Jace didn't come for chili that night, and though he arrived
in a standoffish mood at daybreak, he didn't refuse Eden's offer of scrambled
eggs and biscuits. Two nights later he stayed for a hurried meal of stuffed
baked potatoes and picked up a dozen kolaches from Molly's the morning
The routine continued through the weekend. But Jace never
looked at her again the way he'd looked at her in the doorway of his
shed. After spending the past six days with the man, Eden felt they were
more in tune than many married couples.
Still, nothing she'd learned went deeper than the surface.
Since that one brief confrontation, Jace had deflected her every effort
to pry. What she knew was to pass the cream for his coffee; he, never
to butter her toast.
She knew more, as well. That he'd want a quart of iced
tea by three, then nothing but beer with supper. And since lunch wasn't
her best time of day, he managed to have an extra sandwich in his lunchbox,
even when he didn't eat.
When she slipped her shoes off her swollen feet one afternoon,
he teased her about her size eight Jumbo the Elephants. And her woman's
intuition told her he wore an extra large--in everything.
Monday morning she woke late with a headache, a backache
and a heartache that defied explanation. Broody and bloated from head
to toe, she wanted to stay in bed and wallow in her misery. Even better,
to soak in a tub of apricot-scented bubbles, eat a pan of butter brownies
and reread her favorite romance novel.
Unfit company for man, beast or even herself, she slipped
into a huge shapeless T-shirt dress and padded barefoot to the kitchen
for a muffin and tea. Why had she thought relocating and changing careers
had been a smart move?
And why in the world did she think she'd be a good mother?
She couldn't even take care of herself. How was she supposed to take
care of a business and a family when she couldn't get beyond the need
for a good cry?
It was an eat-a-worm day all around.
So, when Jace knocked on her kitchen
door at ten, she purposefully kept her outward reaction to one of surprise,
even though deep inside
she welcomed him home. The screen door creaked as she pulled it open. "I
hate you, you know."
Two steps brought him up her stairs
and into her kitchen. Three more took him the width of the room. Arms
crossed over his chest,
he leaned back against the refrigerator and gave her that sexy Jace Morgan
grin. "Good morning to you, too."
Prying her gaze from the suede tunic
sheathing his wide shoulders, Eden swallowed hard and pushed the door
shut behind her. "What
I mean is, do you never take a day off? No one who puts in the hours
you do has a right to look so . . ." Gorgeous, her brain supplied, ".
. . rested," she forced herself to say.
Jace shrugged, stretching the fabric
even tighter. "I
don't take many days off. Not scheduled anyway."
"What do you mean?" She stacked
her hands on the door behind her and leaned back, her protruding stomach
Jace's gaze slid away. He ran one finger
over the porcelain knob of the cabinet door beside him. "I work
at my own pace. I don't punch a clock. When I'm tired, I stop. It's
"So, what are you doing here today?
You're certainly not dressed for work."
"I have a delivery to make in Farmersville." He
shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "But I was hoping
we could do some business first."
Eden pushed off the door, determined
to finish her breakfast dishes, equally determined to ignore the way
Jace Morgan filled her kitchen.
And the way she felt less blue when he was around. "I don't know,
Morgan. I can't afford to do much more business with you."
"It'll only cost you time."
She turned, soap suds clinging to her
"Yep. It's called bartering."
"What could I possibly have to barter with that would
interest you?" she asked, then wished she hadn't. His heated look
flared between them, wordlessly answering her question. Finally, he turned.
The back seam of his shirt gaped open, revealing taut muscles and smooth
Too much skin to Eden's way of thinking.
With unsteady hands, she rinsed her tea cup and pulled the stopper
from the drain. "Bartering,
huh? Like, in exchange for my services as a seamstress, you'll knock
a couple bucks off your estimate to redo my kitchen?"
Lifting the cheesecloth covering the
basket on her stove, Jace helped himself to a cinnamon roll. "If
that's what you want."
