Straight From the Heart

Straight From the Heart
Janelle Taylor

July 2012 $7.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-165-4

Two passionate novellas and the story of the author’s own happily-ever-after romance.

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Two passionate novellas and the story of the author’s own happily-ever-after romance.


KimberlyHarden is a recently divorced mom just looking for a quiet weekend at a friend’s cabin, only to find that a mistake in arrangements has brought her husband’s divorce attorney there too. Sexy lawyer Stephen Wright was secretly on Kimberly’s side, and when a sudden flood strands them in the cabin together, he decides to prove that he has her best interests at heart.


The love between Dorry Sims and Luke James is strong enough to best the Wyoming wilderness where they’ve made their home. But a greedy neighbor wants their ranch and Dorry, too, and he’ll get rid of Luke anyway he can, including framing Luke for a crime Luke didn’t commit.


Janelle Taylor shares the story of falling in love with her husband, Michael. A true-life treat for romance fans.

Janelle Taylor is the multiple-award-winning author of nine New York Times bestselling romance novels. Visit her


"…fun and quick reads… a breath of fresh air!" -- Sarah Clark, Goodreads



Thunk! Ka-bang!

Kimberly Harden clamped onto the suddenly spinning steering wheel and held hard as her little compact shimmied through a yawning rut outside Betsy’s rustic mountain cabin. Rain poured so heavily over the windshield she felt as if she were in a car wash. Kim held her breath, her heart hammering painfully. She half expected some new awful thing to happen. When all remained still except for the harsh tattoo of the rain on the roof of the car, she exhaled on a deep sigh.

She’d made it here in one piece!

A smile quirked her lips. So, okay, the weather was a total nightmare. So what? She needed this weekend away like she’d never needed anything before. Life could be pure hell, and since her less-than-amicable divorce, she’d experienced that side of it more than she’d believed possible.

Her ex-husband was a lying louse. The vision of him gloating in the courtroom as his attorney denounced her in the most wickedly awful and untruthful terms was so indelibly etched in Kimberly’s mind that it could still bring tears to her eyes and quicken her heartbeat.

And yes, she’d won custody of Bobby because all of Alan’s lies had proven to be just that—lies. But those untruths had scraped against her heart and soul, leaving little wounds which couldn’t quite seem to heal over.

Digging in the backseat for her bag, Kim tried not to think of the custody trial. There were so many things about it that still hurt. Her disillusionment was complete. And it certainly hadn’t helped when Stephen Wright of Jackson, Wright and Smith Associates—and an extremely attractive divorced father to boot!—had taken Alan’s case. Okay, so he wasn’t the actual trial attorney—rat-faced Robert Jackson won those honors. But it had been Stephen who’d referred Alan to Robert. Stephen who’d believed all Alan’s lies. Stephen whose green eyes had made Kim drift into romantic school girlish dreams that still had the power to make her blush.

"Beast,” she muttered between her teeth.

It was good to get away from all that. Darn good.

When Betsy, Kim’s good friend and mother of Bobby’s best friend, Chad, had offered a free weekend at her parents’ cabin, Kimberly had jumped at the chance. She knew the cabin. Remote, yet cozy. Miles away from civilization, but close enough to make the trip back to Portland in half a day. Kim had been here before, and all her memories were warm and wonderful, the kind that brought a smile to her lips and a sense of well-being that was soul deep. Powerful medicine. A much needed tonic.

To hell with Alan, she thought as she gathered her purse with her overnight bag and climbed from the car. Now all she had to do was negotiate this terrible weather until she got to the front door. Then she was home free.

Placing her bunchy leather purse atop her head, she ran for the front door. A light shone from somewhere inside, dim and yellow, and Kimberly’s radar went on alert. Oh, no! Was someone here? She was supposed to have the place to herself.

The tail end of a red Jeep Cherokee peeked from the side of the house. Heart sinking, Kimberly wondered what was up. Raising her hand to knock, she was startled when the door swung open on its own, and a man stood silhouetted in the light.

"I’m sorry...” she murmured, stepping back.

His intake of breath was a warning, standing the hair on her arms on end. "Mrs. Harden?” he asked in that rough, smooth voice she’d come to loathe.

Alan’s attorney! Stephen Wright!

"Oh, my God!” Kimberly, reacting on pure instinct, dropped everything and ran for her blue compact as if the devil himself were at her heels.

A series of swear words crossed Stephen’s mind, unspoken but vehemently uttered nonetheless. What was she doing here? "Wait!” he yelled. When she didn’t heed him, he ran through the pouring deluge, catching up with her at the car door. He made the foolish mistake of trying to grab her arm. She jabbed an elbow in his solar plexus that turned his next words into a sharp gasp. "Kimberly!”

"Don’t touch me,” she shot back. "Let go!”

Since he was practically doubled over and clutching his chest, her words were unnecessary. "I’m—not—”

"Well, you were. I can’t believe you’re here! What are you doing? Stay away from me.”

"Don’t worry,” he managed to answer, annoyed. He drew a deep breath and glared at her. "I was just trying to keep you from getting soaked to the skin.”

"Too late.”

"Yeah, well, whose fault is that?”

"Stay—there,” she said, when he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Stephen shook his head. Unbelievable! Throwing up his hands in mock surrender, he glared at her through the curtain of rain. Instantly his mood lifted. She looked like the proverbial drowned rat.

"What are you smiling at?” she demanded suspiciously.

"You,” he admitted.

"Well, I’m glad you see something funny in this.”

"I do. As a matter of fact, I think this is a damn riot. I came up here for a weekend of sun and fun in the mountains, and look—a summer storm like you’ve never seen! And we’re both standing out here as if there’s not a torrential downpour likely to drown us in ten minutes flat!”

Her hand was on the car door. She clenched it over the handle and pulled several times. Water poured over her as if the heavens above were already flooded and spilling the overflow onto Mother Earth. "I’m locked out,” Kim said.

Stephen threw back his head and laughed. Her car keys were in her purse which she’d thrown down just outside the cabin door. "Well, then come inside. You can dry out, and we’ll figure out what’s going on.”

"Oh, no! I’m leaving. I’ll get my keys.”

"You can’t leave,” he told her.

That earned him a glare that could cut through steel. "Watch me!”

"The roads are flooded at the base of the mountain,” he explained. "They closed them about an hour ago.”

"They?” she repeated blankly, blinking against the rivulets of water that ran down her face. Her blond bangs pressed limp and dark against her forehead, and raindrops starred her lashes.

Stephen scowled to himself. He’d known Kimberly for several years, and he’d always found her attractive. A small surge of warmth ran through him, then his good mood rapidly evaporated. "The Highway Patrol. This flash storm’s created a hellish mess. I take it you weren’t listening to the radio.”

