‘What did you think? That we’d be gnawing on reindeer bones—’
She smiled faintly. ‘Something like that.’
Reaching for his knife and fork, he shrugged. ‘I’ve spent the last few months eating polar pâté three times a day with a spork. When I get home, I like to eat real food at a table.’ His eyes rested on her face steadily. ‘It’s one of my rules.’
Her brain picked over his words. One of his rules. What were the others?
Picking up her glass, she took a sip of water. Earlier, she’d asked herself who would want to work with him. The answer, surprisingly, was pretty much anyone and everyone, judging by the number of calls she’d answered in the hour before lunch. The phone had rung almost non-stop.
The Smithsonian Institution, the Royal Geographical Society, and Stanford University had all asked him to speak, and after just sixty minutes in his company it was not hard to see why. Listening to him talk, it had become clear to her that Arlo knew his stuff. More importantly—and, she was guessing, more unusually in a scientist—he was both concise and eloquent.
She liked the sound of his voice, the strength of it, and the measured, precise way he chose his words. And he spoke Russian fluently.
Of course, she didn’t speak Russian, so she had no idea what he’d been talking about when he’d spoken it on the phone, but it had sounded almost like poetry.
He looked like a poet too. Or maybe a cross between a poet and pirate, with his scowl and his messy hair and that complicated mouth.
Although it hadn’t felt that complicated when they were kissing...
As if he’d heard her thoughts, Arlo looked over at her, his grey eyes boring into hers. She put down her glass and over the sudden, rapid beat of her heart said quickly, ‘I can imagine.’
He shifted back in his chair, his dark sweater stretching endlessly across his shoulders. ‘Stop fidgeting and eat something,’ he said.
‘I’m not fidgeting.’
‘Just eat,’ he ordered. ‘I don’t want you passing out on me.’
‘I’ve never passed out in my life,’ she protested.
He stared back at her impassively, a comma of dark hair falling across his forehead to match the white scar on his cheek.
‘So?’ Leaning forward, he speared a piece of tomato on his plate. ‘You nearly drowned this morning. I don’t suppose that’s a regular occurrence, ergo there’s a first time for everything. Now, eat.’
She stared at him, exasperation pulsing down her spine. ‘Have you always been this bossy?’
He hesitated, as though seriously considering her question. Then, ‘I would say so, yes.’
Picking up her cutlery, she rolled her eyes. ‘I bet you were a prefect at school.’
There was a pause and, watching his lips almost curve, she felt the air leave her body.
‘Really? Finally, we have something in common,’ she said lightly.
Their eyes locked, hers teasing, his serious, and then he nodded. ‘It would appear so.’
Suddenly she felt as if the room had shrunk. Or maybe the table had. Either way, it felt as if they were sitting way too close.
There was another small pause, and then he smiled. ‘Now, eat.’
As he turned his attention back to his plate her fingers tightened around the knife and fork. Some people’s smiles—Johnny’s, for instance—were just a part of them. But Arlo’s was miraculous, transformative, softening the blunt, uncompromising arrangement of his features into something far less daunting.
She silently fought against an urge to reach out and trace the swooping curve of his mouth. A mouth that held and delivered an urgency of promise...
As if sensing her gaze, Arlo looked up and, not wanting him to notice her flushed cheeks, she bent her head over her plate.
For a moment they ate in silence.