Marjo lingered a moment longer, feeling like she should say something else. A crazy thought. All she wanted to do was put as much distance between herself and Paul Clermont as possible.
Dinner last night with him had actually been fun, when they weren’t sparring like Tyson and Holyfield. Maybe it was just him fighting her every step of the way with the opera house, but every time she looked at Paul Clermont, he ignited a spark inside her that she’d thought had long ago gone out. “Well, I have to get to work,” she said, but her feet didn’t move.
“Where do you work? From what I saw, there’s only about five businesses here.”
“The Savoy Funeral Home. If you follow the road through town and up to the left, you’ll see it over by the church and the cemetery. It’s been in my family forever.” She shrugged. “Guess I just followed family tradition.”
“Do you do the embalming?”
It was a natural question, and one she’d been asked a hundred times before. “Not so much now. I’m the funeral director so I do most the planning and detail things. Henry Roy is our undertaker and he does the embalming. Gabriel helps him. I learned how to embalm, even did it for a while when I was younger. I mean, when you grow up with it, it’s just natural to help out. I remember when Gabriel and I were little, we’d help dress the bodies.”
“It was at first,” she admitted and fell into place beside Paul as he began to walk along the edge of the water, “but, down here especially, you learn that death is simply part of life. There are a hundred different Cajun superstitions around death, but by and large, we see it simply as part of the cycle.”
“Like the bayou,” he said, pointing towards the olive green water, teeming with life and edged by death in the trees that hadn’t been able to survive among the crowded banks. Yet, together, it created a picture of beauty.
“So, was funeral work your life’s ambition?”
“No, not even close,” she said, laughing, enjoying this respite from a day that had been filled with the very detail work she hated. “When I was a kid, I had this crazy idea that I could be a singer.”
“So why didn’t you do it?” He grinned. “No natural rhythm?”
“It was just impractical. I had…” she glanced back in the direction that Gabriel had gone, “responsibilities.”
Paul had never known that kind of life. The only person he’d ever answered to had been himself. He looked at Marjo and saw the woman beside him with new eyes. Apparently, there was a lot more to her story than he had thought at first glance.
That didn’t mean he was considering a truce, maybe more of a demilitarized zone, here, along the banks of the bayou. They walked along the natural path formed by the water’s edge and leading through the ten acres that made up the land of the bed and breakfast. Occasionally, Paul would see an alligator skimming along the surface, showing little more than his eyes and looking more like a log than a predator. “You were right, this place is different from any other I’ve ever seen.”
“If you stay here too long, it’ll grow on you. And if you stand in one place too long, the Spanish moss will grow on you, too.” She smiled, the kind of smile that Paul knew would linger in his mind, stay with him all day. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
“I can’t imagine living anywhere, period. Putting down roots isn’t exactly my forte. I used to own a house, back when I was married, but that didn’t last long.”
“The home ownership or the marriage?”
“Both.” He didn’t seem to want to discuss it any further than that, so she let the subject drop.
They reached a thick stand of trees, which gave them two optionspick through the foliage to continue the walk or stop and turn around. Marjo turned around at the same time Paul did, but in doing so, ended up turning right into him. The connection sent an immediate jolt of attraction through her, something that sent her reeling. It wasn’t that she’d never been attracted to a man before, she’d just never felt it that instantly or that strong.
She stopped. He stopped. He gazed down at her, a slight, tempting grin on his face. “Sorry,” he said.
“No, I’m sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was going and“
“It’s okay,” Paul said, touching her lips with a fingertip.
She inhaled, parting her lips as she did, nearly kissing his finger. He watched her mouth open, his gaze intent and serious.
And then, in the space of an instant, he leaned down, brushed his lips lightly against hers, in a touch so gentle it was more tease than anything else. He drew back, a centimeter, maybe two, waiting for her to react. To slap him, she was sure, but the part of her that had thought he was the enemy five minute ago seemed to have deserted her, overtaken by her own hormones.
She leaned forward, and then, her lips were on his, his mouth gaining ground, and they were kissing, a hot, frenzied kiss, the kind that came about on the spur of the moment, drawn purely by want and nothing else. Fire ignited her nerve endings, singing through her body, stirring parts of her that had been quiet for so long. Too long. For one amazing, senseless minute, she kissed him, reveling in the touch of his hands on her cheeks, the powerful feel of his body against hers.
A bullfrog let out a loud, groaning belch, the sound a stark reminder of where she was.
And who she was with.
Marjo jerked back. “That shouldn’t have happened.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I just“ He cut off the sentence, leaving her to wonder what he was about to say. He’d just lost his head? He’d just thought she was someone else, or he’d just been using the kiss as a way to convince her selling the Indigo Opera House was a good idea?
“I’ve really got to go.” Then, before she could do something really stupid, like kiss him again, Marjo turned on her heel and headed to work.
The one benefit of working with dead people all dayit effectively killed all thoughts of romance.