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She smiled up at him, then wound her arms around his neck. Standing on her tiptoes, she kissed his whiskered cheek. “Thank you so much. You won’t regret it. Who knows, he may even reward you by offering you a position at the manor stables.” The thought took wings in her heart then soared. “Oh, Nick, if that happens, everything will work out perfectly between us.”
He’d flushed scarlet beneath his whiskers when she’d kissed him and her words brought his brows into a V.
“Bet–“ He cleared his throat. “Between us?”
She sighed, then smiled up at him. “I think I should fill you in on the rest, Nick.“ She gestured to the chair by the fireplace. “You may want to sit down, this is going to take a bit, and may be somewhat hard to believe at first.”
Frank bowed a little, doffing his cowboy hat. “Sorry if I startled you, Ma’am,” he said in his deep, resonating voice. “May I walk you back to the cabin? I’d like to have a word.”
Eliza nodded her assent and he dropped into step beside her. “Thank you again for the dinner, Ma’am.”
Eliza smiled up at him. “It was the least I could do.” Even though she’d paid the hands as well, dinner was part of the custom. You paid your workers with cash and with care, Mrs. McWhorter always said.
Frank removed his hat completely and turned it in his big, work-worn hands. He cleared his throat. He seemed nervous. She stopped and looked up at him, waited for him to say his piece.
He stared at his hands for a long while. “Miss O’Malley, I was wondering…”
She could hear the sound of her own heartbeat, along with the night sounds of a working farm. “What is it, Mr. McGee? What can I do for you?”
He looked up and into her eyes then. His dark eyes glowed in the scant light from the moon and the campfire.
“Miss Eliza, would you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?”
Had she heard him right? Or had her own romantic thoughts about Mr. McGee played tricks with her hearing? She peered into his intense gaze and repeated, “Court me?”
Frank drew in a great deep breath and blew it out.
“Yes, ma’am. Unless you are spoken for?”
“Spoken for?” She couldn’t get her mind to catch up to the thought that this handsome man wished to court her. This had never happened to her before and she had not expected it, not so soon after meeting the man.
Frank shoved his hat back onto his head and she was afraid she’d offended him. Then he reached out and grasped both her hands in his own and squeezed them tightly.
“Eliza, please, think of me as a suitor,” he implored her. “You are smart, beautiful, a hard worker.” He took another deep breath. “And you smell like heaven. I would be honored if you might consider me a beau, and might allow us to get better acquainted.”
Her heart tripped into a rapid beat. This man noticed scent.
She allowed herself a small smile. “I have no experience in such things, sir, but if you are sincere, and if you might be patient with my inexperience I would indeed like you to court me.”
He dropped fervent kisses on both her hands.
“Thank you, Eliza. Might I call you Eliza?”
She giggled. She’d thought of him as simply Frank almost all day long. “You may, if I might call you Frank.”
He grinned at her then, and his straight white teeth flashed in the moonlight. He tugged her hands, pulling her a little closer.
“You may.” His gaze was intense as he searched her eyes. “Eliza, just so you know, I am going to kiss you now.”
He didn’t hesitate, but dropped his face very close to hers. She could feel his breath on her lips a second before he touched his lips to hers in a soft, slow, very gentle kiss.
It was nothing like the hardy, rowdy kisses she had sometimes seen between the women at the pub and the men they were with. When she witnessed those kisses she got a funny feeling in her stomach, like she was seeing something wicked she should not observe. She got that funny feeling in her stomach again, but not because it felt wrong. Because the kiss felt very right. His lips were feather soft, moving very lightly, very carefully. He didn’t embrace her but still held her hands in his. Her heart pounded and he placed her hands against his chest where she could feel the rapid pace of his heart under her palms. And still he kissed her, slowly drawing her into the new status as the one Frank McGee was courting.
When he finally lifted his face from hers she followed his movement so she could place her cheek against his. His face was rough from the day’s growth of beard and she rubbed against it, needing to anchor this memory. Or was it just a dream? Would she wake up if she pinched herself?
She hoped not.
“Goodnight, sweet Eliza,” Frank said, his breath tickling her ear where he whispered the words. “When you are ready we can announce to your Pa that we are courting. I’ll not dignify the man with a request. You are your own woman and your decision is all I need.” He turned then and walked toward the campfire. She touched her fingers to her lips and could still feel the tingle of his gentle touch.
She carried that sensation into the cabin. It was time to find the diary – the book her mother promised would guide her as a Heartmark woman when it came time to fall in love. She took one of the lamps into the room with her, closed the door, and turned up the wick so the light spilled into the room.
Allison was filling one side of the sink with soapy water.
He stood to her left and pointed. “You can use the dishwasher.”
