“Oh, he’s okay,” Grace said. “The back of the chair’s turned out to keep him from stepping off.”
Which is exactly how it’d happened the first time. “It’s also that drying sharp knives is a bad idea.”
Grace turned to Toby, who was drying a wooden spoon. She arched a brow at Josh. Overprotective much?
Josh shook his head, rolled up his sleeves, and joined them. When they were finished, Grace helped Toby down and squatted in front him, her eyes soft and warm. “Sleep tight,” she said, hugging him. “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Toby hugged her back. “Night.”
Josh’s jaw dropped. A word, not a bark.
Grace smiled. Toby smiled back, and the sight of it grabbed Josh by the throat so that he couldn’t breathe for a second.
Grace rose and grabbed her purse, and Josh walked her out. At her car, she tried to open the driver’s door but it stuck.
“Dammit,” she muttered.
“Here, let me—”
“No,” she said. “It always sticks. I’ve got it.” She yanked hard, and it opened so fast she nearly fell to her ass but he caught her.
He turned her to face him. “You got him to use words.”
“I told him that I didn’t understand puppy talk.” She smiled. “You’ve got a great kid, Josh.”
“I know. And thanks,” he said. “For today. For everything. Have you thought about the guesthouse?”
The moonlight slanted over her features. “Some.”
He didn’t push, not in all that much of a hurry himself to have her sleeping so close. “Tell me how it went today.”
She looked at him for a long moment. “He needs more of you.”
He drew in a slow, deep breath. “I know.”
“And you’re right on Tank being the Antichrist, by the way. Although he’s possibly the cutest Antichrist I’ve ever seen.”
“And?” Because he was pretty sure there was one.
“And your sister. She…” Grace shook her head, at a loss for words.
“Yeah,” he said on a low laugh. “She has that effect on people.”
“I think it’d help if you loosened the reins on her a little.”
He shook his head. “That’s the opposite of what she needs.”
“What she needs is to be challenged,” she said. “She’s bored. And any bored twenty-one-year-old is trouble. Plus, I don’t know how to tell you this, but she’s not nearly as handicapped as she likes people to believe.”
Josh was impressed. “It usually takes people weeks to get her number.”
“Hmm.” She tilted her face up to his. “Would you still be amused if I told you she said that while you’re a great doctor, you’re also a control freak, only a so-so dad, a totally crappy brother, and an even more totally crappy significant other?”
“No, since it’s all mostly true.”
She studied him a long moment. “You want to expand on any of that?”
“You’ve seen my life, Grace. It’s…busy.” His mouth quirked when she snorted at this newsflash. “My schedule’s insane, and I have to be somewhat of a control freak to keep it all managed.”
“Which is what makes you a great doctor.”
“And only a so-so dad,” he said, and Christ how he hated that admission. “I’d argue the crappy brother part, but she’s pretty much dead on about the rest.”
“The significant other?” she asked.
“I don’t have one, but if I did, yeah, I’d be crappy at that too.”
Something crossed her face. Disappointment? That couldn’t be. She’d been the first one to say that they weren’t going there.
“Toby’s got a project at school,” she said carefully.
Josh felt a fishing expedition coming.
“A family tree,” she said.
Yeah, definitely a fishing expedition.
“He said he couldn’t fill in the mom because he didn’t have any pictures.”
“Toby has a picture of his mom,” Josh said. “It’s just an older one.” He paused. “We split when he was a few months old. He doesn’t remember her.”
“You have full custody.”
She waited, clearly hoping for more. But he didn’t have more, and he was too tired to even try.
“He hasn’t seen his mom since he was a few months old?” she asked.
“She isn’t from this area.”
“Aw. That’s rough.” She softened, clearly feeling sorry for him.
He hated that, both for Toby and himself. They’d done just fine on their own. Well, mostly. He rubbed at the beginning of a headache right between his eyes.
“You’re tired,” she said softly. “Try to get some sleep.” And then she patted him on the arm like he was a pathetic loser.
He stared down at her, torn between showing her just how not tired he was and wanting her to leave before he did exactly that.
