The Maverick's Thanksgiving Baby(10)

By: Brenda Harlen

The breadth of his shoulders beneath the flannel shirt he wore, the rippling strength of his abdominal muscles, the strength of those wide-palmed hands. The way his mouth curved just a little higher on the left side when he smiled; the almost-imperceptible scar on his chin, the result of a misstep as he’d climbed over a fence when he was eight years old. His hair was damp, as if he’d recently stepped out of the shower, and his jaw was freshly shaven, tempting her to reach up and touch the smooth skin.

“Do you want to take your coat off?”

“Sure.” But she pulled off her mittens and hat first, tucking them into the pockets of the long coat she’d borrowed from her cousin. When she finally stripped off the heavy garment, he took it from her, hanging it on a hook by the door, beside his Sherpa-lined leather jacket.

“Keep your boots on,” he said when she reached down to untie them. “The floor’s probably cold.”

It might have been true, but the abruptness of his tone suggested that he didn’t want her to get too comfortable or stay for too long. She kept her boots on, but wiped them carefully on the mat before stepping off it.

The main floor plan was open, with a dining area on one side and a living room on the other. The furniture was distressed leather with nail-head trim, oversize and masculine in design but perfect for the open space. Flames were crackling inside the river-rock fireplace, providing the room with both warmth and ambience. Jesse had moved to the kitchen, separated from the dining room by a long, granite-topped counter.

“Do you want a cup of tea?” he asked, already filling the kettle.

“That would be nice, thank you.”

Even she winced at the cool politeness of their conversation. It was as if they were strangers meeting for the first time rather than lovers who had spent hours naked together. Yes, it had only been one night, but it had been the most incredible night of her life. The way he’d touched her, with his hands and his lips and his body, had introduced her to heights of pleasure she’d never imagined.

Even now, the memories of that night made her cheeks flush and her heart pound. Though it took a determined effort, she pushed them aside and forced herself to focus on the here and now.

“You’ve lost weight,” he noted, his gaze skimming over her.

“A few pounds,” she admitted. Actually, she’d been down nine pounds a couple of months earlier, but she’d managed to gain six of them back.

Jesse studied her carefully, noting the bony outline of her shoulders in the oversize sweater she wore over slim-fitting jeans, and guessed that she’d lost more than a few pounds. She was pale, too, and those beautiful brown eyes that had haunted his dreams looked even bigger and darker than he remembered.

The last time they’d spoken on the phone, she’d told him that she’d been feeling unwell, fighting some kind of virus. He’d thought it was just the latest in a long line of excuses for why she’d chosen not to return to Rust Creek Falls. It seemed apparent now that there had been at least some truth in her explanation.

He poured the boiling water into a mug, over a bag of peppermint tea. The day that she’d made him dinner, she’d told him it was her favorite flavor. And, sap that he was, he’d not only remembered but had bought a box so that he’d have it on hand when she came to visit.

The box had sat, unopened, in his cupboard for almost four months. Now, finally, she was going to have a cup—and the other eleven bags would probably sit in the box in his cupboard for another four months before he finally tossed them in the trash.

“Are you feeling okay?” he asked.

She looked up, as if startled by the question.

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