Kimberly didn’t hear him. "Flooded? What does that mean?”

"Well, in layman’s terms—” he began, but she cut him off.

"Are you saying I’m—stranded—here?” She thrust her bangs from her face, staring at him in dismay. "Is that what you’re saying?”

"For a while, at least.”

"What about you?” she asked, aghast.


Her dawning look of horror said she’d grasped the consequences. "You can’t be here. You can’t be staying here. One of us has to leave!”

"There’s nowhere to go,” he pointed out reasonably.

"There has to be. I won’t—I can’t stay here. We can’t be here together,” she added, as if he were completely dense and she was working hard to explain the situation.

Stephen’s patience snapped. He could understand her hostility toward him, but it wasn’t helping anything. "Since I didn’t bring my ark with me, I’m stuck. Maybe you’ve got a better idea.”

"Oh, funny.”

"I’m going inside,” he said, turning away.

He would have liked to grab her arm and propel her with him, but her harsh words and stubborn stance warned him not to come near her again. At the cabin, he glanced back. She was still standing in the deluge.

His mouth clamped in irritation. He understood her frustration and anger and general dislike of him, but it didn’t make it any easier.

Swearing softly to himself, he propped open the door with a small wooden block, a silent invitation. Glancing up, he saw her shoulders slump as she sagged against her car, and in a wave of memory that last terrible scene flickered across the screen of his mind.

You don’t know anything about me, she railed at him in a whisper on the courtroom steps. People swarmed around them, parting as if they were an island in a stream. I will never forgive you or Alan for trying to separate me from my son. I didn’t believe there were people as cruel as you in this world but I believe it now...

Gritting his teeth, Stephen walked to the river rock fireplace to warm his hands, wishing the heat from the spiraling flames would reach that cold, miserable spot in his soul. He could have reminded her that he hadn’t been the trial attorney, but the excuse had sounded so feeble he hadn’t been able to voice it. Instead, he’d taken the brunt of her anger and been only partially vindicated when she’d said even worse to Robert.

Betsy had warned him he was making a mistake. "You don’t know Kim,” she’d said tartly as she gathered some papers from his desk and marched from his office. As his aide, she had complete knowledge of all his cases, and as his friend, free rein of her tongue.

"I know her husband is a self-centered egotist, and that’s why I turned him over to Robert.”

"If you know that about Alan, why do you believe what he says about Kim?”

"I just don’t like liars, even when they lie for the right reasons.”

"Kim’s no liar.”

"You don’t think she’d lie to keep her son?”

Betsy’s jaw tightened. "Any woman would lie to keep their children from a louse like Alan Harden! You don’t know the whole story.”

"Then enlighten me,” he invited.

Betsy had glared at him. She’d seemed about to say more, but then she’d looked at him in that motherly way that really got him and said instead, "It’s her story, and I’m not sure you’re the guy who should hear it.”

He knew what that meant. His own failed marriage to Pauleen had everybody in Riverside, a small suburb of Portland, certain they knew what kind of man he was. It was his own fault. He should have blabbed about Pauleen’s problems to anyone who would listen, but he hadn’t. He’d let Pauleen spin her own web of lies because she’d given him Jason.

Still, he’d needled Betsy. "Because her husband retained me as his lawyer?”

"Because you’re a bit of a Neanderthal,” she had said with a smile. "Lovable, but a Neanderthal. Sorry, sweetie...”

Warmed by the fire, Stephen’s soaked jeans steamed gently. It was way too warm for a fire, but with this blasted rain, it had seemed like a good idea. He glanced toward the open doorway. Sooner or later Kimberly Harden was going to have to walk across the threshold.

Then what? he asked himself. And what’s she doing here?

As he thought about it, another realization hit: there was only one bedroom in the cabin.

"I don’t believe it,” Kim said aloud for about the twentieth time. It was incredible. Stephen Wright was here. At the cabin. At Betsy’s cabin.

And she was stuck here!

"No, no, no!” Kimberly yanked on the car door handle’ again, wishing by some miracle it would open by the sheer power of her will. She did not want to have to go back to the cabin, not even for her keys. But there was nothing else to do.

Bypassing ruts filled with muddy rainwater, Kimberly slogged her way through the welcoming doorway. The aroma of burning oak and fir reached toward her. In fact, the whole room glowed with steamy warmth; a cozy retreat in the mountains away from the pressures of work and the events of the past eighteen months. If it hadn’t been for the man staring into the flickering flames and pulsating embers she would have found the haven she’d been dreaming of ever since Betsy offered her this weekend away. But the wide expanse of Stephen Wright’s shoulders and the rain-darkened strands of his thick brown hair were an unwelcome intrusion.

Blast! she thought furiously. I could wring his conniving neck!

"You probably ought to change,” he said without turning around. "You’re soaked to the skin.”

Kimberly was so livid she couldn’t find her voice for a moment. "No, thank you,” she said firmly. "I’m just fine.”

Now he turned, his eyes raking over her without much interest. "I came in the same way.”

"What does that mean?”

"Without a coat.”

It took a considerable amount of will not to look down at the summer blouse and khaki pants she’d thrown on before she tore out of town this afternoon. Sure, it had started to rain but it was summer, after all, and it wasn’t cold or anything. She’d figured it would let up. And yes, she knew showers were in the forecast, but tough. She was in "vacation mode,” and with every mile that passed beneath the wheels of her car her mood had lifted. The weather hadn’t bothered her at all.

Her blouse was now drenched pale blue linen. Glancing down, she was embarrassed to see her bra defined asclearly as if she were part of a Madonna video. Snatching up her suitcase she bolted for the one small bedroom, biting back a cry of annoyance at the sight of his black bag tossed on the quilted spread of the only bed. He’d carelessly thrown a shirt and slacks and pair of jeans across the spread, and a faint musky scent of male cologne invaded everything.

Kimberly quickly changed into a black short-sleeved sweater and her own jeans. Removing her socks, she stood barefoot against the plank floor, wishing absurdly that she hadn’t spent the time the evening before painting her nails. They looked so, so, feminine.

How could this happen? she asked herself.

Betsy! For a wild moment Kim wondered if Betsy had planned this encounter. She was always on Kim to meet a new man, have a few laughs, get out of her routine of work, work, work.

"You’ve got a great kid, there,” Betsy told her one afternoon. "And you’re a terrific mom.”

"But...” Kimberly filled in.

"But you’ve got to make time for other recreation aswell. You’re a secretary by day, and a mom by night, and you’re the best. Now it’s time to look a little further.”

"How much further?” Kim was leery.

"You need a date.”

