|As soon as she opened her apartment door, the sight of the envelope on the entry table undid most of her mellow. She marched inside, threw her purse onto the couch, and snatched it from the table.
"You forgot this."
"Right." His tone was matter-of-fact. "Thanks."
The fury she felt when she'd found it flooded through her again. She almost smacked him with it. "That's it? Thanks? I think I deserve more than that, Just Dalton."
He closed the door and she noticed her too-shrill voice, sensed her rapid breathing. One part of her brain said too much champagne left her a few synapses short of reasonable, but the part that made the words gush from her mouth didn't seem to understand.
It wasn't until he tugged at the envelope that she realized she clutched it in a death grip. She let go, only to stumble backward. Dalton grasped her forearm. She shrugged away.
"Don't touch me." Her voice echoed in her ears. She didn't sound convincing.
He stepped closer, cradling her face in his hands. His eyes bored into hers. A smile played across his lips. Yummy, tempting lips.
"How much champagne did you drink?"
She frowned. "Not that much." Then again, the wait staff kept her glass full and she hadn't kept track. "I'm not drunk."
"Of course you're not. How about some coffee?" He was already walking toward the kitchen. "It might be smart to eat something, too."
She flopped onto the couch and kicked off her shoes. "I'm trying to be mad at you, you know."
"I figured that out. I'm the super-sleuth, remember?"
Cabinets opened, water ran, the refrigerator opened and closed. Dalton returned with a large glass of water.
"Drink." He held it in front of her. "You'll be glad in the morning."
"I did not have that much champagne." She scooted away from him, got off the couch and stood erect. She stretched her arms out to the sides and aped his mock sobriety test. Then she walked to the window and back. Without the heels, her step was almost perfectly steady. Okay, she had a light buzz—a glow, maybe, but she wasn't drunk. Not even tipsy. "I should have eaten more, and I was tired. Am tired. I wasn't the one who slept for fourteen hours."
"Drink." He shoved the glass into her hand. "You'll wake up without a headache. Even a little champagne can be nasty the next morning. Eight ounces of prevention."
Glowering, she lifted the water to her lips. "You're lucky I don't throw this at you. How dare you investigate me. I was the client. Or the assignment." She gulped the water and shoved the glass back in his hands. "And I'm not drunk." The throbbing at her temples had nothing to do with champagne.
She found the envelope and yanked out the page with her background check. "What business did you have—what right did you have—to invade my privacy like this?"
He took the paper and glanced at it. The lightbulb flashed. He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
She waited. Nothing. "Well? Aren't you going to say something?"
Lowering the page to the coffee table, he flattened his yummy, tempting lips before speaking. "I'm working on it. But I have a feeling no matter what I say, I'll make things worse. If I explain, will you even listen?"
"Are you saying I'm close-minded?"
"See? We're already fighting and I haven't started."
She regrouped. No matter what, he deserved his turn. Let him rationalize away. Crap. She was being close-minded. She wouldn't last ten minutes on the job if she judged the people who came to Galloway House this fast.
"Go ahead." She folded her arms across her chest. "I'll listen."
He worked off his jacket and draped it over the back of her easy chair. "I'll get the coffee."
She followed him into the kitchen. "If you don't think it'll be too crowded, do you mind if Ben and Jerry join us?"
"Always welcome in my book."
She opened the freezer. "I'm calling the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. You can have Vanilla or Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl."
He poured two cups of coffee as she scooped ice cream into bowls and carried them to the dining room where she could keep her distance. This wasn't sharing a pint of ice cream on the couch with her sister. This was giving a fair shake to a man who'd professed to want to help her but ran a background check. She'd read the page and knew her past wasn't there. But she couldn't control the anxiety snaking through her as she wondered if he had more information squirreled away somewhere.
Dalton sat across from her. He spooned a good chunk of his ice cream into his coffee and stirred, gazing into the cup as if the words he searched for would appear.
She ate her ice cream and waited.
"Background checks are routine," he finally said. "Blackthorne gets a lot of clients who aren't totally . . . forthcoming . . . about themselves."
"You assume I lied to you?"
He sipped his drink, then stirred the rest of his ice cream into the cup.
She put down her spoon with a clunk. "You did assume I was lying."
He leaned forward, his elbows on the table. "Are you thinking this through? Do you believe everyone who comes to Galloway House is telling you the truth?"
"Of course not." Her response burst out, apparently of its own accord. With the tip of her spoon, she drew designs in the melting remains at the bottom of her bowl. "But we don't check up on them. We respect their privacy." She'd lost most of her anger. All that remained was the fear he knew more than what was on that page.
She brought the bowls to the kitchen and rinsed them. Dalton materialized behind her, close enough so his body heat radiated through her, in sharp contrast to the cool water running over her fingertips. He reached around her and shut off the water. She braced her hands on the edge of the sink, afraid to turn around. His hands rested on her shoulders and suddenly, the decision was made for her, and she faced him, meeting his eyes. Warm eyes. Caring eyes. Eyes that defused any last vestiges of anger.
He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. "Should we talk before or after I kiss you?"
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