“Eggs again, huh?” he asked as he sat at their little table.
Gemma had just set the plate down in front of him, and her gasp drew his attention away from the blackened food. Her eyes grew wide and a blush reddened her cheeks.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Gemma,” he said, trying to take her hand, but she turned away too quickly. “I’m just tired and a little grumpy.”
“No, it’s fine,” she said, returning to the stove and staring into the skillet. “I know I’m not a good cook. I don’t really know how.”
“It’s not that, I just…” Colton struggled to find the right words that wouldn’t insult her. “I just thought you’d said your grandmother had taught you.”
She sniffed, then smoothed her apron and turned to face him, sadness in her eyes. “I said I wasn’t as good as my grandmother, but that I hoped to be. As Alexander Pope said, hope springs eternal.”
Abandoning his meal, Colton went to her and stood as close as he dared. They’d done little more than give each other the smallest pecks on the cheek, and though he yearned to cradle her in his arms, he kept a small distance between them.
“I really am sorry for what I said. It was rude and thoughtless. And you shouldn’t worry about it. I grew up mostly eating fish for breakfast, so eggs — even well-done eggs — are better than that.”
Gemma’s snorted softly, then turned to face him. He moved to step back, to give her space, but she grabbed his hands and held him in place. Her gaze searched his face, and there was a desperation in them he couldn’t recall seeing before.
“You deserve so much better, Colton. You’ve been working until you drop since the moment we arrived, and then you come home to be fed…well, most people probably wouldn’t feed what I make to their hogs, much less their husbands. You would have been so much better off with one of the other girls.”
Colton boldly wound his arms around her waist, praying she wouldn’t push him away. Instead, she surprised him by snaking her arms around his neck. It was the closest they’d been since their wedding day when he'd kissed her on the lips.
“Gemma, don’t ever think such a thing. I’m so grateful to have you as my wife. No other woman in the world could hold a candle to you.”
“Really?” she whispered, staring deep into his eyes.
His heart hammered in his chest and he tried to remember how to speak. Finally, he managed, though his voice was coarse with emotion.
“Really. You’re sweet and funny. You love to read all the same books I do, and I like that sometimes we don’t agree on them. It makes me think. On top of that, you love adventure. Not many women would be willing to marry a stranger and move to an icy wilderness. So what if you’re not a perfect cook yet? It’s actually a bit of a relief, because now maybe you’ll forgive my own faults.”
Gemma blinked several times, and Colton couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. He didn’t want her to break out into tears — unless they were happy tears. The tears did come, but she smiled through them and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“I haven’t found a single flaw in you, Colton Leeds. Except perhaps for your taste in women.”
“Hey, I happen to think I have excellent taste in women!”
His silly grin faltered when she didn’t return it. Instead, her gaze dropped to his mouth and her arms tightened around his neck. Something was happening, and he had a feeling he was going to like it.
“Would you like a taste of this woman?” she whispered, her lips parting slightly.
Colton didn’t have to be asked twice. Warmth wrapped around him as his lips pressed against hers, tasting her sweetness. Gemma sighed and leaned into him, her fingers burying deep in his hair and sending shivers throughout his body. The world spun around and around until he had to hold on to her just to stay upright. Finally, he broke away, pressed his forehead against hers, and stared into her half-lidded eyes.
“That was…nice,” he said quietly.
She laughed and tucked her face into his shoulder, holding on to him so tightly, it was almost as if she was afraid to let go. A sudden pounding on their door startled them both, and Gemma jerked away from him. Colton thought he might have hang whoever interrupted them.