He could drown in her if he let himself. The trick was not to let himself.
On Friday, Josh got up at 4:00 a.m. to squeeze in a rock climb with Matt. It’d been weeks since he’d gone, and he needed the icy predawn air, the Olympic Mountains…Plus Matt had said he’d kick Josh’s ass if he didn’t show.
Not too worried about that ridiculous threat, Josh got ready. He’d seen Ty yesterday when their paths had crossed in the hospital, and Ty had claimed that Matt had been seen muttering something about diamond rings.
Josh had to hear this for himself. He checked on a sleeping Toby, then made sure Anna was in her room. He left her a note reminding her that she’d promised to get Toby dressed, fed, and to the bus stop on time.
As he quietly exited the house, he was surprised to see Grace heading toward her car as well. “What’s up?” he asked.
“Heading to Portland,” she said. “It’s an early interview, and it’s a long drive.”
Three hours. She was wearing another suit that was all business, softened by high-heeled sandals that had a bow on her ankles. Her hair was in a sophisticated twist, made cute by a few loose strands brushing her temples. It was quite a different appearance than the bathrobe look she’d rocked a few days before, which he’d loved. But he loved this too. She looked like a million bucks, which wasn’t why he ached at the sight of her. He didn’t care what she wore. There was just something about her that made him feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Like he couldn’t wait to see beyond the packaging, couldn’t wait to touch. And not just physically, which was what really disconcerted him.
He wanted to touch her from the inside out, which made no fucking sense at all. “Good luck today,” he said. “I hope you get what you want.”
“It’s not what I want. It’s what I require,” she said, and when he arched a brow, she sighed. “Never mind. It’s just one of those things my parents always say. Requirements need to be met before needs.”
He gave her a longer look, beyond the pretty packaging now, and realized she was taut with tension. “You don’t talk much about yourself or your past,” he said.
“Nothing really to talk about.”
“Everyone has something in their past to talk about.”
She lifted a shoulder. “I had a boring childhood.”
She was even better than he was at protecting herself. Interesting. “Doesn’t sound boring, what with the rocket scientist and all…”
Another shrug. And though he hated when people pushed him for answers he didn’t want to give, he couldn’t help but push her. “What about after your childhood?”
Her gaze slid to his. “You mean like college? Jobs? Boyfriends? Which?”
She let out a short laugh. “I went to college in New York. Interned at a big financial institution and got my CPA. Then got a banking job complete with a nice place to live, a few boyfriends, yada yada. My parents were proud. The end. That answer all your questions?”
Not even close. She was suddenly as defensive as hell, and he was good at reading the symptoms and coming up with conclusions. She hadn’t been as happy as she’d wanted to be. “Parental expectations suck.”
This forced another laugh out of her. “A little bit, yeah. But they just want the best for me. They always have.”
Josh knew the value of silence, and he was rewarded when she sighed. “I’m adopted,” she said. “So this whole being an overachieving genius isn’t exactly natural for me.”
He absorbed what she said, and all she didn’t—that she clearly didn’t feel she was equipped with the right genes to be on the same level as her adoptive family. Just the thought of her feeling that way gave him a physical ache in his chest. “I hope that they took into account what your hopes and dreams for yourself were, not just theirs.”
“What they took into account was that my IQ was high enough to do well for myself.”
“They had your IQ tested?” he asked.
“When I was in middle school, to help determine my career path.”
“When you were in middle school,” he repeated. In middle school, Josh’s dad had played football with him, not had his brain tested.
“There’s no time to waste when you have high achieving to do,” she said.
“In middle school?”
“Hey, they love me,” she said. “In their own way.”
“By making you try to be like them?”
“Not exactly like them,” she said. “I never did quite get the hang of science, which was a huge disappointment. And anyway, I wanted to be like them.”
No doubt this was a big part of why she worked so hard at finding the right job now. To please them. To show she deserved the Brooks name.
He didn’t give a shit how smart her family was; he wanted to wrap his hands around their necks and rattle the teeth out of their heads for seeing that the baby they’d adopted had grown into an amazing woman.