What she wanted right now was best not
put into words. She watched the final swirl of bubbles vanish down
the drain, wiped down
the lip of the sink and dried her hands. "No. What I want is to
ride into Farmersville with you. I've got an order to pick up at Calico
He looked up, half the roll in his mouth. "That's
"C'mon, Jace. Ten minutes of my time isn't worth much
more than a ride." She tossed the towel on the countertop.
"Sounds like a helluva deal to
"Then let's take a look at the
Jace licked cinnamon glaze from his fingers, braced his
palms on a chair back and bent at an angle that gave Eden a clear, close
view of his back. Her fingers trembled for no good reason. At least none
she allowed herself to consider.
Skimming the buckskin with a light touch, she tested the
strength of the seam's worn edges. Heat from Jace's skin breathed over
her hands, a seductive invitation to slip her fingers inside the shirt.
She closed her eyes. The scent of leather
and man seeped into her loneliness. Then Benjamin kicked, reminding
her not to be stupid
again and she backed a step away. "Fabric looks tough enough. I
think the thread just gave up the ghost."
Jace glanced back. "So, can you
"Now?" she repeated.
He nodded. "The bed of my truck's loaded. I need to
get over to Farmersville before it rains." The sunlight shining
through her kitchen window dimmed on cue.
"I don't think I have time to drive home and change." When
she only stared, he went on to say, "I can go like this if you don't
Eden shook off her trance. How bad could it actually be
to have Jace undress in her house? She'd seen him shirtless just last
week. Then they'd been outdoors, with acres of breathing room. Now they
were in her house. Alone. With gloomy skies increasing the intimacy.
"I have time," she assured
him, then held out her hand and held her breath. He slipped out of
the shirt and, before
she allowed herself more than the briefest glimpse of male belly dusted
with black hair, she headed for her workroom.
His moccasins whispered over the hardwood floor behind
her, the sound a gentle coaxing of her senses, a sweet song to her ears.
She felt his presence like a wildness inside her. His shirt grew warm
in her hands.
Shoving back the curtained partition, she tossed the shirt
on her sewing table, gestured for Jace to sit in the rattan side chair
and headed for the cherry cupboard in the corner.
The top drawer held hundreds of spools of thread and, in
her state of klutz and nerves and hormonal melancholy, she nearly toppled
the contents to the floor.
Especially when she sensed Jace move to the window behind
her. Eyes closed, she took a small backwards step his direction, close
enough to indulge herself in the warmth of his bare skin, the scent of
naked man and the subtle need to be near another human being.
It was crazy, this weakness shifting through her. Crazy.
Insane. A gut awareness she hadn't counted on. She'd never expected to
come up against a man who'd make her want this way again.
Be honest, Eden. A man who makes you want in a way you've
never wanted before.
"How far away is the rain?" she
asked, hating the way her voice shook.
"Storm's coming from the west.
It won't hit for another hour."
His voice wrapped around her, safety and security rolled
up into one. The intensity of her desire deepened. Oh God, she didn't
need this. Taking a deep breath, she slammed the thread drawer in punctuation.
"Great. Give me ten minutes and you're on your way." Ten
minutes was no time. Her mood would probably swing again in the next
five. She grabbed her glasses from her sewing basket and settled in the
"There's hot tea and more cinnamon rolls in the kitchen
if you'd like to wait in there," she offered, hoping he'd accept.
"No, thanks." The window seat cushion rustled
beneath his weight. "I like this room."
Rust-colored thread aimed through the
eye of the needle, Eden adjusted the machine's tension and reached
for her pin cushion. "It's
my favorite room in the house." She aligned the edges of the shirt
seam. "Well, besides the bathroom. The clawfoot tub upstairs is
big enough to swim in."
"There was a room with a window
seat like this in the house I grew up in. It was supposed to be a formal
sort of living
area, but nothing about my family was formal.
"My sister and I had a lot of friends and the room
ended up being a hang-out." The latch clicked and Jace up pushed
the window. The old wood frame creaked and groaned in protest.
"Problem was, my mother tossed so many pillow onto
the window seat that no one could sit there. We ended up sprawled everywhere
else, though. Sofa, chairs, floor, coffee table," he said with a
"Sounds like my kind of room. And my kind of family," Eden
ventured, wondering more than she should have--and for no logical reason--about
what Jace had been like as a child. If he saw his family often.
