“Here you go.”
Nathan slid a plate in front of her, placing a napkin and utensils next to it. Daphne inhaled, breathing in the spicy scent of the eggs. That and another aroma–hot chocolate. He set down a mug of it in front of her, and a mug of coffee for himself. He leaned against the counter next to her. “Well?”
She speared a piece with her fork and brought it to her mouth. “Delicious,” she said. “What did you put in them?”
“That, my dear, is a Ward family secret.” She lifted another forkful to her mouth, but before it could get there, Nathan grasped her wrist, redirecting her hand toward his own mouth. “Not bad.”
“If you do say so yourself.”
He grinned. “Modesty has never been my strong suit.” He picked up the knife beside her plate and began spreading grape jam on the toast he’d made for her. He handed it to her. Automatically, she took a bite from it.
Nathan said nothing more, allowing her to eat in silence. But he was too close, too familiar for her to be truly comfortable with him. Long before she’d satisfied her hunger, she pushed her plate away from her, downed the last of her hot chocolate and stood.
“Is that all you plan to eat?”
“I guess I wasn’t as hungry as I looked.” She carried her plate to the garbage can in the corner, scraped its contents into the trash and rinsed her plate in the sink. She’d load the dishwasher in the morning before she went to work. Only a couple of dishes occupied the sink anyway.
Turning back to Nathan, she said, “Thanks again for the omelette. Good night.” She turned to head in the direction of the double doors.
She heard Nathan’s voice call to her. “Don’t tell me you’re going to be true to your namesake and run off.”
She spun around seeing him leaning against the counter, an amused smile on his lips. He’d always teased her about being named for the nymph from Greek mythology whom a god desired, but whose advances she shunned.
“I suppose then that you are casting yourself in the role of Apollo? The god of music, I’ll give you, but reason and moderation? You don’t know the meaning of either word.”
With every word she’d spoken he’d taken another step toward her. He now stood a hair’s width away from her, looming over her, crowding her, disconcerting her. He said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow in silent challenge.
She took a step away from him, her back hitting the doors. “And besides, Daphne was neither shy, as some people claim, or cold-hearted. She ran from Apollo because she wanted to be be one of Artemis’s virgin huntresses, a position, as you well know, I am no longer qualified to hold.”
“I remember. I was wondering if you remembered.”
The look in his eyes was all at once so intense, she felt heat rise in her body and pool low in her belly. She remembered that long-ago night, when she’d come to him, needing him, and for once he hadn’t turned her away. How could she forget that first time, and all the times thereafter, when they were etched in brain, as if by fire?
“And here I thought a woman was supposed to learn something from her first love.”
“In my case, it was not to have another one.”
Realizing what she’d said, she bit her lip. Seeing the look on Nathan’s face, one of questioning disbelief, she bit harder, almost to the point of drawing blood. Stupid, stupid, stupid! She’d intended to wound him with her comment, not make herself more vulnerable in his eyes. If she knew Nathan, he’d assume that he’d ruined her for other men. Even if that were true, that was definitely not the impression she wished to leave him with.
“Don’t look like that, Nathan. I didn’t mean there hadn’t been anyone else in my life. But love? That I can do without. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m tired and I’m going to bed.”
She turned to part the doors and make good her escape, but Nathan’s hand reached around her, holding the doors shut.
She whirled to face him. The sarcastic remark on the tip of her tongue died on her lips when she looked up into his eyes.
“Is it all bad? When you think of me, of us, is it all a bad memory?”
For the second time in the last few days, she’d seen a vulnerability in him, and it alarmed her. She wasn’t callous enough to ignore anyone who hurt. Especially not him.
“No.” She had to look away from him. Most of it was so good that allowing the memories to wash over her was like being bathed in scalding water. It stripped her of her defenses, and she would need every one of them to deal with him.
She pushed away from the door, straightening her spine. “Good night, Nathan.
He extended his hand toward her. Automatically she placed her hand in his. He raised it to his lips and kissed her palm. “Thank you,” he said.
She snatched her hand away, wiping her palm on her robe, wiping away his kiss. “Good night,” she repeated, turned and vaulted up the stairs to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Amused, Nathan watched her go. No, Daphne wasn’t cold at all. He could feel the fire in her, hot enough to singe. This time, instead of a wall of ice, she’d erected an entire labyrinth, a maze of barbs and nettles to sting his ego and deflate his pride. But he’d gotten to her, if only a little bit.
Common sense told him that he should leave her alone, not so much for his sake, but for hers. He wasn’t in the position to offer her anything but heart ache. But he also knew he wouldn’t do that. No sense in lying to himself and thinking he would.
Focusing on the stairs that led to Daphne’s bedroom above, Nathan smiled a wicked little grin.
“You’d better get your rest while you can, sweet Daphne. The chase has just begun.”