He came into the kitchen the same time as she did, dressed only in faded jeans.
It had been a while since Cass had given much notice to such things, but she’d have had to have been blind not to notice that he looked really nice without a shirt. His stomach was flat and firm, a claim she couldn’t make about her own, and his arms were well muscled. The tan she’d attributed to skiing must have come from a different source, because his chest and what she could see of his back were as bronzed as his face and hands.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Her heart was beating like a trip-hammer. “I’m late.”
“I am, too.” He pulled a sweatshirt over his head, and she noticed for the first time that he wore a pacemaker. Her father had, too, until his final heart attack the year she’d been at Bowdoin. “My alarm clock was with you.”
“She slept late, too.” Cass gestured toward the hallway that led to the office. “Why don’t I get started?”
“Because you probably haven’t even had any coffee yet, much less breakfast. If you can fry eggs without breaking the yolks, we’ll add that to your job description. I’ll do the bacon—unless you prefer ham. There’s some of that in there, too.”
She gestured feebly at his chest—since she knew the pacemaker was there, it was as though she could still see it in the folds of the fleece. “Should you eat like that? I can make you some oatmeal.”
“It’s Saturday,” he reminded her. “It’s my wild and crazy day.” He scrubbed a hand through his silver hair, making it stand on end, and it was all she could do not to smooth it. She’d never touched his hair, and she wondered if it was as soft and warm as it looked. “You don’t have to work today, you know.”
“I only worked till noon yesterday,” she reminded him. “But yes, I can fry eggs and make coffee.”
They made breakfast together, seventies music playing in the background. Maggie was so interested in having two people in her kitchen that she left her own food to get under their feet as they worked.
“Biscuits? Homemade?” Eli set the oven for the temperature Cass stipulated and stared in awe as she mixed, flattened, and cut biscuit dough. “Another thing to add to that job description. How are you with fried chicken?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I gave it up when Paul got sick. He loved fried foods, but they made him deathly sick even before the gastric cancer was diagnosed.”
“How sad for you both.” He slid the cookie sheet of biscuits into the oven. “Ten minutes?”
She nodded, cleaning the flour mess from the island. “I love your kitchen.” Its size reminded her of the big kitchen out on Two Sticks Farm, but this one had been renovated with new appliances and every gadget she’d ever longed for. It still looked old, with its cast iron farm sink and white-painted cupboards, but the wood floor was smooth and shiny and the fireplace on the dining area end was clean and functional.
“Me, too—it’s one of the reasons I bought the house. Feel free to use it anytime.”
They bumped heads putting things in the dishwasher and Maggie barked in a short “behave yourselves” fashion that made them both laugh. And then Eric Clapton’s voice filtered into the room, singing “Wonderful Tonight.” Memory washed over her, leaving heartache in its stead. “I love that song.”
Eli nodded. “What’s not to love?” Just like that, he swept her into his arms and danced her around the island, the table and chairs at the end of the room, and the hall to the office.
Just as they’d looked before he put on his shirt, his arms were strong and warm and he smelled wonderful. Not perfumey or even soapy, but the clean, fresh scent she always associated with Maine.
Other than hugs from male cousins and friends at Paul’s and her mother’s funerals, Cass hadn’t been in a man’s arms since her husband’s illness had made physical contact painful for him. She’d missed it, but until she felt Eli’s slightly bristly cheek against her temple and his arm firm and certain at her waist, she hadn’t realized just how much.
When the song ended and they stopped dancing—standing before the French doors that led outside, she tried to make herself draw away. He was a handsome, intelligent, single man, and she was a single, too-lonely-for-her-own-good woman, which should have made them a good combination. But, if being her boss wasn’t deterrent enough, he was also a man with a heart condition who was having surgery Monday.
Chances were good he was going to require some care. The kind she no longer had it in her to give. She was fine for driving him to the hospital and bringing him home, but that was the beginning and end of it.
Just like the dance in the kitchen had to be both the beginning and end of a completely lovely little lapse in time and judgment. Cass swallowed hard and smiled up at him, hoping her mouth didn’t look all trembly and weak the way she felt inside. “Thank you for the dance,” she said, and pulled away, moving to put the space of the island between them as she checked on the biscuits. Thank you for making me feel more whole than I’ve felt in years.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. Here are all the goodie links that go with it. It’s still 99 cents!
This holiday season, warm your heart with 12 connected sweet holiday romances from 12 Harlequin Heartwarming authors who are USA Today, national bestselling, and award-winning authors. This collection of PG-rated holiday romances are all set in Christmas Town, a location introduced in the 2014 Harlequin Heartwarming release Christmas, Actually. A Heartwarming Christmas will bring you laughter, tears, and happily-ever-afters (no cliffhangers), for more than 1200 pages. Foreword by small town lover and New York Times bestseller Kristan Higgins.