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MOTHER AND MISTRESS

by

Kay Thorpe

About the Author Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Epi ogue

Kay Thorpe wa! born in She""ie # in $%&'( She trie# out a variety o" )ob! a"ter eaving !*hoo ( +riting began a! a hobby, be*o-ing a way o" i"e on y a"ter !he ha# her "ir!t *o-p ete# nove a**epte# "or pub i*ation in $%./( Sin*e then, !he0! written over "i"ty an#

ive! now with her hu!ban#, !on, 1er-an Shepher# #og an# u*2y b a*2 *at on the out!2irt! o" Che!ter"ie # in Derby!hire( Her intere!t! in* u#e rea#ing, hi2ing, an# trave (

CHA3TER ONE

THE hou!e !he0# *o-e !o "ar to "in# ay hi##en "ro- the roa# behin# a !tan# o" *he!tnut tree!( Ta !tone pi ar! !upporte# wrought4iron gate! unexpe*te# y e"t open( 5auren #rove on through without pau!e "or re" e*tion, "o owing the ong, *urving #riveway through the tree! to e-erge on a wi#e "ore*ourt !et aroun# a tu-b ing "ountain(

5ong an# ow, it! o # !tone wa ! be#e*2e# with ivy, it! -u ione# win#ow! g inting in the !un, Rave a wa! one o" the ove ie!t p a*e! !he ha# ever !een( She !at there "or !evera -o-ent! )u!t ta2ing in the pi*ture it -a#e again!t the ba*2#rop o" ro ing green Cot!wo # hi ! an# * ear b ue !2ie!( +orth a *oup e o" -i ion at ea!t on the open -ar2et, !he i-agine#, whi*h gave a the in#i*ation nee#e# o" the owner0! !tan#ing in the wor #(

She "ought #own the urge to *ut an# run, an# got out o" the *ar( The *han*e! o" !u**e!! -ight be re-ote, but any *han*e at a wa! !ure y worth ta2ing( How e !e wa! !he to gain a**e!!6

The big bra!! be pu *reate# a !oun# !*he#u e# to *arry to the "urthe!t rea*he! o" the hou!e( Anti*ipating a engthy wait, !he wa! !tart e# by the pro-pt opening o" the !o i# oa2 #oor, ga7ing in !u##en *on"u!ion at the -an !tan#ing there( Ta , #ar2 an# rugge# y attra*tive, he wa! in!tant y re*ogni!ab e "ro- the new!paper * ipping !he0# been !ent( The a!t per!on !he wou # have anti*ipate# an!wering the be wa! the -a!ter o" the hou!e hi-!e "( It wa! too !oon( Too pre*ipitate8

9He o60 he !ai# agreeab y( 9Can I he p you60

5auren "oun# her voi*e again with an e""ort( 9I hear you0re in nee# o" a te-porary *arer "or your #aughter, Mr 5axton60

:ivi# b ue eye! regar#e# her ;ui77i*a y "or a engthy -o-ent, ta2ing in every #etai o" her !tri2ing "eature! beneath the tu-b e# wheat4go # hair in a -anner that rai!e# "aint " ag! o" *o our in her *hee2!(

9+here #i# you hear that60 he a!2e# at ength(

9I0- !taying at the vi age pub( The an# or# -entione# it( I rea i!e it0! a high y unortho#ox way o" app ying "or a )ob,0 !he ha!tene# to a##(

9It *ertain y i!,0 <ra# 5axton agree# #ri y( 9=ou0re not o*a , "or *ertain(0

9I a- Eng i!h,0 !he !ai#( 9I0ve ive# a nu-ber o" year! in Cana#a, hen*e the a**ent I ha#n0t even rea i!e# I0# pi*2e# up( I !ti ho # a <riti!h pa!!port(0

She !hi"te# un*o-"ortab y "ro- "oot to "oot, on the verge o" giving up on the who e i#ea( It ha# been a -a# i#ea to !tart with( +ho in their right -in# wou # even *on!i#er ta2ing on a tota !tranger who appeare# on the #oor!tep>e!pe*ia y where a *hi # wa! *on*erne#6

9=ou0# better *o-e in,0 he !ai#, "ree7ing the apo ogy a rea#y "or-ing on her ip!( 9Obviou! y I0 nee# to 2now a ot -ore about you be"ore *o-ing to any #e*i!ion(0

5auren "oun# her "eet -oving her "orwar# o" their own a**or#, her ip! "or-ing a !-i e !he *ou # on y hope #i#n0t oo2 a! !traine# a! it "e t( Con"i#en*e ha# to be the 2eynote i" !he wa! to !u**ee# in her ;ue!t( <ra# 5axton -ight be #e!perate, but he wa!n0t the type to throw *aution entire y to the win#!(

The hou!e wa! a! ove y in!i#e a! out, the re*eption ha ine# with inen"o # pane ing, the "urni!hing! g owing with oving y app ie# bee!wax( Ri!ing "ro- the *entre to !p it into two wing!, a gran# !tair*a!e gave a**e!! to open ga erie!(

<ra# 5axton opene# a #oor on the right an# u!here# her through into what appeare# to be a *o-bination o" a !tu#y an# a ibrary, with boo24 ine# wa ! an# a -ahogany #e!2 un#er the win#ow( A !i#e #e!2 ho #ing a variety o" *o-puterware !tru*2 the on y in*ongruou! note(

He in#i*ate# the !o"a! !et on either !i#e o" a wi#e !tone hearth, the atter at pre!ent "i e# with " ower! in ieu o" the og "ire that wou # probab y b a7e there in winter(

9Have a !eat, an# te -e about your!e "(0

5auren #i# !o, "or*ing her!e " to !it ba*2 again!t the *u!hion! in apparent re axation a! he too2 a !eat oppo!ite( The urge that ha# brought her thi! "ar wa! "a!t re*e#ing, eaving her in i-bo when it *a-e to "in#ing the ne*e!!ary wor#!( 5i2e b ue gi- et!, tho!e eye! o" hi! unnerve# her even "urther( She ha# a "ee ing he *ou # !ee right through her(

9So60 he invite#( 9Suppo!ing we !tart with a na-e60

95auren Turner(0 That wa! the ea!y part( The re!t ha# to be -ing e# "a*t an# invention( She gathere# her "or*e!( 9Age twenty4nine, with p enty o" experien*e in *hi #-in#ing(0

9Thi! *hi #,0 he returne#, 9i! thirteen( She o!t her -other when !he wa! eight( A parti*u ar y vu nerab e age, I0- to #( +hat !he nee#! i! !o-eone young enough to be !o-ething o" a *o-panion "or her over the !u--er, yet o # enough an# !en!ib e enough to provi#e the proper *are>with a itt e #i!*ip ine thrown in "or goo# -ea!ure( 5ate twentie! !oun#! about right, i" that0! the truth( I0# have thought you younger(0

9It0! the truth,0 5auren a!!ure# hi-( 9F attere# though I a- by the a!!u-ption(0

The !u##en grin wa! -at*he# by the a-u!e-ent !par2 ing hi! eye!( 9I0# #oubt that( =ou !tri2e -e a! "ar too eve 4hea#e# to pay attention to " attery "ro- any !our*e( A goo# !tart, in "a*t, though I0# nee# a great #ea -ore ba*2groun# #etai be"ore I *ou # give you *on!i#eration(0

9O" *our!e(0 5auren nerve# her!e " to *ontinue( 9My "a-i y -ove# to Cana#a when I wa! a teenager -y!e "( I traine# a! a nanny when I "ini!he# !*hoo ( I wa! with one "a-i y "or "ive year! oo2ing a"ter "our *hi #ren, "o owe# by another two provi#ing !tan#4in *over( For the a!t three year! I0ve been with a Man Fri#ay agen*y(0

Dar2 brow! i"te#( 9Man Fri#ay60

9Ab e to !ort any prob e-( +e>they *an *a on re iab e, experien*e# he p in )u!t about every "ie #( Save! bu!y peop e a who e ot o" ti-e an# e""ort, an# a!!ure! the- o" a goo# )ob(0

9A u!e"u i#ea a roun#( 3ity !o-eone over here ha!n0t thought o" it(0

9I0- !ure they have( In the *itie!, at any rate( There probab y wou #n0t be ;uite the !a-e *a out here(0

9Maybe not(0 He !tu#ie# her on*e -ore, ga7e !hi"ting "ro- her "a*e to inger brie" y on the thru!t o" her brea!t! beneath the * o!e4"itting white top be"ore -oving on #own the ength o" her eg! an# ba*2 again( 9=ou *ertain y oo2 "it enough on it(0

The apprai!e-ent rai!e# her ha*2 e! -ore than a itt e, but thi! wa! har# y the ti-e to a ow her !en!itivitie! any !way( 9I a-,0 !he #e* are#( 9One hun#re# per *ent80

9More than -any *an * ai-(0

A !tate-ent a -o!t *ertain y ex* u#ing hi-!e ", !he re" e*te#( There wa! no !pare " e!h on that "ra-e o" hi!, though -ore than a hint o" -u!* e beneath the "ine *otton !hirt( A -an who wor2e# out pretty o"ten, i" !he wa! any )u#ge(

It too2 the "re!h !par2 o" a-u!e-ent in the b ue eye! to bring her ba*2 on tra*2( She -et hi! ga7e !;uare y( 9+hat e !e *an I te you60

He i"te# one )ean!4* a# eg *o-"ortab y over the other, !tret*hing the -ateria taut a*ro!! har# -a e thigh!( 9+hy have you returne# to Eng an#60

Thi!, 5auren a*2now e#ge#, wa! where the ie! rea y too2 over( The #eeper !he got the har#er it wa! going to be, but !he *ou #n0t bring her!e " to ba*2 out now(

9I thought it ti-e I !ought -y gra!! root!( Mu*h a! I ove Cana#a, I0- !ti Eng i!h through an# through at heart(0

9=ou *a-e ba*2 inten#ing to !tay60

9For a year or two at ea!t( I wa! ta2ing a bit o" a brea2 be"ore oo2ing "or a )ob, on y it wou # be !i y to pa!! up a *han*e i2e thi!( A way! provi#ing there i! one, o" *our!e( Natura y, I0 un#er!tan# i" you "ee otherwi!e(0

9<eggar!,0 he !ai#, 9*an0t be too *hoo!y( +ith an e!!entia bu!ine!! trip !*he#u e# "or Mon#ay, an# -y hou!e2eeper re"u!ing to a**ept any "urther re!pon!ibi ity, I0- in no po!ition to oo2 a gi"t4hor!e in the -outh( Maybe we !hou # !ee how you an# Kerry hit it o"" be"ore we go any "urther though(0

He !traightene# hi! po!ition to get to hi! "eet( 9Sit tight whi e I go an# "in# her( She0! probab y in the poo (0

5auren et out a ong !igh a! the #oor * o!e# in hi! wa2e( The ten!ion that ha# bui t over the a!t ha "4hour ha# her nerve! !tret*he# to their i-it!( There wa! every po!!ibi ity that he0# !ti re;uire !o-e 2in# o" re"eren*e be"ore he -a#e the "ina #e*i!ion( A ;ui*2 *a now wou # prepare the way( 5u*2i y !he0# gone on the internationa tari""(

She got through to her "or-er bo!! a"ter !o-e #e ay( +ith ti-e at a pre-iu-, !he went !traight to the point( 9=ou0 probab y be getting a *a "ro- a Mr 5axton a!2ing "or a re"eren*e( He0 nee# a!!uran*e that I0- a re iab e, up!tan#ing per!on(0

9=ou0re a o" that,0 *a-e the rea#y an!wer( 95i2e I !ai# be"ore, you0# be we *o-e ba*2 any ti-e(0

9I0 2eep it in -in#(0 5auren *ou # hear the !oun# o" -ove-ent "ro- the ha ( She a##e# ha!ti y, 9I have to go( Than2!, <ob(0

She ! i# the -obi e ba*2 into her bag, heart going i2e a trip ha--er a! the !e-i4* o!e# #oor wa! opene# again by the -an !he wa! a rea#y up to her ne*2 in #e*eiving( The gir a**o-panying hi- wa! wearing a towe ing robe over a bathing !uit, her "eet * a# in " ip4 " op!( Ta "or her age, #ar2 b on#e hair !trea2e# by -ore than !un ight, !he wa! -ere y pretty now, but !howing !ign! o" an e-erging bone !tru*ture pro-i!ing beauty to *o-e( She gave no re!pon!e to 5auren0! wavery !-i e, ha7e eye! #evoi# o" expre!!ion(

9My #aughter, Kerry,0 !ai# <ra#( 9An# thi! i! Mi!! Turner( It i! Mi!!60 he a##e#(

9It i!(0 E-otion! in tur-oi , !he !o-ehow 2ept the !-i e going( 9He o, Kerry( I05auren(0

9Hi(0 The tone wa! in#i""erent( 9Da# !ay! you0re "ro- Cana#a(0

9I0ve ive# there "or !o-e ti-e, ye!(0

9Do you ri#e60

5auren !wa owe# on the har#, a*hing u-p in her throat, "ighting to !tay on top o" the urge to rea*h out to the gir >the overwhe -ing #e!ire to ho # her * o!e the way !he ha# #rea-e# o" #oing the!e thirteen ong year!8 Her voi*e !oun#e# hu!2y in her ear!(

9I0ve #one !o-e( =ou have your own pony60

9Hor!e( I0- pa!t the pony !tage( +e have three( I0- going to get #re!!e#( It0! *hi y in here(0

5auren wat*he# her wa 2 out o" the roo-, hunger unappea!e#( She ha#n0t been that !ure o" her!e " at twenty, -u*h e!! thirteen8 She ha# to have thi! )ob( She )u!t ha# to8 To be #enie# the on y *han*e !he wa! ever i2e y to have o" !pen#ing ti-e with her *hi # wa! beyon# *onte-p ation(

It too2 everything !he ha# to 2eep her "a*e "ro- re" e*ting the inner upheava a! !he turne# ba*2 to the -an her #aughter *a e# "ather(

9So "ar, !o goo#80 <ra# 5axton *o--ente#( 9At ea!t !he #i#n0t appear to ta2e an in!tant #i! i2e to you( =ou0ve no ob)e*tion, I ta2e it, i" I ring thi! *o-pany you were with in Cana#a "or a re"eren*e60

9None at a ,0 !he a!!ure# hi-(

The nu-ber !e*ure# "ro- her, he -a#e the *a right there an# then( 5auren *ou # "ee hi! eye! on her a! he waite# "or the *onne*tion to be -a#e( She wa! on y ab e to hear one !i#e o" the en!uing *onver!ation, o" *our!e, but whatever wa! !ai#, it appeare# *onvin*ing enough( He0# obviou! y -a#e up hi! -in# by the ti-e he put the phone #own(

9=ou0re !taying at the < a*2 Swan, right60

9Right,0 !he *on"ir-e#( 9I on y *he*2e# in a *oup e o" hour! ago(0

9So you #i#n0t get roun# to unpa*2ing yet60

9No(0

9I0 have your bag! "et*he#(0 He pau!e#, eyeing her ;ui77i*a y( 9=ou #i#n0t a!2 what the !a ary wa!(0

5auren *ou # have 2i*2e# her!e "( She #i# a ha!ty retrieva ( 9I too2 it "or grante# it wou # be -ore than a#e;uate in the *ir*u-!tan*e!(0

He aughe#( 9On the groun#! that I0- the one in -o!t nee#6 Fair *o--ent( I0 -a2e !ure you0re not #i!appointe#( Anyway, I0 have you !hown to the roo- you0 be u!ing(0

Thing! were -oving !o "a!t 5auren *ou # bare y 2eep up( Two hour! ago !he0# been in po!!e!!ion o" itt e -ore than a na-e an# o*ation, now here !he wa! on the verge o" be*o-ing, i" not exa*t y part o" the "a-i y, in very * o!e proxi-ity to it( A -ove !he wou # *o-e to regret when the ti-e *a-e to eave, a! it -u!t, but that wa! !ix or !even wee2! in the "uture(

The hou!e2eeper wa! *a e# to #o the honour!( In her -i#4"i"tie! an# *o-"ortab y upho !tere#, the wo-an wa! intro#u*e# a! Mr! 3erri-an( She greete# the new! that 5auren wa! to )oin the hou!eho # with un*on*ea e# re ie"(

9=ou0 have your wor2 *ut out 2eeping that young a#y out o" -i!*hie",0 !he !ai# *an#i# y on the way up!tair!( 9Her "ather #oe!n0t 2now the ha " o" what !he get! up to when !he0! ho-e "ro- boar#ing4!*hoo 80

9I! he o"ten away60 5auren a!2e#(

9O"ten enough( Too -any "inger! in too -any pie!, that0! -y opinion( Not that he0! anything but a goo# -an to wor2 "or, -ar2 you(0

9I un#er!tan# you0re none too 2een on !upervi!ing Kerry your!e "60

9+e , I *an har# y be expe*te# to 2eep the who e p a*e running !-ooth y an# oo2 a"ter a teenager a! we ,0 *a-e the !o-ewhat #e"en!ive an!wer( 9E!pe*ia y one who i2e! her own way a! -u*h a! Kerry #oe!( She0! been a ong ti-e without a -other(0

9Car a**i#ent, wa!n0t it60 5auren -ur-ure#, ri#ing the pang a! be!t a! !he wa! ab e(

9Out an# out -ur#er, i" you a!2 -e8 The *u prit *a-e roun# that *orner i2e a bat out o" he )u!t a! !he wa! #rawing out o" the gate( She wa! 2i e# in!tant y, they !ai#, an# a he got wa! a "ine an# a ban(0

9It -u!t have been a terrib e ti-e,0 5auren !y-pathi!e#( 9For everyone(0

9It *ertain y 2no*2e# Mr <ra# ey ba*2( Su*h a we 4-at*he# *oup e they were80

9He ha!n0t *onte-p ate# -arrying again60

The o #er wo-an !ni""e#( 9I" he ha!n0t, it i!n0t "or a*2 o" opportunity, be ieve -e80

Har# y !urpri!ing *on!i#ering hi! a!!et!, 5auren re" e*te#( 3hy!i*a , a! we a! "inan*ia , !he ha# to a#-it( Not that !he *ou # a""or# to a ow hi! un#oubte# -a!*u ine attra*tion to gain any 2in# o" ho # on her( That #e"inite y wa!n0t what !he wa! here "or(

The roo- !he wa! ta2en to ay a ong a !i#e *orri#or ea#ing "ro- the we!t ga ery( 5arger than the iving an# ! eeping area! o" her apart-ent ba*2 in Toronto put together, with a *arve# "our4po!ter be# a! a "o*a point, it a !o boa!te# a we 4appointe# en !uite(

Mr! 3erri-an e"t her to !ett e in, a! !he put it, !aying !he0# have her bag! brought up the -o-ent they arrive#(

The win#ow over oo2e# a wi#e !tone ba u!tra#e# terra*e, "ro- whi*h !tep! e# #own to exten!ive awn! ai# with " ower be#!, the!e in turn ba*2e# by woo# an#( So-e #i!tan*e away a atti*e# "en*e *overe# in * e-ati! a""or#e# a g i-p!e through o" what 5auren too2 to be the !wi--ing poo her e-p oyer ha# -entione#(

Turning ba*2 into the roo-, !he !too# "or a -o-ent in !i ent *onte-p ation( ?n i2e on the groun# " oor, the *arpet! up here were "itte# wa to wa ( In*ongruou! with the perio#, perhap!, but o""ering a *o!y *o-"ort no har# " oor *ou # -at*h( E!pe*ia y in the winter -onth!, !he i-agine#(

The three water*o our! on the wa ! were a -o!t !ure y origina wor2!, a though the !igne# na-e -eant nothing to her( There wou # be itt e, i" anything, in thi! hou!e that wa!n0t the genuine arti* e(

