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Sugar and Spice

Written by Lynnette Kent

Chapter three

On Monday, Cass got her early morning cooking done, then went to Ian's house and let herself in with the key he had given her. She walked through the rooms alone and tried to imagine coming home every night to such emptiness. How could the man survive like this?

That was the problem, she decided. He survived, and that was all. He had no ties outside the hospital, nothing and no one to draw him away from his work. Ian had isolated himself with his studies and his training until his life withered around him. Even his reason for moving to New Skye had to do with the patients who needed him.

But Cass believed that, somewhere deep inside, he'd known he had to find a place to do more than just exist. A place to live.

And her job?? her calling?? was to show him how. Why she should believe that, after only one meeting, she couldn't say. Love at first sight had never been part of her agenda. Destiny was not a concept with which she felt comfortable. Life was work in progress, and she intended to make her work worthwhile.

And to share it with Dr. Ian Baker, for as long as they both should live.

In the following days, every moment she could squeeze from her cooking schedule she spent prowling fabric shops and furniture stores, searching for the right touches that would make Ian's house a home. She read Consumer Reports in bed at night to choose the best television and sound system. She renewed her close acquaintance with the man at the paint-and-wallpaper outlet.

Her own small apartment accumulated the fruits of her searches?? pillows and candlesticks and pottery, fabric samples and paint chips and wallpaper books. Kate Bowdrey, a longtime friend and expert on d?r, spent several evenings sitting on Cass's living room floor, helping her choose patterns and colors and playing with Ginger.

"I can't go too bold," Cass warned. "He wants a very quiet, soothing house. After a day at the hospital, I expect he needs peace."

"I'm sure." Kate compared two shades of gold at the same time she dangled a feather toy in front of the kitten. "When do I get to meet this paragon?"

"Did I say he was a paragon?" She hadn't realized she'd revealed quite so much.

Kate smiled. "You said he was gorgeous, dedicated, intelligent, and?oh, yes, gorgeous. Sounds like a paragon to me."

"No, that's the way you talk about Dixon." Kate was waiting for her divorce to become final so she and Dixon Bell, another high school classmate, could become engaged. She had already asked Cass to cater the wedding, but the arrangement was a secret between the two of them.

"Oh, all right. You're just passionately involved in creating a comfortable home for this man in whom you have no personal interest. Who wouldn't understand something so?illogical?"

But, of course, Cass did have a personal interest. And every time she ran into him, that interest deepened. Just last night, she'd come over late, after work, to measure the upstairs windows. And Ian had come up to see why his guest room lights had been left on.

"The Decorating Fairy, I presume." He stood at the foot of her ladder. "I'm reminded of the Shoemaker and the Elves. They finished his work for him every night and made him rich."

Cass grinned. "That's right, and at the end his wife sewed them clothes and he cobbled them each a cute little pair of boots."

"So, should I write you a coupon for a free bypass? That's my only skill, I'm afraid."

She turned sideways, leaned an elbow on the top of the ladder and propped her chin in her hand. "Somehow, I doubt that."

He stepped onto the bottom rung, aligning their bodies and bringing their faces very close together. "You doubt what?"

"That surgery is your only skill." Maybe it was their seductive position?? or, more likely, the fantasies she'd been having about him as she lay alone in her bed at night?? but Cass was feeling bold. "You'd have to be good with your hands to be a successful surgeon. So I'm sure?" At the glint in his eyes, her courage failed her.

"You're sure??"

"I'm sure you'd be quite dexterous with?with knots and c-carpentry?all sorts of?? of manual tasks."

Ian stared at her for a long moment, his gaze intent, wondering. And then he dropped lightly back to the floor. "That's what you mean, hmm?"

She tried to recover her breath. "What else?"

"I'm wondering," he said, then winked at her and left the room.

The second week of November was one of the hardest Ian had yet experienced in his new practice. Emergency bypass surgeries popped up every time he turned around, and the regular surgery schedule was booked solid. Follow-up visits and consultations with other doctors took time. Several nights he simply walked straight through the house from the garage to his bedroom and fell facedown on the bed, asleep before he hit the pillow.

On Saturday, he got home early?? about seven p.m. - and stepped into a strange new world.

The house smelled faintly of?cider, he decided. He tracked the scent to the dozen or more gold candles in brass holders of various heights now grouped on the mantel. A low, square table sat between the two leather sofas, with a bowl of green apples?? real apples, he discovered with approval?? on top. A soft, tapestry-patterned blanket had been draped over the back of one couch, while velvet pillows in gold and green lay against the arm of the other. The space provided in the bookcase now housed a new, state-of-the-art television, and the remote control waited next to the bowl of apples. Firewood had been stacked neatly on the grate, ready for lighting.

Ian found himself tempted to lie down, put his feet up and look for a ballgame on TV. But he was hungry. More important, he wanted to see what other changes Cass had brought to his house.

A tour upstairs yielded?nothing. That seemed strange, when she'd been so appalled by the lack of color. His bedroom hadn't been touched, either.

Or had it? He couldn't remember making the bed this morning?? he'd been called in at five a.m. for a trauma case. But now the sheets were smooth, the pillows plump. And did he imagine that hint of spiced peaches in the air?

His stomach did the proverbial growling routine, and he decided he had to get sustenance or he would keel over. The refrigerator was his usual destination, so he went there first, wishing for something besides strawberry jelly. Grape would be a nice change. Maybe tomorrow he'd get to the grocery store.

But the fridge yielded those surprises he hadn't found upstairs?? a foil container with a paper top marked "chicken and rice, heat in microwave four minutes on high." A big bowl of green salad. A whole apple pie and a pitcher of iced tea. Plus orange juice, fresh milk, bagels, butter, and cream cheese.

Ian stood and stared for a long time. The pillows and blankets and candles?? part of their agreement, and he expected to see a bill. Food, though?what did food mean?

Maybe Cass Stuart, caterer, couldn't stand to see anyone go hungry.

Or maybe?? just maybe?? Cass Stuart, an attractive and generous woman, cared enough about Ian Baker to be sure he got fed on Saturday night. And if that was the case?

What should be his next move?

To be continued...

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Despite being a child of the North Carolina mountains, I seem destined...

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