“Better than I expected.” She sliced a cherry tomato in half. “Are you waiting for an explanation for my supposed melancholy?”
“Nope. The more time we spend together, the better my chance to figure it out myself. Besides, I’ve got two chances left to wow you with my insight into you.”
“You’re not as quick to anger as you used to be.”
“What makes you say that?”
Funny how she’d snapped that question at him. “You only punched me once when I ambushed you at the Twin Pines.” He smirked. “Before? You’d’ve gotten at least another shot in.”
“That doesn’t count because I was shocked to see you and off my game.”
Dalton lifted an eyebrow.
Rory fidgeted. “I’ll admit I have mellowed some.”
“Got you down cold, don’t I?”
“Don’t get cocky, McKay. You still have one answer to go.”
“You marked an occasion in your life with a tattoo.”
Her mouth fell open. “How did you know that?”
“I didn’t. But I suspected.” Dalton leaned forward. “What is it? A heart? A flower? A butterfly? An Asian symbol?”
“I’m not telling you. And since that is a cosmetic change, it doesn’t count. Try again.”
“I noticed you stopped biting your nails.”
He watched as she automatically curled her fingers into her palms. “You’ve always had ripped cuticles and short nails. Now you don’t.”
The waitress delivered their main course and conversation ceased. It wasn’t uncomfortable silence, just contemplative.
They must’ve been hungry because the food disappeared fast.
“Now before you start in on the changes in me, I want you to tell me three things about you that I don’t know. Big. Small. Funny.” He flashed her a grin. “Sexy.”
“Oh, I can do sexy.” She lowered her voice to a throaty purr. “I like to wear matching lingerie. Doesn’t have to be the high-end stuff, but my bra and my panties have to match.” She took a quick look around the restaurant before she started to undo the buttons on her blouse. “Today I wanted to feel feminine so I chose this red number.” Watching his avid eyes, she let her finger trace the satin piping of the bra cup across the mound of her breast.
Dalton made a low sound in the back of his throat.
“In spite of the pretty packaging, this one offers a lot of support. Which makes the girls beg to be noticed.” Rory kept gliding her finger up and down over the swell.
“I’m likin’ this bolder side of you, Rory.” He gazed into her eyes. “Is it just a tease or is it real?”
“What do you mean?”
“What would you do if I sat beside you and ran my tongue along that line? Would you push me away? Or would you arch your back and offer me more?” Dalton leaned forward. “Would you let me slip my hand into your pants so I could see for myself that your panties matched your bra?”
Flustered, Rory buttoned up her blouse. “I’ll save you the trouble. It’s a red thong.”
Not so bold after all, are you, sweetheart? But you wanna be and I can work with that.
They stared at each other, both of them breathing hard. There’d never been this intensity between them before. Not even the times they’d been naked together.
“What are you thinkin’ about, jungle girl?”
“Underwear,” she blurted. “Whether you wear boxers or briefs.”
“Boxers. Tell me something else about you I don’t know.”
She paused. “I teach a yoga class at the community center on Monday nights.”
“Yoga, huh? Did you learn that from your mom?”
Rory rolled her eyes. “She can’t stand still long enough. I enrolled in a class in college, loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since. Got my teacher’s certificate just for fun. There weren’t any classes available here so I started one.”
“So technically you’re not down to one job if you’re still teaching yoga.”
“Teaching yoga isn’t a job. It saves my sanity.”
“Anyone can come to your class?”
Dalton shrugged. “Never tried it. Might be interesting.”
“Challenging,” she corrected.
He shoved his plate aside. “Tell me something you haven’t told anyone.”
“Why are we still playing twenty questions?”
“You claimed we don’t know each other. I’m aiming to learn everything I can about you. So quit stalling. Answer the question.”
“Some days I feel like a prisoner to my college degrees and wish I would’ve done another field of study.” She froze. “Shit. Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. Forget it.”
“Hey.” Dalton picked up her hand. “You don’t have to apologize or pretend with me. I won’t tell anyone what we’ve talked about.”
