What can I do?”
He paused for a second before answering. “Stay in the bathroom.”
Her temper flared. Did he have so little faith in her? “You’re kidding, right?”
Her eyes adjusted somewhat to the dim light, but not enough to see the expression on his face. His voice held an odd tone, though—hesitant and a little sheepish.
He ought to be. He’d coddled her ever since he found her at the feed shop this afternoon. Did he have any respect for her at all? She could handle herself. She had never considered him condescending before. Had Russ distorted her vision? Possibly. Or she’d been too grateful to Gene in the past to notice.
Either way, to come face to face with evidence that he did think he was better than her both saddened and infuriated her. “Gene, I’m not helpless. I can do something.”
“But what?” she snapped.
Another pause. “The dryer isn’t working.”
“So, I can’t dry my clothes. I meant to go back to Atlanta today, and what I have on is all I have. I…” He drew the word out, stopped and blew out a long breath. “I’m going to take everything off.”
Her irritation melted into confusion. She replayed his words in her head again, sure she had misunderstood him. “Gene. You’re not going outside naked. Right?” Maybe she was smarter than him.
“Well, not completely. I dug out one of Grandma’s house dresses.”
Lacey sputtered unexpected laughter. “Seriously?”
“Yeah.” His voice now held an amused, self-deprecating tone that sent a flutter through her chest. “It was the best idea I could come up with.”
Her brain produced an image of Gene walking through the house wearing nothing but a flowered muumuu. In her mind, the gown sported a lace trim that fell right above his knees. She laughed harder. “Can I take a picture?”
“You’re secure enough in your masculinity to wear it outside. In public. Everyone else can see it, but I get banished to a room with no windows? So. Not. Fair.”
“I don’t think anyone will see me. Besides, you’re the only one who would be able to tag me in the photos.”
“I’d love to promise not to.” She laughed. “But you’ve gotta admit, I’d get some mileage out of them.”
“Exactly. Back to the bathroom.”
“I’m kidding. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Lacey saw a faint glimmer of white teeth through the gloom. “Anyone with a decent sense of humor would do that to me.”
“I’ll let you hold my phone,” she said.
“Where would I put it?”
This time, her unruly brain sent her an image of Gene standing in the laundry room in his tight navy underwear. Her stomach knotted. She ignored it.
“Hide it before you go outside. I swear, I want to help.”
“You’ve got the flu,” he reminded her. “You don’t need to be running around in the rain.”
“Look,” he said. “If you want to do something, why don’t you start with the floor? Once I get the water moving, you should be able to dry the puddle.”
She nodded. “I can live with that.”
He turned back to the bathroom to retrieve an armload of towels, pushed them into her arms, then disappeared into an adjoining bedroom.
A moment later, he emerged into the living room wearing the house dress and a pair of dainty pink flip flops. The red paisley smock wasn’t quite what she had pictured, but it was just as funny. The cap sleeves hugged his shoulders with elastic ruffles, and the scooped neckline dipped low enough to show a sprinkling of dark chest hair. The hem fell farther up his thighs than she had imagined. Even in high school his grandmother had been a head shorter than him, so her gown barely covered the parts that mattered. She couldn’t stop the giggle that erupted. “Do yourself a favor. Don’t bend over.”
He scowled. “I’m getting a lot more breeze under here than I’m comfortable with. I’m rethinking this plan.”
“Don’t,” she laughed. “You look adorable.”
“Good,” he retorted. “Adorable is my MO.”
“Are you sure I can’t take a picture?”
“More than ever.” He picked up the flashlight and headed for the kitchen.
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