She sat on one of the stools and immediately dug into her breakfast with a gusto he rarely saw in the women he dated. Not that he and Brooke were going to date, now or ever, of course.
After crunching through a piece of bacon, she said, "If you ever get tired of investigating bad guys, you should open a breakfast place. Promise me that once you’re back in your own house, you’ll still come over and make breakfast for me sometimes."
Rafe didn’t put much stock in promises anymore, not when he watched people break them all day long. But he had a feeling Brooke did, and that once she made one, she would never break it. No matter what.
"I can definitely do that," he told her, and when she smiled at him, it occurred to him that she looked a little tired. Had she had trouble sleeping, too? And, if so, were her reasons anything like his?
Thank God it was sure to be a long, exhausting day getting started on cleaning up his place. Best-case scenario was that he’d work so hard, and so far into the evening, that all he’d have the energy to do was fall into bed...and sleep without dreaming of Brooke.
"I was thinking," she said after she’d eaten half the food on her plate, "that while you’re hauling out furniture, why don’t I get going on cleaning? I have a feeling that just getting rid of the layers of dust and grime on the floors and counters and walls will make a big difference."
"You’re already giving me a place to stay. I can’t let you drop everything to clean my disgusting house, too."
"And I can’t let you deal with that place alone. Besides, I’ve already made the rest of my big deliveries for the week, so I can easily afford to take a day or two off."
She was still cute, not to mention sexy as hell, but also clearly stubborn enough that he knew he wasn’t going to win this one. Unfortunately, a full day of being near her wasn’t going to help him put the brakes on his attraction to her.
At the same time, knowing she would be there with him made the task seem less daunting.
"Thanks," he finally said. "But first I need to head out to the hardware store to pick up new locks for your doors."
She looked at her front door and then back to him with a confused frown. "What’s wrong with my locks?"
"I almost never lock the doors anyway. No one does around here. You know that."
"Maybe this was a safe place when we were kids, but I don’t want you taking any risks now."
Rafe was the one who could see through people, who with nothing more than a look could read secrets and lies. But as Brooke stared at him, he felt like she was the one looking too deeply into him.
"This is still a safe town, Rafe. Just like when we were kids."
"Just let me put the locks on your doors, Brooke."
She thought about it for a moment before finally agreeing, "Okay." Unfortunately, any relief he felt was countered by her honest admission, "But I’ll probably forget to use them, so I don’t know how much good they’ll do if some crazy person shows up in town to break in and attack me."
Rafe could barely bank his fury at the thought of anything ever happening to the too-trusting woman sitting across from him. "Don’t ever joke about something like that. It isn’t funny."
* * *
Coming out into her kitchen and finding Rafe making breakfast had felt like a dream come true, especially when he made the best scrambled eggs she’d ever had. With his big hands and rugged handsomeness, she could only imagine the way women must throw themselves at him...and how many he must have caught over the years to take to his bed.
It felt so natural to have him in her house—two friends who had been lucky enough to reconnect after so many years apart—that Brooke had found herself questioning everything she’d felt last night. Was Rafe truly darker and more intense now? Had she invented the frustration she’d seen on his face when he’d told her, ever so briefly, about his job as a private investigator? And had she imagined the hard tone of his voice when he’d told her flat out that he wouldn’t let her blindfold him for a taste test, obviously because he didn’t trust her?
Or was it simply that she’d been so surprised to see him—and had been so bowled over by his good looks—that her brain had spun off in ridiculous directions? Particularly the ones that had kept her up part of the night, dreaming of what it would be like to have his hands, his mouth, on her.
But just when she’d almost convinced herself that he was still the same carefree soul he’d once been, he’d brought up the locks and his concern that she was putting herself in danger by not dead-bolting herself inside. Even as she’d tried to tell herself it was just some guy thing, she knew it wasn’t.
Her parents had taught her to obey the rules and not to ask questions that might offend someone or shake things up. But Rafe was her friend, and she cared too much about him to worry about putting herself out on a limb.
"What happened, Rafe? Why are you so concerned about how secure my house is when you know as well as I do that virtually no one locks their doors or even their cars here at the lake?"
"People do bad things everywhere, Brooke. Even here." With those parting words, he was out the door and heading off to the hardware store on his motorcycle.
* * *
He came back thirty minutes later with what had to be the biggest lock the local hardware store had in stock—an ugly silver deadbolt that looked scary all on its own—and a brand-new loaded tool box. During his absence, Brooke had been trying to focus her attention on a second round of the new summer-with-a-hint-of-winter truffle recipe she’d been so happily working on the day before. But now, her recipe came a distant second to the beautiful enigma kneeling in front of her door, screwing in the ugly bolt.