Sugar and Spice
Thanksgiving drew near and the pace of Cass's life accelerated from busy to frantic. She'd always been an early riser, but when she stayed over at Ian's?? which happened more often than not?? she got up an hour earlier than her regular six a.m. That meant she got more cooking done before the stores opened at ten.
But the house was almost finished. And she knew Ian was pleased with what she'd done. Pleased to see that his guest rooms provided a quiet elegance with which he felt comfortable. Pleased that his family room offered welcome and comfort?? to him and anyone else who came in?? with accents of color, contrasts of texture, and simple luxuries.
Most of all, maybe, pleased that his kitchen had become a functional place, with food in the pantry and the refrigerator and, most nights, dinner on the table when he finally got home. She managed to be there at some point in the afternoon or evening and, even if she couldn't stay, to leave him something to eat. The extra cooking put more strain on her hectic schedule, but taking care of Ian was a pleasure well worth the effort.
The weekend before the big day, she decided to introduce him to Ginger. He had two days off from the hospital, plenty of time for them to get to know each other. Late Friday afternoon, she packed up Ginger's household and went to Ian's, prepared to offer homemade lasagna and her little feline surprise when he walked in the door.
Predictably, he still wasn't there by nine, so she cut herself a piece of lasagna, then curled up on the sofa with Ginger under the tapestry throw to watch the fire and wait.
Warm, cozy, she dreamed that Ian was bending over her, his smile wide and sexy as he leaned in for a kiss.
"Hey, beautiful. Where've you been all my life?"
She smiled and kissed him back, and then realized with pleasure that it was real. He'd come home.
Stretching, she reached up to put her arms around him. "Mmmm. What time is it?" Ginger stirred and peeked out from underneath the throw.
"Midni??" His gaze dropped. He straightened up out of her hold. "What is that?"
The cat scrambled away from his harsh tone, clawing at Cass's shoulder. "A kitten, of course. Ginger."
"Did you find it outside the house? Are there more?"
"No. I've had her since Halloween." Getting control of the trembling creature, she turned the sweet face toward him. "I brought her for you."
Ian sneezed, and sneezed again. "N-no, thanks."
"Are you getting a cold? And what do you mean, 'No, thanks'?"
"I don't want a cat. I'm allergic." He backed around the coffee table to the other sofa. "You'll have to take her away."
Allergic. How awful. "Are you sure?"
Another series of sneezes. "Oh, I'm sure."
She grappled frantically for a solution. "There are allergy shots you can take. Medicines. And you need a cat. Someone to be here when you come home." Until you ask me to be. "A reason to do something besides work. Ginger's perfect." Although as she kept trying to get away, she was pulling threads from Cass's brand-new velour sweater.
Ian ran a hand over his face. "Look, I appreciate the thought?? though it would have been better if you'd asked me first, and saved us both the hassle. I just can't have a cat." He dropped down on the couch and put his head back. "Man, what a day."
Hassle. That meant she'd done it again. Evidently, she never would learn not to be bossy. "What am I supposed to do with Ginger?"
He opened one eye. "You can keep a cat at your place, right?"
Her heart stopped for a long moment. "Of course." Now feeling very, very cold, she got to her feet and moved toward the door.
"Cass?" Ian was on his feet again, staring at her across the vast expanse of his family room and kitchen.
The space was friendly now, and inviting, with the fire crackling cheerfully, the lamplight glinting on gold and red and green accents, the scent of cider spicing the air. His family would know how good his life could be here in New Skye. And they'd never know that she had expected to be part of it.
"I have to go." She opened the door and hurried outside, trying to keep hold of the cat and hold back her tears at the same time.
What he'd just said, essentially, was that she had no more of a role in his life than the cat did. He hadn't used the L word yet. And Cass had been waiting on him, trying, for once, not to control the situation. Trying to let Ian take the lead.
Good thing. This would hurt much worse if she'd told him she loved him.
On the other hand, she wasn't sure it could hurt any worse.
The only thing Ian knew for sure was that he had no clue. Cass had brought a cat to his house and when he didn't want it, she'd cut off all communication. He had some experience with women, though he didn't think of himself as Don Juan. Still, this was the strangest situation he'd ever encountered.
To make matters worse, he didn't have time to do anything about it. The guy who was on call on Sunday came down with the flu Saturday afternoon and begged Ian to take over. So he spent Sunday in the hospital before beginning the regular workweek. People didn't much like seeing doctors in the days before Thanksgiving, so he made it home most nights by eight.
But Cass wouldn't answer the phone, at work or at home. The finishing touches for the house magically appeared during the day, but she wasn't waiting for him anymore, with her warm smile and her hot kisses and her generous soul. How was he supposed to get through a week without waking up with Cass in his arms?
Wednesday night, he came in to discover a mouthwatering aroma in the air, compliments of the pies on the counter?? pumpkin, pecan, and mincemeat, just as he'd ordered.
Thursday morning, he went in for rounds at seven a.m., knowing no surgeries had been scheduled for the holiday. His family would be arriving about two. He should be home in plenty of time to talk with Cass and get this whole mess straightened out before they arrived. He really wanted his family to meet her.
The news about a ten-car pileup on the interstate just outside of town only reached him after he got to work.