Apart "ro- her!e ", *a-e the ri#er( How ong #i# !he rea y thin2 !he *ou # 2eep her !e*ret when every in!tin*t in her wante# to !hout the truth "ro- the roo"top!6 That wa! her #aughter #own there( Her baby8 How #i# !he 2eep that bott e# up in!i#e her6

There wa! a -irror on the wa oppo!ite where !he !too#( 5auren !tu#ie# her re" e*tion, oo2ing "or point! o" re!e-b an*e( Apart "ro- -aybe the hair *o our>-a2ing a owan*e! "or the !trea2ing>an# a *ertain !o-ething about the -outh, there wa! itt e a! yet to tie the two o" the- together that !he *ou # !ee( Even e!! o" the "ather, "ro- what !he *ou # re*a a"ter a the!e year!(

Her *he!t tightene# a! the -e-orie! *a-e " oo#ing ba*2( The invitation to Roger Co!grove0! eighteenth birth#ay party ha# *o-e a! !o-ething o" a !urpri!e to !tart with a! !he0# given up hope o" hi! noti*ing her( She0# pu e# out a the !top! to -aintain hi! intere!t again!t a the *o-petition, !in2ing every #rin2 thru!t on her in an e""ort to appear a! wor # y a! the re!t o" the- -a#e the-!e ve! out to be(

She0# *o-e to her !en!e! "ar too ate( Roger ha# #enie# everything, o" *our!e( It *ou # have been anyone, he0# #e* are# when her pregnan*y wa! *on"ir-e#(

5auren ha# wante# #e!perate y to 2eep the baby regar# e!!, but her parent! wou #n0t hear o" it, an# !he ha#n0t po!!e!!e# the *ourage to try going it a one( The *hi # ha# been ta2en "ro- her at )u!t two #ay! o # to be han#e# over to the a#option agen*y( Six wee2! a"ter that the "a-i y ha# e"t "or Cana#a an# a new i"e(

A new i"e "or the-, but an un*ea!ing hearta*he "or her, !he re" e*te# pain"u y( There ha#n0t been one !o itary #ay when !he0# been ab e to put the -e-ory a!i#e *o-p ete y( Moving to Cana#a ha#n0t he pe# in the ! ighte!t( I" anything it ha# -a#e thing! wor!e, be*au!e !he ha#n0t even ha# o # "rien#! to "a ba*2 on(

The #ete*tive agen*y !he0# hire# to !ee2 her #aughter0! whereabout! ha# -anage# it in a !urpri!ing y !hort ti-e( True, the #etai they0# *o-e up with regar#ing the 2in# o" i"e!ty e her *hi # wa! u!e# to ha# prove# a itt e #aunting, but it ha#n0t *ure# her o" the onging(

Her hope in returning to Eng an# ha# been )u!t to *at*h a g i-p!e o" the gir her baby ha# grown into( She ha#n0t even trie# to thin2 "ar beyon# that( Stan#ing here now, !he wa! boun# to a*2now e#ge the a*2 o" *o--on !en!e in !ee2ing thi! )ob( A it wa! !*he#u e# to bring her wa! even -ore hearta*he(

In the eye! o" the aw, Kerry wa! <ra# ey 5axton0! #aughter( There wa! every po!!ibi ity that !he #i#n0t even 2now !he wa! a#opte#( +hether !he #i# or not, the truth -u!t !tay hi##en>"or a their !a2e!(

:oi*e! #ri"te# up via the open win#ow "ro- the terra*e be ow, one o" the- rai!e#(

9I #on0t nee# oo2ing a"ter8 I0- ;uite *apab e o" #oing that "or -y!e "8 +hat #o you rea y 2now about her, anyway60

The rep y wa! in#i!tin*t( 5auren went an# * o!e# the win#ow, oath to hear any "urther prote!tation! even whi e !he *ou # to a great extent un#er!tan# the-( <eing e"t in the *harge o" anyone at thirteen wou # be ga ing enough, to be -a#e an!werab e to a tota !tranger even -ore !o( <rea2ing through that barrier wa! going to be "ar "ro- ea!y(

She wa! !ti #ebating the be!t way to approa*h the prob e- when her bag! were brought up by a -i## e4age# -an who!e weathere# "a*e !ugge!te# a ot o" ti-e !pent out#oor!(

91enera "a*totu-, -i!!,0 he a#vi!e# *heer"u y when !he a!2e# what he #i#( 9@ohn <at ey( My wi"e wor2! here too( One o" the * eaner!( Ta2e! !o-e 2eeping up to !*rat*h, thi! p a*e( Hear you0re going to be 2eeping an eye on Mi!! Kerry(0 He *hu*2 e#( 9Ta2e! !o-e han# ing, that one8 Not that !he0! a ba# 2i# at heart, )u!t a bit uppity at ti-e!( Anyway, better get on( Mr! 3 !ai# to te you i" you want tea ater to )u!t et her 2now( Mr 5axton #oe!n0t u!ua y bother(0

5auren #oubte# i" !he wou # either, a though it wa! probab e that the evening -ea wou # be !erve# a great #ea ater than the !ix to !ix4thirty !he wa! a**u!to-e# to ba*2 in Cana#a( Right now, "oo# wa! o" itt e i-portan*e(

Showere#, an# *hange# "ro- the trou!er! an# ! eeve e!! top to a !2irt an# b ou!e in !o"t green!, !he -a#e her way !o-ewhat tentative y #own!tair! again(

The hou!e wa! ;uiet, the #oor o" the roo- where <ra# 5axton ha# interviewe# her "ir- y * o!e#( There were !evera other #oor!( The one !he *ho!e opene# on a !pa*iou! #rawing roo- pane e# i2e the ha an# !uperb y "urni!he#( The gran# piano !tan#ing un#er one win#ow wa! probab y one o" the "ew ite-! in the roo- e!! than a *oup e o" hun#re# year! o #, 5auren )u#ge#( She won#ere# i" Kerry ha# inherite# her own ove o" -u!i*(

The te-ptation prove# too -u*h( 1oing over, !he !at #own on the !too to open the i# on 2ey! the *o our o" "ine o # ivory( The !oun# that e-anate# "ro- her "ir!t !o"t tou*h -a#e her ;uiver inwar# y with #e ight( Thi! wa! an in!tru-ent treate# with a the oving *are it -erite#(

Forgetting "or the -o-ent where !he wa!, !he began to p ay, *hoo!ing Chopin a! be"itting the -oo# o" the -o-ent( It ha# been !o-e ti-e !in*e !he0# a!t !at at a piano, an# it too2 a -inute or two "or her "inger! to regain their !upp ene!!( A! a *hi #, !he ha# entertaine# #rea-! o" be*o-ing a *on*ert piani!t !o-e #ay, but ha# ong ago earne# to a**ept that her ta ent wa! i-ite#( +hen !he p aye# at a it wa! "or her own p ea!ure(

She wa! unaware o" the #oor being pu!he# open again, unti <ra# 5axton !po2e(

9My wi"e u!e# to p ay that(0

5auren0! han#! "ro7e on the 2ey! in gui ty rea i!ation( 9I0- !o !orry,0 !he !ai#( 9I ha# no right to tou*h it(0

9Apo ogie! unne*e!!ary,0 he a!!ure# her( 9It wa! goo# to hear it again(0 Hi! !-i e wa! unexpe*te# y hu-orou!( 9She0# have he "ire raine# on -e i" I neg e*te# to 2eep it -aintaine#8 =ou p ay we (0

9Than2 you(0 5auren wa! "in#ing hi! ea!e o" -anner #i""i*u t to rea*t to( 9A the !a-e, I !hou # have a!2e# per-i!!ion "ir!t(0

Hi! !hrug -a#e ight o" the *o--ent( 9=ou -u!t treat the p a*e a! your ho-e whi e you0re here( No re!tri*tion!( =ou -ight even en*ourage Kerry to ta2e it up !eriou! y again( She ha!n0t !hown a that -u*h intere!t !in*e !he o!t her -other(0

9?n#er!tan#ab e, i" they u!e# to p ay together(0 5auren #i# her be!t to 2eep her tone eve ( 9I *an try, but !he -ight not appre*iate it(0

93o!!ib y( She0! -ore "or out#oor pur!uit! the!e #ay!( How are you at tenni!60

9I 2now one en# o" a ra*2et "ro- the other(0

The grin wa! appea ing( 9I0ve a "ee ing you0 ho # your own whatever the *ha enge( I wa! about to have a #rin2 on the terra*e( Fee i2e )oining -e60

5auren * o!e# #own the piano i#( 9+hy not60 !he !ai# ight y(

He ha#n0t -ove# "ro- the #oorway( Moving towar#! hi-, !he "e t i2e an in!e*t pinne# to a boar# "or #i!!e*tion un#er the unwavering b ue ga7e( +hi e he -ight appear benevo ent enough on the !ur"a*e, !he ha# no #oubt that he0# prove a "or-i#ab e opponent when *ro!!e#( Shou # he #i!*over her !e*ret there wou # be he to pay "or *ertain( On y he wa!n0t going to #i!*over it( No one wa!(

9=ou oo2 pen!ive,0 he ob!erve# a! !he rea*he# hi-( 9+orrie# about !o-ething60

9Not at a ,0 !he ie#( 9+i Kerry be )oining u!60

9Depen#! how ong !he0! out with Dia-on#(0 He turne# ba*2 into the ha a ong!i#e her, ta , ean an# #i!turbing y * o!e( 9How we *an you ri#e60

9I0ve never "a en o"",0 !he !ai# truth"u y, not about to a#-it how *o-parative y i-ite# her experien*e in that parti*u ar !port wa!( 9=ou !ai# Kerry p ay! tenni! too( Do you have your own *ourt60

9+e #o( =ou *an0t !ee it "ro- the hou!e(0

9Di# you never thin2 o" -oving !o-ewhere !-a er60 5auren venture#(

9A"ter C aire #ie#, you -ean60 He !hoo2 hi! hea#( 9She ove# thi! p a*e( So #o I( So #oe! Kerry( It -ight be a bit i-pra*ti*a "or the two o" u!, but it0! ho-e(0

+ith -e-orie! he #i#n0t want to et go o", !he a!!u-e#( It wa! apparent that he0# ove# hi! wi"e a great #ea ( Enough to perhap! -a2e the thought o" rep a*ing her with !o-eone e !e anathe-a to hi-(

It wa! !ti extre-e y war- out!i#e( The ate4a"ternoon !un gave a ove y go #en g ow to the an#!*ape, high ighting the -a!!e# a7a ea bu!he! at the "ar en# o" the awn!( Seate# beneath a wi#e *rea- !ha#e, 5auren !ippe# the orange )ui*e !he0# a!2e# "or an# trie# to thin2 o" !o-ething>anything>to !ay(

She wa! very -u*h aware o" the -an !eate# oppo!ite( No wo-an with nor-a re" exe! *ou # "ai to be aware o" hi-( 5oo2!, wea th, vita goo# hea th, he ha# it a 8

Ex*ept "or the wi"e he ha# ove# an# o!t, *a-e the re-in#er(

9+hy aren0t you -arrie#60

Co-ing out o" the b ue, the ;ue!tion )er2e# her hea# up a! i" !he0# been !tung( It too2 her a -o-ent to gather her!e "(

9No one ever a!2e# -e(0

95oo2ing the way you #o, I "in# that har# to be ieve(0

9It ta2e! -ore than oo2!(0

9True, but you0re *ertain y not a*2ing in per!ona ity( Or i! it that Cana#ian -en pre"er their wo-en -ore !ub!ervient60

5auren ha# to !-i e at the i#ea( 9I" they #i#, they0# be !a# y #i!appointe#(0

9@u!t a thought(0 <ra# wa! !-i ing too( 9=ou !hou # give it a try( Marriage, I -ean( Maybe get !o-e 2i#! o" your own in!tea# o" oo2ing out "or other peop e0!( The * o*2 -ight not ti*2 a! har# an# "a!t a! it u!e# to "or a wo-an, but there0! a i-it to how ong it ti*2! "or(0

9I0 bear it in -in#,0 !he !ai# on a !o-ewhat *oo er note( 9Di# you never want -ore *hi #ren your!e "60

9?n"ortunate y, -y wi"e wa! unab e to have any at a (0 Hi! tone wa! *a -, the b ue eye! !tea#y( 9Kerry i! a#opte#(0

It too2 5auren every oun*e o" *ontro !he ha# to 2eep her own tone "ro- re" e*ting her !tate o" -in#( 9I0- !orry again, Mr 5axton( That wa! a very per!ona ;ue!tion(0

9<ut !o-ething you !hou # probab y be aware o"( An# the na-e i! <ra#(0

5auren in* ine# her hea# in re*ognition, !ti !trugg ing to 2eep her e-otion! un#er wrap!( 9Doe! Kerry 2now60

9+e to # her when !he wa! "ive( It #oe!n0t appear to have a""e*te# her in any way, though I i-agine !he !o-eti-e! won#er! about her rea parent!(0

9<ut !he0! never !ugge!te# trying to "in# the-60

9Not up to now( Hope"u y never( They gave up a right! when they p a*e# her "or a#option(0

9There -ight not have been any *hoi*e(0

9There0! a way! a *hoi*e( Not a way! the wi ( Sti , without peop e i2e that there0# be no *han*e "or tho!e unab e to pro#u*e a *hi # "or the-!e ve!, !o I *an0t be too har# on the-(0

Har# enough, 5auren thought ho ow y( I" he 2new the truth, hi! opinion o" her a! a "it per!on to ta2e *are o" any *hi # wou # un#ergo an abrupt a teration(

9=ou0re oo2ing pen!ive again,0 he re-ar2e#(

She !hoo2 her!e "( 9A tou*h o" ho-e!i*2ne!!, that0! a ( It0! a !o #i""erent here(0

9=ou !ai# you0# ive# in Cana#a !o-e year!60

95ong enough to have grown a**u!to-e# to the pa*e o" i"e out there(0

9I tru!t the ho-e!i*2ne!! i!n0t going to a""e*t our arrange-ent60

9I0ve no intention o" etting it,0 !he !ai#( 9+hat I !tart, I "ini!h(0

9My !enti-ent! exa*t y(0 He !oun#e# re axe# again( 9I0 have to re-e-ber to than2 1eorge "or !ugge!ting the )ob -ight !uit you(0

9He #i#n0t exa*t y !ugge!t it,0 5auren a#-itte#( 9I overhear# hi- te ing !o-eone about it, an# )u!t too2 it "ro- there(0

9A u*2y brea2 "or u! both, then(0

Kerry appeare# a! i" "ro- out o" the b ue, ta2ing a !eat without a wor#( She wa! wearing the * othing in whi*h !he0# obviou! y been ri#ing, an# !-e e# ;uite !trong y o" hor!e!( 5auren -a#e an atte-pt to #raw her out(

91oo# ri#e60

9Dia-on# i! a way! a goo# ri#e,0 *a-e the !hort re!pon!e( 9She nee#! an experien*e# han#, though, !o you0# probab y "in# her too -u*h "or you(0

9Oh, I #on0t 2now(0 5auren 2ept her voi*e ight( 9I0 give anything a try(0

A !par2 eapt in the ha7e eye!( 9I bet you wou #n0t get up on Ca iph80

9No, !he wou #n0t,0 her "ather !tate# "ir- y( 9=ou0# better not atte-pt it again either( It ta2e! a !tronger han# than your! to ho # hi- in *he*2 when he ta2e! a -in# to #o a runner( 5auren *an u!e @a!per(0

Kerry oo2e# "ar "ro- happy at the !ugge!tion, though !he -a#e no "urther *o--ent( @a!per ha# probab y been C aire0! hor!e, 5auren re" e*te#(

9How ong -ight you be away60 !he a!2e# <ra#, oo2ing "or a *hange o" !ub)e*t(

9Depen#! how thing! go,0 he !ai#( 9A wee2 top!(0

9I *ou # have *o-e with you,0 !ai# Kerry( 9I wou #n0t have -in#e# being on -y own #uring the #ay(0

9In New =or260 <ra# aughe#, !ha2ing hi! hea#( 9I #on0t thin2 !o8 Anyway, you0 have 5auren "or *o-pany( I0- !ure the two o" you *an "in# p enty to o**upy your ti-e(0

9+e0 *ertain y #o our be!t,0 5auren agree#( 9=ou -ight i2e to !how -e !o-ething o" the area,0 !he a##e# to Kerry(

9The *ar you *a-e in60 <ra# ;uerie# be"ore hi! #aughter *ou # an!wer( 9Hire#60

9+e Aye!(0 ?nti thi! -o-ent, 5auren ha#n0t given it a thought(

9A!!u-ing you #on0t want to be an#e# with a va!t bi , it wou # be an i#ea to turn it in( +hi*h *o-pany #i# you u!e60

9Hert7,0 !he !ai#(

9+e *an #rop it in Strat"or#, then( There0! a *oup e o" *ar! here you *an *hoo!e "ro-( Do you pre"er -anua or auto-ati*60

5auren !hoo2 her hea#, #oing her be!t to ta2e it a in her !tri#e( 9I rea y #on0t -in#( +hat about in!uran*e60

9+e0 ta2e *are o" that too to-orrow(0 He g an*e# at hi! wat*h( 9I0 have to eave you to it( I0ve a *oup e o" *a ! to -a2e( See you at #inner i" not be"ore(0

Two pair! o" eye! wat*he# hi- !tri#e o"" in#oor!( Kerry wa! the "ir!t to brea2 the !i en*e(

9Don0t thin2 you0re going to get your hoo2! into Da#80

Ta2en tota y aba*2, 5auren wa! a -o-ent or two "in#ing a re!pon!e( 9Have other! trie#60

95ot!( They0re a way! "awning roun# hi-80 There wa! veno- in the young voi*e( 9Da#0! happy the way he i!( He #oe!n0t want another wi"e80

5auren "or*e# her!e " to !ay it( 9Any -ore than you0# want another -other( That0! un#er!tan#ab e( =ou -u!t -i!! her terrib y(0

+hatever rea*tion Kerry ha# been expe*ting, thi! obviou! y wa!n0t it( She oo2e# a itt e *on"u!e#( 9I! your -other #ea# too60 !he a!2e#(

9No>but I #o 2now what it0! i2e to o!e !o-eone you ove( No one *an rep a*e the-(0 5auren pau!e# again, !ear*hing "or the right note( 9I0ve no #e!ign! on your "ather, Kerry( I0- here to #o what I0- being pai# to #o, an# that0! a (0 She ightene# her tone #e iberate y( 9It0! a )ob in a -i ion, I have to a#-it(0

A g ea- !prang in the gir 0! eye!( 9I wou #n0t *ount on it80

9=ou -ean you0 #o your be!t to !ee -e o""60 5auren !-i e# an# !hoo2 her hea#( 9I0not ea!i y gotten ri# o"(0

9+e0 !ee(0 Kerry got to her "eet, #e"ian*e evi#ent in every ine o" her !upp e young bo#y( 9I #on0t nee# oo2ing a"ter, by you or anyone8 I *an ta2e *are o" -y!e "80

5auren wat*he# her !ta 2 o""( ?ppity, @ohn <at ey ha# *a e# her( She wa! a o" that( <ut then what -ight be expe*te# o" a *hi # #eprive# a! !he ha# been o" a -other0! in" uen*e at !u*h a vita age, with a "ather who !ee-e# to thin2 -ore about bu!ine!! than hi! #aughter0! we 4being6

Her #aughter, !he thought with !u##en "ier*ene!!( Her re!pon!ibi ity>"or the next "ew wee2!, at any rate( However tough eaving her at the en# o" it wou # be, it *ou #n0t be any wor!e than the tota #eprivation !he0# !u""ere# up to now( At ea!t !he0# have !o-e -e-orie! to "a ba*2 on(

