Melanie folded her arms across her chest and studied her for a long moment before saying, “My coffee is fine. That’s yesterday’s pot.”
And round one goes to the angry housekeeper.
If this is Southern charm, give me a Northern cold shoulder any day.
“I’m leaving today, so there’s no need to try to poison me.”
Sarah wasn’t sure if Melanie was referring to her leaving or the need to poison her, but she wasn’t going to ask. “Okay, well, I probably won’t see you before I leave, so thanks again for dinner.”
Melanie turned away without saying another word and returned to washing the dishes.
Sarah inched her way out of the kitchen.
My novel won’t have a housekeeper.
Sarah stepped onto the porch, and the heat of the day met her with a slap.
And it won’t be ten thousand degrees by nine in the morning.
But it will have him. Freshly shaven, dressed in a light-blue plaid shirt and jeans that fit him snugly in all the right places, Tony walked to the bottom of the porch steps. For a split second he looked like he might smile, but then he frowned instead as he looked her over.
Well, a happier version of him, anyway.
What? Was he hoping I had my luggage with me?
“Good morning,” she said awkwardly, hooking her thumbs in the pockets of her jeans, attempting some Southern sophistication.
“Morning,” he said with a neutral nod of his head.
If I threw myself at him, would he catch me or let me face-plant in the dirt? Tough call. “I’m sorry I slept in. I must have been exhausted from the trip.”
“Melanie make you breakfast?”
“I wasn’t very hungry,” Sarah hedged. She didn’t need to stir up trouble for a housekeeper who looked like life had already been harsh enough for her. “I thought I’d come out and check on Scooter, then make some calls. Do you mind if I use your phone again?”
He looked back at her wordlessly, and Sarah amused herself with fanciful thoughts. At which point can I ask him to pose for a photo? You know, for research purposes only. Not to pin next to my bed like some lovelorn teenager.
“You still planning on staying in Texas?”
His question brought back the sting of reality and Sarah shook her head sadly. “I wish. Lucy implied this isn’t a good time to visit after all. Honestly, I’d rather turn around and go home than stay where I’m not wanted.”
Tony narrowed his eyes and said, “Long drive back.”
“No kidding.” Deciding to make the best of it, Sarah shrugged and said, “It won’t be that bad if I can get rooms in the places I stayed on the way down. At least it’s not a straight drive home.”
“You must be disappointed.”
“That’s an understatement.”
He lifted and settled his hat on his head, pondering something as he did. “Your horse could use a rest before traveling again.”
Sarah shook her head. Did I hear that right? Her pulse sped up. “What are you suggesting?”
“No reason why you can’t stay another night while you figure it out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just don’t do anything that would get a person asked to leave.”
I have no idea what that means, but not heading home right away is tempting. Okay, quick review of pros and cons. Con: I don’t know this man and he might expect me to pay for room and board with sexual favors. Sarah inhaled a shaky breath, closed her eyes and admitted to herself: That particular circumstance could also qualify as a pro. She opened her eyes again and found him glaring at her. Much more likely con: I make a complete idiot out of myself over a man who is simply inviting me to stay here because he feels bad for me. On the other hand, one pro that cannot be denied is that I won’t have to end this adventure before it has a chance to even begin. I won’t have to go home and explain to my parents and my brother that they were right and that the trip was a waste of time. I could stay right here and at least outline the story that is coming to life in my head.
“It won’t be an issue for anyone?”
“I said it wouldn’t.” And that’s all that matters, his tone implied.
Straightening her shoulders, Sarah gave herself a pep talk. I’m not going to let a grumpy housekeeper ruin the fact that I’m in freakin’ Texas on a horse ranch with a gorgeous man who is asking me to stay. “Okay, I’ll do you . . . I mean, it. I mean, I’ll do it and stay here with you. On the ranch. In the spare room. Like last night.” A flush of embarrassment heated her cheeks.
The corners of his eyes crinkled ever so slightly. He’s laughing at me again.
Hands on hip, Sarah said, “It’s not nice to laugh at people.”
His expression darkened and his tone held both a warning and a tinge of regret. “I’m not a nice man.”
She stepped off the porch to stand in front of him. He was a good foot or so taller than her, so she had to tip her head back a bit to see his face. Standing so close, she searched his face and was moved by a pain she sensed within him. In those freakin’ save-me sad eyes.
Like animals, injured people could be dangerous. She’d seen her parents’ marriage take a dark turn after the death of her youngest brother. Something that should have brought people together—loss—had turned her happy family temporarily against each other in a way they had never fully healed from. There had been a time when she and her family had been close, but that was a different life, when they were different people.
Something awful had happened to the man who stood before her. She’d bet her life on it. And whatever it was, he hadn’t healed from it either. Beyond any attraction she joked about in her mind, this connection to him touched her heart, overshadowing any self-consciousness she felt or second thoughts about her decision.
Sarah reached out, took his hand in hers, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. She smiled up at him sympathetically and said, “I don’t believe that.”
He looked down at their hands and met her eyes with that guarded expression she was getting accustomed to. Just when she thought he was about to pull away, his hand shifted and his fingers laced with hers.
They stood there, saying nothing, the intensity of their connection building until everything around them disappeared.
Don’t trust her.
No one is that f**king sweet, that innocent. Just because her hand is as soft as velvet doesn’t mean she’s incapable of deception. A woman could rehearse those wide-eyed expressions. Which scenario is more likely? That a beautiful, loving woman got lost and ended up in my shower purely by accident and then conveniently had a reason to stay? Or that she planned this entire scenario and is either a reporter or on the payroll of one?