Chapter Nineteen, "Unexpected Legacy"
Nothing in their conversation had prepared Kate for a knock at her door the next morning. Still in her pajamas, she pattered to the front room and stole a look outside.
What on earth was Matt doing on her porch? Adrenaline rushed in. Had something happened with Brady? She peeked out again. He didn’t look upset. In fact, he seemed pretty laid-back. In which case, why was he there?
She wavered, unsure what to do. Finally, she dashed to her bedroom and pulled a T-shirt over her cami then went to the door.
“Matt! What’s going on? Is something wrong?”
His lazy grin confused her.
“Nothing’s wrong. Just stopped by to pick you up.”
“Pick me up? What are you talking about?”
“A little road trip.”
“Matt.” She crossed her arms, leaning against the door jam. “You’re not making sense.”
“Believe it or not, I happen to know of the perfect pumpkin patch. We can get there in about an hour. Get dressed.”
Kate’s mouth dropped open. He was ordering her to get dressed and go in search of pumpkins? She didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended at his presumption. She shook her head. “You know the perfect pumpkin patch? Really? Somehow I don’t buy that.”
“Hey, I happen to be a wealth of information.”
“Matt. Listen, it sounds like fun, and I appreciate the offer, but I really don’t have time. An hour just to get there?”
He took a step toward her, those compelling blue eyes level with hers.
“You said you had no plans for the weekend.”
She took a step back. “But I have work to do.”
“What about that nap?”
She gave a short laugh. The man was impossible.
“If I go pumpkin-hunting, I’ll miss my nap.”
“You can nap in the car. Come on, we’re losing time. I’m not taking no for an answer.”
Her head was spinning. Spending a carefree day in search of pumpkins sounded fun and relaxing, but spending the day in the company of Matt Dalton sounded downright dangerous. And tempting. Oh, God. Could she? An hour away, so the chances that they’d be seen by anyone from Western might not be great. What harm could it do?
It was silly. She did not need pumpkins. She’d miss munching on the seeds that she harvested and roasted each year, but that wasn’t a big deal.
“Kate. Come on. With everything Brady and I have put you through, you deserve a little down time.”
“But, Matt. If we were to be seen by anyone . . .”
“Shall we go in disguise? I could wear a mask. It’s almost Halloween, after all.”
She giggled then, and imagined how ridiculous she must sound.
“What about Brady?” she protested. “Shouldn’t you be home when he gets back from the test? He might still be upset about yesterday.”
“He was okay this morning. And besides, he’s going straight over to my parents’ house. He and my dad are playing golf. They’ll be at it all day. That means I’m on my own, and I’d much rather spend a gorgeous day like this in the company of a gorgeous woman like you.”
Ah. He’d tried guilt and bullying. Now he was resorting to blatant flattery. She couldn’t help but smile. “This is crazy,” she said, shaking her head. “Come in. I’ll just be a minute.” With a breathless laugh, she turned and hurried down the hall.
Matt glanced around the room. It had a quiet, comfortable feel to it. The creamy chairs looked soft and inviting, and the throw pillows were cheery. Very Kate. A lot of pillows, he mused as his thoughts took a different turn and he imagined putting them to good use.
When she returned to the room, he was disappointed to see that her dark hair was swept back into a loose bun. Did she ever wear her hair down? It seemed strange to him that she didn’t, even on a day off.
“Let me make sure everything’s off in the kitchen,” she said. “You want something to drink?”
“I’ve got water bottles in the car.”
She looked back, surprise on her face. “You do?”
“Yes, it’s standard procedure for driving out to the lake house. Drinks and snacks. Blanket, flashlight, umbrella, jumper cables.” With amusement in his voice, he ticked off the contents of the car. “Don’t worry, we won’t be far from civilization.”
Matt moved forward and caught her arm, gently propelling her toward the door. He figured he knew Kate well enough to know that spontaneity was hard for her, and it wouldn’t take much for her to change her mind.
