"You don't cook?" he asked, eyebrows raised. The amusement lighting his gaze told her he didn't believe her.
"That's not what I heard."
Her boys again. It had to be. "What did they tell you?"
"Lucas mentioned all the time how much he loved your cooking. And I saw those lunches you packed the boys. Lots of work went into those. Not the lunches of a mom who doesn't cook." The look on his face let her know he was on to her.
Lucy rolled her eyes. Of course they would have mentioned that. How was she supposed to talk her way out of this one? "Dinner is nothing special," she said, mimicking his earlier words. "Just spaghetti. Jarred sauce. No meat or grated cheese or anything like that. Days like this, I'm so busy with work and the kids I just don't have time to cook a big meal."
David surprised her by laughing. "I'm used to living on microwave meals and fast-food takeout. Spaghetti sounds awesome."
She walked over to the stove and turned on the burner under the pot of water she'd put there earlier for the pasta. All the while, she could swear she felt his gaze on her back. He knew what she was doing. He had to. The look on his face and his tone when he spoke had told her as much.
Once she had the burner going, she spun around, her hands on her hips. "Are you always this agreeable, or is it just for my benefit?"
David shrugged. "I'm a pretty easygoing guy."
"Hmm." No one could be that calm all the time. Even when Trevor had clogged the toilet, David had stuck his hand in there, barely breaking a sweat. Someone so relaxed around kids who were often more demon than human had to be holding something back. Sooner or later, she'd figure out what his deal was. In her experience, nice guys were generally jackasses in disguise. She'd learned that lesson several times over. "Is there something wrong with you I should know about?"
He laughed. "What do you mean?"
"Like mental illness, maybe?"
"Honey, if I was mentally ill, they wouldn't let me teach a bunch of impressionable young minds."
Very true, but she'd never met anyone who could hang around her kids for long and not go crazy. Separately, they were fine, but put the scheming little bunch all together and they turned into hell on legs, especially for someone who didn't have kids. And particularly when they were trying to get someone's attention, like they'd been doing with David.
"You're very good with children." She reached up into the top cabinet and pulled down the jar of spaghetti sauce she'd bought for tonight, almost cringing. Cooking was like therapy for her. She loved it, and standing at the stove creating meals was a good part of what had gotten her through the messy months of her divorce. Usually she made her own sauce in large batches and froze it in containers to use for dinnertime, but had vowed not to do anything that might impress the man she was trying to scare away. Instead she'd gone with the cheapest, most basic variety the store had available, and she wasn't going to doctor it up with anything.
She popped the top on the jar, dumped the contents into an empty pan on the back burner, and set it to high. With any luck, the sauce would scorch and stick to the bottom of the pan. If he couldn't even eat the food, he'd be gone before dessert. Then she could order a pizza for her and the boys and finally let go of the tension that had been tightening her muscles since she'd asked David over for dinner.
"Did you not expect me to be good with them?" he asked, head cocked to the side.
"I wasn't sure."
"I love kids," he said, surprising her.
She stopped and turned to him. "Really?"
"Yeah. You seem surprised. I teach fifth grade. I wouldn't have gone into teaching at all if I didn't like kids."
Over the years, she'd known some teachers, both male and female, who couldn't seem to stand children. It wasn't always a given. "A lot of men I know, especially single ones, just tolerate kids. Once they get around a woman who has them, they don't last long. Either that, or they don't go near her in the first place."
She was speaking out of personal experience, at least on some level. A few of the men she'd dated since her divorce had been turned off at the thought of dealing with four young boys. The only one who'd ever actually met the boys was Chris, and that had been after six weeks of dating. The meeting had been a disaster. Neither the boys nor Chris had really taken a liking to each other. The boys had let him know with their behavior what they thought of him. It hadn't been pretty, and had made her remember why she usually kept her personal life and her family life separate.
David was different. He'd already known two of her kids when he'd met her, and had apparently seen them at their worst during the little stunts they'd pulled. It was going to take a lot more than the mere mention of children to send this one packing.
Maybe, just maybe, he'd be the one to stick around. Though she doubted it. Tonight would be the real test, and though part of her was hoping he'd pass, the larger, saner part of her hoped he didn't. Sure, he was sweet and handsome and funny, but that didn't guarantee forever and since her boys were already involved, she couldn't ask for anything less than everything.
"Not all men are jerks, you know," David said, dragging her out of her thoughts.
Lucy chose not to answer, getting a feeling he was talking about her ex. Mack had been the king of jerks, but he wasn't the only ass she'd dated. There had been plenty, starting just after high school and ending with her latest disaster of a relationship. She had yet to meet a truly nice guy, and had long since convinced herself that particular species was only a myth.
"I'm not a jerk," David continued when she stayed silent. "I'm a good guy, and I'm going to prove it to you, no matter what it takes."
Like she hadn't heard that one before. He needed to know where she stood. There were too many things up in the air between them. "Listen, David. I think you're a great guy, but I've said it before and I'll say it again. There really can't be anything between us."
"There already is." His expression darkened and he touched his fingertips to her face, tracing down her jawline to her chin. A shiver rippled through her and she had to fight not to lean into the touch. The man turned her on so easily.
"No, there isn't. You're here because the boys want you here."
"And you don't?" There was no hurt in his expression. No doubt, either. The amusement she caught there let her know she wasn't fooling him for a second. The intensity in his eyes made her swallow hard.
"I didn't say that."
"So you do want me here." He took another step, bringing his body so close she could feel the heat coming from him. She let out a short laugh and turned away. The last thing she needed right now was to get caught making out with her kids' teacher, and that was where they'd be headed if he kept looking at her like he wanted to eat her alive. To say she was sex-starved would be an understatement. She hadn't been with a man since a year before her divorce. Standing so close to David, she was starting to feel a little too needy.
"I invited you," she said in response, not caring that she hadn't given him much of an answer. He was smart. He could figure it out on his own.
David didn't seem to mind. He walked over to the sink and washed his hands, drying them on a dishtowel from the bar on the stove before he turned to her. "What do you need help with?"
"I thought you said you don't know how to cook."
"I don't. But I want to help, anyway. Give me something easy so I don't screw it up."
She almost laughed. The whole meal was easy. Simple. Plain. Just another way to show him he didn't want to get involved. Yes, she loved to cook, but when she had a deadline, dinners weren't often a five-star event. Sometimes they weren't much more than pizza delivery and store-bought chocolate chip cookies.
"You can make the salad." She gave the sauce a quick stir before she added the pasta to the now-boiling water.
"Cool. What do I have to do?"
"Get the bagged salad greens out of the fridge"--she grabbed a plastic bowl from the counter and slid it toward him--"and dump it in here."
David glanced at her, eyebrows raised and a mock-hurt expression on his face. "I said something easy, not brainless."
She turned her back on him, but looked at him over her shoulder. "Hey, I'm just trying to give you what you can handle."
With a rakish smile on his face, he leaned in so close his breath brushed her cheek. "I can handle anything you want to throw at me, Lucy."