He was torturing himself by spending all this time with her. But he could no more leave than he could stop this pull of renewed attraction toward her, and damn if that didn’t complicate his life even further. He thought being back home would be fine, somewhat difficult but doable. He had no clue how fast and hard Nora would tumble back into his life in a fresh, new and terrifying manner.
In the process of making cookies, they moved around her kitchen, adding ingredients and working together. And by working together, they regressed to their youthful days by throwing flour at each other and making a pretty good mess.
“Now who’s going to clean this up?” she asked, smiling as she glanced around the flour-covered countertops and wood floor.
Eli shrugged. “I’d say the same people who made the mess.”
“Really?” The tone of her voice, the naughty grin she offered him, scared him…and completely turned him on.
Before he knew it, she’d taken an egg and smashed the shell overtop of his head. Yolk ran down the sides of his head and Eli couldn’t help but laugh…and retaliate.
In an instant he’d cracked one atop her head, too, and she looked right up at him and laughed. Before he knew it they’d tossed more flour at each other, accidentally knocking the sugar canister to the floor. Kerfluffle darted through the room, glanced at the mess and darted back out.
When Nora started to back away from Eli, she slipped on the tiny granules. In one swift move, Eli grabbed her around her waist, hauling her up against his chest.
Her rounded belly bumped against his stomach. He loved the feel of her pregnant, loved how beautiful she looked growing with a child she already loved so much. No, the baby wasn’t his, but the woman…
No, she wasn’t his, either, no matter how he wished for different circumstances.
“You okay?” he asked, helping her upright.
Nodding, she kept her eyes locked on his. She licked her lips and tried to push her egg-soaked hair from her face. “I guess we should start cleaning up.”
He needed distance. She felt too good in his arms, smelling sweet and tempting just like he’d remembered. The playful way they clicked into place had even more memories rushing to the surface, threatening to take control over his common sense.
How could everything between them still feel so right after all these years? Shouldn’t they feel awkward around each other as if trying to get to know each other again? Yes, they were totally different people, but that strong bond of friendship apparently tied them together no matter what had passed between them—time or marriage.
Every moment they were together they clicked on some level. Which just went to prove the bond they’d formed as teens was impenetrable. “Why don’t you go shower? I’ll clean up in here.”
She tipped her head. “But you’re a mess, too. I have a shower down here if you’d like to use it before we start cleaning.”
Oh, no. No way could he shower in the same house knowing she was in the shower, too. Temptation was something he was taught to avoid and Nora threatened to drive him positively mad.
“I’ll be fine,” he assured her, fighting his inner-demon. “You go on. I’m sure there will be plenty for you to pick up when you’re done.”
She only hesitated a second before she nodded and left the room. Once he heard the bathroom door close upstairs, Eli rested his hands on the counter, the edges biting into his palms. With his head hanging between his shoulders, he let out a long breath.
While he didn’t want to shower here, he did want the sticky, runny egg off his head and to take this breather to focus on rebuilding that wall of defense where Nora was concerned. He couldn’t get wrapped up in her again. He knew his heart couldn’t take another beating and walking away this time might be even worse than the last. He had a major promotion he’d been champing at the bit to get and Nora was expecting a baby. There was no way they could overcome all of that and attempt to rebuild anything stable.
After he grabbed the shampoo from the downstairs bathroom, washed his head in the sink and then toweled off, he went to work in the kitchen.
He found a broom and dustpan in the utility room off the kitchen. The sugar-flour mess on the floor was quickly cleaned up, as was the disaster on the countertop.