Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(10) by Susan Mallery
“I’m not interested in a second chance with Penny. Or a first one. She’s your girl.”
His brother punched him in the arm. “You know what I mean. You can’t be alone forever.”
“Why not? I don’t need anyone.”
“We all need someone. The difference is some of us are willing to admit it sooner than others.”
“I RESENT THIS,” Elissa said as she stirred the chili simmering on the stove. “I resent being manipulated, even by my own guilt. It’s wrong on so many levels.”
All of this was Walker’s fault, she thought as she crossed to the mixing bowl and poured the corn bread batter into a greased glass pan. She hadn’t been able to shake feeling stupid about her assumption when he’d offered to let her “pay in trade.” His comment about smelling her cooking had taken root in her brain and now she was making chili for the express purpose of apologizing. Plus, she still had to give him the five dollars he’d so artfully avoided when she’d given him the pie.
Twenty minutes later, she knocked on the door between her place and Mrs. Ford’s.
“I can smell the chili,” the older lady said happily. “I took my Prevacid earlier and I’m ready for second helpings.”
“Good. Everything is ready. Have a seat. I’m going to run upstairs and tell Walker dinner is ready.”
Mrs. Ford raised her eyebrows. Elissa sighed.
“It’s not what you think. I still have to give him my first down payment and I’m making up for…well, you know.”
She’d told her neighbor all about the unfortunate misunderstanding. Mrs. Ford had taken great pains to point out that a lady did not sleep with a gentleman for any reason other than love or really powerful sexual attraction. Even being given a kidney wasn’t good enough. As if Elissa didn’t already know that.
“Chili is an excellent choice,” Mrs. Ford said. “A very manly dish. No froufrou vegetables or tofu surprise. An excellent move.”
“It’s not a move.”
“It should be. Elissa, darling, he’s a very handsome man.”
Elissa opened her mouth, then closed it. What was the point of trying?
“I’ll be right back,” she said, then yelled into the living room. “Zoe, dinner’s ready. Please go wash your hands.”
Once again Elissa climbed the stairs. She walked briskly across the small landing and knocked firmly on the door. No way she was going to let him know she felt embarrassed by their previous conversation. Nope, except for the fact that she was cooking for him, she was going to pretend it never happened.
He opened the door. “Hello, Elissa.”
Sometime in the past three or four days, she’d forgotten what he looked like. Oh, sure, she could have picked him out of a lineup and been confident he was her neighbor, but she’d lost track of the specifics.
She hadn’t remembered how his dark eyes seemed to observe everything without giving anything away. How his strong features made her want to trust him instantly or that his mouth was both stern and intriguing.
He looked solid, steady…dependable. All very appealing traits, given her history with men.
“Hi. You never took the money.” She thrust the five dollars at him and held her arm steady until he took it from her.
“Thanks. You didn’t have to—”
She cut him off with a flick of her wrist. “I did have to. It helps me sleep at night. I also wanted to apologize for the misunderstanding. I jumped to not very flattering conclusions and I shouldn’t have.”
“I realize how that could have happened.”
She wondered if that was true or if he was just being polite. And then she wondered how his skin would feel if she touched his arms. Was it rough or soft? Did the muscles yield at all or were they—
She mentally put on the brakes and smiled brightly so he wouldn’t guess what she was thinking. Dear God, what was wrong with her? She’d seen plenty of good-looking men before. Some even in person. But she’d never reacted like this. It was worse than feeling guilty. Which meant she should get to the point.
“I made chili,” she said. “You mentioned smelling my cooking and wanting to trade what I owe you for that. I’m all right with that. So I made chili and corn bread. There’s pie left, but you probably still have some of your own, so I don’t know how interesting blueberry pie would be. Although I have ice cream. It was on sale. Chocolate chip. Zoe and I do the chocolate thing.”
When she realized she was babbling, she pressed her lips firmly together, then cleared her throat.
“My point is, you’re welcome to join us.” Hmm, that didn’t sound right. “Mrs. Ford is already downstairs. This isn’t anything but payback. I’m not asking you out or anything. I don’t date. Anyone. I don’t do anything else, either. I’m not issuing a challenge. I know some guys assume if a woman’s alone, it’s a challenge. I’m not. I’m not interested in getting involved or having a fling or anything like that. This isn’t a good time for me. Zoe’s really young and there are other complications.”
Big ones, she thought, thinking that Neil was at least six feet and was never going to go away.
“You’re saying you don’t want to date or have sex with me,” he clarified.
“Right,” she agreed, before actually processing what he’d said.
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