Mila pried the lid off the carton, then paused, wielding a big scoop. “I do have standards. And you’ve exceeded all of them. Your tights, bodysuit and cape will be arriving in the near future.”
He grinned. “Just no pink. I don’t look good in pink.”
“I’ve made a note of it.”
He traded spots with her and dished ice cream onto each of the three plates, then a final scoop in Poppy’s dish. They moved into the living room, where Mila alternated taking a bite of her own dessert with spooning up ice cream for the dog. Poppy was surprisingly well behaved as long the scents of sugar and cream remained in the air. When Mila showed her that both dishes were empty, she immediately turned to Sam with an eager smile.
“What did the ogre say?” Jessica asked, reminding them of Ed Lawrence’s call.
Mila pulled her feet onto the sofa, patting the cushions, and Poppy, who wasn’t having much luck getting Sam’s ice cream, jumped up and flopped out beside her. “He said I could have Monday and Tuesday off, that he would just make the guys in our crew work a couple extra hours both days. If I’m not back by Wednesday, I’m fired.” She buried her hand in the dog’s fuzzy fur. “I told him I quit.”
Sam’s eyes widened as something sweet and fragrant bloomed in his chest. “Really?”
Jessica’s reaction was less subdued. After putting her dessert on the end table, she jumped up and danced circles around the chair. “Oh, I’ve been wanting you to look elsewhere for so long, but you’re twenty-six. I can’t make you do what I want. This is a wonderful day!”
Mila’s gaze shifted to Sam, her expression a mix of relief, uncertainty and possibility. She raised her brows, as if asking if she’d made a mistake, and he gave her a thumbs-up. The uncertainty eased but didn’t go away completely.
“You’ll be able to take off long enough to let your wrist heal fully,” Jessica said, “and then you’ll find someone better to work for.” She grinned broadly before grousing, “It would be hard to find someone worse.”
Jessica danced her way into the kitchen to get drinks for them. While she was gone, Sam reached toward Mila, resting his hand lightly on her fingertips. “Just today my mother asked me if I knew anyone interested in a job at the nursery.”
Her brows narrowed. “She just asked? You didn’t suggest anything?”
“Nope. Two of their employees are leaving soon. One’s having a baby, and one’s going back to college. Apparently, Dad thought maybe Mom would step in and work full-time, but she made him understand that’s not going to happen. So, if you’re interested…”
She chewed on her lower lip. “You wouldn’t say anything to them? You wouldn’t say, ‘I like her and she needs a job so please hire her’?”
“Not if you don’t want me to. But they’ll figure it out soon enough when I bring you to work every morning and pick you up every night.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I’m not gonna be comfortable with you out of my sight as long as the killer is free. Even after we catch him, I’ll still be so traumatized by what happened yesterday that I’ll probably need to see you a dozen times a day to make sure you’re safe.”
The words brought her a small smile of nothing but pleasure. “And you think your parents would put up with that better than someone like Mr. Lawrence.”
“Oh, hell, yeah. They love me. They’ll love who I love.”
The last three words hung in the air between them, making her eyes softer, the smile smaller and more intimate. She opened her mouth to say something, but Jessica’s return with three glasses and a bottle of wine deterred her. Jessica poured and passed the glasses around, then lifted hers in salute.
“To life. Ain’t it grand?”
* * *
When Sam got to the station Monday morning, Ben was waiting, a sheaf of papers clutched in his hand and a grim look on his face. He followed Sam into his office and sat down while Sam set his hat aside and quickly scanned the messages he’d picked up on his way in: the usual minor complaints, scheduling and other petty stuff. So much of his life was spent dealing with the petty.