“Tony.” Her voice cracked and overflowed with emotion. “Tony.”
“Wow.” Miss Personality’s dry voice intruded. “I’m guessing you two really do know each other.”
Way to break the spell, he thought.
Self-conscious and awkward now, Tony lowered Talia to her feet but kept an arm on her back because he needed the contact. Apparently, she didn’t. Stepping out of his grasp, she smoothed her hair and made a real project of avoiding his gaze.
“So,” he said.
“So,” Talia echoed. “You’ve met my sister, right?”
Sister? “Not exactly.”
Talia flashed a dimple, but her smile never quite took hold. “Gloria Adams, this is Captain Antonios Davies.”
“Tony,” he said quickly, extending his hand.
Gloria’s appraising gaze, which was considerably more interested in him than it had been a minute ago, swept over him as they shook hands.
“Captain? Are you a marine, or—”
He shuddered. “God forbid. I’m army. Well, was. I’ve been discharged.”
The interrogation continued. “Honorable, or—”
“Gloria,” Talia snapped.
“It’s okay,” he told her. “Honorable. Would you like to see my discharge papers?”
“Do you have them?” Gloria asked sweetly.
“Yeah, okay.” Talia hooked her elbow onto Gloria’s, marched her to the door and shoved her into the hall. “It’s time for you to go do that thing you needed to do.”
Gloria pulled a bewildered expression, but the amused glimmer in her eye didn’t fool anyone. “What thing?”
Tony caught a glimpse of Gloria opening her mouth to argue, but then Talia closed the door in her sister’s face with a decisive snap.
Thank God, he thought, his pulse kicking into overdrive.
Alone at last.
“Sorry about that.” Talia took her time coming back, and he had the feeling she was stalling. She had her fingers laced together in a white-knuckled grip that betrayed her nerves, and this, strangely, made him feel better, as he also felt as though he was drowning in awkwardness. “Nosy big sister and all.”
They stared at each other, their breathing still uneven. Her face remained flushed, and his felt so hot he could fry bacon on his forehead.
Words overflowed from his heart, but he couldn’t get any of them to his mouth. He’d thought that after all this time of wanting this—to be in the same room with her again—he’d have prepared a sentence or two, but nothing seemed to fit this moment.
“It’s great to see you,” he finally said.
More staring ensued.
She had a perfect round mole at the corner of her mouth, and her eyes tipped up at the corners. The dimple in her left cheek was more pronounced than the one in her right. Her eyes were more silvery than gray; why hadn’t he remembered that?
This cataloguing of her features showed signs of outlasting the Ice Age, but then she finally blinked and remembered her duties as a hostess.
“We should sit.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, trying to get his head in the game. “Sit. Good idea.”
He followed her to a sofa in front of one of the windows, where she perched on the edge. Since he wanted to face her, he sat on the trunk that apparently doubled as a coffee table, rested his elbows on his knees and took a deep breath.
“I should have called first,” he told her.
“I didn’t mean to surprise you.”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners, further scrambling his thoughts. “Wonderful surprises are okay.”
“I’m, ah…I’m not dead.”
“That explains the whole walking and talking thing.”
He grinned, wondering when he’d last been this ridiculously inarticulate in a female’s presence. Sixth grade? “What I mean is—”
“I read about your ‘death’ in the paper. And then a few weeks ago I read in the paper about your being a POW. It’s a miracle that you escaped and made it back safely.”
“Oh,” he said, faltering.
Nothing chopped a man’s ego down to size quicker than knowing that the woman he wanted was so disinterested in the news of his resurrection that she hadn’t bothered to call or write. But of course she’d already made her position clear with that return-to-sender letter, hadn’t she?