“Where are you going?” Michael asked, causing her to stop midmotion.
She glanced over her shoulder and the sight of him covered by a sheet only from the waist down made her throat tighten. In the soft darkness before dawn, he leaned against one forearm, and his broad shoulders and muscular chest emanated strength. She forced herself to meet his gaze and saw what had attracted her from the beginning—dark eyes that glowed with confidence and attentiveness. She’d pushed her fingers through his dark curly hair. His mouth had taken her with shocking passion.
She cleared her throat and tried to clear her mind. “I realized I have a job interview today. I should get home.”
“You don’t think the interview will be canceled due to the snowstorm?” he asked.
“Well, I can’t be sure,” she said a bit too brightly for her own ears. “Always best to be prepared. You don’t have to get up. I’ll call a cab.”
He gave a short laugh and rose from the bed. “Fat chance in this weather. I’ll take you.”
She looked away. “Oh, no really—”
“I insist,” he said in a rock-solid tone.
“But my car,” she said.
“I’ll have my driver bring it to your place.”
One hour later, Michael turned into her apartment complex. Bella let out a tiny breath of relief in anticipation of escaping such close confines with him. During the silent ride, she’d spent every other minute castigating herself for making such a foolish choice. She needed to step up and be there for her aunt. She refused to be like her mother—irresponsible and careless of others’ needs.
“Is this the building?” Michael asked.
“Yes,” she said, her hand on the door as he pulled to a stop. “I really appreciate the ride home. It was very kind of you.”
“I’d like to see you again,” he said, and something in his voice forced her to meet his gaze.
If she were another person, if she had fewer responsibilities, if she weren’t still in love with a man she couldn’t have…too many ifs.
She shook her head. “It’s not a good idea. I shouldn’t have—” She broke off and cleared her throat. Lord, this was awkward.
He leaned toward her. “You didn’t like being in my bed?” he asked, but it was more of a dare than a question.
She sucked in a quick breath. “I didn’t say that. I just have a lot going on right now. I think being with you could be confusing for me.”
“It doesn’t have to be confusing,” he said. “It’s simple. I meet your needs and you meet mine.”
She couldn’t stop a bubble of nervous laughter as she looked into his dark gaze. How could anything with this man ever be simple? She was out of her league and she knew it. “I—uh—I don’t think so.” She shook her head. “Thank you for bringing me home.”
Bella raced inside her apartment and closed the door behind her. She took several deep breaths, still unable to believe that she had spent the night with a man she barely knew.She checked the time. A little too early for her regular morning call with Aunt Charlotte. She took a shower and let the hot spray rinse away her stress and warm her from the outside in. For a few minutes, she forgot about her worries and focused on the warm water.
After she got out of the shower, she dried off, dressed and checked the time again. She dialed her aunt’s number and waited while it rang several times. Bella felt her concern grow the longer it took for Charlotte to answer.
Bella had almost lost her and she still could. Her aunt was recovering from breast cancer and a year of grueling treatment, a year when Bella had been away pursuing her dream. If only Charlotte hadn’t kept her illness a secret.
“Hello,” her aunt said in a sleepy voice.
“Oh, no, I woke you,” Bella said.
“No,” Charlotte said and sighed. “Well, actually you did. The shop is closed today.”
“So you get a day off,” Bella said, excited at the prospect of her aunt getting some extra rest.
“Without pay,” Charlotte grumbled.
“Can I bring something over for you? Soup, sandwich, coffee, green tea…”
“Don’t you dare,” Charlotte said. “I don’t want you driving in this messy weather. I have plenty of food here. Maybe I’ll do something really decadent and stay in bed and watch the morning shows.”
“As long as you promise to eat something,” Bella said.
“You sound just like a mom,” Charlotte said.
“I want to make up for lost time.”
“Oh, sweetie,” her aunt said. “You gotta let go of that. I made it through.”