Nolan thought it over for a moment. “Never mind, no point in telling you.”
Other steaming dishes arrived—prawns with cashew nuts, then ginger beef and barbecued pork, each accompanied by small bowls of rice until virtually every inch of the small table was covered.
“You were telling me about your week,” Maryanne reminded him, reaching for the dish in the centre of the crowded table.
“No, I wasn’t,” Nolan retorted.
With a scornful sigh, Maryanne passed him the chicken. “All right, have it your way.”
“You’re going to needle me to death until you find out what I’m working on in my spare time, aren’t you?”
“Of course not.” If he didn’t want her to know, then fine, she had no intention of asking again. Acting as nonchalant as possible, she helped herself to a thick slice of the pork. She dipped it into a small dish of hot mustard, which proved to be a bit more potent than she’d expected; her eyes started to water.
Mumbling under his breath, Nolan handed her his napkin. “Here.”
“I’m all right.” She wiped the moisture from her eyes and blinked a couple of times before picking up her water glass. Once she’d composed herself, she resumed their previous discussion. “On the contrary, Mr. Adams, whatever project so intensely occupies your time is your own concern.”
“Spoken like a true aristocrat.”
“Obviously you don’t care to share it with me.”
He gave an exaggerated sigh. “It’s a novel,” he said. “There now, are you satisfied?”
“A novel,” she repeated coolly. “Really. And all along, I thought you were taking in typing jobs on the side.”
He glared at her, but the edges of his mouth turned up in a reluctant grin. “I don’t want to talk about the plot, all right? I’m afraid that would water it down.”
“I understand perfectly.”
“Damn it all, Annie, would you stop looking at me with those big blue eyes of yours? I already feel guilty as hell without you smiling serenely at me and trying to act so blasé.”
“Guilty about what?”
He expelled his breath sharply. “Listen,” he said in a low voice, leaning toward her. “As much as I hate to admit this, you’re right. It’s none of my business where you work or how many nails you break or how much you’re paid. But damn it all, I’m worried about you.”
She raised her chopsticks in an effort to stop him. “It seems to me I’ve heard this argument before. Actually, it’s getting downright boring.”
Nolan dropped his voice even lower. “You’ve been sheltered all your life. I know you don’t want me to feel responsible for what you’re doing—or for you. And I wish I didn’t. Unfortunately I can’t help it. Believe me, I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. Every night I lie awake wondering what trouble you’re going to get into next. I don’t know what’s going to happen first—you working yourself to death, or me getting an ulcer.”
Maryanne’s gaze fell to her hands, and the uneven length of her once perfectly uniform fingernails. “They are rather pitiful, aren’t they?”
Nolan glanced at them and grimaced. “As a personal favor to me would you consider giving up the job at Rent-A-Maid?” He ran his fingers through his hair, sighing heavily. “It doesn’t come easy to ask you this, Annie. If for no other reason, do it because you owe me a favor for finding you the apartment. But for heaven’s sake, quit that job.”
She didn’t answer him right away. She wanted to do as he asked, because she was falling in love with him. Because she craved his approval. Yet she wanted to reject his entreaties, flout his demands. Because he made her feel confused and contrary and full of unpredictable emotions.
“If it’ll do any good, I’ll promise not to interfere again,” he said, his voice so quiet it was almost a whisper. “If you’ll quit Rent-a-Maid.”
“As a personal favor to you,” she repeated, nodding slowly. So much for refusing to be swayed by dinner and a few well-chosen words.
Their eyes met and held for a long moment. Deliberately, as though it went against his will, Nolan reached out and brushed an auburn curl from her cheek. His touch was light yet strangely intimate, as intimate as a kiss. His fingers lingered on her cheek and it was all Maryanne could do not to cover his hand with her own and close her eyes to savor the wealth of sensations that settled around her.
Nolan’s dark eyes narrowed, and she could tell he was struggling. She could read it in every line, every feature of his handsome face. But struggling against what? She could only speculate. He didn’t want to be attracted to her; that much was obvious.
As if he needed to break contact with her eyes, he lowered his gaze to her mouth. Whether it was intentional or not, Maryanne didn’t know, but his thumb inched closer to her lips, easing toward the corner. Then, with an abrupt movement, he pulled his hand away and returned to his meal, eating quickly and methodically.
Maryanne tried to eat, but her own appetite was gone. Wong Su refused payment although Nolan tried to insist. Instead the elderly man said something in Chinese that sent every eye in the place straight to Maryanne. She smiled benignly, wondering what he could possibly have said that would make the great Nolan Adams blush.
The drive back to the apartment was even more silent than the one to the restaurant had been. Maryanne considered asking Nolan exactly what Wong Su had said just before they’d left, but she thought better of it.