She patted him again, and he caught her hand.
She stared at his fingers on hers, sighed, then dropped her forehead to his chest. “Do you have to smell good?” she asked, voice muffled. “Like, always?”
“No, don’t answer that.” She lifted her head and kissed him on the cheek. Her breath was warm, and she still had that cupcake scent going, and damn if her lips didn’t linger. Not one to need an engraved invite, he turned his head and look at that, his mouth lined right up with hers.
Oh yeah. This was what he’d needed. All damn day long. His tongue teased the corner of her lip. When she opened for him, hunger took over, setting him on fire. Hauling her up against him, he took control of the kiss, deepening it. She rewarded him with a soft moan that said she was right there with him, and he felt a whole hell of a lot better.
Finally, Grace stepped back, smacking up against her car. Laughing at herself, and him, too, he suspected, she got into her car.
Josh watched her drive away, turning only when he heard Anna’s wheels hit the porch behind him.
“Where are you going?” he asked her.
A truck pulled up to the curb and honked, answering his question.
“He should come to the door for you,” Josh said.
“God, you’re old,” she said. “And he has a name.”
They all had names. Josh had discovered it was easier to just think of each of them as the Boy. Still, Devon had staying power. Not surprising, since Anna was coming into her settlement. He snagged a quickly escaping Anna by the back of her chair. “First, tell me about today.”
“There were no casualties, and your girlfriend managed to stay the whole day without quitting on you.”
Josh knew better than to let her engage him in a semantics war, so he let the “girlfriend” comment slide. “You were on your best behavior, then.”
“Like I said, she stuck it out,” Anna said.
“Maybe tomorrow you can resist doing your best to make me look like an ass,” he said.
“Maybe tomorrow you could not be one.”
Devon honked again.
Josh slid Anna a look and she shrugged. “He’d come in, but you scare him.”
“Okay, you don’t,” she agreed. “But he’s got authority issues. Anyway, he did some research and came up with a European itinerary. I e-mailed it to you.”
“What about school?”
“School’s dumb,” she said.
“No. Dumb is quitting school.”
“You don’t understand.”
The family therapist had told Josh not to pretend to understand. That he was never going to know what it was like to be a hormonal teenage girl who’d lost her parents at a critical age, not to mention the use of her legs.
What he did understand was that, as usual, he was the bad guy.
Anna pushed off toward the truck, and when she was gone, Josh went inside. “Just you and me,” he said to Toby. “Ready for bed?”
Einstein was eating chocolate when he came upon the theory of relativity. Coincidence? I think not.
Grace went back to her room at the B&B that night and sat on the bed watching TV while she eyeballed the balance of her checking account on her laptop. Five hundred dollars cash. That’s all she had left to her name, unless she broke into her saved-for-a-rainy-day investments. But it wasn’t raining, not quite yet. She’d gotten a call for a second interview on the Seattle banking position, and tomorrow morning was the Skype interview with Portland. An offer from either of them would change everything.
Until then, she could stay here in the B&B and watch her balance dwindle further away or she could go to Josh’s guesthouse.
It was no contest, really. Besides, by this time next week, she’d probably, hopefully, have one of the jobs.
And a direction.
There was a knock at the door, and she opened it to one of the B&B owners. Chloe was wearing little hip-hugging army cargoes, a snug, bright red henley, and matching high-tops. Her glossy dark red hair cascaded down her back in an artful disarray that Grace might have hated her for if it hadn’t been for Chloe’s friendly smile and the plate of chocolate chip cookies in her hands.
“Tara had extra,” Chloe said. “I tried to steal ’em but Tara said I had to give them to our guest.”
Grace tried to take the plate and laughed when Chloe didn’t let go of it. “Want to come in and share?”
“Hell, yeah.” Chloe stepped inside. “For a minute there, I was afraid you weren’t going to ask me.”
They ate cookies and watched a dog training class on TV. The instructor was saying that there were no bad dogs, just bad dog owners.
“Huh,” Grace said, thinking of Tank.