The sky was pale blue over Richmond Park, like the wash of a watercolour. Penny stood in Kurt’s freshly painted living room, gazing out through the sweeping windows. She had pulled one of the panes ajar to let some air into the recently painted room, and now the spring breeze, sharp and cold, was drifting inward. A thrush was singing in the branches of a tree, but although Penny’s head was turned to the sound, her mind was far way. She was so wrapped up in thought she failed to hear Kurt enter the room. When a floorboard creaked behind her, she turned with a start. He was standing in the doorway, gravely watching her.
“Hey,” he said.
They stared at each other. Penny was only too conscious of the abrupt way she had ended their conversation the day before. She had spent a troubled night wondering what Kurt would make of her disclosure. Now she waited for him to speak, but his mouth was closed in a sober line. He drew his hand from behind his back and brought forward a tissue-wrapped cluster of tulips. The red and cream of the flowers brought instant warmth to the chill room.
“I got you these,” he said simply.
“Oh.” Penny stepped forward, a sparkle leaping to her eyes. “You didn’t have to…” She broke off, her eyes meeting his uncertainly.
“I felt bad about upsetting you,” he said. “Going on about your mom and all. If I’d known how much it would upset you, I never would have said anything.”
“Oh, Kurt, it wasn’t your fault.” Penny stepped forward to take the bunch of tulips from his hands and lifted them to breathe in their scent. “If anything, it was my fault. I should have told you before, only…” She looked down at the tulips, at a loss how to carry on. It seemed the normally taciturn Kurt would have to be the one to fill in all the gaps.
“Only you don’t like strangers knowing. You’ve had to grow up in your mom’s shadow, and you think people make comparisons. You think just because you’re not your mom, people are disappointed in you.”
Penny’s cheeks began to fill with heat. In a few sentences, Kurt had expressed everything. She could hardly believe his astuteness or the gentle way he was speaking to her.
“Penny, your mom was beautiful, and she was famous, but what I told you before is true.” He held a hand out in quiet emphasis. “You’re not your mom. You’re a real person, and you’re unique. You’ve got a true heart and a beautiful way of moving and speaking. Hell, I could watch and listen to you all day.”
Penny raised her eyes to his. “That’s a lovely thing to say. The loveliest thing anyone’s ever said.” She gazed down at the tulips. “And thank you so much for the flowers. They’re lovely, too.”
Kurt stepped a little closer and took hold of her chin.
“Don’t mention it,” he said seriously. He bent his head, and for one brilliant, heart-stopping moment, Penny thought he was about to kiss her lips. His head moved to one side, and she felt his warm lips brush her cheek. “I’m glad you like the tulips.” He stepped back. “They’re my sister’s favourite.”
Her heart gave a sickening lurch, and she went still, gazing at the flowers held lightly in her hands. Of course tulips were a sister’s sort of flower. Not roses or anything romantic like that. Of course not. Roses were the sort of flower a man would give to someone like Megan Rose, not her. She kept her head bent over the flowers for a while then lifted her chin to give him a faint smile.
“You’re a good brother,” she said. Before he could say anything in reply, she changed the subject. “So what do you think?” She stretched out a hand to take in the room. “I asked the decorating guys to start with your living space.”
It was the perfect change of conversation and helped take Penny’s mind far from his kiss and roses and any of the other romantic dreams which otherwise would have swamped her head