“Do you trust me?” he asked.
Now there was a sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. “I suppose,” she said, hedging. Only Mae’s faith in him was giving him her current benefit of the doubt.
“Well, you can,” he said, clearly disappointed by the less than wholehearted response. “You need to go back to whatever you were doing and let Hannah and me finish up what we’re doing.”
She returned his gaze without blinking. “I was thinking of quitting for the day, maybe coming downstairs for a snack.”
“I’ll bring you a snack,” he said at once. “Anything you want.”
“An entire pint of your ice cream?”
“If that’s what you want,” he said at once.
“Okay, that’s it. Something bad is going on down there, isn’t it?” she said, trying to brush past him.
“Mom, please,” Hannah wailed. “You’ll spoil everything. It’s not bad. I promise.”
Savannah told herself that it was her daughter’s plea, not the pleading expression in Trace’s eyes that won her over. “You can’t keep me up here forever, you know.”
“Just another couple of hours,” he said, looking relieved. “Still want that ice cream?”
“No, that was just a test.”
He grinned. “I figured as much.”
Savannah sighed. “I’m going back to strip wallpaper.”
“Maybe you ought to take a break,” he suggested. “Maybe take a long, leisurely bubble bath or something.”
“Who has time for that?” Savannah grumbled. “This place isn’t going to get fixed up by itself.”
He tucked a finger under her chin. “When you start saying things like that, it’s exactly the time when you need a break the most.”
“This from a workaholic like you?” she scoffed.
“Actually that’s something your aunt used to say to me every time I protested that I couldn’t get away from the office to come visit. It got me up here every time,” he said, an unmistakable hint of nostalgia in his voice. “And she was always right. I always felt better after a few days with her. I even got so I barely cracked open my briefcase the whole time I was here.”
“Did she talk you into taking a bubble bath, too?” Savannah teased.
“Nope, but you probably could,” he retorted, then added in an undertone, “especially if you were joining me.”
Heat and desire shot through Savannah like a bolt of lightning. “Any bubble bath I take, I’ll be taking alone,” she told him, keeping her own voice muted.
Before she made the fatal mistake of agreeing with him, she whirled around and went back upstairs. She started toward the room where she’d been about to work, then changed her mind and headed another floor up to her bathroom, where she poured some lavender-scented bubble bath into the tub and turned on the water, knowing that the sound would be enough to keep Trace’s imagination stirred up. He wasn’t the only one under this roof who had a wicked streak, she thought with satisfaction as she sank into the warm water. Hers had just been on hold for a while.
Unfortunately the memory of his suggestion that he join her and the sensual feel of the water against her skin combined to make the bath far less relaxing than she’d envisioned. In fact, she concluded as she stepped from the tub and wrapped herself in a thick terry-cloth towel, it really was too bad that she wouldn’t find Trace waiting for her in her bed. Thank goodness they were going caroling in a couple of hours. It was definitely going to take a blast of icy air to cool off her wayward thoughts.
“Quiet,” Trace admonished Hannah when they heard Savannah moving around upstairs. Since they were due to leave for the caroling in less than a half hour, he figured they had five minutes, maybe less, before she started down from the private quarters on the third floor. He squeezed Hannah’s hand. “Not a word till she gets all the way down and sees what we’ve done.”
They’d only made a dent in the work that was needed to put Holiday Retreat back into shape for guests, but the outside of the front door and the exterior trim were now a bright red, the brass fixtures glistened and the foyer and living room floors were polished to a mellow sheen. Hannah had even fashioned some greens and ribbon into a decoration that had been hung from the brass knocker. In his opinion, with just a little effort, they had made a vast difference in the appearance of the inn. It looked as it had on his first few visits, before Mae had let some of the maintenance slip.
Beside him, Hannah was practically bursting with excitement as they waited for her mother.
“I should open the door,” she whispered. “Otherwise, how will she know about the paint and the decoration?”
Trace grinned at her. “Good point. Why don’t you sneak out the back door, run around to the front and open it when I give the word that she’s almost down the steps. I’ll make sure it’s unlocked.”
Hannah took off, thundering across the floor in her eagerness.
“Don’t forget your coat,” Trace called after her just as he heard Savannah’s footsteps descending from the third floor to the second.
Since he didn’t want Savannah to miss Hannah’s grand entrance, he stepped into view as she started down the last flight and blocked her way. She paused halfway down, regarding him warily.
“I am not going back up,” she told him.
“Never said you should.”