Cassie took Val to San Antonio for the weekend at the beginning of June. The escape came at the right time. Val felt like she needed a recharge on the house. Her body was exhausted and there had been so many road blocks that her frustration was mounting. Then there was Matt. The news from the Violets had really thrown her for a loop.
She felt torn and depressed. Then there was the confusion. So many thoughts flitted in and out of her brain she was having trouble sleeping. Did she want Matt to work on the new hospital or not? Did she want Matt or not? Could she handle just being friends or did she need to cut him out of her life simply for survival? His last words to her still came to her clearly in her deepest sleep. Those weren’t the only dreams she had. She had plenty of sensual dreams about Matt that left her staring at the ceiling or pacing the floor and feeling completely restless. It wasn’t hard to imagine where that last kiss would have taken them and in her dreams her fantasies took flight.
So the two women explored unique shops by day and spent the evenings sipping margaritas on the riverwalk while they people-watched and listened to mariachi bands.
Then they returned to Bluebonnet Creek and Val rolled up her sleeves to get back to work. Technically she had no sleeves. Summer was here and she spent all of her time in tank tops and shorts. Not that it mattered what she wore. She rarely went anywhere.
Yet somehow, on the trips to the hardware store or the grocery store or the occasional meal pickup frrom the diner, she heard the gossip and knew that Matt was more beloved than ever as he brought the area a new, state-of-the-art hospital.
Them one Saturday in June, Val decided it was time to tackle the Honeymoon Suite. For some reason--and she wasn’t an idiot not to know what that was-- she had put off that task. But it was a major part of her business and she knew it had to be just right. The suite included a bedroom with a balcony overlooking the garden she planned below. A trellis of vines would offer privacy on eith side of it. The future balcony would house a wicker loveseat.
The bedroom was something she’d been working on in her head for a while. Of course it had to be romantic. She decided to go with warm colors—deep red and browns. The bedding would be luxurious, the wood furniture polished until it gleamed and hurricane lamps and glass globes would be scattered about the surfaces of the room for romantic lighting. A small café table and two chairs would have their space at one end of the room so the couple could dine in private. The connecting bathroom would have to be just as luxurious.
First step was tackling the floors, her least favorite job. Like every room in the house, the wood needed sanding and staining. She dragged the sander up the stairs and managed to get it down the hall before the door bell rang. Almost glad for the interruption to avoid the work, she hurried back downstairs and flung open the door.
Matt Schaffer stood on her doorstep. He met her surprised stare with a smile.
“Hey. Remember me?”
Remember him? She couldn’t get him out of her head and now here he was in the flesh. She didn’t know if she should throw her arms around him or slam the door in his face.
“It’s been a while,” she offered instead.
He nodded and glanced around her into the house. He was dressed in old shorts and a t-shirt leftover from some marathon he’d run. “I figured you still worked on Saturdays. Need a hand with anything?”
She thought of the sander waiting for her upstairs. She thought of her frustration. She thought about his work with the new hospital that would lead to Chief of Staff some day. Apparently he could see every one of those thoughts as it crossed her mind.
“I promise that I won’t try to kiss you, Val,” his look turned serious and he held his hands out beseechingly. “I just want to help and if all you’ll give me is your friendship, I’ll take it.”
That set her back on her heels. “You know, I have a giant wood floor sander upstairs and a whole room to sand. You make an offer I can’t refuse.”
His lips lifted back into his grin. “I love to sand!”
She stepped back and pushed the door open wider. “It’s all yours. Top of the stairs, turn right and it’s the room at the end of the hall. What can I get you to drink?”
He stepped inside and turned right to the stairs. “Water is good for now. My only payment will be beer and a burger later.”
“I can manage that.” She watched him go up the stairs and disappear without a backward glance at her. With a sigh, she headed to the kitchen.
When she entered the honeymoon suite a short time later, the machine was on and he’d started right to work in the far corner. She watched him for a moment, noticing that he was big enough that the thing didn’t fling him across the room like she always felt it did to her. Signaling where his glass of water would be, she grabbed the step ladder from the hallway and started placing painter’s tape around the molding. The sander made conversation difficult, for which she was glad. She still wasn’t sure what she thought about everything. For now they would go with the friendship he offered. If by the end of the day she knew it wasn’t enough, she would have to explain to him that they couldn’t even be friends. No doubt that would go over well.
Three hours later he was finished, the walls were taped and she had lunch ready. They ate on the back porch where she’d thrown a few old chairs that needed restoring before going in the house. A tall elm shaded the backyard and it was a cool spot that she doubted would be that pleasant in another month.