She smiled at him and shook her head. “Do you mind if we do them by hand?” she asked. “I think best when I’m doing something routine like washing dishes. Lets my mind roam a bit,
helps me find solutions.”
“Sure, that’s fine.” He couldn’t find a dishtowel to save his life. “Just a sec.” He ran to the box of bath towels, pulled one out and covered the counter with it. “I’ll rinse and we’ll let them
Allison nodded absently. She was stacking clean dishes into the other side of the sink, and he waited until quite a few had gathered, then sprayed to rinse them, stacking them on the
towel. They worked quietly, both lost in thought. He wondered if she was really thinking about their mystery or if, like him, she was soaking up the chance to stand close together, bumping
each other now and then, doing this homey task as a team. Every time she reached to place the next dish in the sink they managed to bump. Every time an electric sensation shot through him.
When Allison finished the last dish she opened the drain and began to wipe down the sink. Sean stacked his last dish and dried his hands on a remaining corner of the towel. He turned
then, watching Allison in profile as she completed her simple task.
“Hmm?” She turned and looked up and his heart began to pound a little faster. He reached out with one hand, rested it on her arm, stepped a little closer. He saw the realization in her eyes — she knew he was coming in for a kiss. A smile flickered over her lips and her gaze dropped to his mouth. He dropped his head to line up for a taste of that luscious-looking mouth and her eyes drifted closed. The first brush was light, careful, gentle. She held still, held her breath. He leaned in a little closer, his lips firmer. Her tongue flicked a corner of his mouth, quick and teasing. She opened her mouth just a little, and he took her shoulder by his hands to pull her closer. He brushed the sides of her neck with his thumbs. She pressed her body into his and lifted her arms, still damp from doing dishes, and wrapped them around him.
He deepened the kiss; awareness sizzling through every place his skin touched her.
ChaCha made an entrance, sauntering toward Allison, winding between her feet, pressing against her, then turning haughtily to stare at Meredith.
“You just can’t trust a man, any man. They are…” Mer’s ramble stumbled to a halt. She pointed at the Calico, now seated by Allison’s foot, still staring. She came to her feet, sputtering.
“Send that cat outside. You know she gives me the creeps.”
The rude tone jangled and raised the hair on the back of Allison’s neck. She shivered. When Allison didn’t respond, Meredith began to talk again. As always.
“She is evil, I tell you.” Meredith stepped toward ChaCha, hands extended as if she was going to pick up the cat.
The cat came up on all fours, arched her back, fur standing up along her spine. She looked about three times her size, and didn’t break eye contact with her arch enemy. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
Allison kept her voice even but inside she was seething. ChaCha was the sweetest, most mellow cat she had ever known. The cat evil? What about the woman stalking her? “This is her house, Mer. Let her be.”
She stepped in front of the cat, a mug of tea in each hand, and nodded toward the table.
“Sit. We have time for a couple of biscotti each before I have to get ready for work.”
Because Mike and Winter have known each other all their lives, there isn’t exactly a first meeting scene, but here is their first grown-up meeting:
Mike found her at her captain’s desk. The blue light of the flashlight reflected off the no-glare, paper-white computer monitor and showed her face, casting sharp shadows over the planes and valleys of her features. Her pin light was clenched in her teeth, and she murmured around it, likely speaking into her neural cell memo pad.
Not giving himself time to overthink, or her a chance to notice she was no longer alone, he sprung, taking her down to the floor with a forearm to the front of her neck and an arm around her tiny waist.
She had not seen him coming.
He reached inside her jacket and unclipped her weapon from its holster, pulling it out and shoving it into the waist of his jeans at the small of his back.
The pin light landed with a loud clang on the tile floor and its light popped, leaving the small office in complete darkness.
Mike had the advantage, of course, not only having surprise on his side, but his size and the fact he could see whereas Winter was blind.
Nether spoke, only fought.
Mike’s view of her glowed green with his night vision contacts. Her body moved like poetry in motion, her focus was absolute, her chin set and determined. Blind or not, she fought him like a wild cat. Her Tai-Chi was expert, she was clearly using the sound of his breathing to ‘see’ him and landed some outright painful hits and major kicks to his body with her size five combat boots before he’d had enough and slammed his full weight on her, pinning her to the floor.
“I have a name!” she shouted. “Call J. D. off from my grandmother now!”
“I’ve already logged Baker’s name in my memo pad, and set up automatic email delivery of it from my Neural cell.” she tried to knee him. “My Neural stops transmitting, those emails will hit every law enforcement agency and news station on the west coast.”
Her eyes narrowed. He knew she could not see him but that didn’t stop her from glaring, then her full lips pulled into a smirk and admiration welled within him for her courage and nerve.