They took their time walking up the four flights of stairs. “Will you come in for coffee?” Maryanne asked when they arrived at her door.
“I can’t tonight,” Nolan said after several all-too-quiet moments.
“I don’t bite, you know.” His eyes didn’t waver from hers. The attraction was there—she could feel it as surely as she had his touch at dinner.
“I’d like to finish my chapter.”
So he was going to close her out once again. “Don’t work too hard,” she said, opening the apartment door. Her disappointment was keen, but she managed to disguise it behind a shrug. “Thank you for dinner. It was delicious.”
Nolan thrust his hands into his pockets. It might have been her imagination, but she thought he did it to keep from reaching for her. The idea comforted her ego and she smiled up at him warmly.
She was about to close the door when he stopped her. “Yes?” she asked.
His eyes were as piercing and dark as she’d ever seen them. “My typing. Does it keep you awake nights?”
“No,” she told him and shook her head for emphasis. “The book must be going well.”
He nodded, then sighed. “Listen, would it be possible…” He paused and started again. “Are you busy tomorrow night? I’ve got two tickets to the Seattle Repertory Theatre and I was wondering…”
“I’d love to go,” she said eagerly, before he’d even finished the question.
Judging by the expression on his face, the invitation seemed to be as much a surprise to him as it was to her. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Right,” she answered brightly. “Tomorrow.”
The afternoon was glorious, with just the right mixture of wind and sunshine. Hands clasped behind her back, Maryanne strolled across the grass of Volunteer Park, kicking up leaves as she went. She’d spent the morning researching an article she hoped to sell to a local magazine and she was taking a break.
The basketball court was occupied by several teenage boys, a couple of whom she recognized from the day she’d moved. With time on her hands and an afternoon to enjoy, Maryanne paused to watch the hotly contested game. Sitting on a picnic table, she swung her legs, content to laze away the sunny afternoon. Everything was going so well. With hardly any difficulty she’d found another job. Nolan probably wasn’t going to approve of this one, either, but that was just too bad.
“Hi.” A girl of about thirteen, wearing a jean jacket and tight black stretch leggings, strolled up to the picnic table. “You’re with Mr. Adams, aren’t you?”
Maryanne would’ve liked to think so, but she didn’t feel she could describe it quite that way. “What makes you ask that?”
“You moved in with him, didn’t you?”
“Not exactly. I live in the apartment next door.”
“I didn’t believe Eddie when he said Mr. Adams had a woman. He’s never had anyone live with him before. He’s just not the type, if you know what I mean.”
Maryanne did know. She was learning not to take his attitude toward her personally. The better acquainted she became with Nolan, the more clearly she realized that he considered all women a nuisance. The first night they met, he’d mentioned that he’d been in love once, but his tone had been so casual it implied this romance was merely a long-ago mistake. He’d talked about the experience as if it meant little or nothing to him. Maryanne wasn’t sure she believed that.
“Mr. Adams is a really neat guy. All the kids like him a lot.” The girl smiled, suggesting she was one of his legion of admirers. “I’m Gloria Masterson.”
Maryanne held out her hand. “Maryanne Simpson.”
Gloria smiled shyly. “If you don’t live with him, are you his girlfriend?”
“Not really. We’re just friends.”
“That’s what he said when I asked him about you.”
“Oh.” It wasn’t as though she could expect him to admit anything more.
“Mr. Adams comes around every now and then and talks to us kids in the park. I think he’s checking up on us and making sure no one’s into drugs or gangs.”
Maryanne smiled. That sounded exactly like the kind of thing Nolan would do.
“Only a few kids around here are that stupid, but you know, I think a couple of the boys might’ve been tempted to try something if it wasn’t for Mr. Adams.”
“Hey, Gloria.” A lanky boy from the basketball court called out. “Come here, woman.”
Gloria sighed loudly, then shouted. “Just a minute.” She turned back to Maryanne. “I’m really not Eddie’s woman. He just likes to think so.”
Maryanne smiled. She wished she could say the same thing about her and Nolan. “It was nice to meet you, Gloria. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“That’d be great.”
“Gloria,” Eddie shouted, “are you coming or not?”
The teenage girl shook her head. “I don’t know why I put up with him.”
Maryanne left the park soon afterward. The first thing she noticed when she got home was an envelope taped to her door.
She waited until she was inside the apartment to open it, and as she did a single ticket and a note slipped out. “I’m going to be stuck at the office,” the note read. “The curtain goes up at eight—don’t be late. N.”
Maryanne was mildly disappointed that Nolan wouldn’t be driving her to the play, but she decided to splurge and take a taxi. By seven-thirty, when the cab arrived, she was dressed and ready. She wore her best evening attire, a long black velvet skirt and matching blazer with a cream-colored silk blouse. She’d even put on her pearl earrings and cameo necklace.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com