His feet were big and—
Whoa. She didn’t like where that thought was headed. Why didn’t she just whip out a tape measure and be done with it?
He smelled good, too, which was a lesser problem, but still worth noting. What kind of man smelled good while exercising? What was so special about his skin, that he could generate that warm musk and cottony fresh scent when other men in the same situation would smell like barn animals?
How was it even possible that she could smell him over the salt water’s tang?
That was the problem with Tony. He somehow managed to be everywhere while sitting quietly in his chair and minding his own business.
And she was the genius who’d agreed to come live in his house. With him.
Brilliant, Talia. You’re a regular Einstein, aren’t you?
Another wave of breathlessness hit her, and she tried to regulate the in-out of her lungs a little better, rather than struggle against it. The last thing she needed, or wanted, was for Tony to think she was an invalid just because—
“You okay?” He gave her another one of his searching once-overs, his arm suspended as he reached for the potato salad.
“Yes.” That syllable sounded a lot surlier than she’d meant it to be, and he didn’t look convinced, so she decided it wouldn’t hurt to open up, just a little. “I overdid it. Okay?”
He stilled, those heavy brows sinking over his eyes.
Silence always made her babble, which was an unfortunate habit.
“I mean,” she continued, shrugging and trying not to look directly at him as she indiscriminately loaded food on both their plates. Cheese. They needed more cheese. No, wait—they had enough cheese, but none of the crusty bread. They needed crusty bread. She reached for the bread knife, gesturing with it. “I just… I’d been out there in the water for a while, and before that, Chesley and I took a long walk on the beach, and before that, I didn’t sleep that well, so it was all just—”
“Didn’t sleep that well?” His gaze sharpened down to a needle’s point. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like your room?”
“What’s not to like? Staying in your house is like staying with Donald Trump, without all the tacky gilt.”
The interrogation continued, gaining strength. “Is the mattress too hard?”
Her brain flashed back to that cottony slice of heaven. “No.”
Tony stared at her and, honest to God, those amazing eyes—long lashed, warmly brown and sparked with gold—were like heat-seeking missiles because they gave her nowhere to hide.
“Then what kept you from sleeping?”
Thinking of you, down the hall. “Nothing. I mean…you know, it was just…new place and all that. New job.”
Was that it with the questions, then?
“So,” she said.
The most uncomfortable seconds of her life passed.
“Well.” Her voice was now hoarse, so she cleared it. “Cheers.”
Looking down at the plate on her lap, she discovered that she’d loaded it with three times as much food as she needed. Perfect. Now, she’d inevitably not finish it, which he’d point to as further evidence that she was under the weather.
Oh, would you get over yourself? she told herself sternly, reaching for a cracker.
They ate. Overhead, gulls flew. Waves splashed. Chesley ran down a crab, caught it in her mouth, and crushed it with great canine gusto. The sun shone. She and Tony chewed.
After several minutes, Tony spoke out of the side of his mouth.
“Wow. My lunches aren’t usually this excruciating. I blame you.”
That made her grin, and some of the tension between them eased back to a manageable level. “I beg your pardon. You pick a topic, and I will conversate intelligently with you.”
“Conversate? Is that a word?”
“It is now.”
“Okay. Here’s my topic—are you excited about the mural?”
The mere mention of the project made her grin like a hyena. Undignified, maybe, but she couldn’t help herself. “I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to get started.”
His gaze flickered between her eyes and her smile. “See?” he asked softly. “This is why I knew you’d be perfect.”