She’d given him a shoddy return for all his efforts. This morning she meant to show him that she knew what he’d tried to do and that she appreciated it.
She’d cooked an omelette, toast and sausage for breakfast by the time Ned got to the table. She could see by the rings under his eyes that he hadn’t slept well, either. A pang of self-blame struck her at the realization that it was due to her.
“Morning,” he said when he took in the table set with two places, the pitcher of fresh orange juice and plate fixed with his breakfast.
“Good morning,” she said clearly. “Would you like some toast?” She was determined to live up to the courage he saw in her. She’d begin by speaking up instead of mincing her words like a frightened child.
As she passed him the plate, she took her own seat and faced him boldly across the table. It was still hard to look anyone in the eye, let alone a man, but she knew this was important. “I am sorry about last night. I was so surprised.”
“I’m the one who should say I’m sorry. It was stupid. All of it. I see that now and I’ll do what I can to get rid of the place.”
Fila stilled. “Get rid of it?”
“You’re not ready to run a restaurant and I don’t ever want to make you uncomfortable. You’ll always have a home here. You know that, right? I won’t force you to work and I sure as hell won’t force you to—you know.”
She stared at him until comprehension came. He was talking about the kiss. He wasn’t going to do that again? Loss struck her like a punch to the gut. “I want to run a restaurant.” The words blurted out of her mouth on their own accord.
Ned put down his fork. “I mean it, Fila. You don’t have to work. You don’t owe me anything.”
“I want to,” she said. And suddenly she realized it was true. She did want to. She wanted to earn an income. She wanted to stand on her own two feet.
She wanted to be the kind of woman Ned wanted to kiss.
“Are you sure?” His brow furrowed. He didn’t believe her.
“I’m sure. It—it will be hard,” she confessed. “But I want to.”
“Okay.” He bent over his meal again as if content to leave things there. It wasn’t enough for Fila, though. That wasn’t all she wanted, but she didn’t know how to say the rest. Couldn’t say it to a man.
Instead, she reached out and touched Ned—just a finger to the back of his hand. She pulled her hand back almost as soon as they connected.
He froze. Looked at her. Put his utensils down.
Slowly reached out and took her hand.
And held it.
Fila thought her heart would thump right out of her chest. He was touching her. Holding her hand.
She was letting him.
Her breathing had gone ragged. Tears pricked her eyes for a reason she barely understood. If he moved or tried anything she would have to break and run, but he didn’t move. Not a millimeter. She was beginning to think he understood her better than she understood herself.
“You can still say no.” Ned’s gaze was direct, but not frightening.
Did he mean to the restaurant? Or to what was happening between them now?
“I don’t want to say no.” She couldn’t pinpoint what changed in his expression at her answer. Not a muscle moved in his face, but she felt his satisfaction. A moment later he let go of her hand and they resumed eating their breakfasts, but Fila knew that everything had changed between them. She had taken his challenge—to reenter the world, to meet him halfway. Now there was no going back.
“Where do you want to spend the morning? Here? Or at the restaurant?” Fila swallowed hard at his questions. “I could drop you at the restaurant with your laptop. I got an internet connection hooked up for you. You could take notes on everything you want to do. Start thinking about a menu, maybe? Morgan said something about you needing to take a food safety course or two. She thinks you can do it online. You could research that, too. What do you think? Should I drive you to the restaurant and come back to pick you up at noon?”
A familiar feeling of panic surged within her. Somehow she’d thought she’d have several days to get used to the idea before anything else new happened. Now she was supposed to spend the entire morning at the restaurant?
“It’ll be just like being here.” Ned stabbed a forkful of sausage. “You can go into the restaurant, lock the door and you’ll be alone until I come to get you. You’ll have your phone with you and there’s music there. Rob got it all set up. You’ll be fine.”
“Okay.” Might as well start now as anytime else.
As Ned unlocked the door to Fila’s, he glanced at the darkened building next door. It was far too early in the morning for most people to be up and about, and he wondered if Camila was still asleep, or already getting ready for her day.
Like Fila’s, the windows of Camila’s restaurant were papered over. She had no sign, and there was nothing to suggest that a restaurant was coming, but Ned still had an uneasy feeling when he thought about it. Camila was so outgoing and flashy. Fila was so reserved. Would Camila’s restaurant overshadow Fila’s place and run it right out of business? He sure as hell hoped not.
It was hard to get Camila out of his mind, though, as they entered the darkened space. Ned switched on the lights and showed Fila which toggle operated which lights, then showed her the thermostat and how to adjust it. He took her into the kitchen and showed her the iPod, too. Since Rob had already set up the online station, all they had to do was turn it on.
Ned sensed Fila relaxing as the music flowed through the speakers. She pulled her laptop out of the woven bag she carried it in and set it up on one of the tables in front. He watched helplessly as she worked out how to get connected to the Internet, and breathed a sigh of relief when the instructions Rob had left them worked like a charm. He was useless when it came to that stuff.
“Oh,” Fila said, straightening suddenly. “I read through the material in the envelope you gave me yesterday. I’ve got it in my bag. It all seems clear. Do you want the same order as last time?”
Ned felt a rush of relief. “Yes.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“I appreciate it. I’ve got another busy day ahead of me.” He stood up to leave. “Are you going to be okay? There should be plenty for you to do and research.”
Fila stood up too. “I will be okay.”