He was so wrong for her! He must have women literally falling at his feet. The top-ten bachelor article had hinted he enjoyed playing the field, that he was a man who didn’t form commitments. She refused to be a toppled domino in the long line behind him. Besides, he just wanted to talk to her. He wanted information, not drinks and dinner. Or more. Right?
She found her voice. “No, I’m not cold.”
He reached out, took her hands, and rubbed them furiously, frowning.
“You’re like ice. We should’ve met inside.”
His warmth seeped into her hands and leaped to her belly, igniting a low blaze. Startled, she pulled her hands back. She couldn’t get sucked in by his charm. “I’m fine. But let’s get out of the cold.”
He firmly took back one of her escaped hands and started into the gallery with the ugly watercolor in its window. She dug in her heels, eyeing the creepy painting, and pulling back on their clasped hands. His brows briefly narrowed.
“Not this gallery. Let’s head down the street.”
He’d kept a firm hand on her most of the evening.
It was her size, Jack rationalized. Even in high-heeled boots, she barely reached his shoulder, and it was bringing out the protector in him. He’d already shouldered one slightly drunken klutz to keep the idiot from plowing her over. Or maybe it was the cold. He’d had a brief moment of guilt when he first spotted her on the sidewalk, with her collar up around her neck and hugging herself like she was frozen. He should have insisted they meet in a restaurant or bar.
Lacey stopped their progress to study the name over an art gallery door. “Damn it. Stuart told me which gallery his sculptures were in, but now I can’t remember.” Glancing at a small green street sign, she exhaled in frustration. “We’re on the right street. Hopefully we’ll stumble across him, because I promised I’d come see his stuff. I had no idea there are so many different galleries. How many art galleries does one city need?” she muttered.
That was perfectly fine with Jack. He didn’t mind wandering. It gave him more time to talk to her, study her, get to know her. They’d rapidly discovered they had one thing in common; the art scene wasn’t the place for them. Pushing crowds and pontificating gallery owners and buyers ruined the enjoyment of simply studying the original pieces. He hadn’t brought up his police interview yet, putting it off as long as possible. The longer he delayed it, the more time he had to be next to her.
She used her hands when she talked. And her eyes. Her brown eyes sparkled in rhythm with her hands when she was happy. He tried to keep her talking, talking about anything. Her voice was warm, and she frequently sounded like she was about to laugh. He liked it.
They pushed through the doors of a coffee shop, stomping the frozen slush from their feet. He watched her run a hand over her hair, almost absently. Not frantically searching out a mirror, like some women would after the wind. She looked perfect. The cold had turned her cheeks pink, and her brown eyes were bright. She’d left her hair down and loose tonight. Before, he’d only seen it pulled back into a ponytail. It was long and gently wavy, with all shades of blonde from dark honey to polished gold. His hands ached to touch.
“I’m dying for coffee. I don’t care what it tastes like as long as it’s hot.” She shivered.
He moved the two of them into the line, happy to wait. From the length of the line apparently the rest of Portland needed coffee too.
He stood behind her, subtly resting his hands on her shoulders as he studied the board. He stiffened slightly. There was that scent from Saturday morning, and it wasn’t from the lattes and mochas. He bent over slightly to sniff at Lacey’s hair and closed his eyes. She smelled like a bakery. Cinnamon, vanilla, and honey all tickled his nose. Delicious. It suited her.
His eyes popped open as her shoulders jerked. Had she caught him smelling her hair?
Lacey’s focus was on a couple leaving the front of the line with their drinks. They were midthirties and dressed for the cold. The woman was blonde and angular with a sour expression. The man with her was the same height, but he had an anxious look that suggested years of tiptoeing around his mate’s moods. Jack watched the man’s steps slow as he spotted Lacey; his expression darkened as he moved his gaze over her head to meet Jack’s.
Lacey sucked in a sharp breath, and Jack felt a quiver travel up his arms from where his hands rested on her. He tightened his grip on her shoulders, reacting to the challenge in the other man’s eyes.
Who the fuck was that?
Lacey couldn’t believe it.
Three hundred coffee shops in Portland and he had to walk into hers. Well, to be honest, he’d been here first. But the amended movie quote stuck in her head. She’d lasted more than a year without running into this man. Why tonight of all nights?
Jack tightened his fingers on her shoulders, and she thanked the stars for his presence. This was a confrontation where she needed a hot guy at her back. A tall, hot guy. And his possessive hands on her shoulders were perfect.
“Dr. Campbell.” Frank spoke like she were filth.
Some things never change.
Anger flared, but she gave a cool smile.
“Frank.” She turned to the scowling woman at Frank’s side. “Celeste.” The other woman said nothing, ignoring Lacey as she sized up Jack. Her sour expression faded into a simpering, admiring smile. Dream on. Lacey didn’t know which one of the couple she disliked more.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jack briefly stare at Celeste then turn his gaze back to Frank. He said nothing.