The omelet he fixed was delicious and gave her a chance to twit him playfully for not making the poached eggs she had ordered. It made breakfast a very relaxed affair, though, and not full of the thick tension dinner had held last night.
He’d also sliced and browned potatoes, and had found a can of pressed luncheon loaf, which he’d opened, cut thin and fried. Between losing her food and the anxiety from worry and the energy expended from crying, she’d been ravenous this morning. They laughed and teased throughout the meal, very much in full charity with each other for the first time.
They rose following the meal and Katrina marveled she could be this relaxed with a man. Gavin, she knew, was not just any man, but one in reality who posed a very real threat to her, even though she continually pushed that particular aspect of him to the back of her mind. She’d never felt this free or safe with any male in her entire life. It was strange, but at the same time, it was comforting to know that she could be relaxed around at least one male. It gave her hope for the future.
Smiling, Katrina picked up the plates from the table. “You go in and relax from your arduous labor as our cook, while I wash these dishes.”
Gavin took the plates from her hand and set them in the sink. “I have never in my life made a woman clean up after me. Well, maybe my mom did up until I was six or seven,” he said with a grin. “Not since then, though. I’ll help you with the dishes when we get back this afternoon, cross my heart,” he said. His voice was full of mock seriousness while the grin still split his face. He drew the traditional X across his chest before raising his right hand palm facing her with his promise.
"Get back? From where?"
"We have an important appointment this afternoon."
All merriment fled and Katrina stiffened. "We do? With whom?"
"The lions and monkeys. That is, if you have a zoo in this town." His face was now serious, but his brown eyes were still full of laughter.
"A zoo? Are you serious? Who's at the zoo?"
"I've just told you. The animals. And, yes, I'm extremely serious. How is your zoo? Big? Small?" He quirked an eyebrow at her with his query.
"I…I don't know." Katrina faltered. "I've never been to it."
His face registered shock, and Katrina wasn’t sure if it were real or more of his mockery.
"And why not? It is one of Granny's rules. You must visit the zoo at least once a year. So, today's the day of our annual zoo visit." Gavin was openly smiling, now.
Katrina looked into his face. He was incredible; really incredible. She didn't know how to take this man. She decided to play along…for now, anyway.
“This would be the same Granny who advocates drinking the disgusting concoction of warm milk to help you sleep?”
“The very same,” he pronounced cheerfully, “and I’d advise you not to argue with my Granny, she is a bottomless pit of wisdom.”
"You’re really serious about this zoo visit, aren't you?" Her own mouth began to turn up at the ends.
"You're right. I'm very serious. Granny said there were several redeeming qualities about an annual zoo visit. First, it allows you to take a step back from the cares of the world, and by so doing, gives you a new perspective on life.
"Secondly,” he ticked the items off on his fingers, a wicked smile stretching his lips, “it helps you to not take yourself too seriously, and helps you relax a lot less expensively than taking a whole vacation.
"Thirdly, it is a great place to people-watch and study human behavior, and last but certainly not least, it helps you to remember the Being who created you is the same One who put these wonderful animals on the earth, and it is His due that you take time to look around you and appreciate the beauties He has placed here for you."
Katrina was stunned by these words. She’d never before heard the like of it.
He looked at her clothing. "I'm glad to see you put on your jeans and a comfortable blouse. It's perfect for zoo day. Get your loaf of bread to feed the ducks, pigeons, monkeys and polar bears, and let's be off."
Katrina took a long look at his face as he nodded toward the countertop where the bread lay, then giggled as she reached for the loaf. They headed for the car, talking as they went, locking the house behind them.
"Polar bears? You feed bread slices to polar bears?"
"Certainly. There was this old polar bear in our zoo at home that sang for his supper."
"Sang for his supper? A likely story." She snorted with her disbelief.
"Well, waved for his supper, then." Gavin helped her into the car, went around and climbed in his side. He started the car and backed out of the driveway as he continued.
"We'd go to the polar bear's cage, you see, and watch him for awhile. Then we'd take a piece of bread. We'd put it in our hand, flat against our palm. Then we'd reach 'way up high and wave our hand up and down. He wouldn't pay any attention to you if you waved from side to side, or if you moved your arm back and forth. But you'd wave to him just using your wrist and then, boy! He'd sit up on his haunches, put one paw on his knee, and use the other one to reach up high and wave back."
Gavin made a clicking noise with his tongue. "When I was little, I thought Old Snooty was as big as a whole mountain."
"Old Snooty?" Katrina tried to hold back her giggles.
