of friends in to watch you while I was gone. You flashed a friend of mine, by the way. She was both thrilled and intrigued.”
“You climbed out of bed wearing nothing but your very manly briefs. Heidi hasn’t been on a date for a while. She might be by later to check you out.”
“I’m not sure if I should be flattered or hide.”
“She’s pretty adorable.”
Alistair doubted anyone could be as adorable as Paige. “I appreciate your care.”
“It’s not a problem. I’m getting plenty of meals out of it. Plus it’s nice to have someone in the house. Sometimes it gets lonely here.”
He glanced around at the floral wallpaper and the simple white dresser. “Aunt Sophia had a very nice room.”
“It’s not fancy.”
“For me, it’s a palace.”
“Oooh, and this coming from a man who has probably been in a palace.”
“Windsor. Buckingham. Mongolian.”
She frowned. “What’s the Mongolian Palace?”
“A great restaurant I know in New York.”
She laughed. “Very funny. You’re feeling better.”
“Exhausted, but yes. I’d flown straight back from Asia. I’d been working there for six weeks with back-to-back surgeries.”
“I heard you’re a surgeon, like Simon.”
“Yes.” His head started to swim and he was losing a battle to keep his eyes open. “I work around the world.”
“I’ve always wanted to see the world.”
“I could show you.”
He wasn’t sure if he’d said the words or only thought them. Because right then everything went dark and he found himself drifting. He thought he felt the tray being lifted off the bed, then cool, gentle hands stroked his forehead.
“Sleep well, My Lord.”
Something soft touched his cheek. Instinctively, he turned, wanting more of whatever that was, but it was too late. Exhaustion claimed him and the opportunity was lost.
Paige fingered the worn pages, studying the stamps. So many different countries, she thought. Some were from places she’d never even heard of.
“Going through my things?”
She looked up and saw that Alistair was awake again. He looked better than he had. More rested, with normal coloring.
Over the past couple of days, much of his rash had faded. He’d basically been eating and sleeping, the latter more than the former.
She held up his passport. “Of course. What else was I going to do to pass the time? You’ve been to very interesting places. I don’t suppose you’d tell me about them?”
“I’d love to, but on the condition that I get to eat.”
“At a table. Like a real person.”
She stood and looked down at him. “Seriously? You want to come downstairs?”
“Yes, but first I want to take a shower.”
“You are kind of stinky,” she agreed. “You also need a shave. I didn’t think viscounts were supposed to be scruffy.”
“Scruffy is our best look.”
It was a good look for him, she was willing to admit. The dark stubble contrasted with his blue eyes. The man had the bone structure of a god, and while he wasn’t the least bit smelly, it made her feel better to tease him. After all, he was titled, smart, well-educated and well-traveled and, hey, a gifted surgeon. While she was a small-town girl with many jobs but no career. Someone who had always planned to make something of her life, but so far hadn’t.
“A shower it is,” she said. “But be careful. I’m not in the mood to come rescue you, so if you fall you’ll just be lying there, na**d and shivering.”
“An unattractive visual. I will be careful.”
She collected clean clothes for him and put out fresh towels, then waited while he stood. He was a little weak, but seemed to have rediscovered his balance. She hovered until he made it into the bathroom, then went downstairs to prepare lunch.
There were dozens of choices from all the food people had dropped off. In the end she decided on a spring vegetable soup with a second course of pesto and cheese ravioli. She cut up some fruit for dessert. Somehow, in the past couple of days, the cupcakes had mysteriously disappeared.
“Not my fault,” she said aloud. “I’ve had company.”
“Anyone I know?”
“A couple of my friends stopped by and—”
She turned and saw Alistair standing in the doorway to the small kitchen. He was showered and shaved, wearing a shirt and jeans. His feet were bare and he looked pale and thin, but still handsome. And as if he were going to fall over any second.
“Did you walk or slide down the stairs?” she asked, crossing to him.
“A little of both.”
She put her arm around his waist and led him through the kitchen and out the back door. She’d quickly set the table with place mats and napkins. Now she led Alistair over to a chair.
He sank onto the seat and smiled at her.
For a second she found herself lost in his blue eyes. There was an odd sensation in her chest—like a fluttering that had her wondering if she could actually speak or only stammer.
“The yard,” she managed.
Flustered, she smoothed the front of her shirt. “Let me, um, get you something to drink.”
She bolted for the kitchen and poured a glass of water and a sports drink. Before carrying them outside, she drew in a breath and told herself not to be an idiot. Yes, Alistair was a good-looking man who made her heart beat faster. But not only did she know absolutely nothing about him, he was only in town for a few days. She had to get a grip.
She carried out the drinks, then the soup. When she was seated across from him, he spoke.
“More offerings from chefs other than you?” he asked.
“I did. Although I am curious how long I was out this time.”
“Two days of impressive sleep. Did you notice—the rash is nearly gone?”
“I did notice. You’ve been very good to me.”
“I am a saint. Besides, it wasn’t so bad. You’re an interesting talker.”
He paused in the act of carrying a spoonful of soup to his mouth. “I was talking?”
“In your sleep? Yes.” She cleared her throat and went for what she hoped was a casual tone. “So, um, who is Sara?”
Paige’s stomach sank to her toes and then went looking for lower ground. She felt herself flushing as she remembered all the silly, romantic thoughts she’d had about the man.
“A widower. Sara and our baby daughter were killed a few years ago. A car accident.” His eyes darkened, as if he’d emotionally retreated to a difficult memory. “It was horribly sad.”
“Of course. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. I was gone when it happened.” He looked at her across the table. “I’m sure Simon has mentioned that I work extensively overseas.”
“Yes. He told me you travel the world, operating on poor children.” Fixing the ravages of birth defects and accidents, giving those children a chance at looking just like everyone else. Something most people took for granted.
“Sara and I grew up together. We’re from the same village.”
“You have your own village?”
He smiled. “No. I lived in a village.” The smile faded. “She was always there, in the background. I suppose our getting married was inevitable. But she never wanted to stray far from home, so after we were married, she stayed put and I went off to work. When she had our daughter, the decision seemed sensible.”
“Then they were killed,” Paige murmured.
“Exactly. I was devastated. I buried myself in work even more than I had before. Apparently too much. I was trying to forget, I suppose. As that will never happen, I’ve been attempting to find peace. I ended up sick and intruding upon you.”
“You’re a nice intrusion.”
“Thank you.” He finished his soup and glanced around the yard. “This is charming.”
She looked at the tall trees, the flowers by the fence and the cut grass. “It’s your basic backyard. I like it. There was plenty of space to play when I was growing up.” She lowered her voice. “I had to make do with toys, what with not having a village of my own.”