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Page 9

When she saw that he was about to ask something else, possibly about Eddie, she forestalled him by asking quickly, “What do you do?”

“I have a coffee-roasting business.”

“Like a home-based business, or—”

“I’ve got two partners, and a facility in Friday Harbor. We have a big industrial roaster that can produce about a hundred pounds per hour. We have about a half-dozen roast profiles we sell under our own name, but we’ve also come up with a few different lines for outlets on the island as well as Seattle, Lynnwood…and a restaurant in Bellingham, actually.”

“Really? What’s the name?”

“A vegetarian place called Garden Variety.”

“I love that place! But I’ve never tried the coffee.”

“Why not?”

“I gave it up a few years ago, after reading an article that said it wasn’t good for you.”

“It’s practically a health tonic,” Mark said indignantly. “Full of antioxidants and phytochemicals. It reduces your risk of certain kinds of cancer. Did you know that the word ‘coffee’ comes from an Arabic phrase that translates to ‘wine of the bean’?”

“I didn’t know that,” Maggie said, smiling. “You take your coffee seriously, don’t you?”

“Every morning,” he replied, “I run to the coffeemaker like a soldier returning to a lost love after the war.”

Maggie grinned, thinking what a wonderful voice he had, low but penetrating. “When did you start drinking it?”

“High school. I was studying for an exam. I tried my first cup of coffee because I thought it would help me stay awake.”

“What do you like most about it? The taste? The caffeine?”

“I like starting the day with news and Jamaica Blue Mountain. I like having a cup in the afternoon while complaining about the Mariners or the Seahawks. I like knowing that in one cup of coffee, you’re getting flavors from places most of us will never see. The Tanzanian foothills of Kilimanjaro…the Indonesian islands…Colombia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Cameroon…I like it that a truck driver can have just as good a cup of coffee as a millionaire. But most of all I like the ritual. It brings friends together, it’s the perfect ending to dinner…and on occasion it can tempt a beautiful woman to come up to your apartment.”

“That has nothing to do with coffee. You could tempt a woman with a glass of tap water.” An instant later, eyes widening, Maggie covered her mouth with her hand. “I don’t know why I said that,” she said through the screen of her fingers, mortified and marveling.

Their gazes met for an electric moment. And then a smile touched his lips, and Maggie felt her heart give a hard extra thump.

Mark shook his head to indicate that it was no problem. “I was forewarned.” He gestured to their surroundings. “Transportation makes you lose your inhibitions.”

“Yes.” Mesmerized by his warm blue-green eyes, Maggie struggled to regain the thread of conversation. “What were we were talking about?…Oh, coffee. I’ve never had coffee that tasted as good as the roasted beans smell.”

“Someday I’ll make you the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had. You’ll follow me around begging for more hot water percolated through ground robusta.”

As Maggie laughed, she sensed that something had come alive in the air around them. Attraction, she realized in wonder. She had thought somehow that she’d lost the capacity for this, the vibrant sensual awareness of another person.

The ferry was moving. She hadn’t even noticed the blare of the ferry horn. The powerful engine sent vibrations along the bones of the vessel, softer thrums milling through the floors and seats, as regular as a heartbeat.

Maggie thought she should take an interest in the view as they headed across the strait, but it had lost its usual power to entice her. She looked back at the man opposite her, the relaxed strength of him, the splayed knees and the long arm propped on the back of the bench.

“How are you spending the weekend?” she asked.

“Visiting a friend.”

“The woman who was at the store with you?”

His expression became guarded. “Yes. Shelby.”

“She seemed nice.”

“She is.”

Maggie knew she should have left it at that. But her curiosity about him was growing beyond all casual boundaries. As she tried to summon an image of the composed, attractive blond woman—Shelby—she remembered having thought that they looked right together. Like the couples in jewelry commercials. “Is it serious between you?”

He pondered that. “I don’t know.”

“How long have you been going out?”

“A few months.” A contemplative pause before he added, “Since January.”

“Then you already know if things are serious.”

Mark looked torn between annoyance and amusement. “It takes some of us longer to figure it out than others.”

“What’s left to figure out?”

“If I can overcome the fear of eternity.”

“I should tell you my motto. It’s a quote from Emily Dickinson.”

“I don’t have a motto,” he said reflectively.

“Everyone should have a motto. You can borrow mine if you want.”

“What is it?”

“‘Forever is composed of nows.’” Maggie paused, her smile turning wistful at the edges. “You shouldn’t worry about forever…time runs out faster than you expect.”

“Yes.” Somewhere in his quiet tone there was a bleak note. “I found that out when I lost my sister.”

She gave him a sympathetic glance. “You were close to her?”

There was an unaccountably long pause. “The Nolans have never been what anyone would call a close-knit family. It’s like a casserole. You can take a bunch of ingredients that are fine on their own, but put them all together and it turns into something really terrible.”

“Not all casseroles are bad,” Maggie said.

“Name a good one.”

“Macaroni and cheese.”

“That’s not a casserole.”

“What is it, then?”

“It’s a vegetable.”

Maggie burst out laughing. “Good try. But it is a casserole.”

“If you say so. But it’s the only casserole I like. All the others taste like something you put together to empty out the pantry.”

“I have my grandmother’s recipe for mac and cheese. Four kinds of cheese. And toasted bread crumbs on the top.”

“You should make it for me sometime.”

Of course that would never happen. But the idea of it caused heat to rise from her neck, spreading up to her hairline. “Shelby wouldn’t like it.”

“No. She doesn’t eat carbs.”

“I meant me cooking for you.”

Mark said nothing, only looked out the window with a distracted expression. Was he thinking of Shelby? Anticipating seeing her soon?

“What would you serve with it?” he asked after a moment.

Maggie’s grin fractured into a laugh. “I’d serve it as a main course with grilled asparagus on the side…and maybe a tomato and arugula salad.” It seemed like forever since she’d made anything beyond the simplest meals for herself, since cooking for one rarely seemed worth the effort. “I love to cook.”

“We have something in common.”

“You love to cook, too?”

“No, I love to eat.”

“Who does the cooking at your house?”

“My brother Sam and I take turns. We’re both terrible.”

“I have to ask: How in the world did you end up deciding to raise Holly together?”

“I knew I couldn’t do it alone. But there was no one else, and I couldn’t put Holly into foster care. So I guilted Sam into helping.”

“No regrets?”

Mark shook his head immediately. “Losing my sister was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but having Holly in my life is the best. Sam would say the same.”

“Has it been what you expected?”

“I didn’t know what to expect. We take it day by day. There are great moments…the first time Holly caught a fish at Egg Lake…or one morning when she and Sam decided to build a waffle tower with bananas and marshmallows for breakfast…you should have seen the kitchen. But there are the other moments, when we’re out somewhere and we see a family…” He hesitated. “And I see it in Holly’s face, wondering what it would be like to have one.”

“You are a family,” Maggie said.

“Two uncles and a kid?”

“Yes, that’s a family.”

As they continued to talk, it somehow slipped into the bonelessly comfortable, unstructured conversation of longtime friends, both of them letting it go where it would.

She told him what it was like to have lived in a big family—the endless competition for hot water, for attention, for privacy. But even with the squabbling and rivalry, they had been affectionate and happy, and had taken care of each other. By the time Maggie was in fourth grade, she had known how to cook dinner for ten. She had worn nothing but hand-me-downs and never thought a thing about it. The only thing she had truly minded was that possessions were always lost or broken. “You get to a point where you can’t let it matter,” she said. “So even as a little girl I developed a Buddhist-like nonattachment to my toys. I’m good at letting go of things.”

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