Think she and I would be a good match if we gave it another try?”
She reached for the box of pasta. “No.”
“Decisive. I like that in a matchmaker. Why don’t you think she and I would be a good match?”
“Because you lied on the questionnaire.”
“In your opinion.”
“Mine is the only one that counts here,” she said coolly. “I’m the professional, remember?”
The storm crashed ashore shortly after ten o’clock. Time to go, Lillian thought. The edgy intimacy that had been thickening the atmosphere all evening was getting to her. She could no longer ignore the vibes.
If she hung around any longer she might embarrass herself by making a pass at Gabe.
She put down her cards. “Gin.”
“Damn. Not again.” Gabe tossed his cards onto the cushion between them. He sprawled against the back of the sofa and regarded her with a malevolent expression. “Didn’t realize you were the competitive type.”
“I’m a Harte, remember? We’re all competitive in some ways. Besides, it was your idea to play gin rummy.”
“I wasn’t concentrating. Had my mind on other things.”
“Yeah, sure. They all say that when they lose to me.” She looked out the window into the heavy darkness. “I’d better be on my way. That rain is going to get worse before it gets better.”
He uncoiled from the depths of the sagging sofa. “I’ll drive you back to your cottage.”
He didn’t have to sound quite so eager to get rid of her, she thought. But it was probably for the best. At least his mood seemed lighter now. Her mission of mercy was accomplished.
“Thanks.” She rose quickly, a sense of urgency pulsing through her.
She had left it too long, she thought. It was past time to leave. She was not sure when or how it had happened but she was suddenly, intensely aware of the heavy blanket of sensual awareness that enveloped her. It had settled around her slowly and lightly over the course of the evening, the warm, thick folds practically weightless until now.
She wondered if Gabe felt anything at all. If he did, he was doing a terrific job of concealing it.
He was already at the door, her rain cloak in his hand. Obviously she was the only one who could feel the energy of the storm gathering here inside this room.
The smartest thing she could do tonight was leave right now and go straight home to her own bed.
She touched the back of a chair briefly to steady herself, took a deep breath and walked deliberately toward him.
“One thing I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said when she reached the place where he waited with her cloak.
She turned her back to him so that he could help her into the garment. “What’s that?”
“Did you invite yourself over here tonight just because you thought I needed cheering up or did you have something else in mind?”
She froze, her hands slightly raised to take the edges of the cloak from him.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the neighborly gesture,” he said.
“We were both at loose ends this evening.” She was irritated now. “And we are neighbors. Sort of. And you did seem a little moody this morning. Dinner together sounded reasonable. If you’ve got a problem with that, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Ouch. You’ve got teeth, don’t you?”
“I’m a Harte.”
“Right. I just wanted to let you know that I don’t need any do-gooder nurturing. I’d much rather you had another agenda.”
He draped the cloak around her shoulders. When he was finished he did not release her and step back.
Instead he stayed there, so close that she could feel the heat of his body. He rested his hands on her, letting her feel the weight and strength of them.
“Another agenda?” She twitched the cloak into place, fussing with it a bit to cover her awkwardness.
“Such as exploring various strategies we can use to help A.Z. prove that a secret government agency is planning to move frozen space aliens into the institute?”
He tightened his hands on her shoulders. “I was thinking more along the lines of you seducing me.”
She opened her mouth. And closed it immediately when she realized she did not know what to say.
“You know, just to help lift my mood.” His voice roughened a little. Getting dangerous. “Wouldn’t be too much different from inviting yourself over for dinner so that I wouldn’t be alone. Just another little act of charity.”
“I already gave at the office.”
“So much for small acts of random kindness.”
His lifted her hair aside and kissed the nape of her neck. Electricity went down her spine. The room dissolved into a thousand different hues. She was inside the rainbow.
“And here I thought you felt sorry for me,” he said against her nape. “I thought you were genuinely concerned about my burnout problem.”
“Got another question for you,” he said.
“Can’t. It’s been eating at me for weeks. I’ve got to know. Did you ever fill out one of your own questionnaires and run it through your computer program to see if you could find the perfect match for yourself?”
The question blindsided her. It caught her up with the force of a heavy wave, sweeping her off her feet and roiling her senses. She pulled herself together with an effort.
“You’re very chatty all of a sudden, aren’t you?” she muttered.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
She felt the heat rise in her face. Damn . “I don’t owe you any answers.”
“Ah. So you did try to match yourself. I had a hunch you might have done it. Who could resist? There you were with your program and all those potential dates. What happened? No good candidates on your list of clients? Hard to believe.”
“I told you,” she whispered, “the program is not foolproof.”
“Maybe not, but it’s got a very high degree of accuracy. You assured me of that when I signed on. What went wrong? Didn’t like the matches it selected for you?”
She put out her hand and closed her fingers around the doorknob. “Take me home, Gabe.”
“Or did you lose your nerve? It’s one thing to use intuition and the results of a questionnaire to help other people make a decision that will affect them for a lifetime.” He turned her slowly around to face him. “It’s another thing altogether to use them to make a choice that will affect your own life.”