But would it be better for both of them if she did? If she just turned around and went away again? If she had never come back at all?
Calvin walked Denise out, then came up to the counter and leaned against it, looking even better by day than he had last night. Sarah had always loved the way his dark hair curled a little bit at the nape of his neck, the faint hint of stubble that always magically appeared at five p.m., the long eyelashes on such a masculine face.
And here she'd thought she would be better prepared to see him now that the first shock was past. Good one.
"Sarah, I'm glad you're here." He ran a hand through his hair, leaving the dark strands sticking up just enough that she had to grip the edge of the cash register to prevent herself from reaching out and smoothing them down. "I was sitting in an Adirondack Council meeting today, and I was missing pretty much everything I needed to hear because I couldn't stop thinking about you. About the things I said to you last night. I was out of line. That's why I needed to come here today, needed to see you again to make sure that you don't hate me."
"Of course I don't hate you." How could she possibly hate someone she'd once loved so much? She forced herself to meet his gaze head on. "But that doesn't mean I'm backing down on the project."
He looked as tired as she felt. So much for the peaceful lake town where you could let your cares drift away. Not one of them was getting any sleep in Summer Lake.
"I didn't expect you to," he said. "Here's the thing, I know we didn't exactly see eye to eye last night."
She raised an eyebrow at that stupendous understatement. "There was practically blood."
He winced. "Again, I'm a total jerk."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," she said with a small smile. "Total might be taking it too far."
It was good to see him grin, and despite the words that had been shot out across a scratched-up table at the Tavern last night, Sarah knew she wasn't ready to lose him as a friend. Not when she'd only just found him again.
"When you said we should talk about the past," he continued, "you were right. I can see that now. We can't pretend nothing happened when we were eighteen. It's just that I swear I didn't realize it had affected me like that."
Appreciating his honesty, she found herself admitting, "Me either."
"Once we've hashed through everything, said whatever needs to be said, we can leave the past in the past. Where it belongs. You weren't the one making things personal last night. It was me, Sarah. I shouldn't have done that. I won't do it again."
He sounded so sensible now, so different from the man who had been coming at her last night, all emotion and unavoidable feelings. Sarah knew she shouldn't be wanting the intense, difficult Calvin back. But a part of her did.
Because then at least she had known he cared.
No. That was crazy. Of course she was happy that they weren't at a total impasse, that he was willing to discuss the condos with her in greater detail without it becoming a big, heated fight where one of them ended up storming out.
He cleared his throat, looking a little nervous. "So I was thinking, what if we each get one night to try to make our point about the condos?"
Her brain--and body--immediately spun away from condos and proposals and sensible discussions to other nights full of kisses, full of so much more than just kisses. When he had taken her out into the forest in the middle of summer, where it was only the two of them and the moonlight and the stars above, as they stripped away each other's clothes and lay on the soft blanket he'd brought. Where they'd made each other feel so good, so full of pleasure, so happy.
"Give me one night to remind you of everything that's good about Summer Lake," he urged her in that deep voice that had always sent shivers of need running through her, head to toe. "What do you say? Will you give me that, Sarah? And then I'll give you the same, to show me whatever you want."
Was that yearning in his voice? Or was she just imagining it was there because that was what she suddenly wanted to hear?
"When?" The word came out a little breathlessly.
"How about I take tonight and you take tomorrow night?"
The longing to be with him swelled within her, swift and overpowering, causing all of her emotions to swirl around inside her chest, right behind her breastbone. Still, she tried with everything she had to tell herself it was the businesswoman saying, "Okay, one night for each of us."
And not the flesh and blood woman inside.
As nervous as Sarah was about spending another evening with Calvin, she had to smile when she realized where he was taking her. "I haven't been to a football field since high school." The new coach was putting the kids through their paces when they arrived. "Funny, it looks exactly the same."
Calvin grimaced. "No kidding. We're in desperate need of an overhaul. But hey, it still does the job. And the kids still love it. The town still shows up every Friday night. One day we'll get there with something a little shinier."
