She frowned. “Huh?”
He never paused in his work, as if his request weren’t earth-shattering. “I’ve got something you’ll want to see. If you like it, we can negotiate.”
She waited for more, but it seemed he was done. A half laugh escaped her lips. Was he kidding? “Are you trying to proposition me?”
“Yes. But strictly for business. Of course, if you want to have sex, I’m a sure thing. But what I’d like to show you has to do with the bar and a product you may want to purchase.”
Oh, this man was way too smart. For someone ridiculously good-looking, it was impressive that he was also an intellectual. She opened her mouth to refuse the offer. “Why can’t you just bring it here? Or show me a picture?”
“You need to see it in person, and it’s too heavy to bring over.”
“Where is this product?”
He looked up with a contrived innocent expression. “My house. Actually, on the property of my house.”
Unbelievable. She cocked her head in curiosity. “Do you really think I’m going to agree to come to your house to see some unknown product after you’ve made it quite clear you would like to get me into bed?”
He didn’t even take a moment. “Yep.”
Damned if he wasn’t offering her a challenge. The idea of seeing where he lived was also tempting. She could handle his advances. She could just start spouting about bridesmaid dresses and spring weddings. That would keep him far enough away. “Okay.”
He didn’t even look surprised at her agreement. He was like a sorcerer who spun a weird type of fog into her brain and made her do stupid things. “Good. I’ll be finished around five.”
“Fine.” She waited, but he went back to his brushwork, humming to the pop music filling the air. “I’ll be back.”
He never even turned around. Raven tamped down an irritated sigh and headed to the kitchen to check supplies. It was probably a trap. A silly thing he’d constructed to lure her to his lair. No matter. She’d use the time to probe a bit more into his family and once again confirm to him she wasn’t interested in his luscious body or ocean-blue eyes or rippling pec muscles.
Not at all.
Dalton wasn’t sure why it was so easy to get her to agree to accompany him back to his house, but he wasn’t about to go looking for reasons.
He finished almost exactly at five, and when he stepped back to survey the result, pride rippled through him. The bar was stunning. Restored to its old luster, the piece practically begged for attention—from the newly furnished bronze rope rails to the deep grains of polished wood with the perfect red stain and the clean, smooth lines relieved of bumps and bruises.
The memory of his mother’s words drifted in the air, as if a ghost whispered in his ear.
You have a gift, my darling. Restoring something old to new brings beauty into the world. But always remember where each piece came from—its history, its legend. Only then can you make the past and present whole . . .
Goose bumps broke out over his skin. He looked around, feeling as if he’d catch her presence, but the place was empty.
The sound of Raven’s footsteps broke his daze, and he turned to gauge her reaction.
Her slight gasp told him what he wanted to know, but her face was an even bigger present. Pleasure shone in her dark eyes, and almost in reverence, she walked around the bar, examining each inch, even kneeling down to get close to the newly installed foot rails. He waited patiently as the minutes stretched by, and finally she faced him.
“It’s everything I always wanted it to be,” she said simply. “You made it beautiful again. Thank you.”
Dalton had done hundreds of jobs. He’d created customized furniture that cost a fortune for people who never looked twice and rarely thanked him. He’d done multitier decks and carved designs out of precious, rare wood shipped from Africa. He’d felt pride, irritation, resignation, and frustration. But not once had he come close to the deep satisfaction and joy he got from Raven’s words and honest gratitude.
Her face reflected a pleasure that was completely transparent. She didn’t try to play games, or barter price, or ignore him. And in that moment, he fell a bit harder for her than he had for a woman in a long, long time.
He cleared his throat, feeling a bit ridiculous from the emotion. “Thanks. I’m glad you like it.”
“I do. And I’m glad you were the one to restore it.”
Her words popped out and surprised both of them. The widening of her eyes told him she hadn’t planned on saying it aloud, so he gave her space and let her pull back. After all, he had all night. “Ready to go?”
“Sure. How far away do you live?”
“Twenty minutes, give or take.”
She locked up the bar and climbed into his Bronco. He noticed she hadn’t changed, which was probably a deliberate act on her part. Too bad she didn’t know he loved women in their natural environment, with messy hair, casual clothes, and faces scrubbed free of makeup. It made them more real, and to him, more appealing.
He’d keep that to himself, though.
She cranked down her window, which gave her more points, and they drove in comfortable silence with the hot wind tearing through their hair. When he pulled into the marina, he braced himself for the explosion.
“Where are we?”
He played dumb, but he figured it would only buy him a bit of time. “At Harry’s. I figured you liked seafood, right?”
She pulled herself up to full height in the seat and squinted those magnificent eyes at him. “Oh, you are not even pretending to act like a Twinkie, are you?”
“Twinkie. Hot man with no brain. Cream stuffing in his head. Because I know different, and I know this was planned.”
He grinned with delight. “I’m hot, huh?”
“Don’t even start. I agreed to come to your house and look at this item you seem to believe I need. I did not agree to dinner.”
He rubbed his head in deliberate confusion. “But we need to eat. We’re just sharing a harmless meal together before I show you the items and take you back home. No need to panic.”
Sheer feminine temper shot at him in ragged waves. His dick wept at the sensual assault she unconsciously wrapped around him. Oh, to experience that power in bed could break him with pleasure. “I’m not panicking, I’m just pissed at being manipulated.”
He threw up his hands in mock surrender. “Forgive me for wanting to feed you. It’s been a long day, it’s dinnertime, and I really wanted some oysters. Shall we leave?”
She fumed, and he knew he had the upper hand. She’d rather die than admit sharing a meal with him would be challenging, so she’d bully her way through. It was a win-win.
“No. But I’m paying my share.”
“No problem.” He’d deal with that obstacle later. She stalked out of the car and marched ahead, giving him the perfect view of her swinging hips and ass. He almost bashed into the glass door due to the distraction. The satisfied look she shot him spoke volumes.
They were seated immediately at a table out on the expansive deck, overlooking the marina. Harry’s was a staple in Harrington, known for its seafood but also crowded with tourists and people who liked to be seen eating in the center of town. Boats bobbed up and down, seagulls screeched, white umbrellas flapped in the breeze. Dalton didn’t bother to check the menu, as he was a regular.
He noticed she went straight to the cocktail menu, perusing it as if it were the Bible and she a good Catholic girl.
“Liquid dinner?” he teased.
“Hell no. I’m a woman who likes to eat. Just checking out the competition.”
The waiter stopped by their table to take their order. “Do you need a few minutes, or would you like to start with a cocktail?”
Raven smiled and tapped the menu. “I have a few questions, please. I see you’re featuring a watermelon martini.”
The waiter nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Very popular. Delicious.”
“You use fresh watermelon, right? And do you heat the sugar first or not?”