“You already made and then broke that promise.” She withdrew her hand.

“Sorry. I mean it. I won’t ask again.”

The skeptical look in her eyes had him planning out another argument, but eventually she relented. “Okay. I’ll call you later this week to talk about my ideas.”

“Sounds like you’re kicking me out.” He pushed his chair back and stood.

She rose with him. “It’s been a long day. I want to dig into this while I’ve still got some energy left.”

“Fair enough.” He leaned forward to kiss her cheek goodbye, but she moved at the same time, and so their lips met. A quick buss, but it brought back an old memory.

“Well, we haven’t done that since you were fifteen, Claire. I think I did a better job back then, though,” he teased, his lips warming at the thought of it.

She turned so red her face almost matched the color of his shirt. She gripped Rosie and started toward the front door without meeting his gaze. “I can’t remember.”

Liar, liar. Now he had another goal, though. That first kiss had been to fulfill the wish of a sad friend. This one, an accident. Next time it would be on purpose. And it would be one she’d never forget.

Chapter Six

“Whatever else happens, you must be happy that Logan’s project brings us one step closer to making retail space a reality.” Steffi set aside the photos of Logan’s apartment that Claire had already memorized. “I’m meeting with building-supply companies this week to get us added to the lists they hand to their customers who are looking for small contractors.”

“Good idea.” Claire had awakened this morning full of creative energy and confidence. Things would turn around for them now. She could feel success in her grasp, just like the rush she used to get after a great practice. “I’m starving. Let’s grab a quick lunch.”

“Oh.” Steffi screwed up her face before stretching her arms along the tabletop. “Peyton called me this morning. She’s feeling a little stronger today and wanted to get out of the house, so I agreed to meet her for lunch. Of course, you’re welcome to join us.” Her attempt at a smile resembled a wince.

“No thanks.” Claire unclenched her jaw. She didn’t have the right to demand loyalty, but it stung that Steffi wouldn’t take a side—her side.

“I understand, but if you change your mind, we’ll be at Thai Basil. I know how much you love its shrimp tom yum soup.”

She did love that soup. Hearty and spicy, perfect for a cold March afternoon. But sitting across from Peyton would give her heartburn.

She shook her head. “Just as well. I’ve decided to take another run at Mrs. Brewster to push her into that master bathroom remodel. The woman has no vision. She couldn’t imagine what I was saying. If I sketch a little something and attach some photos, she might change her mind. It’s worth a shot, anyhow.”

“I like when you get into bulldog mode. Sounds like a good plan.” Steffi rose from her chair.

They hugged goodbye before Steffi strolled out of the house they’d shared for nine months. When she left, Claire slouched against the arm of the sofa. The cozy living room looked like something straight out of House Beautiful magazine. Comfortable. Welcoming. The kind of environment Logan claimed to want for himself.

This rental had been a place she’d enjoyed coming home to when Steffi lived here, too. A place filled with warmth and love.

But now she saw through the illusion of her own design and knew a truth that Logan would learn only after she’d redecorated his home. No furnishings, drapes, or artwork could infuse a home with genuine comfort. Only the love inside the four walls could do that for people. Until she—and he—found someone to share their spaces with, their homes might always feel a little bit empty and cold. The choices they were both making lately suggested they’d better keep space heaters handy.

An hour later, she saved her drawings for Mrs. Brewster in a working folder. Her stomach grumbled, prompting her to go to the kitchen and check her refrigerator. As she suspected, her options consisted of condiments, milk, and leftover cheesecake. Nothing hearty and satisfying. Nothing healthy.

She opened the pantry door but could hardly get excited about Ritz Crackers and peanut butter. Not after Steffi had put the idea of that soup in her head. Steffi, who was probably sitting down with Peyton at this moment.

Logan’s plea nudged Claire again. What she deemed healthy avoidance, others might view as her cowering from Peyton, and that didn’t sit well. Even sweet old Pat had sounded fed up with Claire holding on to her grudge. “Thank Peyton,” she’d said about Todd. That idea still made Claire huff. However, facing Peyton in public would put an end to the whispers taking place all around her. And she’d get her soup.