A date... Just thinking about it made Kim shudder. When she and Alan had first split up, she’d actually entertained the idea of going out to dinner with another man, enjoying a quiet drink or a movie, or just a stretch of fun, uncomplicated conversation. She’d looked at other men, but was too inhibited to think of actually "dating” them. Her one mistake was telling Betsy what she thought of Stephen Wright.

"He’s too good looking to be as nice as he is. There’s got to be a flaw there.”

It was two summers past. She and Betsy had been sharing a bottle of white wine over a picnic dinner in Betsy’s backyard, while the Reed boys and Bobby were spraying each other with the hose. Betsy’s husband, Ray, had a water pistol and was involved in the game.

"Stephen and Pauleen are divorcing,” Betsy said. "But I’ll tell you, it’s more her than him.”

"What do you mean?”

"I mean, that woman isn’t what she seems.” She leaned forward, the wine talking for her, since Betsy was careful what she said about her boss. "She’s a witch, and you can spell that with a ‘B’.”

Since Kimberly’s marriage had headed down that same path, and Alan had called her the same name, Kim didn’t quite trust Betsy’s judgment. "It always takes two.”

"Not always.”

"So, you blame their divorce solely on Pauleen?” Kim had always been a bit in awe of Pauleen Wright. The woman was a blond beauty with style, grace, and a razor-sharp wit. She and Stephen were among the elite of Riverside’s social set. The local paper was quick to report "Wright” sightings.

"Pauleen’s not what she seems,” Betsy said.

"What is she?”

But Betsy, maddeningly enough, pressed a finger to her lips and shook her head. "I can’t talk. Stephen would fire me in a heartbeat! But trust me, Kimmy, he’s a good guy. You just need to get to know him, and, hey, he’s going to be available very soon!”

Now, thinking back, Kim actually moaned aloud in humiliation. She had been attracted to him. So much so, in fact, that until Alan decided to go for custody—just to hurt her and get himself in the spotlight again—Kim had actually entertained fantasies about Stephen Wright that were darn near X-rated.

"Oh, I can’t stand it!” she whispered, covering her face with her hands. In a fit of nervous energy she grabbed her hairbrush and attacked her wet hair with a vengeance, brushing downward in harsh strokes.

Five minutes later, her once-tangled hair now straight to her shoulders, her feet still bare since she hadn’t had the foresight to bring more than her favorite pair of suede flats—now forever ruined—Kimberly walked into the living room.

Stephen had retreated to one side of the hearth, his shoulders propped against the wall, one foot resting on a block of fir. A quick glance up at her, and then he looked back down, as if he were as uncomfortable as she was.

Oh, sure, Stephen Wright, attorney extraordinaire. Society page’s darling.Like she was going to believe that.

"So, what are you doing here?” she asked.

"Betsy offered me the cabin for the weekend, and I took her up on it.”


"What does that mean?”

"It means she offered me the cabin for the weekend,” Kimberly informed him.

"Then you must have gotten your weekends mixed up.”

He was so certain he was right, and she was wrong. Kim smiled faintly. "Nope. She’s taking care of my son while I’m here.”

Stephen stared at her silently for several long seconds. "She’s taking care of my son this weekend.”

"What?” Kimberly’s lips parted.

"Betsy’s taking care of Jason this weekend, too.”

"I know, I know. I just...” She let her voice trail off. Maybe Betsy had set this up. No! No, there had to be another explanation. When Betsy had offered her the cabin, she’d originally slated it for the following weekend. They’d been at a Little League game, and when Kim asked if this weekend were free instead, Betsy had distractedly said, "Sure.” Then Betsy had agreed to take care of Bobby as a matter of course since their two twelve-year-olds were inseparable.

Kim shook her head. "But she must have realized we’d be here together if Jason’s at the Reeds’ for the weekend, too.”

"You’d think so,” he admitted.

"Oh, I don’t believe this!” Thrusting her fingers through her hair, Kim fought back a rushing torrent of emotion. This couldn’t be! Fate could not be so unkind.

Well, at least Bobby’s having a blast, she thought unhappily. Stephen’s son, Jason, was good buddies with Betsy’s eldest son, Matt, so sometimes all four boys ended up together at the Reeds’, which thrilled Bobby to the core because, as he often said, "Jason Wright’s the coolest guy on the planet, bar none, Mom.”

Like, oh, sure to that one, too. Still, one had to be cautious when dealing with junior-high admiration. Throughout the long custody battle, Kim had done her best to discourage Bobby’s opinion of Jason without alienating him. Bobby, however, simply could not be dissuaded. And in all honesty, Jason was a nice kid; a product of Stephen Wright’s ex-wife, Pauleen, Kim decided, no matter what Betsy thought of Stephen.

"I’m calling Betsy,” Stephen suddenly said. In one lithe movement he was away from the fireplace and picking upa portable phone. His sudden proximity to Kim had her shrinking inside herself. The man was all shoulders and chest and possessed that peculiar kind of male grace that belied his six-foot-something frame. He absolutely pushed every one of her buttons without even trying!

She watched him hit the speakerphone button and punched in Betsy’s number, and all the while she attempted to rein in her rollicking pulse. It bugged her that he had this effect on her even though she couldn’t stand him. She might have found him attractive once, but she sure asheck didn’t now!

"Hello?” Betsy’s disembodied voice filled the cabin, sounding a bit frazzled.

"Hey, Bets, it’s Kim,” she jumped in before Stephen Wright could say anything. "I’m calling from the cabin.”

"Oh, yeah? Oh, Kimmy! Oh, my God!”

Kim’s gaze locked with Stephen’s. The light must have belatedly switched on inside Betsy’s head. A quiver raced down Kim’s spine as she stared into Stephen Wright’s green eyes. "Yeah, well, don’t worry, Bets. It’s my fault,” she said. "I didn’t give you a chance to check your calendar before we changed the dates.”

"But you couldn’t have known. This is the worst weather in forty years! Floods everywhere. You should see the news. I know you don’t have a TV there, but check the radio. All this incredible rain and, hey, we’re used to rain here in Oregon. It’s just amazing!”

"Betsy, I know about the weather—”

"Did you forget I’m here, too?” Stephen asked Betsy.

Kim caught a whiff of that familiar cologne when he shifted his weight. She leaned further away, wishing she could move to the other side of the room, but unwilling to leave the speakerphone.

There was a long pause. Then a gasp. Then a torrent of apologies. "Stephen! Oh, no. I can’t believe it. Oh, I’m sorry. Kimmy, my God! Oh, my God!” She broke into a fit of laughter. "I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Oh, wow...” Another pause. "Maybe you can draw straws and see who has to leave!”

"Neither one of us can leave,” Stephen drawled sardonically. "As you said, there’s a flood out there. The roads are closed.”

