He was lost for words. Vicky was wearing a little black dress and pearls, and her hair was loose. He'd never seen her hair loose—at the pool, she always wore a cap, and even at the seaside she'd worn it in the same style she wore it for work, caught back at the nape of her neck and pulled tight enough to be severe.
Loose, it was even more beautiful than he'd imagined. Dark waves. Glossy, silky, bouncy hair. Hair he wanted to play with. It was all he could do not to haul her over his shoulder, carry her to his bed and spread her hair all over his pillow before undressing her very, very slowly and kissing her all over.
'You look lovely,' he said, and could have kicked himself when he heard his voice squeaking. He sounded like a kid whose voice was breaking. Damn. He was meant to sound sophisticated and urbane. The kind of man a woman like Vicky would be attracted to.
"Thank you.' She handed him a box. 'I, um, wasn't sure what you were cooking, so I didn't bring wine. And flowers don't seem the right thing to bring a man.'
Flowers? Oh-h. He could think of something to do with flowers. Preferably roses. And preferably involving her naked body.
Uh. He really hoped he hadn't said that out loud.
'Thank you,' he said politely. Then he looked at the box. 'Oh, yes.' Hand-made chocolates. He grinned. 'You'll have to bully me into sharing these. And even then it might not work.'
She grinned back. 'You're as bad as Seb.'
Jealousy had started to flicker at the back of his neck when she added, 'My middle brother.'
He remembered his manners. 'Come in. Can I get you a drink?'
She shook her head. 'Thanks, but I'm driving.'
'Sorry. I should have told you to get a taxi.' He frowned. 'Hang on, you were on an early today. You're not on call?'
At least her pager wasn't going to bleep in the middle of their meal. That was one good thing.
'Mineral water?' he asked. At her nod, he added, 'Still or sparkling?'
He ushered her into the kitchen, then lit the candle in the centre of his dining table. Vanilla—though the scent would be overpowered by the aroma of herbs and balsamic vinegar from the oven.
'Something smells nice,' Vicky said.
'I hope you like it. I did try to ring you to check if there was anything you really hated, apart from bacon.'
He sounded as panicky as she felt. And no wonder. She'd left it so long before saying yes that he'd had to do everything at the last minute. Bad-mannered didn't even begin to cover her behaviour. 'Sorry. I should have let you know earlier. Except...' Could she admit that she'd been too scared to make up her mind until the very end of her shift, and then she'd emailed him in a rush before she'd lost her nerve?
'I was in clinic all day,' Jake said, rescuing her. 'I thought you were going to say no.'
'So did I,' she said. And she'd nearly chickened out on the drive here.
'What made you change your mind?' he asked softly.
She had no answer to that. And he didn't push her. He just said, 'I'm glad you did.'
Me, too, she thought.
'Dinner's going to be about another ten minutes.' He slid a loaf of bread into the oven. 'Want the guided tour?'
'Kitchen-diner,' he said, indicating the room they were standing in. He ushered her into the hall. 'Bathroom.' Small, but very tidy and colourwashed in a relaxing shade of aqua. 'My room.' He indicated a door but didn't open it. No pressure, then. 'Living room.'
The room was small, but the thing that really struck her was how many CDs there were in the floor-to-ceiling tower units standing against one wall. He didn't have a TV: he had a piano. A very, very good sound system. A few shelves of books, mainly medical texts. And what looked like an extremely comfortable sofa.
'You play?' she asked, knowing it was a stupid question even before she asked it. She already knew he was musical—the way he'd sung to her at the beach had told her that. Plus, his mother had been a musician: the chances were he'd inherited his mother's musical ability.
'Not good enough to be professional, but well enough to keep me amused.' He paused. 'The piano was my mum's. That, her wedding ring and a few photos are all I've got of her and Dad. And memories. She used to play to me when I was little, sing me songs.'
Seeing the flash of pain on his face, she placed her hand on his arm. It was meant to be a comforting touch... except it left her feeling as if an electric current had thrummed through her.
A feeling he shared, judging by the look in his eyes.
She had to keep her hands off. Now.
'Did your mum make any records?'
'One or two. But she wasn't well known outside the club circuit. That tour in America was meant to be her big break.'
Except it had broken her life, instead. 'That's a shame.'
'It happens. I had her for twelve years.' He shrugged. 'That's more than some people get.'
And he was clearly trying so hard not to be bitter about it. 'Um, it's a nice flat,' she said, hoping to find a less painful topic of conversation for him.