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Nine Days Later
Riley Martin heard his black Labrador, Chester, bark. Tucked beneath the undercarriage of his truck, oil dripping down his neck, he turned his head, straining to see what, or who, Chester was barking at.
From between the passenger-side wheels of his truck, he watched a pair of sensible white shoes beneath shapely legs and calves the color of warm clover honey making their way up his driveway. His heart raced.
The only woman in Wayloo who had sexy calves and sensible shoes was Nell Evans. Sweet untouchable Nell. He felt a stirring in his groin and almost groaned. When had he sunk so low that waitress shoes could give him a woodie? Damn, how embarrassing. He had no control over this. "Down, boy," he murmured. He wasn't some thirteen-year-old boy in the throes of hormonal rampages anymore. He was twenty-five years old, almost twenty-six, and old enough to know better. But then this was Nell, the source of any number of wet dreams over the years and awkward silences when he was with her. Nell did that to him. Unless he was ordering dinner from her at the diner, or chitchatting about the weather, he was never quite sure what to say to her when he really wanted to ask her to go out with him.
Chester's black-furred legs joined Nell's on the strip of smooth pavement. "Hi, Nell," Riley called.
After a few seconds of silence, she bent down and peered beneath the truck. Tendrils of curly blueblack hair fell forward across her pretty cheeks. "Hi, Riley."
He smiled. "What can I help you with?" Thoughts of what he wanted to help her do ran through his head at lightning speed. Massage oil came to mind. His palms started to sweat, so he put his wrench down before he dropped it on his head.
Nell pushed a stray tendril behind her ear. "Do you have a minute?"
She wanted a minute with him. Only a minute! To do her properly he'd need five days and fifty cans of whipped cream. Like that would ever happen. But he could dream. "Yeah, give me a second and I'll be right with you."
He worked his way out from beneath his truck and stood. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out an old rag and cleaned off his hands.
Nell had an attractive flush to her light brown cheeks. She chewed her bottom lip. Her hands were stuffed in the pockets of her bubblegum-pink waitress uniform, but he could see her fingers flex inside them. Wisps of curly black hair had worked their way loose from the tight bun at the nape of her neck. Despite the heat, the front of her uniform was buttoned up tight to her throat.
Just once before he died, he wished she'd flash him some of that spectacular cleavage she always kept hidden. Scanning her ripe curves, he had to stop his tongue from falling out of his mouth. She had one hell sin wrapped in pink polyester.And he so wanted to sin. twelve of his last twenty-five years. And twenty-five years from now, he'd still be dreaming about that Nell would have something to say about that.
What was he thinking? Her answer would be a polite but firm no. That was Nell in a nutshell. Buttoned up and hemmed-in didn't come any better than Nell.
He stuffed greasy hands into the pockets of his coveralls and rolled back on his heels. "What can I do for you, Nell?" Kiss you? Bed you? Lick you all over? Be your sex slave? I'm open for suggestions.
"Can we go into the house?"
Nell alone with me in the house? This was a straight-up dream come true. Sweet. "Sure."
She walked ahead of him, which gave him a prime opportunity to watch the seductive sway of her heart-shaped butt. Beyoncé, eat your heart out.
He jerked to a stop and realized they were on the veranda and she seemed to be waiting. "Yeah?"
"The door?" she asked, her eyebrows raised. Riley tried to bring himself out of his Nellinduced daze. "What?"
Nell faced him, an odd expression on her face. "Are you are you going to open the door for me?" She raised her eyebrows and clutched her Texassized brown vinyl purse to her chest.
Riley wondered how long he'd been so deeply mired into Nell fantasy nine hundred and forty-seven that he'd forgotten where he was. Holding up his dirty hands, he said, "Could you get the door handle? Dirty hands." He didn't want to touch his brand-spankingnew antique brass handle with greasy hands. Of course, not opening a door for a lady would have sent his dead great-grandmother running for her leather strap so she could pop him on the butt for bad manners.