CHA3TER T+O

+ITH no * ear i#ea o" what ti-e #inner -ight be, !he went to "in# Mr! 3erri-an an# a!2(

Mr <ra# ey i2e# to eat aroun# !even4thirty when he wa! ho-e, the wo-an a#vi!e#( Nothing "or-a ( There ha#n0t been a proper #inner party at Rave a !in*e the -i!tre!! ha# #ie#(

9=ou0 be eating with hi- an# Mi!! Kerry, o" *our!e,0 !he !ai#(

It ha#n0t o**urre# to 5auren to thin2 anything e !e( 93erhap! we *ou # have the -ea at !ix4thirty whi e Mr 5axton0! away,0 !he venture#( 9I" that0! a right with you60

9It *ertain y i!( It wi give -e a ni*e ong evening(0 The o #er wo-an oo2e# we p ea!e#( 9=ou an# I are going to get on, I *an !ee(0

Hope"u y !o were !he an# Kerry, on*e !he0# got through to her that !he0# no intere!t what!oever in be*o-ing the next Mr! 5axton, 5auren thought( It wou #n0t be an overnight tran!"or-ation "or *ertain(

She !pent what wa! e"t o" the a"ternoon exp oring part o" the an#!*ape# groun#!( The "u 4!i7e# tenni! *ourt ay #own a path beyon# the !wi--ing poo , !urroun#e# by eight4 "oot4high wire netting( A "air y re*ent a##ition, 5auren )u#ge#( Re*ent y u!e# too, i" the ra*2et e"t ying on the ben*h at the rear wa! anything to go by(

On i-pu !e, !he went through the gate to *o e*t it, wie #ing it in her han# "or a -o-ent( It wa! too ight "or a -an, !o it ha# to be Kerry0!( Care e!! o" her to eave !u*h an expen!ive ite- out to warp in the !un( <ut then there wa! itt e in*entive to ta2e *are o" thing! when rep a*e-ent! were probab y "orth*o-ing "or the a!2ing(

She too2 it ba*2 to the hou!e with her, aying it on a tab e in the ha where it *ou #n0t "ai to be !een( I" !he wa! to give Kerry a ga-e, !he wou # have to borrow a ra*2et "or her!e ", but there were !ure to be !pare!(

<ra# e-erge# "ro- the !tu#y a! !he hea#e# "or the !tair!(

9There you are,0 he !ai#( 9I0ve been oo2ing "or you(0

9I thought I0# ta2e a wa 2 to get -y bearing!,0 5auren exp aine# a itt e gui ti y( 9I0ve no i#ea where Kerry got to(0

9=ou0re not expe*te# to !pen# every wa2ing -o-ent with her,0 he returne#( 9E!pe*ia y on your "ir!t #ay( She0! probab y in her roo- p otting to -a2e i"e a! #i""i*u t a! !he *an "or you(0

5auren a owe# her!e " a !-i e( 9She *an try(0

9That0! the !pirit80 he app au#e#, !obering again to a##, 9I0- un#er no i u!ion! about her behaviour thi! a!t year or !o( She !ee-! to go out o" her way to a ienate peop e( =ou0re * o!er to your teen year! than I a-( Do you re*a being i2e that60

9Not exa*t y(0 5auren he!itate#, aware o" trea#ing on tri*2y groun#( 9Though I -ight have been in Kerry0! *ir*u-!tan*e!(0

< ue eye! pier*e# her through( 9=ou thin2 her neg e*te#60

9In the !en!e that !he !ee! !o itt e o" you, perhap!( I rea i!e you0ve a ot o" *o--it-ent!, butA0

9<ut60 he pro-pte# a! !he pau!e# again(

9=ou *ou # po!!ib y arrange -atter! !o you0re aroun# -ore #uring the !*hoo ho i#ay!(0

9?n"ortunate y, thing! #on0t wor2 out a! neat y a! that(0 <ra#0! expre!!ion wa! *ontaine#, but there wa! a #e"inite *hi to hi! voi*e( 9Or -aybe I !hou # ta2e retire-ent an# #evote -y who e i"e to her(0

9That wa!n0t what I -eant,0 !he prote!te#(

9<ut you #on0t approve o" boar#ing4!*hoo !(0

5auren !et her *hin, not about to ba*2 #own now( 91enera y !pea2ing, no( They0re no !ub!titute "or a ho-e environ-ent( <ringing in a "u 4ti-e *arer -ight have been a better option(0

9A pity I #i#n0t have the bene"it o" your a#vi*e "ive year! ago(0

9I!n0t it80 She regrette# the !nappy retort the -o-ent the wor#! e"t her ip!( 9I apo ogi!e,0 !he !ai# ;ui*2 y( 9It i!n0t -y p a*e to *riti*i!e(0

9No, it i!n0t,0 he agree#( 9Don0t -a2e -e regret ta2ing you on(0

He turne# ba*2 into the roo- "ro- whi*h he ha# )u!t e-erge#, * o!ing the #oor on her( 5auren !too# "or a -o-ent biting her ip in re*ognition o" having over!teppe# the -ar2( She0# har# y been here "ive -inute!, "or heaven0! !a2e8 It wa! going to ta2e every bit o" #ip o-a*y !he *ou # !u--on to retrieve the !ituation( I" !he *ou # retrieve it at a (

Re u*tant though !he wa! to "a*e hi- again, hunger a one wa! in*entive enough to #rive her #own!tair! at ;uarter pa!t !even( On y on rea*hing the ha #i# !he rea i!e that !he ha# no i#ea where the #ining roo- wa!( There wa! !o -u*h o" the hou!e !he ha#n0t !een a! yet(

She wa! !ti !tan#ing there #ithering when <ra# appeare#( He ha# )etti!one# the )ean! in "avour o" "ine y tai ore# trou!er! an# a thin !i 2 !weater( There wa! no te ing what hi! thought! -ight be "ro- hi! expre!!ion(

9There0! ti-e "or a #rin2 be"ore we eat,0 he !ai#( He opene# a #oor on the right( 9In here(0

5auren went through ahea# o" hi- to a *o-"ortab e !itting roo- bathe# in evening !un ight( On y ha " the !i7e o" the #rawing roo-, it boa!te# an ing enoo2 "irep a*e an# oa2 bea-!(

9Rave a0! a bit o" a ho#ge4po#ge o" !ty e!, a! you !ee,0 <ra# #e* are#, *ro!!ing to a *abinet again!t the "ar wa ( 9Too -any owner! with #i""erent i#ea! over the year!( +hat wi you have60

91in an# i-e, p ea!e,0 5auren re;ue!te#, opting "or the "ir!t thing to *o-e to -in#( She wat*he# hi- pour the #rin2, *a ing on her re!erve! to -a2e the "ir!t -ove( 9Mr 5axton >0 !he began(

9I to # you to *a -e <ra#,0 he !ai#(

9<ra#, then(0 She pau!e# un*o-"ortab y( 9About thi! a"ternoon>0

9Forget it(0 He turne# to bring the g a!! a*ro!! to where !he0# ta2en a !eat in one o" the *retonne4*overe# *hair!, the ga7e he re!te# on her "a*e #evoi# o" ani-o!ity( 9I" I " ew o"" the han# e it wa! on y be*au!e you hit a raw !pot( I too2 the ea!y way out !en#ing Kerry o"" to boar#ing4!*hoo , I a#-it( It )u!t !ee-e# the be!t thing a roun# at the ti-e(0

5auren 2ept her voi*e !tea#y( 9Di# the "a*t that !he wa! on y an a#opte# #aughter have any bearing, #o you thin260

9No(0 It wa! !ai# with *ertainty( 9I -ight not have been a! #e!perate "or a *hi # a! C aire wa! in the beginning, but I wa! *aptivate# the -o-ent I !et eye! on Kerry( She wa! )u!t one -onth o # when we got her>a! pretty a! a pi*ture even then(0 Hi! voi*e wa!

re-ini!*ent( 9C aire wa! in her !eventh heaven8 +e trie# "or another, but nothing *a-e o" it( A #i!appoint-ent "ro- a point! o" view( Kerry wou # have ove# a brother or !i!ter(0

5auren !wa owe# har# on the tightne!! in her throat( 9=ou *ou # -arry again(0

9In or#er to -aybe provi#e her with one60 He !hrugge#( 9I0- thirty4nine( The patter o" itt e "eet #oe!n0t ho # ;uite the !a-e appea any -ore(0

9There are other rea!on! "or -arrying(0

9To give her a -other, you -ean6 I #oubt i" !he0# we *o-e any !ub!titute(0 Hi! -outh ti te#( 9Or were you thin2ing -ore o" -y nee#!60

5auren he # hi! ga7e !;uare y( 9I !hou #n0t i-agine you have any #i""i*u ty what!oever in "u "i ing tho!e(0

He aughe#( 9=ou #on0t pu your pun*he!, #o you6 Out!po2en a! they *o-e80

9I never !aw any a#vantage in beating about the bu!h,0 !he returne#( 9Not that it ha!n0t got -e into troub e a ti-e or two(0

9I *an i-agine(0 He !tu#ie# her a -o-ent, ta2ing in every #etai o" her "a*e within the be o" wheaten hair, hi! brow! #rawing together a "ra*tion( 9There0! no *han*e we0ve ever -et be"ore, i! there60

5auren #rew a !tea#ying breath( 9I0- !ure not( I0# have re-e-bere#(0

The !trong -outh *urve# again( 9I0 ta2e that a! a *o-p i-ent(0 He "ini!he# hi! #rin2 in one !wa ow( 9Anyway, we0# be!t go on through be"ore Mr! 3 get! a hu"" on(0

Having bare y !tarte# her own #rin2, an# #i!in* ine# to "ini!h it ;ui*2 y, 5auren e"t the g a!! where it wa! on the !-a tab e be!i#e her *hair( She !ti "e t *hurne# up in!i#e "ro- that -o-ent ba*2 there( +hi e !he *ou #n0t !ee a that -u*h re!e-b an*e between Kerry an# her!e ", it !ee-e# that he -ight have pi*2e# up on !o-e e e-ent o" "a-i iarity without rea i!ing the !our*e(

Even i" he #i# eventua y rea i!e it, the i2e ihoo# o" hi! gue!!ing the truth wa! too re-ote to be o" *on*ern, !he a!!ure# her!e "( There wa! no !u*h thing a! a tota y uni;ue !et o" "eature!(

Dinner prove# !o-ething o" a tria , with Kerry re"u!ing to an!wer 5auren0! overture! in anything but -ono!y ab e!( <ra#0! patien*e "ina y ran out when !he !hove# a !au*e boat a*ro!! at 5auren0! re;ue!t with !u*h "or*e that it! *ontent! !p a!he# a*ro!! the * oth(

9That0! enough80 he * ippe#( 9I" you *an0t be *ivi , eave the tab e80

Fa*e -utinou!, the gir got to her "eet an# !ta 2e# "ro- the roo- with a #ignity 5auren *ou # on y a#-ire( She !taye# !i ent with an e""ort, but her expre!!ion gave her away(

9=ou #i!approve(0 It wa! a !tate-ent not a ;ue!tion(

9I thin2 you were a bit har!h,0 !he *on"ir-e#( 9I0- going to have #i""i*u ty rea*hing her at a i" you *o-e the heavy "ather(0

9So what wou # you have ha# -e #o60 he #e-an#e#( 9Ignore it60

9No, )u!t perhap! te-per the way you rea*t to it a itt e( I0# be wi ing to bet you ha#n0t even to # her you were oo2ing "or !o-eone to ta2e *harge o" her "or the !u--er be"ore thi! a"ternoon(0

9=ou0# be right,0 he a#-itte#( 9I !aw no point when it -ight not even happen(0

5auren oo2e# at hi- *uriou! y( 9@u!t what wou # you have #one i" I ha#n0t turne# up60

<roa# !hou #er! i"te#( 9Re ie# on Mr! 3 ta2ing on the -ant e a! u!ua , I !uppo!e(0

9That wou # have *o-e #angerou! y * o!e to e-otiona b a*2-ai (0

9I 2now(0 The grin wa! #i!ar-ing( 9I -a2e no * ai- to ange !tatu!(0

9<ut you *ertain y wou #n0t have *on!i#ere# #e aying your over!ea! trip60

9A! I a rea#y to # you, it i!n0t that ea!y( It0! ta2en a ot o" ti-e an# e""ort to get thi! #ea on the tab e( De ay i!n0t on the *ar#!(0

The hou!e2eeper0! return to the roo- put pai# to the rep y "or-ing on 5auren0! ip!( The "or-er eye# Kerry0! un"ini!he# p ate in !o-e obviou! annoyan*e(

9=ou *an ta2e it away,0 <ra# to # her( 9She won0t be ba*2(0

+hatever the wo-an0! thought!, !he wa! 2eeping the- to her!e "( <ra# poure# -ore wine "or the two o" the- a! !he #eparte#, !itting ba*2, g a!! in han#, to view 5auren with i"te# brow!( 9Do we !pen# the re!t o" the -ea #ebating -y "ai ing! a! a "ather60

The ;ue!tion brought her up !hort( She0# #one itt e but *riti*i!e !in*e !he0# got here, !he rea i!e#( There wa! no #oubt o" hi! regar# "or Kerry, an# !he ha# to a#-it that the gir 0! behaviour )u!t now ha# been a itt e over the top( So perhap! !he wou #n0t have rea*te# ;uite !o !trong y her!e " i" one o" her "or-er *harge! ha# expre!!e# the-!e ve! in !i-i ar "a!hion, but !he wa! traine# in *hi # -anage-ent( It wa! -aybe ti-e !he !tarte# -a2ing a "ew a owan*e!(

9I0- !orry,0 !he !ai#( 9I0- overrea*ting -y!e "( I 2now how #i""i*u t young teenager! *an be(0

9Te -e about it,0 he !ai# hu-orou! y( 9=ou0re going to have your wor2 *ut out thi! next wee2, but I0ve every "aith in you(0

9Than2!(0 5auren 2ept her tone ight( 9That0! ;uite an a**o a#e on a "ew hour!0 a*;uaintan*e(0

9I0- a goo# )u#ge o" *hara*ter, i" nothing e !e,0 he returne# e;ua y ight y(

9Oh, I thin2 a! one o" the ea#ing in#u!tria i!t! in the we!tern he-i!phere you *an * aito be rather -ore than )u!t that80

The #ar2 brow! ro!e again( 9=ou !ee- to have #one !o-e ho-ewor2 on -e(0

9=ou0ve been "eature# by the Cana#ian -e#ia,0 !he !ai# ha!ti y, aware o" being on the verge o" revea ing a itt e too -u*h 2now e#ge o" hi! ba*2groun#(

9My "a-e goeth be"ore -e80

9I #i#n0t *onne*t the na-e right away, i" you0re thin2ing what I thin2 you -ight be,0 !he * ai-e# on an e#gy note( 9It wa! the )ob that attra*te# -e, not the po!!ibi ity o"A0

9O"60 <ra# pro-pte# a! !he *a-e to an abrupt !top( There wa! a #eep4#own !par2 e o" aughter in the b ue eye!( 9Se*uring your!e " a ri*h hu!ban#60

5auren ha# to !-i e her!e "( 9So-e -ight have it in -in#(0

9I" you were one o" the-, you0# be *on*entrating on gaining "avour rather than hau ing -e over the *oa !(0

9?n e!! I wa! per*eptive enough to rea i!e a ye! wo-an wou # bore you into the groun#(0

He grinne#( 9That0! *ertain y true( Maybe I0- not !o goo# a )u#ge o" *hara*ter a"ter a (0

9=e!, you are,0 !he !ai#, aban#oning the " ippan*y( 9I0- here "or Kerry, nothing e !e( Are you going to et her go the who e night without "oo#60

9I" you0re thin2ing o" !ugge!ting !he0! invite# ba*2, !he wou #n0t *o-e,0 he returne#( 9Mr! 3 wi !ee to it that !he #oe!n0t !tarve(0

5auren et it go at that( There0# be ti-e enough to try brea2ing through the !he her #aughter ha# #onne# again!t her(

They ha# *o""ee on the terra*e( The air wa! ba -y, the ayer o" ight * ou# a*ro!! the we!tern !2y a rea#y tinge# with *o our "ro- the owering !un( A "aint bree7e wa"te# in -yria# !*ent!(

A i"e!ty e )u!t about anyone wou # give their eyeteeth "or, 5auren re" e*te#, oo2ing out over the ove y an#!*ape( A thi! "or one -an an# one *hi #8 Not that either o" the!pent a that -u*h ti-e here, "ro- what !he *ou # gather( Kerry wou # be in !*hoo two thir#! o" the year, <ra# probab y out o" the *ountry a! o"ten a! he wa! in it(

9Moon ight be*o-e! you,0 -ur-ure# the atter, #ragging her out o" her reverie(

9There i!n0t any -oon ight yet,0 !he pointe# out(

9I 2now(0 Hi! !-i e taunte#( 9<ut it got your attention(0

9I i-agine you0re una**u!to-e# to having to * ai- it,0 !he returne#( 9A**or#ing to Kerry, you have wo-en "a ing over the-!e ve! to be with you(0

9Kerry exaggerate!( She even !u!pe*t! a "rien#0! eighteen4year4o # #aughter o" having #e!ign! on -e(0

9<ut not the other way roun#60

He ;uir2e# an eyebrow( 9I pre"er -ature wo-en( Aroun# your age, !ay(0

She0# a!2e# "or that, 5auren a*2now e#ge#( 9I wa! out o" ine,0 !he *on*e#e#(

9=ou -a2e a regu ar habit o" it,0 he !ai#( 9I thin2 you -u!t i2e iving #angerou! y(0

1reen eye! wi#ene#( 9A- I iving #angerou! y60

The !-i e wa! ! ow( 9Oh, ye!80

5auren *aught her!e " up in the rea i!ation that !he wa! " irting with the -an( Har# y a wi!e -ove *on!i#ering the *onver!ation they0# )u!t ha# over #inner, )e!ting though that ha# been( There wa! no #enying the e""e*t he ha# on her though( Sitting there now, broa# o" !hou #er an# #eep o" *he!t, the pu!he#4up ! eeve! o" hi! !weater revea ing a ight *overing o" #ar2 hair over -u!*u ar "orear-!, he exu#e# -a!*u inity in a way that !ent her pu !e! into over#rive(

9I be ieve I )u!t *aught another g i-p!e o" the rea 5auren Turner un#er that *oo an# *o e*te# gui!e,0 <ra# ob!erve#(

9A -o-entary aberration,0 !he * ai-e#, re*overing her poi!e outwar# y i" not inwar# y( 9It won0t happen again(0

9A pity(0

He wa! !i ent "or a -o-ent, !tu#ying her>rai!ing her pu !e rate even "urther( +hen he !po2e again the banter wa! -i!!ing(

9There0! a ot -ore to you than -eet! the eye>ea!y though you are on it( =ou0re not in !o-e 2in# o" troub e by any *han*e60

5auren "e t her heart give a pain"u )er2( 9+hat wou # -a2e you thin2 that60

He gave a brie" !hrug( 9@u!t a "ee ing(0

9Intuition60 !he !ugge!te#, opting "or a *ha""ing note( 9I thought we wo-en were !uppo!e# have *ornere# the -ar2et(0

Hi! -outh *rea!e#( 9Meaning the average -a e i! "ar too #en!e to be !en!itive to un#er ying *urrent!60

9It0! one way o" putting it( I0# !ay being o" a -ore prag-ati* bent( I haven0t robbe# any ban2!, !o you *an re!t ea!y on that !*ore( I #i# par2 in a #i!ab e# !pa*e on*e though, *o-e to thin2 o" it( Maybe it0! #e aye# gui t that0! *o-ing through(0

