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Page 15

testpreptraining

But that didn’t explain the new habit of her heart to skip or stutter whenever she saw a dark-haired man in a crowd. It didn’t explain why, more than once, she had awakened with the sheets tangled around her legs and her mind filled with the pleasant haze of having dreamed about him.

As Mark stood up from the table and walked to her with Holly in tow, Maggie was filled with a terrible, giddy rush of infatuation. Hectic color spread everywhere, right up to her hairline. Her heartbeat throbbed in every limb. She couldn’t look directly at him, couldn’t look fully away from him, just stood in unfocused confusion, bag in hand.

“Hi, Holly,” she managed to say to the beaming child, whose hair was plaited in two perfect blond braids. “How are you?”

The child surprised her by darting forward and hugging her. Maggie automatically closed her free arm around the small, slender body.

Still hanging around Maggie’s waist, Holly tilted her head back and smiled up at her. “I lost a tooth yesterday,” she announced, and showed her the new gap in the bottom row.

“That’s wonderful,” Maggie exclaimed. “Now you have two places to put your straws when you drink lemonade.”

“The tooth fairy gave me a dollar. And my friend Katie only got fifty cents for hers.” This comparison was relayed with a hint of concern at the vagaries of such a pricing system.

“The tooth fairy,” Maggie repeated, casting an amused glance at Mark. She knew how he felt about encouraging Holly to believe in fantasy creatures.

“It was a perfect tooth,” Mark said. “Obviously a tooth like that deserved a dollar.” His gaze swept over Maggie. “We were heading to your shop after lunch.”

“Anything in particular you’re looking for?”

“I need fairy wings,” Holly told her. “For Halloween.”

“You’re going to be a fairy? I have wands, tiaras, and at least a half-dozen different pairs of wings. Would you like to walk to the shop with me?”

Holly nodded eagerly and reached for her hand.

“Let me carry that stuff for you,” Mark said.

“Thank you.” Maggie gave him the paper sack, and they left Market Chef together.

During the walk, Holly was talkative and lively, telling Maggie about her friends’ Halloween costumes, and what kind of candy she hoped to get, and about the Harvest Festival she was going to after the trick-or-treating. Although Mark said little and walked behind them, Maggie was intensely aware of his presence.

As soon as they entered the shop, Maggie guided Holly to a rack of fairy wings, all beribboned, glittered, and painted with swirls. “Here they are.”

Elizabeth approached them. “Are we shopping for wings? How lovely.”

Holly stared quizzically at the elderly woman, who wore a veiled cone hat and a long tulle skirt, and carried a magic wand. “Why are you dressed like that? It’s not Halloween yet.”

“It’s my outfit for when we have birthday parties at the shop.”

“Where?” Holly asked, casting an eager glance all around the shop.

“There’s a party room in the back. Would you like to see it? It’s all decorated.”

After looking to Mark for permission, Holly went happily to the back with Elizabeth, skipping and hopping.

Mark looked after her with a wry, affectionate grin. “She bounces all the time,” he said. His gaze returned to Maggie. “We won’t stay long. I don’t want to keep you from your lunch.”

“Oh, that’s no problem. How…” It felt like she had just taken a spoonful of honey, having to swallow repeatedly against the sweet thickness. “How are you?”

“Fine. You?”

“I’m doing great,” Maggie said. “Are you and Shelby…” She had intended to say “engaged,” but the word stuck in her throat.

Mark understood what she was trying to ask. “Not yet.” He hesitated. “I brought this for you.” He set a tall, narrow-bodied thermos onto the counter, the kind that was capped by a drinking cup. Maggie hadn’t noticed him carrying it before.

“Is that coffee?” she asked.

“Yes, one of my roasts.”

The offering pleased her more than it should have. “You’re a bad influence,” she told him.

His voice was husky. “Hope so.”

It was a delicious moment, standing there with him, imagining for one forbidden second what it would be like to take one step forward and erase the distance between them. To press up to him, against hardness and heat, and feel him gather her in.

