"DO YOU REALLY THINK THIS is going to work?" I asked, wrist deep in sticky cookie batter.

Jasper was watching from his stool at the kitchen island. "You can't make him plain chocolate chip cookies. That doesn't say, 'I'm spectacular. Don't let me get away.'"

"It doesn't?" Dody adjusted her ruffled apron.

"No. It says, 'Lonely hausfrau bartering cookies for sex.'"

"And that's a bad thing?" Fontaine asked from his spot at the table, where he was perusing fabric samples.

This was hopeless. Des was never going to forgive me. For those keeping score, this was my third strike.

Dody argued, "We start with regular cookies, then add some secret special ingredients."

"Like what?" Jasper, the professional chef, was skeptical.

"Like flaxseed," Dody answered.

"Flaxseed?" Jasper laughed. "Are you trying to make him fall for Sadie or have an impressive bowel movement?"

"Ixnay on the axflay eedsay," Fontaine muttered.

"The cookies aren't going to make any difference," I pouted, my fragile optimism wavering.

"It's not really about the cookies. These give you a reason to go down there. Once you're at his house and he sees how sorry you are, it'll make all the difference. He'll forgive you." Dody snapped her fingers. "Bee pollen. And agave nectar. That'll get him for sure."

"Unless he's allergic to bees, in which case the cookies will kill him," Fontaine added.

Allergic? This was impossible.

"Fontaine, dear, your commentary is not very helpful right now. Look at what you're doing to Sadie."

My mind went into overdrive. What was the penalty for accidentally poisoning the object of one's affection with irresponsibly made cookies? Life behind bars? Community service at a Mrs. Fields?

It was too much to contemplate, all the pooping and the allergies. Maybe I should take him a six-pack and a bag of chips instead. Or bar nuts. Men liked bar nuts, didn't they?

Jasper was right. I was trying to buy affection with confections, and it wasn't going to work.

I checked my reflection in the mirror, hoping to look both lovely and contrite. I had to settle for flushed and anxious.

Dody had taken the kids to the park after making me promise to deliver my mea culpa cookies.

I rang Des's doorbell with a basket of goodies on my arm like Little Red Riding Hood. Fontaine had lined the basket and wrapped the cookies with a plaid napkin and a dotted bow. I had serious doubts about my chance of success but was willing to give it a try.

Des opened the door, looking resigned. He had on a white T-shirt with scrub pants and was eating an apple.

I held up the basket, batting my lashes.

He took a bite of apple.

"What's that?" His tone of voice matched his grumpy face.

"An incredibly lame peace offering." I batted again.

He ignored me, staring instead at the basket, noting the tidy little napkin and bow.

"Can I eat it?" He still didn't smile.

"Yes." I wiggled the basket a little to make it more enticing.

"Then come in. I'm starving." He turned around and walked back into the kitchen.

It was not quite the warm welcome I was hoping for, but it also wasn't the cold rebuke I probably deserved. I followed him inside, gingerly setting the basket on the kitchen counter.

He tossed the apple core into the sink, then unceremoniously flicked open the napkin.

"Cookies," he said sullenly. "Did you make them?"

I wanted to be honest. "Mostly. Dody and Jasper helped some."

"Dody?" He frowned, holding up a cookie and examining it in the light. "Did she put any of her crazy shit in here?"

My vow of truth wavered. "I don't think so."

Now I'd be racked with guilt if he ended up spending the night on the toilet. Maybe we should have skipped the flaxseed.

He sighed, dropping the cookie back in the basket and staring at me. He was still mad. That much was obvious.

I fiddled with the edge of my shirt. "So that was your cousin, huh?"

He crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. "Yep."

"I guess I owe you an apology then."

"That depends."

"On what?"

"On if you're actually sorry, Sadie. Don't say it if you don't mean it. And don't think acting cute and bringing me cookies will distract me. You were way off base. I don't like being called a liar. I don't deserve it."

I hadn't really considered it that way. I was so wrapped up in how he'd hurt my feelings I never stopped to consider I might be hurting his.

"I am sorry. I didn't think it would matter much to you."

His arms fell loose, as if the strength had gone out of them. I don't think I understood the word incredulous before. But that was how he looked. Incredulous. He rubbed a hand across his face.

"Sadie, when I told you I wanted company, I didn't mean some random warm body in my bed. Is that the kind of guy you think I am? Is that your opinion of me?"

A foreign concept began to gel in my mind. I was so used to Richard trampling over my emotions, crushing me with his will, and here I was doing the same thing to Des. It never occurred to me I might have that power, because I had none over Richard. But Des seemed genuinely upset.

"I'm sorry, Des. I overreacted and I was wrong."

"Yeah, you were! What's it going to take to make you trust me? Because if you can't, then whatever this is between us isn't going to get very far. And I'd like it to."

His intensity was unnerving, heating my skin. His words heated everything else.

"I would too," I said, and acknowledged deep down it was true. Of course I wanted something more. I was not a fling kind of gal.

I scuffed my sandal on the floor. "I don't know how many chances you're willing to give me, but how about one more? Dody says I never see the good in people, but I see it in you. I'm just not used to it."

His jaw relaxed the least little bit. "I'm not particularly good at being good. You'll have to look pretty hard. But I don't lie. And I tend to stick with one woman at a time, because otherwise I get confused."

I smiled and my eyes got watery. If he was making jokes, I was halfway there. "Well, you may not have noticed, but I'm kind of high maintenance. Still, you've seen the worst of me so there shouldn't be any more surprises."

Des sniffed. And sighed. And crossed his arms. He wasn't quite finished being annoyed. "Look, I like you, Sadie. But it seems like you're waiting for me to screw up to prove I'm as bad as your ex-husband. I'm not. So you need to stop doing that. OK?"

He was right. I was doing that. And I should stop.

"Yes, I will. I promise."

We stood on opposite sides of the kitchen, staring. Absorbing what had been said.

"OK," he said again, finally stepping forward and closing the distance between us. "So no more running away when you're flustered and half-naked. No more getting pissed without telling me why. And no more crying at restaurants." He smiled at last. "Agreed?"

I nodded. "Agreed."

"Good." He put his hands on my waist, pulling me against him. "Because I've missed you these last few days."

"You have?" I bit my lip.

He nodded. "Especially that."

"What?" I whispered.

His eyes dropped to my mouth. "The way you bite your lip when you get nervous. God, it gets me every time."

Then he kissed me with days' worth of pent-up longing.

Relief and joy intertwined like our bodies. He lifted me up and set my bottom on the counter. I wrapped my legs around his waist, feeling uncharacteristically bold. His touch was addictive. I craved more with every caress.

It's true. I'd wanted Des from the first moment I saw him running down the beach. My desire then had been equal parts curiosity and deprivation. But that longing paled in comparison to this intensity.

We kissed and clung so tightly not a molecule could slide between us. This was how it was supposed to be. Passionate, fearless, fun. He lifted me again as if I were weightless and carried me into his bedroom. We fell with a bounce and a breathless giggle onto the mattress.

Bitchy the cat was there. She hissed and walked out of the room. And it was quite a while before we got to those cookies.

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