A whirring sound leads me to the entrance of a gourmet kitchen with black cabinetry and stainless steel countertops and appliances. The kind you see in home design magazines. But the main attraction is standing at the counter grinding coffee beans.
Dressed for comfort, Mick’s wearing a worn pair of jeans, frayed at the hems, and a wrinkled and faded T-shirt. He’s towel-dried his tousled, wavy hair and from his side profile, I can see he hasn’t shaved. To complete the rumpled, I’m-too-sexy-for-my-own-good-and-yours look, he’s barefoot. Like the rest of him, his feet are big and well-shaped. The toes long and the nails neatly trimmed and square.
It feels intimate to be in his home watching him perform a domestic task. As if sensing me, his head suddenly turns, and he shuts off the machine. In the ensuing silence, his gaze travels up to my tangled curls, down to my face devoid of makeup, and farther down to the sweats, which I’ve rolled up at the wrists and ankles. Not exactly the picture of glamour. Nevertheless, his mouth slowly curves into a killer smile and his eyes light up.
Oh boy. Mick still has the power to rescue me from my insecurities. “Grinding your own coffee beans,” I say, making my voice breezy. “I’m impressed.”
“I wasn’t sure if you liked coffee.”
“I do. Can I help?”
“Sure,” he says, and I step all the way into the kitchen, trying not to think about what had happened in mine on Saturday night. “You can make the hot chocolate.”
“I thought we were having coffee.”
“We are. I know how much you like chocolate.”
Another detail pulled out of his arsenal of memories to weaken my defenses. “I really don’t have chocolate all that much anymore.”
His thick eyebrows arch questioningly. “How come?”
I’m not about to get into my body and food issues with Mick, so I settle for saying, “I try to eat healthy.”
That earns me another once-over from head to toe. “You look plenty healthy to me. A little chocolate isn’t going to change that.”
My face warms and my body follows. But I remind myself that it’s only eight thirty, and I’d better pace my responses to Mick. Otherwise, in less than an hour, I’ll be a mass of gooey putty in his hands.
“You won’t be disappointed,” he says, winking at me. “Here, mix the milk and chocolate in this.” He indicates the copper pot. “I’ll make the coffee. Keep the heat on low so it simmers but doesn’t boil.”
“I think I can handle that.” I set my phone down on the counter and begin my task.
“Expecting a call?”
“No,” I say spooning the cocoa into the milk. “I already checked in on my friends. But I want to have my phone handy in case they need me.”
“Did you tell Lexie and Jordyn where you were?”
“And?” he asks, combining the ground coffee, water, and cinnamon sticks in the coffeemaker.
“What did they say?”
“They were glad I was out of the storm.”
He throws back his head and laughs. “Female secret code…I won’t even try to crack that.”
I can’t help but smile.
“Listen, Dee,” he says, sobering and linking his gaze with mine. “I want to get this out of the way. I haven’t hidden the fact that I still want you and that I want answers. You say neither is possible. I hope you’ll come to trust me enough to change your mind about both. But for tonight, let’s just hang out and get to know each other again.”
Neither is ever going to happen, but with the white elephant acknowledged and the invitation to just hang out, I feel myself unwind. For the next twenty minutes, we settle into an easy rhythm of working side by side, sharing laughs, and talking about a variety of G-rated subjects from music to movies.
I tell him about meeting Lexie and Jordyn in Pilates class and the friendship that has developed over the past eighteen months. He tells me of the challenges he’s faced transitioning from being a celebrity to running Papa’s Kids. We discuss my work and he discusses his.
Behind the sex appeal and chiseled good looks, I get a glimpse of the interesting, intelligent man he’s grown to be, combined with many pieces of the boy I once loved to distraction.
When the coffeemaker shuts off, Mick fills the mugs halfway with the steaming cocoa and then adds the cinnamon-flavored coffee. He takes them to the island, and we settle on the barstools. I lift the cup to my lips and Mick watches, waiting for my reaction. I blow across the top and then take a sip, savoring the smoky nuttiness of the coffee, the woody spiciness of the cinnamon, and the sweet bitterness of the chocolate.
“Well?” he asks, his voice eager, as if what I think really matters to him.
“The balance is just right.”
That garners a smile before he takes a sip of his own. Then, abruptly setting his cup down, he snaps his fingers. “I almost forgot the finishing touch.” Mick goes to the fridge and returns a moment later with a can of whipped cream.
I can all but feel the calories going to my ample behind. “I’ll pass.”
“Ah, come on,” he says. “I remember when we used to do whipped cream shots.”
“I remember you doing them and trying to give me a face full of cream.”
He laughs and, tilting his head back, sprays a wad straight into his mouth. I don’t remember it looking that sexy when he was fifteen. I find myself once again intrigued and aroused by the sensuality of his mouth. An erotic image of him licking whipped cream off my body makes my thighs ping.
“Your turn,” he says, holding up the can with a devilish grin. “The trick is to stay still so I can get all the cream into your mouth without spilling a drop.”
I blush at the double meaning.
“Open up,” he coaxes, his tone teasing but determined.
“No, thanks,” I say, suspicious of him.
Aware of my weak spot, he tickles my side. While my mouth is open in protest, he shoots cream between my lips and down my chin. I sputter as he roars with laughter.
He dampens a paper towel under the tap and comes back over. “I’m sorry,” he says, attempting to look contrite, but his twitching lips rat him out. “You should have held still.”
“Yeah, that’s why it happened.”
“If it’s any consolation,” he comments while one hand holds my jaw and the other gently wipes the lower half of my face, “you look adorable.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” I scoff. “But turnabout is fair play.”
“Oh yeah?” He smiles and tweaks my nose. “What are you going to do?”
He turns his back to toss the paper towel in the garbage, and when he does I grab the can of whipped cream off the counter. When Mick turns, I’m armed and ready.
I let go a stream that hits him squarely on the mouth and cheek. The stunned look on his face is priceless. Knowing he won’t let me get away with that, I quickly dash around the island.
“Hand it over,” he demands, wiping the smear from his cheek with his fingertips and then licking both his lips and fingers clean.
“Not a chance unless you call it even.”
His eyes glint under the recessed lights. “Screw even. I play to win.” With that, he vaults across the island with the agility of a jungle cat.
I take off at a dead run into the living room, squealing with laughter. His bare feet slap the hardwood, chasing me in hot pursuit. I manage to get behind the couch but realize I’m trapped.
“Now what?” he taunts me from the other side.
There’s too much open space. Either direction I run he’ll catch me…unless I can fake him out. Adrenaline pumping, I move to the right and when he does, too, I swing back to the left and get all the way to the end of the armless sectional before he reaches me and lunges.
Whump! My back hits the cushions lengthwise and I slide across the leather. I scream and try to scuttle away, but Mick catches me by the ankles and hauls me back, climbing atop me. I hold fast, but between his tickles and his strength, he gets my arms raised above my head and pries the can from my grip. It rolls to the floor.
Both of us winded from exertion and laughter, he levers himself up, his chest heaving against mine and looks down into my face.
Our laughter fades away.