"Closed?” Betsy repeated. Then, noticing her friend’s silence, "Kimmy?”

"Right here, Bets.”

"Are you okay?”

Kim knew what she was asking. Betsy was aware of how she felt about Stephen Wright these days; Kim had been pretty clear on that. "I’m okay,” she assured her friend.

"Oh, well...” Betsy half laughed. "Kim, you remember that swimming class we took?”


"How to be a lifesaver, or something? You could maybe put it into action and swim back.”

Kim narrowed her gaze at the phone. Catching sight of a small movement out of the corner of her eye, she dared a glance at Stephen’s face in time to glimpse the quirk of a smile. It was instantly gone. "I’m not the one who’s leaving.”

"Looks like we’re both staying,” Stephen stated.

Oh, no, Kim thought. Not in this lifetime.

"Well, good,” Betsy said with such cheer that Kim’s mood darkened even further. "Hope you kids have a great time. By the way, if you run out of food, the pantry’s bound to have something in the way of—”

The phone clicked hard. Something popped loudly, and the lights went out as if pulled by a master switch. Only the orange glow of the fire remained, casting dark and dangerous shadows along the pine walls.

"I think we just lost electricity,” Stephen stated with a touch of irony.


"There go my microwavable burritos for dinner.”

"This place doesn’t have a microwave,” Kim retorted, her mind whirling from too much information. "So Betsy’s taking care of Jason this weekend, too. Where did she think you were?”

"At home, I suppose.” He sounded indifferent. "Jason spends half his time at the Reeds’ anyway, and Betsy and I just leave messages on each other’s phones about where the kids are.”

Her eyes were adjusting to the dim light. She saw him run a hand over his face. Was he as stressed as she was? Impossible!

"I could use a beer. Want one?” he asked.

"No,” she said, thinking the idea sounded marvelous but unwilling to make even the smallest concession. This was the man who’d tried to help Alan steal her son! He was no friend. No ally. She wasn’t about to share a beer with him like they were old buddies.

As he went in search of his drink, she walked to the fire, examining its orange and scarlet glow against her bare feet. Wiggling her toes, she sought for some kind of control. She was anxious and uneasy, deservedly so, and there was an unhappiness inside her, too. Oh, sure, she’d eventually won custody of her son in court, the one thing Alan had promised her she couldn’t do, but memories were sometimes so sharp and unkind.

Alan’s mocking voice crowded inside her mind. "Wright’ll get me Bobby. He promised. No problem. It’s what he’s best at. Screwing women and taking what he wants from them!”

Well, of course, she’d known that wasn’t true. Stephen Wright had been the model husband during his marriage to Pauleen, everyone knew that. If there’d been the slightest indiscretion, the town gossips would have reported it. But instead every word uttered and printed about Stephen and Pauleen had been filled with superlatives. And why not? They’d been one of the most attractive couples in town: he so tall and dark, she so slight and fair. And when they’d split up, citing irreconcilable differences, none of the acrimony that had surfaced in her own divorce had appeared. Pauleen and Stephen were as sane and reasonable throughout their divorce as they’d been bright and beautiful during their marriage—no matter what Betsy intimated.

Still, Alan’s words had hurt—almost as much as the slap and shove he’d used against her that one awful night. She hadn’t wanted to hear anything bad about Stephen Wright any more than she’d wanted to tell the world about her husband’s physical abuse. But she’d had to face both, for Alan had employed Stephen as his attorney, and she, Kim, had been forced to reveal the ugliest part of her union to all and sundry.

Things deteriorated from there. Alan claimed she was lying about his physical abuse. She’d set it up as a means to get Bobby. Ask anyone in town. Everyone knew Alan Harden was a good guy. Wasn’t he Little League coach? Hadn’t he helped out on the telethon to raise money for the schools? Didn’t Harden Electric help build the snack hut at Laurel Park?

Accusations. Questions. Long, sideways looks. Kim had endured it all and somehow managed to keep her chin up. In the end she’d won Bobby away from Alan, but what a price! Bobby’s trust in adults had taken a definite beating.

And Stephen Wright’s part in this drama was enough to make her want to scream and inflict some physical abuse of her own!

Drawing a deep breath, Kim closed her eyes and ran her fingers through the lush strands of her blond mane. Okay, it was Robert Jackson who’d tried the case, but that was small comfort. She didn’t care about Robert Jackson. She’d never fantasized about him. And besides, Stephen could have refused Alan’s case. He could have kicked her egotistical ex-husband right out in the street. But no, his law firm had hung right in there, and Kim considered any association with Alan a total betrayal.

Men, she thought, pressing her hands against her scalp, as if the very thought might explode out of her brain. They’re all in it together.


The voice behind her nearly shot her out of her skin. Kim whipped around, furious. "Why don’t you just scare the liver out of me!” The fire in her aquamarine eyes lessened a little as she realized he was holding out a long-necked beer for her. Condensation dripped down the label and onto his thumb. Almost mesmerized by the cool invitation, Kim managed to mutter a stiff, "I said I didn’t want one.”

"Oh, for Pete’s sake, take it. It’s hot in here.”

That it was. It might be wet outside and rumbling with thunder and wind, but it was a summer storm that lashed against the cabin, and the air was fairly warm. The fire, though cheery, was throwing off more heat than either of them needed. In fact, the whole room felt close and sultry.

"Thanks,” she said tightly.

His lips twisted. "Don’t mention it.” With that he took a long swallow, and before Kim looked away she saw his throat contract several times. Now why that movement should seem so sensual, she didn’t quite know, but it was several moments before the image cleared from her brain and by the time it did, she realized she’d missed something in the conversation.

"I’m sorry, what?” she asked, as he was waiting for some kind of answer.

"I said you can have the bedroom.”

"Oh. Good.” She glanced around the living room. There was one overstuffed chair and a claw-footed love seat, but nothing remotely big enough for his huge frame. "I could sleep here,” she offered.

"Don’t worry. I doubt I’ll be sleeping anyway.”

"Why not?” she asked, before she could help herself.

"I never do.”

"What does that mean?”

Stephen took another swallow from the bottle. "I’m just not much of a sleeper these days.”

"Oh.” Kim sipped at her beer, marveling that it tasted so wonderful. She really didn’t like the stuff much, but once in a while, when she felt overheated and tense, nothing tasted better. "I’ve got a couple sacks of groceries in my trunk,” she suddenly remembered. "Of course, we don’t have an oven...”

"Well, I could grill the burritos over the fire,” he suggested.

Kim tried to picture that in her mind. Stephen, leaning over the fire, a cast-iron frying pan over a roaring flame filled with frozen fast food. "I’ll get the groceries.”

"Give me the keys, and I’ll get them. You don’t have any shoes on.”

