Pep talk had, she raised her chin and straightened her shoulders. “I made you a hot toddy.” As she walked out of the kitchen into the living room, steam wafted up from the mason jar filled three-fourths full of warm, amber liquid.
A deep V formed in the middle of his forehead. “I’m not much of a drinker.”
She crossed over to him and sat down on the opposite side of the four-feet-wide area rug. “Don’t worry, my granny taught me to mellow out the bourbon with ginger ale and a lemon slice.”
“How can I say no to your granny?” The grin that curled his lips managed to be both sweetly charming and panty-melting at the same time. The man was a one-thousand-horse-power, V-8, twin turbo engine of trouble.
“You wouldn’t say no, at least not to her face.” She giggled, picturing her five-foot-nothing granny, who ruled her house with an iron grip and cooked nearly everything in bacon grease, much to the delight of the mangy mutts in the neighborhood. She wrapped the mason jar in a hand-stitched, flour-sack hand towel so he wouldn’t burn his still defrosting fingers, then handed it to him.
Never losing eye contact with her, he took a hardy drink. Keisha waited a beat. As expected, his eyes widened enough that she could almost see the whites all around his spectacular blue irises. A flush bloomed in his tan cheeks. A series of sputtering coughs wracked his broad shoulders and had him nearly doubled over.
“Whoa,” he croaked once he’d gotten his breath back. “That’s the mellow version?”
“Don’t ever take one my dad made.” She winked. “He doubles the bourbon.”
“I’ll remember that.” He sat down on the hand-tufted wool rug, the blue of its medallions almost matching the color of his eyes, and took a cautious sip of the hot toddy.
Instead of a coughing fit, this time he sighed and relaxed against the base of her lemon yellow, overstuffed chaise lounge. The auburn streaks in his nearly dried, dark brown hair shined in the firelight, and the spare mechanic’s coveralls fit like they’d been tailored just for him. Her mouth went dry, and she shot back a gulp of her hot toddy. Even though she’d been raised on the stuff, it still burned its way down her throat. The pain helped bring her back from the edge of late-night-pay-per-view-movie fantasyland.
“I like your place.”
“Thanks.” She glanced around the studio apartment with the critical eye of a stranger. Aubergine colored walls. Art deco lamps and crisp, modern end tables. Stacks of books about interior decorating and architecture filled the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. It may not be as fancy as Gabe’s house probably was, but it was home, and she loved it. “I hate to be leaving it.”
“Maybe.” She pressed the heel of her hand against her stomach in an attempt to squelch her nerves. “I’m waiting to hear back about a job.”
He leaned forward. “What kind?”
Only her dream job. “An interior design position at Epson and Callahan Interior Design in Harbor City.”
As soon as the formal offer came in, fingers crossed, she’d leave Salvation for the big city. It would be the first time in a decade she wouldn’t be responsible for anyone but herself. She’d helped her mother take care of her father after his stroke, helped run his furniture business, and been the responsible party of the Jacobs family since before she’d graduated high school.
No more arguing with her dad about non-budgeted purchases. No more pulling him off the manufacturing floor and back behind the desk where he belonged, according to Dr. Sorenson. No more building furniture when all she wanted to do was put the finished product in the perfect spot. In three days, her cousin, Tyrell, would finish up his probationary employment at Jacobs Fine Furnishings and become the unofficial heir to the business her father had started, keeping it all in the family just like her father wanted. She was so close to freedom, she could taste it in the air.
The rest of her life was about to begin, and she couldn’t wait.
Gabe held up his mason jar. “For good luck.”
“Thanks.” They clinked glasses. “I need it.”
“I doubt that.”
His words couldn’t be more innocuous, but something in the low rumble of his voice and the look in his aquamarine eyes made her stomach float up like she was speeding down a curvy mountain road with her Thunderbird’s top down.
She needed space STAT. “I’m gonna make some sandwiches.” The words poured out as she scrambled up. “Hud will be here in the morning and can tow your car back to the shop and get you set to rights.” Proud her voice shook just the littlest bit while her insides were a jumbled mess, she backed into the galley kitchen.
“The snow won’t keep him from coming in?” Gabe asked from the living room a moment later.
“He drove the tow truck home tonight. I don’t think it will be a problem.” She glanced out the window over the sink. “Anyway, it looks like it’s slowing down.”
Which was a good thing—she sucked in a deep breath—even though it didn’t feel like one.
Two hours later, Gabe couldn’t blame the second hot toddy or his near brush with becoming a human popsicle for the fact he couldn’t stop staring at Keisha’s mouth as she told funny stories about her grandma and gave him shit for his lousy card-playing skills. Too entranced by her soft, full lips to pay attention to the cards in his hand, he was five hundred in the hole on the score sheet. And, for once, he didn’t care that he was getting his ass handed to him.
Her mouth was that unbelievably sexy. When she talked. When she smiled. When she nibbled on her bottom lip before taking a drink from the amber liquid in her mason jar. Maybe he had frostbite of the brain, or maybe it was the intimacy of playing cards by firelight with a warm, bourbon-flavored buzz vibrating through his system, but he couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to kiss her. Or imagining how the hot toddy would taste on her pink tongue. Or speculating if her shimmery skin was as soft as he imagined.
Frostbite of the brain. Had to be.
Gabe tossed back a gulp of his hot toddy, the burn dulled by what he’d already drank and the fire ignited by the woman before him.
His Good Samaritan.
The one who’d saved him from the storm.
His enemy’s daughter.
The last person he should be thinking very unpure thoughts about.
He’d stop. He would. Soon.
Before they’d started this doomed game of cards at the small table off to the side of the fireplace, she’d emerged from her bedroom in a pair of black yoga pants, a hot pink, long-sleeved T-shirt, and an oversized, gray cardigan. It should have screamed lounging at home. It didn’t. It hollered: Sex goddess. He shifted on the hard wood chair to unobtrusively readjust his suddenly tight pants. He’d been semi-hard for going on an hour now, and his zipper had to be making a permanent imprint.