"I'll give you a hand. "
"No. It's under control. "
Under control, he thought as he went back to the kitchen, thanks to Nell. Not only had she prepared everything and delivered it, but she'd left him a detailed list of instructions - one, he'd discovered, that even the culinary retarded could follow.
Blessing Nell, he managed to serve the tomato slices in oil and herbs and the cold lobster.
"It's lovely. " Mia stretched out comfortably as she enjoyed the meal. "I had no idea you were such a whiz in the kitchen. "
"Untapped talents," he said and smoothly changed the subject. "I'm thinking of buying a boat. "
"Are you? John Bigelow still makes wooden boats to order. Though he only does one or two a year now. "
"I'll go see him. Do you do any sailing now?"
"Occasionally. But it was never a passion of mine. "
"I remember. " He touched her hair. "You preferred watching boats to being on one. "
"Or being in the water rather than on it. " She glanced over as a group of teenagers raced by, using the shortcut from one of the neighboring summer rentals to the beach. "Mr. Bigelow rents boats, too, but if you want to try your hand again before you buy, you're better off talking to Drake at Seafarer. He's built up a very nice rental business. "
"Drake Birmingham? I haven't seen him since I've been back. Or Stacey. How are they?"
"They're divorced. She took the kids - they had two - and moved to Boston. Drake remarried about six years ago. Connie Ripley. They have a little boy. "
"Connie Ripley. " Sam flipped through mental images as he tried to place her. "Big brunette with a lot of teeth. "
"That would be Connie. "
"She was just ahead of me in school," he recalled. "Drake must be at least - "
"He's on the other side of fifty. " Mia twirled her wineglass by the stem. "The age difference, and the speculation about a blistering affair between them causing the marriage to break up, was the hot topic on-island for a good six months. " She plucked up another bite of lobster. "Nell really outdid herself. The lobster's delicious. "
He winced. "Tagged. Do I lose points?"
"Not at all. By hiring Three Sisters Catering, you show wisdom and good taste. Now. " She crossed her legs, picked up her file.
"I love looking at you. " He traced a fingertip over her ankle. "Any light, any angle. But just now, when the sun's going down, and the candles are tossing light, I love looking at you. "
It fluttered in her blood. The words, the tone, the look in his eyes as he shifted toward her. Lightly, his hand cupped the back of her neck. Sweetly, his lips rubbed against hers. The flutter turned to a melting. She breathed him in, along with the scent of lilacs and candle wax. And her head took one long, lazy spin.
"Sorry. " He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then eased back. "There are moments when I can't keep my hands off you. Let's see what you've got here. "
What she had was a case of weak knees and dizzy confusion. He'd kissed her bones away one moment and was now briskly reviewing her file.
"What is this about, Sam?"
"Business and pleasure," he said absently and skimmed his hand down her back before taking out her copy of the upcoming ad. "This is great. Did you design it?"
Settle down, she ordered herself. "Yes. "
"You should send a copy to her publicist. "
"Good. I've already seen the flyer, but I don't think I told you how effective it is. "
"Thank you. "
"Problem?" he asked nonchalantly.
She felt her teeth clench at his mild question. Irritated that she was irritated, Mia composed herself. "No. I appreciate your input. " She took a deep breath. "I really do. This is a big event for the store. I want it done not just right, but perfectly. "
"I'm sure Caroline's going to enjoy herself. "
There was something, some subtle something in the way he said
the name. "You know her personally?"
"Hmm. Yeah. This is a nice touch, having Nell make a cake that reproduces the book jacket. The flowers. You may want to change them to pink roses. I seem to recall she prefers those. "
"You seem to recall. "
"Uh-huh. I see here you're planning to have champagne and chocolate in her suite as a welcome gift from the store. I'd suggest, since the hotel would already provide this amenity, that we add a couple of things and combine it. From the hotel and the store. "
Mia tapped her fingers on her knee, then made herself stop. "That's an excellent idea. Perhaps some candles, a book on the island, that sort of thing. "
"Perfect. " He skimmed through the e-mail and faxed correspondence between Mia and the publicist, nodded. "I can't see you've missed a trick. So . . . " He laid the folder aside, leaned toward her again. When his mouth was a breath from hers, she pressed a hand to his chest. Smiled. "I'd like to freshen up. "
She got to her feet, took her wine with her, and walked into the house. Once in the kitchen, she took a good look around. It was admirably tidy, but then she doubted if he used it except for brewing his first hit of coffee in the morning. He'd always been a cliche in the kitchen. The man who could burn water.
She saw Nell's instruction sheet lying on the counter, and softened. She wandered into the living room, pursing her lips in consideration when she spotted the coffee table book. There were candles here as well, and he used them. It made her wonder what rituals and meditation techniques he practiced when he was alone.
Like her, he'd always been a solitary witch.
There were no photographs, but she hadn't expected them. The pair of lovely watercolors on the wall was unexpected. Garden scenes, she mused. Soft and serene. It surprised her that he hadn't selected more dramatic and bold images.
Other than the candles and paintings, and the obviously new and unread book, there was little of Sam Logan in the living area of the cottage. He hadn't surrounded himself with the bits of comfort that were so essential to her.
No flowers or little pots of plants, no bowls of colorful stones or glass. Since she had pried this far - and she reminded herself she was both his lover and his landlord - she didn't scruple to walk into his bedroom.
There was more of him here - the scent, the feel. The old iron bed she'd bought for the cottage was made up in an almost militarily efficient dark blue spread. The floors were bare. But there was a book on his nightstand, a thriller that she'd enjoyed herself, marked with one of his business cards. The single painting here was bold and dramatic. An old stone altar rose out of rocky ground into a sky vivid with the triumphant red streaks of sunrise.
On his dresser was a large and lovely chunk of sodalite that she imagined he used for meditation. His windows were open, and she could smell the lavender she'd planted herself. Because it made her yearn - the simplicity, the fragrance, that almost ridiculously masculine sense of him - she turned away from it.
In the tiny bathroom, she freshened her lipstick, dabbed the perfumed oil she had made herself on her throat, her wrists. Since Sam was priming her for a seduction, she would accommodate him. But not until she was home again, on her own ground.
She could play toy and tease just as skillfully as he.
When she came back out, he'd already switched the dinner service for glass bowls filled with ripe red strawberries and rich whipped cream.
"I wasn't sure if you wanted coffee, or more wine. "