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Gloria could practically hear Ned’s heart beating; he was standing so close. What was he thinking? They’d formed a solid friendship, and now, if her instincts we right, he appeared to be crossing the friendship line. Had that been his intention all along? Was she so stupid that she’d let her guard slip and hadn’t seen that he just wanted to get her in bed? What was it about her that made men think she was fair game?
Scrubbing at a stubborn piece of food on a plate, she frowned.
Ned backed up half a step, picking up on her discomfort. “What’s wrong?”
The plate was clean, but she kept scrubbing anyway.
“Gloria?” He said her name more like a quiet demand than a question. She quit scrubbing the dish but didn’t look up.
He waited, and the silence in the small kitchen was deafening.Finally, Gloria met his eye. Ned grinned an easy smile. “I’ll dry.” With that, he snatched up the dishtowel hanging on the oven door and reached for the plate.
She regarded him through narrowed eyes, trying to read his intent. He felt like the same old Ned; maybe she’d been wrong. With a shrug, she rinsed the plate and handed it to him. Her instincts had led her astray before. Crap, she’d never been able to tell when a man cared about her.
Ned dried the plate and reached up to put it in the cupboard.Glancing back to Gloria, he caught her watching him, so he offered a reassuring, friendly grin.
“Damn,” she thought, turning her attention back to the dishes. The man really was dangerously good looking. Yet, here she stood with him in Nadine’s kitchen. The one woman she wanted to show she had changed. She had to prove to Nadine, and the other wives in town, that she wasn’t out to get a man. She needed to remember that, no matter how gorgeous Ned was. Besides, she valued his friendship far too much to mess it up. If she was capable of managing any type of relationship with a man, she wanted to be Ned’s friend.
Rinsing a plastic cup, she handed it off to him, and her eye caught his. Something in the depths of his gaze snagged her attention, and she couldn’t look away.What was he trying to tell her?
“I’m firsty,” Christi’s tiny voice said from the doorway.
The cup dropped to the sink as both Ned and Gloria jerked their hands apart, both jumping back as they turned toward the little girl.
Christi stood in her pajamas, her eyes wide. “I need a dwink.”
Ned was the first to spring into action. “I’ll get you a d—drink, sweetheart. Do you want water or milk?”
“Miwk,” she said. Her little face was serious as her eyes bounced from Ned to Gloria and back.
Reaching into the cupboard by the sink, he retrieved a child’s sippy-cup and lid, then headed toward the fridge. For a moment he juggled the cup and lid to open the door and take out the milk, but he managed to make it to the table and fill the cup half full. Tossing a grin to Gloria, as if to say ‘I got this’, he twisted the cap onto the cup.
Christi padded across the room and reached for the cup.
Ned squatted down to eye level and offered her his trademark grin. “Here you go d—darlin’.”
The child gave him a serious once over as she took the cup, then tipped it up to drink.Unfortunately, when the cup reached her mouth, the lid came off, and milk spilled all down the front of the little girl’s chin, neck, and footy pajamas.
Ned gasped and jumped back to miss the torrent of milk splashing across the floor.
“Oh dear!” Gloria cried, grabbing the towel off the counter and hurrying to the little girl’s side. “Did the lid come off?” Her eyes sprung to Ned’s, and she felt instantly silly for asking the obvious, so she turned back to the little girl. “Of course, it did. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Ned floundered, “I didn’t m—mean to… I’m so s—sorry…” Little Christi glared up at him, her expression clearly stating that she considered the man to be a complete jerk. Milk dripped onto the floor as she stood in a widening puddle. Her fuzzy pink pajamas and even her hair were soaked in milk.
Trying not to laugh, Gloria stripped off the sodden pajamas, soothing and assuring Christi that the deputy didn’t mean to spill her milk. After dabbing up all the milk she could with the now-soaked towel, she hefted the child up onto her hip and turned to Ned. The miserable look on his face gave her pause. “Don’t worry,” she assured both parties. “Nothing a bath won’t fix.”
As she headed across the room, Ned found his voice. “I’ll m—mop up…” but Gloria was gone, along with his chance to tell her how he felt.