Garrett(10)By: Anne Marie Winston
He made a production of checking his watch. "Am I early? I don't want to rush you out of the kitchen."
She smiled as graciously as she could manage, buoyed by the thought of what was going to happen in the next hour. "No, I was just finishing. I hope you don't mind—I left a casserole in the oven to bake."
He shrugged. "I wasn't planning on using the oven. Feel free."
"Thank you." She shaded her voice with just a touch too much gratitude. "I'll be back to get it out but you'll be almost done in the kitchen by then." She turned to the counter and picked up the plate of crab and crackers she'd set out.
"What's that?" he asked.
"A little crab dip I mixed up," she said airily. "I have a fabulous recipe."
As he watched, she turned away and headed for the door. "Since it's your kitchen time, I'll take myself out onto the deck. After that, I'm going to take the canoe out for a little while." She smiled to herself, imagining him drooling.
To her surprise, Garrett trailed after her. "Do you wear a life vest when you go out alone?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm quite a strong swimmer." Then she smiled. "Don't worry. I won't drown before the month is up and we own the cottage."
He shot her a look of annoyance. "Water safety is nothing to be flippant about. You should be wearing a vest." He paused. "Actually, you shouldn't be going out alone at all."
That surprised her. No, that shocked her. Anger began to simmer. "You do."
He frowned. "That's different."
"Oh?" She made her voice mocking. "Because you're a big, strong man and I'm just a silly little woman who needs taking care of?"
"No." His eyes were growing dark and stormy. "Because I've been coming here for years and I'm familiar with the lake and you're not. There are some dangerous rocky areas out there. And unlike most of the lakes, this one isn't so heavily populated that you'd be rescued anytime soon. Even if you didn't hurt yourself and drown, you might have to wait there until I missed you."
"Goodness, that could take a while," she said acidly. "Since we both know how likely it is that you'd miss me for anything other than a convenient target for your rotten temper."
His face was growing red; he looked furious. "Are you going to be sensible or not?"
She smiled and waggled her fingers at him as she stepped out onto the deck. "Not."
* * *
He woke up in a bad mood.
As Garrett swung his feet over the edge of the bed and stood, he heard a raucous squeak, then the quieter snick of the kitchen screen door latching. He stopped in mid-stretch and glanced at the clock. Six-thirty. That meant that the sound he heard must be Ana coming in from her swim. He told himself he wasn't disappointed that he hadn't risen early enough to see her emerge from the lake. But a part of him could still visualize the perfect, slender limbs, the full breasts and rounded hips and his body called him a liar.
What was the matter with him, lusting after a woman who had probably slept with his stepfather? He was afraid he knew exactly what was wrong with him. The luscious Miss Birch was intensely attractive,immensely sexually compelling. The same thing that had worked on Robin was working on him, as well.
The thought made him want to snarl as he shrugged into a T-shirt, shorts and dockside shoes before heading downstairs. Why had men been made this way? It wasn't that he liked her, he assured himself. It was just that she was so incredibly well put together. As he entered the kitchen, he wondered where she had gone—but his question was answered when he saw her standing at the counter spreading butter and jelly on two slices of toast.
"Good morning." He forced himself to be civil.
"Good morning." She sent him a beaming smile. She wore a long beach wrap that clung to her wet body and her hair was wrapped turban-style in a towel. She wasn't wearing a scrap of makeup but his gut clenched as the potent impact of her shining beauty hit him. Life just wasn't fair.
"It's past six-thirty," he said abruptly. "My time in the kitchen."
Ana gave a gusty sigh and the smile faded. "Oh, heavens, please excuse me. God forbid I should be in the kitchen during your time.'" Her voice dripped with sarcasm.
It fed his general discontented feeling and he shot her a glare. "We made a deal. The deal is you're out of the kitchen when it's my turn. You can eat before or after, whichever you choose."
"Before or after doesn't work well for me." She picked up her toast and placed it on a plate, then poured herself a glass of orange juice. "I'm starving.I can't wait until seven-thirty to put something in my stomach or I feel ill."