He opened the car door for her and climbed in the other side, feeling like he’d just scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
There was little conversation until Matt pulled the car onto the highway. Then it seemed to him that Kate relaxed into the seat beside him.
She was first to break the ice. “I feel bad enjoying this nice day while Brady and all those kids are having to take a test.”
“Forget it,” he told her. “No guilt today. You spend plenty of time worrying about all those kids.”
“It’s sort of my job,” she reminded him wryly.
“Which you do incredibly well, by the way. I’ve seen it with Brady, and my mother told me how you helped that art student. She was very impressed.”
“I really enjoyed meeting your mother at the art gallery. She’s a lovely lady. Seems so hip, too. I bet she’s a cool grandmother.”
Matt glanced over. “She thought you were, and I quote, ‘darling.’”
Kate burst out laughing. “Darling? What am I, five?”
Matt grinned at her, loving the sound of her laughter, and sorry that from his current vantage point he couldn’t see the dimple that created a tiny pocket in her cheek when she laughed.
“Oh, and she thought you were graceful and poised. She sang your praises for quite some time.”
He’d taken some crap from Pattie, he recalled. And she’d damn-near called Kate Snow White right in front of her. But both his sister and his mother had liked her right away – and both of them had suggested he ask her out. Like he never would’ve thought of that.
As he exited the interstate and pulled onto a country highway, Kate turned toward the window. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever been on this road,” she said. “It’s pretty.”
“Just wait. It gets better. I’ll swing around the lake. The view’s pretty spectacular.”
Kate was impressed that he’d even notice the view, or the color in the leaves on the trees. She kept forgetting that he’d proven himself to be more than a washed-up jock living vicariously through his son.
Thirty minutes later, Matt turned the car onto a tree-lined road. After a few miles, he turned again, and Kate gasped at the view in front of her. A lake shimmered in the sunlight, reflecting the yellows and oranges from the trees on its surface. He was right. It was spectacular.
“Wow. This is beautiful,” she said. “Your family has a home here?”
“It’s about a mile around the curve.”
“You must spend a lot of weekends here.”
“Not as many as I’d like,” Matt said. “But my parents are here a lot. It’s close enough to come just for a day or overnight.”
“Do you have a boat?”
“Oh, yeah. And jet skis. We have a lot of fun out here.”
“I bet.” As an only child, she had a small family, and had spent most of her childhood around her parents and other adults. She envied other people their siblings and big family gatherings. “Sounds like Brady enjoys being part of a larger family now.”
Matt nodded. “I think it’s been great for him and the cousins.”
He swung the car around and headed back down the blacktop, and flashed her a smile. “Okay, let’s hunt some pumpkins.”
A couple of country roads and a few minutes later, he turned the car onto a gravel drive. Kate bounced as the low-set car took the bumps. Clutching the door handle, she looked out the window. Orange dots covered the landscape as far as she could see.
“Oh, my, gosh,” she squealed, as Matt parked the car, and she opened the door. “I can’t believe they have this many left.”
“I think they supply some of the stores in the area, so they make several deliveries throughout the season,” Matt said as he went around the car toward her.
She smiled up at him. “This is amazing. Do we just go out into the fields?”
“Yep. We can walk it ourselves, or they’ll take us out in a truck.”
“Let’s walk it.”
“Fine by me,” he said.
They each took a bottle of water and set out. Matt grabbed a wagon on their way to the fields.
“Wow. This is going to take forever,” Kate said, scanning the fields before her.
“We’ve got all day,” Matt reminded her. “You point, and I’ll gather. When we get a good pile, you can pick out the ones you like the best. How many do you want?”
“Well, for all of this effort, I’d say four or five. And we should get one for Brady. Oh, Matt. You should’ve brought Brady out here.”
“Kate, really? I guarantee you Brady wouldn’t have the slightest interest in coming out here. If he were seven, maybe. But not at seventeen.”
She laughed at herself. “Yeah, yeah. You’re right.” They meandered through the rows, and Kate walked around pumpkin after pumpkin, inspecting all sides of the potential candidates.
