Almost Summer (Page 3)
“You’re mocking me.”
“A little. It’s fun.”
She collected their bowls and returned to the kitchen where she quickly warmed the pasta and spooned on the sauce. Then she carried the food outside.
“You have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow,” she said.
“Simon arranged it. He wants to confirm that you’re no longer contagious. Although I suspect he’ll want you to wait a couple more days before going to see them. What with Montana being pregnant and all and him being something of a worrier.”
He glanced at her. “I should move into a hotel.”
“No, you shouldn’t. You’re already here and I don’t mind. As I said before, you’re interesting company.”
“If I talk in my sleep, I must be a bit frightening.”
“Not so much. Tell me about some of the places you’ve been.”
“How much detail do you want?”
“As much as you’re willing to give. I’ve never been anywhere.”
“Most people ask about where I’ve traveled to and then their eyes glaze over when I answer.”
She laughed. “Mine won’t. I promise.” She scooted closer. “I’ve always wanted to travel. While I’m interested in the tourist sights, I’ve also always wanted the chance to really explore a place. Settle in for a few weeks and get to know the people.”
“You find other cultures interesting?”
“Of course. There’s so much I assume about the world because of how I was raised. Knowing in my head that everyone has a different life experience is one thing, but actually getting to talk to people, to see life through their eyes, so to speak, fascinates me.”
She drew in a breath and shrugged. “Sorry. I get carried away.”
“Not at all. Your passion is intriguing.”
She shifted so she was sitting cross-legged on the chair. “Tell me about Africa. No, India. What an amazing country. What is Mumbai like?”
“Crowded. Loud. The population is over twelve million, or twenty thousand people per square kilometer. There’s a large immigrant population, of course and a…” His voice trailed off. “Now I’m the one who was carried away. As you can see, I’m not good at casual conversation.”
“Keep talking,” she told him. “I’m interested.”
He studied her for a second, before nodding. “When I go there, I stay at an ashram. A friend of mine runs it. There is a kind of peace in the middle of everything else going on. He comes with me when I visit prospective patients. Parents and their children. His presence calms us all.”
Alistair talked of beautiful sunrises, of sacred cows and the Muslim call to prayers. He mentioned going to South America. A river trip down the Amazon, of glancing into his mirror while shaving one morning to find himself being watched by a jaguar. Of waking up and realizing he was sharing his bed with a python.
“I’m not sure I could keep from screaming,” Paige said.
“I did scream,” he admitted with a grin. “Like a little girl. I horrified nearly five centuries of ancestors. I felt them collectively turning over in their graves.”
They finished the pasta and she brought out fruit and coffee. As they lingered over the table, he talked about the patients he treated and the lives he changed. He showed her pictures on his phone. She saw smiling children with features restored. Happy families, grateful parents.
“Your work is a miracle,” she said, passing him back his phone.
“No. I was given a gift and I use it to help others. It’s nothing so complicated as a miracle.”
“It is to the people you help. Do you get lonely?”
“All the time. I work with a team, but the people on it changes frequently. Different doctors come and go. I tend to stay in a place for six to eight weeks, then move on.”
“Sounds like heaven.”
“It can be.”
“Sara never wanted to go with you?” she asked.
“No. She wanted to stay in her corner of home.”
“I would have been right beside you,” Paige said without thinking, then held up both hands. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not inviting myself along on your next trip.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you did.”
She laughed. “You’re very kind.”
“I’m not kind at all. You’re an intriguing woman, Paige. Opening your house to a stranger.”
“A stranger who talks in his sleep.” She studied him. “My aunt would have liked you.”
“You can’t know that,” she said, but pleased by his statement even so.
“I can guess. You said she gave up everything to raise you.”
Paige smiled at the memory. “She was wonderful. She’d made the decision to become a nun early in life and was a novitiate by the time she was nineteen. After my parents died, she came to care for me, leaving her life as a nun. I still remember her telling me that we were going to learn to be a family together.”
Her smile faded a little. “As a five-year-old, I didn’t understand what a massive transition she must have gone through. She’d never held a job in the ‘regular’ world, although hers was a teaching order, so she was used to a classroom. Still, she had to figure out how to pay bills and manage a household while raising me.”
“Which she did,” he said.
Paige nodded. “With grace and love. Money wasn’t an issue. My parents had planned ahead. There was an insurance policy that paid off the mortgage and left enough to cover our basic needs. Aunt Sophia became a teacher here in town. She was special.”
She loved with all she had, Paige thought, missing the woman who had meant so much to her.
“I was lucky to have her,” she added. “Neither of my parents had any other family. Sophia and I took care of each other.”
As she spoke, she was aware of his blue gaze, steady on her face. And that his blinks were getting longer and slower.
“All right,” she said, coming to her feet. “Let’s get you back to bed.”
Alistair’s expression went from sleepy attention to complete awareness in a matter of a heartbeat. For a second, she found herself being studied in a way that could only be called sexual. Tension filled the space between them. For the life of her, Paige wasn’t sure if she should throw herself into his arms or run screaming into the afternoon.
As it was bright and late spring, the latter seemed kind of silly. As to the former…it was an idea she could get used to, she thought.
“Because I was ill,” he said, as if to clarify.
“Right. You haven’t been out of bed this long in days. You must be exhausted.”
“I’m more tired than I would like to admit.” He rose. “First let me help you with the dishes.”
She laughed. “I can manage.”
“I’m actually very good at washing up.”
“Part of your viscount training?”