“You are so screwed,” she scoffed. “You guys dropped the ball bringing J.D. within your corrupt little fold. He’s weak. You know he’s your teams’ weak link, that’s probably why you put him on granny duty. It won’t take anytime at all during interrogation for the threat of penal colony 867 to get to him. I can see it now. He turns on all of you to keep himself earth bound!”
Pieces of the puzzle fell into place while she yelled. Yes, he’d seen her talking to the key suspects this past week, but from what she was saying now, thinking she was being attacked by one of the bad guys, it was glaringly clear she had known about the corrupt cops and had been chatting them up to get a handle on who all was involved, the same as he had been.
Knowing what he did of the Parkers’ little girl, she likely planned to take down the rogue cops single-handedly.
He squared his shoulders, clinched his teeth in determination. She wouldn’t have to now. No, now she had him in her corner. Although, she didn’t know it yet, they would somehow gather the evidence they needed to positively confirm the identity of the twelve preps he’d tagged, and stop them in their dirty tracks.
Relief her impromptu speech had cleared her as a suspect distracted him. Mike swallowed as she continued to thrash beneath him, his body responded accordingly even though his mind was far removed from the physical.
Winter Parker was a victim, not a villain.
Against all odds, her grandmother had somehow become another victim.
Their interest in Winter and her grandmother didn’t make any sense that he could see.
It was high time he asked her what was going on.
“Listen to me, Winter,” he hissed in her ear. “We don’t have much time before they override your block on the doors.”
She went perfectly still and quiet.
He pressed his advantage, easing his weight off her just a bit. “We need to talk, and I think it’s in both our best interests if we are not found here together until we compare notes.”
She frowned at him, her eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”
Sounds of doors unlocking clicked through the building, the lights flickered then snapped on.
He blinked twice to set his contacts into normal mode and Winter, her ice blue eyes haunted and huge, stared unblinking at him.
His lips pulled into a half smile. “It’s Mike, Winter, Mike Hunter. And we’ve got to get out of here.”
Doctor Al was a woman. That was the first thing that registered. She was petite, with very small but competent hands examining King’s body. “Carol has given your dog a dose of an
antihistamine to quiet what appears to be an allergic reaction.” She flicked her gaze to him. “How long ago did this bite or sting happen?”
Her presence was calming. He shook away the tears that formed in his eyes at the thought of how close he’d come to losing his partner, his best friend. “Only a few minutes.” He cleared
his throat in an effort to dislodge the fear and grief clogging it. “Maybe ten minutes ago. I was a couple of blocks from here, and figured it was faster to run in than to risk going home for my
car.” He looked down at his running sweats, gave her what he hoped was an apologetic grin. “I know I stink and I don’t have any I.D. with me.” Embarrassed heat warmed his cheeks. “Or
money, because we were out running. But I don’t live far,” he assured her with a quick gesture of his hands. He hoped he could count on small town acceptance. “As soon as we have this situation
under control I’ll go get them.”
She nodded, continuing her examination. “Has this ever happened before?” When he shook his head she added, “Looks like there is only the one sting. What’s your dog’s name?”
He slid a glance to his dog. “King Solomon, but I just call him King.” At the sound of his name King raised his head, then got to his feet on the exam table, standing eye level with him
and a head taller than the doc. He leaned in and licked at his master’s face. Sean laughed, partly in relief, partly in the surging joy that his dog really would be okay. He put his arm around
King’s neck and the dog rested his chin on his shoulder.
Doctor Al lowered the stethoscope and looked into his eyes, and his breath locked in his lungs when he realized how beautiful she was. Auburn hair brushed her shoulders and framed
her face, and eyes the color of the bluest sky met his. His knees went weak. He swallowed.
A hint of pink touched her cheeks and she averted her gaze from him back to King. “I’d like to watch him for a couple of hours, make sure we don’t have any further reaction.” With
gentle fingers, she touched King’s face above the swollen eye. “I also want to clean this wound once the swelling has gone down, make sure we have the stinger and that we don’t risk infection.
Can you come back after lunch?”
Sean nodded. He usually didn’t have so much trouble thinking of something to say, but Doctor Al left him speechless. He cleared his throat. “I’ll have a break at work around 2:00.
Would that be okay?”
She nodded. “I’m sure that will work. Check with Carol at the front desk before you go.”
She smiled, and dimples appeared on both sides of her mouth. Kissing dimples. Where that thought came from, he had no idea, but he wanted to brush his lips against those smooth
cheeks, flick his tongue into the little crevasses and claim them, claim her, as his own. He shook his head, a wry smile touching his lips. Boy, oh boy, he had it bad.
She had been so serious before now. Then that smile, wow, it hit him in the gut with joy.