Her defiant gaze burned into him. “Like you kept the secret about my mom’s financial troubles when she ran the B&B? Oh, right, you went running to Tell with that information as soon as possible. And you also told your cousin Ben. So I’d really rather you forgot what I just said because I don’t need my boss getting wind of my feelings because of your loose lips.”
Dalton had clenched his teeth so hard the muscle on the left side of his jaw rippled.
He collected himself and while he did that, he ran the ragged edge of his thumb over her knuckles in a soothing manner. Was he calming her down? Or himself?
Keep focused. She’s baiting you to see if you lose your cool like you used to.
“How about I ignore that outburst and tell you three differences about me. I can claim I’ve changed until I’m blue in the face and you still won’t believe me, which is why I’m gonna prove it.
“First off, I don’t blab all to my family. I hadn’t done that for a while even before I left here. And yes, that is one claim I can prove. My brothers didn’t know I’d been livin’ in Montana.”
“Were you mad at them or something?”
“No. I just liked havin’ my own thing, my own space. Far as they knew I was a wanderer. Second—”
“You’re a deliberate thinker,” Rory interjected. “You used to say the first thing that popped into your head. Now you factor other things into your response instead of just blurting out whatever you want.”
Dalton grinned. Then he kissed her hand. “You noticed. Awesome.”
“How long did it take you to change that about yourself?”
“Still an ongoing process. I got tired of bein’ known as a loudmouth. It’s amazing how much more I’ve learned when I shut my mouth and listen.”
“Lastly…” Rory tapped her fingers on the table and studied his face. “You don’t need to be surrounded by people. You’re not afraid to be by yourself. You can’t deny that you never liked your own company. I always knew when your brothers or cousins didn’t want to hang out with you because you came looking for me.”
“While you’re right about me learning to like bein’ by myself and letting go of the circus of fools that surrounded me all the time, you’re wrong about the last thing. You never were my last choice, Rory. Then or now.”
That flustered her.
“Would either of you care for dessert?” the waitress asked.
“What are the choices?”
“Pumpkin cheesecake, apple strudel pie, lemon honey cake, peanut butter pie, chocolate caramel brownie. Or we’ve got ice cream.”
Rory’s eyes took on a devious gleam. “Sugar pie, honey bun, doll face, knowing my tastes so well, which dessert would you pick for me?”
A challenge. “Depends on if you’re planning on sharing or if this is just strictly your treat.”
“Ah, there pops out the mine demand of an only child. So I’ll say…the peanut butter pie.”
Her look of surprise was classic.
Dalton smiled at the waitress. “But go ahead and bring us two forks.”
“How did you know?” she demanded. “Was it just a lucky guess?”
He kissed the inside of her wrist. “Nope.”
“Let go of my hand.”
That demand only made him slide his lips farther up to nibble on the soft inner flesh of her forearm.
“You are trying to fluster me, aren’t you?”
“Yep.” But she didn’t remove her hand from his. “So I believe it was my turn to tell you three things about me that you don’t know. Big. Small. Funny.” He sank his teeth into the base of her thumb. “Sexy.”
Rory made a soft noise.
“Here’s a small thing. I keep a hundred dollar bill in my truck and another one folded up in my wallet. I’ve never used them but they’re there if I need them.”
“Is that because you didn’t have enough money for something at one time and it embarrassed you?”
“I can’t trace it to a specific incident, but probably.”
“Interesting.” She pulled their joined hands closer and rubbed her lips across his knuckles. The entire side of his body broke out in goose bumps. “Tell me something sexy, McKay.”
“How sexy we talkin’?”
“As explicit as you wanna get.”
“When I was in Amsterdam, I hired a lesbian prostitute. For twenty-four hours she taught me everything about sexually satisfying a woman. And I mean everything.”
Her eyes widened. Her mouth opened and closed. Then she said, “Are you serious?”
She dropped his hand. “That was…”
“No, it was not!”
“Come on, Rory. Admit it’s a little funny.”