"A necessary quality in a cafe chef. " She tapped her fingers on the desk in a gesture of restrained impatience. "Sam, I'm sorry, I don't want to be rude. You're more than welcome to enjoy the cafe, the store. But I have work. "

He studied her for one long moment, but that slightly annoyed expression on her face didn't waver. "I won't keep you, then. Why don't you just give me the keys, and I'll go off and settle in?"

Baffled, she shook her head. "Keys?"

"To the cottage. Your cottage. "

"My cottage? Why on earth would I give you the keys to the yellow cottage?"

"Because. " Delighted to have finally broken through that polite shield, he drew papers out of his pocket.

"We have a lease. " H

e set the papers on her desk, leaning back when she snatched them up to read.

"Celtic Circle's one of my companies," he explained as she scowled at the names. "And Henry Downing's one of my attorneys. He leased the cottage for me. "

Her hand wanted to tremble. More, it wanted to strike. Deliberately, she laid it, palm down, on the desk. "Why?"

"I have attorneys do all manner of things for me," Sam said with a shrug. "Added to that, I didn't think you would rent it to me. But I did think - was sure - that once a business deal had been made, you'd keep your end. "

She drew in a long breath. "I meant, why do you need the cottage? You have an entire hotel at your disposal. "

"I don't choose to live in a hotel, nor to live where I work. I want my privacy and my downtime. I won't get either if I stay at the hotel. Would you have rented it to me, Mia, if I hadn't gone through the lawyer?"

Her lips curved now, sharply. "Of course. But I'd have bumped up the monthly rent. Considerably. "

He laughed, and more on balance than he'd been since that first sight of her, drank more coffee. "A deal's a deal, and maybe it was meant to be. Since my parents sold our house to Ripley's new husband, I can't set up housekeeping there. Things usually happen the way they're supposed to happen. "

"Things happen," was all she said. She opened a drawer, took out a set of keys. "It's small, and it's on the rustic side, but I'm sure you'll make do with it while you're on the island. "

She set the keys on the desk, on top of his copy of the lease.

"I'm sure I will. Why don't you have dinner with me tonight? We can catch up. "

"No, thank you. "

He hadn't meant to ask, not so soon. It irked him that the words had escaped. "Some other time, then. "

He rose, pocketed the keys, the lease. "It's good to see you again, Mia. "

Before she could evade it, he laid his hand over hers on the desk. Something sparked, visibly. The air sizzled with it.

"Ah," was all he said, and tightened his grip.

"Take your hand off me. " She kept her voice low, spoke slowly while looking directly into his eyes.

"You have no right to touch me. "

"It was never about rights with us, and all about need. "

Her hand wanted to tremble. Sheer will kept it steady. "There is no us now, and I no longer need you. "

It hurt. A bright, swift pain twisted in his heart. "But you do, and I need you. There's more to be considered than old, bruised feelings. "

" 'Bruised feelings. ' " She repeated the phrase as if it were a new language. "I see. Be that as it may, you will not touch me without my permission. You don't have it. "

"We're going to have to talk. "

"That implies we have something to say to each other. " She allowed some of the anger to surface and coated it with disdain. "Right at this moment, I don't have anything to say to you. I want you to leave. You have the lease, you have the keys, you have the cottage. That was clever of you, Sam. You always were clever, even as a boy. But this is my office, my store. " My island, she nearly said, but bit it back in time. "And I don't have time for you. "

When his grip loosened, she slid her hand free. The air cleared. "Let's not spoil your visit with a scene. I hope you'll like the cottage. If you have any problems with it, let me know. "

"I will. Enjoy it and let you know. " He turned to the door, opened it. "Oh, Mia, this isn't a visit. I'm here to stay. "

He saw, with vicious pleasure, her cheeks go pale just before he shut the door. He cursed himself for that, and for bungling the first steps. His mood remained foul as he stalked downstairs and out of the store under Lulu's steely stare.

He turned away from the docks where he'd parked, away from the cottage where he would live for a while, and headed toward the police station.

He could only hope that Zack Todd, now Sheriff Todd, would be in. By God, Sam thought, he'd like one person, one goddamn person, to welcome him home and mean it.

If he couldn't count on Zack for that, he was in a very sorry state. He hunched his shoulders against the brisk spring breeze, no longer appreciating it.


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance
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