Watching her, he walked over to sit on the side of the bed. "You look excited."
"I am. It just sort of struck me as I was driving back, and I thought if I went back through each clue, each quest, each… Where's Simon?"
"He's outside with the dogs."
"It's getting late. I wasn't paying attention. I'd better throw something together for dinner, and get him in and settled down."
"Take a minute. Tell me where you're heading with this."
"That's one of the things I need to figure out. Where am I heading? I'll tell you while I see about dinner."
"You don't have to see about dinner," he said as she wound through her stacks and off the bed. Reaching out, he snagged the pencil from her ear, tossed it on her papers. "There's enough left over down there to forage through."
"I think better when I'm busy, and foraging isn't part of the deal. And I like fussing around in that kitchen of yours," she added as she started out. "That's one of the things I need to talk to you about."
"You want to talk to me about the kitchen?"
"That's part of it. Part of the whole." Catching his expression of pure male distress, she chuckled. "Don't panic, I'm not pulling a Malory on you. Your kitchen's wonderful just as it is. The fact is, this is the most wonderful house I've ever seen."
She trailed her fingers along the rail on the way downstairs. "Everything about it is just as it should be. I love my place. It means so much to me. There are still some mornings I wake up and just hug myself because it's mine."
She stepped into the kitchen. And let out a very long, very audible breath.
"We, ah, foraged considerably earlier."
"So I see." There were dishes, glasses, bottles of soda and beer, bags of chips and other jetsam of a male afternoon spread over the counters and table. "Well." So saying, she rolled up her sleeves.
"Wait a minute. Just wait." More than a little embarrassed that he'd let the state of the house get quite so out of hand, he grabbed her arm. "If we're talking about deals, you're not supposed to pick up after me."
"I'm not picking up after you." After brushing him off, she plucked up a half-empty bag of taco chips and rolled up the end. "I'm picking up after all of you, which balances out you having Simon underfoot all day while I was off doing something else. Do you have any clothespins?"
"Clothespins?" He struggled to find the connection. "You're going to hang out wash?"
"No. These chips'll stay fresher if you clip them closed. You can buy those plastic spring things they make for it, but clothespins work just as well."
Amused, he slid his hands into his pockets. "I don't believe I have any of those in stock at the moment. We could order t
hem for you."
"I've got my own. I'll bring some by." With quick, efficient moves, she had the bags rolled and stored, or crushed and thrown away. And started straight in on the dishes. "A man's got a beautiful house like this, he shouldn't let it get to be such a mess. I imagine the game room looks like an army was bivouacked in it."
He began to jiggle his change. "Maybe. I have a cleaning crew—" He broke off at the single steely look she sent over her shoulder. "Am I going to have to vacuum?"
"No, Simon is, to thank you for the day. Meanwhile, I was talking about houses. Flynn's got a great house. I imagine he bought it because it pulled some string inside him and made him comfortable. Made him at home. He didn't do a lot with it until Malory came along, but there was something about that place that told him this is the one, this is my place."
"Okay, I'm following that."
With the dishes loaded, she damped a cloth to wipe off the counters. "There's the Peak. That's a fantastic place. A magic one. But it's a home, too. It was a place that meant something special to Jordan even as a boy. Something he aspired to. He and Dana are going to make it their own."
She poured a couple of swallows of warm beer in the sink, tossed bottles into the recycle bin. Watching, Brad was certain he'd never seen a room put so quickly to rights.
"I could never live in a place like that," she continued. "It's too big, too grand, too everything. But I can see how it's right for them."
She got out a pot, measured water by eye and set it on the range. While she spoke, she pulled out vegetables and the sealed bag of beef she'd marinated that morning. "Then there's Indulgence. As soon as I saw it, I knew, this is the place. The place where I could make something. Where Mal and Dana and I could make something. It was a crazy idea when you really think it through."
She julienned peppers and carrots with what looked to Brad like the skill of a veteran line chef. "How so?"
"Putting it all under one roof that way, with the bare minimum of seed money. Buying the place, too, instead of pushing just to rent. But I wanted to buy it, to have it, as soon as I saw it."