Midnight Bayou Page 44

She waited for him to change the tone, for his hands to become demanding. He was a sweetheart, she thought sleepily. But he was a man.

She'd just take herself a little catnap, and let him wake her up.

The next thing she knew, the sun was beating through her windows. A groggy glance at her bedside clock showed her it was twenty after ten. Morning? she thought blearily. How did it get to be morning?

And she was tucked into bed as tidily as if her grandmother had done the job. Tucked in alone.

She rolled over on her back, stretched, yawned. And realized with a kind of mild shock that nothing ached. Not her neck, not her feet, not her back.

Doctor Dec, she mused, had done a very thorough job. And was probably at home sulking because she hadn't paid his fee. Hard to blame him, when he'd been such a sweetie pie, and she'd done nothing but lie there like a corpse.

Have to make it up to him, she told herself, and crawled out of bed to put coffee on before she hit the shower.

She walked into the kitchen, stared at the full coffeepot on her counter, and the note propped in front of it. Frowning, she picked up the note, switched the pot back to warm as she read.

Had to go. Counter guys coming this morning. Didn't know when you'd surface, so I was afraid to leave the pot on. But it's fresh as of seven-ten a.m., that is, if you end up sleeping 'round the clock. By the way, you look pretty when you sleep.

I'll give you a call later.


"Aren't you the strangest thing," she muttered as she tapped the note against her palm. "Aren't you just a puzzlement.”

She needed to stop into the bar to check on her lunch shift, to check on supplies. Then, needing her curiosity satisfied, she drove out to Manet Hall.

The door was open. She imagined he was one of the few who'd lived here who would leave that impressive front door open to whoever might wander in. Country living or no, someone should put a bug in his ear about a security system.

She could hear the racket of workmen from the back of the house, but took her time getting there.

The parlor grabbed her attention. She crouched down, touched her fingers to the glossy floors, and found them hard and dry, and, stepping in, just looked.

He took care, was all she could think. He took care of what was his. Paid attention to details and made them matter. Color, and wood, the elegant fireplace, the gleam of the windows, which she imagined he'd washed personally.

Just as she imagined he would furnish this room personally-and with care and attention to detail.

She'd never known a man to take so much …

bother, she supposed, with anything. Or anyone. And maybe, she was forced to admit, she'd spent too much time with the wrong kind of man.

"What do you think?”

She turned and, framed by the windows, by the light, looked at him as he stood in the doorway. "I think this house is lucky to have you. I think you see it as it should be, and you'll work to make it come to life again.”

"That's nice." He crossed to her. "That's very nice. You look rested.”

"A man's not supposed to tell a woman she looks rested. He's supposed to tell her she looks gorgeous.”

"I've never seen you look otherwise. Today you look rested on top of it.”

"You are the smoothie." She wandered away, toward the fireplace. She trailed a palm over the mantel, stopped when she came to the brown leather frame holding the photograph of a young woman. "Abigail," she whispered, and the ache went into her. Went deep.

"Miss Odette gave it to me. You look like her, a little.”

"No, I never looked as innocent as this.”

Compelled, Lena traced a fingertip over the young, hopeful face.

She'd seen the photograph before, had even studied it, point by point, during a period in her life when she'd found the story, the mystery of it, romantic. During a period when she herself had been young enough to see romance in tragedy.

"It's odd," Lena said, "seeing her here. Seeing part of me here.”

"She belongs here. So do you.”

She shook that off, and the sorrow those dark, clear eyes coated over her heart. Turning, she gave Declan a long, considering look. Work clothes, she thought, tool belt, a night's stubble. It was getting harder and harder to picture him wearing a pin-striped suit and carrying a fancy leather briefcase.

It was getting harder and harder to picture her life without him in it.

"Why did you leave my place this morning?”

"Didn't you see the note? Counter guys." He jerked a thumb back toward the kitchen. "I had to beg and pay extra to get them to schedule me for a Saturday morning. I had to be here.”

"That's not what I meant. You didn't come into the city, work-what was it, about six hours busing tables?-and give me a foot rub because you didn't have anything better to do on a Friday night. You came in for sex, cher, and you left without it. Why is that?”

He could feel his temper prick holes in his easy mood. "You're a piece of work, Lena. You've got a real talent for turning something simple into the complicated.”

"That's because things are rarely as simple as they look.”

"Okay, let's clear it up. I came into the city because I wanted to see you. I bused tables because I wanted to help you. I rubbed your feet because I figured you'd been on them about twelve hours straight. Then I let you sleep because you needed to sleep. Hasn't anyone ever done you a favor?”

"Men don't, as a rule, unless they're looking for one in return. What're you looking for, Declan?”

He gave himself a moment, waiting for the first lash of anger to pass. "You know, that's insulting. If you're worried about your pay-for-work ethic, I can spare about twenty minutes now. We can go up, have sex, even the score. Otherwise, I've got a lot to do.”

"I didn't mean to insult you." But she saw, quite clearly, she had. "I just don't understand you. The men I've known, on an intimate level, would have been irritated by what didn't happen between us this morning. I expected you to be, and I wouldn't have blamed you. I would've understood that.”

"It's harder for you to understand that I could care about you enough to put sex on the back burner so you could get a few hours' sleep?”


"Maybe that's not insulting. Maybe that's just sad." He saw the color deepen in her cheeks as the words hit her. Embarrassed color, he realized. "Everything doesn't boil down to sex for me. It helps things percolate, but it's not all that's in the pot.”

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