Jas wasn’t coming back. Amethyst was sure of it now.
She sat by herself at the dining room table eating a stuffed baked potato for dinner and pretending the realization didn’t make her stomach upset. It just meant she could have the other potato, the one in the fridge, tomorrow.
She looked at the bite of potato and cottage cheese and salsa and zucchini on her fork and realized it had been hanging there a good minute. The steam that had risen from the potato after she took it out of the oven was gone, along with the savory smell. She took the bite. It was barely lukewarm.
Idiot, she told herself. Stupid, boneheaded moron. You can’t keep rejecting a man and not expect him to eventually take it to heart.
He hadn’t even called to tell her. Not that she probably didn’t deserve a brush-off that cold, but…
She really hadn’t expected that from Jas.
You’d better hang onto that one, Heather had said. Oh, well. Too late now.
Caramela, lying beside her, stood up and whined at the laundry room door. Her heart suddenly beating hard, Amethyst put down her fork, listening.
The sound of a car’s engine came from the garage. She leapt to her feet, her heart galloping now.
“Okay, be cool,” she told herself.
The engine fell silent. Seconds ticked past in more silence. Amethyst made herself sit back down and pick up her mug. On the other side of the closed laundry room door, she heard the sound of the door to the garage opening. She stood again, carried the mug into the kitchen.
Jas opened the door and came in.
It was like the first time she’d seen him, black hair stylishly mussed, the little quirk to one brow, good-looking enough to make her stupid. His tie was loosened, pale green dress shirt rumpled, his suit jacket draped over one arm, distressed leather satchel in the other hand.
She took a sip of tepid tea to hide her agitation. “’Honey, I’m home,’” she said, deadpan.
He put his satchel on the chair and draped his jacket over the back. “Don’t worry. I won’t kiss you.”
Kiss me, she thought. The way she felt right now, that was so not a good idea. Or maybe it was a great idea. She couldn’t begin to say.
“Tough day at the office?” she said instead, topping off her mug with hot water.
He stripped off his tie. “There were a few things I needed to deal with. They took longer than I expected.” He stood as if waiting for her reaction.
“So I guess we’re off the buddy system,” she said and took another sip.
She could see his shields go up. “That’s news to me,” he said.
She searched for something to say that didn’t sound accusing or whining, like, So why leave me alone all day?
“Oh,” was all she could come up with.
“I already asked if it would be better if I went home. Have you decided it would?”
Not that she hadn’t spent the last several hours thinking about it. Not that she’d come up with a satisfactory answer.
“If you’d be happier.” She put both hands around her mug. “You weren’t when you left this morning.” She kept her tone neutral.
“I was under the impression that it was you who weren’t happy. I thought you might need some space.”
“You were mad at me.”
His brows shot up in surprise. “I wasn’t angry at you. Frustrated, yes. Confused, certainly.” He studied her. “Why would you think I was angry at you?”
“Well…” She carefully set her tea on the counter. “You deserved to be. I— It wasn’t fair to you.”
He took a sudden step closer. “I don’t want you to be fair. If you’re thinking of going to bed with me out of some sense of obligation—”
She bristled. “I don’t pay my debts with sex, Jas.”
“Good. Because if you sleep with me, I expect it to be because you want to.”
“Oh, don’t worry, it will be.”
Seething, she glared at him. He glared back. Finally, he backed half a step, raked a hand through his hair.
“Are we arguing?” he said.
“Sounds like it to me.” She crossed the kitchen, took his potato out of the refrigerator.
“Why are we arguing?”
“I think,” she said, “it might be because you just accused me of being a whore.”
He drew a quick breath, either of outrage or protest, stopped, let it out again. “Good God.” He ran a hand down his face. “You know I don’t think anything of the kind, Amethyst. I hope you know.”
“I certainly haven’t led you to assume so,” she said nastily.
“No. No, you’ve been…cautious.”
Another nasty comment occurred, but she refrained.
“Can I try again?” He took a long breath. “I don’t want our relationship based on obligation, or guilt, or need, or anything so mercenary. Only on mutual respect. On genuine pleasure in each other’s company.”
Her temper crashed into a wall. She scowled at him. “You really know how to ruin a good mad, you know that?”
“High praise, from you.”
She gave a disgusted snort and put his plate in the microwave. A laugh suddenly tickled at her stomach. She struggled to contain it, but it bubbled up despite her.
“Oh, Jas,” she said, still chuckling. “We’re impossible.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’re circling each other like two wary dogs.”
One corner of his mouth pulled up in a reluctant smile. “Yes, we are.”
She crossed the space between them, but didn’t touch him. Even though she really wanted to. “I’m sorry about this morning. That was my fault.”
“I hardly think you can shoulder all the blame for that.”
“I guess not. But I’m sure we can both be grownups while you’re here and keep from ravishing each other.”
He looked thoughtful. “I’d much rather ravish each other. We’d be less distracted.”
“Or maybe more.”
“Mmm.” He tipped his head in acknowledgement. “We might not even notice when Balgaire makes his move.”
“That could be…awkward.”
His hand had drifted to her hip. Hers was curled around his waist.
She gently took his hand from her hip and sighed. “We really are impossible.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Only that we should deal with Balgaire soon. He’s becoming far too….” A smile hinted at the corners of his mouth. “…distracting.”
“Ugh.” She made a face. “There’s a thought I could’ve done without.”
“You don’t find Dougal Balgaire appealing?” he asked earnestly.
She smiled sweetly. “When I talked to Heather earlier, she suggested that the four of us get together sometime. I told her ‘sure,’ but she was in a hurry, so we didn’t have a chance to pick out a date.”
He gave her a narrow look. “That,” he said, “is not true.”
Amethyst raised her right hand. “It is absolutely true. Would I lie to you?”
“At the risk of starting another argument, you’ve demonstrated a willingness to use guerilla tactics to exact your revenge.”
“Oh, you mean like whoever that was who called my mother to tell her we’re getting married? That kind of guerilla tactics?”
“That was truly inspired, wasn’t it?”
“You really are trying to pick a fight tonight.”
She pressed her lips tight, exasperated—
And realized how much more cheerful she felt than she had five minutes ago. Damn Jas. When had she started to enjoy sparring with him?
I’m crazy, she thought. I’ve gone completely off the deep end.
“What’s that look?” he said.
“My potato’s cold,” she said, heading for the table to avoid answering him.
“Is it,” he said.
She picked up her plate and turned to face him, silently daring him to ask why her food was cold.
That smile still teased corners of his mouth, but didn’t get any further.
“Bring it here,” he said. “I’ll heat it up.”
She considered the gleam in his eye, the lift to one brow, daring her right back.
“I don’t doubt it,” she said. “I don’t doubt it for a minute.”