Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (Summer Lake 2) - Page 9

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o his hand. All he could think was how soft her skin was.

And how badly he wanted to touch her again.

"You had some soap on your face." His explanation sounded strangled. He wouldn't have recognized the voice as his own if he hadn't felt it vibrate in his throat.

"Thank you for cleaning it off."

Her breathy words did crazy stuff to his insides, had him thinking even crazier things. Like would her lips be as soft as her skin? And would they taste like the first ray of sunlight in spring?

Liam had lived a perfectly controlled life for nearly twenty years. But in less than twenty-four hours, Christie Hayden was destroying that control. Without even trying.

Abruptly, she took a step back. "Lunch. We missed lunch." Her cheeks were far more flushed than they'd been before they touched. She covered them with her hands as if she could somehow hide her reaction from him. "I'll go see what Mrs. Higgins can whip up for us."

She turned and fled the room. But Liam stayed exactly where he was.

His reaction to her was unacceptable. She was not only his brother's ex-fiancee, she was also his employee. Liam had never mixed business with pleasure. He wouldn't start now. Not only did he need Christie to keep running the inn during Wesley's absence, but working closely with her was the best way to learn the hotel business top to bottom. And he needed more experiential data in hand before making any acquisition decisions for the other inns he was considering.

Leaning on the sink, he stared at himself in the mirror he'd cleaned with his own two hands. Coming back to Summer Lake had never been easy. He'd prepared himself for dealing with his family. With his mother, especially.

If only he'd known that the real person he should have prepared himself for was Christie. For her sweet smiles. For her breathtaking beauty. For her surprising strength. And for her charm that masqueraded as guileless honesty.

In the end, that was the most dangerous thing of all about her. He could protect himself from everything else, even the attraction that sparked between them like a live wire. But the seeming purity of her responses, the way she spoke every thought and feeling aloud regardless of whether it helped or hurt her...

Liam hadn't believed there was a woman alive who possessed those qualities.

But despite how sweet Christie seemed, he couldn't let himself forget that she still hadn't come completely clean with him about Wesley.

CHAPTER EIGHT

With renewed determination to find out what he needed to know about his brother--and not let attraction derail him again--Liam headed downstairs to the kitchen and slid into a seat across the table from Christie. She was sitting by a small window that looked out on the lake, and there were two bowls of soup on the table. It was a clear, bright day, and the layers of ice on the surface of the lake had begun to melt beneath the sun's warmth. For all the power of winter's cold and ice, it could hold out only so long against the growing heat of spring.

"I've spoken with Wesley's other friends," he said in a low voice. "None of them know where he is."

She blinked up at him in obvious surprise at his sudden shift back to his brother, then said, "He obviously doesn't want to be found." A whole host of emotions flitted across her face. Regret. Frustration. And finally, resignation. "I don't know all of his reasons for what he did. But what I do know, I can't tell you. I'm sorry."

"If he's in trouble," Liam said, "I want to help him. I need to help him."

She closed her eyes tightly for a moment, then reopened them with a shake of her head. "He made me promise not to tell anyone his reasons."

Liam leaned in closer to say, "He couldn't have meant me. I'm his brother."

"I'm really sorry, Liam." Regret seemed to hang on her every word. "But he told me he needed time. I'm trying to give it to him."

Though he wasn't at all satisfied with her response, he asked, "Why did you come here, Christie?" He told himself he simply wanted to know because he was on a fact-finding mission about his brother.

She didn't answer for a long moment. Finally, she said, "I was ready for a change."

There was nothing quite like hearing his own words from last night come back at him--and knowing them for the nonsense they were. If he was going to get any more out of her, it was obvious that he was going to have to give a little more of himself first.

"Fair is fair," he said softly. "Last night, you wanted to know why I sold my business. After fifteen years of launching new companies for other people, I started to feel like I've learned everything there is to know about venture capital. I'm ready for a new challenge. I want my own business. That's why I bought the inn with Wesley. Because I knew it wouldn't be long before I'd be here learning the business, top to bottom." And maybe, even though the entire idea was nuts, he'd started to wonder if he'd bought the inn because he wanted a reason to come back home one day.

"Thank you for telling me that."

Even when they were at odds with each other, she was polite. Sweet. "It's going to be your turn to answer my question soon, but we should eat first." He didn't like that she hadn't had so much as a sip of soup yet. He buttered a big piece of bread and slid it over to her. "I've never had such good bread anywhere. Mrs. Higgins puts even the Parisian bakers to shame."

