Good Girl Page 35

Squeak, squeak. Squeeeeeeeeak.

Dolly apparently tires of our conversation, because she hops to her paws and dashes from the bathroom, thrashing the penguin as she goes.

“Good talk,” I mutter.

I rest my head on the back of the tub as I contemplate my failed seduction. And that’s not even the right word. I just wanted to talk to the guy.

But right when I’d just begun to think that any guy who spends all day building a porch swing has to have a heart in there somewhere, he had to go and ruin it all with a crass, cruel comment.

Your cocktail’s almost as good as your blow job.

That’s twice now he’s managed to make me feel…dirty.

There won’t be another time. For anything.

I deserve far better than the likes of Noah Maxwell. If Preston Walcott does want to sell the house, his handyman will be the first to go. I’ll find someone old and ugly and kind to watch the place while I’m gone.

I stay in the bath for a good long while. The water grows cold, which is just as well given that the outside temperature is still in the eighties, humidity batting a thousand.

Only when my stomach growls low and angry with hunger do I get out. I put on the same dress as before, but only because it’s comfortable. Not because I care any longer about the fact that it makes my boobs look perky. In fact, I don’t bother to put on the cute pink bra I was wearing earlier.

It’s not like it’d be getting any admirers.

I open my bedroom door and head toward the stairs, Dolly trotting along beside me, penguin in tow.

I’m halfway down the stairs when my nose registers the smell of something cooking.

I sniff again, frowning when I realize it’s the potatoes I bought, planning to bake them for me and Noah later.

Is he seriously helping himself to the food I bought? It’s ballsy, even for him. Not that we haven’t shared groceries, but usually he cooks at his place.

I’m ready to rip him a new one as I go charging into the kitchen, but he’s not there.

A quick peek in the oven verifies that yes, he is baking my potatoes.

Two of them. Pig.

I step onto the back porch, following it around to the side of the house, instinctively moving toward the grill that Noah installed last week at Preston’s request but which hasn’t yet gotten any use.

He turns when I come around the corner.

He doesn’t smile. But he’s been waiting for me, braced for this exact moment. I know by the bottle of white wine in the ice bucket and the fact that there are two glasses.

He’s also found the steaks in the fridge. They’re here, waiting to be grilled.

I stare at him in confusion, registering that he’s showered. His hair’s still wet, and he’s changed from his sweaty work outfit to a blue knit polo and khaki shorts.

He says nothing, and I want to rail at him. To tell him that he doesn’t get to treat me like garbage and then help himself to my food just because they’re some really sexy-looking rib eyes.

I want to tell him that the wine and the change of clothes doesn’t make up for the things that he says, and I want to tell him exactly where he can shove the big-ass barbecue tool that he sets back down.

Ranger’s lounging at Noah’s feet, his tail thumping happily when he sees me. He gets up and searches around for Dolly, who’s opted to stay in the house and defile the penguin, and then lies back down with a sigh when he doesn’t see her.

I look back to Noah.

He meets my eyes, and I see it.

The regret is something I expect and can walk away from.

But the hope in his eyes gets to me.

Please, his eyes say. Stay.

And damn it, now I feel like crying again, only for a different reason. No matter how much this complicated guy thinks he doesn’t need anyone or anything, there’s a coarse vulnerability there that nearly undoes me.

“Just so you know, I was going to make you do the cooking anyway,” I say quietly as I step closer to him. “I don’t really know my way around steak, and I know nothing pisses off a man quicker than overcooked meat.”

His eyes flash in relief even as he smiles in victory, reaching for the wine bottle. “Pretty sure there’s a euphemism in there somewhere, and not a flattering one.”

Noah hands me a glass of the wine, but when I reach out to take it, he doesn’t release the glass until I look up at him.

“Two things,” he says. “One, I am sorry. I know I only get so many of the asshole/apology routines, but don’t doubt that the apologies are genuine. Two, I’m still not looking for a girlfriend. Or even a fling. I want to be up front about that.”

“What about a wife?”

Noah turns dead white, and I bust up laughing.

“Joking,” I say. “Look, I just…we’re here, we’re drawn to each other. I don’t think it would kill us to know a little more about the other person.”

His eyes narrow, slightly wary, but he nods slowly. “Fine. I’ll start. It would be helpful to know how you like your steak cooked.”

“Medium,” I say. “And it would be helpful for me to know where you’re from. What’s your story?”

“How would that be helpful?” He takes a sip of wine.

“Because it would help me understand why you have such a low opinion of women.”

He blows out a breath. “Wow. I deserved that.”

I shrug and head toward the railing, rattling it slightly to determine if it’ll support my weight. Noah moves up behind me, and I suck in a breath at his closeness. “I fixed it the other day.”

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