And then she was looking at him the way she always used to, her mouth slightly open, her lower lip damp from where she'd licked it, and he couldn't stop himself from shifting closer--
One of the kids ran by blowing a whistle, and both he and Sarah jumped apart.
He hadn't come here to try to woo Sarah back into his life. He'd come here to remind her of why this small town was so great, so simple and pure. He'd thought he was smarter than this, that there was no way he was going to allow himself to be swept back up into her.
Suddenly, though, he wasn't sure he had it in him to keep holding out, to keep hanging back. Which wasn't a good thing at all, because thanks to his brilliant suggestion earlier, he still owed her a night.
One night that just might make him break every vow he'd made about staying away from her in the past ten years.
"It's getting pretty cold out." Even to his own ears, his voice didn't sound quite right. A little strangled as he tried to push back his desire. His longing for her. "I'll take you back home."
As she helped him clean up the food and neatly folded the blanket into a perfect square, even as he tried to tell himself that he was glad they'd escaped potential danger, he couldn't push back the regret at how her previously open expression--when she was talking about her family's store, when it looked like she was leaning in for his kiss--had completely shut down.
And he couldn't deny that being this close to her, and yet so far away, made him miss her more than he ever had before.
Minutes later, he parked in front of her house and got out to walk her inside.
"You don't have to walk me to the door."
"Of course I do." Didn't the guys she dated walk her in at the end of the night?
The thought stopped him cold. One, because this wasn't a date. And two, because the thought of Sarah going on a date with some stranger made him sick to his stomach.
Because she should have been his.
"Your night." She paused to give him a half smile, clearly a little nervous but clearly determined to be strong anyway. "It was a good one. Thank you for sharing it with me. And I wanted to let you know, it would be great if your sister came with us tomorrow night. You've already been away from her the past two nights. I need to get my project details ironed out, but I understand that you have a family."
Sarah was right. He didn't ever spend this much time away from his sister. But Jordan liked having her own space from time to time, especially as she was getting older. He had just never been able to give it to her before. He'd had to hold on extra tight because she was all he had.
"Jordan has choir late tomorrow night," he said. "My next-door neighbor can stay with her until I get back."
"In that case, if we leave early, we can get home early so you don't miss too much time with her. Will five o'clock work?"
She was sweet to think of his sister, so damned sweet it was hard to remember all the reasons why kissing her was such a bad idea. "It's perfect."
"Great. See you tomorrow night." Her voice was cool, calm, but her hand was shaking as she opened the door and went inside.
He shouldn't have been glad to see that the woman no one could ever fluster didn't seem immune to being with him.
But he was.
Denise was curled up under a blanket on the couch in the living room when Sarah walked in. The lamp beside her was still on, and there were needles and yarn on her lap. Sarah was about to say hello when she realized her mother's eyes were closed.
When she was a teenager, her mom would wait up for her like this. So many times, Sarah had come home from a midnight bonfire to find her mother right there on the couch, knitting, waiting.
What a comfort that had been, to know that she was coming home to someone who cared about her. She'd only been home a couple of nights, and yet her mother was still right there. Caring.
Wanting her to know she was back safely, Sarah knelt down and put a hand over her mother's. "I'm home."
Her eyes fluttered open, a smile moving onto her lips. "Did I fall asleep?"
Sarah nodded, then gently said, "You don't have to wait up for me anymore."
But her mother just shook her head. "I know you're all grown up now, but you'll always be my little girl."
Tonight, after the emotional roller coaster she'd been on with Calvin, that was just how she felt. So when her stomach grumbled and her mom offered, "How about I make you a snack before bed?" she decided to let the warmth of being home wrap itself around her like one of her mother's knitted blankets.
Just for a little while.
Determined that her night for Calvin would be as good as the one he'd given her, Sarah was hard at work on her laptop early the next morning. She pulled up data on tourism in the Adirondack Park, on its residents, their career options, and spending patterns. She made phone calls and set up appointments.
She should have been glad to finally get a productive day in, but her mind kept wandering. Not only to Calvin, but also to Lakeside Stitch & Knit. This was the first day she hadn't spent in the store, so she decided to drop by with coffee. She'd check in on her mother and grandmother and then come back and work some more.
First, though, there was one more call she needed to make. Her boss picked up on the first ring. "How's life in the backwater?"
She winced, even though she'd always referred to Summer Lake like that. "Good. I'm progressing on the project, but I want to run something by you before I call the Klein Group. A new boat launch is great, and I still think they should do it, but there's something else that will be even better for the town--a new high school football field, lights, stands, locker rooms."
A very intelligent man--ruthless, some might say, when it came to making money--Craig said, "I take it you're having trouble convincing the town?"
"Small towns operate differently from the rest of the world. High school football is practically a religion here."
"I'll take your word for it," he said, already moving past their conversation. "Just do whatever you need to do to make it happen. We're all counting on you."
Carrying a tray of hot coffee, Sarah walked into Lakeside Stitch & Knit to find the place packed with kids. "The fifth-graders are paying us a visit today," her mother said with a smile when she gratefully took a cup.
"She decided to take it easy again today."
Worry about her grandmother's health rose up once more. "You should have called me. She should have called me. Tell me what you need me to do."
Five minutes later, Sarah had a girl on either side, correcting their cast-ons just as Christie had done with her on Monday night, while a couple of boys pretended their knitting needles were swords. She hadn't spent much time with kids, not since her babysitting days, but these fifth-graders were easy to laugh with.
"I just can't get it," one of the girls in the back corner cried, throwing her needles and tangled yarn onto the hardwood floor.
Sarah was already heading over there when she realized those were Calvin's eyes looking back at her in defiance. This was the little girl with the pigtails and the missing tooth. The baby whose diaper she had changed ten years ago, right before she and Calvin had torn each other's hearts out.
Sarah nearly stumbled as she reached for the seat beside Jordan and slid into it. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, she said, "I was really frustrated too when I started."
"Knitting is stupid. Why would anyone waste their time on this stuff?"
Sarah settled back into her chair, looked around the store at the laughter, the concentration, the colors, the creativity. "I suppose it's because knitting makes people feel good. It can be fun to use your hands to make something. It's not just how soft the yarn is, how pretty the pattern is, it's the magic of it."
Sarah started at that. Had she really just said that knitting was magic?
She thought about the way her grandmother always looked happiest whe
n she was knitting. Her mother too. And she suddenly understood how anything that could make someone feel that good had to be magic.
She nodded. "Yup. Magic."
"I guess you could show me how to do it," Jordan said grudgingly.
Hiding her smile, Sarah said, "Sure."
Hours later, she was heading for her mother's house to get ready for her night with Calvin when she heard voices coming from her grandmother's cottage.
She didn't know whether to laugh or cry when she opened the cottage door. Her great-aunt Jean was concentrating on the lettering of her SAVE THE CAROUSEL sign. Dorothy and Helen from the knitting group were there too.