"That's right, Old Snooty. I called him that because he'd wave for awhile, then he'd lift his nose in the air like a high-society snob. You know which ones I mean, the really particular ones who are so stuck up they have to look down their noses at us lesser mortals because we’re not good enough to breathe the same air they do…the ones in the cartoons with the funny little quizzing glasses like Cinderella's stepmother."
Katrina could hold out no longer and her laughter rang out in delightful peals. Gavin looked over at her.
"Do you know, Katrina Lee McSwayne, when you laugh, you're positively beautiful."
Katrina abruptly stopped laughing and looked at Gavin in shocked surprise. No one had ever, in her memory, called her beautiful. Her heart skipped several beats. Did he mean that?
"As I was saying about Old Snooty." Gavin continued as though uninterrupted.
"Yes, where were we?" Katrina was anxious to retrieve their happier mien, thinking he hadn’t meant what he’d said and was probably embarrassed those words had been uttered.
"Well, after Old Snooty'd give us our wave and his imitation of a snob, we'd throw him the bread. He'd saunter over to it and sniff it. Just checking to see if it were good bread, I suppose. Then he'd pick it up and stuff it in his mouth in one piece. After three or four pieces of bread, he'd amble on over to his pool and wash his face and paws and take a drink. Then, sauntering back to center front, the whole thing would start all over. It was great entertainment."
Katrina was smiling again and a little more relaxed. "How long would this go on?" she asked, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, trying hard not to stare at him too openly.
"Until we ran out of bread. We'd usually take a whole loaf each. There'd be me and four or five other kids. He'd eat all of the bread and still want more. I was always amazed. Of course, being that young, I had no concept of how much one of those babies can put away in a day.
Katrina turned her head, looking at him squarely, laughter lurking within her, but her face as straight as she could hold it. "Well, how much does a polar bear eat in a day?"
"I don't know. I looked it up in the encyclopedia once. All it said was what they ate and where they hunted for food. Not a word was said about how much they consumed."
"Well, then, when we're at the zoo, we must be sure and ask the bear keeper how much they eat each day there. It would give us some idea, at least!"
"That sounds like a fantastic idea!" He took his eyes from the road for a moment to smile at her.
Immediately her heart started pounding within her rib cage, making her blood rush through her veins. She wondered, briefly, if they could bottle his charm and his good looks, how many zillions of dollars it would cost per gram? More than she could afford, that was for sure. Katrina turned her face from him and looked out the window in time to see them pull into a parking lot. She looked up with surprise.
"How did you know where to drive?"
Gavin laughed. "You'll be angry if I tell you." His eyes were twinkling.
"No, I won't, I promise. I've lived here nearly six years and wasn't even sure we had a zoo. Here you are in town a couple of days and drive right to it!" She shook her head in wonderment as Gavin laughed again.
"Unless," she said accusingly, "you've been here before, or perhaps you live here! Is that it? Do you live here?" For some reason which she wouldn't acknowledge even to herself, she had a strong hope he would say he did live nearby. Katrina mentally held her breath, awaiting Gavin's answer. It wasn't long in coming and it crushed her new-born hope in its tracks.
"No, I live in Massachusetts. I've never been here before this week, in fact, before about three weeks ago, I’d never even heard of Spencer."
"Then how did you know where the zoo was? Come on, give in! How did you know?"
He laughed once more, his dimples coming into full play in his cheeks just outside the range of his mustache. "I cheated. I looked it up in the phone book while you were dressing. Then I called the zoo and asked for directions. Are you angry?"
"You wretch! Of course I'm not angry. I'll say this much for you, though, you're extremely resourceful!"
"At your service, Ma'am, 'Gavin, the Gregarious Gatherer of Goodies, Gossip and Other Assorted Sundries and Delights'!" He made a mock bow from his sitting position, complete with extravagant hand gestures, then straightened and grinned at her. Their eyes locked for a long moment, then Gavin frowned slightly, a crease appearing between his brows. Katrina longed to smooth it away with a kiss.
"Gavin? Is everything all right?"
"Yes, Fair Maiden!" His brilliant smile returned, almost robbing her of breath, and lightening bolted through her inner being. Her heart skipped a beat, then picked up speed, rushing the blood through her veins in a crazy manner. His next words helped calm her by reminding her where they were, and why.
"Shall we go? Our important appointment yonder awaits us,"
She smiled. Gavin dislodged himself from the car and walked around to her door. How marvelous the day promised to be. Katrina picked up the bread, and took Gavin’s offered hand.