Shock struck like a whip, slicing through her defenses and leaving her breathless. “So why are you here?”

He looked up, piercing her soul with his bright, aquamarine eyes. “Because of you.”

Chapter Nine

Gabe hadn’t been this unsure of himself since…well, since ever. But he’d made a fortune from following his gut, and he hoped like hell he wasn’t wrong this time.

“This whole clusterfuck happened because I thought I was doing the right thing for the right reason.” Now wasn’t that the irony? He had the Midas touch when it came to money, but people? Yeah, not his strong suit.

Nervous energy ate away at him, making his glasses shake in his hands. He slid them on before he dropped them, bringing Keisha into clear focus. Standing before him, with her arms crossed and her eyes narrowed, she couldn’t have looked any more suspicious of him if she tried. And who could blame her? He’d practically submarined Jacobs Fine Furnishings with the careless hurt of a child.

Now it was time to man up.

“I went off half-cocked.” He paced the length of the workbench. “All I knew was that my dad and your dad had been partners, and things had fizzled. Your dad went on to build Jacobs Fine Furnishings. My dad ended up playing chicken with a highway overpass. He lost.”

The images from the grizzly, full color accident photos flashed in his mind, and he flinched. Twisted metal. Blood on the windshield. A single tire lying in the middle of the road. He wished like hell he’d never forced Carlos to show him the pictures.

“I’m sorry for your loss, but what the hell does that have to do with my father or me?” Keisha asked.

Though sympathy softened her words, he couldn’t miss the anger and confusion underneath.

“With you? In reality? Not a damn thing.”

“So why?”

She deserved a real explanation, and he didn’t have one. He realized it now. But if he could just make her understand why he’d done what he’d done, maybe everything wouldn’t be lost.

“My cousin, Carlos, is a computer genius and works at a security company in Harbor City. He was doing work on a case and ran across police records listing my mom as a surviving widow. He did a little digging and discovered the accident report with your dad’s name as a witness. There was bad blood between them, according to what Dell told the cops, something about a business deal gone bad. And I decided that someone needed to pay for what had happened to my dad. I couldn’t go to my mom, dredge up the past she’d kept hidden for so long. Instead, I went gunning for your dad.”

The whole thing sounded so ridiculous when he said the words out loud. Shame and embarrassment twisted inside him like an F4 tornado, leveling everything in its path.

“So what changed between this morning and now?”

“Carlos found the medical examiner’s report. My dad had a BAC that was almost twice the legal limit.” The words left a foul taste in his mouth. “It made me realize that there was a lot about the accident I don’t know and a lot about my real dad I’m totally clueless about. I came here to tell your dad the whole bet was off, but I couldn’t.”

“Why not?” Confusion had replaced the suspicion in her dark brown eyes.

Wasn’t that the question that kept zinging around his brain? He searched the barn’s rafters for the reason that eluded him. It wasn’t there, but he found it as soon as his gaze lowered to Keisha. “Because tonight might be the last time I get to see , and I’m a selfish bastard.”

“You don’t even know me,” she whispered.

“I know you take your coffee with an ungodly amount of cream. I know you chew on the inside of your cheek when you’re mulling something over. I know you would do just about anything for your family. But I want to know more.”

“We never even met face-to-face until yesterday.”

“You think I wasn’t paying attention during all those months when I’d call two or three times a week?” He brushed his thumb across her full bottom lip that quaked just the tiniest bit. “Last night wasn’t a mistake. Let me prove it to you.”

She hesitated but didn’t move away from his touch. “How?”

“Instead of competing against each other, let’s build something together.”

She laughed. “That’s not the offer I was expecting.”

“It’s the best one I’ve got right now.” But by this time tomorrow, he’d have a lot more on the table.

A fine layer of saw dust covered the concrete floor like fairy dust. Or should it be elves? They seemed the more industrious sort. Keisha shook her head. She must have ingested some of the dust, because her brain had gone on vacation with thoughts like those. Of course, it was better than the alternative. That being a near constant awareness of Gabe, who had stripped down to butt-hugging jeans and a sleeveless undershirt.

The muscles she’d gotten the briefest hint of last night had been enough to tempt her straight into a fiery pit of desire, but actually seeing his thick biceps slick with well-earned sweat? She was just dancing in the flames and not giving a damn that her toes—and other parts of her anatomy—were getting singed.

Gabe flicked a switch, and the roar of the table saw eased to a dull muffle and then silence. As long as she ignored her heart thundering in her chest. Watching his muscles bulge as he carried the freshly cut oak uprights for the dining room table was enough to give her a hot flash or twelve.

He laid the uprights on the worktable and grinned. It was infectious.

“I’m sorry for doubting that you knew how to use the table saw.” She grabbed a bottom brace and placed it against the upright to form an L.

He had the drill out and made two holes lickety-split fast. “Woodshop was my favorite class in high school. Next he used wood glue and two six-inch lag screws to attach the bottom brace and the upright. “I even joined a woodworking club in college.”

She flipped the L-shaped wood over, and they worked together to attach the bottom brace and then the top brace. “Your university had a woodworking club?”

“They did after I started it.” He grabbed the glue and lag screws, then joined one end of the middle upright to the center of the bottom brace.

Enjoying the camaraderie of working together after so much discord, she took the other end and joined it to the center of the top brace. “And how many members were there?”

“Usually one, but he had crazy good skills.” He spun the drill like a six shooter.