He didn’t know if she’d want to see him tonight or not. She’d sounded pretty miserable on the phone which is why he’d thought the flowers might cheer her up. He’d grown up with two sisters and been married, though briefly and long ago. While he knew he never stood a chance in hell of understanding the female mind, one thing he’d learned was that when it came to feminine functions every woman was different.
In the end, the magnetic pull of seeing Lydia proved too strong for Galen to resist. By seven o’clock he found himself standing on her porch. He lifted his hand to knock, then realized that only the screen was closed and he could see her stretched out on the couch. “Lydia?”
“Galen?” She lifted what looked like a miniature satin pillow off of one of her eyes. “Haven’t you learned just to come in yet?”
“Are you all right?”
“Define all right.” She dropped the eye pillow on the floor as she sat up. “I’ll survive and I’m not contagious.”
“You look like hell.” He regretted the words the moment they were out of his mouth.
But Lydia never failed to surprise him. Instead of chewing him out, she laughed, sagging back against the arm of the couch. “No kidding. Thanks for the flowers, by the way. Very pretty.”
He followed his instincts and sat down in the chair beside the couch. Close enough to touch but not close enough to crowd. He lifted her hand off her lap and brought it to his lips. “You sounded miserable on the phone. I thought you could use something to cheer you up.”
She stretched, then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He tried not to notice how the movement outlined her breasts beneath the thin little camisole she wore with a pair of calf-length cotton sleep pants. “They did. They also caused endless speculation among the student staff at the library, and increased my perceived social status immensely.”
She was paler than he’d ever seen her. Wouldn’t he have noticed if she’d come to class this ragged-looking every month? He was very much afraid she was actually ill. “Have you eaten dinner?”
She shook her head. “Too much trouble. I had a Diet Coke and some crackers.”
“Are you sick or just…?” He hoped he wasn’t being insensitive.
“Just.” She chuckled. “Thank you for caring. I also have a bitch of a stress headache from the new job, and trying to read handwritten texts in dead languages. On top of that, I’m tired because I haven’t been getting too much sleep lately. I’ll be fine in a day or two.”
“Sorry about the tired part.” Guilt bubbled to the surface of his conscience.
“I wasn’t complaining.” She proved her point with a jaw-cracking yawn.
Galen wished he understood his bone-deep need to take care of this woman. “Well tonight you can sleep all you want. But you really should eat something first. I could run out and get pizza or Chinese.”
She considered a moment. “I could eat some cashew chicken.”
“Okay.” That was easy. “Anything else you need while I’m out?” Please don’t let her ask me to pick up tampons, he thought in a moment of panic. He’d do it. Hell, he’d probably fetch her a live human sacrifice if she asked him nicely enough, but he didn’t think he was ready to buy feminine hygiene products yet.
“Chocolate?” Her voice was tentative, as if it was an outrageous request. “I’d kill for a Snickers bar.”
He leaned over and kissed her. “I think I can manage that. Do you need anything before I go?”
He rewarmed her lavender-filled heating pad in the microwave, switched her eye pillow for a fresh one in the freezer, then fetched her ibuprofen and another soda before he left. It was cute how easily someone as stubbornly independent as Lydia adapted to being pampered once he’d put his mind to doing it.
She was sound asleep when he returned, crashed out on the sofa with one arm across her face and the other hand trailing on the floor. He set the Chinese take-out on the table and put the wine he’d picked up in the fridge. Then he ducked down to his car for his laptop. Might as well get some work done while he waited for her to wake up.
It didn’t even occur to him to leave. As he read a long chatty email from his younger sister, he pondered that for a minute. Then he gave a mental shrug. Nope. There were no alarms or warning bells going off in his brain. Sticking around was no big deal, he just liked her company. It didn’t have to mean anything. Right?
The sarcastic side of him thought that was funnier than shit.
When Lydia woke, it was to the smell of garlic and the sound of a baseball game playing quietly on her television. As her eyes flickered open, Lydia looked over to see Galen sprawled in one of her wicker chairs using chopsticks to eat something out of a paper carton, his laptop open on an upturned milk crate by his chair.
He gave her one of his heart-melting smiles. “Good morning, sleeping beauty.”
Her answering laugh was interrupted by a yawn. “What time is it?”
“You were out for about two hours,” he replied. He held up the chopsticks. “Hope you don’t mind that I gave up waiting.”
“Not at all.” She shook her head to clear it and sat up. “Wow. I feel a whole lot better. I’m even hungry. Is there anything left for me?”
“Cashew chicken, as requested. I’ll go warm it up for you.”
Jeez, he was spoiling her rotten. A girl could get used to this kind of treatment. When she returned from a trip to the bathroom, a steaming carton and a glass of white wine were waiting for her on the coffee table. Galen was flicking buttons on the remote control. “Baseball game over?”
He shook his head. “Commercial.” He continued to channel surf while she unwrapped her chopsticks and dug into her food.
They ate and watched the game in comfortable silence, interrupted by “pass the soy sauce,” and “do you call that a pitch?” It was different from other nights because there was no expectation of sex, no rush to get to the good parts. This was just—nice, she thought. Something else she could get used to all too easily.