easy. “I overreacted,” she said.

“I’m not going to argue there.”

“I’d like to finish.” Her voice frosted.

“Go right ahead.”

“I don’t know why I overreacted, but that’s what I did. Even if you had been with Mia in a . . . in an intimate fashion, it was none of my business. I’m responsible for my own actions, my own decisions, and my own choices, and that’s the way I like it.”

“Ripley,” he said, gently now. “Let me take your coat.”

“No, I’m not staying. I got myself worked up about it, way more than it warranted, considering. That pisses me off. And the fact is, I’d talked myself into thinking that you’d put the moves on me—then put them on Mia—to try to soften both of us up so we’d help you out with your work.”

“Well.” He took his glasses off, dangling them by the earpiece. “That’s insulting.”

“I know it,” she said grimly. “And I’m sorry for it. More, I’m ashamed that I let myself use that to justify me using sex—you know, getting you worked up like I did—as a punishment. Women who do that give sex a bad name. So—”

She blew out a breath, tested herself. No, she didn’t feel better, damn it. She felt mortified. “So, that’s all. I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.”

She turned to the door, and he moved with her. Braced a hand on it. “Digging beneath the surface, which is something I like doing, there’s a small, specific area of your overreaction that I find satisfying. In a strictly shallow, egotistical manner.”

She didn’t look at him. Refused to. Why bother when she could hear the smirk in his voice? “That just makes me feel more like an idiot.”

“I’m not opposed to that result.” He ran his hand down her long tail of hair. “I’m taking your coat.” He tugged it off her shoulders. “Want a beer?”

“No.” It surprised her that what she wanted was a hug. Just a quick little cuddle. And she’d never been the cuddling type. “No, I’m on call.”

He touched her hair again, a quick dance of his fingers down the soft stream of it. “Want to kiss and make up?”

“I think we’ll just take a break from the kissing part of the agenda.” She took the coat from him, sidestepped and dumped it on the floor by the front door. She nodded at his sweatshirt. “Your alma mater?”

“Hmm?” He glanced down, focused. “Yeah. I did some postgrad work there. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen spring in Frostbite Falls.”

She smiled and felt better. “I can’t peg you, Mac.”

“Me either. Do you want—” He broke off as the phone rang, then stood looking blankly around the room.

“Sounds like the telephone to me,” Ripley said helpfully.

“Yeah. Which one? Bedroom,” he decided and loped away.

She reached down for her coat. It would probably be best if she just eased out while he was busy. Then she heard him, speaking what she thought was Spanish.

What was it about foreign languages, she wondered, that stirred the juices? She left her coat where it was and strolled casually toward the bedroom.

He was standing by the bed, his glasses now hooked by the earpiece in the front pocket of his jeans. The bed was made; she appreciated that basic tidiness in a man. Books were stacked, piled, spread everywhere. He paced as he spoke, and she noticed he wasn’t wearing shoes. Just thick socks—one black, one navy. It was so cute.

He seemed to be talking very quickly. Whenever she heard a foreign language, it seemed to be rapid, just a flood of incomprehensible words in fascinating accents.

She cocked her head. He seemed to be concentrating fiercely, but not, she thought, on the Spanish. It came too fluently to be anything but second nature.

Then he began searching the room, patting his shirt with one hand.

“Right front pocket,” she said and caused him to turn and blink at her. “Glasses?”

“Uh, no. Yes.Qué? No, no, uno momento. Why don’t I have a pen?”

She walked over, picked up one of the three that lay on his nightstand. When he still looked frustrated, she offered a pad to go with it.

“Thanks. I don’t know why they always—Como? Sí, sí.”

He sat on the side of the bed and began to scribble. Since she’d already poked her nose in this far, Ripley didn’t see any reason to stop now. She angled her head to read his notes, only to be confounded when they were, again, in shorthand.

Probably in Spanish, too, she decided, and took the opportunity to study his bedroom.

There weren’t any clothes strewn around. There wouldn’t have been much room for them with the books, the magazines, the stacks of paper. No personal photographs, which she thought was too bad.

There was the usual pile of loose change on the dresser, along with a Saint Christopher’s medal. She remembered the gris-gris in his glove compartment and wondered how many other bases he’d covered.

There was a Leatherman knife, a set of small screwdrivers, a few unidentifiable bits of plastic and metal that might have been some sort of fuse, and some kind of glassy black rock.

She touched it and, feeling a low, vibrating hum, decided not to touch it again.

When she turned back, he was still sitting on the side of the bed. He’d hung up the phone and was staring into space with an expression both distracted and dreamy.

She cleared her throat to get his attention. “So, you speak Spanish.”

“Mmm.”

“Bad news?”

“Huh? No. No, interesting. A colleague in Costa Rica. Thinks he may have a line on an EBE.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, EBE—extraterrestrial biological entity.”

“A little green man?”

“Sure.” Mac set the note aside. “It goes with all the broom-riding witches I’ve documented.”

“Ha.”

“Anyway, it’s interesting. We’ll see how it goes. If nothing else it got you in my bedroom.”

“You’re not as fog-brained as you look.”

“Only about half the time.” He patted the bed beside him.

“That’s a really thrilling offer, but I’ll pass. I’m going to head home.”

“Why don’t we grab some dinner?” He took off his glasses, tossed them carelessly on the bed. “Out. We’ll go out and get some dinner. Is it dinnertime?”

“It could be. Take your glasses off the bed. You’ll forget and sit on them or something.”

“Right.” He picked them up, laid them on the nightstand. “How did you know I do that?”

“Wild guess. Mind if I call home, let my family know I won’t be home for dinner?”

“Go ahead.”


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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