He was relieved, and pleased he knew her so well. “Shall we go?”
They left the building and walked in silence for a while, heading toward the bright lights of Times Square.
“What is it you’d like to see?” she eventually asked.
“Everything,” he admitted. “Show me what you love about your city. Explain to me why it’s beautiful despite being so dirty, why my heart pounds when I smell the strange scents, and why I smile when I see the crush of humanity gathered beneath all these impossibly tall buildings.”
She laughed. “You probably appreciate New York more than I do. I’ve lived here all my life, so it’s old hat.” Looking up at the lights dominating the skyline, she admitted, “I like seeing it fresh, through your eyes.”
So they showed the city to each other. For the next two hours, they explored the “Big Apple,” though he didn’t know why she called it that. They walked up Broadway and saw the theater marquees competing for space with the kitschy tourist shops. They were encouraged to try free samples, to come in and check out prices, to accept coupons for “no cover” in clubs from pushy barkers.
One of them got too aggressive with Claire, blocking her path and then putting a hand on her arm. Seeing red, Philip reacted instinctively. He shoved his way between them, taking the man’s wrist in one hand and his shoulder in the other, and propelled him out onto the street.
After that, Philip kept his hand on the small of her back as they maneuvered through the crowd, ever so aware of the warmth of her body beneath her coat. He was also aware of every laugh, every smile, of the way her eyes gleamed as she gazed up at the big, brightly decorated tree in front of Rockefeller Center.
They talked about nothing of importance, but he couldn’t remember ever laughing more. Claire was caustic and a little outrageous, but also smart, warm and charming.
He found himself telling her about his own background—as much as he could without revealing he was a prince from another dimension. Somehow, though, families were the same in every world, and in every income bracket, and he soon had her laughing when he described the way his mother ruled the house—and kingdom—while letting his father think he did.
There was only one thing on which they disagreed. Fascinated by a store called Hershey’s, which was, apparently, filled with nothing but chocolate, Philip reluctantly let Claire tug him away.
“I’ve got plenty of candy at home for you to try,” she said.
Damn. Did she do that on purpose? Did she know that when she said “candy,’’ he was thinking about her sweet lips and creamy skin?
A flush appeared in her cheeks. Yes. She knew.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“You can’t apologize for being delicious.”
She stopped midstride, and someone walking behind her almost crashed into her.
“Hey, watch it, dumb-ass!”
Philip swung around, fire in his eyes. The young man who’d spoken flinched, mumbled an apology and moved around them.
But their easy laughter and casual conversation faded away. The awareness that had existed from that first moment in the back of her candy shop returned full force, a tangible thing between them. Claire was quiet, wouldn’t meet his eye, and he sighed deeply.
Finally, she confirmed she’d had enough. “We should probably get back,” she told him. “It’s getting late.”
They walked in silence again. Eventually, Philip cleared his throat. “I apologize for making you feel uncomfortable.”
Instead of acknowledging that, she actually giggled. “So you are capable of apologizing! I figured you just always offered, but never actually did it.”
He joined in her laughter because, yes, that had happened a few times since they’d met.
By the time they reached their building, they’d fallen back into casual conversation. Light, friendly, absolutely nothing about candy or deliciousness or how very much he wanted to touch her. Philip knew he’d pushed too hard, and she’d stepped back. He didn’t want to make that mistake again.
Walking her to her door, he fully expected her to say good-night. But to his surprise, she said something else instead.
“I believe I owe you some chocolate...since I wouldn’t let you go in and buy any from that other store.”
She’d obviously added that last part to make sure he didn’t mistake her words for any kind of innuendo. “Yes, you do.”
“Do you like brownies?”
“I’m not sure.”
She gasped. “You’ve never had brownies?”
“I don’t think so,” he admitted.
“Oh, buddy, have I got a treat for you. Come on, I made a batch earlier...and I happen to have vanilla ice cream. A little melted Godiva and we are so on for hot fudge brownie sundaes!”
“Godiva... Is that what you were melting the night we met?”
He grinned. “We are so on for hot fudge brownie sundaes.”
* * *
SHE SHOULD HAVE SAID good-night.
The smart thing to do—the sane thing, considering she had no time for a relationship with anyone, much less a guy who made her forget she had a brain cell in her head—would have been to shake Philip’s hand and walk away.
Instead, Claire found herself in the kitchen making sundaes with a man.
“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” he said as he leaned over to sniff the pot on the big, industrial stove, in which she was whipping up a special hot fudge topping. “I could swim in a pool of that and never come out.”
Mmm. A pool of dark, decadent chocolate and this dark, decadent man. Sounded like a delicious combination to her.
“Almost ready.” She continued to stir the hot fudge. “Will you please grab the ice cream from the walk-in freezer?”
He glanced around, one eyebrow lifted as if he didn’t know what a walk-in freezer looked like. She had never realized how different Spain must be from the United States. She nodded toward the freezer, and he went in, returning a moment later with the large, unopened container.
“Let’s let it soften up a little, okay? By the time it’s soft enough to scoop, the fudge sauce will have cooled off just a bit and we’ll be able to eat it.”
“You’re very knowledgeable about this,” he said.
“It’s my job,” she answered with a shrug.
“How did you get started in this career?”
“I’ve always loved baking and candy-making. My grandmother was a fantastic cook and I used to work with her in the kitchen all the time. She started me on her famous chocolate-dipped peanut brittle when I was eight, and I never looked back.”
Claire walked over to the counter and settled on a stool. He sat opposite her, dropping his elbows onto the surface and clasping his hands together. Such big hands, strong and powerful. She still couldn’t get over how easily he’d handled that obnoxious barker, how he’d lifted the burly man off his toes as he’d thrust him out of the way. Philip might not be the brawny enforcer she’d first imagined him to be, but he was strong.
“Did your grandmother help you start this shop?”
“She passed away years ago. Before my parents did.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes. It’s just me and Freddy now.”
Philip’s expression hardened. “I take it your brother’s not much help.”
“He’ll grow up one of these days.”
“So, you did all this by yourself?” Philip asked, looking around the immaculate, state-of-the-art kitchen.
“With the help of some contractors and workmen, yes, I did.”
“Impressive.” Admiration shone on his face.
“What do you think of my city now?” she inquired, changing the subject.
“What’s most impressive? The crowds, the pickpockets, the rotten garbage, the honking taxis, the screaming drivers or the clueless tourists?” All of which they’d seen during their two-hour track through the touristy Broadway district. All of which she’d enjoyed, as crazy as it was. It was home to her, but usually turned other people off.
Philip hadn’t seemed the least bit bothered by any of it.
“Are those attributes?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye.
“Then no wonder this city has captivated me,” he said, sounding as if he meant it. “I love the seediness of it.”
“If you like seediness, you must get to New Orleans.”
“Very well. When should we go?”
Grinning, she played along. “Three Christmases from now?”
“It’s a date.”
“Do you really think you’ll be around then?” she murmured, pretending she wasn’t terribly interested in his answer.