"So if he'd driven a wedge between you, even had them hurt you—well, not them but what you believed was them, it might have weakened what we all have. Or even destroyed it."
"I think that was part of the plan."
Uneasy, she pressed her lips together. "He failed, so he'll be angry."
"Yeah, he'll be angry. I don't think any of us should spend much time on our own for the next few days. I want you and Simon to stay at my place."
"Zoe, take a minute." Already prepared for objections and excuses, he stepped closer and laid his hands on her shoulders. "Whatever has to be done to finish this is going to involve both of us. We should stick together as much as we can. And beyond that, I want you with me. Both of you."
"That's the tricky part. How am I supposed to explain to him that we're staying with you?"
"He knows enough about what's going on to accept it. And do you really think he's going to object to the idea of easy access to my game room?"
"No. No, I don't." She eased out from under his hands, got to her feet. "Bradley, I just don't want him… I know what this sort of thing is like for a child. After my father left us, there always seemed to be a man moving in for a little while."
His face went stony. "This isn't like that. It's more important than that on every possible level. Zoe, you and Simon aren't temporary in my life."
Her breath clogged. "You need to slow down."
As impatience pumped through him, his voice toughened. "Maybe you need to speed up. You don't want me to tell you what you mean to me, what I feel for you?"
"How can either of us think clearly about that?"
Desperate for breathing room, she moved over to twitch at the curtains. "You don't know what I'm going to mean or what you're going to feel after this is done. We're caught up in something now, and it—it magnifies everything."
"I was caught up in you the first instant."
"Don't do this." Her breath hitched now as it squeezed around her heart. "You don't know how this could hurt me."
"Maybe I don't. Tell me."
"I can't do this now." Though she damned herself for a coward, she turned back toward him and shook her head. "Neither can you. We both have to go."
He caught her chin in his hand, laid his lips on hers. "We're going to talk about this, and a great deal more. But let's deal with living arrangements for now. If you don't want to stay at my place, I'll stay here. But I'd like you to think about doing it my way. I'll come by after work, and we'll sort it out."
By twelve-thirty, Zoe was installing the track lighting in Dana's bookstore. They'd made the decision to concentrate on one area of the building that afternoon until the final details in that section were complete. In a fast contest of rock, paper, scissors, Dana had won the round.
"It makes sense to me." Dana filled a small spin rack with greeting cards. "There's more room at Brad's place, and he has a cleaning service. He's also been known to cook in a pinch. You could concentrate on the key, and your salon, and let everything else go until the end of the month."
It was logical, Zoe admitted. It was even sensible. But… "It's not as simple as that. How can I follow through on the idea that my house may be a part of this if I'm not in my house?" "Has that taken you anywhere?" Malory asked her.
"No, it doesn't seem as if it has, but it's only been a couple of days since I started working that angle."
When this was met with silence, Zoe lowered her arms and sighed. "Okay, I know I should have felt something by now if it was important. But I can't be positive."
"Sounds like avoidance to me," Dana said out of the side of her mouth.
In defense, Zoe slanted her a long, steely stare. "It is not avoidance. It's… caution. And it's not the same as Jordan staying in your apartment while the two of you wait to move up to the Peak, or Malory moving in with Flynn. You're engaged. And I've got Simon to think about."
"Brad's crazy about Simon," Malory pointed out.
"I know that." She lifted her electric screwdriver to finish attaching the track to the ceiling. "But that doesn't mean we should pack up and move in. I don't want Simon confused about me and Brad—the sex—or getting used to that big house and all the things , and the attention, and the, well, the everyday accessibility to Brad."
Malory stopped shelving books. "Is it just Simon that you don't want getting confused?"