As Clay’s thumb stroked Ella’s cheek, his gaze locked on hers, Ella’s heart raced in anticipation. And when he lowered his mouth and kissed her, she dropped his wet shirt to the floor and placed her hand on his waist.
As their lips met and his tongue sought hers, the kiss deepened until she thought she would melt into a puddle at his feet.
For a moment, she not only forgot where they were, but who they were—still strangers to each other. Yet nothing seemed to matter other than this magical moment in time. And when the kiss finally ended, leaving her craving so much more, she didn’t think she’d ever be able to breathe evenly again.
“I’d wondered how kissing you would feel,” he said.
She’d wondered the same thing, especially when she’d caught sight of him without a shirt.
And now they both knew exactly how it felt—star-spinning, earth-shaking. And…promising. Which made no sense. After all, she’d only just met him yesterday. And he’d been very light on details of his life.
“You look a little uneasy,” he said.
To say the least.
“I, uh…” She stepped back, then bent to retrieve the wet shirt she’d dropped. “I’d better rinse this and get it in the dryer.”
Yet instead of moving, she remained rooted to the spot, as the bathroom walls seemed to close in on her, on them.
Her gaze, which had been locked on those stunning blue eyes of his, lowered to his bare chest, a sight that had triggered that amazing kiss in the first place. Yet she couldn’t help taking a second look at the magnificent perfection of his broad shoulders, well-defined pecs and six-pack abs.
Oh, for Pete’s sake. She’d been ogling him. Had he noticed?
She risked a glance at his face, where a crooked grin lit his eyes.
Shaking off her embarrassment and ignoring the heat that had undoubtedly flushed her cheeks, she nodded toward the doorway. “I’d better get out of here, or your shirt will never dry.”
Then she turned and headed for the laundry room, more than ready to put a little distance between herself and the sexy stranger she still knew way too little about.
When she got as far as the kitchen, Aggie had just finished mopping up the water from the floor.
“Don’t worry about that,” Ella said. “Sit down and relax. I’ll take care of the mess.”
Aggie pulled out a chair, but before taking a seat, she smiled and said, “Your young man is very nice.”
“He’s not my ‘young man.’ We’re just friends.”
Of course, friends didn’t kiss the way they had just moments before. And as much as she’d like to forget what had happened, she had a feeling she’d be dreaming about it long after Clay went back to wherever he’d come from.
After rinsing out the shirt and putting it in the dryer, Ella returned to the kitchen.
“You know,” Aggie said, “if Clay is a handyman, we could certainly use him around here.”
Ella supposed he might like the extra work, but was it a good idea to invite him into their lives? After all, what did she know about him?
Not much. And even when you thought you knew someone, she reminded herself, they could still prove to be someone else entirely. At one time, she’d thought of Fred as a father, only to have him show how selfish he really was, leaving her nearly destitute and with no say in her life or Aggie’s.
“Do you think we should ask Clay if he would be interested in a side job?” Aggie asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Well, I hope he would be. Fred never seems to take any of my complaints seriously. He’d rather sell the house than make any more repairs. And it breaks my heart to let it go.”
Ella crossed the room, placed her hand on Aggie’s shoulder and gave it a gentle and affectionate squeeze. “It breaks my heart, too.”
“It can’t be helped, I suppose.” Aggie let out a weary sigh. “But this house could be so beautiful again—if we had the money to renovate it.”
“I know, but the truth is, neither of us can afford to do much more than we already have. And so we should let the new owners worry about any repairs and renovations.”
Sensing the presence of someone else, Ella looked up to see Clay standing in the doorway—bare chest and all. Goodness, if she had something that might fit him, she’d offer it to him, just to save herself from fawning over him like a lovesick adolescent.
“Did you hear what we were saying?” Aggie asked.
Yes, Clay had pretty much heard it all, especially the part about how much Aggie loved the place and hated to move, but he didn’t want to admit that he’d not only been deceiving Ella, but eavesdropping, too.
So he said, “Just that you might be in need of a handyman.”
“That’s what I meant,” the elderly woman said. “Would you be interested in having a side job?”
Clay shot a glance at Ella and tried to gauge how she felt about having him around more often, especially after that heated kiss they’d shared.
She’d seemed pretty shaken by it, but then again, why wouldn’t she be? When they’d come up for air, he’d been so amazed and aroused by it that he’d been afraid he’d lose his head and say something he might live to regret—like, “I could fall for you.”
That might be true; he was certainly feeling something for her. But he didn’t want to make a mistake by opening up his heart too soon to the wrong person.
Sure, there was something powerful brewing between them—and love might be just around the corner, but he wouldn’t make any confessions about the depths of his emotions—not to mention any claims of wealth—until he knew without a doubt that she was the woman he hoped she was.
“We do have a few odd jobs that need to be done,” Ella said. “But we can’t afford to pay very much.”
“If we did have the money,” Aggie added, “we’d hire a contractor to renovate the house, like several of the other people on the street have done. But since we don’t, my nephew would rather sell than to spend any money on improving the value.”
Clay had noticed the For Sale sign on the front lawn when he’d arrived.
“What’s your nephew have to do with it?” Clay asked.
“He’s the executor of my estate, and I made him the trustee a couple of years ago. Back then, he seemed to be a lot more understanding, more sensitive to my wishes.”
“Did you tell him that you’d rather stay here?” Clay asked.
“Yes.” Aggie’s voice softened. “But he thinks it’s best if I move to an old folks’ home. He says I’ll be happier there, but I know he’d just rather not bother with the house—or with me any longer.”
“I’d buy it myself,” Ella said. “It breaks my heart to think of you leaving.”
“I’m an old woman,” Aggie said. “I can’t blame Fred for not wanting to take care of me anymore.”
“Is your trust irrevocable?” Clay asked.
“I’m not sure,” Aggie said. “Why do you ask?”
Because Clay had a top-notch attorney who’d drawn up his own trust, and it was possible Aggie could still make changes—if she wanted to. But maybe it was best if he didn’t get involved, so he said, “I was just curious. Sometimes, those trusts can be changed. Maybe you should talk to your attorney.”
Aggie seemed to think on that for a while.
“Either way,” Ella said, as she turned to Clay, “would you be interested in helping us with a few fix-it projects?”
She was giving him permission to come back? To see her on a regular basis?
A grin tugged at one side of his lips, but he forced a serious expression. “Yes, I’d be glad to. But I can’t show up until after eleven each day.” He’d scheduled interviews at the office all this week, hoping to find someone who could take on the projects Connor had been working on when he’d died.
“Why can’t you come any earlier?” Ella asked. “Aren’t you a morning person?”
Actually, Clay was up each day at the crack of dawn, but he paused, thinking out his answer. He wanted to be as truthful as possible, so he’d have to remain vague. “I’ve got some…job interviews lined up.”
“Well, good luck,” Ella said. “I hope you find the perfect position soon.”
Something told him he’d found perfection already. After all, everything he’d seen so far clearly showed that Ella had a kind, loving and loyal heart. And she wasn’t overly concerned about money and what it might provide her.
All he needed was a little more time with Ella, then he’d know for sure.