Before Maggie could thank him, Elizabeth returned with Holly. The little girl, excited by the decorated party room and a big castle cake with candles on all the turrets, went immediately to Mark and demanded that he come see it, too. He smiled and let himself be towed away.

Eventually Mark and Holly piled up their purchases on the counter: a set of fairy wings, a tiara, and a green and purple tutu. Elizabeth rang them up, chatting amiably, while Maggie was busy helping a customer.

Maggie climbed a folding step stool to reach some figurines that had been stored in a cabinet above a display case. After retrieving Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Lion, and Scarecrow, she told the customer that the Wicked Witch was out of stock. “I can reorder and have her here in about a week,” Maggie said.

The customer hesitated. “Are you sure? I don’t want to buy the others if I can’t get the whole set.”

“If you’d like, we’ll call the distributor and make certain they can send the witch.” Maggie glanced toward the cash register. “Elizabeth—”

“I have the number right here,” Elizabeth said, brandishing a laminated list. She smiled as she recognized the customer. “Hello, Annette. Is this going to be a present for Kelly? I knew she would love that movie.”

“She’s watched it at least five times,” the woman replied with a laugh, and went to the counter as Elizabeth dialed the phone.

Gathering up an armload of extra figurines, Maggie climbed the step stool and began to replace them in the cabinet. She began to struggle with her balance when some of the boxes shifted in her arms.

A pair of hands came to her waist, steadying her. Maggie froze briefly as she comprehended that Mark was standing behind her. The pressure of his touch was firm, capable, respectful. But the warmth of his hands sank through the thin cotton layer of her T-shirt, and it sent her pulse rocketing. She tensed against the compulsion to turn in the compass of his arms. How good it would feel to sink her fingers into that dark, heavy hair, and pull him closer, harder—

“Can I put those away for you?” he asked.

“No, I…I’ve got it.”

His hands lowered, but he stayed nearby.

Maggie fumbled with the remaining boxes, pushing them blindly into the cabinet. Descending from the step stool, she turned to face Mark. They were standing too close. He smelled like sun, sea air, salt—the fragrance teased her senses. “Thank you,” she managed to say. “And thanks for the coffee. How will I get the thermos back to you?”

“I’ll come back for it later.”

Having rung up the other customers, Elizabeth approached them. “Mark, I’ve been trying to convince Maggie to meet Sam. Don’t you think they would have a good time together?”

Holly’s face lit up at the suggestion. “You would like my uncle Sam a lot,” she told Maggie. “He’s funny. And he has a Blu-ray player.”

“Well, those are my two requirements,” Maggie replied with a grin. She glanced up at Mark, whose face had gone expressionless. “Would I like him?” she dared to ask.

“You don’t have much in common.”

“They’re both young and single,” Elizabeth protested. “What else do they have to have in common?”

Now Mark was wearing a distinct scowl. “You want to be introduced to Sam?” he asked Maggie.

She shrugged. “I’m pretty busy.”

“Let me know when you decide. I’ll take care of it.” He gestured to Holly. “Time to go.”

“Bye!” the little girl said brightly, coming forward to hug Maggie again.

“Bye, Holly.”

After the pair had left, Maggie glanced around the shop, which had cleared out for the time being. “Let’s have lunch,” she told Elizabeth. They went to the room at the back of the shop and sat at the table, keeping their ears tuned for the telltale jingle of the bell on the door. While Elizabeth unwrapped the sandwiches, Maggie unscrewed the top of the thermos. An enticing scent wafted upward—toasty, rich, and cedary.

Maggie inhaled deeply, closing her eyes to concentrate on the heady fragrance.

“Now I understand,” she heard Elizabeth say.

Maggie opened her eyes. “Understand what?”

“Why you weren’t interested in meeting Sam.”

A breath stuck in her throat. “Oh…I…it has nothing to do with Mark, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“I saw the way he looked at you.”

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