When he muttered “shit” under his breath, she gave the back of his head a quick tap. “Watch the mouth, peewee. We’re going to pay a visit to the assistant principal, you’ll make a full confession, and take your lumps.”
“Like you never hooked school.”
“When I did, I had enough brains not to get caught. Therein, young Skywalker, is the power of the Force.”
He snorted out a laugh. And because he did, because he was hers, she walked him the rest of the way to judgment with her arm companionably around his shoulders.
The morning’s workand her replay of both incidents for Zack put her in a much better frame of mind. She strolled into the bookstore, looking for lunch, and gave a quick wave at Lulu.
“Put your belly on hold a minute and come over here.”
“About a minute’s all my belly can wait.” But Ripley detoured and walked to the counter. “What’s up?”
“I got a letter from Jane.”
“Yeah?” Ripley thought of the café’s former chef. She and her man had taken off for New York so he could have a shot at a part in an Off Broadway play. “How’re they doing?”
“Well enough. Sounds to me like they mean to stay.” Lulu glanced toward the stairs, lowered her voice. “Guess who strolled, big as life, into the bakery where Jane’s working?”
“Harrison Ford.” At Lulu’s steely stare, Ripley shrugged. “I’ve had a thing for him lately. Okay, who?”
“No shit?” Ripley’s voice dropped as well. “What does Jane say about him? How’s he look? What’s he doing?”
/> “If you’d shut up for five seconds I’ll tell you. He looks, so Jane says, better than ever. Tall, dark, and dangerous. That’s Jane speaking. She got all giddy because he recognized her. She never had two licks of sense. I don’t suppose he said what he was doing, or she didn’t ask, otherwise she’d have put every word of it down. But she did say he asked after Mia.”
“What do you mean, ‘asked after’?”
“Just that, casual, according to Jane. ‘How’s Mia?’ ”
“And nothing. That was it, that was all. He bought a box of pastries, wished Jane good luck, and walked out again.”
Considering, Ripley pursed her lips, juggled the angles in her mind. “Funny coincidence. Of all the bakeries in all the city, he walks into the bakery where Mia’s ex-cook works.”
“I don’t think it was coincidence. I think his curiosity took him there.”
“I won’t disagree. Are you going to tell her?”
“No.” Lulu sucked air through her nose. “I thought about it, chewed on it, twisted it around, and I don’t see the point.”
“Are you asking my opinion?”
“Do you think I’m telling you all this to give my tongue a workout?”
“Okay, then I agree with you. There’s no point in it. It still hurts her.” She sighed because it could still hurt, just a bit, to know that Mia hurt. “Besides, if Mia wanted to know what he’s up to, she could find out.”
Lulu nodded. “Just feels better to have somebody agree with me. Go eat. Soup’s black bean today.”
“That’ll hit the spot. Oh, Lu?” Ripley paused on her way to the stairs. “If you write Jane back, tell her not to say anything about this. You know.”
That, Ripley told herself, was that. Three good deeds in one day. What more could anyone ask? She strolled up to the counter, started to ring the bell. Then saw, through the kitchen door, Nell serving soup and a sandwich to Mac.
He was sitting at the kitchen table, a place reserved for friends. She’d taken two long strides toward the end of the counter before she stopped herself.
This wasn’t the way, she thought. Going in guns blazing—metaphorically—wasn’t the way to deal with the man, the situation, or her own annoyance.
She gave herself a moment to calm, then walked around the counter, into the kitchen.
“Hi, Nell. Mac.” Doing everything she could to radiate goodwill, she sniffed the air. “Smells great. I’ll have what he’s having. Okay if I eat back here?”
“Of course. Coffee with that?” Nell asked her.
“Let’s jazz it up and go with a latté.” Ripley unbundled her coat, hung it on the back of a chair. And sent Mac a slow, warm smile. “Don’t mind a little company, do you, Professor?”
“No. You look great today.”
“Thanks.” She sat across from him. “What’re you up to?”
“I asked him to come back, Ripley.” Nell squeezed Ripley’s shoulder before setting down a bowl of soup. “To talk.”
Annoyance clawed up in her throat, and was dutifully swallowed. “If you’re all right with it, I’m all right with it.”
“Actually, Mac’s been entertaining me with some stories of his travels, and his work. It’s fascinating. I’m going to order those books you recommended,” Nell added, tossing him a glance as she made Ripley’s sandwich.
“I hope you’ll tell me what you think, after you’ve read them.”
“I will.” She served the sandwich. “I’ll get your latté.”
When she was out of earshot, Mac leaned forward. “I’m not pushing her.”
Ripley held up a hand. “Truce. Nell’s in charge of her own life, makes her own decisions.” You miserable son of a bitch.
“Okay. But I want you to understand that I know she’s been through more than anyone should ever have to go through. I won’t push, whatever the circumstances.”
The fact that she believed him didn’t change a thing.
She ate with him, listened to his laugh when she told him about the dog, the boy. It irritated her to realize she liked talking to him, hearing him laugh.
The man was good company, even if he was a slug.
Under other circumstances she’d have enjoyed spending time with him. Getting to know him better. Finding out all thestuff that went on inside of that high-voltage brain.
His smarts weren’t boring. She’d already figured out that much. Then there were those terrific brown eyes, the long, slow smile, the really superior body. To say nothing of the moves—which were past excellent.