She could still smell the scent of pine in the wood stove on those cold winter nights.
And she could remember how empty the house had felt when she’d realized that her father was never coming home.
The door opened and Derek stepped out.
“Evelyn? Have you been standing out here long?”
“Not long.” Evelyn smiled and held out the box of cupcakes. “For Mo. How is she feeling?”
“She’s asleep,” Derek said, taking the cupcakes.
“Do you want me to come back? I can call Joe…” In fact she was slightly relieved that maybe she’d be able to get out of this dinner and she wouldn’t have to spend any time in this house.
“No, come in.”
“I’m not sure I can,” she said.
“Why?” Derek asked, confused. “Is it because of me?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Then what is it? It was Mo’s invitation, wasn’t it? It freaked you out. Look, it shocked me too. She’s never really taken to someone like that before.”
“It’s not Mo’s invitation. It’s complicated.”
A warm smile tugged at his lips and it sent a zing of electricity through her. His smile made her weak in the knees, and he was so much more tempting when that smile was directed at her. It was a potent smile.
“Complicated I get,” he said gently.
Evelyn chuckled and tucked her hair behind her ear in a nervous twitch. “I just didn’t expect… I didn’t expect you to live here.”
Derek turned and looked back at his house. “Something wrong with my house?”
Evelyn bit her lip and then sighed. “I used to live here, Derek. This used to be my home before I was taken away.”
* * *
There were a lot of excuses that Derek had been expecting to hear from her.
Before Vivian, women had come on to him all the time, even if he hadn’t been interested in them, but they’d soon lost interest in him when he’d told them his plans to move to Alaska.
He tried once to date, a couple of years after Vivian had died, but the woman had learned he had a daughter, emotional baggage in the form of a deceased wife, and a practice that took up a lot of his time. It had been enough to scare her away and had soured him on dating anyone.
Which had always been fine with him. Until now.
He’d seen the look of shock in Evelyn’s eyes when he’d explained that Mo was his daughter and that he was a widower. He’d seen that pity and he didn’t want it. Not from her.
He wanted something completely different from her. Derek didn’t want Evelyn just to see him as a single dad and a widower. He enjoyed working with her. It felt natural and she kept him focused. She chased away the nightmares. The numbness. He wanted her to see him as just himself.
Who he really was.
And who is that?
He wasn’t sure he knew anymore.
All he knew was that look of pity with the head-tilt, and he didn’t want to see it from her.
He’d honestly been expecting her to call and cancel the dinner, even though such a call would have absolutely devastated Mo. So he was happy she was here, because of Mo’s feelings, but when she hadn’t come in right away he’d been pretty sure she was going to bolt.
He hadn’t been expecting her to say that his home had once been hers. And he’d had no idea that he was living in Dr. Thorne Saunders’ home. Evelyn’s childhood home. He’d bought it from a logger who’d worked here in Wolf’s Harbor for a few summers and then decided to join a crab fishing boat. He’d sold the home to Derek when he’d first arrived and then Vivian had moved in.
He knew about Evelyn’s past—sort of. Different people had told him about her parents dying and her having to leave Wolf’s Harbor, but that was it.
People didn’t talk about Thorne Saunders besides saying he’d been an excellent doctor. And no one had told him this was Thorne’s former home. The name on the deed before the man he’d bought this house from was L. Yazzie, and he’d assumed it had belonged to the Yazzie family at one point. He hadn’t known the connection between the Yazzies and Thorne until recently.
Now it made perfect sense. He just hadn’t seen it before, even though Evelyn had had that emotional reunion with Joe Yazzie when she’d first arrived.
He could only imagine what she was going through, but though he knew he should tell her it would be OK to leave or call Joe to come get her, he didn’t want her leaving.
He was lonely, and Evelyn was someone bright, vibrant. Someone who excited him. And he wanted her to stay. He wanted to talk to an adult. To have a conversation and enjoy a glass of wine.