Chapter Nine – The Odds Were a Million to One
by Laura Breck
What were the odds? Mitch couldn't begin to calculate as he gazed into Candy’s familiar hazel eyes.
Like a bolt of lightning, it had all come back to him when she'd said her mother’s name. Marie Wright had been the cleaning woman at his parents’ penthouse apartment in Manhattan. She'd occasionally brought ten-year-old Candy with her to help in the kitchen during parties. Odds had to be a million to one that twenty years later he'd run into the adult version of that scrawny girl.
His lips curved into a smile.
Candy smiled back and blinked those same incredible eyes he’d stared into the first time he’d met her. During his twelfth birthday party, he’d snuck into the kitchen and found her elbow-deep in dishwater. She’d been startled, frozen like a deer, her large eyes watching him warily, obviously intimidated by the boy in a suit and tie.
He’d pulled up a stool and started talking. Asking her where she went to school, where she lived, what she did for fun.
It’d been fifteen minutes before his mother found him and hauled him back to the boring, family party. But in that short time, he’d succeeded in getting sullen little Candy to relax and talk to him. She’d even laughed a couple times.
“Mitch?” Candy’s voice dragged him back to the present. She slid her hands up his sides, over his abs, and across his chest.
“Yeah?” He tugged her closer, spreading his feet slightly to better fit them together. Mmm, how they fit. Perfect.
As she gazed into his eyes, her irises darkened, and her arms wrapped around his neck, pushing her breasts tight against his chest. “I'd like that.”
Her warmth seeped into him, sending spirals of desire that centered low in his belly. His brain couldn’t decipher what she was talking about. So he gave up trying.
Pressing his lips to hers, he breathed in her scent. The woodsy smell of his bath soap clung to her skin, melding with her sweet, feminine musk. The combination did even more damage to his lucidity. He fought to cage his lust, struggled to keep his hips still.
Soft, full lips. The kiss last night had been fueled by whiskey. This morning, it was pure desire that kindled his need to taste her. He slid his tongue along the crease of her lips.
She sighed and opened her mouth in invitation.
He accepted, twining his tongue with hers. Exploring every crevice of her mouth, her soft cheeks, her straight, sharp teeth.
Candy’s hips moved, and he groaned. He needed to pick her up into his arms, carry her he-man style. This time, into his bedroom.
As if an internal warning engaged, her stomach rumbled. She giggled, her tongue still gliding over the ticklish inside of his lip.
He slowed the kiss and pulled back, looked into her eyes, and murmured, “Pancakes first?”
“Yes, please.” Her shining eyes and perfect smile hit him like a snowball to the head.
This was Candy. The little girl he’d teased and talked with and grown to care about. Their occasional kitchen visits had ended three years later when he’d left for prep school. His parents had downsized to a smaller apartment, and Marie had been let go. His gut squeezed when he recalled his distraught reaction to losing Marie—and Candy.
Anger surged when he remembered his father’s dismissal of Mitch’s feelings, with parental advice to move on, Michael. A phrase—and name—he would come to detest.
Mitch released her but bent for one more quick kiss. “Come on. Let's get something into that empty belly of yours.” Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he guided her to the kitchen. “Fresh blueberries in your pancakes?”
Grinning up at him, she taunted, “You don't have blueberries. It’s the middle of winter.”
He laughed. “I made a run to Atlanta before Christmas. Blueberries. Real maple syrup. Butter.”
Her stomach rumbled again. “Stop.” She put her hand on her stomach. “I'm going to start drooling like Major.”
At the sound of his name, Major trotted into the kitchen and sat at Candy’s feet.
After a few seconds, she bent and patted his head. Awkwardly, but at least she wasn’t cringing from the dog anymore.
“What about you, boy? Do you like blueberries in your pancakes?”
His tail swished back and forth across the floor like a windshield wiper in a deluge.
Mitch watched the two of them, startled by the warmth spreading from his heart, creeping its way through his chest to disrupt his breathing. Was it the homey feeling of a sexy woman wearing his clothes and petting his dog? Or was it Candy in particular who invoked some kind of freakishly un-macho nesting instinct in him?
She stood and looked at her hand as if it might sport hair, fleas, ticks, and assorted microscopic health hazards. Looking at him, she forced a smile and went to the sink, taking care to wash away at least one layer of skin.
He grinned and headed to the fridge, pulling out eggs, milk, and the promised blueberries. From the cabinet he hauled down flour, baking powder, and salt.
Candy sidled up next to him. “You're making them from scratch?”
“Can't afford the boxed mix on my salary.”
Her smile wavered. Was she feeling sorry for him? Or did she suddenly realize she’d been flirting with a man who hovered on the low end of middle-class?
He handed her a bowl and a fork. “Two eggs. Beaten.”
“Yes, sir.” She took the bowl and the egg carton to the island and got cracking.
Digging in a drawer for measuring spoons and cups, he asked, “Do you cook?”
“I used to. My mom taught me. But lately, I haven’t had time.” She beat the eggs with the fork. “Do you cook a lot?”
“No. I work long days and eat sandwiches, mostly.” Up until ten years ago, he’d never even turned on a stove. His parents employed a cook, and when Mitch had moved out to attend college, they’d sent the cook to his on-campus apartment four times a week to prepare meals for him.
When he joined the family business, he hired a full-time chef, equipped to cater his weekly client dinner parties, Saturday evening social gatherings, and noon staff meetings.
Scraping something crusty out of the one-cup measure, he smirked. Times had sure changed. Circumstances reversed. For both of them. They’d each gone from one extreme to the other.
He glanced at his unexpected guest. How, and when, would he tell her who he really was? Did he even have to tell her? Or would this be just a hit-and-run for Ms. Candy Wright? The thought spiked his blood pressure.