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[Craig] stood in Megan’s kitchen, watching her twist a mass of wavy hair up into a knot, leaving lone strands clinging to her neck, and he felt it again. His world was full of women who would be less complicated. Women who wouldn’t tie up his core and make him ache until his lungs seemed to scrape against his ribs.
What was he doing? He’d sworn to himself he’d stay away, but he’d driven here as if on autopilot rather than waiting for another time to give her the silly little present. Being with her was a mistake, even under the pretense of friendship, when he knew she wanted him as much as he wanted her. He’d make a bigger mess of a disaster.
She was unpacking groceries and making small talk he couldn’t process. Pulling out a colander, she filled it with fruit and washed it in the sink. When she turned off the water, she looked his way for the first time since he’d followed her inside carrying her packed-full reusable shopping bags.
“You okay?” She wiped her wet hands on her hips. “You look, I don’t know, confused.” She grinned suddenly and made air quotes as she continued. “Is it your lack of domesticity? Did I blunder by bringing you into my kitchen?”
Craig shook his head, surprised by the laugh that erupted from his chest. “No, you didn’t blunder.”
“Good, because I’m going to let you put together a plate of cheese and fruit while I take a shower. And don’t think that’s anything special because I always shower after I work in the kennels. I hate smelling like bleach and God knows what else.”
He felt his tension easing away as she spoke. He could do this. He could handle being with her. Tonight at least. A salve for wounds so raw he couldn’t ignore them any longer.
Megan pointed to one of the bags. “There’s fresh bread in that one. And crackers in the cupboard if you prefer.” She walked over to a cabinet beside the fridge and made a ta-da gesture as she opened it to reveal a latticed assortment of wines. “You can choose the wine, if there’s any you can stomach. I’m sure you don’t know any of the brands because they’re all under eight bucks a bottle.”
“Funny,” he said, “but most likely true.”
She shrugged, clearly unoffended. “Make yourself at home. I won’t be long.”
Under the watchful gaze of the cat that had scratched him, Craig pulled the rest of the contents from the bags after she left, then searched through cabinets and drawers to find a cutting board, a plate, and a knife.
By the time he’d chosen the wine, opened it, and laid out a decent-looking arrangement of cheese, fruit, and crackers, Megan was back, filling the small room with the scent of shea and lavender. She was dressed in a long-sleeved Henley and lounge pants, her hair still dry but free again. It was full, wavy, and beautiful, and made him want to lose his hands in it.
“Impressive.” She eyed his plate and cocked an eyebrow. “So there’s more to Craig Williams than marketer and entrepreneur extraordinaire.”
“You forgot abandoner of dogs.” He leaned back against the counter, trying not to focus on the small patch of skin between the rim of her shirt and the elastic-waisted pants that would be very easy to slide off.
“I didn’t forget. I’m officially forgiving you for that. And excuse the pants,” she said, noticing the direction of his gaze. “But your little slate came with the call for friendship, and there’s nothing like a pair of look-I’ve-added-ten-pounds cozy pants to meet that call, if you want my opinion. That and they’re comfortable.”
He passed her a glass of the wine. “As long as they’re comfortable.”
“Ha, are they that bad? On second thought, don’t answer that.”
“I won’t, but for the opposite reason of what you’re thinking. After asking for friendship, I don’t want to come across as if I’m hitting on you.”
A blush lit her cheeks as she sipped the wine. “Okay then. So, since you made the first course, I’ll get busy with the pizza. I’ve been told I make a killer pizza. In fact, it’s one of my best dishes.” She gave an exaggerated toss of her hair. “All it takes is one slice to become a true believer.”
Craig refilled his glass, noting the buzz washing over him. A buzz he realized he desperately wanted. Letting the halfway decent Syrah roll across his tongue, he sank to a chair at her table and watched her move about her kitchen with the confidence of someone who not only had committed everything about it to memory, but enjoyed it.
“I didn’t know you liked to cook.”
“You mean in my shoe filled with dogs?” Megan wrinkled her nose at him, remembering a joke he’d made about his thoughts on her home life during his and Sophie’s tour. “I do actually. I love it.”
“What’s your favorite dish?”
“To bake or cook?”
“Is there a difference?”
“A huge one. My favorite thing to bake is an in-season pie from fruit I’ve actually picked. To cook… That’s a hard one. I like to mix it up.”
“I’m sold on the pie.” He ran his fingertips over the smooth top of her table. “Let me know if I can help with anything.”
“You’re good for a bit. I’m going to teach you how to toss a crust. Everyone should learn to toss a crust.”
Craig chuckled. “Like they do in Italian kitchens? Don’t tell me some of those Europeans you mentioned at the coffee shop were Italian. You don’t look it.”
“I’m like an eighth or something. My dad worked his way through college in a pizzeria. I think I could toss a crust before my training wheels were off.”
He sank back in his chair and shook his head. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was her. Most likely it was her.
The cuts and scrapes and bruises that filled his insides had fallen silent for the first time in a long while. Finishing off his wine, he savored the peace washing over him.