“What does it look like I’m doing?” He reached into a pouch on his tool belt and pulled out a nail.
“Um…maybe a better question would be why are you doing what you are doing?”
“It needs doing.” He positioned the nail, then drove it into place with a few swift hits from the hammer.
“Not by you. It’s not your place.”
“My repairing a few things while you’re with your mother isn’t a big deal, Carly,” he pointed out in a tone that warned she was overreacting. He took another nail from his tool belt. “Don’t make this into more than it is.”
It was already happening. His getting bored with waiting while she cared for her mother. She couldn’t blame him. He’d been so patient, so kind with her, so much more so than she’d ever expected. Yet she couldn’t stop the sick feeling sweeping through her.
“Repairing a few things?” While he hammered the nail, she took in his tool belt, the supplies he’d carried onto the porch, and tried to keep the panic from her voice. “What are you planning?”
“To do a few things around here.”
“I don’t need you doing things around here.”
He didn’t look up at her, just kept working. “Sure, you do.”
Carly’s hands went to her hips. “If you don’t like my home, you don’t have to come back.”
In response, he placed another nail and hammered it into place. Each hit sent a shockwave through Carly.
“Did you hear me?” she asked, when he reached for another nail.
“Then why are you still doing that?”
Pausing, he glanced up. “It’s not a big deal.”
Her chin tilted. “It is to me.”
“Look, it gives me something constructive to do while I’m here.”
“You don’t have to be here,” she reminded him.
“I want to be here.”
His words should have soothed the unease in her, but instead had her hands clenching. “Please don’t do this. I don’t want to be beholden to you.”
The desperation in her voice must have gotten to him, because he stopped working, looked up. “You aren’t.”
“But if you do this, I will feel as if I am.”
He stared a few moments, then picked up another nail, checked the railing, and hammered the nail into place, securing the previously loose board. “I can’t help your hang-ups, but you don’t owe me anything, Carly.”
“That’s not fair to you.”
He shrugged. “Doing something to help a friend isn’t about fair. If the situations were reversed, wouldn’t you do the same for me?”
She would do the same for him. More if she could. But…
She regarded him a moment, then sighed. “How am I supposed to argue with you when you make so much sense?”
A relieved grin slid onto his handsome face. “Because you aren’t supposed to argue with me. Go finish with your mother, and then come out here and help me.”
Still not quite sure what to make of his having come prepared to make repairs on her home, she sighed. “You’re going to make me work instead of playing games tonight?”
His eyes twinkled. “I’ve time for both.”
Which made Carly’s insides flinch.
He might have time for both, but she didn’t. How could she tell him that his being there made her life better in some ways and more stressful in others? She was so far behind with processing insurance claims.
“I… Okay, Stone. I’ll be back when I can.” But rather than walk away, she stood, staring at him, wondering how she would ever repay him and if what her mother had said was true.
Definitely, she wanted him.
How could she not?
He was gorgeous and kind and made her feel alive.
“Go,” he told her, breaking into her thoughts. “Because if you keep standing there looking at me like that, I’m going to toss the hammer aside and take you up on what I’m seeing in your eyes.”
Carly almost instinctively closed her eyes, but caught herself just in time. She didn’t want to close her eyes. She didn’t care if Stone saw the truth in her gaze.
Not that she was a hundred percent certain what all that truth actually encompassed, but maybe it was time for her to quit pretending that she only wanted to be friends with him.
* * *
When Carly got back to her mother’s bedroom, Audrey was sound asleep. Carly flushed her feeding tube, because she couldn’t recall if she had earlier or not, then removed the dirty bib and cleaned her mother’s face.
Although she stirred, her mother didn’t wake.
After a few minutes, Carly gave in to the nervousness flowing through her veins and headed to her bedroom.