Nell tilted her gaze away, her cheeks going a darker red. "Of course."
He loved making her blush. Somehow she seemed more alive. More touchable. And how he wanted to touch. "I have some sweet tea in the fridge. Would you like a glass?" he asked as they entered the cool interior of the house.
"That would be nice. Thank you." She gave him a shy smile. "Would you like some, too?"
"That would be great." Always so polite and ladylike, she never ceased to amaze him. "Go sit in the kitchen, while I wash up."
"Just take your time. I'm in no hurry." She headed toward the kitchen, her rubber-soled shoes a whisper on the polished wood floor.
The husky lilt of her sultry voice wrapped around him like silk. There wasn't much about her that didn't ring his bells. Riley watched her sway down the long hallway to the kitchen.
When she disappeared into the kitchen, he raced up the stairs two at a time. He ran to the end of the hall and into his bedroom, peeling off his sweaty coveralls and thinking if he was stealthy enough he could con her into an impromptu let-me-jump-yourbones dinner.
He took the fastest shower that he ever had. All the while his mind was racing, wondering if he had enough food in the refrigerator in case he could coax her into staying for said sexy dinner. Visualizing the contents of his refrigerator, he frowned. He had four to-go boxes from the diner, since he ate there almost every night. Not a lot to choose from. Nothing he could throw together and impress her with. He hoped green stuff hadn't grown on them.
Then he remembered he had steaks. NewYork cuts. Chloe had gone shopping yesterday and brought over a pity basket for him.And they were thawed out. Thank God he was still friends with his ex-wife. He could fire up the grill and he'd be the dinner hero. He could make corn. He always had canned corn because he loved it.
Calm yourself down, boy. You'll be done before you even started proper.
Checking his face in the mirror, he realized he had a bit of stubble on his chin, but decided just to leave it. Shaving would take too much time. Besides a girl he'd dated a few months back had told him it made him look sexy and wild. Sexy and wild was a good thing. Right? God, what was up with him? He was acting like a lovesick puppy dog.
When he was certain he smelled decent and his hair had been tamed, he went to the closet and yanked a black denim shirt off a hanger. He found his last pair of clean jeans slung over his leather reading chair. He had to make some quality time for laundry, especially since his housekeeper Mrs. Clark wouldn't be home from visiting her pregnant daughter for another two weeks.
He ran down the stairs barefooted. About halfway down he stopped. Where the hell were his socks and shoes? "Riley? Where are you?" Nell's sweet sensual voice saved him from sinking further into thoughts of a past he could never repair.
"Right here." He entered the bright kitchen. She leaned against the center island's butcher block he'd built, beneath the wrought-iron pot holder with the copper pots and pans he'd never learned how to use since he didn't know to cook. He just liked the way the shiny pots reflected the sun in the morning. "Didn't mean to take so long."
She bent slightly and patted Chester on the head. "That's all right."
For the first time since she'd walked up his driveway, he wondered why she was here. Probably about the trellis on her house damaged by last week's freak storm. He'd promised to get to that soon. "Is it the trellis in the backyard?"
Her eyes widened. "I beg your pardon?"
"The trellis. You remember. Last week. Storm. Trellis." With his hand, he mimicked the trellis falling down in the wind. "I know I promised to fix it, but things have been " His voice trailed away.
She smiled sweetly. "No, no. I mean, yes it still needs repair, and I know you'll get that done, but I didn't come to discuss the trellis."
He opened the refrigerator and grabbed the glass pitcher full of sweet tea, the only thing besides scrambled eggs he really could make with any degree of confidence.
He used to be much better at seduction.
He smiled at Nell, who looked away, the color on her cheeks deepening. Don't rush her. Let her think it was all her idea. "So why are you here?"
Nell tugged at the tight white collar of her pink uniform. "Did you like being an architect?" she asked instead of answering his question. He could see she was nervous and his curiosity grew stronger. What was on her mind?