For a long minute, Morgan barely noticed the rain, watching her and wishing things were different. Wishing he was a different man. Wishing…
He cursed. If he were that different man, he would have kept on driving instead of taking the turnoff and driving here. He’d have found another parking place. Any other parking place. The shoulder of the road even. If he were a different man, he’d leave her alone.
But he wasn’t that good a man. He started walking, then pushed open the diner’s door, intending to savor the smile she gave, letting himself pretend it was for him, not the one she automatically graced every customer with.
* * *
THE DINER WAS QUIET. Not surprising, since it was nearly midnight. There wasn’t much life in town after 10:00 p.m., but there was a late crowd that came in when the bars closed. Daisy had said she made a nice chunk of change with the late crowd.
Tara wasn’t sure it was worth it. The two hours of dead time before the bars closed wasn’t bringing in much traffic. At least she had caught up on the small tasks that got lost in the busy day—like rolling silverware in napkins. And checking on the computer the staff kept complaining about.
The soft squeal of the door opening sent a shiver up her spine. She tried not to worry about who might come in this late at night. Wade was working, but he sneaked out to the alley to grab a smoke whenever it was dead. No one was in the place right now. She was alone—
Except for Morgan in the doorway.
He froze, as if he was just as surprised to see her there as she was him. Or reluctant to face her. What was he doing sneaking in? And yes, he had the look of a man sneaking in.
“Oh, hey.” He spoke softly, the growl in his voice deep as if he’d been quiet for too long. She got the impression he was considering turning around. He probably hadn’t expected to see her here. Of course, she wasn’t supposed to be here, but Wendy had gone home sick.
Tara would have suspected Wendy of trying to set her up with the man—as she kept threatening to do—if he hadn’t been gone for several days and she hadn’t seen how green Wendy looked before she left. Tara really needed to find time to talk to Wendy about Morgan and just how unavailable he was.
Tara put on her best hostess smile and grabbed a menu from the freshly cleaned stack. She focused on keeping it businesslike and professional—distant. “Booth or table?” she asked.
Morgan looked like he was resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “I’ll sit at the counter. Like usual.” He headed past her, taking the menu from her. He slapped it down in front of his seat. “I’ll take coffee.” He didn’t look up, but sat and stared at the list of choices he’d looked intently at dozens of times before.
“Our special tonight is beef stew and homemade biscuits. Dessert is apple caramel cake.” Tara waved her hand over the menu, pointing at the laminated pictures like she did for all new customers. “Our pastry chef just finished a fresh cake.”
Morgan glared at her. “Aren’t you the pastry chef?” he asked.
He knew what she was up to. She bit back her flippant comment about paybacks.
She pulled away, leaving him to make up his mind as she would any other customer. No staying to chat, no suggesting choices. None of that. She filled the coffee cup and set it in front of him with one of the freshly rolled sets of silverware. She knew he didn’t take cream in his coffee, but she set one of her cute little silver pitchers in front of him anyway. “Just in case you’d like some.” She walked away.
“Tara.” His voice came out in a warning.
She tried not to sigh at the sound of her name on his lips, those lips that had… No, she would not think about that. She would not let him get into her head. She kept walking, moving into the kitchen, away from him. Leaning against the wall, she heaved a heavy sigh.
Maybe if she stayed here long enough, he’d get tired of waiting and go away. Or maybe not. He wasn’t the kind to give up on anything. She shivered again. And this time, she refused to analyze why.
Maybe she should have turned the Open sign off. Pushing away from the wall, Tara forced herself to go through the swinging doors. She was not letting his presence intimidate her. Pulling her order pad from her pocket and her pencil from behind her ear, she headed toward him.