Almost Summer (Page 4)
She reached for the coffeemaker, but he beat her to it and poured.
“Just black,” she said with a sigh. “Hey, you’re a medical professional. Maybe you could hook me up with an IV. That would be great. I could get my caffeine undiluted.”
She sipped, then blinked. “Wait a minute. You’re up. Are you feeling better?”
He was close enough to be able to inhale the sweet scent of her skin. He wanted to move that last foot or so and take her in his arms and kiss her into passionate wakefulness.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. I’m feeling better.” Much better, he thought, enjoying the sensation of being attracted to a charming woman with a delightful smile.
“Good. You should probably take it easy today,” she said. “Tomorrow is the start of the Spring Festival. You’ll want to see that for sure.” She grinned. “I know you’ve traveled the world and all, but there’s nothing quite like a Fool’s Gold festival.”
“How fortunate that I’m here right now.”
“Actually we have them all the time. That’s why we’re good at them. But the Spring Festival is one of my favorites.”
“Then it shall be my favorite as well.”
She sipped from her mug. “You’re just so British.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No. But it might be a little bit dangerous. Because it’s, you know, sexy.” The second she finished speaking, her eyes widened and she slapped her free hand over her mouth. “I did not just say that,” she mumbled.
“I’m afraid you did.” Now it was his turn to smile. “I find the news quite excellent.”
“The queen would be very proud.”
[line space]Alistair spent much of the morning reading in “the garden” as he called it. From Paige’s perspective, he hung out in her backyard, which was good. She could avoid him while keeping an eye on him at the same time.
As she tidied her bedroom and vacuumed the upstairs, she told herself that her morning confession was not completely her fault. She hadn’t been awake. No one could blame her for saying something stupid before her first cup of coffee. Wasn’t there some kind of rule about that?
A little before noon, she headed downstairs and walked outside.
“I have to work my shift at the fire station call desk,” she told him. “ I’ll be back about 5:30. Will you be okay on your own?”
His blue eyes crinkled with amusement. “I shall manage. I’ve been crossing the street on my own for nearly a month now.”
“Very funny. You know what I mean. You’ve been sick and in a weakened condition.”
“I’m feeling much less weak.”
“Good to know.”
She hesitated, as if there were more to say. As if he were going to ask her to step closer and…and…And what? They weren’t involved. He was some guy who’d gotten sick and she’d given him a place to stay. The fact that he was a handsome viscount and a globe-trotting surgeon ministering to the world’s unfortunates made him slightly more interesting, but so what? In a couple of days, he would be going to stay with Simon and Montana. Sometime after that, he was leaving the country for his next mission, or trip or whatever it was called. She refused to be attracted to him or worse, fall for him. She might just be a girl from Fool’s Gold, but she wasn’t an idiot.
“See you tonight,” she said firmly. “Have a good afternoon.”
“You as well.”
* * *
Paige returned home right on time. She had wanted to duck out early about five thousand times, but refused to let herself. She worked her full shift, then stayed after a few minutes to chat with some of the firefighters. Finally she left for the short walk back to her place.
She let herself in the front door and called out. “Alistair? I’m home.”
There was no answer. She heard music coming from somewhere in the back and followed the sound to the kitchen.
Only that room was empty as well. She stepped out onto the back porch and saw that the small table had been set for dinner. There was a tablecloth, her mother’s good china and a bottle of wine. Alistair looked up from the book he’d been reading.
Two simple words spoken by a handsome man with a killer smile. Her toes curled, her tummy danced and somewhere deep in her chest, she felt a longing that made her ache in places she didn’t know she had.
“How was your day?” he asked.
“Quiet. I’ve been reading about the town and its history. This is a very interesting place. The Maá-zib women are impressive. Threatening but impressive.”
She laughed. “I’ve heard stories.”
He walked toward one of the chairs and pulled it back. “I’ve taken the liberty of choosing our meal. If you’d like to have a seat?”
She dropped her purse onto the porch and did as he requested. He poured them each a glass of wine, then settled across from her.
“I have had a stream of visitors this afternoon,” he told her. “Your neighbors have checked on me. Simon sent a doctor over to confirm that I’m no longer contagious.”
She laughed. “I’m not surprised. The man is crazy when it comes to his wife.”
“He loves her and wants to keep her safe. I understand his concern.”
The words were quiet—simple and heartfelt. Paige knew he was thinking about Sara and their baby and how he hadn’t even been in the country when they’d died. Talk about devastating. But what she wondered was what lesson he’d learned from the horror. Was it never to give his heart again? To never risk the pain? Or had he decided instead to make sure the next time he was there, with his family? Or rather that they were with him?
But before she could figure out how to ask, he made a joke about the menu and the moment had passed.
They enjoyed a delicious salad and then an entrée of mac and cheese with chicken and asparagus.
“Not a traditional dish,” Alistair admitted, taking another helping. “But delicious.”
“I agree. People in this town can cook.”
He studied her. “You love it here.”
“Is that why you haven’t traveled?” He shrugged. “I don’t mean to drift into sensitive territory, but you’ve made it fairly clear that you want to see the world. Yet here you are.”
She picked up her wineglass and then set it down. “I meant to go. Sophia told me to. But I didn’t want to leave her by herself. She was older and getting frail. Then she died.”
Paige swallowed against the still-painful memory. “It happened so fast. She turned to me and told me she loved me, then she collapsed. It was a heart attack. She died immediately. After that, I couldn’t manage to pull it together. I have a list of places I’d like to visit, but I can’t seem to take the first step. I’m not sure what’s holding me back.”