<ra# wa! aughing now, ho #ing up hi! han#! in !urren#er( 9I !hou # 2now better than to try p u-bing a wo-an0! -in#80

9A! i" we0re anything but the -o!t !traight"orwar# o" *reature!80 !he #e* are#, #rawing a breath o" re ie" that the #anger point wa! pa!t( Not that he *ou # po!!ib y have gue!!e# the rea rea!on "or whatever *on!traint he0# !en!e# in her(

9That I0# #e"inite y argue with,0 he !ai#( 9I !uppo!e it0! a part o" the *har-, never 2nowing ;uite what -ay be going on in!i#e tho!e ove y hea#!(0

9It *ut! both way!,0 !he returne#, -at*hing hi! tone(

9Not near y to the !a-e extent(0 He wa! eaning ba*2 in the *hair again, vivi# eye! !par2 ing in the ight "ro- the !etting !un( 9Right now, I0- an open boo2(0

He wa! tooB enough !o to !tart a ! ow *ur in the very pit o" her !to-a*h( She ha#n0t been without -a e "rien#! over the year!, but none o" the- ha# -a#e her "ee the way he wa! -a2ing her "ee right now( The way he0# -a#e her "ee the -o-ent he opene# the #oor to her thi! a"ternoon, i" !he wa! hone!t about it( The antagoni!- ha# been -ore by way o" #e"en*e than anything( I" it weren0t "or KerryA

I" it weren0t "or Kerry, !he wou #n0t be here to !tart with, *a-e the re-in#er( She ha# to be her on y *on*ern(

9I thin2 it0! ti-e I turne# in,0 !he !ai#(

9Running away60 he taunte# a! !he pu!he# ba*2 her *hair to get to her "eet(

9In nee# o" a goo# night0! ! eep,0 !he *ountere#( 9It0! been a ong #ay(0

Hi! !hrug wa! phi o!ophi*a ( 9There0! a way! to-orrow(0

There were a who e ot o" to-orrow!, 5auren re" e*te#, -a2ing her way in#oor!( She0# nee# to 2eep an extre-e y tight rein on the e-otion! <ra# rou!e# in her i" !he wa! to a!t the *our!e without *reating even -ore prob e-! than !he a rea#y ha# on her p ate( He0# -a#e it -ore than obviou! tonight that he "oun# her an e;ua #raw(

At ea!t he0# be gone "or !evera #ay!( That wou # give her ti-e to get a grip on her!e "(

Surpri!ing y, *on!i#ering her !tate o" -in#, !he ! ept we a"ter !o-e initia to!!ing an# turning, awa2ening at !even to another !un4"i e# -orning(

They were to ta2e the *ar into Strat"or# to turn it in, !he re-e-bere# whi e #re!!ing( Hope"u y, Kerry *ou # be per!ua#e# to *o-e a ong too(

<rea2"a!t wa! being !erve# on the terra*e( She "oun# <ra# a one, a new!paper opene# be"ore hi-( He oo2e# up to greet her with an expre!!ion #evoi# o" anything but !o i*itou! en;uiry(

9Re!t"u night60

5auren -at*he# hi! tone, #eter-ine# to 2eep a i# on her re!pon!e!( 93er"e*t, than2!(0 She too2 a !eat, rea*hing "or the *o""ee4pot !tan#ing on a heate# -at( 9Kerry not #own yet60

9Kerry,0 he !ai#, 9wa! up an# out on Dia-on# be"ore !even( She0! in the poo at pre!ent, ta2ing a#vantage o" the weather whi e !he ha! the *han*e( =ou !hou # #o it your!e "( It0! #ue to brea2(0

9<a*2 to nor-a , then,0 5auren *o--ente#( 9For Eng an#, anyway( Apart "ro- the o**a!iona !tor-, we *an u!ua y re y on three to "our -onth! o" !u--er in Toronto(0

9How #o you nor-a y !pen# the !u--er60 he a!2e#( 9=our ei!ure ti-e, at any rate(0

9The u!ua way!( Sport!, barbe*ue!, et *etera( I have a "rien# who own! a !-a ya*ht(0

9Ma e60

9No(0 5auren re"u!e# to -eet hi! ga7e( 9I0- not in a re ation!hip(0

9There0! !u*h a thing a! a p atoni* one(0

Thi! ti-e !he #i# g an*e hi! way, un!urpri!e# to !ee the taunting ight in the b ue eye!( 9=ou rea y re*2on60 !he a!2e# !ar*a!ti*a y(

He grinne#( 9For !o-e, -aybe( I #on0t !ee a that -any -en thin2ing nothing but pure thought! where you0re *on*erne#( =ou0re not bui t "or it(0

Mr! 3erri-an0! e-ergen*e "ro- the hou!e with a "re!h ra*2 o" toa!t * o!e# the *onver!ation, i" it *ou # be *a e# that( 5auren re"u!e# the hou!e2eeper0! o""er to *oo2 her !o-ething, happy to !ett e "or the toa!t an# -ar-a a#e( A**u!to-e# a! !he wa! to a "re!*o eating #uring evening! an# wee2en#!, brea2"a!t wa! u!ua y ta2en on the run( 1ra*iou! iving *ertain y ha# it! high point!(

<ra# ha# returne# to hi! new!paper( A !tranger -ight even ta2e the- "or a ong4-arrie# *oup e, 5auren re" e*te# with a *yni*a e#ge( She !tu#ie# the bron7e# "eature!, #we ing "or !evera pu !e4;ui*2ening -o-ent! on the !en!ua ine o" hi! -outh( She *ou # i-agine the "ee o" it -oving again!t her!, !o"t an# ! ow at "ir!t, -ounting gra#ua y to pa!!ionC the har#ne!! o" the -u!*u ar bo#y a! he -ou #e# her to hi-C the !trength in hi! ar-! a! he i"te# her up to *arry herA

She *a-e #own to earth with a bang at the rea i!ation that !he wa! un#er !*rutiny her!e "( <ra# wat*he# the war- *o our " oo# her *hee2! with intere!t(

9At the ri!2 o" inviting another !nub, I0# !ay you were thin2ing -u*h the !a-e thing I !pent -o!t o" the night thin2ing about,0 he ob!erve#( 9It i!n0t o"ten I0- 2ept awa2e(0

9I0# #oubt you !u""er "ru!tration very o"ten,0 !he retorte#, gathering her!e "( 9Mo!t wo-en wou # be on y too g a# to a**o--o#ate you(0

9Contrary to the i-pre!!ion you !ee- to have #eve ope# o" -e, I0- not intere!te# in -o!t wo-en,0 he returne#( 9=ou0re very #i""erent "ro- the genera run(0

9<e*au!e I #on0t give out on e!! than twenty4"our hour!0 a*;uaintan*e60

Dar2 brow! ;uir2e#( 9Meaning you -ight *on!i#er it a"ter two o0* o*2 thi! a"ternoon60

9No(0 She ha# to !-i e her!e "( 9I -ight "in# you attra*tive>a right, #o "in# you attra*tive,0 !he a-en#e# a! the -obi e e"t eyebrow i"te# on*e -ore( 9<ut that0! a! "ar a! I0- prepare# to go( To#ay, or any other #ay( +hat ti-e #o you propo!e eaving "or Strat"or#60

9+hen you0ve "ini!he#,0 he !ai#( 9No parti*u ar ru!h(0

Hi! ea!y a**eptan*e o" the *hange o" !ub)e*t e"t her "ee ing !o-ewhat #e-ora i!e#( A ri#i*u ou! rea*tion *on!i#ering what !he0# )u!t "ini!he# te ing hi-(

The truth being, !he ha#n0t -eant a wor# o" it, !he a*2now e#ge# wry y(

9+i Kerry be *o-ing too60 !he a!2e#, !triving to hit a eve note(

9I #oubt i" !he0 want to( Not that we0 be gone that ong, anyway( I have thing! to #o( I0 be "ree a"ter un*h though,0 he a##e#( 9+e *an a three o" u! ta2e a ri#e together(0

He0# natura y want to )u#ge her abi ity "or hi-!e ", 5auren rea i!e# with !o-e trepi#ation( She0# #one a rea!onab e a-ount o" ri#ing, i" on y on !tab e ha*2!( 3rovi#ing @a!per ha# no te-pera-enta trait!, !he0# probab y -anage OK(

9I0

oo2 "orwar# to it,0 !he ie#(

Kerry *a-e up the !tep! at the "ar en# o" the terra*e, #ripping water "ro- beneath the towe wrappe# aroun# her( Her hair wa! !oa2ing too, the ighter b on#e !trea2! #ar2ene# by the water( 5auren won#ere# how an# when !he ha# a*;uire# the !trea2!( It wa! a -o!t *ertain y not with <ra#0! authority(

9How0! the water60 !he greete# the gir !-i ing y(

9It0! heate#,0 *a-e the !hort rep y( She rea*he# "or a pie*e o" toa!t, !prea#ing butter thi*2 y an# -ar-a a#e even -ore !o(

9Di#n0t you have brea2"a!t60 a!2e# her "ather a! !he too2 an over arge bite "ro- the ! i*e(

9I0- -a2ing up "or -i!!ing -o!t o" #inner a!t night,0 !he !ai# pointe# y( 9I #on0t have the weight to o!e(0

Hi! ip! twit*he#( 95et0! hope you #on0t have to -i!! any -ore -ea !, then( How #o you "ee about going ri#ing thi! a"ternoon60

9The two o" u!60

9The three o" u!,0 he *orre*te#( 95auren nee#! to get a*;uainte# with @a!per(0

The ani-ation that ha# it the young "eature! went into !wi"t #e* ine( 9I !uppo!e,0 !he !ai#(

9+e0re going to Strat"or# to turn in -y *ar thi! -orning,0 5auren put in( 9+hy #on0t you *o-e too60

9No, than2!,0 *a-e the !tony rep y(

She #u-pe# what re-aine# o" the toa!t on a p ate, an# *ontinue# on into the hou!e( < ue eye! -et green a*ro!! the wi#th o" the tab e in re!igne# re*ognition o" the *en!ure expre!!e# there(

9Now what60

9=ou -ight have a!2e# her your!e ",0 5auren returne#(

9I0# have got the !a-e an!wer(0

9=ou *an0t 2now that "or !ure(0

9I #o, be ieve -e( +hen !he get! that oo2 on her "a*e there0! no !hi"ting her(0 He "o #e# the new!paper( 9=ou -ight "in# you0ve ta2en on a har#er ta!2 than you i-agine#(0

5auren ightene# her tone, aware o" being #rawn into un"air *riti*i!- again( 9I0 !urvive(0

9I hope !o( I wou #n0t want to "in# you gone when I get ba*2(0

There wa! no taunt in hi! voi*e now>nor in the b ue eye! ho #ing her!( 5auren "e t her inner thigh! go into invo untary !pa!-( +ou # it rea y hurt to in#u ge a phy!i*a nee# "or on*e in her i"e6 !he a!2e# her!e " yearning y( Other! #i# it a the ti-e(

Ex*ept that thi! wa! no *o--on !ituation, the -an !he wa! *onte-p ating be*o-ing inti-ate with wa! no one4night !tan# !he *ou # !i-p y wa 2 away "ro-( There wa! !o -u*h -ore to hi- than that( Too -u*h8 It wa! going to be har# enough !aying goo#bye to her #aughter when the !ix wee2! were up( Fa ing "or <ra# wa! the a!t thing !he nee#e#(

She wren*he# her ga7e away an# got to her "eet( 9I0 go an# *o e*t the paperwor2 "or the *ar(0

There wa! no !ign o" Kerry when !he got in#oor!( Not that it wa! i2e y !he0# have been per!ua#e# into *o-ing a ong, anyway( The a"ternoon0! ri#e wa! har# y !*he#u e# to i-prove -atter! either, on*e it wa! rea i!e# how "ar "ro- expert a ri#er !he wa!> e!pe*ia y in *o-pari!on with C aire( It wa! wrong, 5auren 2new, to be )ea ou! o" the wo-an who ha# given her *hi # the ove !he0# been unab e to give her, but it wou # ta2e a !aint not to be(

CHA3TER THREE

<RAD wa! eaning again!t a !i ver A pha Ro-eo par2e# a ong!i#e her hire# For# !a oon when !he got out!i#e again( The * o!e4"itting *or#! he wa! wearing e-pha!i!e# the narrowne!! o" wai!t an# hip oppo!e# to hi! brea#th o" !hou #er(

+hy *ou #n0t he have turne# out to be !hort an# "at an# ba #ing6 !he thought with rue"u hu-our(

It wa! a ten4-i e #rive into Strat"or#( <ra# e# the way, !ti*2ing to a -eritou! thirty4"ive a ong the win#ing, he#ge4boun# ane! unti they rea*he# the wi#er roa# ea#ing #ire*t y into the town(

Con*entrating on "o owing the !i ver *ar through the tra""i*4thronge# !treet!, 5auren gaine# on y an overa i-pre!!ion o" the p a*e( It wa! obviou! y very #i""erent "ro- what it wou # have been in Sha2e!peare0! #ay, but *ertain y worth another vi!it(

She wa! g a# to rea*h the hire *o-pany0! o""i*e! an# turn in the *ar( They prove# a itt e re u*tant to ta2e a #rop4o"" without prior arrange-ent, but <ra# !orte# thing! out with the-( Fro- there, they went to arrange in!uran*e(

They were on their way ba*2 to where they0# e"t the A pha when 5auren a -o!t got run #own by a *ar #riven by !o-e -ania* running the tra""i* ight!( <ra# yan2e# her out o" the way with bare !e*on#! to !pare(

9< a!te# i#iot80 he !wore( 9Di# the wing -irror *at*h you60

5auren -ove# her hea# in the negative( She wa! vita y aware o" the han# !ti *urving her upper ar-, o" the oo2 o" *on*ern in the b ue eye!( 9I0- "ine,0 !he !ai#( 9Than2! to you( I never !aw it *o-ing(0

93eop e who #rive i2e that !hou # be o*2e# up an# the 2ey thrown away80 he #e* are# rough y(

He0# o!t hi! wi"e through a #river i2e that, 5auren re-in#e# her!e "( S-a won#er he "e t !o !trong y about it(

9=ou oo2 !ha2en up,0 he !ai#( 9I thin2 a "ew -inute! !itting #own with a *o""ee wou # be a goo# i#ea(0

The near -i!! ha#n0t a""e*te# her near y a! -u*h a! hi! tou*h wa! #oingC !he *ou # "ee the ting e right through her bo#y( So -u*h "or 2eeping a tight rein on her re!pon!e!8

9It rea y i!n0t ne*e!!ary,0 !he a!!ure# hi-( 9I0- "ine(0

He ignore# the prote!t, #rawing her with hi- a! he hea#e# towar#! the river(

They went to a *a"D ba*2ing on to the water, !e*uring a gar#en tab e )u!t va*ate#( 5auren wat*he# a narrow boat *hugging upriver at the regu ation "our -i e! an hour whi e they waite# "or the *o""ee to arrive, a#-iring the arti!try in the bright y painte# exterior(

9That -u!t be a ni*e, re!t"u way to !pen# a ho i#ay,0 !he *o--ente#(

9Not ;uite !o re!t"u on the *ana ! when there are o*2! to be navigate#,0 <ra# re)oine#( 9There0! one !e*tion on the 1ran# ?nion with "ourteen in a row( It ta2e! a who e #ay to get through(0

5auren brought her attention ba*2 to the har#4bone# "eature!, ri#ing the i-pa*t( 9=ou0ve #one it your!e "60

9On*e,0 he *on"ir-e#( 9C aire "an*ie# trying it when we "ir!t -ove# out here( She !tu*2 it "or three #ay! be"ore #e*i#ing it wa!n0t "or her(0

9+a! Kerry with you60

9=e!( Having to 2eep a *on!tant eye on her #i#n0t he p, I !uppo!e( Tho!e boat! aren0t a that !a"e where young *hi #ren are *on*erne#(0

9I i-agine not(0 5auren he!itate# be"ore ta2ing the p unge( 9I *an appre*iate how har# it -u!t have been "or you when you o!t C aire, but were there no gran#parent! to he p out60

9C aire grew up in an orphanage her!e ",0 he returne# une-otiona y( 9My parent! #ivor*e# -any year! ago an# ea# their own ive! in #i""erent part! o" the wor #(0

5auren bit her ip( 9I0- !orry(0

9No nee#( It wa! a "air enough ;ue!tion( An# be"ore you a!2, I *ou # have a""or#e# to re!t on -y aure ! by then>the prob e- being that I wou #n0t have been worth iving with( I nee# *ha enge in -y i"e(0 The pau!e wa! brie", the *hange o" tone -eaning"u ( 9One 2in# or another(0

9Don0t !tart that again,0 !he !ai# !hort y( 9I a rea#y to # youA0

9I 2now what you to # -e( The !a-e thing I0ve trie# te ing -y!e ", with )u!t a! itt e e""e*t(0 He a##e# !o"t y, 9I want you, 5auren( An# #on0t try bringing in the ti-e e e-ent again( I "e t thi! way the -o-ent I * appe# eye! on you(0

9Are you a way! a! ;ui*2 o"" the -ar260 !he a!2e# a"ter a -o-ent(

9=ou #on0t i!ten, #o you60 he !ai#( 9I to # you at brea2"a!t I0- no pro" igate(0

9=ou0 be te ing -e next that I0- the on y wo-an who0! arou!e# your intere!t in year!80

9I0- no iar either,0 he returne# e;uab y( 9There0! been no one !eriou! !in*e C aire #ie#( I" I haven0t -arrie# again it i!n0t through oya ty to her( She0# have been the a!t per!on to want -e to !pen# -y i"e in -ourning( She0# have i2e# you( =ou have ;uite a ot in *o--on with her(0

5auren "e t her heart )er2( 9Su*h a!60 !he -ur-ure#(

He !-i e#( 9+i 4power, "or in!tan*e( It too2 a ot to *hange her -in# on*e !he0# !et it(0

9<ut you u!ua y !u**ee#e#(0

9Not a way!( It -a#e "or !o-e batt e! at ti-e!>-e i2ing -y own way !o -u*h too(0

5auren *ou #n0t he p but re!pon# to the hu-our in hi! eye!( 9I0 bet8 I i-agine !he wa! very beauti"u (0

9On the a!!u-ption that I *ou #n0t po!!ib y be attra*te# by anything e!!60 He viewe# her )u#i*iou! y, ta2ing in every vibrant "eature o" her "a*e beneath the !un42i!!e# *a!*a#e o" her hair( 9=ou0re a*tua y ;uite right, though true beauty0! in the eye o" the beho #er( I ove# her very #eep y(0

5auren ha# a on to 2eep her e-otion! "ro- !ur"a*ing( She0# never been ove# i2e that( Not even by her own parent!, who ha# a way! -a#e it * ear that !he0# been an a**i#ent they *ou # have #one ;uite we without>e!pe*ia y a"ter !he got her!e " pregnant( They0# -ove# "ro- Toronto to the we!t *oa!t !o-e year! ago, eaving her to the i"e !he0# "orge# "or her!e "( She vi!ite# on*e a year, -ore "or the oo2 o" it than through any rea "ee ing( +ithout the atter, b oo# wa! no thi*2er than water(

9It0! gone ten4thirty,0 !he !ai# ho ow y( 9Shou #n0t we be hea#ing ba*260

There wa! a *ertain !pe*u ation in hi! regar#, but he -a#e no "urther *o--ent(

+ith the wee2en# tra""i* at !aturation eve , it wa! we gone e even when they "ina y -a#e it ba*2 to Rave a( <ra# #eparte# at on*e "or the !tu#y, eaving 5auren to wan#er out!i#e in !ear*h o" Kerry(

