He has a team of city planners, architects, engineers, teachers and doctors who are working together to drill for fresh, clean drinking water, plant crops and teach the local people about agriculture and farming as well as building a school for the children to ensure the next generation is prepared to lead. What Kylie is describing is a massive undertaking. He’s essentially creating an entire community from the ground up. I get goosebumps listening to her speak and I’m suddenly really glad I didn’t find a job at a coffee shop – this is much more worthwhile to devote my time to.
At the end of her explanation, Kylie provides an overview of the pertinent files on the laptop I’ll be using. "I’m so glad you’re here." She grins widely at me, showing off twin-dimples that make her look younger. "God, Stella was crazypants." Just then the baby monitor squawks and she jumps up from her seat. "Be right back."
She leaves me to work on creating mailing labels and to type up a letter to the additional investors Colton’s secured. My head is spinning and the work is a needed distraction.
After our erotic shower encounter, my relationship with Colton takes on a new meaning, changing in a subtle, but noticeable way. He texts me during the day while he’s at work and calls once he’s on his way home.
I’ve been working several days a week with Kylie, driving myself to her suburban home in one of Colton’s cars. It’s nice to feel like I’m making a contribution to something, and now that Colton and I are actually clicking, I feel a lot better about my situation.
He called at lunchtime today, sounding melancholy, which is completely out of character for him. I’d pressed him about what was wrong and he just said that it was a tough day and that he was looking forward to coming home.
At six o’clock, the house staff has been gone for hours and I’m anxiously awaiting his call to tell me he’s on his way home. I can’t wait to surprise him.
Finally my cell phone rings and I prance across the kitchen to retrieve it from the island. "Hello?"
"I’m on my way," he says, his voice flat and emotionless.
"Okay," I squeak. It will be my mission to cheer him up once he arrives.
When Colton arrives home thirty minutes later, I’m ready for him. I took special care getting ready too, taking an extra-long soak in the tub and shaving nearly every square inch of my body, and then prepared a special meal for him. It was the only thing I could think to do when I learned he was having a bad day – it’s the same thing my mom used to make me when I needed comforting.
I meet him by the back door. His suit is rumpled and his expression is sour. When his gaze lifts to mine, his face softens, but I can see something is weighing on him and the need to help bubbles up inside of me.
"Did something happen at work?" I ask, helping him out of his jacket.
He tosses the garment onto the waiting bench. He does this every night and they miraculously end up freshly laundered and back in his closet. I don’t even think he realizes it.
"Sort of," he says without meeting my eyes.
"I’m good listener. You can tell me things, you know? You can trust me," I assure him.
"I know. But when I get home, talking about my day is usually the last thing I want to do."
I nod. I know the feeling well. When Becca was sick, friends would encourage me to talk about it, and even though I appreciated the gesture, I knew talking about it would only bring all my worries and fears to the surface. Best to keep them locked away. So while I understood him, it made me even more curious about what could be troubling him.
"I made you dinner," I say.
"You cooked?" he asks, his voice lifting in uncertainty.
I nod my head, feeling insecure for some strange reason. It could be the curious way he’s looking at me.
"What about Beth?"
"I sent her home." I have no authority to release his staff, but Colton doesn’t say anything else, he just follows me into the kitchen, tugging at his tie to loosen it.
Now that he’s here in the kitchen with me, I’m fidgety. Using two pot holders, I bring the dish I’ve prepared to the kitchen island and set it down in front of him. I feel like I’m showing off an elementary school science experiment. One with very questionable results.
He looks down at it curiously before meeting my eyes. "You made me mac-n-cheese?" He grins unevenly.
I instantly feel like a fool. This man has an entire staff of servants and a personal chef. He dines on things like organic beet and arugula salad, grilled swordfish and hand fed prawns. And I just made him elbow macaroni smothered in processed American cheese. His amused expression makes me want to crawl into a hole and die.
Why did I even bother? And now I feel particularly stupid, because I’ve sent his cook home for the night. "Nevermind." I grab the casserole dish to clear it away and his hand on my wrist stops me.
"It was a stupid effort." Wasted.
"Stop," he says again, removing my hands from the dish. "You cooked for me." My eyes jerk up to his, trying to make sense of the reverence in his words. "I haven’t had a home cooked meal like this – comfort food – in…a long damn time. Thank you."
I’d misread his reaction. He’s surprised. And apparently happy. Pulling out a stool at the island, he sits down and helps himself to a heaping portion, piling a mound of macaroni in his bowl without pretense. "Do we have any milk?" he asks around a big mouthful of pasta.
I laugh at him and head to the massive fridge, and pull out a carton of organic milk to pour him a glass. I watch Colton eat two big servings of the dish, and he insists I join him. We sit side by side at the countertop, stuffing ourselves with ooey-gooey melted cheese and pasta. It actually tastes halfway decent and I’m relieved. Though if I’m being honest, it’s his reaction that makes my heart soar.
He’s instantly more light-hearted and seems to have let whatever stress was troubling him slip away.
"How are things going with Kylie? She says you’re a godsend."
"It’s fine. Kylie’s a sweet girl and it’s exactly what I wanted – something to get me out of the house."
"Good." Colton digs in for another bite, seemingly satisfied with my response.
"More milk?" I ask, noticing his glass is almost empty.
He looks at it thoughtfully for a second. "Actually…which wine pairs well with mac-n-cheese? Pinot Grigio?"