“You know what? Never mind.”
We’re still standing in my yard. This is insane.
“Wait.” He stops with his back to me. I walk to him and stare up at him. “What about Seth?”
“He’s staying with a friend in town tonight,” he replies.
“I’m not sleeping with you,” I tell him defiantly. He lets out the breath he’s been holding and laughs, and when he sobers, he pulls his gloves off and tosses them to the ground, then cups my face in his hands gently.
“I’m not asking you to my home to fuck you, Jillian. I want to make you a meal, maybe watch a movie or bad TV, and spend some time with you.”
“Why now?” I whisper.
“Because I can’t get you out of my head. I haven’t slept in days because I couldn’t stand the thought that I’d hurt you. I just want to be with you.”
He pulls back in surprise and studies me carefully. “Okay?”
I nod and offer him a soft smile. “I’d enjoy having dinner with you. And I get to pick what we watch.”
“It’s a deal.”
His thumbs are rubbing the apples of my cheeks and when he leans in, I’m sure he’s going to kiss me, but instead he plants his lips on my forehead and rests there for a few long seconds before pulling back and smiling at me, that dimple in his cheek on full blast.
That dimple alone is going to be my undoing.
“Six o’clock?” he asks.
“Sure. What can I bring?”
“Just you.” He stows my ladder away in the shed and carries the tote inside, setting it next to the rest of the decorations I’d dug from the attic.
“Thank you for helping. And for the invitation.” I pull my boots and gloves off, and just when I reach for the scarf, he tugs the ends, pulling me to him.
“I’m looking forward to it.” He kisses my forehead again, my nose, and then lays those lips on mine in a quick, chaste kiss. “I’ll see you soon.”
He pulls the door closed behind him and I sigh, watching him climb into his truck and pull out of my driveway.
Why do I suddenly feel like everything is about to change?
It’s raining. I swear, Montana Mother Nature is on her period. She’s all over the damn place this winter. It started to rain about a half hour ago, so the roads are just wet, but if the temperature drops, it will be emergency travel only by this evening.
I shouldn’t go to Zack’s. I should stay home.
So why am I pulling into his driveway?
I park and stare at the front of the large white house that sits nestled in tall evergreen trees, draped in snow. There is smoke swirling out of a chimney. Chickens are clucking and scratching the dirt in their pen, drifting in and out of their coop in the side yard.
Mrs. King always liked having the coop close by so she could gather eggs early in the morning.
I grin and climb out of my car, carrying my famous angel food cake and strawberry topping, along with whipped cream, for dessert.
Of course, I’d rather lick the whipped cream off Zack’s body than this cake, but I’ll take what I can get.
Before I can knock, the door swings open and Zack grins widely, wiping his hands off on a green kitchen towel. He’s in his usual faded jeans and a T-shirt that says Army Strong across the chest. The sleeves are tight on his biceps as they flex with the movement of his hands, and just like that, my mouth has gone dry.
Pull it together!
“Hey,” I say lamely and offer him a smile.
“Hey, come on in.” He closes the door behind me and tosses the towel over his shoulder so he can take the cake from my hands as I remove my coat, scarf, and boots and then leads me into his house. Thor comes running out of the kitchen to greet me, his tail wagging furiously, his whole body shaking with excitement.
“Well, hello, sweet puppy. I’m happy to see you too.” I pet his ears and kiss his head. “Wow, the house is different,” I comment. I haven’t been in the Kings’ home in years; when I was a teenager Mrs. King had it furnished in feminine, soft fabrics and furniture, with handmade quilts thrown here and there.
Now the space is more masculine, full of leather and darker tones. Zack grins as he leads me into the kitchen, which hasn’t changed much.
“Mom and Dad took their furniture to the new place. Dad offered to buy her all new stuff, but Mom said she likes hers.” He shrugs and begins to stir something in a pot. “I needed new things anyway, so Seth and I went shopping about a month ago and picked out some furniture.”
“I like it,” I tell him honestly as I watch him move competently about the kitchen. Thor sits next to me and settles his head on my lap. He sighs contentedly as I rub his soft ears. “It smells great.”
“I hope you eat meat.”
“I’m from Montana. Of course I eat meat.”
“You never know.” He adds some garlic to a sauté pan. “You spent a lot of years in California.”
“You know what they say. You can take the girl out of Montana . . .”
“But not Montana out of the girl,” he finishes and leans his hands on the Formica countertop, watching me. “I know I haven’t said it before, but I’m glad you’re home, Jill.”
I blush and look down at the sweet dog’s face. I’m not used to this side of Zack. This relaxed, honest side of him. He’s always been so intense, and I know that he doesn’t reveal his emotions easily.
“I’m happy I’m home too.”
“What made you decide to move back, anyway?” he asks, slipping some bread into the oven.
My hands still for a moment and I bite my lip. I’m not going to admit that I’m here because of my cheating ex-husband.
Not a chance.
“It was time to come back,” I answer instead. “I missed home.”
He nods thoughtfully, pours us each a glass of red wine, and hands me mine. “I hope you like spaghetti. It’s the only thing I make really well.”
“I love it.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No.” I laugh and take a sip of my wine. “I love Italian food. I brought dessert.”
His eyes warm and narrow and a smile tickles his lips, showing me that dimple. “You’ve already said that I’m not allowed to have what I really want for dessert tonight, so strawberry shortcake will have to do.”
“You’ll live,” I reply dryly.
He drains the pasta and plates our meals before throwing the crusty garlic bread in a basket, and motions for me to grab our wine and follow him to the kitchen table.