Sugar and Spice
"'A snowball's chance in hell'? What are you talking about?" Frowning, Ian wiped away his milk moustache with the paper towel Cass had provided as a napkin. "What's wrong with my plan?"
She braced her elbows on the table and shrugged, trying to keep her attention on the subject at hand, rather than on that well-shaped mouth. "You can hire me or any other caterer in town to prepare a terrific Thanksgiving dinner. But you don't have a place for your family to stay."
"Of course, I do?? five thousand square feet of house, including four bedrooms, besides mine, and six extra baths. What more do I need?" He'd changed out of his surgical scrubs into a dark blue, long-sleeved T-shirt over soft, comfortable jeans, and socks, but no shoes. Something about the white socks, and those strong shoulders under blue cotton, made thinking a challenge.
Cass pushed back from the table and walked into the family room. With a safe distance between them, she turned to face him, holding out her arms. "Does this look like a home to you? Does this resemble the house where you grew up?"
Ian glanced around, his brows drawn together in concentration."Well, my mother has more furniture. And lots of?of stuff."
"Don't you think she'll expect something like that here?"
He shook his head. "Nope. No way. I had to do the dusting when I was a kid. Spent my Saturday mornings wiping off little china dogs and monkeys and fancy boxes and painted plates on tiny stands when I wanted to be out playing ball. I'm not having that clutter in my house."
Given such a pitiful portrait, Cass held up her hands in surrender. "But there's middle ground between bare and unbearable. Your family?? which means who, by the way?"
"Mother, Dad, sister and husband, brother and wife and two kids."
She widened her eyes. "That's a boatload of family, all right. And they won't be comfortable if you don't offer more than just the essentials in furniture. You need chairs, tables, lamps, a television for the kids?."
"You sound as if I've got time to do that kind of shopping." He rolled his shoulders, then rubbed the back of his neck again. "I was in surgery at six this morning. Even if I knew what to look for, I can't possibly make time for wandering around town to find it."
"How long have you lived in this house?" Cass clenched her fists against the urge to massage his neck and shoulders, get out those kinks that were driving him crazy.
"And all you've done is work?"
"That's why I'm here. CT surgeons are plentiful in Atlanta. There was only one overworked guy in New Skye. I came where the patients needed me."
"So now there are two overworked guys." Cass smiled and stepped close enough to put her hand on his arm. "I'll be glad to prepare a dinner your family can enjoy together. But I really do think you need to soften the house if they're going to be comfortable. And, more important, if they're going to believe you are."
After a silent minute, he nodded decisively. "Okay. You do it."
To Ian's immense regret, Cass stepped back again, dropping her hand from his arm. "I beg your pardon?"
He persevered. "I'll pay you whatever you ask to make the place look like it should."
Those deep brown eyes had gone round with surprise. "I'm not a decorator."
"I don't want a decorator." This was the right plan. And the right woman to carry it out. He wasn't sure how he knew that. But he did. "I want somebody who understands my aversion to clutter and somebody who understands what needs to be here so my family will stop bugging me about coming back to Atlanta."
Her gaze focused, intensified. "You don't want to go back?"
"I went to college at Georgia Tech and med school at Emory, in Atlanta. Did my training there, as well, but I never knew how tied down I was until I finally came up for air and realized I'd never left home." He shook his head. "I was thirty-three and still a little kid. I decided it was time to grow up."
Cass gazed up at him, and he didn't look away, didn't try to avoid the frank interest in her face. He'd never said any of that to a woman. Somehow, though, he knew he could trust Cass Stuart with his confession.
She took a deep breath. "Well, then, I'll see what I can do about the house. Is there a color you especially hate?"
He thought for a second. "Pink. In any form."
"Your mother likes pink?"
She laughed, and he loved the sound of it in his house. "No pink. Do you want to show me what I'm up against?"
"Right this way." He led her upstairs and turned on the lights in the guest bedrooms. Each room had a bed, an armchair, and a chest of drawers or a dresser and mirror. The armchairs were identical, upholstered in a green damask he'd seen on a sample at the furniture store, and the four beige bedspreads were all the same, because he'd liked the heavy cotton fabric. Off-white blinds hung at the windows, matching the off-white paint on the walls. The off-white baths were supplied with green towels.
Cass stood in the last room and shook her head. "Dr. Baker, you are seriously color-challenged."
He considered that he'd done pretty well. "I had one free day before I started work. This was all I could manage."
"Now we've got four weeks. Place yourself in my capable hands and I guarantee the results will be breathtaking."
Ian couldn't help the interpretation his mind chose to put on those words. "Sounds good. I'm game."
The woman across the room looked puzzled, and then horrified. "That's not what I meant!"
"Unfortunately, I know that." He grinned and turned the light off to give her time to recover. Starting down the stairs, he glanced up as she came to the top step. "Do you want to have your way in my bedroom, too?"
After a second's pause, Cass chuckled. "Of course," she said, in a voice suddenly gone deep and sexy. "What woman wouldn't?"
A kitten was waiting on her doorstep when she got home from Ian's house?? tiny, shivering, all big green eyes and orange stripes. Cass picked the little thing up and warmed it in her arms.
"What are you doing here? Where did you come from?" The baby mewed pitifully. "Is somebody missing you?" Inside her apartment, she wrapped a towel around her houseguest and went to the kitchen for a bowl of milk.
"Pretty stripes." Cass sat on the floor nearby as the cat lapped up the last of her half-and-half. "Like ginger and cream. But I know naming you means you're staying?." She resisted the urge for all of a minute. "I think I'll call you Ginger. I'll be good, though, I promise. I'll put up signs, in case they're looking for you."
Ginger crawled into her lap, made herself comfortable in the folds of Cass's sweater, and began to clean her paws.
"I don't think they were taking very good care of you." When she stroked a finger along those stripes, the ribs underneath were all too obvious. "I'll have to check them out before I let you go back.
"Meantime," she said, settling her shoulders against the oven with Ginger dozing in her arms, "we have to get your shots. The right food. And a litter box. You need to be well trained, as soon as possible.
"Because, Ginger, my dear, there's this doctor I know?? a really great guy?? who needs just the kind of care you and I have to give."
To be continued..