Billy’s hand still hovered by her cheek, and she fought the urge to turn into his palm, leaning into his warmth. How had he done it? With just a few words, he’d made her feel more sensitive to her dad and better about herself, all at the same time.
What else could a man like that do, what else could he make her feel?
His hand was right there—just one slight shift of her head, one step closer to his body, and she’d take this conversation to a whole different place. What would he do if she did?
The door swung open. It was her sister. Laura froze at the sight of her and Billy, standing so close to each other in front of the sink. The blood pounded in Sorrow’s cheeks.
Laura waggled her brows in a way that she found intensely annoying. “Kudos, kiddo. Your pasta was a hit. Even I loved it.”
Sorrow turned her back and pretended to finish up some chore by the sink, rinsing out a sponge that didn’t need rinsing. Waiting for breathing to be not so difficult. “I thought you didn’t do carbs.”
Laura reverted to her high school big-sister voice. “Shut. Up.” She put a stack of dishes in the sink, nudging Sorrow as she passed. “I don’t eat a lot of pasta. But I did have some of yours. Duh.”
“No, seriously,” Laura said in a more adult tone. “It was fantastic. Better than anything I ever got in North Beach,” she added, referring to San Francisco’s Italian district, but then she put the tease back in her voice. “Isn’t that right, Sheriff?”
Billy smiled, not taking the bait. “I’ve been to North Beach a time or two myself. Your sister’s right.”
“Wow, okay.” Sorrow put the sponge down and turned to face Laura. Now she really was blown away. “Thank you. Both of you.”
Laura winked. “And someone else is here to taste it.”
She recognized that wicked look. She should’ve known that Laura’s sweetness came with a price. “Who?” Sorrow asked blandly.
“Damien’s here,” Laura said in a voice dangerously close to a singsong. “He’s getting a game of pool going with that Neanderthal, Eddie. I told him you’d be right out.”
Sorrow felt her shoulders tighten. She wasn’t sure what bothered her most about the exchange with her sister, though she could work up a list.
Billy reached out toward her, and her heart soared, but then he squeezed her arm in a way that meant good-bye, and her stomach fell. He said, “I’ll leave you to it, then.”
A part of her wished he’d show some typical male reaction—jealousy, competitiveness, something. But instead Billy just looked vaguely amused. It made her feel like a kid. But she was twenty-three—young, sure, but definitely well past teenager. Hell, she’d been running the lodge nearly single-handedly.
And yet, hearing Damien’s voice booming from the other room, she felt embarrassed. It was a strange feeling. There was definitely no need to be self-conscious—Damien was hot. He’d been an all-around sports star. He was from the wealthiest family in the area. So why this strange, jangly feeling in her chest?
She tried not to look as crestfallen as she felt. Damien was here, but she wanted to play a round of pool with Billy. Wanted Billy to be the one to walk her back to the house after they closed up.
Billy’s hand on her arm had felt so broad and firm. That was the hand she wanted to take.
She gave a shake to her head. This was not good. It was time to talk to Damien.
But what if the connection she felt with Billy was a figment of her imagination? He was a widower, after all. What if he mourned his wife too much ever to move on?
Or what if he were interested in a relationship—what would that imply? Would it mean he hadn’t mourned enough? She was treading water she had no idea how to navigate.
Billy’s voice brought her back to herself. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” She let herself study him, and his gaze didn’t waver from hers. Faint lines at his eyes, mouth, and brow spoke to spending much time outdoors. She imagined him squinting against the sun as he got out of his cruiser for a routine traffic stop. Those eyes would be hard on someone who’d broken the law. But they were warm on her now.
He was so different from Damien, his features not technically as handsome, those eyes not as young. But Billy was so in control of his world—he was steadiness, strength, and wisdom, and to her those things were more vital, more necessary, more attractive than anything she shared with Damien.
“You remember.” Amusement tinged his voice. He tilted his head, studying her. “Silver City?”
Their shopping trip to Silver City—she’d forgotten. Excitement snapped through her veins. “Right. Of course. Totally. Tomorrow.”
From across the kitchen, her sister snorted an unladylike laugh.
Sorrow blushed. She’d answered a bit too giddily, and Laura had noticed. She made a mental note to ask next time they were alone just when it was her big sister planned on returning to the city.
