As they headed to the kitchen, he caught her surreptitiously scanning the place. He darted a look around. A blanket was wadded on the corner of the couch. Some mail was tossed randomly on the coffee table. There was a stack of kindling and newspaper where he’d been readying a fire. A bit messy, but not dirty.
“It’s kind of rumpled,” he told her, “but it’s home. And the kitchen’s clean.” He put the groceries down and quickly snatched up and pulled on his shirt.
“Not rumpled at all.” She followed him into the kitchen and put her purse on the counter. “I was just thinking how homey it is. Comfy. Plus there are no heads anywhere,” she added with a laugh, referring to her dad’s penchant for wall-mounted antlers.
“Yeah, I’m not big on dead and dusty animals.” He looked at her. She was so damned beautiful, and she was standing there in his kitchen. “So, are you really making me dinner?”
She froze. “If you want. Is that weird?”
“Are you kidding? Not at all. Just before you got here, I was wondering what I was going to feed myself.”
She looked pleased at that. “Good.”
He began to empty the groceries from her bag. He needed to do something with his hands, something other than trace those errant wisps of hair from her face, or smooth his hands down her back.
As he unpacked, he grew more and more impressed. Melons, prosciutto, lamb, tomatoes, strawberries, champagne. “What did you bring us?”
“We’ve got melon and prosciutto skewers to start. Then I thought a rack of lamb with herbes de Provence, and some berries for dessert.” Doubt flickered in her eyes. “Is that okay?”
He laughed. “Are you kidding? More than okay.” He tempered himself—he needed to stop sounding so enthusiastic. This was another man’s woman. And it was Sorrow, no less. She was guileless, not at all a flirt. If she was there because she said she’d bought too many groceries, then that was why she was there.
She still wore her jacket, and he went up behind her. “Hey, take off your coat and stay a while.”
He slid it from her shoulders and had to choke back a curse. Her shirt was sheer and black, and it gave him a glimpse of her black bra underneath. It was the sexiest goddamned thing he’d ever seen.
He coughed, feeling mighty glad he was standing behind her so she couldn’t see his face, or any other parts of him for that matter. “You’re looking fine this evening.”
As she turned to face him, her hand fluttered at her hem, like she was fighting the urge to adjust her shirt. “Am I too dressed up?”
His eyes went to that part of her shirt that wasn’t smooth, right where the lacy cups of her bra covered her breasts. His jeans grew tight, like he was a damned teenager again. Thank God he’d at least changed out of his sweats, or his condition would be ridiculously obvious. “Hell no.” He laughed at how vehemently that’d come out. “I mean, not too dressed up at all. You’re gorgeous.”
But then an icy rock formed in the pit of his stomach, giving him pause. Was she staying, or did that fancy shirt mean this was a cook and run sort of thing? “Are you…have you got a date with Damien later?”
For an instant, she looked panicked. “No,” she said quickly, then added in a more somber tone, “I mean, no. We broke up.”
“Oh.” His pulse thrummed hard in his neck, his throat suddenly dry. “I’m sorry. You doing okay?”
“Yes, I am, actually.” She stood at the counter, arranging groceries that didn’t need arranging. “I’m the one who broke it off.”
The full impact of the situation hit him. Sorrow was single.
“So…” He hesitated on the question he knew he needed to ask. “Does that mean you didn’t love him?”
She got a funny, faraway look. “I don’t think I did.” Those blue-green eyes cleared, coming into focus to meet his. “I mean, I know I didn’t. I guess I wanted it to be love. I’ve never been in love.” She opened her mouth like she wanted to say more, and he held his breath.
He’d love to see this woman in love. Heat flared in his chest, long-stoked embers raging into flame. Billy would love to see this woman in love with him.
She’d put on that killer shirt. Filled a bag with food. And come to him. It wasn’t love maybe, not yet. But maybe it could be.
There was something between them. He realized there had been, from the first cup of coffee she’d ever poured for him at the tavern. He’d felt the instant connection of two like minds, followed by a spark of attraction. But he’d been too muddled, or too guilty, or simply too long numbed to know what it was he’d been feeling.
He knew it now, though. He’d been nearly dead inside for years, but now he felt awake and alive. And like a bear emerging from hibernation, he was hungry and ready. His wanting was fierce, a thing that clenched his chest and tightened his groin.