They both glanced down at her pink-painted toenails. Kimberly could feel a flush traveling up her neck, and she cursed herself for being so sensitive. "The keys are in my purse,” she said, walking to her bag and pulling them out. He was right behind her, so close she could feel his body heat adding to the warmth of the room.

As soon as he was jogging through the rain, she downed a huge swallow of beer, then two more, hoping the liquor would run through her veins and smooth her frazzled nerves.

"How long do you think the roads will be closed?” she asked when he returned. He was carrying her grocery sacks asif their combined weight, which had had her staggering, was feather light.

"I don’t know.”

"Got a guess?”

"A day, or two maybe.”

"A day or two!” Kim sank onto the love seat. "I can’t wait that long.”

Stephen left the sacks on the kitchen counter and rescued the beer he’d left on the table before returning to the living room. She was facing the fire, and now she could feel him somewhere behind her right shoulder. She swallowed again, wondering if the rush to her head was a result of drinking too fast or her own taut nerves.

"We can’t stay here like this,” she tried again.

His answer was a very male snort. She glanced back and caught him just finishing a long draught of beer, emptying the bottle. Dangling the bottle’s long neck with his right hand, he swiped his mouth with the back of his left. To Kim, who’d only seen him in formal social situations or "attorney” mode, this turn to rugged indifference was both unsettling and unsuitably appealing.

You hate him. Remember that.

"Something has to be done,” she muttered, returning her gaze to the fire.

"Got a suggestion?” he asked.


"I do.”

"You do?” Carefully, she hazarded another glance his way. He, too, seemed entranced by the dancing flames, but spying her movement, his gaze swept upward, meeting hers.

"Another beer,” he said, turning to fulfill his own request.

Kim narrowed her lashes at his retreating back, half-inclined to nail him with some perfect barb. Inspiration did not strike, however, and she was still working up a comeback when he offered her another dewy bottle.

"I’ve still got a ways to go on this one,” she said frostily.

"Yeah, well...” He shrugged and with several long steps, flopped onto the love seat, his legs stretched so far forward that his ankles straddled her two feet. It was peculiarly intimate and Kim, pretending an indifference she didn’t feel, sidled toward the overstuffed chair, dropping into it with what she hoped was the same unaffected casualness.

Silence stretched between them, but it wasn’t the easy, familiar kind between friends. Kim had to struggle not to fidget. "Aren’t you hungry yet?”

"Actually, no.”

"Well, I am.” She jumped up and found her way to the kitchen where Stephen had lit the oil lamp Betsy normally used as a centerpiece on the tiny kitchen table. Shadows walked along the cabinets and counter as she dug inside her sacks for the frozen hamburger, now half-thawed, and a loaf of bread. There were no buns; she’d planned on fixing spaghetti for herself, along with some "salad in a bag,” her new favorite meal. Now, it looked like she would have to settle for hamburger patties on wheat bread.

"Need some help?” he called.

"No, just be a male and sit there,” she muttered under her breath.


"No, thank you,” she called a bit louder.

Alan had never helped in the kitchen. Once in a while he would invite some people over—someone he wanted to impress—and make his mother’s famed Hungarian goulash. Never mind that it was Kim’s recipe he’d adopted and that she did the prep on the meat and vegetables. Never mind that Alan’s mother was as far from Hungarian as Pluto from the sun. Never mind that Kim was left with clean up while Alan’s guests sat around afterwards over brandy and ribald talk that she found more than mildly offensive. But that was how Alan believed clients should be wooed, and to her disgust, it often worked. Harden Electric contracted for some of the major builders around Riverside, and Alan knew how to schmooze with the best of them.

With extra fervor she pounded the half-frozen ground round into patties and arranged four of them in a black cast-iron skillet. A few seasonings over the top, and she returned to the living room, ready to create a "gourmet” sensation.

Her mouth went dry at the sight that met her eyes.

Stephen Wright was still stretched out in the love seat, his long jean-clad legs slightly apart. He’d taken off his shoes and socks and unbuttoned his shirt, a concession to the steamy heat. His eyes were closed, and his head lolled back against the cushions. His beer was propped between his thighs, forgotten, one hand curved laxly near its neck. He looked younger, less intimidating, his brow relaxed in sleep, his lips fuller, those lines of discontentment bracketing his mouth erased. The curve of his jaw drew her interest as if by a magnet.

Somewhere deep inside Kim something came alive. Something long dead, or maybe never given birth before.

Shaking all over, she dropped the skillet on the pine coffee table with a clatter. Stephen jumped up as if he’d been stabbed.

"What the hell?” he demanded, towering over her as she fought for composure. Then, worried, "Kim, are you all right?”

Her heart beat in her ears. She couldn’t answer.

And then he reached a hand out to tip up her chin and stare searchingly at her and Kim, in a state of pure emotion, sensed traitorous tears spring to her eyes. As if that humiliation weren’t enough, her body quivered when, almost in amazement, his thumb captured one tear, and he watched it melt against his own skin.




"What is it, Kim?” he asked softly.

Of all the things Kim could handle, pity and caring were the hardest. If someone was nice to her, that’s all it took to start the waterworks, and Stephen’s concern coupled with her own strange reaction were enough to do her in.

It didn’t help that he was touching her either!

"I’m all—right. Just—don’t—”

Stephen’s eyes searched her flushed face. Quietly, he said, "Don’t what?”

"Don’t touch me.”

He frowned. But it was as if her words were an invitation, not a warning, for his hands reached for her shoulders and slid downward until they rested just below the short sleeves of her black sweater. Kim’s breath caught in her throat. He seemed lost in concentration, feeling her skin. Her heart kicked painfully. This wasn’t right. She shouldn’t feelthese things!

Tense as a bowstring, she slowly pulled her arms free of his grasp. For a moment it seemed like he might actually resist her efforts, but then he took a step back. They stood in silence.

"I don’t want to be here with you,” she heard herself say, the words fast and scared. "I didn’t want any of this. I’m sorry, I just—don’t.”

"Did I say I did?”

"I just don’t want you to think—” Kim broke off helplessly.

"Think what?”

"That I’m... that this is... okay.”

The Stephen Wright she’d feared, the one Alan had threatened her with, the one who had obviously given him his courtroom reputation, suddenly appeared. One moment the man was approachable; the next he was cold as a distant star.

"What do you mean this? Did you think I was going to kiss you? Make a pass? Put you in some kind of compromising position?”

"I’m already in a compromising position!” Kim declared. "I don’t want to be here with you. I don’t trust you. And after what you did, I’ll never be able to even like you!”

"After what I did?”

She nodded. It took all her courage not to step back, away from him a few paces. His very nearness was intimidating.

"After what I did?” he repeated again.