She "oun# her #aughter !unbathing on a ounger at the !i#e o" the b ue4ti e# poo , her ten#er young *urve! *overe# on y by the botto- ha " o" a brie" bi2ini(

9I hope you0ve u!e# p enty o" !un *rea-,0 5auren *o--ente#, reining ba*2 on the in!tin*tive prote!t(

9+hy !hou # you *are60 the gir #e-an#e# without i"ting her hea#( 9I0- )u!t an ex*u!e "or you to be here80

9=ou0re the on y rea!on "or -y being here,0 5auren a!!ure# her( 9I want u! to be "rien#!, Kerry(0

9I! that what you want Da# to be too60

9=our "ather0! -y e-p oyer( It i!n0t ;uite the !a-e(0

9Oh, I0 bet it i!n0t80 The !ar*a!- *ra*2 e#( 9=ou0re no #i""erent "ro- the re!t8 =ou0re a o" you )u!t a"ter hi! -oney80

5auren too2 a !eat on the e#ge o" the ounger next to her be"ore an!wering, her tone -i #( 91enera y !pea2ing, I0# !ay he ha! rather -ore to o""er than )u!t that(0

9On y you0re not intere!te# in any o" it, o" *our!e80

9That0! right( I0 be eaving when you go ba*2 to !*hoo (0

9+hy #on0t you go now60

9<e*au!e I0ve no intention o" ;uitting a goo# )ob(0

There wa! a -o-entary pau!e, a ! ight *hange o" tone( 9That0! a it i! to you60

9At the -o-ent, ye!( +hether it *o-e! to -ean any -ore i! arge y up to you( A! I !ai#, Kerry, I0# i2e u! to be*o-e "rien#!(0

The b on#e hea# !wive e#, ha7e eye! regar#ing her with !*epti*i!-( 9+hat u!e wou # there be in that i" you0re going away again60

9Six en)oyab e wee2! a! oppo!e# to !ix -i!erab e one!60 5auren !ugge!te#( 9+e *ou # have a ot o" "un together(0

9=ou0re too o # to have "un with,0 *a-e the !*athing retort(

9Try -e,0 5auren invite#(

It wa! a -o!t po!!ib e to hear the *og! turning in the younger brain a! the o""er wa! *on!i#ere#( Kerry *a-e up on her e bow, her !u##en !-i e inno*ent a! the #ay( 9A right, !o *o-e "or a !wi- "or !tarter!( +e never have un*h be"ore one(0

?n#e*eive#, but not about to pa!! up even the ! ighte!t *han*e o" -a2ing a brea2through, 5auren no##e#( 91oo# i#ea( I0 go an# *hange(0

She got to her "eet to !2irt the en# o" the ounger( ?nprepare# "or the !hove in the *entre o" her ba*2>though !he probab y !hou # have been>!he teetere# on the poo e#ge "or a heart4thu##ing !e*on# or two be"ore gravity over*a-e ba an*e, prope ing her into the water(

Dre!!e# the way !he wa! in ight *otton trou!er! an# top, there wa! itt e #rag( She !ur"a*e# without !p uttering, having -anage# to ta2e a breath, trea#ing water to pu!h the hair "ro- her eye! a! !he oo2e# up at the gir !tan#ing on the poo e#ge(

9Not ;uite what I ha# in -in#,0 !he !ai#, gathering her!e ", 9but now I0- in I -ay a! we !tay in( Aren0t you going to )oin -e60

+hatever rea*tion Kerry ha# been expe*ting, thi! obviou! y wa!n0t it( She oo2e# tota y nonp u!!e#(

9I !uppo!e you0re going to te Da# I pu!he# you in,0 !he !ai# in an atte-pt to re*apture her "or-er be igeren*e(

9I #on0t !ee any rea!on to,0 5auren returne# e;uab y( 9How about a ra*e6 I warn you, I0pretty "a!t though(0

The *ha enge ha# the #e!ire# e""e*t( Kerry )u-pe# !traight into the water( 9=ou0re on80 !he #e* are#(

They !tarte# "ro- the en#, both u!ing the *raw ( Ha-pere# by the * inging -ateria , 5auren "oun# !o-e #i""i*u ty in 2eeping pa*e with the gir at her !i#e, -u*h e!! #rawing ahea#( Kerry wa! "ir!t to tou*h the rai , turning in aughing triu-ph(

9I win80

9On y be*au!e I wa! han#i*appe# by a *ertain per!on,0 5auren re!pon#e#, aughing ba*2( 9=ou wait ti next ti-e80

9I0 !ti beat you80 Eye! !par2 ing, "a*e a ight, Kerry oo2e# !o #i""erent "ro- the -oo#y teenager o" the -orning( 9I0- in the !*hoo tea-80

9So wa! I( I tria e# "or the O y-pi*!(0

9=ou #i#60 Kerry oo2e# rea y i-pre!!e#( 9Di# you get a -e#a 60

9No, I #i#n0t -a2e the tea-(0 5auren wat*he# the ani-ation ! ow y "a#e "ro- her #aughter0! "a*e in wry a*2now e#ge-ent o" her -i!ta2e in bringing the !ub)e*t up( There wa! no 2u#o! in "ai ure( 9Have you thought about going "or it your!e "60 !he a##e# ight y( 9=ou *ertain y have the -a2ing!(0

9=ou won0t " atter -e into i2ing you,0 *a-e the !hort rep y(

She heave# her!e " "ro- the poo , !ta-ping a*ro!! to !ei7e the towe !he0# been ying on a "ew -inute! be"ore( 5auren !wa- ba*2 to #ive "or the !an#a ! !he0# #roppe# o"" be"ore

beginning the ra*e, rue"u y aware that !he ha# a ong way to go be"ore !he got anywhere near the gir ( It wa! #angerou! to get too * o!e, !he 2new, but that #i#n0t !top her "rowanting to( @u!t to !ee her oo2 the way !he ha# a "ew -inute! ago -a#e it a worthwhi e(

Kerry wa! ying on her "ront again, "a*e turne# away in pointe# #i!-i!!a , when !he e-erge# "ro- the poo ( 5auren re!i!te# the te-ptation to try another approa*h right now( At ea!t !he0# prove# it wa! po!!ib e to get through the barrier!, i" on y " eeting y(

She gave her!e " a rub4#own with a towe to re-ove the wor!t o" the #rip! be"ore hea#ing "or the hou!e, !nea2ing in via a !i#e #oor with the intention o" "in#ing a route to her roothat #i#n0t invo ve u!ing the -ain !tair*a!e(

It wa! o##! on that !he0# run into !o-eone, o" *our!e( Mr! 3erri-an regar#e# her be#ragg e# appearan*e in a!toni!h-ent(

9+hat on earth happene# to you60 !he ex* ai-e#(

5auren pu e# a rue"u "a*e( 9I ! ippe# on the poo !i#e( I thought thi! the be!t way to *o-e in rather than #rip water a over the p a*e(0

9S ippe#, you !ay60 It wa! obviou! that the other #i#n0t be ieve a wor# o" it( 9=ou0# better ta2e the ba*2 !tair!( That young a#y nee#! a goo# !-a*2ing80 !he a##e# !evere y a! 5auren hea#e# #own the in#i*ate# *orri#or(

+hat the young a#y in ;ue!tion nee#e# -o!t wa! a -other, 5auren re" e*te#, wi!hing it were on y po!!ib e to ta2e up the ro e her!e "( <ra# #i# hi! be!t, but in a "airne!!, he *ou # har# y be expe*te# to give up everything he0# wor2e# "or in or#er to !pen# hi! i"e bore# ha " out o" hi! -in#( Even i" he #i# re-arry, there wa! no guarantee that it wou # be to !o-eone *apab e o" giving Kerry the -other ove !he0# -i!!e# !o -u*h the!e pa!t "ive year!(

She -anage# to "in# her roo- without too -u*h troub e( Her wet * othing e"t hanging over the bath4!i#e to #ry o"", !he put on "re!h un#erwear an# a p ain white *otton #re!!( Even with the he p o" a hair4#ryer, it too2 ti-e to re!tore or#er to the heavy ength( <y the ti-e !he "ini!he# it wa! a -o!t one o0* o*2(

Apart "ro- a !p a!h o" ip!ti*2, !he #i#n0t bother with -a2e4up( She wa!n0t, !he to # her!e " "or*ib y, out to i-pre!! anyone(

+ith the weather !ti ho #ing out, un*h wa! !erve# on the terra*e too( 5auren wa! a!t to -a2e the tab e( Her own hair "u y #rie# an# neat y bru!he#, Kerry regar#e# her with a hint o" #e"ian*e(

9I hear you ha# a #ip in the poo ,0 !ai# <ra# a! !he too2 a !eat( 9En)oy it, #i# you60

There wa! no innuen#o that 5auren *ou # #e"ine in hi! tone( Regar# e!!, !he p aye# it !traight( 9:ery -u*h in thi! heat( I0# have thought an open4air poo a bit o" a white e ephant genera y though(0

9I" it0! 2ept heate#, it0! even p ea!ant in the rain( +e #on0t u!e it in the winter,0 he a##e# #ri y( 9That -ight be going )u!t a bit too "ar(0

9I0- !ure(0 5auren avoi#e# eye *onta*t with Kerry( 9There have to be i-it!(0 She pau!e#( 9Di# you get #one what you wante# to #o60

9Mo!t o" it( I0- !ti up "or a ri#e, i" that0! what you0re thin2ing about( 3rovi#ing you0ve !o-ething -ore pra*ti*a to wear, that i!60

9I0ve got )ean!,0 !he !ai#( 9An# !o-e wa 2ing !hoe! that !hou # #o( I #on0t have a hat though(0

<ra# gave her an a!!e!!ing oo2( 9I thin2 I -ight "in# you one that wi "it(0

Kerry opene# her -outh a! i" about to -a2e !o-e *o--ent, * o!ing it abrupt y a! he g an*e# her way( She oo2e# -utinou! again(

Changing "or the ri#e ater, 5auren regrette# the a*2 o" proper gear( @ean! were *on!i#ere# !tan#ar# ri#ing garb where !he *a-e "ro-, but !he #oubte# i" -any peop e in thi! ne*2 o" the woo#! wou # ho # the !a-e view( I" !he wa! going to #o thi! on a regu ar ba!i!, !he wou # have to #o !o-ething about getting 2itte# out(

She "oun# <ra# on the terra*e( He oo2e# i-pre!!ive in the pa e beige )o#hpur! an# !hining brown eather boot!(

9=ou0 #o,0 he greete# her( 9Have you vi!ite# the !tab e! yet60

9No, I0ve on y been a! "ar a! the tenni! *ourt,0 !he !ai#( 9There0! a ot o" groun# to *over(0

9Right, then, it0! thi! way( Kerry went on ahea#(0

They #roppe# #own the "ar en# o" the terra*e to *ro!! the awn! an# "o ow a path through the narrow ne*2 o" woo# an#( Too vibrant y *on!*iou! o" hi! * o!ene!!, 5auren "oun# her!e " unu!ua y tongue4tie#( She *ou # "ee the heat "ro- hi! bo#y, the ting ing bru!h o" hi! bare ar- again!t her!(

9So-ething bugging you60 he a!2e#(

9Shou # there be60 !he !ai#(

<ra# gave her a !wi"t !i#eway! g an*e( 9There0! !o-ething very irritating about being a!2e# a ;ue!tion in an!wer to a ;ue!tion(0

9I 2now(0 She -a#e an e""ort to get her!e " ba*2 on an even 2ee ( 9I0- a bit *on*erne# about thi! ri#e, i" you -u!t 2now( I0- not rea y a that experien*e#(0

9=ou won0t have any prob e- with @a!per,0 he pro-i!e#( 9At "ourteen, he0! o!t a ot o" the high !pirit! he ha# when C aire ro#e hi-( =ou0 !oon pi*2 up( Kerry wi !ee to that( She0! been ri#ing !in*e !he wa! three(0

5auren "e t the "a-i iar u-p ri!e in her throat( She0# -i!!e# !o -u*h8 9I bet !he oo2e# rea y *ute,0 !he -ur-ure#(

9She *ertain y #i#( 3rou# a! a pea*o*2 in a the rega ia( There0 be a photograph !o-ewhere( C aire "i e# -any an a bu-( =ou0 have to get Kerry to "in# the- "or you(0

They e-erge# "ro- the tree! on a *obb e# yar# bor#ere# by the !tone4bui t !tab e b o*2( Kerry wa! a rea#y a!tri#e her own bay -are(

9I wa! beginning to thin2 you0# "oun# !o-ething better to #o,0 !he !ai# tart y(

9There *ou #n0t be anything better,0 5auren *hippe# in be"ore <ra# *ou # an!wer( She !tu#ie# the two waiting ani-a !( 9+hi*h i! @a!per60

Kerry gave a #i!gu!te# !nort( 5auren *ou #n0t b a-e her( Con!i#ering the grey wa! a "u !ta ion, the ;ue!tion ha# been a pretty !tupi# one( The *he!tnut ge #ing !too# *on!i#erab y higher than the !tur#y tre22ing ponie! !he wa! u!e# to( She ha# to ta2e <ra#0! wor# "or it that he wa! rea!onab y #o*i e(

The hat "et*he# "ro- the ta*2 roo- "or her by the young -an who appeare# to be in *harge o" the !tab e! prove# a goo# "it( It !ee-e# un i2e y, a"ter "ive year!, that it ha# been C aire0!, though Kerry0! rea*tion to the o""er ear ier !ee-e# to point that way( She ha# itt e *hoi*e but to wear it, anyway, unti !he got one o" her own(

<ra# gave her a eg4up into a !a## e ha " the !i7e o" the A-eri*an ver!ion( She "e t #e*i#e# y in!e*ure( He !wung hi-!e " ithe y onto the grey, ho #ing the hor!e in *he*2 a! it pu e# at the bit(

95ea# on,0 he !ai# to Kerry( 9+e0 go up by the burrow!(0

She -ove# the -are ahea#, at one with her -ount in a way 5auren *ou # on y envy( They were both o" the- !o tota y at ho-e in the !a## e( The way C aire wou # have been too( She *ou # i-agine the- out i2e thi! a! a "a-i y group, a though C aire wa! !ti a ha7y "igure in her -in#0! eye( < on#e, brunette, re#hea#6 She ha# no i#ea(

Her *on"i#en*e in*rea!e# a! they traver!e# the narrow ane, with @a!per proving to be the !tea#y ri#e !he0# been pro-i!e#( Kerry opene# a "ie # gate without #i!-ounting, ho #ing it "or the other two to *o-e through, an# -a2ing !ure it wa! !e*ure y "a!tene# again(

9OK60 a!2e# <ra#, pu ing into !tep be!i#e 5auren a! they hea#e# up the ! oping "ie #(

9Fine,0 !he a!!ure# hi-( She patte# the g ea-ing ne*2( 9He0! a goo# ri#e80

9=ou have a goo# !eat,0 he !ai#(

9No -ore than your!,0 !he ripo!te#( She urge# @a!per ahea# to the !oun# o" hi! augh, gaining in *on"i#en*e by the !e*on#( It wa! exhi arating to be out here i2e thi!, the !un on her "a*e, the !-e o" hor!e an# eather -ing e# in her no!tri !, the !-ooth -ove-ent o" !i 2en -u!* e! between her thigh!( She *ou # ive thi! i"e "orever8

<ra# *aught her up, grinning at the !par2 ing oo2 !he turne# on hi-(

9I to # you you0# be OK on @a!per( =ou *an et hi- go when you0re rea#y(0

In tune a! !he "e t with thi! hor!e, !he *ou # rea y en)oy a ga op, !he to # her!e " re*2 e!! y(

The view "ro- the top o" the hi wa! !uperbB a ro ing vi!ta o" green an# go #, with the -e ow !tone o" the vi age ying a -i e or !o away no intru!ion on the !*ene( Fro- here, it wa! po!!ib e to !ee Rave a in it! entirety, !tan#ing prou# a-i#!t the an#!*ape# groun#!( I-pra*ti*a it -ight be "or a "a-i y o" two, but 5auren *ou # we un#er!tan# <ra#0! re u*tan*e to et go o" the p a*e(

9Rea#y60 he a!2e#, *urbing an i-patient Ca iph, an# !he too2 a #eep breath(

95et0! go80

Kerry ha# a rea#y gone, ! i- young bo#y g ue# to the !a## e, hair " ying out "ro- un#er her hat( @a!per "o owe# Ca iph !traight into a ga op without any urging, *au!ing 5auren an in!tant o" terror !wi"t y era!e# by even greater exhi aration a! !he !ett e# to the rhyth-( Ea!y a! pie8 !he *rowe# a! they ate up the tra*2( I-po!!ib e to "a o"" i" !he trie#8

She !hou # have re-e-bere# the o # a#age( The rabbit that #arte# "ro- the ta gra!! bare in*he! in "ront brought the ge #ing to a !u##en !norting !top( Tota y unprepare#, 5auren "oun# her!e " prope e# "orwar# over hi! hea# to ! i#e to the groun# in an ungain y heap(

<ra# wa! o"" hi! -ount an# ba*2 to where !he ay a -o!t be"ore !he *ou # #raw breath(

9Are you hurt60 he a!2e# in genuine *on*ern(

9On y -y pri#e,0 !he a*2now e#ge# rue"u y, !itting up( 9<rought #own to earth by a rabbit80

9It *ou # happen to anybo#y,0 he a!!ure# her(

Not to hi-, !he thought( He0# a way! be in tota *ontro ( She too2 the pro""ere# han# to be #rawn to her "eet, unab e to hi#e a gri-a*e a! pain !hot through her !hou #er(

9@u!t brui!e# a bit, I expe*t,0 !he a!!erte# be"ore <ra# *ou # !ay anything( 9It *ou # be wor!e(0

9A who e ot wor!e,0 he agree#( 9=ou *ou # have bro2en your ne*280 He ai# a han# on the brui!e# !hou #er, pre!!ing gent y a ong the ine o" the bone( 9See-! inta*t( Try -oving your ar-(0

She #i# !o, thi! ti-e 2eeping her expre!!ion "ro- re" e*ting anything at a ( Hi! tou*h, i2e thi! -orning, wa! *reating havo*( He 2new it too( She *ou # !ee it in hi! eye!, in hi! ! ow !-i e(

9I want you,0 he !ai# !o"t y(

Heart going i2e the * apper!, !he turne# away to oo2 "or @a!per( He wa! !i#e by !i#e with Ca iph, the two o" the- ta2ing a#vantage o" the !top to -a2e a -ea o" the !u**u ent gra!!( So-e yar#! "urther on, Kerry !at a!tri#e Dia-on#, her expre!!ion a !tu#y in *on" i*ting e-otion!(

9=ou *an0t even ri#e proper y, *an you60 !he a**u!e#( 9Mo- never "e o"" a hor!e in her i"e80

5auren put a han# on <ra#0! ar- a! he !tarte# to !pea2( 9I0- !ure !he #i#n0t,0 !he !ai#( 9I0 obviou! y never *o-e near the !a-e !tan#ar#, but you *ou # tea*h -e the "iner point! o" hor!e-an!hip(0

9So-ebo#y ha# better,0 *a-e the !hort, !harp an!wer( 9+hi e @a!per !ti ha! a eg to !tan# on80

5auren turne# a rue"u oo2 on <ra# a! Kerry whee e# Dia-on# about an# *antere# away( 9+ou # you *a that progre!!60

9I0# *a it #ownright ru#ene!!,0 he !ai#( 9=ou !hou # have et -e>0

9It wou # have #one -ore har- than goo# i" you0# to # her o""( Anyway, !he wa! right( I put @a!per at ri!2 by not being in proper *ontro (0