Billy didn’t seem to notice. “Good news,” he added. “I’ve got a buddy in the restaurant business there. He talked to his supplier. Usually they’re closed weekends, but we can get you into the warehouse tomorrow morning. He said he’d give you a new industrial freezer at cost.”
Hearing that news, Sorrow forgot all about her sister. Appliances cost a fortune, and she was still in denial about just how much a new freezer was going to run them. “At cost? Really?”
“One that won’t break down.” He winked and, for an instant, that rugged tough guy was just plain cute.
Cute, steady, strong, wise, and now thoughtful. She resisted the urge to fling herself into him.
“Rack ’em up,” she heard Damien shout. His voice reverberated clear into the kitchen, followed by the laughter of other men. Damien had always been able to make the other men laugh.
But in that moment, Sorrow knew. She didn’t want Damien.
When Billy showed up early the next morning, Sorrow was waiting for him in the tavern. He spotted her at once. That tousled, wavy blond hair hanging down her back. A flannel shirt tied around her waist. From behind she seemed relaxed, perched on a barstool, chatting with her father. By the smell of things, Sully was there, too, frying up some hash browns.
She might’ve looked casual, but Sorrow was no tomboy. In fact, she was all woman. Her smile was open and easy, that of a confident, capable woman. Of somebody who knew what she was about. It was the smile of a woman who’d be as confident in the bedroom as she was lounging on that stool.
He needed to stop going there in his head.
Last night he hadn’t been able to stop himself. He’d gone there in his head all night, until his stomach was in knots, through the night, until finally he hadn’t been able to stop himself. He’d touched her. He couldn’t help not touching her—he’d had to know what that hair felt like, how those waves might give beneath his fingers.
And once he’d touched her he’d had to touch her again. Her chin. Her arm. He’d had to turn and face the sink, running cold water over his skin to stop the ache.
It’d taken all he had to look casual. To pretend to be easy when all he’d felt was a fist closing around his heart. Pained, wanting her, then guilty because of it. Guilty because of Keri. Because of Damien, Sorrow’s boyfriend, who’d been just in the next room.
He inhaled deeply to gather himself, trying to look more nonchalant than he felt. “Morning, folks. Sorrow, you ready?”
The way she lounged on that barstool—leg swinging, leaning against the counter in a way that pulled her shirt tight. Self-consciousness overwhelmed him. Like a damned teenager with a crush, he became overly aware of his approach, of his step. Of where he should look and how broadly he should return her smile. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt…well, since he was a teenager.
It’d been different with his wife. He’d known Keri for years before they hooked up. She worked in the DA’s office, and with his role in the department, they’d moved in the same circles. They’d had a long time in which to get to know each other over coffee, over posttrial beers. By the time he and Keri realized there was a spark between them, he was as comfortable with her as he’d been with his closest friends.
Sorrow, though, she was different. This was different.
He pushed aside the thought. Women like her weren’t for him. Crushes and hope had died with Keri.
Billy leaned on the bar next to her, ignoring the smell of her shampoo. The scent of Sorrow in the morning.
“Good news,” she told him. She was happily working through a stack of pancakes.
Her eyes were bright and her mood contagious. It was like sunshine burning through the cloud over his heart, burning away the shadows. He couldn’t help but forget his dark thoughts and give himself to the moment.
“Sock it to me,” he said, stealing a triangle of her toast. He had to admit—he loved a woman who loved to eat.
“Our cupboards are full. Or rather they will be. No need for us to go shopping after all.”
Disappointment needled him, and he tamped it down. He told himself he was just concerned for her safety. He was suspicious of all the unusual accidents lately. If he wanted to hang around Sorrow, it was simply that he wanted to keep an eye on things. “That is good news,” he said.
And he tried to believe it. Not having to shop for food meant he’d reclaim several hours from his morning—he should be happy. It was his day off, and there were any number of things he needed to tend to in his personal life.
He just needed to think of them.
She nodded and swallowed. “It means I don’t need to bother you too much this morning.”
“It wasn’t going to be a bother.” If the way this disappointment kept surging to the surface was any indication, a shopping trip with Sorrow would’ve been a pleasure. But he was being a fool. He grabbed another slice of toast, and it was too dry in his mouth. “What happened?”