The Maverick's Thanksgiving Baby(5)

By: Brenda Harlen

She felt her cheeks heat. She’d received more effusive compliments, but none had ever sounded as sincere. No one had looked at her the way he looked at her.

“Even without fresh basil, I do think this will be a step up from boxed mac and cheese.”

She filled a pot with water and set it on the back burner, then drizzled some oil into a deep frying pan. While the oil heated, she sliced the chicken into strips and tossed them into the pan. As the chicken was cooking, she chopped up peppers and onions, then added those, too.

“Can I do anything to help?”

“You could open the wine,” she suggested. “There’s a bottle of Riesling in the fridge and glasses in the cupboard above.”

He uncorked the bottle and poured the wine into two crystal goblets.

She dumped the pasta into the boiling water and set the timer, then took the glass he offered.

“To new friendships,” he said, lifting his glass in a toast.

“To new friendships,” she agreed. “And first dates.”

“Is this a date?”

“Of course. Otherwise, I would have lied to Jared.”

“We wouldn’t want that,” he teased.

She added the tomatoes to the frying pan, sprinkled in some of this and that, gave it a stir. Her movements were smooth and effortless, confirming her claim that she enjoyed cooking. Which was convenient, because he enjoyed eating.

Ten minutes later, he was sitting down to a steaming plate of penne pasta with chicken and peppers.

“This is really good,” he told her.

“Better than mac and cheese from a box?”

“Much better.”

They chatted while they ate, about anything and everything. She learned that he worked at his family’s ranch, The Shooting Star, but had his own house on the property, and that he was close to his siblings but was frequently baffled and frustrated by them. She confided that she sometimes felt smothered by her brothers, who tended to be a little overprotective, and admitted that she could have gone to work at Roarke & Associates—her parents’ law firm—but wanted to establish her own reputation in the field.

She had a second glass of wine while he had a second serving of pasta, and they lingered at the table. He was easy to talk to, and he actually listened to what she was saying. As a result, she found herself telling him things she’d never told anyone else, such as her concern that she’d been so focused on her career that she hadn’t given much thought to anything else, and she was starting to wonder if she’d ever find the time to get married and have a family.

Not that she was in any hurry to do so, she hastened to explain. After all, she was only twenty-eight years old. But she was admittedly worried that if she continued on the same course, she might be so focused on her billable hours that she wouldn’t even hear her biological clock when it started ticking.

Jesse told her that he’d gone to Montana State University to study Animal Science, graduating with a four-year degree. As for dating, he confided that he hadn’t done much of that, either, claiming that most of the women in town had gone out with one or more of his brothers and he had no intention of trying to live up to their reputations.

After the meal was finished, he insisted on helping with the cleanup. While she put the dishes into the dishwasher, he washed the pans.

She’d enjoyed spending time with Jesse, and she wasn’t eager for the night to end. He was smart and interesting and definitely easy to look at, and despite the underlying hum of attraction, she felt comfortable with him—or at least she did until he turned to reach for a towel at the same moment that she straightened up to close the door of the dishwasher and the back of his hand inadvertently brushed the side of her breast.

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