"You tried to take Bobby from me!”

Silence fell. Her accusation reverberated in shock waves. It almost felt as if she’d slapped him. "You may not have been the courtroom attorney, but you took Alan’s case,” she fumbled on. "And I don’t want to hear that a job’s a job. That’s no excuse. You represented Alan.” Her throat was dry as salt. "And he’s no kind of father, and certainly no kind of husband.”

Stephen stared down at the petite blond-haired woman who stood in front of him—so small, yet so defiant. He was angry at the weather for stranding him here with her. He was angry at himself for being so susceptible. And he was angry at her for being right.

His defense sounded pathetic even to his own ears. "I didn’t know what kind of man Harden was when our firm took the case.”

"When you took the case,” she corrected.

"I passed on being his attorney,” Stephen reminded her.

But Kim was having none of it. "Oh, really? That wasn’t Jackson, Wright and Smith representing Alan?”

"It wasn’t Stephen Wright,” he snapped back, stinging. He wanted to tell her that he’d spent his time in the background, listening to what went on, keeping well out of it. He’d never been particularly concerned that Harden would end up with Bobby; his bid for custody was too weak, especially since Kim appeared to be a model wife and mother. And though he didn’t really like the man personally, he’d found him at least tolerable—until Betsy had let it slip that Alan had struck his wife.

It had been late in the trial. Betsy, who was generally good about separating her personal life from her professional, overheard Robert Jackson shaking hands and saying good-bye to Alan. Like Mount Etna about to explode, she’d suddenly clenched her fists and turned bright red, literally shaking with the effort to contain herself.

"What’s got into you?” Stephen asked her.

"I’d like to wring his lying neck!”

"Who?” Stephen looked around, then spied Alan Harden’s retreating back through the open door of his office.

"I know what he did to Kim. She tried to hide it, but I know.”

Fascinated, he simply waited. Betsy tried to clamp her lips together, but in a rush, she spewed out, "He hit her! Slammed her into a wall. When I saw the bruises I knew what had happened.”

The rush of emotion Stephen felt was totally out of proportion to the circumstances. Yes, he was infuriated. Yes, he was disgusted and sickened. But the need to comfort and hold Kim and wrap himself around her was an unwelcome yet overwhelming desire. He was left speechless, spent, as if he’d run a marathon. And it took all of his not inconsiderable will to hide the freight train of emotions that rushed through him from Betsy Reed’s knowing eyes.

But she was too upset herself to pick up the vibes. "If he gets custody of Bobby, it’ll kill Kim.”

"It won’t happen.”

"How do you know? Our firm is representing him, for crying out loud!”

"Harden’s a bad witness,” Stephen responded bluntly. "Robert said as much to the man’s face. He blusters and talks big. The judge would award custody to Kim even if she weren’t the best choice.”

"You’re sure?” Betsy gazed at him pleadingly.

Yes, he’d been sure. Certain to the tips of his toes. But it still had been a relief to hear the outcome in Kim’s favor. When she’d blasted him on the courtroom steps he’d had no defense of his own. He’d deserved some of it because when Alan had first brought him the custody case, he’d painted Kim out to be some kind of self-serving bitch. Though Stephen had known better, he’d half believed the man. His own experience with Pauleen was partially to blame, and he’d made himself believe it was Kim who’d been lying, not Alan. Still, it was no excuse, and he’d taken Kim’s verbal battering as his due.

And so, now what? he asked himself, gazing at Kim in the firelight. She’d turned her face away while he’d traveled through this lightning introspection. Now she stared fixedly at the flames, a means of shutting him out and pulling away without physically moving.

If he were ever going to be given the opportunity to explain himself to her, this was it. Yet, there really was no excuse. He hadn’t taken Alan Harden’s case, but he also hadn’t thrown him out on his ear. And when Betsy had blurted out Harden’s true nature, Stephen hadn’t charged after him and rendered the man serious physical harm (his first, most burning desire). Instead, he’d quietly warned Robert about a rumor he’d heard and let Jackson handle Harden any way he chose. Confronted with his abuse, Harden blustered and whined and denied, and Robert Jackson went ahead with the custody suit.

It was the way some cases went.

Still, the whole thing had left a bad taste in Stephen’s mouth, and at some level he’d wanted to clear it up with Kim. And here, here, was the perfect opportunity. So, what was stopping him?

"I’m not really hungry,” Kim suddenly said. "I think I’ll just go to bed.”

He had a sudden vision of her lying between the sheets, hair tossed in a silken heap across the pillow, eyes closed, breath soft and even, her expression gentle and sweet. He imagined her naked, her skin smooth and lustrous.

"You sure you want the love seat?” she asked, her face still averted.

"It’s fine,” he answered shortly.

"I’m smaller. It would be easier for me to curl up here.”

"I’m not interested in sleeping right now. Go ahead. I’ll be perfectly fine.”

Now, she darted him a look, questions hovering in her eyes. But she was clearly too upset to delve into what was eating at him, and for that he was glad. She was eating at him. He hadn’t wanted any woman since his divorce, though scores had thrown themselves at him as soon as they learned he was unattached. He hadn’t even wanted to date. Pauleen had cured him of that—he’d thought forever.

But Kimberly Harden got to him. In ways he didn’t want to think about.

So, now, when she hesitantly said goodnight and slipped away, Stephen found it was all he could do not to let his gaze follow after her, devouring her. The soft click of the door closing brought him back to reality.

Muttering a few pungent obscenities beneath his breath, he worked his way through the shadowy room back to the kitchen in the hope of finding another beer.

Kimberly lay on her back with her hands folded beneath her head, staring at the bedroom ceiling. There was no such thing as total darkness. From the window grayish outdoor light threw a square of faint illumination across the foot of her bed and lightened the walls. Shadows danced from the stiff breeze that gusted outside, and rain fell in a steady symphony.

She couldn’t sleep. Not at all. Her mind was busy, her thoughts fragmented. But her overall feeling was one of, what? She didn’t know. Cautiously, she tiptoed through the mess in her head and suddenly tripped over luscious thoughts of Stephen Wright.

With a groan of self-loathing, she snatched up the pillow and buried her face in its smothering softness. Then she pounded on it with one fist. You are such an idiot! She couldn’t stand the man. He’d sided with Alan! It wasn’t fair that he was so outrageously attractive.

Why? Why? Why?

Removing the pillow, Kim sighed hugely. She’d never been stupid about men. Well, okay, she’d misjudged Alan. She’d fallen for his charms—limited as they now appeared to be—but she could excuse herself because she’d been so young. Now, there was no excuse. She knew the kind of man Stephen Wright was, and he would never be the man for her.