Looking more carefully, she saw that the bleachers had seen better days--way better, if the rust stains on the seats and beams were anything to go by. The goalposts were pretty beaten up too. The seed of an idea flashed into her mind, a way she might be able to help, and Sarah made a mental note to think more about it later.
She took a seat on the least-dented row, only to jump up with a small shriek. It was like sitting on an ice cube. The wind had picked up since they'd left the store too, and she barely held back a shiver. "I didn't expect it to be that cold."
"Let's try this instead." Calvin laid out the blanket he'd brought over two seats. "I should have known you'd be cold, that you wouldn't be dressed for lake weather."
Sitting on the blanket, Sarah suddenly felt self-conscious, as though her dress was all wrong, the same dress she had put on that morning for an extra dash of confidence, to try to ground herself in who she really was. Only, now she was a greenhorn who didn't know how to "dress for lake weather."
"If I'd known this was where we were going, I would have changed into something else."
Obviously reading between the lines, Calvin said, "You look really good. I've always loved you in blue." But even as he complimented her, he looked irritated. "It's my fault. I should have thought this through better." He tucked the blanket up and around her shoulders and over her lap, until she was completely cocooned in thick wool. "Fortunately, I did think to bring this." He pulled a Thermos of hot cocoa out of his bag and poured her a cup.
When was the last time a man had worried about her? When was the last time a man had cared about something as simple as whether she was warm or thirsty?
"Hey, Calvin, awesome to see you out here!" one of the kids called. "Any chance you can come run some drills with us?"
Calvin grinned. "Howie, meet Sarah."
The teenager said hi, and she remembered being that young once, when the entire world was her oyster. Neither she nor Calvin had had any idea that it would all implode in the blink of an eye.
"We're just here as spectators tonight, Howie," Calvin told him. "I'll work with you guys later in the week, okay?"
But Sarah needed a little space, a little time to catch her breath and figure out an ironclad way to control her reaction to Calvin. "Go run drills."
Seeing the way the boy's eyes lit up--Calvin was clearly his hero--made her feel even more confident that she was doing the right thing by sending him out onto the football field.
"I'm here for you tonight," he said. "Not them."
But she didn't want to hold him back, not when she knew that these kids were far more important to him now than she could ever be. "I'm fine. Really. It'll give me some quiet time in the great outdoors. With helping out at the store, I haven't had much of that since I've been back." Heck, she hadn't had much of that since she'd left at eighteen. She spent most of her time inside either her office or apartment, usually in front of a computer.
For the next hour, she watched Calvin yell, laug
h, and run with the team, and she was almost seventeen again, watching him, so young, so beautiful, as he would catch a touchdown pass, grinning up at her in the bleachers where she sat just like this, under a blanket with a Thermos of hot chocolate.
But she wasn't a young girl anymore. And not only was he a man who had weathered far more than he should have--she was also making the mistake of finding him a thousand times more beautiful.
How could she not, given the way he focused completely on the kids, singling them out one by one? How the boys almost seemed to grow bigger from Calvin's attention, whether it was his hand on their elbow as he corrected a throw or because he'd just shown them exactly how to evade the defense.
Calvin had a very rare, very special gift: He made you feel like he cared. Her father had done that too; every politician did, but it was different with Calvin.
Sarah didn't like the way her thoughts were going, didn't like admitting to herself that her father's attention had almost always come with an ulterior motive, whereas Calvin simply cared because of who he was.
That was why she had fallen in love with him so long ago.
And why she was having so many problems with her feelings now.
Even when they were kids, he was the only person who had ever made her think about staying in Summer Lake. He was the only one who could have made her even consider giving up her dreams.
She shifted so suddenly on the bleachers that the blanket half fell off her lap.
Oh no. That was what this feeling was. It was happening again. All over again. Just one night with him at the Tavern--even a night that had been full of fighting rather than romance--had her crumbling, about to deviate from her carefully laid plans.