narrowed. He stepped forward. “Can I speak with you a moment?”
first time, they were eye to eye. Celie's gaze was speculative.
She studied him, in fact, like he were a puzzle that interested
and nodded at the box of literature. “I can get that for you.”
Action always came more easily to him than standing around. Or speaking.
Celie watched him climb onto the low stage and pick up the heavy
box. “So what do you think?”
talk?” Or of her? There was something about her, he thought,
something appealing, maybe irresistible.
But that wasn’t
why he was here.
in my trees yesterday,” he said abruptly, knowing no other
way than to be direct. “Were you inspecting them?”
The glint of humor
in her eyes disappeared. “Not officially, no. I thought I
was on Institute property. Something just caught my eye and I wanted
a better look.”
Her pause was
too deliberate. It made him uneasy. “Something interesting
about the trunk.”
He felt the flare
of impatience. “Don’t dance around the question. You
were bent over one of my trees with a field kit when I walked up.
What was that about?”
I noticed the tree as I was driving by. Some things that are characteristic
of an infested tree,” she elaborated. “I just wanted
to take a closer look, but I didn’t realize it was your land.”
give a damn about trespassing. I want to know what you saw.”
not sure.” She looked at him, her eyes troubled. “The
bore holes were the right size but the wrong shape. I thought the
sample I got out of the hole contained fungus but the test I did
showed up negative.”
Relief made him lightheaded. “So it’s clear?”
do a more comprehensive test tomorrow, once I get my lab set up.
Of course, your dog knocked my vial into the snow before I got the
top on, so the results aren’t iron clad.”
be a little overenthusiastic sometimes.”
say. What is he, the love child of a lab and a Shetland pony?”
“Lab, great dane and a little bloodhound thrown in for good
measure, or so the vet tells me.”
background beats a pedigree any time.”
nothing if not interesting around here.”
“I bet you
are.” Killer smile, Celie thought as they stepped off the
stage. A mouth that begged to be nibbled on and she was just the
nibbler to do it. But it was the smile that lightened up that sober
face, that made him approachable. His nose looked like it had lost
a battle once with something bigger or harder, but the resultant
bump only made him look more interestingly rugged.
There was a strength
to him, not just height and width of shoulder but some quality she
couldn’t name. Certainty of self, perhaps. It was what had
driven her to seek him out when she could have wandered to a seat
by any of the men she’d been chatting with. They didn’t
Jacob Trask did.
They started up
the aisle. “Speaking of interesting,” she said, “I’ve
never seen a Feed n’ Read before.”
you’ve been by Ray’s. One of my favorite places.”
“So he was
telling you?” Jacob watched her walk ahead of him, the red
trousers shifting in some very intriguing ways.
got Ray talking, you’re good.” Then again, she’d
somehow managed to get him talking, too.
“I got the
impression he likes to do nothing but.”
strangers. Ray usually barks at strangers, if he talks to them at
I charmed him.”
Like she was charming
him, Jacob thought. “I’m impressed.”
I must be doing well. From what I hear, impressing you isn’t
like people have been doing way too much talking, all together.”
worry,” she said as they neared the open doorway. “I’m
a scientist. I prefer to collect data on my own.”
planning to collect data on me?” he asked, amused.
She glanced laughingly
back over her shoulder at him. “I don’t know. Do you
mind?” She started out the open door and then reached back
in to shut off the lights.
Their hands landed
on the switch at the same time.
It was just a
touch, hand to hand, but the effects ricocheted crazily through
his system. Vivid awareness of her fingers, cool and soft and tangled
with his. For an instant, he felt her tense in reaction, then relax.
It took him a moment longer than he should have to move his hand.
When he snapped
the switch down, it enveloped them in a darkness broken only by
the hallway light coming through the open door.
Her eyes were
shadowed as she looked back in at him. He could see her profile,
the quick tilt of nose, the generous mouth. “Time to go.”
Jacob thought uneasily, be long past time.