When everything's finished, I peek my head into the living room. "Pasta's ready," I call out to the guys.
Pace is lying on the living room floor, and Max is climbing his body like it's his personal jungle gym. A brief flash of jealousy flares inside me. I am usually the one to fill this role. But moments later, Pace enters the kitchen with Max on his hip, my heart warms at the sight of them.
"It smells great in here."
I get the sense his kitchen hasn’t seen this much action in a while. The only thing in his fridge when we'd arrived were bottles of imported beer and questionable takeout containers, along with a few lingering odors.
I prepare Max's plate first, allowing it to cool while Pace and I fix bowls of pasta for ourselves. I'm pleased to see he takes a large portion.
Once we're all seated at the table, I watch for Pace's reaction as he takes his first bite. "Well?" I ask.
His eyes drift closed, and he groans low in his throat. "Goddamn, woman."
My smile is wide and immediate. "You like it?"
"Very much so," he confirms. "This is incredible."
I try a bite, and I have to agree. Pace stocked his cabinets with authentic olive oil and imported stewed tomatoes from Italy, and you can taste the difference in the quality of the ingredients.
Even Max seems pleased, he shovels big bites of pasta into his mouth, using both fists. Without a highchair, meal times have been interesting. And messy. But Pace doesn’t seem to mind, and since it's his home, I let it go too.
"You know that I work for your brother, but you've never told me what it is you do for a living," I say to Pace. Sitting in his beautiful home, watching him enjoy a home-cooked meal, suddenly I'm curious to know more about this man.
"I'm a real estate investor. I find inexpensive or rundown properties and buy them, turning a nice profit after they're fixed up and sold. I have plenty of money to provide for a family, and a flexible enough schedule to actually enjoy one."
"Oh, God, that's embarrassing. That’s not at all why I was asking." I want to bury my face in my hands.
"I know that. Don't be embarrassed. I told you that because it's something I want you to know."
"Okay." I don't know how I'm supposed to feel about this information. With every passing glance I can feel deeper meaning and emotion seeping out of him. Everything I know about Pace warns me to stay away. He's a young, wealthy playboy who enjoys sex and likely has several women on the side. But in every interaction with me, and with my son, and especially now being here in his home, where I feel comfortable and at ease, my mind is confused. My physical attraction to him is off the charts, but somehow, with every hour we spend together, it's turning into something more than just physical attraction. I do not know how to handle that information. I'd sealed my heart off a long time ago, afraid I couldn’t weather another crushing blow like the one Elan delivered. Yet, there's a tiny voice inside of me whispering that I should go for it. I'm not a big drinker, but suddenly I'm wishing for a glass of wine.
As if reading my mind, Pace rises from the table and retrieves a bottle of red wine from a rack across the kitchen. "I've been saving this for a special occasion, but something tells me it'd pair nicely with the pasta."
He holds up the bottle for my inspection. "What do you think? We still have to get your mini ready for bed…"
"Why do you call him that? No one thinks he looks anything like me."
"Because he is. He's part of you. I can see it in his mannerisms, hear it in his laugh, in his enthusiasm for spaghetti." He smiles at me warmly.
He has no way of knowing it, but everything he's just said cuts to the heart of me. I shrug. "One couldn’t hurt."
"Cool." Pace pours us each a glass of red wine and helps himself to a second serving of pasta before rejoining us at the table.
I smile into my napkin. His second serving cements the fact that he really does like my cooking. I think I've had a chip on my shoulder ever since serving him cold grilled cheese. I've redeemed myself in some small way.
By the end of the meal, Max is covered from chin to eyebrows in red pasta sauce.
I try first with paper towels, wiping him down as best I can. "Geez, buddy, how'd you get it in your ears?" I ask Max.
Pace looks on with amusement twinkling in his dark blue eyes. "Shall we just take him out back and hose him off?" he laughs, watching my futile attempts.
"You have a tub, right?" His large jetted tub in the master bath has probably been used for sex, hell, maybe even an orgy, but I'm guessing it's never seen the type of action I have in mind.
We all three tramp off to the bathroom, the dishes and glasses of wine forgotten on the table.
While Pace adjusts the water and fills the tub, I strip an enthusiastic Max down right there on the bathroom floor. There's just something about a naked baby, with chubby little butt cheeks—complete with dimples—that puts me in a good mood. He's too cute.
We sit together on the bathroom floor while Max splashes and squeals. When I quietly explain to Max that we didn’t pack any bath toys, Pace disappears momentarily and returns with an armful of plastic Tupperware containers from the kitchen and dumps then in the tub. Max has a blast filling the cups and bowls with water and dumping them out again. My child is easily entertained.
"So, do you want more kids?" Pace asks.