“You know,” Matt said, as she knelt down and attempted to turn a large one. “This could take all day. I didn’t realize you were so particular about your pumpkins.”
Kate heard the humor in his voice, and knew he wasn’t really complaining. “Bored already?” she asked sweetly. “Remember, this was your idea.”
“How ’bout this one?” he asked, nudging one with a foot.
She wrinkled her nose. “Mmmm. It’s a little off-center.”
“Ah. You’re right. So, you planning to carve these?”
“No. I’ll cut them open after Halloween and harvest the seeds, though.”
“Really? For what?”
“To eat, of course.”
“Oh.” A puzzled frown creased his forehead.
“You’ve never had roasted pumpkin seeds?”
“Well, I’ll roast them and you can have some. A few.”
“I’d be happy to help,” Matt said, his voice low and full of suggestion. “Your place or mine?”
“Thanks, but I won’t need any help.” No way was she inviting him into her house. The fact that he’d shown up on her doorstep uninvited had flustered her enough.
She selected a few more, then they pushed them together to compare.
“Hmm,” Kate said, surveying the options. “Not sure I like the color of this one.”
Matt stared at her. “Uh, sweetheart, I hate to tell you, but they only come in one color. Orange.”
Kate rolled her eyes at him. “You are such a guy. Are you telling me you can’t look at these two pumpkins and see that one is darker, and one is more yellow?”
He crossed his arms, and fingered his chin as if deliberating. “Orange. Definitely.”
“I’ll take the light-orange one,” she told him, with a laugh.
He picked it up and, without warning, also planted a quick kiss on her lips.
Her heart lurched, but before she could react, he ambled back to the pile, giving her an excellent view of muscular legs and one fine derriere.
Turning back, he planted his hands on his hips and grinned at her. “What’s your pleasure ma’am?”
Keep it together, Kate, she told herself. Licking her lips, she pointed to two of them, and he hoisted them up, and deposited them in the wagon.
“You sure? This is it?”
She’d picked out five, but was reconsidering when she heard a light whinny behind her. She spun around.
“Oh, look – horses.” Without waiting for him, she headed toward the fence. In the pasture on the other side were three beautiful horses grazing in the grass. They looked up as she approached.
“Hey, pretty baby,” she crooned, holding out a hand. They regarded her, tails swishing, but stayed where they were.
Matt caught up to her, and rested his arms against the fence.
“Let me guess,” he said. “You’ve loved horses since you were a little girl.”
She leaned against the fence, pushing back a strand of hair that had come loose. “Is something wrong with that?”
“Not at all, but I’m intrigued. I think I’ve stumbled across a soft spot. You put on a tough front in your profession, but your home is full of soft things, and you like ponies.”
“Excuse me, are you a psychiatrist?”
“Hell, no,” he laughed. “I’m just making this up. Basically, it means you’re such a girl.”
She laughed then, and smacked his arm. When she tossed her head back, Matt reached out and pushed the loose strand of hair behind her ear again. His hand lingered near her face, while his thumb skimmed her cheek.
And in the next instant his lips brushed against hers.
Maybe it was the warm rays of sunshine surrounding them, or the light smoldering in Matt’s eyes. Maybe it was purely Matt Dalton’s sensuality that sent liquid heat surging through her veins. She felt deliciously enveloped in warmth.
So when he pulled her against him, she lifted her face, welcoming his kiss. His arms went around her, pressing her closer, and she melted against him. He murmured her name, and her heart pounded as a wave of desire washed over her.
Kate clutched the taut muscles of Matt’s arm with one hand, while the other one curved around his neck and wound into his thick, coarse hair. His hands splayed across her back, sending shivers rocketing up her spine.
When his lips trailed kisses behind her ear and down her neck, she moaned softly, lost in his arms. When Matt shifted, his arousal, hard against her hip, jolted Kate back to reality. She drew back and turned, leaning against the fence.
