Strict Confidence (Rochester Trilogy #2) by Skye Warren


Jane Mendoza

I feel slightly more normal the next day. More like I’ve been hit with a regular hammer instead of a sledgehammer. The bruises on my body from falling debris turn an ugly green.

“More syrup than that,” Paige says.

She’s sitting at the kitchen island, her gaze glued to the mini pitcher in my hand. Amber maple syrup spills down onto the stack of pancakes I’ve made her. Marjorie took the morning off—an appointment, she said—so it’s just us in the kitchen. “More than that.”

“Your pancakes are going to float away.”

“Then make them float,” she says, expression serious.

I tiptoe right up to the edge of floating the pancakes on the sturdy china Marjorie uses, then stop pouring it with a laugh. “Let’s save a little bit for me.”

“Is it all gone?” Beau asks from the doorway. He has a stack of paper in his hands. I don’t know how he could be reading it, what with all the pacing he’s doing. He keeps looping back to the kitchen, pausing in the doorway, and going away again.

“Not quite.” I cut my glance toward the cupboard. Marjorie is too competent of a bed-and-breakfast owner to actually run out of syrup. “But we might be getting close if Paige needs her pancakes to sail away on a syrup ocean.”

She grins at me through a mouthful of pancakes. My heart squeezes. She’s been so pale and quiet and unsettled since the fire, but this morning she seems like she’s starting to get used to it. Maybe we all are. As soon as I think it, I become aware of my clothes again. Thick, expensive fabric, and soft. Not the sturdy cotton that most hand-me-downs are made out of.

From the outside, no one would be able to tell that I don’t really belong here with Beau and Paige. All they’d see, if they looked in the window, is a woman and a little girl making breakfast, and a man hovering around like a moth drawn in to a flame again and again. They’d probably see a little family.

There’s nobody out there, but when I turn back to flip the pancakes I check the window. Nothing but a fresh, clean day. Warm out already. Buttery sunlight. Plants tentatively starting to bloom. It’s unseasonably warm, according to Marjorie. Warm enough that people are swimming in the ocean. Not me. I’ll go to the beach with Paige, but we’re sticking to sandcastles away from the cold water’s edge.

Beau leans against the doorframe and scans the papers he’s brought with them.

“Do you want any pancakes?” Paige cranes her neck to look at him.

His eyes come up from the papers to meet hers, and then they move to mine. My pulse ticks up. Is that longing in his eyes? Does Beau Rochester want to be invited to sit down to breakfast with us? That’s what would happen in that picture-perfect family. I would serve them pancakes at the kitchen island. He’d sit there next to Paige and tease her about the lake’s worth of syrup on her plate. I would laugh. We would be happy.

Beau blinks like he’s clearing a similar vision from his mind. “I’m all right. Thanks, sweetheart.”

Paige screws up her lips in a pout, but it disappears just as quickly. Beau’s footsteps travel up the stairs to the second floor. A door closes with a soft click just as the back door opens.

Mateo steps in from the outside, bathed in golden morning light, looking exactly like an ultra-hot movie star.

Because he is an ultra-hot movie star.

Right now, he looks the part. A towel is slung low on his hips, held in place with one of his fists, and his dark hair glistens. He runs a hand through it, tousling it just so, and he flashes me a smile that looks as expensive as his carved abs.

His abs.

Which are on display. Fully. If the towel moved another inch…

“Morning, Jane. Hi, Paige.”

I remember I’m looking at a human being and not a movie poster and almost drop the spatula into the frying pan. My face heats. It’s not that I’m attracted to Mateo. He’s just attractive. It’s a natural reaction in the presence of a gorgeous man like he is. “Morning, Mateo. How was your swim?”

“Bracing,” he answers. He hasn’t dried himself off all the way, despite the towel. Water droplets still cling to his shoulders and the ridges of his abs. I need to stop looking at them immediately. “It clears my head to wake up that way. Straight from bed to the ocean.”

“Does it? I’d freeze, I think.”

“You don’t freeze if your body stays moving. Besides, the ocean is warmer than it looks this time of year. Once you’re in it’s not so bad.”