The Man Ban - Nicola Marsh Page 0,2

under his arm. “But I love you.”

“Right back at you.”

Manny tightened his arm around his gran’s shoulders, surprised to find her fitting more closely into him. Had she lost weight? But before he could quiz her, she straightened out of his embrace and pointed to a group of giggling twentysomethings poring over their cells.

“Go mingle.”

The last thing he felt like doing was talking with a bunch of women over a decade younger than him, but he saw the determined glint in Izzy’s judgmental stare. That’s when he spotted Harper near the buffet table. She’d been prickly and standoffish and completely immune to his charms, which only served to intrigue him.

And she’d been right; it was totally inappropriate to snag the material of her sari and place it on her shoulder, but it had been an instinctive reaction, something he’d done for his mom countless times before she’d died.

He owed his grandmother so much, but if he had a choice between fake flirting with a bunch of immature women and verbally sparring with a recalcitrant maid of honor, he knew which he’d pick any day of the week.

“All right, have it your way.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’m off to talk with a woman.”

Izzy beamed as he stood, before waggling her finger at him. “Make sure she’s suitable bride material.”

He shook his head, shooting his grandmother a fond glance before heading in Harper’s direction. Spending time with her would definitely get Izzy off his back, at least for tonight, though considering her nationality, maybe not. He knew when Izzy discussed his future bride she envisaged an Indian woman, not an Australian. Crazy, as he’d been born here and embraced it as much as his Anglo-Indian culture.

But he wasn’t marrying anyone, least of all a woman who radiated serious hands-off vibes, so spending an hour or two seeing if he could charm her held a certain allure. With those big blue eyes, brown hair hanging halfway down her back in artfully styled waves, and curves highlighted by the sari, he knew exactly what Harper’s allure was.

He’d been working manic hours in the ER lately and hadn’t had a date in forever, so some harmless flirting with Harper beckoned.

He made a beeline for her, surprised she seemed to be hovering near the buffet table. The guests hadn’t been directed to the food yet, so her positioning was odd. Either she was starving and wanted to be first in line, or she was avoiding the bridal table, where most of the wedding party now sat, apart from the two of them.

“Hey,” he said, as he drew near. “Need some help guarding the food?”

He glimpsed a telltale flare in her eyes that implied she wasn’t as immune to his flirting as she’d like him to think.

“I’m not guarding it.”

Her response had a similar bite to earlier, like she didn’t want him anywhere near her. But the eyes rarely lie, and right now she was gobbling him up and salivating for seconds.

“Sure looks that way to me.” He smiled and gestured at the table. “Though who’s going to want to touch all this fancy-schmancy stuff? It’s way over the top.”

Somehow he’d said the wrong thing again, as her eyes narrowed to glacial slits. “Is that right?”

“Absolutely. Indian food doesn’t need dressing up. It’s the flavor that matters, not the presentation.”

“So you’re an expert in food?”

“I hold my own in the kitchen.”

He’d learned from the master. Izzy made the best bebinka, his favorite dessert, a rich, layered, coconut pudding that took hours to make and channeled her Portuguese-Goan heritage perfectly. He could also make a mean pork vindaloo, dahl, and aloo tikki, the lentils and spiced potato patties something he’d lived on while in med school.

When he wasn’t working manic hours at the hospital, he loved to cook for Izzy. His way of thanking her for the countless delicious meals she’d served him over the years, and a way to de-stress at the same time. No better way to vent frustration than dicing vegetables.

“You’re very opinionated.”

She sounded so disapproving he couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s better to be honest, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but someone took time to make this food look appealing for the guests. The least you can do is appreciate it.”

He made a scoffing sound. “Styling food is overrated. As for prettying it up for this lot”—he pointed at the throng milling through the massive hall—“waste of time. They’ll demolish whatever they can get their hands on in five seconds flat. Weddings make