She looked across the room to where she’d folded up his clothes and set them atop his bag. She should have pushed the bag outside the door, but there it stood, mocking her. If Stephen wanted anything from it he was going to have to knock on her bedroom door, but so far that hadn’t happened.

What time was it? she wondered. She’d gone to bed shortly after seven. When was the last time you did that, my girl? And now she was wide awake and wishing for dawn. As soon as it was light she might be able to leave. More wishful thinking, asit hadn’t stopped raining all night, and it was bound to take a while for the floodwaters to recede.

She tossed and turned for what had to be at least an hour, then finally out of pure frustration and exhaustion, she stopped avoiding the issue picking at her brain and faced it full on: She was attracted to Stephen Wright. Kim actually winced as she mentally said the words. She felt like a traitor to herself. How could she be? How could she?

Easy. She’d been attracted to him before, why not now? She’d first met him several years earlier; they were loosely involved in the same circle of friends. Betsy, of course, was the main connection, and when she first introduced Kim to Stephen at a barbecue at her house, he’d still been with his wife, Pauleen. Kim, sensitive to her own still-fresh divorce, had eyed Stephen and Pauleen Wright and wondered what kept them together. Sure, they were the quintessential beautiful couple, but Pauleen seemed so stiff and discriminating. The corners of her mouth never lifted, and there was a restlessness about her, as if she couldn’t wait to leave. Her tension was palpable. Stephen, on the other hand, had clearly been having a great time. Kim had warmed to his conversation. She knew he was a lawyer, and she learned that he was acquainted with Alan—Riverside was small enough, and Harden Electric was big enough, that it was almost a given the two men would have met.

Pauleen had had too much to drink, and that ended Kim’s first meeting with Stephen; he took his tottering wife home. Still, her attraction to him had remained, like a haunting melody. Oh, she didn’t want him then; he’d been married, for crying out loud! But she’d enjoyed the mellow tones of his voice and the amused quirk of his mouth as a woman appreciates any attractive male. Kim had been starved for that kind of easy camaraderie; she’d never really had it with Alan, and it was darn difficult to find. That evening she’d been sorry to see Stephen leave, but then in the course of her frenetic life, she’d dropped him from her thoughts. Betsy brought his name up upon occasion, of course, but one day the word "divorce” was mentioned in conjunction with Stephen Wright. That caught Kim’s attention.

"They weren’t meant for each other,” was Betsy’s blanket assessment. And then, because she was loyal and true, "He deserves better.”

Kim had wanted to query her further without seeming overly curious, but Betsy, a friend who generally loved to speculate on people, could sometimes be as closemouthed as a clam. Kim sensed that she was protecting Stephen, which was admirable but downright frustrating! Kim knew her own appreciation of the man could easily turn into an out-and-out attraction. And it would be the first time she’d actually wanted to date another man since she’d met her ex-husband—a lifetime ago!

But, no... Stephen and Pauleen Wright might be divorcing, but he was in no mood for dating; Betsy was clear on that. She then alluded to the messiness of the split up and became like a mother hen clucking over her injured chick. What Stephen thought of Betsy’s concern, Kim never knew, but she decided to keep her interest in him to herself.

She saw him at several social functions during this transition. Once he’d even had a beautiful woman on his arm, though Betsy, unsolicited, remarked that the woman, Samantha, had clamped onto Stephen when he’d walked through the door and that he was doing his best to disengage her.

Kim learned this was true when at the hors d’oeuvre table she was suddenly right next to him, and he desperately looked like he needed a rescue.

"Hey, there,” he said to Kim, the dark-haired beauty still fervently clutching his sleeve.

"Hi,” was all Kim managed to answer. As far as scintillating conversation went, she scored a perfect zero.

The would-be girlfriend broke in right there. "Stephen, come over here. I want you to meet a friend of mine. He’s thinking of switching law firms, and I promised that I’d bring you over to him ASAP.”

"Can’t do it right now,” Stephen answered politely.

"Oh, sure you can!”

"I’ll be there in a minute. I’m involved in a conversation.”

Kim was surprised. After a moment of consternation, the lovely brunette flicked Kim an assessing look, then reluctantly released Stephen’s arm. Stephen gave Kim a sideways glance as he filled his plate. "Sorry I had to use you asan excuse. I know the guy Samantha wants me to meet, and believe me, I can wait.”

"It looks to me like it’s Samantha who’s wanting a private meeting,” Kim said. As soon as the words were out she flushed with embarrassment. It wasn’t often she unthinkingly betrayed the thoughts that brushed across her mind. Her boldness shocked her.

Stephen’s head turned to gaze at her sharply. Spying her flooding color, he started to laugh. "You’re right!” he declared.

"I’m sorry. I—that was uncalled for. I feel like an idiot.”

"No, no. It’s okay. I haven’t been socializing much these days, and I think I’ve lost the ability to politely get out of sticky situations. I mean, look, I had to depend on you for help.”

"Depend away. I absolutely hate being trapped in something I can’t get out of without coming off like a jerk.”

"I can’t believe you ever come off like a jerk.” He gazed into her eyes. He seemed about to say something—a compliment, perhaps?—but then Samantha reappeared.

"Come on, Stephen! Come now. Hurry, hurry, hurry!” Her attempts at cuteness fell completely flat, but her insistence was rapidly putting Stephen in exactly the sticky social situation one couldn’t avoid. Samantha yanked on his arm, and he graciously followed, but not before glancing back to Kim and pretending to strangle himself, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his eyes rolling upward. Kim laughed, and he pulled himself out of the pantomime just as Samantha looked around suspiciously.

Betsy clapped her hands together in delight when Kim related the story to her later. "Don’t you just love him!” she declared. "Oh, Kimmy,” she added, as the bolt hit her. "He’s perfect for you!”

"Whoa. Hold on. I don’t even know if he’s actually divorced yet.”

"Totally divorced,” Betsy informed her. "And ready to date again.”

"He said he hadn’t been out in many social situations.”

"Hey, that was a bad marriage. He’s still suffering from it.”

"What was wrong?”

Betsy pressed her lips together. "You know, it’s not for me to tell.”

"Since when did you get so hung up about gossip!” Kim laughed.

"I would give my back teeth to talk about Stephen Wright, but he asked me to keep his affairs private. He’s very private himself.”

Kim was unrepentant. "Hey, this is your best friend you’re talking to.”

Betsy looked about ready to explode with the desire to tell all. "Oh, stop it! If and when enough time goes by, believe me, you’re first on my list. Meanwhile, I’ll plant the seeds that you’re maybe kind of interested—”

"No!” Kim cried adamantly. "Betsy, no! I don’t want him to think I’m chasing him!”

"See, you’re as bad as he is. I could help you both.”

"Don’t. Please. I mean it.”