9The be!t o" u! *an be thrown by the unexpe*te#(0 <ra# bent to p ant a !wi"t 2i!! on her ip!, !-i ing at her expre!!ion( 9Ergo8 Do you "ee i2e *ontinuing, or wou # you rather hea# "or ho-e60

The be!t way o" #ea ing with the in*i#ent wa! to ignore it, 5auren #e*i#e#, a though it wa! going to be #i""i*u t with her -outh !ti retaining the i-pre!!ion the way it wa!( Da-n the -an8 !he thought wry y( Di#n0t !he have enough on her p ate6

9Either way, I have to get ba*2 up there,0 !he !ai#(

9So we0 ta2e it ! ow y "ro- here(0

He went to "et*h @a!per out o" the gra!!, ho #ing hi- "or her to -ount( She pu e# her!e " up with !o-e ! ight #i""i*u ty #ue to the a*he in her !hou #er, ta2ing up the rein! again with a !en!e o" -a2e or brea2(

Kerry wa! !ti in view up ahea#, *antering a ong the ri#ge(

9Don0t you ever worry about her when !he0! out on her own60 5auren *ou #n0t he p a!2ing(

9To a *ertain extent,0 <ra# a*2now e#ge#( 9I *ou # *o-e the heavy an# !top her ri#ing a one, but !he0# hate -e "or it(0

9I #oubt it( I #oubt i" there0! anything you *ou # #o that !he0# hate you "or( She thin2! the wor # o" you(0

He ! ante# an ironi* g an*e( 9Even though I neg e*t her !o ba# y60

9I wa! un"air,0 !he a#-itte#( 9=ou0re a ong way "ro- being the wor!t "ather I0ve *o-e a*ro!!(0

9That0! !o-ething o" a *o-"ort( How #oe! the !hou #er "ee now60

9It a*he! a bit(0 5auren wa! g a# o" the *hange o" !ub)e*t(

9=ou0re probab y going to have ;uite a brui!e,0 he ob!erve#( 9I0 "in# you !o-e ini-ent(0

Kerry ha# turne# to hea# ba*2 towar#! the-( She ! owe# Dia-on# to a wa 2 a! !he *a-e up, oo2ing a itt e #i!*o-"ite#(

9I !hou #n0t have !ai# what I #i#,0 !he -uttere#( 9It wa!n0t your "au t @a!per !hie#(0

She wa! o"" again be"ore 5auren *ou # re!pon#, thi! ti-e at a "u ga op(

9Now that #e"inite y i! progre!!,0 <ra# *o--ente# #ri y( 9At thi! rate, you0 be the "ir-e!t o" "rien#! by the ti-e I get ba*2(0

5auren ha# #oubt! about that( It wa! *ertain y a !tart though(

C ou# ha# been growing "ro- the we!t over the a!t hour( <y the ti-e they rea*he# the !tab e! it ha# !prea# to *over a goo# ha " o" the !2y(

9The "ore*a!t wa! rain on the way,0 <ra# ob!erve# a! he ! i# the !a## e "ro- the grey ba*2( 95u*2y we got thi! in when we #i#(0

9I0- not a"rai# o" getting wet,0 * ai-e# Kerry( The g an*e !he !hot 5auren wa! a*2ing in be igeren*e, i" not exa*t y war-( 9I #on0t !uppo!e you0 be a that eager to ta2e @a!per out in the rain(0

9I *an thin2 o" a ot wor!e thing!,0 5auren returne# -i # y( 9I -ight even )oin you ear y -orning to-orrow( 3rovi#ing you0 have -e, o" *our!e(0

S i- !hou #er! i"te#( 9I" you i2e(0

<ra# rai!e# a ;ui77i*a eyebrow a! !he hea#e# "or the ta*2 roo- with her !a## e( 9Another brea2through80

9Maybe(0 5auren wa! !ti not *ounting any *hi*2en!, up i"te# though !he "e t( 9+e0 !ee how it goe!(0

The rain !tarte# on the way to the hou!e( @u!t a #rop or two at "ir!t, then a! i" the heaven! ha# opene#( They ran the a!t "ew yar#!, gaining !he ter be"ore they got -ore than ! ight y #a-p(

9There goe! the !u--er80 <ra# re-ar2e#(

9I bet it won0t be raining in New =or2,0 !ai# Kerry(

9I" it i!, I probab y !han0t 2now about it( I0 be *oope# up in#oor! -o!t o" the ti-e(0

5auren !ai# ight y, 9+e0 be thin2ing o" you wor2ing your "inger! to the bone whi e we en)oy our!e ve! here, won0t we, Kerry60

9Doing what60 a!2e# the atter(

9+hatever we "an*y on the #ay(0

The ha7e eye! a*;uire# a "aint !par2 o" intere!t( 9I "an*y ta2ing a boat on the river( A big one80

5auren got in be"ore <ra# *ou # open hi! -outh to -a2e the anti*ipate# re!pon!e( 9The bigge!t80

<ra# gave her a b an# !-i e( 9Soun#! a ni*e i#ea( 5et0! hope "or a return o" the heatwave( =ou two go on up( I0ve a phone *a to -a2e(0

Kerry0! roo- turne# out to be on y a *oup e o" #oor! #own "ro- the one 5auren wa! o**upying(

9I0- !urpri!e# I #i#n0t hear you going pa!t thi! -orning,0 !he !ai# on rea i!ing(

9The #oor! are too thi*2 to hear anything through the-,0 *a-e the re!pon!e( 9=ou0 have to !et your a ar- i" you #o want to *o-e with -e in the -orning( I0- a way! up by ha "4 pa!t !ix(0

9No prob e-,0 5auren a!!ure# her( 9I0 be rea#y an# waiting(0

She went on into her roo- "ee ing i--ea!urab y *heere# by the e!!ening o" ho!ti ity( It -ight not happen overnight, but !he0# get there in the en#(

She re"u!e# to i!ten to the part o" her -in# that a!2e#B an# then what6

CHA3TER FO?R

IT T?RNED out to be )u!t the two o" the- at #inner( Mr <ra# ey ha# gone out, Mr! 3erri-an a#vi!e#( No, he ha#n0t !ai# where he wa! going, !he to # Kerry(

9I bet he0! gone to !ee Diane80 ex* ai-e# the atter #i!grunt e# y(

5auren ai-e# "or a *a!ua note( 9+ho0! Diane60

9So-e wo-an( I hear# hi- ta 2ing to her on the phone ye!ter#ay(0

9=ou haven0t -et her your!e ", then60

9No, an# I #on0t want to80

9=our "ather0! entit e# to "rien#!,0 5auren *hi#e# gent y( 9Even wo-en "rien#!( It #oe!n0t -ean he0! p anning on getting -arrie# again( A though, #o you rea y thin2 your -other wou # have wante# hi- to be on hi! own "or the re!t o" hi! i"e60

9He i!n0t on hi! own,0 *a-e the !tinging retort( 9He ha! -e80

9On y part o" the ti-e( An# what about when you grow up, -aybe go away to univer!ity60

9That won0t be "or year!80

9Not that -any(0 There wa! a pau!e whi e 5auren !ear*he# her -in# "or the right wor#!( 9=our "ather ove! you very -u*h, Kerry, but you have to un#er!tan#>0

9He i!n0t -y rea "ather(0 The !tate-ent wa! " at( 9I0- a#opte#(0

9I 2now(0 5auren *ou # have bitten her tongue o"" "or the over4ha!ty re!pon!e, !eeing ho!ti ity !pring in the ha7e eye! again(

9He to # you80

9Not in any #epre*iative !en!e( 3arent! having *hi #ren natura y have to ta2e what they0re given( =ou were *ho!en(0

It #i#n0t nee# the expre!!ion on her #aughter0! "a*e to un#er ine the tritene!! in what !he0# )u!t !ai#( The re!pon!e wa! biting(

9I wa!n0t *ho!en, I wa! avai ab e( My rea parent! #i#n0t want -e(0

9That0! notA0 5auren bro2e o"", *at*hing her ip between her teeth( 9Not ne*e!!ari y true,0 !he a-en#e#( 9They probab y )u!t thought it better "or you to be with !o-eone ab e to give you the thing! they *ou #n0t, that0! a (0

9+ou # you #o that60

The ;ue!tion hit with a the "or*e o" a b ow to the !o ar p exu!( It too2 5auren everything !he ha# to 2eep her voi*e "ro- re" e*ting her inner tur-oi ( 9I *ertain y wou #n0t want to, but a *hi #0! we "are ha! to *o-e "ir!t( It0! po!!ib e your -other>your rea -other>wa! very young, an# )u!t wa!n0t ab e to *ope with bringing up a baby(0

Kerry0! brow! #rew together( 9=ou -ean, !he -ight not even have been -arrie#60

5auren ha#n0t -eant to go #own that roa#, but it wa! too ate to ba*2tra*2 now( 9+hether !he wa! or not, I0- !ure !he ove# you a great #ea (0

There wa! a engthy !i en*e( Kerry toye# with her "or2( +hen !he #i# !pea2 again it wa! expre!!ion e!! y( 9One o" the other gir ! at !*hoo i! a#opte# too( She0! -et her rea -other(0

5auren "oun# her!e " ho #ing her breath( 9How #i# !he get on with her60 !he -anage#(

9She !ai# it wa! horrib e8 There were two boy! they !ai# were her brother!80

9Ha "4brother!(0 5auren wa! #oing her be!t to !tay on top o" a !ituation !he her!e " ha# in!tigate#( 9It *an0t have been ea!y "or anyone(0

9+e , it won0t happen to -e80 The tone wa! !u##en y "ier*e( 9I never want to -eet -y rea -other( She gave -e away80

The u-p in 5auren0! throat wa! threatening to *ho2e her( She !wa owe# thi*2 y, wi!hing !he0# never begun thi!( She a*he# to te her how !orry !he wa!C to te her how

-u*h !he ove# her an# ha# a way! ove# her( On y !he *ou #n0t #o that( She *ou #n0t #o anything but !it there an# ta2e it(

Fin#ing other topi*! o" *onver!ation #i#n0t prove ea!y( Kerry #i!appeare# right a"ter the -ea , eaving 5auren to *onte-p ate a one y *oup e o" hour! be"ore !he *ou # rea!onab y thin2 about be#(

There wa! every po!!ibi ity that <ra# wou # be !pen#ing the night with hi! a#y "rien#( He ha# a per"e*t right to #o that, o" *our!e, but he0# get !hort !hri"t i" he trie# *o-ing on to her again( He wa! goo# at it, !he ha# to a#-it( In e!! than twenty4"our hour!, he0# ha# her * o!er than !he0# ever been to a*ting on the inten!e phy!i*a attra*tion between the-( It )u!t went to !how what a gu ib e "oo !he !ti wa!(

She wan#ere# out!i#e unti #u!2, *o-ing ba*2 in#oor! to !tan# irre!o ute in the ha "or a -o-ent or two, be"ore giving in to the urge to p ay the piano( A! Kerry ha# !ai#, the #oor! in the hou!e were too thi*2 "or !oun# to *arry "ar, !o !he wou #n0t be #i!turbing anyone(

The -u!i* !oothe# her a! a way!( She o!t her!e " over the next hour, wor2ing her way through every pie*e !he *ou # re-e-ber, then trying out !o-e new one! "ro- the pi e o" !heet -u!i* !he "oun# in the piano !too (

It wa! even -ore o" a !ho*2 thi! ti-e when <ra# *a-e into the roo-, be*au!e !he ha#n0t 2nown he wa! ba*2(

9Don0t !top,0 he !ai#(

She a rea#y ha#, a though !he #i#n0t get up "ro- the in!tru-ent( 9I #i#n0t rea i!e you were ho-e,0 !he !ai# expre!!ion e!! y( 9Or that the !oun# wou # trave through the #oor(0

9It #i#n0t( I hear# it through the win#ow a! I #rew up(0 Hi! voi*e wa! re-ini!*ent( 95i2e o # ti-e!(0

He !an2 to a !eat in a nearby *hair, aying hi! hea# ba*2 again!t the *u!hion( 93 ay !o-e -ore, wi you6 I "ee in nee# o" a itt e !oothing(0

5auren obeye#, re!i!ting the i-pu !e to )u!t get up an# go( +earing a !uperb y *ut !uit in #ar2 grey, !hirt pri!tine white, he oo2e# -ore bu!ine!!-an than beau, but -aybe that wa! how hi! #ate i2e# to !ee hi-B the power"u -agnate8

9Di# you have a goo# evening60 !he a!2e#(

9A! goo# a! it get!,0 *a-e the !o-ewhat a-biguou! an!wer( Hi! eye! were * o!e#, eg! *o-"ortab y !tret*he#, hi! who e attitu#e one o" re axation( 9Sorry to wa 2 out on you i2e that( I hope Kerry *ontinue# to behave her!e "(0

5auren 2ept her voi*e !o"t( 9She wa! no troub e at a (0

9Rea y60 He !oun#e# a itt e !*epti*a ( 9Mr! 3 !ai# !he *aught you *reeping in #ripping wet be"ore un*h( Do you u!ua y go !wi--ing "u y * othe#60

9I ! ippe#,0 !he !ai#(

9Not what Mr! 3 !ee-! to thin2(0

9She wa!n0t there(0

9An# you0ve no intention o" te ing ta e! out o" !*hoo (0 The b ue eye! were opene# now, the expre!!ion in the- har# to #e"ine( 9=ou0# ben# over ba*2war#! rather than #rop Kerry in it, wou #n0t you60

9I" ne*e!!ary,0 !he agree#(

Sti p aying, !he ea!e# the !hou #er !he ha# "a en on that a"ternoon( It wa! going to be pain"u by -orning a! the brui!ing !tarte# to *o-e out( That ear y ri#e *ou # be a rea *ha enge>provi#ing Kerry ha#n0t *hange# her -in# a"ter tonight0! !et4ba*2(

Her pu !e eapt a! <ra# got up an# *a-e over to !tan# behin# her, aying hi! han# a ong her *o ar4bone to gent y -a!!age it a! he ha# #one ear ier( She *ou # !ee the two o" there" e*te# in the un*urtaine# win#ow( The expre!!ion on hi! "a*e a! he oo2e# #own at her e"t itt e #oubt o" what wa! in hi! -in#(

She * o!e# #own the piano i#, "inger! unu!ua y * u-!y( 9I0# better turn in i" I0- going to -a2e that ri#e in the -orning( I #oubt i" Kerry wi wait i" I0- not there on the #ot(0

9I0# #oubt it too(0 <ra# ha# -ove# ba*2 a !tep to a ow her to get up "ro- the !too ( 9An ear y night won0t #o -e any har- either(0

It wa! on y ha "4pa!t ten, 5auren rea i!e#, g an*ing at her wat*h( She0# thought it -u*h ater( She !ti""ene# a! a "ingertip !tro2e# the nape o" her ne*2 where the hair ha# parte#(

9Don0t80 !he got out(

9I *an0t he p it,0 he !ai# !o"t y( 9=ou0ve been #riving -e up the wa , one way or another, !in*e you got here(0 He turne# her about, the !-i e on hi! ip! e*hoe# in hi! eye! a! he !ear*he# her "a*e "eature by "eature( 9I want you, 5auren80

9So you 2eep te ing -e(0 She pu e# away "ro- hi-( 9I0- going to be#( A one, i" you0re in any #oubt(0

9Oh, "or !u*h !trength o" -in#80 he -ur-ure#(

9Don0t pu that one on -e,0 !he retorte#( 9=ou0re no -ore unab e to 2eep *ontro o" your urge! than I a-80

The !-i e grew( 9So you #o a#-it to having the-60

Striving to 2eep a eve hea#, !he !ought re"uge in !ar*a!-( 9I #are !ay we a have the-( It0! what we #o about the- that *ount!( I" you0ve !pent a "ru!trating evening, tough, but #on0t oo2 to -e "or re ie"80

A ine appeare# between the #ar2 brow!( 9+hat -a2e! you thin2 I -ight have !pent a "ru!trating evening60

9IA =ou were ba*2 !o ear y,0 !he " oun#ere#, a rea#y regretting the unti-e y re-ar2(

9An# where exa*t y #o you thin2 I0ve been60

5auren he!itate#, but !aw no way out o" it( 9Kerry thought you0# probab y gone to !ee !o-eone *a e# Diane(0

9She wa! right, a! it happen!>though I #on0t 2now how !he got the na-e( +e ha# #inner together, then I #roppe# her o"" at her ho-e( +ith no intention o" anything e !e, !o you *an "orget the "ru!tration theory(0

5auren !prea# her han#! in a he p e!! itt e ge!ture( 9I0- !orry(0

9No nee#(0 I" he wa! angry at a , it wa!n0t !howing( 9Di# I #ete*t a *ertain e e-ent o" )ea ou!y, by any *han*e60

9No, you #i#n0t,0 !he #enie#, a itt e too !wi"t y "or *onvi*tion( 9I0ve no rea!on to be )ea ou!( I0ve>0

9I 2now( =ou0ve no intere!t in anything or anyone but Kerry( Keep repeating it o"ten enough an# you -ight *onvin*e your!e "(0 He put both han#! to her "a*e, "or*ing her to oo2 #ire*t y into hi! eye!( 9<ut you won0t *onvin*e -e,0 he a##e# !o"t y( 9=ou want the !a-e thing I want, 5auren(0

The tre-or! running through her were a give4away in the-!e ve!( She * o!e# her eye! when he 2i!!e# her, !avouring the "ee an# ta!te o" hi! ip!(

It wa! )u!t a! !he0# i-agine# it, the -ove-ent ! ow an# gent e, a -o!t p ay"u at "ir!t( He ! i# hi! han#! roun# to *up the ba*2 o" her hea#, "inger! tang ing in her hair, peta ing her ip! apart with hi! !i 2y, in"inite y !en!itive tongue(

5auren hear# hi! roughene# ex* a-ation a! !he -ou #e# in!tin*tive y to hi! har#ene# -a!*u ine !hape( Hi! han#! -ove# again, thi! ti-e #ropping the ength o" her ba*2 to *up the "ir- *urve! o" her behin# an# #raw her even * o!er( Hi! -outh wa! an en# e!! !our*e o" p ea!ure, *arving a ! ow pa!!age #own the taut ine o" her throat to inger "or tanta i!ing -o-ent! at the vu nerab e ho ow be"ore pre!!ing onwar#! to !ee2 the !ha#owe# * eavage revea e# by the ow4*ut : o" her * o!e4"itting top(

9=ou0ve too -any * othe! on,0 he -ur-ure# again!t her !2in( 9+e0ve both too -any * othe! on80

An# they were !taying on, !he thought a*hing y, #ragging her!e " ba*2 "ro- the brin2 whi e !he !ti retaine# !o-e !-a #egree o" !anity( She wa! teetering on the e#ge o" "ar -ore than )u!t phy!i*a invo ve-ent with thi! -an( So-ething !he #are# not a ow her!e "(

<ra# -a#e no atte-pt to !top her a! !he twi!te# away "ro- hi-, )u!t !too# there oo2ing at her with an expre!!ion that -a#e her win*e(

9I #i#n0t have you #own "or a tea!e,0 he !ai#(

9I0- not(0 She !trugg e# again!t the urge to throw her!e " ba*2 into hi! ar-! an# ta2e whatever !he *ou # o" hi-( Her voi*e !hoo2 a itt e( 9I )u!t #on0t thin2 it0! a goo# i#ea, that0! a (0

9That wa!n0t the i-pre!!ion you were giving a -o-ent ago(0

9I 2now(0 She -a#e a wry ge!ture( 9=ou0re a veryAper!ua!ive -an, <ra#( I got *arrie# away(0

There wa! a *ertain *yni*i!- in the ine o" hi! -outh( 9That -a2e! two o" u!( I0 2eep a tighter rein on -y urge!(0 He -a#e an abrupt -ove towar#! the #oor( 9Have a goo# night(0

