Dammit—when had she lost control?
Somewhere between the picnic in the park and the scorching kitchen kiss, Val decided as she slapped some more black paint on an old armoire she knelt before.
She sat back on her heels and let her thoughts drift back to that afternoon.
Matt had kissed her so deeply and so thoroughly she’d forgotten where she was, her name or whether it was day or night. In that one moment she’d only known him, his mouth pressed to hers while his body enveloped her like a cocoon.
He’d pulled away, far enough to look her in the eyes.
“What about Chad?”
“Who?” she’d faintly asked and he’d smiled a look of such pure male satisfaction she could do nothing but smile back.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Then he’d kissed her again. And again and again. They touched one another and stroked and she familiarized herself with the body she’d been admiring for months now. He was broad in the shoulders, deceptively so for a man who worked in an office all day and wore loose dress shirts and a white coat. Underneath the professional clothing was a man made for her. Her palms skimmed across his chest and then around him to pull him closer.
He parted from her again, cupped her face with his hands and she felt him calm the wild passion that had been driving them both for the past few minutes. His eyes were fierce and she knew from her touches that his heart was beating as wildly as hers.
“Val, I don’t want to ask and risk you telling me to go, but what are we doing here?”
And that sweet question, giving her the out, was the water she needed to douse the fire. She’d felt herself struggle back to earth and when she found her footing, she was shocked at how close she’d come to giving in completelely to all of her physical desires and stepping off that edge. With a mere kiss she’d been ready to forget all of her vows.
So she’d moved carefully out of his embrace and watched his face fall.
“Damn it. Me and my big mouth.”
“Matt, I would have hated you.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand you. I don’t understand what you’re fighting.”
“It’s not you. It’s me.”
And he laughed a sardonic laugh.
“Yeah, that’s something every guy wants to hear.”
Under his accusing glare, she’d turned toward the table and let her fingers fumble with the wine bottle.
“I can’t talk about it. All I can say is, in spite of how much I’m attracted to you, this thing between us won’t work.”
“And that’s all you can say?”
She nodded, unable to look at him.
The silence stretched out between them. Finally, he grasped her chin in his hand and turned her to meet his gaze. He stared down at her, his look fierce and determined, and her heart rate sped up to twice the speed it had during that kiss.
“Enjoy the wine.”
And with that he was gone.
Now, two weeks later, two weeks of no sign of Dr. Schaffer, she could still recite every word of his impassioned speech and knew it woudn’t have taken much more for her to fall right back into his arms.
Yet nothing had changed. He was still Dr. Schaffer. Man on perpetual call. She would never have him completely. She would always have to share him. It was as much a dead-end street now as it was two weeks ago.
“Dammit,” she said outloud and dropped the paintbrush back in the can so forecfully that black paint splattered onto her shirt. “Great.” She sighed and continued painting. Of course she hadn’t told her friend Cassie a single word about the kiss. Cassie would have been like a dog after a bone. As Val finished the first coat and stood back to inspect her work, the doorbell rang. She wiped her hands on a rag and went to answer it.
It was the Violets.
“Hello, dear,” Doris led off. “We’ve come to see your progress.”
“Oh. Well, do come in, ladies, and pardon the mess.” Val stepped aside and watched the five most powerful women of Bluebonnet Creek march through her door. They oohed and aahed over the inside of the house. She pointed out all the details—the architectural elements she’d added, the painting both traditional and faux, the wallpaper here and there, any new woodworking or plumbing, and the furnishings. The Violets received the whole tour, though several rooms still needed much attention.
“My goodness, Val, you certainly have been busy,” Agnes Stansbury said as they went back downstairs.
“Getting this house in shape is a full-time job.”
“You have a very good eye for interior decorating,” Liza Stewart added. Val smiled.
“Thanks, Ms. Stewart.”
She led them into the kitchen where one of her newest recipes was cooling on the counter. Blueberry caramel muffins.
“Mmm, smells, devine,” Maribelle Worthington hinted.
“Help yourselves. I’m always trying out new recipes for the B&B but goodness knows that I can’t eat all of them myself.”
“Don’t say another word. We’re here for you, no matter how big the challenge,” Maxine Bernhart said as she placed one of the muffins on a small plate and peered into a soup pot sitting on the stove.
“That’s squash bisque. I was thinking about offering a lunch or supper to my guests as well. Maybe if I do large working groups, like church retreats, I can cater all their meals.”
“Very resourceful.” Maxine found a spoon and dipped it into the pot. Val and the other Violets waited, leaning slightly forward, for her response.
“Wow, that’s incredible.”
Val felt herself begin to smile.
“Such hard-working young folks in our community,” Doris was saying. “What wonderful work ethic. But I have to wonder when you people will have some quiet time?”
“What people?” Val asked off-handedly as she grabbed a stack of bowls to serve the bisque.
“You, Cassie, Nicholas Allegasi, Chief Neese . . . Dr. Schaffer.”
Val looked sharply at Agnes, but she was peering into the soup pot as Maxine ladled some into her bowl.
“I suppose we all have big dreams.”
“Dr. Schaffer’s dreams might be coming true,” sweet Agnes said.
Val couldn’t resist. She knew she was being played by the Violets but her curiosity was taking her right into their web. “What dream is that?”
“To become Chief of Staff at a major hospital.”
Val froze. He’d never mentioned that. Then again, they hadn’t talked that much—not enough to exchange dreams or anything. That might have come in a conversation the morning after the kiss if she’d allowed it to run its natural course.
“So he’s moving?” Doris looked at her now with a beautifully crafted face of innocence. “You haven’t talked to him?”
Val motioned weakly to the house. “Kinda busy . . .”
“Oh, well, no, he’s not moving.”
Val followed the Violets to the kitchen table where they were all sitting down and inhaling the bisque and muffins, though everyone sipped quite properly from their soup spoons.
“Then how can he become Chief of Staff of a hospital? We don’t have a hospital in Bluebonnet Creek. Everyone has to go to Austin or Houston.”
“That’s the best part of this story. Dr. Schaffer came to us and explained how big of a need there was in the area for a county hospital. We contacted a major hospital group and Dr. Schaffer is now the medical advisor on the project.”
Val dropped into the last vacant chair. “Seriously?”
Doris met Val’s gaze. “Seriously.” She glanced at Maribelle who had brought the plate of muffins to the table. “Maribelle Worthington, how many of those are you planning to eat?”
“They’re good,” Maribelle argued. “I’ll walk an extra ten minutes tonight.”
“That outta do it,” Maxine agreed as she helped herself, too.
“So we’re getting a new hospital?” Val steered the conversation back. How many hours would the building project alone demand of him? Added on to his current workload? She might never see him again. Which is exactly the point, she reminded herself. “Well, good for Dr. Schaffer. I’m glad he’s living his dream.”
“Part of it anyway,” Maribelle said.
“Okay, that’s enough for today, girls. Let’s go.” Doris stood up suddenly and then as one unit the others stood, cleared their dishes, noisly argued their way through cleaning them and returning them to Val’s cabinets, all before she came to her senses and realized they were leaving.
“Wait a second,” she said as she followed them to the front door. “What’s the other part of Dr. Schaffer’s dream?”
“That’s a conversation for another day,” Doris smiled and she closed the door behind her, leaving Val staring at it and wondering if Matt Schaffer still dreamed about her.