He found himself drawing her closer. “You couldn’t see past the selfish jerk I behaved like that night.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“No.” He needed to be closer, so he drew her onto his knee. “It’s not your fault. It’s mine. I pretended it was yours because I felt so damn guilty.”
She gazed into his eyes. “You stepped up. As soon as you knew, you stepped up.”
She looked regretful and vulnerable. Protective instincts welled up inside him. He couldn’t stop himself from touching her face, stroking her cheek, tracing his thumb along her jawline.
Her cheeks flushed and her lips parted. His body shifted to hug her, to draw her against his shoulder, to tell her it was all in the past and they were moving forward to the future. But somehow the motion turned into a kiss.
His lips brushed hers. Then they settled and parted, deepening the kiss as desire, passion and satisfaction flowed through him. His arm went around her waist, hugging her close.
An image of Lauren flashed in his mind, and guilt crashed down on him.
What was he doing?
He drew back, gaping at Sage in shock. “I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
She breathed deeply. Then she disentangled herself from his hold, rising from his lap.
He wanted to call her back, but he knew he didn’t dare.
“We’re both emotional,” she said without looking at him.
She took the opposite chair and lifted her glass of wine, taking a drink.
He was definitely feeling emotional. Trouble was, he couldn’t pinpoint the emotion. What on earth was he feeling?
“I don’t need a decorator,” she said, her tone growing crisper, more matter-of-fact. “I’ll pick some things out. I’m going to Seattle tomorrow.”
“I have some issues to clear up, some people to see.”
He wanted to ask who and what, but it was her choice to tell him or not.
“And Melissa came by today.” Sage kicked off her shoes and curled her feet beneath her on the armchair. It was the first thing she’d done that made her look at home. “She wants me to help with the Seaside Festival. She asked if you’d donate money.”
TJ would have to thank Melissa for that. It was thoughtful of her to pull Sage into the community that way.
“Did you agree to help?” he asked, reaching for his wineglass.
“I did. Will you make a donation?”
“We’ll make a donation.”
Sage seemed to need a moment to wrap her head around that. “Can I tell Melissa how much?”
He shrugged. “Donate whatever you want.”
Sage stilled. “I’m in no position to make that kind of a decision.”
“Sure you are. It’s your money too.”
“No, it’s not.”
He set down his glass. “You’re going to have to get used to it, Sage.”
She didn’t argue, but her expression was mulish.
“Tide Rush Investments has a budget for philanthropic donations. It’s been mostly dormant for a while because… There are reasons that don’t really matter. But it’s there. I’ll show you how to get into the accounting system. Take a look at what’s happened in the past. Get Melissa to tell you what the festival needs. Pick an amount, and call Gerry Carter. He’s the chief accountant. He’ll process the check.”
Sage was still silent, blinking at TJ.
“You’ll get the hang of it. I promise. And that platinum card I gave you? Gerry pays that bill too. But you have to take it into a store and buy something before he can pay it. Maybe a bed or a sofa, or a bike for Eli.”
“This is hard,” she said in a hesitant voice.
“It’ll get easier. Break the ice while you’re in Seattle. Buy a car or something.”
She cracked a smile at that. “Buy a car with your credit card?”
“First of all, it’s your credit card. And yes, it works on cars too.”
She shook her head in resignation. Then she took what seemed like a bracing drink of the wine. “You may regret this.”
“I doubt that.”
After all she’d been through, all that he’d put her through, there was nothing she could purchase he’d regret. If it made her happy, she deserved it.
* * *
After lunch in Seattle with her colleagues from the community center, Sage had stopped to see Dr. Stannis and give her an update on Eli. The doctor was delighted with the news. It seemed she’d been following his case, getting reports from Highside Hospital staff. But she said there was nothing like a firsthand account.
On the way out, Sage stopped at Eli’s old room to see Heidi.
“Sage!” The little girl’s face lit up as Sage entered the room.