There wa!, 5auren *on*e#e# rue"u y, itt e -ore to be !ai#( She0# re)e*te# hi->en# o" !tory( Fro- now on, he0# eave her a one(

There wa! a ho owne!! in that thought(

A re!t e!! night an# !ub!e;uent ate awa2ening put pai# to the p anne# ri#e( <oth "ather an# #aughter ha# "ini!he# brea2"a!t an# gone about other pur!uit! by the ti-e 5auren got #own!tair!(

Mr! 3erri-an a**epte# her apo ogie! with goo# gra*e, ;uite prepare# to *oo2 her a "u brea2"a!t i" !he wante# it(

9Have you any i#ea where Kerry i!60 5auren a!2e#, per*hing on a 2it*hen !too to eat the toa!t !he0# !ett e# "or(

9She0! gone to p ay tenni!, I thin2,0 an!were# the hou!e2eeper(

9On her own60

9There0! one o" tho!e ba 4-a*hine thing!( She u!e! that when there0! no one aroun# to give her a ga-e(0

9Her "ather #oe!n0t p ay, then60

9Oh, ye!( +henever he ha! the ti-e(0 The wo-an gave her a !hrew# oo2( 9Attra*tive, i!n0t he60

5auren #i# her be!t to oo2 a-u!e# by the ;ue!tion( 9I !uppo!e he i!(0

9There0! no !uppo!e about it( There i!n0t a wo-an in the #i!tri*t wou #n0t "a over the-!e ve! i" he be*2one#80

9Even the -arrie# one!60 5auren a!2e# b an# y, pro-pting a *hu*2 e(

9One or two I *ou # thin2 o"( Not that he wou #( He0! too -u*h !en!e to get hi-!e " invo ve# in that 2in# o" thing( Do you have a boy"rien#60 !he a##e#(

5auren !hoo2 her hea#( 9Not in Eng an#( Not a !eriou! one anywhere, in "a*t,0 !he tagge# on ight y( 9I0- heart who e an# "an*y "ree, a! the !aying goe!(0

9I0 bet there0! been no !hortage o" a#! a"ter you though, oo2ing the way you #o( =ou0ve never wante# to !ett e #own>have !o-e *hi #ren o" your own60

9It wou # be ni*e, but I haven0t -et anyone I0# want to !ett e #own with,0 5auren an!were# on a! eve a note a! !he *ou # -anage( 9I0- happy #oing what I #o(0

9Not "orever, though, !ure y6 +hat about when you0re o #er6 <eing on your own i!n0t goo#, be ieve -e( I wa! on y "orty4"ive when I o!t -y hu!ban#, an# we0# no *hi #ren( I" it weren0t "or getting ta2en on here at Rave a, I #on0t 2now what I0# have #one8 =ou -ar2 -y wor#!, you0 regret it i" you eave it too ate(0

9I thin2 I0# regret it even -ore i" I got -arrie# )u!t "or *o-panion!hip in -y o # age,0 5auren !ai# -i # y( 9=ou obviou! y ove# your hu!ban# a great #ea (0

9I #i#, ye!( He wa! a goo# -an(0 There wa! a pau!e, a *hange o" tone( 9It0! ti-e Mr <ra# ey !tarte# thin2ing about the "uture too( Kerry wi be ea#ing her own i"e in a "ew year!( =ou *ou # #o a ot wor!e(0

5auren a -o!t *ho2e# on the *o""ee !he0# )u!t rai!e# to her ip!( 9Are you !ugge!ting what I thin2 you0re !ugge!ting60 !he got out(

The o #er wo-an oo2e# unperturbe#( 9It0! worth thin2ing about, i!n0t it6 I0ve !een the way he oo2! at you>an# the way you oo2 at hi-(0

9I #o not80 5auren a owe# her!e " a "aint !-i e, !eeing the twin2 e in the other eye!( 9I thin2 you0re -i!rea#ing thing! a itt e(0

9Oh, I #on0t 2now( 5u!t0! a goo# !tart(0 The twin2 e grew at the oo2 o" !ho*2 on 5auren0! "a*e( 9I -ay be getting on a bit, but -y -e-ory0! !ti goo#( =our generation #i#n0t invent !ex, you 2now(

9Anyway, you0 not -in# i" I eave you60 !he tagge# on, voi*e bri!2ening( 9I nee# to te the * eaner! to *on*entrate on the ea!t wing thi! -orning(0

She bu!t e# o"", eaving 5auren to review the *onver!ation they0# )u!t ha# in !o-e be-u!e-ent( Never )u#ge a boo2 by it! *over, !he to # her!e "( Mr! 3 ha# hi##en #epth!8

The !ugge!tion wa! a #e"inite non4!tarter though( It wa!n0t a wi"e <ra# wa! out "or(

She too2 her ti-e over brea2"a!t, not oo2ing "orwar# to *o-ing "a*e to "a*e with hiagain a"ter a!t night( There wa! every i2e ihoo# that her re)e*tion wa! the "ir!t he0# ever ha# to #ea with( Hi! ego wou # have ta2en ;uite a battering(

She wa! being un"air again, an# !he 2new it( She ha#n0t exa*t y #i!*ourage# hi! a#van*e!( A owing her!e " to "a hoo2, ine an# !in2er "or the e!tab i!he# "ather o" the

#aughter !he *ou # never * ai- a! her own wou # be !heer "o y( She wa! a rea#y too #angerou! y * o!e to it(

The !2y wa! * ou#e# over to#ay, but it wa! #ry an# !ti very war-( <rea2"a!t "ini!he#, !he -a#e her way out to the tenni! *ourt to !ee2 her #aughter, nonp u!!e# on rea*hing it to "in# her a rea#y invo ve# in a ga-e with <ra#(

Her "ir!t in* ination wa! to turn tai an# eave the- to it, but !he0# a rea#y been !potte#( She !taye# to wat*h in!tea#(

Hip! ean, thigh! har#4-u!* e#, <ra# oo2e# !uperb y "it in the white !hort! an# T4!hirt( De!pite her youth, Kerry wa! giving hi- a "ar "ro- ea!y ti-e o" it( En)oying every -inute too, the aughter bubb ing "ro- her ip! a! he "ai e# to rea*h a we 4p a*e# !hot(

9I win that one80 !he *rowe#(

9Sheer u*2,0 he returne#( 9I0- way out o" pra*ti*e80

He turne# to hea# "or the !i#e4ben*h an# the towe ying there, i"ting a !ar#oni* eyebrow at 5auren !tan#ing the other !i#e o" the "en*e(

9I" it0! a ga-e you0ve *o-e "or, you0re har# y #re!!e# "or it(0

9I thought I0# a!2 Kerry "ir!t i" !he wante# one,0 !he returne# eve y( She #ire*te# a !-i e at the gir wat*hing the two o" the- with !o-e #i!"avour( 9Her !tan#ar# o" p ay0! very high "or her age(0

9Are we going to p ay again60 Kerry *a e# a*ro!!(

Towe ! ung about hi! ne*2, <ra# turne# ba*2 to her, !ha2ing hi! hea#( 9I0ve ha# it "or now( 5auren wi give you a ga-e though(0

Fa*e !et, !he o"te# a ba an# !-a!he# it a*ro!! the *ourt( 9I0 u!e the -a*hine, than2!(0

9@u!t #on0t "orget to put the *over ba*2 when you0ve "ini!he#,0 he !ai#(

5auren *hewe# on her ip a! Kerry went to pu the ba -a*hine out "ro- it! *orner an# into po!ition( Thing! ha# i-prove# be"ore the ta 2 about a#option a!t night, but it wa! ba*2 to !;uare one thi! -orning, it !ee-e#( Trying again wou # probab y be a *o-p ete wa!te o" ti-e an# breath "or the pre!ent( On*e <ra# wa! out o" the way, !he *ou # *on*entrate a her attention on the gir (

<ra# *aught up be"ore !he rea*he# the en# o" the !hrubbery, "a ing into !tep at her !i#e(

9I ta2e it you0re !taying on60 he !ai#(

9I ha#n0t a*tua y thought about eaving,0 !he a#-itte#( 9+ou # you pre"er -e to go60

9<e*au!e I "ai e# to get you into be# a!t night60 He gave a brie" !hrug( 9A part o" i"e0! pattern( I *a-e on too !trong too "a!t( My -i!ta2e(0

9I" it0! any *on!o ation, it wa! one o" the har#e!t #e*i!ion! I0ve ever -a#e,0 !he *on"e!!e#( 9I )u!t #i#n0t thin2 it a wi!e -ove, that0! a (0

9So you !ai#(0 He ! ante# a g an*e, ta2ing in the wry ti t to her ip!( 9I0- !ti not !ure why( +e0re two a#u t peop e with the !a-e ba!i* urge!( +hat0! !o wrong with in#u ging the-60

9Nothing nor-a y, I !uppo!e(0

9So it0! the !ituation here you0re worrie# about6 =ou re*2on we0re neither o" u! entit e# to *on!i#er our own nee#!60

9=ou are, I0- not(0 She trie# to !oun# -atter4o"4"a*t about it( 9I0- )u!t !ta"", in e""e*t(0

9An# never the twain !ha -eet6 That i#ea went out with the :i*torian!(0

9So I0- an o #4"a!hione# gir ,0 !he -ur-ure#, #rawing a !u##en grin(

9Shape# i2e one, I0 a#-it(0

9=ou )u!t *an0t he p it, *an you60 5auren a**u!e#(

9See-! not,0 he agree#( 9A reprobate o" the "ir!t or#er80 He no##e# approving y at the invo untary !-i e( 9That0! better(0

9=ou0re being veryA)o*u ar about it a ,0 !he !ai# a"ter a -o-ent( 9Mo!t -en wou #n0t be(0

9I0- not -o!t -en,0 he returne#(

5auren *ou # go a ong with that( She0# *ertain y never -et another i2e hi-(

9+hat ti-e #o you eave to-orrow60 !he a!2e#, thin2ing how -u*h !he wa! going to -i!! hi-(

9Right a"ter brea2"a!t( I0ve a " ight at two4"i"ty, into @FK aroun# "ive4thirty( Ha "4pa!t ten here, o" *our!e( Tue!#ay we get !tarte#(0

9=ou rea y en)oy it, #on0t you60 !he !ai#, hearing the i"t in hi! voi*e(

9En)oy -ight not be ;uite the wor#(0

9Thrive on it, then(0

9I !uppo!e I #o( 5i"e wou # be pretty ta-e without it(0 <ra# gave her another !i#eway! g an*e( 9A! I0ve !ai# be"ore, I nee# *ha enge( How0! the !hou #er to#ay60

9It a*he! a bit,0 !he a*2now e#ge#( 9Nothing ra#i*a (0

9<a# enough to 2eep you "ro- ri#ing thi! -orning though(0

9I over! ept(0 She pu e# a "a*e( 9I i-agine Kerry wa! pretty !*athing about it(0

9She #i#n0t -a2e it either, it !ee-!( I0ve no i#ea why,0 he a##e# be"ore !he *ou # voi*e the ;ue!tion( 9She #i#n0t vo unteer an exp anation, an# I #i#n0t a!2(0 He pau!e# brie" y( 9The ini-ent wou # !ti he p(0

9Than2!( I0 u!e it tonight be"ore I go to be#(0

9<e!t to !tart right away( =ou *an *o-e an# *o e*t it now, i" you i2e(0

It wa! 5auren0! turn to !hoot a g an*e( 9Fro- your roo-60

9<athroo- a*tua y, but you *an !tay near the outer #oor i" you thin2 -y pa!!ion! -ight get the better o" -e(0

+hat !he "e t at the -o-ent wa! gau*he( 9I rea y #on0t !ee you in that ight,0 !he !ai# #i""i#ent y(

9That0! a re ie"(0

5auren ha# the !en!e to et the !ub)e*t ie( +hat !he *ou #n0t #o wa! *ontro the re!pon!e! hi! very pre!en*e wa! #rawing "ro- her( She *ou # "ee the ra#iate# war-th, *at*h the "aint tang o" a hea thy -a e bo#y re*ent y exerte#( However -u*h !he -ight "ight it, !he !ti wante# hi- #e!perate y(

Hi! be#roo- opene# o"" the we!t ga ery( Over oo2ing the "ront o" the hou!e, it wa! arge enough to ho # a !itting area in a##ition to the #oub e be# with it! *arve# hea# an# "ootboar#! an# heavy war#robe!( An e!!entia y -a!*u ine roo-, the *arpet an# #rape! a #eep, war- go # again!t pane e# wa !, the !o"a an# *hair! *overe# in a pra*ti*a brown "abri*(

<ra# #i!appeare# into the en !uite bathroo-, e-erging -o-ent! ater with a bott e in hi! han#(

9There0! enough here "or !evera app i*ation!,0 he !ai#( 9Are you going to be ab e to -anage without he p60

It wa! going to be #i""i*u t rea*hing the -ain area o" brui!ing, 5auren 2new, but a**epting hi! ai# wou # be too -u*h i2e putting her hea# in the ion0! -outh( 9I0 *ope,0 !he !ai#(

There wa! #eri!ion in the b ue eye!( 9Sti having #oubt! about -y abi ity to *ontro tho!e urge!60

9I #i#n0t have the- to !tart with,0 !he #enie#(

93rove it,0 he *ha enge#( 95ini-ent nee#! -a!!aging in "or it to penetrate proper y(0

He ha# her there, 5auren a#-itte#( I" !he re"u!e# to et hi- #o it, !he wa! a! goo# a! !aying !he #i#n0t tru!t hi-( +hat !he tru!te# a great #ea e!! wa! her own re!traint(

9+e 60 he pro-pte#( 9Do I get the )ob, or #on0t I60

Her !hrug wa! a! *a!ua a! !he *ou # -a2e it( 9Than2! "or the o""er( It wou # be better, I !uppo!e(0

9Right(0 He in#i*ate# the #oorway he0# )u!t e-erge# "ro-( 9Through here(0

5auren "o owe# hi- into the !pa*iou! bathroo-, too intent on 2eeping her butter" ie! *age# to pay -u*h attention to !urroun#ing!(

9I *an0t get to it with your !hirt on,0 he !ai# when !he too2 a !eat on the !too he #rew "orwar#(

5ogi*a , i" not !o-ething !he0# thought o" up to thi! -inute, 5auren *on*e#e# re u*tant y( She ! ippe# the button!, ea!ing the -ateria #own "ro- her !hou #er!>too vita y *on!*iou! o" the oo-ing -a e pre!en*e at her ba*2( 9+i that #o60

9=ou0 nee# to ! ip your bra !trap #own a bit too,0 he !ai#( 9That0! one he o" a brui!e you0ve got80

5auren obeye# again, re"raining "ro- *overing the expo!e# upper *urve o" her brea!t with her han#( He wa! !i-p y u!ing the !ituation a! a -ean! o" proving !he ha# nothing -ore to worry about "ro- hi-(

3ouring a itt e o" the ini-ent into hi! pa -, he !et to wor2( The "ir!t tou*h o" tho!e ong, ten!i e "inger! !ent a tre-or right through her( He *ou #n0t he p but "ee it hi-!e ", a though he -a#e no *o--ent( She 2new "ro- a oo2 in the -irror thi! -orning that the brui!ing *overe# a arger area than !he0# i-agine#( She !u!pe*te# it wa! probab y going to get wor!e be"ore it got better( 5u*2y it wa! her e"t !hou #er that wa! a""e*te#, not her right( At ea!t !he *ou # !ti -anage a ga-e o" tenni! i" an# when the opportunity aro!e(

Her atte-pt to ta2e her -in# o"" the !upp e -ove-ent o" tho!e han#! wa!n0t wor2ing( The thu##ing in her ear! wa! getting "a!ter, heavier a! the b oo# heate# in her vein!, the ten!ion in her !to-a*h !prea#ing #ownwar#!, !pa!-ing her thigh -u!* e!( She ha# a yearning to ean ba*2 again!t the har# bo#y>to "ee hi- ! i#e hi! han#! #own beneath her bra to *are!! the a*hing " e!h(

She )er2e# upright a! he #i# exa*t y that( 9=ou pro-i!e#80 !he got out(

9I ie#,0 he !ai#( 9Te -e you want -e to !top an# I wi (0

There wa!n0t a *at in he 0! *han*e o" her rai!ing that a-ount o" wi 4power again, an# he 2new it( 5auren *ou #n0t even have "oun# the breath to !ay the wor#!( She re axe# in!tea#, eaning ba*2 again!t hi- a! !he0# wante# to #o, hea# ti ting a! he bent to put hi! ip! to the ten#er, !en!itive !pot behin# her ear( F oating on * ou# nine, !he wa! tota y #eva!tate# when <ra# with#rew hi! han#! an# i"te# her bra !trap ba*2 into p a*e, unab e "or a -o-ent or two to thin2 !traight(

93ayba*2, wa! it60 !he -anage# a! he -ove# a*ro!! to rep a*e the ini-ent in a -irror4 "ronte# *abinet(

9@u!t te!ting the water,0 he !ai#, wa!hing hi! han#! at the ba!in( 9I0- not giving up on you, 5auren( =ou #on0t rea y want -e to( =ou )u!t prove# that(0

She buttone# up her !hirt with "inger! that were a thu-b!, "a*e burning( 9The on y thing I prove# wa! that you *an0t be tru!te# to 2eep your wor#80

He turne# ba*2 "ro- the ba!in, towe in han#, a !-i e hovering about hi! ip!( 9I to # you I i2e a *ha enge(0

9An# I0- te ing you you0re a ou!e80 !he !hot ba*2(

9Te-per80 he a#-oni!he#( 9+hy #on0t you a#-it the truth6 =ou en)oye# that a! -u*h a! I #i#(0

9It0! nothing to #o with en)oy-ent, it0! to #o with integrity,0 !he !ai# with what #ignity !he *ou # -u!ter( 9So-ething you obviou! y wou #n0t 2now anything about80

9That *o-e! #angerou! y * o!e to ! an#er( I *ou # put the *o-pany awyer! on to you(0

9It0! not the *o-pany I0- ta 2ing about8 It0! you, youA0

She gave up, unab e to -aintain the tira#e in the "a*e o" the grin *rea!ing hi! ip!( Her !-i e wa! re u*tant( 9A right, you -a#e your point(0

9+hat point wou # that be exa*t y60

9That I0- a*2ing in -ora "ibre -y!e ", when it *o-e! #own to it(0

9There0! nothing i--ora about two peop e being #rawn to one another( The !hou #er "ee any better60

The abrupt *hange o" !ub)e*t -a#e her b in2( She ha#n0t given her !hou #er a thought in the a!t "ew -inute!(

9IAthin2 !o,0 !he !ai#, " exing it(

9Then I0 !ee you ater( I nee# a !hower,0 he a##e#( 9A *o # one80

He wa!n0t on hi! own, !he *ou # have to # hi-( He0# ha# !tea- *o-ing out o" her ear! )u!t now( She wa! !ore y te-pte# to aban#on #i!*retion an# o""er to )oin hi-(

She e"t hi- to it, pau!ing out!i#e the be#roo- #oor to gather her!e "( Co--on !en!e a#vi!e# !teering we * ear o" any "urther invo ve-ent in what *ou # on y be a te-porary a""air at be!t( <y the ti-e <ra# returne# "ro- hi! trip, !he ha# to have her!e " in han#( Thing! were going to be har# enough a! it wa!(

CHA3TER FI:E

RE5?CTANT to be aroun# when he e-erge# "ro- the !hower, an# *on!*iou! o" the )ob !he wa! !uppo!e# to be #oing, !he went oo2ing "or Kerry, on y to "in# the tenni! *ourt #e!erte#, the ba -a*hine e"t un*overe#(

