“They work for flowers.” She sniffed at them, and decided they looked very sweet in the plastic pitcher after all. “You’re paid in full.”
“You cleaned. That’s so . . . weird.”
“Presumptuous, but I got carried away.”
“No, ‘presumptuous’ isn’t the word that springs to mind.” He took her hand, kissed her fingers. “The word’s ‘wow.’ Should I be really embarrassed?”
“I won’t if you won’t.”
“Deal.” He drew her close, rubbed his cheek against hers. “And you’re cooking. In the oven.”
“I wanted to take my mind off things for a while.”
“So did I. I was going to play the let’s-go-out-to-a-fancy-dinner card, but you trumped my ace.”
“You can tuck the ace up your sleeve and play it anytime. Putting things in order helps clear my mind, and there was a lot to put in order around here. I didn’t find the key.”
“Yeah, I got that. I’m sorry.”
“I’m close.” She stared at the steam puffing out of a pot as if the answer might appear in it. “I feel like I’m just missing a step somewhere. Well, we’ll talk about that. Dinner’s about ready. Why don’t you pour the wine. I think it’ll complement the meat loaf.”
“Sure.” He picked up the wine she had b
reathing on the counter, then set it down again. “Meat loaf? You made meat loaf.”
“Mashed potatoes too—shortly,” she added as she set up the mixer she’d brought over from her own kitchen. “And green beans. It seemed harmonious, considering your column. And I assumed that since you used the meal, you must like meat loaf.”
“I’m a guy. We live for meat loaf. Malory.” Ridiculously moved, he caressed her cheek. “I should’ve brought you more flowers.”
She laughed and got to work on the potatoes she’d boiled. “Those will do nicely, thanks. This is actually my first meat loaf. I’m more a toss-some-pasta-together or a sauté-some-chicken girl. But I got the recipe from Zoe, who swears it’s foolproof and guy-friendly. She claims Simon inhales it.”
“I’ll try to remember to chew.” Then he took her arm to turn her toward him and moved in, slowly, ran his hands up her body until his fingers skimmed her jaw. He laid his lips on hers, softly, sliding her into the kiss the way he might slide her into a feather bed.
Her heart did one long, lazy roll even as the mists shimmered over her brain. The rubber spatula she held slipped out of limp fingers as everything inside her melted against him, into him.
He felt it, that shudder and give, that surrender to self as much as to him. When he eased her back, her eyes were blue and blurry. It was woman, he realized, who had the power to make man feel like a god.
His lips curved as he brushed them over her forehead. “Malory.”
“I . . . I forgot what I was doing.”
He bent down to retrieve the spatula. “I think you were mashing potatoes.”
“Oh. Right. Potatoes.” Feeling a bit drunk, she walked to the sink to wash the spatula.
“This has to be the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”
“I love you.” She pressed her lips together, stared out the window. “Don’t say anything. I don’t want to make things uncomfortable for either of us. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I know I’ve rushed and I’ve pushed. Neither of which is much like me.” She spoke briskly now as she went back to the mixer.
“Really, you don’t need to say anything. It’d be enough, more than enough for now, if you just accepted it, maybe enjoyed it a little. It seems to me love shouldn’t be a weapon or a device or a weight. Its beauty is that it be a gift, with no strings attached to it. Just like this meal.”
She smiled, though the steady way he watched her was unnerving. “So, why don’t you pour the wine, then wash up? And we’ll both just enjoy it.”