"Six-thirty to seven-thirty is my kitchen time," he said stubbornly. "You get up at six. Eat before you swim."
"I can't. It's not good to exercise on a full stomach."
"So swim later in the day."
"I don't want to! I like to exercise first thing in the morning. If I get caught up in a project I'll forget if I leave it until later." She unwrapped the towel from her hair and began to comb her fingers through the wild tangle of irrepressible curls. "Who in the world needs an hour to eat breakfast, anyway? It's not like you make a gourmet meal. You eat cereal."
"I read the paper. Drink my coffee."
"And you couldn't do that in the living room?' She sniffed as she picked up her dishes and started out of the kitchen. "Admit it. You're still mad about me inheriting half of this cottage and you're taking it out on me. Robin's the one you should blame."
"Robin's not the one who wormed his way into an old man's will." The moment the words left his mouth, he regretted them. Not because they weren't true, but because he really hadn't wanted to push Ana into a state of war. Life in the little house was difficult enough.
Ana whirled. Her exercise-pinkened face had grown pale, except for two spots of color high on her cheekbones, and she was practically shaking with anger. "For your information, Robin is the one who sought me out. After we met, I never asked him for anything except the pleasure of his company."
She stomped out of the kitchen. Her cat, Roadkill— what kind of a name was that to stick an animal with?—darted after her, pausing in the doorway to whirl and hiss at him with a sobering display of fangs. He'd heard cat bites were extremely painful and often got infected. That animal was dangerous. He should demand that she keep it penned up or get rid of it.
He took every minute of the rest of his hour to read every inch of the paper that the caretakers delivered just after dawn. When he got his milk and orange juice out of the refrigerator, he couldn't help but notice the casserole she'd made yesterday afternoon. It didn't look like much, just a baking dish with a crumb-covered cheese crust inside. But the smell of the thing while it was baking had practically had him drooling. He wondered if he could get her to give him the recipe to take home to his cook. Then, remembering the harsh words they'd just exchanged, he decided he'd be a fool to ask. She'd probably give him a recipe for something poisonous.
He went down to the lake and took a good swim as Ana had earlier. But when he came back to the house and settled in his office, the mood of restless discontent still rode him. He checked his watch. Eight-forty. His New York office didn't open until nine and L.A. was three hours behind that. While he knew he paid his staff generously enough that he could call one of them at home, he refrained. He tried never to infringe on his employees' downtime except when truly necessary. Today it wasn't.
Rising from his desk, he wandered through the kitchen into the living room.
Ana was standing on tiptoe at the door with a small bottle of oil in one hand, stretching up to reach the top hinge. Guilt struck immediately. He'd been inexcusably rude. And worse than that, just plain mean. He shifted uncomfortably as another truth struck home: Robin would have been ashamed of him.
A bolt of sorrow shot through him as, once again, he faced the fact that never again would he hear that voice, that laugh. And he remembered what Ana had said in the kitchen earlier. She'd never wanted anything but his company. Even as the cynic inside him said right, he realized that she also must be feeling a tremendous sense of loss. It made his voice less antagonistic, gentler, as he asked, "What are you doing?"
"Oiling these hinges," she said in a distinctly defensive tone. "Every door in this place squeaks. It was driving me crazy. I really want to be working, but I know I couldn't concentrate until I got this done."
He couldn't blame her, he decided as he walked over to stand beside her. He was the one who had started this. "How many have you done?"
"This is the last one downstairs except for the far door in the kitchen." She turned to look at him with lifted brows, and her green eyes were wary. "Why?"
He reached out and took the bottle from her. have a few minutes to kill until my offices open. Go ahead and work. I'll finish these."
Her face was so suspicious he would have been insulted if he hadn't known full well he deserved her skepticism. "Really?"
Strangely, the seething anger with which he'd awoken seemed to melt away in that moment and he smiled. "Really."
Her whole face lit up. "Thank you!" And she dashed up the stairs without another word.