She couldn’t help her laugh. “Good to know.”
After creating the vertical support, they attached the long supports to what they’d already completed. It wasn’t hard work, but it reminded her of working on her Thunderbird. Glancing down at the screwdriver in her hand, she realized she had the same make and model in her toolbox at Fix ‘Er Up. Astonishment had her shaking her head. She’d spent so much of her life trying to get away from the woodworking shop, and yet, she found solace in working with her hands using many of the same tools she’d played with as a child in this very building. She’d never made the connection between metal and wood before.
“Are you sure about the ribbons of blue-inlaid wood going down the center?” Gabe asked, staring at the table top she’d created and started while he cut the uprights.
“Yeah, it’s perfect for the Beauchamps.” She stripped off her dust mask and stepped back to admire the table top. It was made of two-by-eight pieces of oak, tongue and grooved together to form a table top large enough to fit six. In the center, she’d carved out a winding river path and inlaid it with blue-stained pine.
“Why’s that?” He came up behind her. Not touching, but close enough that she could feel the unsettling physical tug of his nearness.
Her pulse pounded in her ears as she tried to unobtrusively brush the saw dust from her afro and clothes. What she wouldn’t give for a way to slick on some lipstick on the sly. “Their family has lived in Salvation for almost forever, and their family homestead was right on the river, which was perfect because they opened a rafting company. That location didn’t help, though, when their house caught fire. Business had petered off with the recession, and they’d dropped their insurance, meaning no funds to rebuild.”
“So the town is building them a home?”
“Sort of.” She shrugged, her shoulder rubbing up against his bicep, sending a delicious shiver marching across her skin.
He brushed away some sawdust sticking to the back of her T-shirt. “What do you mean?”
The label said one hundred percent cotton, but it felt threadbare as his hand lingered at the small of her back. “Jacobs Fine Furnishings partnered with Habitat for Humanity on the build.”
“You organized it?” A touch of gravel entered his tone as his other hand landed on her hip.
“It wasn’t just me.” Her voice shook, and she stepped away, desperate for space. Falling for Gabe would be dangerous, and she was far too cautious for that. It wasn’t the right time. She wished like hell she knew when that time would be.
“You’re always taking care of people, aren’t you?” Amusement and determination gleamed in his eye. “The Beauchamps, your father, the company.”
“I like it.” Uncomfortable with the conversation’s turn, she leaned down to study the hand-drawn design plan they’d created earlier. She ignored the bitterness lingering on the back of her tongue. When it came to family, helping was never a sacrifice. It was just what she did.
His thumb hooked under her chin and tilted her face up. “So who takes care of you?”
She blinked in surprise and realization. “I do.”
“Is that why you were so worried about telling your dad about your new job?”
She jerked out of his grasp, stumbling away from the workbench. “How did you know that?”
“There are only so many places to eat in Salvation.” He circled the workbench, crossing to her side and leaning against the edge. “I ended up having lunch at a diner, The Kitchen Sink. Your friend Ellen was my waitress. I complimented her on the elves she gave you, and pretty soon, she’d brought me up to speed on all things Keisha.”
Good Lord. Of all the people in the world he could have a little chat with, it had to be the one person who knew every last embarrassing factoid. “I’m gonna kill that girl.”
“I hope you don’t.” He grinned, diffusing the tension wiring the room. “I hear she knows the secret ingredient for the pecan pie.”
Keisha snorted. “So she says.”
“So why didn’t you tell your dad?”
Next to the word “stubborn” in the dictionary, there had to be a picture of Gabe Campos. And if that was the case, that page was dog-eared at every high school in America. “It’s a long story.”
“We have to wait until tomorrow to assemble and stain it, and I doubt the loft up there has WiFi, so I’m all yours.”
He was as charming and poisonous as a rattlesnake, but she found herself hypnotized into giving her secrets away anyway.
“Okay, I’ll give you the short version. I was engaged.” Embarrassed heat beat against her cheeks. “The invitations were mailed and the RSVPs collected. Then, about a week before the ceremony, I found my almost husband in bed with two women. We called off the wedding. When I told my dad, he had a stroke. I thought he was going to die. I couldn’t do that to my dad again. I had to wait for the right time, which never seemed to come up since there was a wolf from Harbor City howling at our doors.”
He stared at his sawdust-covered shoes. “What changed your mind?”
“He sort of pummeled it out of me.”
“I could see that.” Gabe laughed. “But you know you shouldn’t spend your whole life doing what people expect just because you think you should.”
Ouch. That hit close to the bone. “So says the man who tried to take down a small business based on a faulty gut.” Nothing like a snappy comeback to make her feel on steadier ground with Gabe. Too bad it still felt like the world shifted every time he reached out and touched her.
“She shoots, she scores,” he bellowed in a fake sports announcer’s voice before his gaze dropped to her mouth, and his eyes darkened into two pools of Caribbean blue. “One more thing. He’s an idiot.”
Her breath caught. “My dad?”
“No, your dickwad former fiancé.” Gabe’s finger traced an electric path across her jawline from her sensitive earlobe to the dimple in her chin, angling it up. “He is, without a doubt, a stone-cold moron.” He leaned down and delivered a devastating kiss.
Everything tumbled to place inside her. It wasn’t forever. It may just be for tonight. It didn’t matter. She was done waiting on the sidelines for her life to begin. It started now.
His teeth scraped against her bottom lip, entreating her to open. She didn’t need the encouragement, but that didn’t mean she was going to make it easy for him. Pushing against his broad chest, she gained an inch of space between them.