At her house, she fished her keys from her pocket and unlocked the door. Poppy shoved her way in as soon as her nose could clear the space and trotted to the kitchen for water. Mila checked the thermometer hanging near a set of wind chimes. “Wow, it’s cooled all the way down to eighty-six. You want to eat out here, on the back porch, or gee, I actually do have a dining table inside.”
Sam made an exaggerated face. “Will I sound like a sissy voting for the dining table? Especially if there’s an air-conditioning vent nearby. I’m so ready to cool down that I might just ask you to turn the hose on me.”
“There’s a vent and a fan.” She went inside, crossed the living room in a few strides and stepped into the dining room. Like so much else about the house, it was tiny, really more of an alcove that provided passage between living room and kitchen. The table was handmade, oak with a worn golden glow, three boards nailed across the top, four sturdy rectangular legs. The seams between the boards were uneven and marred with chips and scratches, and the two oak chairs showed the same wear and tear.
She set the food down, stashed the ice cream in the freezer and filled Poppy’s food dish. After gathering napkins and drinks, she returned to the dining room and took the seat closest to the wall, the one that left little maneuvering space to get in and out.
“Nice table. Family heirloom?” Sam ran his fingers across the top after he settled into the other chair.
“Someone’s family. Not ours.” She thought she’d said it carelessly enough to go unnoticed, but turned out, she could have chosen any number of better answers, because the next response from him was the one that seemed most logical in hindsight. It was one she’d rather never answer with anyone, especially a police officer. A police chief. A gorgeous, handsome police chief who made her insides flutter.
“Tell me about your family.”
* * *
Sam kept his tone even, conversational, as if it was the most natural question to ask a woman over dinner. And, really, even though Mila’s jaw had gone tight and an emotion he couldn’t identify had come into her eyes, it was natural. Asking and answering questions about themselves—that was how people got to know each other. That was how they determined if they liked each other. He knew he was attracted to Mila physically—he’d swear that brief touch of her hand had scorched the shape of her fingers into his brain—and he was interested in her as a person, but he couldn’t know if it went beyond that if he didn’t find out things about her.
The pointless things. The silly things. The things that made her smile and laugh and want to tear out her hair. The pet peeves, the favorite books, the movies she loved and the music she hated.
Knowing she was pretty, isolated, emotionally distant but dearly loved her grandmother and her dog…those were important, but not enough. He wasn’t sure anything less than everything would be enough.
“I’m not asking for life histories. I don’t need to know that you potty trained early—though my mother would proudly tell you that I did—or if you walked late. I don’t want to know if there are more Ramirezes around somewhere than there are Douglases here, or what they do or how they think or what their politics are. Just a general overview will be enough.” For right now.
With the tremor in her hands only slightly visible, she plucked off a piece of hamburger and lowered her hand beneath the table. He didn’t need to have Poppy sitting on his right foot, tail thumping in anticipation, to know she was slipping the food to the dog.
Her hand didn’t reappear—he suspected she was holding on to Poppy for comfort—but her gaze slowly lifted to his face. She didn’t meet his eyes, but at least she came close. “My parents died when I was eleven, and Gramma took me in. They were both only children, so there are no aunts or uncles or cousins, and my grandfather had already died, so Gramma just sort of focused on getting me grown up. It took…” She drew a deep breath, and her gaze made a fleeting connection with his. “It took longer than she expected.”
Huh, she’d made a joke. He didn’t point it out, didn’t want to make her self-conscious, but he did smile. “You strike me as someone who was probably all grown-up at birth. I suspect, in truth, you were helping raise Jessica.”