Nate had planned to pace himself as he ate the breakfast so as not to give his soon-to-be-former Girl Friday any encouragement. But within seconds, he’d polished off the whole plate of pancakes. His taste buds—which had been as good as dormant for nearly a year—instantly demanded another helping.
He pushed the plate away and swiped his hand over his mouth, and his gaze met hers. She was watching him. The dark compassion—and the twinkle of approval—in her emerald eyes made his stomach cramp and the food he’d just bolted turn over.
“More?” she asked, jumping up from her stool and taking his plate.
He wanted to say no. He didn’t want to feel indebted to her. Didn’t want her to know how starved he’d been for the most basic pleasure, especially as she’d already made him ache for another pleasure he shouldn’t want.
But he couldn’t stop himself from nodding. If he couldn’t gorge himself on her, he’d be damned if he’d deny himself the chance to gorge on her pancakes.
She whisked the plate away, then went to the range to flip another batch. The sizzle as the batter hit the pan and the mouth-watering scent suffused his senses again but did nothing to dispel his frustration. Or discomfort.
He’d spotted her gaze roaming over his chest when she’d first turned around to find him standing at the breakfast bar.
He should go put on a shirt while she was rustling up a second batch. He hated for people to see what the kidnappers had done to him. But it was already too late for that. And oddly, he hadn’t seen the disgust he would have expected.
But was the flare of stunned awareness any better?
He found himself becoming absorbed in the fluid, efficient way she moved. The black curls piled on top of her head drifted down in tantalizing tendrils to touch the elegant line of her neck. She really did have a very cute butt in her jeans. It swayed every time she added another pancake to the stack. She turned to set about dousing the new serving in cream and berries and syrup, and he became mesmerized by the delicate flush on her dewy skin, the cute frown of concentration and the slow rise and fall of her breasts beneath her T-shirt.
Arousal flared in his abdomen, and the persistent erection, which hadn’t ever really gone away, thickened in his sweats.
She slid the loaded plate toward him, then sat on the opposite side of the breakfast bar, still keeping her end of their bargain. Weirdly though, he found himself missing the nonstop chatter that had threatened to drive him nuts earlier—and that soft, soothing, musical accent.
He pushed aside the sentimental thought. She wasn’t soothing; she was annoying.
He paced himself this time as he ate, made a point of using both his knife and fork to slice the pancakes into bite-size chunks before demolishing them. He also made sure not to hum again. A cup of steaming coffee—with cream and sugar on the side—appeared at his elbow. He gulped it down black, and the cream and sugar disappeared.
The bitter taste was the perfect counterpoint to the yeasty, sweet, gooey pancakes—freshening taste buds that had been drifting into a coma of indulgence. And waking him up enough to notice how wiped out he was.
But this didn’t feel like his usual exhaustion—fraught with tension and the fear of dreams. This fatigue felt like a genuine precursor to sleep, his bones heavy and his body sated, at least in part, for the first time in months.
She took the plate and carted it over to the sink. He noticed she’d been busy clearing up while he’d been concentrating on not bolting his food.
“I’ll just finish this, then I’ll leave you in peace. I’ll let Mr. Charles know it didn’t work out,” she murmured, her head bent, her shoulders slumping as she rinsed off the plate. And placed it on the rack. Defeated.
“You can stay,” he said.
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