And why he'd traded a life teeming with
friends for the one he lived alone. "Do you miss that? Having
friends around all the time?"
Silence filled the room. Leaves whispered and swished against
the window screen. Tires rolled over the joints in the road, a synchronized
click to the tick of clock. The window seat groaned beneath Jace's shifting
weight. And Eden waited.
"Yeah. I do," he finally said
but said no more and his tone left no room for questions.
As curious as she was, Eden knew when
to leave well enough alone. She'd pry again another time. Flipping
off the machine, she stashed
her glasses back in her sewing basket. "Let's see if this is going
to hold," she said, then made the mistake of looking his way.
Jace lounged like a man who made a living at it. His moccasin
clad feet, crossed at the ankles, extended a foot off the seat. His legs
filled his jeans with symmetrical perfection. A braided belt of leather
and turquoise circled his waist.
The thumbs he'd hooked through his beltloops tugged at
his waistband, drawing her gaze to the whorl of hair growing low on his
belly. And to his zipper, and the pure male magic outlined beneath.
She caught her breath.
He turned his head. His glance snagged hers and pulled.
A gust of breeze kicked the clouds across the sky and sunlight
bathed the room. Jace rolled to his feet and Eden's gaze searched out
what she couldn't get enough of. Corded muscle and skin kissed copper
by the sun. The breadth of his chest amazed her, especially as his belly
below was sleek and spare. His build was that of a hard-working man.
Soft spring breezes brought wisteria, jasmine and honeysuckle
inside. Jace's hair ruffled at his neck. His scent reached her, too.
She drowned in the smells and accepted the truth. The man in Jace beckoned
the woman in her.
"Here." She handed him the
"Thanks." He took it from
her and pulled it on.
She clenched her hands. The need to touch him sizzled in
the tips of her fingers, screamed in the hollow of her heart. His hair
caught in the neckline of the tunic. Desire won out over reason. She
reached up to free the strands.
Black satin slid over her fingers. The stubble on his jaw
grazed her wrist. She touched his cheek, ignoring the sirens in her mind.
Wrong or right, this connection mattered more than her next breath.
Jace's eyes grew sleepy, seductive. He mirrored her action,
his palm rough against her cheek. So easy. So natural. So simple to move
the one short step into his arms.
Thunder rumbled low. The sky darkened,
breaking the spell. As much as she longed to do otherwise, She moved
back. "Sounds like
your hour's been cut short."
Jace seemed indecisive, hesitant even, like what had just
passed between them had confused him as much as it had her. Like he couldn't
put a name to the thick tension in the room without calling it what neither
of them wanted. Involvement, attraction, the beginning of attachment.
Lightning flashed. Jace blinked, stepped
better get going. Water damaged furniture isn't likely to bring the price
I have hanging on those pieces."
If they were going now, she needed to
get dressed. She headed for the stairs. "What pieces are you delivering
"I've got a shaker table and six
chairs. Plus, the cradle."
Eden stopped on the first step. The cradle? He was selling
the cradle? Of course he was selling the cradle. This was business, after
all. Still she didn't think she could bear to see that particular piece
sold. Why, she couldn't say. But since when did hormones think with logic?
Turning, she pressed her fists against
the small of her back. "On second thought Jace, I don't think
I'm up to the trip. Maybe you could stop by and pick up my order?"
He frowned. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Let me get the list." They walked into
the shop. Eden grabbed the slip of paper and handed it to Jace. "Marian
can double check the items, but she should have them ready. You don't
have to stop by on your way back. Just bring them over tomorrow." She
pulled open the front door but didn't step out.
"If you're sure."
"Okay. Thanks." Jace jogged
to his truck, climbed into the cab and was off with a wave.
Eden gripped the door. She watched the Ford as it turned
from Main onto Highway 37. Then she went back inside to spend the rest
of her day feeling sorry for herself.
It was definitely an eat-a-worm day.