She started to turn away and he wondered how he could get her to stay just another minute. As if she heard his mind call out to hers, she turned, tilted her head a little, and put out
one hand. It shook, just a bit, and his heart sang. Maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the only one affected by this — whatever it was which had tossed him into a sea of want — of need.
“In our hurry to get King taken care of we didn’t introduce ourselves. I’m Allison Green.” He engulfed that dainty hand in his own. It was cool, smooth, and soft. “Sean Barnett. I’m
more glad to meet you than I can ever say.” He covered their joined hands with his other hand, hoping to warm her a little, hoping to keep her close just a moment more. “Thank you so much,
Doctor Allison Green.”
There was that smile again, those irresistible kissing dimples winking out at him. “You are very welcome, Sean Barnett.” She took the end of King’s leash, which dangled from his
collar. “See you in a few hours. King, come. Heel.” King didn’t look back, just dropped down to the floor from the exam table and meekly followed the Doc without even waiting for a release
command from Sean. She did have a way with animals.
Sabrina Bridges clings to her birthright as a Heartmark woman, convinced she will overcome the time-traveling enemy that plagues the women of her family. She is certain she will obtain true love with the man she gives her heart to. But how will her trusting heart survive when she learns that very man has deceived her since the moment they met?
Nicolas Mitchell’s loyalty to family and country are tested by the woman who may lead him to one who threatens all he holds dear. Nick must steel his heart against her, and deny his protective instinct for the woman who speaks of an ancient family legend and her belief that together he and she will forge a love that will last forever. Will Nick be able to complete his last mission as a spy for the Crown or will he betray his country for the sake of love?
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I am so excited about the release of Book Four in the Starting Over Series. I hope you are, too.
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About this book: Brian Van Pelt has barely survived an anguished year of loss, hiding his sorrows under the facade of a cool and uncaring attorney. Not able to deny his grief any long, heartache drives him to collapse and his life takes an unexpected turn.
When Jessie Ingram comes to work at his law firm, she is intrigued by the conflicting darkness of Brian’s behavior and the tender inconsistencies that hint at something deeper within him.
Despite her interest, she has her own pain, supporting her niece Sara, who is has a virulent cancer with aggressive treatments that take such a toll they would not be worth it — except they are Sara’s only hope of survival.
Will life’s hardships bring Brian and Jessie together? Will they be able to heal and possibly find love?
Will caught Jessie’s gaze. “Sorry that meltdown came now, of all times. Looks like you may be on your own with Adams, unless something changes very soon.” He bent down and picked up the papers on the floor. When he straightened he handed them to her.
“Sir, may I ask what that was all about?”
“You may, but it isn’t my story to tell. Let’s just say Brian had more than his share of personal sadness in the last year and it’s finally caught up with him.”
“Okay, I understand. But, sir, as I tried to tell Van Pelt, I can’t find the files and depositions from his earlier work. Would it be okay if I looked around in his office? If he isn’t here…”
“You’re right, we can’t wait much longer.” With a short nod, Will headed to Brian’s office, unlocked the main door, and another one in the back of the room — a storage closet?
“Thank you, sir.” Her boss left for his office and closed the door. She looked around the room. Sterile, too neat. Maybe the files in his desk drawers would reveal more.
Brian’s desk chair sat oddly positioned. Not to one side as one would leave it naturally after rising from it, but pushed back against the desk and perfectly centered in the opening. As she had done the day before, Jessie pulled it out and perched on the edge of the too-tall chair. She opened the file drawer on the left, and found it empty. How very strange. She turned to the other side of the desk, and opened the top utility drawer. Empty, too. The bottom drawer held only one thin file, unlabeled. She pulled it out and placed it on the desk. She opened it to find what she least expected.
The picture of a little girl smiled up at her. She was probably around kindergarten age, judging by the one missing front tooth. Was Brian Van Pelt a father? She turned to the next sheet and found a crayon picture of a house, three people and a dog. The people were labeled Mommy, Daddy and Trudy in a child’s crayoned letters. The dog was Ollie. Beside the house was a big tree with a swing hanging from it.
She put the folder back into the drawer and turned to the closet. She didn’t mean to be nosy about his personal life. Will said he’d recently divorced. All the personal connections were probably damaged or at least fragile, even with his little girl. Still, it was mind boggling that he didn’t have a single work paper in his desk. He must have work files somewhere.
She opened the closet door and gasped at the sight of open file drawers, some no longer in the frame but tipped on their sides against the marred walls as if someone had thrown them there. It would take great strength to throw a full file drawer. Papers spread everywhere. She looked over her shoulder at the compulsively neat office, and back at the devastation before her. Could these contrasting areas be the workspace of the same man? It was incomprehensible. How could the cold, calculating, maybe even mean man be the man who saved the kindergarten photo and drawing in the place closest to him?
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