She tried to smile, but had a feeling she failed. “She would be so disappointed in me.”
Alistair moved quickly, standing, then walking around the table and pulling her to her feet. “She would be no such thing. I’m sure your aunt is very proud of you.”
“You can’t know that.”
“I can and I do. You took me in without a second thought.”
He was holding her hands in his, which was distracting enough, but there was also how close they were standing and the way his intense blue eyes held her gaze. Was it just her or was it hot out here?
“Anyone would have taken you in,” she murmured.
“We both know that’s not true. You’re lovely and giving and when you’re ready, you’ll take your journey.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I am. After all, I’m a viscount.”
She laughed. “Silly me. Of course you must be the knower of all things. By royal decree, of course.”
The words were the barest of whispers, spoken as he lowered his head and pressed his mouth to hers.
The kiss was gentle. A light brush, a teasing touch and then it was over. She didn’t even have time to catch her breath before he kissed her again. This time with slightly more pressure.
Wanting stirred. Her hands fluttered in his as she started to lean in. But just before things got interesting, Alistair straightened.
“Our dinner is getting cold.”
Their what? Oh. Right. Dinner.
“We wouldn’t want that,” she said, stepping back. Only it was exactly what she wanted, she thought as she took her seat. After years of wondering why she couldn’t be like her friends and fall madly in love, she found herself intrigued by a handsome stranger who would never want to settle down in one place.
In theory she wanted to see the world, so they should be the perfect match. Only, so far, all her dreams of travel had turned out to be cheap talk. Hardly the kind of character to inspire the interest of a man who actually did what he said.
The Fool’s Gold Spring Festival lived up to its reputation, Alistair realized as he and Paige strolled through the crowded streets. There were booths selling everything from jewelry to meditation CDs. Food was everywhere. Although it was only ten in the morning, tourists munched on hot dogs and cotton candy. Paige had promised him the best funnel cake this side of the Rockies. He wasn’t sure what to expect as, from what he’d seen, the treat was neither funnel-shaped, nor especially cakelike. But he was willing to trust his hostess.
“We have to get in position for the parade,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the center square.
“There’s a parade?”
“Of course. It’s fairly unorganized. Kids on bikes and people sitting in the back of convertibles. One of the fire trucks gets decorated with ribbons and flowers.” She grinned. “My friend Charlie is a firefighter. She hates events like this. As she puts it, every holiday is a chance for people to be stupid. But she loves telling kids about fire safety and enjoys showing them the equipment.”
Alistair frowned. “So she’s both happy and frustrated?”
“Charlie is a bit of a contradiction.”
“It appears so.”
“Did I mention the goats?” she asked.
He stared at her, wanting to get lost in her hazel eyes. He had to force himself to pay attention to the conversation. “No. I would have recalled goats. Are they part of the festival?”
“They’re in the parade. My friend Heidi owns them. She’s the one you flashed. She makes cheese and soap.”
“Is that what’s in my shower?”
“It is. Goat soap. It’s very mild and useful for several skin conditions.”
“I did not know that.” Information he might be able to use when he traveled. Another way to help his patients.
“You do now.” She tugged him along. “Hurry or all the best spots will be taken.”
He allowed her to pull him behind her. Her long hair fluttered in the slight breeze. She’d traded in jeans for a summery dress that left her shoulders and legs bare. Temptation, he thought, wondering how wrong it would be for him to give in to the steady pulsing desire.
Since Sara’s death, there had been women. Casual relationships that had more to do with biology than emotion. He’d assumed that he wouldn’t find anyone to engage his heart again. Losing his family had been devastating.
But with Paige, the stirring went deeper than simple lust. While he would admit to wanting her in his bed, he had fantasies that had nothing to do with her body and everything to do with her mind…and her heart.
He liked talking to her. She was endlessly curious. She appeared to be accepting, without judgment, and she was always ready to laugh. When she’d looked at the pictures of some of his patients on his phone, she’d reminded him that he was fortunate to change lives with what he did. She’d reminded him to be grateful for his training and skill.
They came to a stop by several shops. The crowd was only a few people deep in this part of town. In the distance he heard what he would swear was a marching band.
Baskets of flowers hung from streetlights. Banners and ribbons fluttered in the breeze. The sky was blue and the temperature perfect in the seventies. But what caught his attention were the people. He saw a group of parade-watchers part to allow a family with small children room to go to the front. Once there, the stroller was positioned on the street, right by the curb. The mother sat down next to her baby, while a toddler was lifted onto his father’s shoulders.
There wasn’t any pushing or shoving, nothing but laughter and smiles. Two teenagers giggled as they texted friends. An older couple whispered to each other.
This was normal, Alistair thought. Familiar. Unlike the life he’d been living since Sara and his daughter’s deaths. He’d been on the go—constantly moving from country to country. Despite his parents’ phoning him on his-mobile and asking him to visit, he’d stayed busy and far away.
As he stood next to Paige, waiting for the small-town parade, he realized he hadn’t just been fighting the measles and exhaustion. His illness had gone much deeper—down to his heart. He’d been unable to face his own devastation. Unable to accept how much he’d been responsible. He’d been running so fast, he hadn’t had time to stop and look around. He hadn’t had time to heal.
Paige had offered him more than a bed for his body—she’d given him a refuge for his soul. Her gentle kindness had made him realize it was time to look forward. While he would never forget those he’d lost, he was finally ready to start living again.