Thinking of how fast he’d completed the sanding, she smiled at him. “Where were you three months ago? I would be done with the house by now if I had that kind of help!”
He finished gulping a glass of tea and sat back in his chair. “Well I never had an invitation. Today I decided you weren’t the inviting kind.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him but he quirked his right back, daring her to deny it. “Hmmph. Well, you did a great job. I take it you’ve done that before?”
He picked up his sandwich. “I helped my sister do some work in her house.”
They ate in silence for a bit.
“So how is the new hospital coming along?”
He finished off his sandwich and smiled. “It’s coming along great. This is every doctor’s dream, to be part of the team who builds a hospital and have your say in what should be included. It’s definitely a facility this community desperately needed.”
She nodded, seeing the absolute satisfaction in his eyes. This was his passion. “So what will your hospital have that will make it special for all of us?”
Without much prompting, he began to talk about it. He told her about the geriatric center for the aging county population, the cancer treatment center, the pedatric specialities, the neonatal unit and the state of the art emergency room. He spoke faster than she’d ever heard him talk, with so much expression and enthusiasm. It almost pained her to listen, knowing that this would always be first for him. Nothing would ever come before it.
She gave herself a mental shake. She was completely selfish. This town needed someone like Dr. Matt Schaffer. Maribelle Worthington needed him. As the charm of the small town slowly drew back more young families, they would need him to help raise their families. He was such a critical part of the community and shame on her for wanting him to be any different.
So she listened with as much enthusiasm as she could. And when he suggested they get to work on the painting of the honeymoon suite, she continued the conversation there, asking more questions about the hospital and his role as an advisor. Then she asked him about his current practice and how he balanced it all and he found another topic he could talk so easily about. She didn’t think she’d ever heard the quiet doctor talk so much. But she was glad she could give him the outlet to talk about something he clearly loved and it made the day go by so comfortably. She could forget about the room they worked in and the strain between then and simply enjoy his company. By the end of the afternoon, with the floor sanded and the walls perfectly painted and her schedule ahead by three days, she decided that maybe the friendship idea had merit. Not that she wanted a work slave for a friend, but the companionship was present without the sharp sexual awareness she’d almost become accustomed to.
“Well, Matt Schaffer, that was a fine day’s work and you not only earned your burger, you earned a deluxe burger,” she announced as they finished cleaning up the supplies and they trooped down the stairs.
“My mouth waters at the very thought.”
She led him to the kitchen and began gathering ingredients from the fridge. When she handed him a beer, she noticed that he was eyeing the new cabinets.
She didn’t say anything when he met her gaze, but turned to the counter to get to work.
“He did nice work.”
“Who?” she asked, pretending to be clueless.
“Your cabinet man. Chad.”
And like that, the sexual awareness was back. The room sizzled with the jealousy that radiated from Matt, whether he wanted her to know it or not. Somehow, his primitive antagonism for the cabinet maker electrified her system.
“Oh yes, Chad. Yes, he did very nice work. I’m pleased with how the cabinets turned out.”
She didn’t look at him but sensed him coming to stand beside her. Her hands were finger deep in the ground beef and for a moment she felt trapped. “And?”
He leaned against the counter so he could face her. “And have you seen him again? Are you and Chad dating?”
She sighed but still couldn’t look at him as she patted the meat into circles for the burgers and laid them on a plate. When she spoke her voice came out in something just above a whisper. “One, that’s really none of your business. And two, what makes you think I wanted to go out with him?”
When he spoke, he lowered his voice, too. The casual, friendly conversation was gone to be replaced with what was really lying beneath the whole day. “You two looked like you enjoyed each other’s company. That afternoon, when I walked in here, I felt like I interrupted something. It was like walking in on the scene I’d been picturing my whole way over here but the wrong guy was sitting in my chair.” He drained his beer. “It still bothers me. I’ve wondered ever since if you were going out with him.” She felt his gaze return to her. “I’m still wondering.”
She stepped over to the sink and washed her hands. After drying them carefully, she moved to the cutting board to start working on some vegetables, still unable to look at him. She knew what she’d see in his eyes. One look at the heat she’d find there and she would be a goner. “Your frienship, huh?” she reminded him of the words he’d said that morning.
He sighed. “Yeah, my friendship. Want me to throw those on the grill?”
He picked up the plate and went out the back door to the porch. She leaned against the counter and knew that in spite of the comraderie they’d shared, it wasn’t going to work.