His gaze went back to that shirt—the neck was a low V, with a row of delicate buttons down the front. A man would need to undo each one slowly, carefully.
Or simply tear the thing off her.
She looked around. “So…we should get started.”
Oh yes, they should. He stepped closer, forcing himself to breathe slowly. They’d be lucky if they made it to the first course.
“Do you have an apron I could wear?” She glanced down at her shirt. She wore a small locket nestled between her breasts.
Someday he’d be the man to sweep the hair from her neck to clasp her necklace as she got ready. He’d stand behind her and rest his hands on her bare shoulders. He’d turn her to face him. He wouldn’t give her a chance to finish getting dressed.
Billy licked his lips. He could taste her already. He could imagine what it would be like between them, and he was a goner.
“This is Laura’s shirt, and I don’t want to mess it up.”
“Of course,” he said, though his mind was still in his fantasy. And in his fantasy, he’d be careful with that shirt. No ripping this one. He’d take each tiny, shiny button one at a time.
She looked at him expectantly. “So…apron?”
“Apron,” he repeated. He had an old one wadded in the pantry, but he’d be damned if he let her cover up that shirt. “I’m afraid there’s no apron.”
“I hope you’re not too, too starving,” she said as she readied the lamb. “I’d like to marinate this for an hour or so before I cook it.”
He’d rather she marinate it for a good ten hours—there were other things he was much hungrier for than dinner—but instead he said, “That suits me just fine.”
Once she finished her prep work, he let her take the lead and followed her into the living room. She stopped and spun, and he nearly walked into her. It put them standing close enough that he could feel the heat of her body pressing along the length of his.
“I didn’t even call before I came,” she said. “I’m totally interrupting your evening.”
The normally self-possessed Sorrow sounded nervous, and it ignited an urge deep inside, to protect her, to put her at her ease, to let her know she’d be his.
He told her, “You’re making my evening, not interrupting it.”
“Did you already have plans?”
He couldn’t fight it any longer—he put his hands on her shoulders. “I did. Grand plans. I was going to spend the next several hours poking at that fire. Care to join me?”
A broad smile spread across her face. Her eyes were so bright when she smiled. It was all he could do to not cup her face and kiss her. But he’d take this slow. She’d showed up with food, not propositions. Not yet.
He turned his attention to the fire, stoking it to life. He sensed her wandering toward the couch to study his stuff. Her presence was heavy in the room, and he felt her every pause, her every move at his back.
He mentally cataloged his décor. What would she make of it all? And his photos of Keri—what would she think about those? It wasn’t as though the walls were blanketed with them, but they were here and there. Tacked over his desk, a black and white photobooth strip, shots of them making silly faces. There was a framed photo in the hallway, too, Keri’s formal headshot from the DA’s office. He felt Sorrow stop to study it.
“Your wife was beautiful,” she said. “Very elegant.”
“She was.” He stood, wiping newsprint and ash from his hands. For the first time, thoughts of Keri weren’t cold and sharp with grief, but had mellowed into something warmer and wiser, a melancholy. He’d loved his wife, more than anything. Her memory would forever be a gift in his heart, him all the richer for having had her for even a short time. He thought of Keri, of her foibles—the ones he’d loved, and the ones that’d annoyed him, too—and he smiled to recall the lot of them. “She was a city girl, born and raised.”
He heard the subtext there—he’d need to tread carefully. “My wife was something else. But women from the city are just like women anywhere else…some are appealing, some not.”
He walked across the room to stand at Sorrow’s back. He studied Keri’s photo, seeing it anew. Her severe black bob. Those dark eyes that once crackled with energy. She’d narrow those eyes during cross-examinations to go in for the kill, and witnesses never knew what hit them.
She’d been hard where Sorrow was soft, a razor-edged wit to Sorrow’s bemused insightfulness.
He didn’t even have to think about that one. “Honestly, no, I don’t miss it one little bit.”
Sorrow was silent, so silent he wondered if she held her breath. He sensed she wanted to hear more, needed more.
It was time to dredge his memories, to let this woman in. He took a deep breath. “In some ways, it’s the city that took her from me. She was in a…an accident.” He cleared his throat, gathering his emotions. He owed it to Keri to tell her story. “I had no idea it’d happened. It took them a while to ID her. To track me down. And the thing of it was, I’d heard them talking about it over the scanner. Bus versus bike. One fatality.”