His eyes agleam with that annoying amusement—what the hell was so funny about a simple question?—Mickey held the phone up and waved it at her.
“Funny you should ask. That was him on the phone. He’s on his way back.” He winked, a wicked grin inching across his face. “If I’d known you were so interested in him, I would have told him just now. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to mention it the next time I see him.”
To her further aggravation, the death glare she shot his way only made him chuckle.
After a delicious dinner of fresh lobster, pasta salad and strawberry shortcake with Mickey in the kitchen—he turned out to be a great cook and even better company, keeping her laughing with stories from basic training and his tour in Afghanistan, where he’d served with Tony and Sandro—Talia went upstairs and organized her workstation near the mural. She lingered there for hours, telling herself that she was trying to get lost in the project, the way she always did, and that it had nothing to do with Tony’s eventual arrival and wanting to see him.
Lies. All lies.
Still, she gave the busywork the old college try. She took pictures of the existing mural, studying it from every angle and imagining what she would change, and what she would keep the same. She set up the drop cloth and several spotlights, to make it easier to work late into the evening. She made preliminary sketches. She looked at colors. She studied books on mythology that she’d brought with her, seeking inspiration.
She waited for Tony.
At eleven twenty-eight, when Mickey had long retired to the caretaker’s cottage and the house was dark and quiet, she heard the unmistakable roar of a car’s engine outside. She froze, her body tight with anticipation.
Well, this was a problem. She had a choice. She could do the smart thing, which involved turning out the lights, gathering up her books and sketches, and tiptoeing down the hall to her bedroom, where she could escape before Tony ever came upstairs. Or she could do the self-destructive thing and wait for him.
The options were not equally matched. In fact, the idea of going to bed without seeing Tony first was the rough equivalent of visiting the Louvre for the food in the cafeteria without seeing the Mona Lisa: unthinkable.
Anyway, the decision was already out of her hands.
The front door opened and closed with a quiet click. His footsteps trailed off into the kitchen, where she heard the distant opening and closing of the refrigerator. Then he was back, striding up the stairs and appearing in front of her with all that masculine energy humming around him.
“Hi,” she said, dropping one of her brushes on the floor and hastily snatching it up again.
“You made it.”
“I made it.” Feeling flustered and clumsy, as though she’d suddenly acquired an additional pair of hands and didn’t know what to do with them, she grabbed one of the books she’d been perusing and held it. “You have a beautiful home.”
“Thanks. Did Mickey feed you?”
“Very well. He’s quite the character, by the way.”
Tony unleashed that grin on her, making dimples bracket his cheeks and a slow curl of awareness tighten in her belly. “You have no idea.” He looked over her progress thus far, frowning. “You’re burning the midnight oil. I hope you don’t think I’m that kind of a slave driver.”
She shook her head. “I wanted to get started. I’m really excited—”
He nodded with no real interest, then took a step away from her, toward another wing of the house. Worse, he raised a hand to cover the beginnings of his yawn.
This rudeness, on top of his barely speaking to her at the auction house earlier, was starting to really tick her off. Which was absurd, because she’d told the man that their relationship was nothing special, and she really needed to stick to that position.
Still, her feelings were hurt. “Am I keeping you awake?”
“Sorry. It’s been a long day. I’m off to bed.”
So he was going then. Good. Great. That was for the best.
“Tony,” she blurted.
He hesitated, looking back over his shoulder. “Yes?”
“I, ah, want to make sure you really want me to do this.”