Never Too Hot
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He came toward her, then, closing the rest of the space between them, his lips so close to hers that she could almost taste them.
“What the hell makes you think you know me so well?”
He was right. It shouldn't make any sense. They'd only just met, not even a week ago, and yet…
“I'm right, aren't I?”
His eyes were on her mouth again, his eyes dark and intense, and she felt it coming, another kiss like the one in his bedroom, violent, all-consuming. And in that moment as his heat seeped into her pores, she wanted nothing else.
But instead of kissing her, he turned away and walked over to the half-built boat. She found herself fighting back another strong wave of disappointment as he said, “I've never met anyone like you, Ginger.”
It didn't sound like a compliment, but she quickly decided that was okay. Because she knew she'd just stumbled over a really important chapter of Connor's story. And she couldn't have stopped turning the pages if her life depended on it.
“What's your father like?”
Running a hand over a golden red board, Connor said, “Uptight. I can't imagine anyone writing a letter like that to him.”
She remembered how smooth Andrew had seemed over the phone. She searched for the right occupation.
“How'd he feel about you becoming a hotshot?”
He laughed, but it was a hollow sound. “I can honestly say he didn't give a damn.”
“Impossible. He's your father. He had to care.”
“When I was five, my mother had to go away to help her sister with a new baby. He was supposed to pick me and Sam up from school. Every single day that week, he forgot. When I was ten the soccer league called to see if he could fill in for the regular coach for a practice. He asked if they had any idea how much two hours of his afternoon were worth. By the time he missed my high school graduation, I'd already learned to accept who he was.
And who he was never going to be.”
“But surely after your accident, he must have tried harder.”
“Sure. A few phone calls. Couple of beers.”
That reminded her. “You got the message that he called, right? I put in on your pillow.”
“Couldn't miss it.”
He didn't say anything more about it and the crazy thing was, Ginger got the sense he was even more shut down about his father than he had been about the wildfire that had burned his hands.
“What are you going to do with the letters?”
“I'm sure someone's going to need kindling tonight for a Fourth of July bonfire.”
The thought of the love letters going up in flames horrified her. She pounced on the old papers, safely cradling them against her chest.
“You can't do that! What if your father wants them back?”
“He left them here for over thirty years. What does he care?”
“The fact that he kept them in the first place shows how much he cared.”
“Yeah, he cared all right. About Isabel.”
Okay, so he had a point. Still, Ginger couldn't reconcile the man from the letters, the man Isabel had loved so deeply, so passionately, with the father Connor spoke of. His father must have had — at least in his youth — some redeeming qualities.
The big question was, what happened once he married his wife and became a father?
And then she realized Connor hadn't read enough to know, “That was your father's boat. He and Isabel were building it together.”
He pushed away from the sailboat. “Something else for the fire pit.”
He shot her a hard look. “You want to keep the letters, be my guest. I don't care what happens to them.”
But everything about the rigid lines of his body, the way he was repeatedly clenching and opening his fists, told her that he did.
CONNOR WAS irritated. Not with Ginger for her usual rounds of endless questions. With himself.
So his father had gotten letters from some girl. So what? Sure, Connor was protective of his mother, but she'd taken control of her own life a couple of years ago when she'd filed for divorce. She was dating a nice guy who wanted her to move with him to Florida. She was fine.
But it grated at him, reading the lovey-dovey words Isabel had written. He couldn't imagine anyone feeling that way about Andrew. Didn't, frankly, know his father well enough to see who he might have been when he was nineteen years old.
Knowing it was long past time to change the subject, he gestured to the dresser. “I'm impressed that you sanded almost all of the drawers already. That's a big job.”
Her eyes held his and he could almost see her weighing the pros and cons of keeping after him about his father or backing off.
Finally, she stretched her arms over her head, tilted her head from one side to the other, and it was crazy but he was almost disappointed by her choice to let it go.
He'd gotten used to having her dig around, challenge him at every turn.
“I'm tired. A good kind of tired. But you're right, I should probably get back to work at the easel. My first art show is coming up soon. Right before your brother's wedding. I may have to start painting round the clock soon if I don't finish a couple of big ones this week.”
They headed out of the workshop and back through the woods, every step he took beside Ginger confirming to Connor that he should be keeping his distance. Staying the hell out of her business.
Only, he couldn't help wanting to know more about what made her tick. He was still reeling from how upfront she'd been about her desire for him. But it was more than that, more than just the way their bodies inevitably responded to each other.
Somehow, she seemed to know when he was lying, not just to her, but to himself too.
“Did you always want to paint?”
“But you didn't, not until you moved here?”
“No. Not really.”
“I don't know.”
She wouldn't let him lie to her. He wouldn't stand for it either.
She stopped beside a tree trunk, wrapped her arms around it, leaned into it. “I was afraid I wasn't good enough.