One of the horses nuzzled up to her. Breathing in light gasps, she held out a shaky hand, grateful for the diversion. She couldn’t look at Matt. Kate knew she was playing with fire. She shouldn’t have come. She thought she could get past her attraction to him and simply enjoy the day, but when he touched her, her body had a will of its own.
“I’ll get these loaded up,” Matt said finally. His voice sounded strained, and she looked up quickly. He gave her shoulder a soft squeeze, then turned toward the wagon.
She followed behind while he wrestled with keeping the wagon upright in the uneven dirt and ruts. When they reached the tent near the entrance, Matt pulled out his wallet.
“Oh, Matt. No. I’m getting these,” she said, fumbling for her purse.
“Kate,” he said, his voice brooking no opposition. “Go pick out a couple of mums.” He nodded toward a grassy area to the side with a display of colorful mums in varying stages of bloom.
Swallowing hard, she turned and marched across the lot. The man had a bit of a bossy streak. Hardly even looking at them, she picked up the two closest purple mums and headed back toward the tent, until she realized Matt was already loading pumpkins into his car. He motioned to her, and before she made it halfway, he was at her side, taking the mums. She whispered a thank-you and hurried toward the car.
Kate sensed the electricity in the car as she sat with her hands in her lap, staring out the window. When he pulled into a parking lot, she turned and looked at him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m buying you lunch, of course.”
Oh. Right. Still processing her emotions, she’d forgotten about lunch. “Matt, maybe we should just head back,” Kate said softly, not meeting his eyes.
“Kate. Come on. It’s almost one. I promised you lunch, and I’m starving. I know you must be, too.” He opened his car door, leaving her little choice but to do the same. He waited for her to round the car, then ushered her up the stairs of an old Victorian farmhouse.
Snap out of it, Kate told herself. Great blazes, it was one little kiss. She stepped onto the porch determined to be cool and collected. Taking a deep breath, she looked around at the stately old home.
“This is a clubhouse?” she asked.
“No. I thought you might like this better. My mom and sister love it.”
“Oh. It’s really cool.” It was absolutely gorgeous. With massive pots of flowers and cushioned wicker furniture, it looked like something from a magazine. The tranquility of the place went a long way toward restoring Kate’s equilibrium.
A hostess appeared. “Terrace this afternoon, folks?”
Kate couldn’t help but smile up at Matt. “Would that be okay with you?”
Kate nodded to the hostess, and she led them to a table outside with a view of a small pond and lovely gardens. “Wow,” she breathed. “It’s incredible.” She picked up the menu and read the brief history of the Mansion. “Oh, I think I’ve heard of this place.”
“Glad you like it,” Matt said.
Kate’s heart sank at the stilted, formal tone to Matt’s words. How could they recapture the easy mood of this morning? She ordered a salad and iced tea, glad to have the beautiful scenery to look at and take her mind off of . . . other things.
She held up her hand and gave him a shaky smile.
“Matt, please. That shouldn’t have happened, and I shouldn’t have let it. Why don’t we just let it go, and enjoy the rest of the day, all right? I’ve had a lot of fun. You were right. I needed a day away.”
She didn’t add that she’d actually enjoyed it a little too much.
His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. His gaze met hers, and slowly he nodded. “Okay, we let it go today, but Kate?”
She caught her breath, held captive by the intensity in Matt’s eyes.
“This conversation isn’t over.”
The ride back was quiet. Once, he reached out for her hand. He squeezed it gently then caressed the top of it with his thumb. The soft movement sent shivers up her arm. Kate kept her hand where it was, but she ached inside. She couldn’t help but feel cheated – here was a really great guy whom she liked and was attracted to, but he was off limits. It wasn’t fair.
For her, this was a fairy tale day. It couldn’t be real. She was like Cinderella, and Matt her handsome prince – only there was no ball, and no glass slipper. When the clock struck midnight tonight, she’d be left with nothing but pumpkins. And no fairy-tale ending.