She shot Howard an annoyed look.
Damn. His offensive play may have been too . . . offensive. He'd have to try a different strategy tonight. "See you later."
Elsa was relieved when Alastair launched into another of his long, amusing anecdotes. Howard seemed to be enjoying the stories, but she hadn't said two words over dinner, and that was the way she wanted it.
She was going to remain calm and aloof. Even though she wasn't. She wouldn't let Howard suspect she was attracted to him. Even though she was. Because it was ridiculous to be this attracted to a man she'd just met the night before. The man who had activated the curse. Even though she didn't believe in such nonsense.
Of course, after this afternoon, she might have to adjust her definition of nonsense. Last night, she would have considered a five-year-old boy who could teleport a bunch of nonsense. What was going on at that secret school? What other secrets was Howard hiding? He had admitted he couldn't teleport, but she had no doubt he possessed other powers.
I can touch beautiful women and make them burn.
Just thinking about the way he'd stroked her cheek made her face flame with heat. For a second, she'd thought he was going to kiss her, and God help her, she wouldn't have resisted.
But she was resisting now. She'd made a point of not dressing up for dinner. She was still wearing her jeans and T-shirt. Her hair was pinned to the back of her head with a plastic claw.
She forced her gaze to wander around the small restaurant, anything to keep from looking at him. He had dressed nicely. Khaki trousers and a crisp dress shirt. No tie. Not that she was noticing. He was sitting across from her, politely paying attention to Alastair's stories.
Why did the words that described him the best start with H? Handsome Howard. Humongous Howard. Hunky Howard. She stole a glance at him. Hungry Howard. He was eating the biggest steak she'd ever seen.
She'd ordered a salad with grilled chicken, since the scales had started inching up toward one seventy. She glanced at him again. Horrible Howard. How had he guessed her weight so well?
She stabbed some lettuce onto her fork while Alastair described the problem of getting rid of bats in an attic.
"That was the house in Amsterdam?" Howard asked.
"Yes!" Alastair grinned. "You saw that episode?"
Howard nodded, glancing at Elsa. "I've seen them all."
"Brilliant," Alastair continued. "Of course, I couldn't decide which had more bats in the belfry: the house or the owner." He chuckled at his own joke.
She smiled along. Alastair was so wrapped up in his storytelling that he didn't seem to notice that Howard kept sneaking glances at her with his beautiful blue eyes. Unfortunately, she knew that because she was sneaking glances at him, and sometimes their glances would collide.
And then heat would rush to her face and she'd find her salad completely engrossing for about five minutes. He-Man Howard. Even when she avoided looking at him, she could feel his presence as if he were the only one in the room. His deep voice rumbled right through her, as if her ears were especially attuned to him.
She could smell him, too, and that seemed odd. He wasn't wearing cologne, like Alastair. And yet his scent filled her senses. A totally He-Man scent that made her feel warm and tingly all over. She wanted to drown herself in him, wrap him around her like a cocoon.
There was only one explanation for this. She was losing her mind.
That had to be it, for there was no way she was going to lose her heart.
Come to think of it, there was adequate proof that she was losing her mind. Just that afternoon, a young boy had teleported her. And somehow, she was taking that in stride. It was the man across the table who had her on edge.
She was definitely losing her mind.
His cell phone jangled, and he retrieved it from his pocket. "It's Shanna."
Alastair sat up. "Good news, I hope."
"Hello?" Howard listened, then grinned.
Happy Howard. Elsa's heart fluttered. The man had the most adorable smile, and he used it often. Like a weapon.
"Hang on a sec." He lowered the phone to his chest. "She's agreed to let you do the house."
"Excellent!" With a grin, Alastair turned to Elsa and gave her a high five.
Her heart pounded. This meant she would see Howard often over the next few months. She stole another glance at him. Handsome, hunky Howard.
"She would like to sign the contracts tonight," he continued.
"Not a problem." Alastair tapped his fingers on the brown envelope on the table. "I have them right here. How soon can she get here?"
"In a minute or so." Howard stood, still holding the phone.
"She's driving here now?" Alastair asked.
"I'll meet her outside and bring her in." Howard strode toward the entrance and brought the phone back up to his face. "Hang on a minute."
Elsa watched him exit, then looked at the windows along the front of the restaurant. It was dark outside, the nearest streetlamp a block down the town's main street.
"I'm so excited about this project!" Alastair exclaimed.
"Me, too." She smiled at him, then stiffened when Howard walked back into the restaurant with Shanna by his side. "She's here."
"Blimey, that was fast." Alastair jumped to his feet to greet her.
Really fast. Elsa glanced out the window. She hadn't seen any headlights from a car parking out front. Her breath caught with a sudden thought. Had Shanna teleported to the restaurant? If her son could teleport, maybe she could, too.
Elsa's heart raced as Shanna greeted them. The woman seemed normal, although she was a bit pale, and her handshake a bit cold.
Alastair motioned to the table. "Would you like to join us for some wine or dessert to celebrate?"
"That's very kind." Shanna smiled at him. "But I already ate with my family."
At the secret school? Elsa wondered. She refrained from mentioning Tino. "We're very excited about renovating your house. And we'll be very mindful about protecting your privacy."
"Thank you. My husband is still concerned about that, but I convinced him that you'll respect our privacy." Shanna grinned. "I'm so excited about this!"
What pointy teeth she had. Elsa glanced at Howard. What other secrets were these people hiding? Or was she just becoming paranoid? After Tino's teleportation stunt, she might be looking for weird stuff where none existed.
Alastair removed the contract from the envelope. "It will take about ten minutes to go through this. And then, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you some questions regarding the house. How open do you want the floor plan? Should we put in more bathrooms and closet space? Things of that nature. It will be our goal to match our work to your expectations."
"I understand." Shanna turned to Howard. "There's no need for you to sit through all this. Why don't you take Elsa for - "
"I disagree," he interrupted. "If I'm going to represent you, I need to know what you want."
"I'll send you a memo." She gave him a pointed look. "You should take Elsa for a walk around town. The park is lovely." She smiled at Elsa. "There's a creek running through it and some falls. You'll love it."
"Shanna," Howard muttered, giving her an annoyed look.
"I'm just trying to be friendly," she whispered, her eyes wide and innocent.
He shifted his weight and dragged a hand through his thick hair.
Hesitant Howard. Elsa smiled to herself. Helpless Howard. The huge guy could annihilate a half dozen feral pigs, but he couldn't handle one matchmaking woman. It was too cute. "I'd be happy to take a walk with you."
He blinked. "You would?"
"Sure. Why not?" She hitched her handbag over her shoulder.
"Wonderful!" Shanna beamed at them both. "Off you go."
Elsa glanced at him as he moved toward her, and her heart stilled. The hesitant look on his face was gone, replaced by an intense, determined glint in his blue eyes.
She swallowed hard. Howard wasn't helpless. He was . . . hungry. Hungry for her.
"Let's go." He touched her elbow.
Her chest filled with warmth, but instead of rushing to her face like it usually did, it slipped into her belly, intensifying into a ball of fire that sizzled between her legs.
She dragged in a shaky breath. Oh God, she shouldn't have agreed to be alone with him. Howard was so much more than handsome and hunky and huge.
Howard was hot.