She stared at him for a long moment. Almost as if she wasn't used to having a man look out for her this way--simple things like making sure she didn't skip meals. Finally, she reached for it and took a small bite. "Tell me about Paris while we eat."

It was clear that neither of them had forgotten she owed him an answer to his question about why she'd come to Summer Lake. But first, he wanted her to replenish some of those calories she'd burned off while cleaning the inn's bedrooms like the Energizer Bunny.

"The architecture is amazing. Every time I go back, I'm surprised all over again by just how much visual stimulation there is." He'd never been asked to put his feelings about Paris into words before, and he found that he was discovering his feelings at the same time as he was sharing them with Christie. "Throughout Europe, history is all around you, every moment of every day. Past and present, they all come together with perfect fluidity, from the ancient stone walls of the Louvre to the postmodern pyramid in the middle of its courtyard."

Her eyes lit with interest. And, if he wasn't mistaken, with longing. "I've read so many books about Paris that sometimes I feel like I've been there. I've dreamed about walking along the Seine, about standing in the middle of Notre Dame Cathedral looking up at the stained glass, and then going for coffee at Les Deux Magots to try to hear echoes of the great writers in the walls." She cocked her head as she looked at him. "Summer Lake must seem so small compared to everywhere you've been."

"It's certainly small," he agreed, "but this part of the world is nice too."

"Even compared to Paris? Or Rome?"

"There are so many beautiful places that if you tried to rank them, you'd go a little crazy."

He could see the stars in her eyes as she tried to imagine all that beauty. It was obvious how badly she wanted to travel and see the world. So, then, why hadn't she? He knew plenty of people who could barely scrape together the money for plane fare, but that didn't stop them from traveling.

More questions were on the tip of his tongue, but upstairs in the bathroom, he'd been schooling himself on how to proceed from here on out. Keep your distance. Don't get any closer. Which meant keeping personal questions that had nothing to do with Wesley's disappearance to himself.

She put down her spoon and used a piece of bread to wipe her bowl clean before popping it into her mouth. When she looked up again, her cheeks turned that lovely shade of pink he was liking far too much for either of their sakes. She quickly chewed and swallowed. "I usually have much better table manners than this. Wesley and I have known each other for so long that we're pretty informal with each other. I guess I forgot for a moment that you and I have only just met."

Something inside his chest grew warm at the knowledge that she was comfortable with him. "A

ctually, I think you're on to something." He grabbed the heel off the loaf and broke it in half, using it to clean his bowl just as she had.

They ate in silence for a few minutes before she said, "You asked me at the beginning of lunch why I came to Summer Lake, and I don't want you to think I make it a habit not to answer direct questions. The quick and dirty answer is that I needed a fresh start."

"There are a lot of places you could have started over, rather than at an inn in the middle of the Adirondacks."

"Sometimes it's good to go where no one knows anything about you."

"You knew Wesley," he reminded her.

"He'd told me about Summer Lake for years and swore that if I ever came to visit, I wouldn't want to leave. Maybe that's what took me so long to finally come here. Maybe I was afraid to fall in love with someplace I couldn't easily pick up and run from."

There she went again, saying things that most people wouldn't dare say out loud. Heck, most people wouldn't even admit something like that to themselves--that they always ran. That they were afraid.

There were so many questions he still wanted to ask. But he knew better, knew that learning more about her would only draw him more deeply toward her. And he couldn't let that happen. Couldn't let himself fall for her.

"Alice needs to head home soon." She pushed her chair back and cleared their empty plates from the table to put them in the commercial dishwasher. "I should probably check on the front desk, make sure nothing has come up that she needs me to deal with before she leaves. Unless you want to look over my shoulder at the front desk, I'm sure you have more important things to take care of this afternoon."

He got the picture. She wanted to get rid of him for a little while. And the truth was, he needed a break too. From her smile, from her fresh scent, from the way he wanted to run his fingers over the strands of hair that had escaped her ponytail to see if they felt as silky as they looked.

"You've taught me a lot today." Despite his need to remain on guard with her, he couldn't deny that she was very good at her job. "Thank you."

Instead of accepting his compliment, she gave him a guilty look. "Something tells me you already knew how to clean a toilet. And the truth is, I might have been a little bit upset with you earlier. I shouldn't have wasted so much of your time with cleaning the rooms."


Tags: Bella Andre Summer Lake Romance
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