“Because I don’t,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest. “Your parents are supportive. I realize your dad had major surgery and he’ll be recovering for a while, but the moral support they provide is invaluable.”
He studied her face, her tilted, defiant chin and her hard stare. “I’m not sure why I’m banging my head against the wall trying to get through that thick head of yours.”
Glancing down to the pictures in her hand, his stomach twisted in knots. She was pregnant and he was arguing with her. She’d lost her husband a few months ago, was trying to cope as best as she could and he was making things more difficult.
Eli shook his head and met her gaze once more. “Listen, I’m going to be in town a few months. I may even still be here when your baby is born, depending on Dad’s recovery. I want to be your friend. I don’t want things to be difficult between us.”
“They’re not,” she countered, her chin starting to quiver. “I just…”
On a sigh she turned her back to him. When she took a deep, shuddering breath, Eli stepped forward. Vulnerable women always got him, but Nora had always been so strong. Granted, he hadn’t seen her for years, but she’d been so determined to put him in his place and convince him she needed nobody.
When he wrapped his hands around her, cupping her slender shoulders, she fell back against his chest. The top of her head came to rest just below his chin and he couldn’t stop himself from inhaling her sweet, floral scent.
“It’s so hard to see you, Eli,” she whispered. “When I see you, I think of Todd. To know he’ll never see his child is…hard.”
Eli’s heart sank. Of course she was still torn up over her deceased husband. Why wouldn’t she be? She had no idea the man he truly was and Eli sure as hell wouldn’t be the one to tell her because if Nora thought her husband died a hero, a good husband, then he’d let her live that dream.
And Todd’s secret would die with Eli.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, turning her to face him. “I’m sorry if seeing me is painful. I can keep my distance. I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
“No, we were friends and you’ll be staying here for months. I’m coming to terms with Todd being gone. I just hate that our baby will never know her father.” She tilted her chin and blinked back unshed tears. “Besides, you’re right next door and I’m always visiting Bev and Mac.”
After wiping her hands on her scrub top, she smiled. “Sorry. I’m a little more emotional lately with the pregnancy.”
Eli reached out, sliding his thumb over her silky cheek. “Never apologize to me for being who you are, Nora. If you need to cry, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t try to hold back.”
“I can’t cry,” she told him, shaking her head. “I’m so afraid if I start, I won’t be able to stop.”
When she reached up to lay her hand on his chest, her familiar warmth slid all the way through his body. At one time those delicate hands had been all over him. Now, though, he couldn’t let current desires override common sense. He wasn’t the horny teen with very little self-control he’d once been.
Besides, he was leaving as soon as he got the green light from his father. And possibly the biggest promotion of his career was waiting for him back in Atlanta.
“Why don’t you stay for dinner?” she offered.[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
He took in the exhaustion in her dark eyes, the fatigue that had her shoulders just a little slumped.
“Only if you go change and have a seat in the living room.” He offered her a smile. “I’ll look through here and make us dinner.”
She shook her head. “Eli, no. I’m not asking you to make my dinner. I’m perfectly—”
“Capable,” he cut her off. “I know. But I need to eat and you need to change. You can put the groceries away while I’m cooking and we’ll get everything done faster.”
Her mouth twisted as she considered his proposal. He wouldn’t beg, but he wouldn’t leave until he knew she was taken care of for the evening whether she liked it or not.