Clarke’s shocked exhalation and subsequent silence erased the hope that she hadn’t been as bad as she imagined. She twisted her hands over the chair arms again and didn’t meet his gaze. “I haven’t been fair to you. Your reputation precedes you, of course. But I’ve let that color my image of you.” Not to mention what happened ten years ago. “Apposite is a long shot. Everyone knows it. The sharks circle in the press, waiting for our collapse. The only way we have any hope of making this work is by sticking together. You’re…” She dared a glance Clarke’s way and faltered at the gentle compassion there. She swallowed. “You’re Kai’s friend. Kai is the fairest, most decent man I’ve ever met. If he says you’re okay, then that’s good enough for me.”
“Damn it. My reputation. Again. It follows me everywhere I go. I wish you had reason to think well of me other than just Kai’s opinion.” His face settled into harsh lines.
“I…” Surely she wasn’t the only one to back away from him because of what had happened. Her opinion shouldn’t carry that much weight. “Does it matter?”
He propelled himself off the desk and moved to crouch in front of her. “What if I said yes?”
His eyes were much too close, filling her vision with their green depths. She wanted to shout every time she laid eyes on him. Either that or kiss him.
“Why would my opinion mean anything?”
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and for a brief, wild moment, she thought he was going to kiss her. Her breath shortened at the idea of his lips on hers. Her former self would have rejoiced. This mature version was smarter than that.
Then he reared back and rose. Taking up his seat behind the desk again, he gave her a hooded glance. “I can’t answer that. Apology accepted. I’m glad we can work together. I was getting tired of having to cut the air with a knife.”
“Great. Thanks. Listen, are you hungry?” When his brows furrowed together at her non sequitur, she continued. “I…cook, and I tried this pulled pork recipe that was posted online.” Damn, this was hard. “Following a recipe is easier if I make the whole thing and freeze the rest, but there’s way too much. Would you like some? I think the dish is pretty good.”
She waited, wishing she could retract the impulsively extended invitation. Trying to bury the hatchet was one thing, but spending time with him was insanity.
“You bake? I didn’t see that coming. Why did you make the whole batch? With a mind like yours, I’m sure cutting the recipe in half would have been child’s play.”
“I cook,” she corrected. “I don’t often bake.” Her inner critic mocked her. Pedant. She paused but then continued, afraid she would lose the nerve to speak. “Of course I could split the recipes, but cooking is relaxing for me. I don’t want to spoil my mood by remembering what half of a tablespoon is, or halving all the protein, so I make them as written. I’ve got a big freezer.”
The image of the classes at the Culinary Institute in Pasadena danced in her mind. It would be great to learn how to do the fancy stuff from the cooking shows, but she had never gotten further than checking out their website. The most she had ever done was try the videos online. Cooking was a hobby, that was all. Life didn’t reward the frivolous. She remembered the time she’d brought cookies to a party at Attraction’s bass player’s house…Terri shuddered at the memory. Clarke’s reaction had not been kind.