“We’re not going to change each other’s mind,” he said. “Let’s not argue about it.”
He was right. She needed to learn to pick her battles when he was involved. The world wouldn’t collapse if she didn’t get the last word in. “Agreed.”
“I have my notes on my laptop. We’ll go over them together in a bit. Right now I’m going to take this to Dad. There’s some leftover beef stew I cooked for my dinner last night if you’re hungry.”
While he fed his father, she warmed up two bowls of stew. Nosing around the cabinets, she found some crusty bread and cut a few slices. When Jeff came back into the kitchen, she had everything prepared and laid out.
He didn’t hide his delight at finding lunch waiting for him. To see him happy, especially over something as minor as lunch, made her heart hurt for him. Not to mention how it brought back memories of the ways she used to take care of him. When he had allowed it, that was.
“Thanks,” he said, putting his dad’s used bowl in the sink and sitting at the table. “You didn’t have to warm mine up.”
They ate in silence for several minutes, which gave Dena the chance to study him closer. Fatigue lined his features in a way she had never seen before. The way he rolled his shoulders, almost stretching, was something she had rarely witnessed either.
“How’s your dad’s business?” she finally asked. “Have you sold it yet?”
He took a bite of stew, then replied. “It’s on the market.” He looked up at her. “How are things at home? How’s Daniel? I haven’t had a spare moment to talk with him.”
“Great.” She blew a stream of air across her spoon. “Julie’s moving in with him.”
He gave her one of his rare smiles. “I saw that coming. She’s perfect for him.”
“He’s perfect for her.” She laughed. “Of course, she was giving him hell about something when I left.”
“Good. He needs a woman with spunk.” His voice lowered. “How’s Sasha?”
Dena nodded. “Believe it or not, I think she’s coming around. I recommended a therapist, and she’s been going a few times a week. I’m not sure, though, that I think it’s a good idea for her to get back involved just yet.”
“Why is that?”
“Master Greene’s just now allowing Peter back into group meetings.”
“Really? Took him long enough.”
“Exactly. I think it’d be best for one of them to integrate themselves back without the other.”
Jeff nodded. “It’ll take a patient and determined Dom to work with Sasha when she’s ready.”
“I think she’s already thinking about one in particular,” Dena said, remembering what Sasha had said about Cole.
“Anyone I know?”
“Maybe, but I would never break her confidence. Besides, it’d never work. The one she has her eye on would eat her for breakfast.”
Jeff raised an eyebrow.“Not like that.” She swatted at his arm and then froze at the look he gave her. Her hand had just brushed his arm, but it was enough. Just the simplest touch was all it took to bring to mind all the history and intimacy between them.
Not only that, but whenever she’d playfully swatted at him in the past, he’d dragged her over his knee for swats of his own. Just briefly, she saw his eyes darken with desire, and she knew he was remembering, too.
“Want to play, do you?” he’d ask, and she would only be able to moan a reply as his hand traveled to land between her legs.
How had they gone from that to where they now were? Eating leftover beef stew in a strange house, acting like strangers.
She pushed back from the table. It was too hard to sit at the table with him during the awkward silence following her statement. “I can clean this up,” she said, picking up her bowl.
He held out a hand to stop her. “Not this time.”
She sat back down in her chair. “Not this time, what?”
“You’re not going to leave just because you got uncomfortable. If we’re starting fresh, we’re starting fresh.”
She thought just for a minute about telling him she wasn’t leaving because she was uncomfortable. After all, they didn’t know how much longer his father would sleep or what he might need when he woke up. But Jeff was right. They didn’t need to fall into old habits. And if she told him she wasn’t uncomfortable, he’d know it was a lie.
She looked up and met his gaze. “Do I do that a lot?”
“No, but you’ve done it enough.”
“Sometimes it just seems easier to work things out alone. Inside my head.”
“But when you do that, you shut me out.” He reached over and took her hand. “I want to help you work things out.”
The sincerity in his eyes took her breath away. “When did you get so smart?”
He grinned. “Hell if I know. It definitely didn’t happen in this house.”
Looking around, she wondered how much had changed since he’d lived here as a boy.
“Is it hard being back?” she asked.
“I’ve had easier assignments.” He looked around the kitchen. “I’m going to sell this place as soon as I can. Be rid of it once and for all.”
Silence fell over the room, and she thought he’d forgotten about her trying to get up until he spoke again.
“Tell me what made you want to leave the table,” he said.
She took the napkin from her lap and twisted it. “When I play swatted you, it made me remember what used to happen when I did that.”
“When I’d pull you across my lap?”
“Yes, and I knew you wouldn’t, but I remembered it and I figured you were remembering, too. And then it felt awkward, sitting at the table, both of us remembering what would have happened years ago and what would not be happening now.”
“Would you like for me to pull you across my lap?”
“Yes.” There was no way she would be able to lie about that, even if she were so inclined. “But with your father asleep in the living room and a hospice nurse on her way, it wouldn’t be the best thing to do at the moment.”
He took in all her words without a change in his expression, and when she finished, he simply asked, “Do you still want to leave the table?”