"What's this about stripping clothes off your boyfriend?" Dorothy wanted to know, and everyone laughed at the even deeper flush that covered Suzanne's pretty face.
When she turned to ask Jean if she had any advice for Suzanne about how to best begin her new knitting project, Christie was surprised to realize Liam's grandmother had left the store.
Had her questions about the inn driven Jean away?
Liam could have left the inn's front desk after dinner, but he figured it was just as easy to look through the final contracts that would turn over his venture-capital business here as it would be in the back office or his upstairs suite.
And it meant he'd be certain that Christie got in safely tonight. Just because Summer Lake was a safe small town didn't mean exceptions didn't happen. Especially if there was an angry ex waiting in the wings for a woman that he thought should be his.
The inn's front door opened, and when Liam saw her come inside, relief swept through him. "Cold out there, isn't it?"
She jumped. "Oh! I didn't expect you to be out here still." With a frown, she said, "I should have told you that we don't usually man the front desk after everyone is seated for dinner, unless we know there's going to be a late arrival."
The soft sound of her words fluttered across his skin as he drank in her beauty. He gestured to his paperwork. "I was fine working here."
She was in the process of taking off her down coat when her fingers stilled on the zipper, and she lifted her gaze back to his. "Were you waiting up for me?"
"I had to make sure you got home okay."
The way she looked at him then--with an equal measure of surprise and pleasure--made something inside his chest squeeze tight. Something that felt like the heart he'd always been so careful to keep locked up.
Her words were so soft that the only reason he knew they'd been there at all was because he couldn't take his eyes off her. The windblown silk of her hair. The flush of color on her cheeks. And the lush lips that made him want, more than anything, to steal a kiss.
If only to know that her fire burned as hot and bright as it did in his imagination.
Christie was exhausted, but even taking a long, hot bath and knitting row after row of the soft cashmere slip couldn't make her eyes close, or her brain turn off. She hated the horrible things Mark had said. And yet, what really had her sleepless in Summer Lake was that despite knowing how hesitant she should be to let a man near her heart after that awful conversation with her ex, she couldn't stop thinking about Liam. And that one perfect smile he'd given her the previous day.
One smile shouldn't mean so much.
But it did.
Just as it had touched her that he'd waited up for her tonight, to make sure she got home safely on the frozen streets.
As the numbers on her bedside clock flipped over from twelve to one and then two, she figured she should make progress with her to-do list for the festival. It was only when she stabbed herself with her pen one too many times that she finally gave in and threw it down. Climbing up into her bed, she turned off the lamp on the bedside table and closed her eyes.
But she still couldn't sleep, darn it!
God forbid that she shouldn't be at the top of her game tomorrow around Liam. Lord only knew how he'd manage to take advantage of her weakness.
Maybe he'd steal a kiss.
No! She sat up in bed and turned the light back on. How could she sleep if that was the kind of nonsense her brain was going to spit out at her? She was most certainly not going to kiss Liam. Not tomorrow morning. Not ever.
Just as she was repeating the vow to herself, she heard an awful wailing sound. Her first impression was that she was listening to a broken heart come to life. But the practical part of her had her jumping out of bed to figure out where the sound was coming from. If one of her guests was in pain, she needed to help him or her.
But when she rushed out of the bedroom, the sound got softer. Frowning, she stopped and turned. Her earlier conversation with Jean playing around the corners of her mind, she took a few steps back toward the bedroom.
Yes, the wailing was definitely getting louder.
What on earth was going on here? A strange cold patch was something she could accept. But strange sounds?
This was way too weird.
It had to be an animal, probably caught up between the ceiling rafters and the shingles on the roof. She was just reaching for her jeans to put on over the camisole and silk shorts she'd worn to bed, when she heard a key in her lock.
The door flew open, and Liam rushed inside. "Christie, are you okay?"
She'd never seen him in jeans, let alone without a shirt. Oh my. The sight of all those muscles, along with his rumpled hair and the dark shadow of stubble on his face, did funny things to her. Sending a rush of heat through her and goose bumps all across her skin at the same time. Along with making her mouth water...
"I'm fine," she said in a voice that was far more breathless than she'd intended. But she wasn't sure he heard her, because instead of stopping in his tracks and apologizing for barging into her locked suite, he had one hand on her shoulder and the other running over her forehead, brushing back her hair as if he were looking for bruises.
"Liam, I'm okay," she said again.
At last, his eyes locked on hers, and he seemed to hear her. Abruptly, he dropped his hands and took a step back. "I heard noises." His voice sounded raw. As if he was still working to fight back his fear that something might have happened to her. "I thought someone was hurting you."
"It freaked me out at first too." Honestly, she still didn't feel quite steady. But she wasn't sure if that was because of the noises...or because of how good it felt when Liam touched her. "I was worried it was one of the guests, but then I realized the sound is loudest in my bedroom." She looked toward her bedroom door, and when she turned back to Liam, his eyes were darker and filled with something that made her feel warm all over.
Suddenly, she remembered he wasn't the only one who hadn't had time to pull on clothes. Frankly, it was lucky she'd been wearing any at all. Imagine if he'd come in and found her naked.
Although the truth was that even without being completely naked, she could still feel him notice her. Really notice her, in a way that made every part of her tingle with heightened awareness.
But before she could grab her robe, he was saying, "Stay in here while I check things out," and heading for her bedroom.
Of course she wasn't going to do that. This was not only her room, but she also managed the inn. If something was amiss, it was her job to figure out what it was, no matter how messy the situation.
Quickly moving to his side, while simultaneously trying to ignore the sexy images that began flooding her mind from nothing more than being with Liam in her bedroom, she said, "I was thinking it might be an animal stuck in the ceiling."
He didn't look particularly surprised that she hadn't stayed out of the way. "Maybe. Although there isn't much space up there between the roof and the ceiling." He looked around the room again. "Whatever it was, it certainly isn't making any noise now."
"It's almost like it knew you were here," she said, thinking out loud, "because that's right when it stopped." She looked down at the keys dangling from his fingers and added, "Which wasn't exactly the use I had in mind for the master set when I gave them to you yesterday."
"You know I respect your privacy, but I couldn't stand the thought that someone might be hurting you."
"I'm fine," she gently reminded him, putting her hand on his arm without thinking.
As heat seared her again, she knew she should move back, knew that touching him in the middle of the night when they were both barely dressed wasn't smart. But moving away from him suddenly felt like one of the hardest things she'd ever done.
Especially with the low rumble of his words--I couldn't stand the thought that someone might be hurting you--washing through her senses
, making her powerfully aware of the attraction still coursing between them.
Desperately, she worked to remind herself that she knew exactly where tumbling into bed with Liam Kane would get her. Yes, there'd be pleasure. She wasn't naive enough to think there wouldn't be. But there would be infinitely more heartache.
Along with an immediate search for a new job. In a new town.
But with her brain--and heart--still stuck on imagining what his kiss would taste like, she was flustered enough to blurt out, "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"
"I assumed you had the heat cranked on high."
"I do," she said with a shake of her head, "but it never works in this room. Usually, it's really cold, but only in the bedroom. When I mentioned it to your grandmother, she said this room had been closed off for sixty years. Did you know that?"
"I knew it hadn't been used in a while, but I didn't realize it was that long."