The Soul Mate Page 14

“When a koala wants to mate with another koala, he excretes a certain pheromone from his chest and rubs it on his intended.”

“And they say romance is dead?” I murmured, a grin hitching my lips. I always enjoyed my work, but I couldn’t deny, being here with her had been the highlight of my day so far.

Bren rolled her eyes. “Sheila is the belle of the ball in the koala habitat.”

I nodded. “So, what’s your favorite animal?”

“Type or in particular?”

I laughed. “How about both?”

“Personally, I’m a big fan of Nibs, the cheetah. But I also like caring for the babies…”

“Why can’t the piglets mother feed them?”

Her gaze turned soft and her thoughts looked faraway. “She got an infection in her milk ducts shortly after delivering. Poor thing is on some strong antibiotics and needs her rest so she can recover.”

 “I can see why you like them so much,” I said, still marveling at how cute the damn things were routing around in the hay, and mewling softly as they got cozy.

Bren nodded. “They’re sweet.”

“Like you,” I said, and a slow pink flush took over her cheeks.

When it’s bottle was done, she took the pig from my arms, settled the animal back in its pen, and then locked up the gate before leading me down the pathway.

“So, look, I don’t know if you had plans tonight, but I’ve got a ton of food in my fridge and nobody to share it with. Interested in coming over tonight and letting me cook for you?” I asked, trying to keep it nonchalant even though my blood pulsed through my body in hot rushes.

She studied my face for a long moment, apparently considering her options.

“I won’t try anything funny,” I said, then added, “unless, of course, you want me to.”

“Let’s see how it goes.”

“Is that a yes?” I asked.

“Yeah, why not. Let’s have dinner.” She turned and led me out of the enclosure, careful to make sure I sanitized my hands again on the way out, but I was only half listening to her instructions.

I’d reverted back into my head, busy planning what I would cook for her—what I would say next.

What I was going to do to replay that incredible night we’d shared so many weeks before.

Because today had only sealed the deal for me.

 If I had any say in the matter, Bren Matthews was going to end this night screaming my name and begging me for more.

Chapter Thirteen


“This is it. Which I guess you know.”

Mason opened the door to his apartment, and again I was greeted by the cool, modern lines of his penthouse suite that I was sure I’d never see again. The glass wall along the back of the room framed the fading sunset and the outline of the city, and as he flicked on the lights, I was blown away by the crisp, sharp lines of his cream-and-slate-gray furniture.

After we’d left the zoo, I’d gone home after work for a quick shower and changed into a gauzy sundress in pale peach. Based on Mason’s lingering perusal, he approved of my wardrobe change.

I slipped off my sandals and then padded toward the kitchen, trying to beat back the memory of the last time I’d been here, half-naked and searching for my clothes, but I couldn’t help it. Internally I cringed at my former self, the guilt of having slunk out like a coward sinking in the more I got to know him.

“The place is beautiful,” I said, though inside I began to wonder where—in all the glass coffee tables and chrome fixtures—a baby might fit in. Maybe a stainless-steel crib to match the decor?

But we weren’t thinking about babies. We were thinking about…what?

Ever since I’d thought there was a possibility of this baby, I’d hardly been able to think of anything else. And now, faced with the prospect of having to talk, I wasn’t sure I had a word left to say that wasn’t about custody or how I wanted our potential child to be raised.

“Thanks,” he said, and for a moment I’d forgotten what he was thanking me for. The apartment, right. I’d said he had a nice apartment.

He followed me into the kitchen after slipping off his own shoes, then opened the fridge door and pulled out a bottle of water. “Thirsty?”

I shook my head.

He closed the door and leaned back against it. “Is everything okay? You’re quiet.”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “Just not sure what to say.”

“Then let me guide you.” He smiled warmly, sending a shiver of awareness through me. “First, tell me what you want to eat that isn’t soft cheese, sushi, or alcohol-related?”

I laughed despite myself. “Well, uh, I don’t know what you have.”

He shrugged. “I can make you anything. There’s steak and the makings of tortillas. Quesadillas? Fajitas? Pasta? Or there’s chicken if you’re less into red meat.”

“Steak sounds good.” I gave him another nervous nod and he pulled the package from the fridge—a rectangular container with two massive porterhouse steaks inside.

“You were going to make fajitas with a porterhouse?” I asked.

He grabbed a frying pan hanging from the rack over the island and shrugged. “I was going to make you whatever you wanted. Now tell me, what do you like with your steak?”

“More steak?” I said, and he laughed.

“You got it.” He grabbed a bag of slivered almonds from a nearby cabinet, then moved back to the fridge for some green beans. I watched as he moved quietly and quickly, never consulting a cookbook.

“You actually cook,” I said, recognizing his total comfort in the kitchen with a start. Was there anything this man couldn’t do?

He nodded. “I do. When my mom was sick, my dad did the cooking and he was god-awful. I figured someone had to figure out how to make edible food or we would all waste away even if she beat the cancer.”

I smiled. The story was a familiar one—it was the same thing I’d done when my father had passed away. Of course, I’d been only twelve back then, but with my father gone, my mother hardly ever remembered to eat, let alone to feed me.

I’d never gotten good enough to make anything fancy without a recipe, but I knew my way around a gas range, which was still more than I could ever say for my mom.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked, his deep voice breaking through my thoughts.

“Nothing. Well, I was thinking I should help you. And that it must have been hard, watching your mom so sick like that.” No point in mentioning that I could empathize from experience. I still didn’t know how close I really wanted to get with Mason. I barely knew him, even if our DNA were friends.

“We all have our trials,” he said, deftly moving the indigents around before he reached for another pan. “And you stay exactly where you are. I don’t want you lifting a finger.”

“I could get used to that,” I said with a chuckle.

But you better not get used to it, Bren Matthews. Because if you do, you’ll find yourself flying straight out of the frying pan and into the fire.

He smiled back at me, then focused in on his work again, heating the pans and sautéing the almonds while I imagined myself falling so far and so deep I wouldn’t know where I ended and he began. No. Not gonna happen. “You know, you’d think that it would have been a huge toll on them, what happened with my mom, but my parents really made the best of it. Every day we did something together as a family. I mean, I know now that was because we didn’t know how many days my mom might have left, but then?” He shrugged a shoulder, then moved back to the fridge for a forgotten ingredient. “It was just, I don’t know, good. To see my parents together and happy together in spite of everything. It makes you feel like anything is possible, seeing two people like that.”

“I know what you mean.” I’d said the words without thinking—or rather, without realizing what I’d done. I didn’t want to open the door to my past. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

Of course, he would have to meet my mother eventually, and when he did, the whole sordid affair would come out—how happy my life had been when my parents had been together. And how completely and totally inconsolable she had been since my dad’s passing.

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