Never Too Hot
Page 23

 Bella Andre

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And then, before she realized what he was doing, he took the grocery bags from her and started emptying out the contents on the Formica countertops. Her ex had never done that. He'd been very clear about what was women's work and what was men's work.
Then again, Jeremy hadn't known how to hammer in a nail or rewire an electrical system either. Why, she wondered, had she let him get away with doing so little outside of the office? Why hadn't she ever thought to ask for what she wanted?
“I should have checked with you before I started tearing apart the kitchen,” Connor said, and she appreciated the apology behind his words. “Fortunately, the refrigerator is on a different breaker.”
Realizing she was standing there like an idiot, she moved next to him to start putting the meat and cheese away.
In the small kitchen, she caught the heady scent of him, the clean smell of a man hard at work making things safe.
Opening up the fridge, she was glad for the cool rush of air.
Between the two of them, the task of putting everything away was quickly done, leaving her feeling awkward. He picked up a screwdriver and squatted down over the electrical box when she jerked her thumb over her shoulder.
“I'll get out of your way. I was just going to head out to the porch to paint.”
Out on the porch, she set up her paints and canvas. Usually, within seconds, she was hard at work. Today, however, a good five minutes passed before she realized she was still mixing red and orange, the colors having gone an ugly brown.
She turned and looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen. It was quiet back there now as he redid the wires, and she supposed she could pretend that things were back to normal, that she was alone and content in the lakefront cabin. But Connor's presence was so big, so overwhelming, her thoughts kept shifting back to him.
Maybe she should pack up her things and head out of the cabin to paint, find even ground to stand on and get back into her groove. But she couldn't run from him all summer. If that was her plan, she might as well move out.
Closing her eyes, she was trying to relax by taking several deep breaths when she heard Connor kick the stove and mutter a curse. Opening her eyes, a smile on her lips, she picked up her paintbrush and it started moving, almost on its own accord, great wide strokes of vibrant color across the canvas.
Connor's stomach growled, but he wanted to finish rewiring the kitchen's electrical panel before quitting for the day. Tomorrow, he'd junk the old stove and go into town to pick up a new one. Every thirty minutes or so, when he stood up to stretch his legs and back, his eyes were drawn to the porch.
To Ginger.
Her hands moved quickly as she painted, deft strokes of color. She was incredibly talented, anyone could see that, even a guy like him who didn't know the first thing about art.
He watched her pile her curls up on top of her head as the late afternoon heat kicked in and rays of sun moved across the porch. He couldn't bring himself to step away before she noticed him standing in the doorway behind her.
She tried to cover the canvas with her arms as if to hide it from him. “It isn't done. I'm not sure it's any good yet.”
“It's good.”
Color rushed to her cheeks at his compliment. “Thanks.”
Staring at her painting, he realized he finally saw the stillness he'd been looking for out on the dock that first night.
“How'd you do it?”
“Do what?”
He looked away from the painting, caught Ginger's bewildered gaze, realized he'd spoken out loud.
“Never mind.”
“No,” she said, “you were going to say something about my painting.”
He held up his hands. “I don't know anything about art.”
“Just spit it out already,” she said, clearly frustrated. “What were you going to say?”
“The lake. The mountains.” He hated this, feeling like an idiot. Every time he was with her, something happened.
His hands went numb. He said too much. “I didn't know anyone else saw them like that.”
“Like what?” she pressed.
Why couldn't she just leave well enough alone?
“Alive,” he ground out. “They look alive.”
Her eyes went wide as she moved one hand over her heart. “You can see it? What I'm painting?”
“I told you. I don't know what I'm talking about.”
His breath caught in his throat as she smiled back at him; her cheeks were a rosy pink, her hair piled on her head exposing her long, slender neck.
“No. I mean, yes, you do. You're right. I'm painting the lake. The energy that's within it and around it every single day. And no one has ever really seen-” She shook her head. “With abstract art, most people think it's just a bunch of random colors.”
Oh shit. This conversation, these smiles, were the opposite of what he should be doing. “I'll clean up my tools and get out of your hair for a while.”
She blinked at the abrupt switch, before saying, “Don't go.” Looking flustered, she added, “I'm going to make some ground-turkey tacos. Are you hungry?”
“Starved,” he admitted, “but I can grab something in town.”
She was already moving past him into the kitchen, pulling out peppers and salsa and black olives. “It's not a problem. I'd end up with leftovers anyway.”
Thinking of how Tim had said Kelsey would be insulted if he didn't eat the breakfast she'd made, Connor told himself he didn't have any choice but to accept.
He banged his knuckles against the stove. “You probably need this, right?”
“A stove would certainly be handy.”
Sweet Lord, the kitchen was so small that they were practically right on top of each other. Clamping his fingers around the edge of the stove hard enough to turn his knuckles white, he shoved the stove back into place against the wall.
“I'll go clean up and come back down to help.”
Turning the water on, he stepped into the ice-cold spray before the old pipes had a chance to heat up and decided to leave it cold. This dinner was going to be a lesson in self-control. Or purgatory.
The green farmhouse dining table on the porch was set and full of food by the time he made it back downstairs, a beer in front of each plate. Sitting down on opposite sides of the narrow table, neither of them spoke as they concentrated on assembling their tacos.