Betsy had merely sniffed in supreme knowledge that both Kim and Stephen were being ridiculous over this clearly budding romance.

And then... Alan had chosen the new tack to try and wrest Bobby from her, just out of plain meanness, and he’d let her know that Stephen Wright had agreed to be his lawyer.

Now Kim shivered, a mass of emotions. What was it about being attracted to Stephen that made his actions seem like such a betrayal when, as he’d pointed out, he was just being businesslike? Had she invested more of herself in the relationship than she should have, even at that first germ of the feeling? Probably. She always led with her heart, not her head.

Well, it hardly mattered now. As soon as the sun broke through tomorrow, she was going to find a way out of here. Scrunching her pillow into a new, comfortable shape, Kim settled down to serious sleep, except that it kept eluding her. Nerves, she realized, and a lack of dinner.

Once the thought crossed her mind, she was famished. She’d smelled the burgers cooking over the fire and listened while Stephen moved back and forth from kitchen to living room, apparently putting together the rest of his meal. The thought of a juicy hamburger suddenly overpowered her. Food. Her stomach growled at the thought. She felt like she hadn’t eaten in a week.

Throwing back the quilt, she stopped mid-motion. The image of Stephen Wright sprawled across the love seat pinned her to the bed. Could she sneak past him without waking him?

It was so quiet she could hear the tiny creaks of the house and the faint crackling sparks of the dying embers. Eventually giving into hunger, she padded barefoot to the bedroom door. It squeaked upon opening. Kim grimaced at the sound. She really didn’t want to wake him.

Two steps into the living room, she gasped. He was standing in front of the fire watching her sneaking arrival.

And all he had on was a pair of boxers.

Stephen eyed Kimberly with a mixture of frustration and amusement. "Couldn’t sleep?” he asked. Unlike him she wore a sleep shirt that covered her from chin to just below the knees. Across the darkened room her bare legs glowed softly white, their shape defined. For some reason Stephen couldn’t get his mind off them. He remembered her sitting on the love seat earlier, legs crossed.

You’re a total pervert! he told himself.

"Why aren’t you asleep?” she asked.

"I told you, I don’t sleep much.”

"But you’re not even lying down.” Her voice sounded like an accusation. She reluctantly stepped forward, and he realized she was looking anywhere but at him.

His own near nudity finally registered. Well, tough. He was hot, and it wasn’t exactly like he’d planned this midnight meeting. She could just deal with it.

"I thought about getting something to eat,” she said, sidling toward the kitchen.

"The lamp’s kind of low on oil. Let me light some candles,” he suggested, leading the way ahead of her. He’d found several in drawers and had used drinking glasses as candlesticks. As he lit them, they illuminated the kitchen with eerie pools of light, their listing shapes within the glasses giving them a drunken look that added to the general feeling of strangeness and intimacy.

Kim eyed the candles with more interest than necessary. Stephen could feel how much she wanted to keep distance between them; she practically moved an extra yard away whenever she had to get by him.

"I had a couple of burgers,” he told her.

"I know,” she said a trifle testily. "I could smell them.”

"You should’ve had one.”

"I wasn’t in the mood then.”

"Well, they’re cold now.”

"Thank you for that information. I don’t think I could have come up with it on my own.”

"What’s eating you?” he demanded, glancing around at her. She’d circled past him and was standing in the shadows somewhere behind his left shoulder.


She crossed her arms over her chest, but the movement only defined her breasts. Stephen tried not to stare, but the lovely picture she made only fueled his fantasies—which bugged him to no end.

Annoyed, he purposely moved into her space. "I could stir up the fire and give them a reheat. I don’t guarantee they’ll be any good, but hey, there aren’t a lot of options here.”

"Maybe I’ll just have wheat bread and salad,” she answered, stepping back until her hips pressed against the counter.

Something snapped inside Stephen; some long held fury at the fates for making everything so difficult. He’d simply had it with convention. Moving closer, he stood right in front of her, not touching, but staring down at her so that her breath caught in alarm and she shrank back against the cabinets.

"What—what are you doing?” she asked shakily.

"I don’t know,” he admitted.

"Well, don’t do it!”

"I’m just tired of all the problems, and I just want to forget them.”

Kim’s hands were clasped in front of her chest, as if this gesture would ward him off. "Fine. Great. Forget away. But you’re really—crowding me!”

"I’ll just reach around you to the cooler and pull out the rest of the salad. I saved you some.” With that he slid an arm past hers and dragged the cooler out.

Kim stood frozen for a moment, then said icily, "Would you mind putting some more clothes on?”

Stephen pretended surprise. "Does this bother you?”

"No. I just—” He waited, staring down at her. "Actually, as a matter of fact, it does bother me.” She hazarded a direct glance upward. "You bother me.”

"Well, you bother me, too.”

"I didn’t mean it like that,” she said swiftly.

"Like what?”

"Good grief, you really are an attorney. Questions, questions, questions.”

"You’re just avoiding answering.”

"Look, I came out here to get something to eat, but you know what? I’m not hungry anymore. You have killed my appetite.” She squeezed past him.

It was all Stephen could do not to trap her full body against the counter. He was amazed at himself. He couldn’t ever remember behaving so badly.

But when Kim glanced back at him over her shoulder, lips soft in the candlelight, expression lost and a little miserable, his control completely broke. Against all of her wishes, he dragged her close. "I’m sorry,” he whispered against her hair.

Her body quivered in his arms. He half expected her to slap him, but all she did was heave a trembling sigh. She struggled to talk; he could feel her effort. But she was unsuccessful.

Seconds ticked by. The contours of her body melted against his. His lips brushed her ear. Her forehead fell to his chest, as if her bones had given way. He held her tighter, heard her uneven breathing mixed with his own. Thoughts danced in his head. Desires. He was on the verge of sweeping her into his arms and carrying her Rhett Butler-style to the tiny bedroom until she whispered faintly, "I can’t.”


"I don’t even like you very much,” she said with a touch of humor.

He rested his chin on the crown of her head, struggling for control, for the same lightness. It would break the spell, something she obviously desperately wanted, "I can live with that.”

"Goodnight, Stephen.” Slowly, she pulled herself from his arms. "See you in the morning.”

His name on her lips seemed to echo in his mind. She didn’t say it often. Had he ever heard it? It distracted him for so long that she’d moved from the kitchen to the living room before he could respond.

"What about your wheat bread and salad?” he asked, catching sight of her as she stepped across the threshold into the bedroom.

"Somehow I think it’ll be there for me tomorrow.”

The door closed softly behind her. And Stephen Wright spent a very uncomfortable evening on a too-small love seat in front of a dying fire while his mind tortured him with a continual rerun of those moments when Kim was in his arms.



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