“Of course. We are required to take a washing-up course before our tenth birthday. By royal decree.”
She started for the back door. “You can show me your fancy skills tomorrow. Right now you need to rest or you’ll relapse. I don’t want to have to explain to Simon why his friend isn’t getting better.”
Alistair walked around the table. “All right, but tomorrow the dishes are on me.”
“I look forward to it.”
They walked toward the back door. Once they reached the door, he motioned for her to go first, then followed. He walked past her in the kitchen, his arm brushing hers. She was aware of heat and a voice whispering that handsome, charming men could be very dangerous to a woman’s heart.
He was just passing through. In a few days he would be gone and she would return to her regular routine. Better for both of them if she remembered that and didn’t try to make their time together more than it was.
Oh, but a girl could dream.
Alistair poured himself a cup of coffee. It was early—with the sun barely peeking over the horizon. The sky was awash in pink and orange, with a few stars still twinkling. The house was quiet before the start of the day. Even the birds were silent.
He’d awakened more than an hour ago and had tried to go back to sleep. But he’d finally caught up on his rest and recovered from his bout of measles. He was energized and ready to begin his day.
Fortunately, Paige had preloaded the coffeemaker the night before. All he’d had to do was push a single button. A good thing. For all his medical training and ability in the operating room, he was forever confounded by simple kitchen appliances. While in New Zealand a few years back, he’d nearly set his rental house on fire by trying to broil steaks.
He crossed to the refrigerator to get milk for his coffee. There was a carton in the door, but what caught his attention were the stacks of food, all neatly labeled. There were salads and casseroles, sandwiches and soups. In the freezer were even more containers.
Paige had been telling the truth about the generosity of her neighbors. Not that he’d assumed she was lying, but seeing for himself what had been delivered was overwhelming. While he knew the help had been as much for her as for him, he was still surprised that so many would pitch in for a man they’d never met.
His friend Simon had come to Fool’s Gold the previous summer for a few weeks. Like every other assignment, this one was to be temporary. But something had happened during his stay. Not only had he fallen in love with Montana, he’d found a place to belong. During their brief conversations, Simon had made the town sound like a paradise. A close-knit community where neighbors took care of each other.
Alistair had assumed his friend was exaggerating. Now, as he closed the refrigerator door, he wondered if Simon had been telling the truth. If so, he understood the appeal. This was the sort of community that he was meant to return to. A home. Something he hadn’t allowed himself to consider since the death of his child.
Foolish, he knew. Depriving himself wouldn’t return her. His baby girl was lost forever. Time had healed the raw edges of his wound, but it would always be with him.
The back door opened and a pretty, petite redhead walked into the kitchen.
“Hi. I know it’s early, but I saw the lights on and—” The woman stared at him, blinking. “You’re not Paige.”
“I am not.”
“Eek.” She took a step back. “You’re the sick British guy, right? Because if you were a strangler or a thief, you wouldn’t have stopped for coffee. At least, I hope you wouldn’t.”
“If by sick you mean ill, then that is me.” He held out his hand. “Alistair Woodbury.”
She hesitated, then shook his hand. “Annabelle Weiss. I’m a friend of Paige’s.” She held out a couple of books. “Paige called me yesterday and said you were feeling better. She asked me to bring by a couple of books for you to read.” She shrugged. “Paige said you were at that awkward stage. Healed enough to get bored, but not so filled with energy that you could do much of anything.”
An unexpected kindness, he thought. Not only Paige for asking but her friend for being so obliging. “Thank you so much for taking the time to drop these off.”
“You’re welcome. One is a history of the area. It’s interesting.” She smiled. “I have a minor in Maá-zib studies, so I’m biased. They’re the women who first settled here. A matriarchal society. Very powerful. Fool’s Gold is still matriarchal, just so you know.”
“You’re saying I should watch myself?”
“I will make sure these books are returned to you.”
Annabelle shook her head. “Not to me. To the library. I work there.”
She was shapely with eyes that teased and a very attractive smile. “You don’t look like the librarians I remember,” he told her.
“We’ve changed. There was a whole press release issued about it, but we didn’t get much media coverage.”
He stared at her. “You’re teasing me.”
“Just a little.”
Paige teased him. He had to say the women in this town were intriguing. Although his interest in Annabelle was merely academic, while his interest in Paige was designed to get him into trouble.
Annabelle glanced at her watch. “I need to get going. I’m meeting my friends for breakfast. Heidi gets up before God to milk her goats and Charlie likes to eat before going to the gym.” Annabelle wrinkled her nose. “She works out every day. What’s up with that?”
“People are odd creatures.”
“You got that right. Okay. It was nice to meet you.”
With that, Annabelle turned and left.
Alistair carried the books to the table and sat down. The first was a novel—a thriller by an author he enjoyed. The second book was, as promised, a history of the area, with an emphasis on the Maá-zib tribe. He leaned back and started to read.
Some time later, he heard footsteps on the stairs. Paige walked into the kitchen.
He would guess she hadn’t been awake long. Her skin was still flushed from sleep and her eyes were slightly unfocused. With her long blond hair hanging down loose and her feet bare, she’d shifted from healing angel to sexy temptress.
Her jeans and T-shirt shouldn’t have been appealing, yet he found himself mesmerized by the way the denim cupped her curves and the soft, worn T-shirt was tight across her chest.
“Morning,” she said, sounding sleepy. “Sorry. I’m not a morning person. Give me a cup of coffee and fifteen minutes and I’ll be human.”