For His Brother's Wife(8)

By: Kathie Denosky

“No problem,” he said as his arms lightly closed around her.

They both froze in place, and to say the moment was awkward would have been an understatement. Aside from the fact that she had embarrassed herself with her impulsiveness, the feel of Cole’s solid strength surrounding her caused her knees to wobble. Staring up at him, she could tell that he was just as surprised by the embrace as she was. But it was an awareness in his dark green eyes that shocked her all the way to her core.

“, thank you,” she said apologetically, feeling heat color her cheeks. Taking a step back, she hoped he didn’t notice her hands trembling as she dished up their dessert. “Would you like a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of your pie?”

He shook his head. “Not this time. It looks and smells delicious just the way it is.” She started to reach for the dessert plates, but he picked them up and carried them to the table for her. “As long as we’ll be working on it, are there any other changes you’d like to make to your studio?”

His voice sounded just a bit deeper. Was he feeling the tension between them the same way she was?

“How much trouble would it be to put down a laminate or tile floor?” she asked, feeling a little more comfortable now that they were back on the subject of renovating the ranch house.

“No trouble at all,” he said, taking a bite of his pie. He seemed more relaxed, as well. “While we get started on the barn, why don’t you think about all the changes you want made and then let me know what you decide later on in the week?”

She smiled. “I’ll do that.”

As they continued to talk about the renovations to Craig and Cole’s childhood home, Paige couldn’t help but wonder again what had happened all those years ago. What had caused the twin brothers to have a falling out? And why had Cole left Royal without at least telling her goodbye?

Being an only child, she had no idea about the dynamics of sibling relationships. But she couldn’t imagine anything so upsetting that it would make them stop talking to each other for more than a decade.

When they’d first married, she had asked Craig about Cole’s departure, but he’d told her it didn’t matter and they had never talked about it again. Of course, Craig had rarely discussed anything of importance with her. She had always felt a bit like an outsider within her own marriage.

“Thank you for going to the trouble of making dinner,” Cole said, drawing her back to the present. He stood up and carried their empty plates to the sink, rinsed them and put them in the dishwasher along with the dishes from dinner. “It was the best home-cooked meal I’ve had in a long time.” He chuckled. “Actually, it’s the only home-cooked meal I’ve had in years.”

“I’m glad you liked it, Cole.” She rose to clear the rest of the table, but he was already reaching for their iced tea glasses. “I’m sure you’re tired from working on the barn all day. I can take care of cleaning up.”

He shook his head as he put their glasses into the dishwasher. “You cooked a great dinner. The least I can do is help with the dishes.”

As she watched Cole finish collecting the dishes to load into the dishwasher, she couldn’t help but note one more contrast between him and Craig. Her late husband had never voluntarily helped her with anything around the house and she’d gotten the distinct impression that he considered anything domestic to be “woman’s work” and beneath him.

“If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to call it a night,” Cole said as she finished wiping off the kitchen island. “The crew will be here around dawn.”

“How many men will there be?” she asked, turning out the light as they left the kitchen.

“Seven, counting me. Why?”

“Tell them not to worry about bringing their lunch after tomorrow,” she said as they walked down the hall toward the stairs. “I’ll have something ready for them every day they work until the job is finished.”

“That’s very generous of you.” Cole placed his hand on the small of her back to guide her as they started up the steps. “But you don’t have to do that.”

“I know I don’t.” She barely managed a smile. “I want to do it.” His hand at her back was only meant to steady her. But the heat from his wide palm seemed to sear her skin through her clothing and made it difficult to draw her next breath.

“We’ll appreciate it,” he said when they reached the top of the stairs. “But don’t go to any extra trouble.”