“What about you?” she asked. “Did your parents expect a lot from you?”
“They expected me to be happy.”
“Aw.” Her mouth curved into a soft smile. “That’s just about the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard. So are you? Happy?”
Well if that wasn’t the million-dollar question and far too complicated to answer at this hour. Instead, he took the computer case from her and set it on her backseat before opening her driver’s door. The door didn’t stick for him, and she rolled her eyes. “I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re good with your hands,” she said.
His smile heated, and she put her hands to her hot cheeks. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“It’s okay. It’s true. I’m very good with my hands.”
She gave him a laughing shove. “It doesn’t matter how good you are,” she said. “Since we’re not going there.”
Grace looked away, then back into his eyes. “I’ll be back in time to get Toby from the bus stop.”
“Thanks. I got a bunch more calls on the nanny position.”
“Want me to weed out the crazies?” she asked.
“More than I want my next breath.”
She laughed again, and the sound of it made him want to smile. “Let me know if you need anything,” he said.
“What about if you need something?” she asked.
“What if you need anything, Dr. Scott? You’re always the one doing all the caregiving—in your job, here at your house, everywhere. I realize I’m not exactly the best nanny/dog walker, but I’d be happy to help. If you need anything…”
Something actually fluttered in his chest. “You are the perfect nanny/dog walker,” he said. “But I’m not all that great with accepting help.”
Her mouth quirked. “Tell me something I don’t know.” She patted him on the chest, got into her car, and in her sexy suit and heels, drove off.
And on the Eighth day, God created chocolate.
On Monday morning, Grace got up early for a few hours of floral deliveries, and then an hour with Anderson, the local hardware store owner. His bookkeeping system had crashed, and he needed her help. When she asked why he’d called her, he’d said, “because everyone knows you’re the go-to accountant in town.”
She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
She’d just gotten back to Josh’s place and was slipping out of her wedge sandals when she heard the knock at the door. She looked out the glass into the dawn’s purple glow and felt her heart leap.
It was Josh, dressed for his office in dark pants, a dark slate button-down, and a dark edgy expression.
She opened the door, and because they were chronic idiots, they stared at each other before she stepped back to let him in.
He shook his head.
Right. He wasn’t coming in. Because it was a bad idea. Disappointed, she bent to pick up her computer bag, and when she straightened, she collided with Josh.
Who’d apparently changed his mind about coming in. Her hands went to his chest to keep her balance, and the warm strength of him radiated through his shirt. Maybe her hands slid over him, just a little.
Or a lot.
She couldn’t help herself. He had a great chest. Great abs too. He had a six-pack— No, she corrected, her fingers wandering…An eight-pack. And then there were those side muscles, the obliques, the ones that made even smart women stupid.
“Grace.” His voice sounded husky and just a little tight as he grabbed her hands, making her realize they’d been headed south.
“I’m sorry.” She tried to snatch them free, but he held on. “I guess I’m feeling a little conflicted about what I want here,” she murmured.
“So the mixed signals,” he said. “You’re doing that on purpose?”
“No.” She paused. “Maybe.” She grimaced. “I don’t know.”
“It’s okay, take your time.” He backed her up against the doorjamb. “You just let me know when you decide.”
At the connection of his body to hers from chest to thighs and everything in between, she heard herself whimper in pleasure, the sound shocking in its need and hunger. “Maybe I was hasty about the not-going-there thing,” she whispered. “Maybe the not-going-there thing needs to be temporarily revisited.”
His eyes were still dark. Still edgy. “You have my undivided attention.”
Actually, she didn’t. His hands were gliding down her legs and back up again, beneath the hem of her skirt now.
No kidding. His fingers. Lord, his fingers. “Kiss me,” she managed. “That’ll help me figure this out—”
She hadn’t even finished the sentence before he’d lowered his head and covered her mouth with his. Gentle. Then not so gentle, and when she kissed him back, she felt the growl reverberate deep inside his chest, a soulful, hungry sound that made her go damp.