Dillon offered to drive once his bags of dog chow had been loaded into the Land Cruiser. Claire tossed him the keys. "It was nice of you to help Brian," she said as they returned to Sommer Kennels.
"He's got a lot to manage by himself."
"Maybe Matt can get somebody from town to – "
"I told him I'd be back this evening."
"Oh. Good. That's good." Claire cringed. People around here helped each other. Their survival often depended on it. Why would she think Dillon any different?
It had to be that damn dream. It left her tired and on edge. She caught him smiling. "What?"
"The kid's got a crush on you, counselor."
His nickname for her didn't go unnoticed. She filed it away. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm old enough to be his mother...almost."
"Age doesn't mean anything when you're seventeen and a beautiful woman moves in next door."
The compliment skittered through her. Damn it, he was doing it again. She could pretend it had no affect on her, and look like a fool, or acknowledge it and move on. "Thank you. But you're wrong about Brian. He's a polite, considerate – "
"Walking hormone. Has he asked you out yet?"
"To a movie in Anchorage." Claire didn't care for the defensiveness in her voice. "Only because we both wanted to see the same movie. What?" she asked again at his smirk.
"You aren't that naive."
No, she wasn't. She'd found a last-minute excuse to get out of going to the movie. In time, Brian's misguided hormones would be aimed at some other female, one closer to his own age. "I'm not about to encourage a teenager."
"And if he was twenty years older?"
"As I said yesterday, I'm not looking for a relationship."
"What if one finds you?"
You've shut off your emotions. The echo of Grant's accusation shivered across Claire's shoulders like an icy wind. Her throat tightened. "Am I on trial?"
"No. I'm – "
"Going to miss the turnoff," she interrupted.
"Shit." He made the turn to Sommer Kennels and brought the Land Cruiser to a stop at the cookhouse. "Listen, Claire, I'm sorry."
Spoken with rough sincerity. "I'll make a deal with you. Since it's obvious we get on each other's nerves, how about I stay out of your way and you stay out of mine until after the race."
He gave her a long, intent look with those unreadable eyes of his. She felt her jaw clinch.
"You've got a deal," he said, then nodded toward Janey working in the dog yard. "Your friend will be disappointed."
"She'll get over it." Claire climbed out and slammed the door.
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