“Why would you want to wipe your slate clean?” she asked. He glanced at her calmly. Joy realized she’d just asked him the question she’d hoped he wouldn’t ask her. She reached for her mug of tea. “Never mind. You don’t have to answer that. It’s just that you seem to be at the height of a very successful career. I would have thought . . .”
“What?” he asked, when she faded off.
“I would have thought you would be one of the last people in the world to want to make a fresh start. You have a pretty impressive body of work on your slate to consider erasing it all,” she said with a smile.
His brow creased into a slight frown as he stared at her mouth. Joy dropped her chin and studied the surface of her tea. “Thanks,” she heard him say. “But sometimes, success can lock you into a certain pattern. You can’t help but wonder if things would be different if you just knocked over the whole house of cards and started from scratch.”
I can tell you what it’s like: it’s lonely, she thought before she had the opportunity to censor herself.
It felt like all the tiny hairs in her ears and on her neck stood on end at the sound of his quiet voice.
“You asked me earlier if I ever wasn’t confident. I’m not right now. You don’t want me here, do you?”
Her gaze zoomed to his face. “No. I mean, I do want you . . . here,” she added quickly.
“Then why are you so skittish?” In the distance, she heard the drone of the dryer spinning. The tightness she’d been experiencing in her chest rose to her throat.
“You don’t know?”
“You’re embarrassed?” he asked slowly, as if he’d seen the answer with those sharp eyes of his and plucked it right out of her consciousness. “About what happened at the studio?”
“I’ve never done anything like that before. I didn’t know who you were. I didn’t even know your name.”
His facial muscles convulsed slightly. He set down his cup on the coffee table and suddenly he was touching her cheek with one hand while the other cradled her neck. A silent spasm of emotion went through her when she felt his fingers slide into her hair and rub her scalp. Her lungs seemed to have locked up.
“It shocked me, too,” he admitted. “Maybe not in the same way it did you, but still. I couldn’t stop thinking about you, Joy.”
She just stared at him, mute, all those old feelings flooding into her awareness, a wave of fear for her own life, a lightening flash of lust . . . Everett’s eyes watching it all, a bright beacon she couldn’t quite interpret, but couldn’t help seeking.
She was healthy now, at least the doctors said so . . . alive to face another day, another moment. Who could possibly not relish this one?
His head dipped toward hers.
“I don’t want to make you feel strange or guilty about this.” She inhaled him, her floral-scented soap transformed by his male essence. “Is it okay?”
Her gaze came unglued from his moving lips and glided over his nose, meeting his stare. Maybe he read her bewilderment . . . her enthrallment.
“Is it okay that I’m so attracted to you?” he clarified somberly.
Her mouth dropped open in amazement. She nodded.
“So you’re not going to back out of going out with me tomorrow night?”
Uncertainty reared its head, breaking through the surface of her lust-addled awareness. This was her chance to back down. Everett may understand what was happening here—he probably had this effect on every woman he encountered. For her own part, she was quite sure this whole thing was a bizarre mistake. His fingers found a sensitive spot on her scalp. She stopped herself from purring in pleasure when he rubbed it.
“No. I’m not changing my mind,” she whispered.
His smile stunned her—a quick, unabashed flash of distilled happiness. He leaned down and brushed his mouth against hers before she’d recovered. She felt a shock go through her at the unexpected contact. His mouth caressed hers like his fingertips had her skin earlier, a tender exploration. She closed her eyes and trembled. His kiss wasn’t a ravishment to trigger lust and make her forget everything else.
It was better. Much better.
He lifted his head a moment later. She cracked open her eyelids and saw that he was watching her.
“If you had any idea about the things I’m fantasizing about doing to you right now, you might change your mind about tomorrow night.”