5auren pu!he# it ba*2 into the *orner, an# rep a*e# the waterproo" *over, won#ering where e !e to oo2( The !tab e! wa! a! goo# a p a*e a! any to !tart, !he !uppo!e#(

Fin#ing a path that !ee-e# to ea# in the right #ire*tion !ave# her "ro- retra*ing her !tep!( Her gue!! prove# right( Kerry wa! *hatting ani-ate# y with the youth who too2 *are o" the !tab e!( She oo2e# thorough y #i!grunt e# on !eeing her(

9+hat now60 !he #e-an#e#(

9Nothing in parti*u ar,0 5auren an!were# -i # y( 9I wa! )u!t ta2ing a wa 2(0 She !wit*he# her attention to the young -an !ti eaning non*ha ant y again!t the ta*24roo- #oor( 9He o again8 Mi*2, i!n0t it60

9Hi80 he !ai#, not atte-pting to -ove( 9I0ve been hearing a about you(0

Fa*e " u!hing, Kerry !hot hi- a reproa*h"u g an*e( 5auren !-i e# p ea!ant y( 9That0! ni*e( +ere you p anning on going ri#ing, Kerry60

9Obviou! y not right now(0 The tru*u en*e wa! ba*2, i" not ;uite a! pronoun*e# a! be"ore( 9I 2new you wou #n0t -a2e it thi! -orning80

9It !ee-! neither o" u! #i#,0 5auren returne#( 93erhap! we *ou # try again another -orning6 Not to-orrow, o" *our!e( =ou0 want to !ee your "ather o""(0 She pau!e#( 9Are you *o-ing ba*2 to the hou!e60

Kerry he!itate#, g an*ing at Mi*2( 9+hy60

9I thought we -ight p ay tenni! be"ore un*h(0

9Have you tria e# "or the O y-pi*! in that too60

5auren on*e -ore regrette# having *o-e out with that bit o" in"or-ation in an e""ort to i-pre!! the gir ( 9No,0 !he !ai# ight y( 9I )u!t en)oy p aying the ga-e( It0! up to you, o" *our!e(0

The re"u!a !he0# been anti*ipating !urpri!ing y "ai e# to -ateria i!e( Kerry i"te# her !hou #er!( 9OK( See you ater,0 !he a##e# to Mi*2(

9Ha! Mi*2 been here ong60 5auren a!2e# *a!ua y a! the two o" the- -a#e their way ba*2 through the tree!(

9A *oup e o" year!,0 Kerry *on"ir-e#( 9He0! twenty(0 She -a#e it !oun# awe!o-e y -ature( 9He ta2e! *are o" everything roun# the !tab e!( He0! the on y one Da# tru!t! to ri#e Ca iph( He0! rea y wi*2e# oo2ing, i!n0t he60

Ta2ing the wi*2e# a! -eaning terri"i* in teenage par an*e, 5auren *ou # i-agine how the pony4tai , !harp4*ut "eature! an# wiry bui # wou # appea ( Mi*2 *ou # be !traight out o" any one o" ha " a #o7en boy ban#!(

9Ab!o ute y80 !he agree#(

Kerry gave her a !harp !i#eway! g an*e( 9+e , I wou #n0t rea y expe*t you to thin2 !o80

9<eing "ar too o # to appre*iate -o#ern youth, you -ean60

9=ou0re -ore i2e y to "an*y !o-ebo#y i2e Da#(0

It wa! 5auren0! turn to ! ant a g an*e( 9+e0re not !tarting on that ta*2 again, are we6 I 2now you !u!pe*t -e o" having u terior -otive! in ta2ing thi! )ob, but I rea y #on0t have any #e!ign! on your "ather(0

9=ou i2e hi- though, #on0t you60

9+e Aye!, I !uppo!e !o(0 5auren wa! beginning to " oun#er( 9I har# y 2now hi-(0

There wa! a !pe*u ative expre!!ion in her #aughter0! eye!( 9Da# !ai# you0# *o-e ba*2 to Eng an# to ive, but @ohn <at ey !ay! you on y brought a *oup e o" !uit*a!e! with you( That #oe!n0t !oun# very -u*h(0

9I brought everything that -eant anything(0 That -u*h at ea!t wa! the truth( 9I wa! ta2ing a bit o" a ho i#ay be"ore oo2ing "or a per-anent )ob, but>0

9<ut you *ou #n0t -i!! a *han*e i2e thi!(0

9No(0 They were in !ight o" the hou!e( 5auren bri!2ene# her tone( 9+e -ight have ti-e "or a *oup e o" ga-e! be"ore un*h i" we get our !2ate! on(0

9I thin2 it0! too hot now "or tenni!,0 Kerry #e*i#e#( 9I0# rather go "or a !wi-(0

9Fine by -e(0 5auren wou # have agree# to any !ugge!tion )u!t to 2eep that rather -ore "rien# y note in her #aughter0! voi*e(

They went up!tair! together, parting at 5auren0! #oor( O" the three bathing !uit! !he ha# brought with her, the p ain b a*2 one4pie*e !he u!e# "or !pee# !wi--ing wa! the ea!ie!t to ! ip into( She #onne# the !hort *otton wrap !he u!e# a! a #re!!ing gown "or *over, a ong with a pair o" !an#a !(

+earing a bright pin2 bi2ini, Kerry wa! a rea#y in the poo when !he got there( So, 5auren wa! #i!*on*erte# to "in#, wa! <ra#(

9I won#ere# where you0# got to,0 he !ai#(

Se "4*on!*iou! in a way !he0# never been be"ore in her i"e, !he ! i# o"" the wrap, !eeing the b ue eye! ta2e on a #eeper hue a! they traver!e# every in*h o" her( She exe*ute# a * ean #ive, !wi--ing un#erwater to !ur"a*e on the "ar !i#e(

The a*tion ha# -a#e her !hou #er a*he, !o !he !taye# where !he wa! to re!t it a -o-ent or two( <ra# !ur"a*e# !u##en y in "ront o" her, !tart ing her be*au!e !he ha#n0t !een hi*o-ing(

9That !hou #er giving you troub e60 he a!2e#(

9It0! OK,0 !he a!!ure# hi-( 9I0# "orgotten about it(0

Trea#ing water, #ar2 hair *ur ing a itt e at the en#! a! it !he# -oi!ture, he !urveye# her with that !a-e #eepene# b ue inten!ity( 9=ou,0 he #e* are#, 9are giving -e one he o" a har# ti-e80

5auren "e t the !urge in her pu !e rate, the 2i*2 in her !to-a*h -u!* e!( It wa! an e""ort to 2eep her voi*e !tea#y(

9I thought you too2 a *o # !hower60

9I #i#,0 he !ai#( 9Not -u*h goo# it #i# -e when I !aw you )u!t now( That !uit i! !*he#u e# to !en# b oo# pre!!ure through the roo"80

9I #i#n0t wear it to !tart any "ire!,0 !he #e"en#e#(

9I0- not *o-p aining( +e , ye!, I !uppo!e I a-,0 he a#-itte#( 9I0- a*tua y regretting having to eave to-orrow(0

9Hope"u y, Kerry wi be a great #ea e!! oppo!e# to -e by the ti-e you get ba*2,0 !he !ai#(

He a**epte# the *hange o" !ub)e*t with a g int, re*ogni!ing the ta*ti* "or what it wa!( 9She *an0t "ai to be( =ou0ve a rea#y -a#e -ore hea#way than I0# ever have expe*te# in !o !hort a ti-e( +here #i# you "in# her60

9At the !tab e! ta 2ing with Mi*2( I hear he ri#e! Ca iph(0

9He 2eep! a three exer*i!e# when ne*e!!ary(0 <ra# pau!e#( 9+hat #o you thin2 o" hi-60

5auren he!itate#, not ;uite !ure o" her groun#( 9He0! obviou! y very goo# with the hor!e!(0

9He i!( I -eant on the who e(0

9I thin2 Kerry -ight have a bit o" a *ru!h on hi-,0 !he a#-itte#( 9<ut I0# #oubt i" there0! anything to worry about "ro- hi! !i#e( He !tri2e! -e a! having hi! "eet "ar too "ir- y on the groun# to ri!2 )eopar#i!ing hi! )ob in any way(0

9I0# ten# to agree, but you -ight 2eep an eye on hi-(0

9=ou *an re y on -e,0 5auren pro-i!e#(

9I a-,0 he !ai#(

Kerry !wa- over, the g an*e !he winge# "ro- one to the other a -ite !u!pi*iou!( 9I thought we -ight have another ra*e,0 !he !ai# to 5auren(

9<e!t to eave it a "ew #ay! unti her !hou #er0! ea!e# up,0 <ra# a#vi!e# be"ore 5auren *ou # an!wer( 9I0 ra*e you -y!e "(0

She pu e# a "a*e( 9=ou a way! win80

9There0! a way! a "ir!t ti-e,0 he !ai#( 9Two !traight ength!60

5auren wat*he# the pair o" the- hea# o"" to the en# o" the poo to !tart the *o-petition, unab e to 2eep the !par2 o" )ea ou!y "u y at bay( <ra# ha# the re!t o" hi! i"e to be with hi! #aughterC !he ha# !o itt e ti-e( Mi!! hi- though !he *ertain y wou # the *o-ing wee2, it wou # be goo# to have Kerry a to her!e " "or a whi e(

He won the ra*e, but on y )u!t>a though !he !u!pe*te# hi- o" ho #ing ba*2 in the "ina "ew yar#!( Kerry wa! #e ighte#( Next ti-e, !he #e* are#, !he0# #e"inite y #o it(

She retaine# her goo# -oo# a through un*h( <ra#0! *a!ua !ugge!tion that they !pen# the a"ternoon !howing 5auren !o-ething o" the area #rew no prote!t( It prove# an en)oyab e a"ternoon( 5auren "e ever -ore in ove with the ro ing green an# go # *ountry!i#e, the beauti"u o # vi age! an# hi!tori* -onu-ent!(

9It0! another wor #80 !he #e* are# over a *rea- tea in a tiny vi age near +arwi*2( 9+e #on0t have anything re-ote y i2e thi! in Cana#a(0

9=ou have "ar -ore !pe*ta*u ar !*enery,0 <ra# re!pon#e#( 9An# a he o" a ot -ore !pa*e( I0# have thought you -ight "ee a bit he--e# in(0

9Not "or a -inute( I i2e the nearne!! o" everything(0 She aughe#( 9That0! a terrib e way o" putting it, but you 2now what I -ean(0 She oo2e# a*ro!! at Kerry, who wa! apparent y engro!!e# in !prea#ing )a- on her !*one prior to the *rea-( 9=ou0re very u*2y to ive in !u*h a ove y part o" the wor #80

9My !*hoo i! in Ca-bri#ge,0 *a-e the unenthu!e# an!wer( 9I0- there -u*h -ore than I0- here(0

9S*hoo #ay! #on0t a!t "orever,0 !ai# her "ather(

9=ou0 be te ing -e next that it0! the be!t ti-e o" -y i"e,0 !he re)oine#, #rawing a !u##en grin(

9I wou #n0t go a! "ar a! that( I hate# -ine(0

She oo2e# at hi- in !o-e !urpri!e( 9=ou #i#60

9A ot o" the ti-e( +ho want! to be !itting in a !*hoo roo- when there0! a who e wor # out there to exp ore6 Troub e i!, without e#u*ation it0! a very har# p a*e to be(0

9Have you thought about what you want to #o when you #o eave !*hoo 60 5auren a!2e# ight y(

A !par2 o" intere!t it the pretty young "a*e( 9I want to be a vet, !pe*ia i!ing in hor!e!(0

9That0! a ong, har# training,0 <ra# ob!erve#(

9I 2now,0 !he !ai#( 9<ut not i2e !*hoo (0

9I thin2 you0 -a2e a great vet80 5auren put in be"ore <ra# *ou # pour the *o # water !he *ou # a -o!t hear *o-ing on the atter !tate-ent( Kerry wa! rightB there wa! a big #i""eren*e between ba!i* e#u*ation an# training "or a *areer( Anyway, !he -ight have !o-ething e !e entire y in -in# at eighteen(

Five -ore year!( +here wou # !he be then6 !he won#ere# with a !u##en #a-pening o" !pirit!( +here wou # they a be6

Fee ing <ra#0! eye! on her, !he -a#e ha!te to i"t her -oo#( At ea!t !he ha# the *o-ing "ew wee2!(

They arrive# ba*2 at Rave a at "ive4thirty to be greete# with the new! that !o-eone *a e# Steven Dexter ha# phone# !evera ti-e!(

9He trie# to rea*h you on your -obi e nu-ber,0 Mr! 3erri-an a#vi!e#, 9but he *ou #n0t get through( He !ai# to *onta*t hi- a! !oon a! you *a-e in(0

<ra# went o"" i--e#iate y to -a2e the *a ( +ith a *oup e o" hour! to go unti #inner, 5auren !ugge!te# a !e!!ion on the tenni! *ourt, but Kerry #e* ine#(

9I bet Da# ha! to go tonight to !ort out whatever0! gone wrong,0 !he !ai# " at y(

9It -ight not *o-e to that,0 5auren *on!o e#, "ee ing -ore than a itt e #epre!!e# her!e " at the thought( 9I" you #on0t want to p ay tenni!, what #o you "ee i2e #oing60

95i2e being on -y own,0 wa! the ungra*iou! re!pon!e( 9=ou *an #o what you i2e80

5auren bit ba*2 the !harp retort that ro!e to her ip!( A owing her!e " to be #rawn into reta iation wa! no !o ution( So thing! ha# !ee-e# to be going we thi! a"ternoon( That #i#n0t -ean !he0# * eare# a the hur# e!(

She hung aroun# unti <ra# put in an appearan*e again, anti*ipating *on"ir-ation o" Kerry0! gue!!(

9Troub e60 !he ;uerie#(

9Nothing that *an0t be han# e#,0 he !ai#( 9+e0 !ort it out on the p ane(0

9=ou0 be eaving tonight, then60

9No(0 He regar#e# her !pe*u ative y( 9+ere you hoping !o60

5auren returne# hi! ga7e !tea#i y( 9Kerry wa! up!et that you -ight have to ta2e an ear ier " ight(0

Hi! -outh ! ante#( 9Then you *an be the bearer o" goo# new!( I0 be eaving a"ter brea2"a!t a! arrange#( Anything you -ight nee# to 2now about whi e I0- away60

She !hoo2 her hea#( 9Nothing I *an thin2 o"( My )ob i! !i-p e enough(0

9A -atter o" opinion( A though the two o" you !ee- to be getting a ong(0

9?p an# #own !ti , but it0! ear y #ay! yet(0 She -a#e a -ove( 9I0 go an# te her(0

<ra# et her go without "urther *o--ent( Ta2ing it that Kerry wou # have gone to her roo-, !he hea#e# up!tair!( Her 2no*2 on the be#roo- #oor e i*ite# an a -o!t i-per*eptib e re!pon!e( 5auren too2 it a! an invitation to *o-e in(

She "oun# her #aughter !eate# at a #e!2 ho #ing a *o-puter an# periphera !( She wa! p aying !o-e 2in# o" ga-e "ro- the oo2! o" it( Ta2ing her -in# o"" the probabi ity that <ra# wou # be eaving tonight, 5auren a!!u-e#( Her appearan*e e i*ite# itt e apparent intere!t, but at ea!t !he wa!n0t greete# with a !*ow (

9Ni*e !et4up,0 !he *o--ente#( 9I ta2e it you0re on the Internet60

9O" *our!e(0 Thi! ti-e Kerry #i# oo2 roun#( 9Are you *o-puter iterate too60

The ter- -a#e 5auren !-i e inwar# y( 9I wou #n0t *a -y!e " an expert, but I *an get by( I *a-e up to te you your "ather i!n0t going to be eaving ear y a"ter a (0

Kerry #i# her be!t to oo2 a! though the new! wa! o" itt e *ount( 9I #on0t !uppo!e it -a2e! -u*h #i""eren*e( I bet you0re g a# though(0

9I thin2 it0! ni*e he #oe!n0t have to ru!h o"",0 5auren agree# rea#i y( 9+e *ou # p ay S*rabb e or !o-ething a"ter #inner, -aybe60

9Da# #oe!n0t p ay 2i#!0 ga-e!,0 *a-e the !o-ewhat withering rep y(

9S*rabb e0! a *ha enge "or a age!,0 5auren *ountere#( 9Do you have a !et60

Kerry in#i*ate# a ta , #eep *upboar# !et again!t the nearby wa ( 9It0 be in there, i" it ha!n0t been thrown out by now(0

It wa! un i2e y that anyone but !he her!e " wou # have #one any throwing out, 5auren re" e*te#, going to ta2e a oo2(

The *ong o-eration "a*ing her when !he opene# the #oor! wa! #aunting( It too2 her a "u ten -inute! to "in# what !he !ought, #rawing out the "a-i iar box with a triu-phant, 9Eure2a80

9=ou won0t get Da# to p ay,0 Kerry reiterate#(

9+hen #i# you a!t try hi-60

The pau!e wa! brie"( 9He #oe!n0t have ti-e(0

9He wi have tonight(0 5auren wa! #eter-ine# on that( 9I0 ta2e the box with -e an# -a2e !ure nothing0! -i!!ing, !ha I60

9I" you i2e(0 <ut it won0t happen, wa! the un!po2en ri#er(

5auren winge# a g an*e aroun# the roo- with it! p ain *rea- wa ! an# ! ee2 y -o#ern "urni!hing!( Kerry0! own *hoi*e, !he a!!u-e#( The "ra-e# photograph on one o" the be#!i#e tab e! brought a !u##en a*he to her *he!t( Ca!ua y #re!!e#, <ra# ha# an arabout an auburn4haire# young wo-an who *ou # on y be C aire, hi! "ree han# re!ting on the !hou #er o" the *hi # in "ront o" the-( They were a three o" the- aughing(

9That wa! ta2en on -y eighth birth#ay,0 !ai# Kerry, "o owing her ga7e( 9Mo- wa! 2i e# three -onth! a"ter(0

She !oun#e# *o-po!e#, but 5auren !en!e# the b ea2ne!! beneath( She "e t -u*h the !a-e her!e ", i" "or rather #i""erent rea!on!( C aire ha# at ea!t ha# eight year!(

9She wa! very ove y,0 !he !ai#(

Kerry -a#e no an!wer, "a*e * o!e#( There wa! !o -u*h 5auren wante# to te her, but no way !he *ou # #o it without ruining her i"e a together(

+ith no ex*u!e to inger any "urther, !he too2 her eave( There prove# to be nothing at a -i!!ing "ro- the S*rabb e box( 5auren pa*2e# everything ba*2 in again, an# !et it a!i#e to "et*h #own!tair! ater( 5i2e it or not, <ra# wa! going to )oin in a ga-e, !he vowe#> though with itt e i#ea o" how exa*t y !he wou # get roun# an out4an#4out re"u!a (

Surpri!ing y, *on!i#ering Kerry0! opinion, he rai!e# no ob)e*tion when !he put the propo!a a"ter #inner(

9It0! been a ong ti-e !in*e I p aye# wor# ga-e! though,0 he !ai#( 9I thin2 a ten4point !tarter wou #n0t be out o" the way(0

9I" anybo#y !hou # have a !tarter, it !hou # be -e,0 returne# Kerry pro-pt y( 9=ou0ve both ha# a ot onger to bui # up your vo*abu ary than I have(0

Hi! augh wa! !pontaneou!( 9OK, !-arty pant!, et0! get to it80

Eye! !par2 ing, !he !tarte# !etting the boar# out( 5auren gave <ra# a war- y approving oo2, !eeing hi! ip! *urve in a-u!e# re!pon!e( They were gathere# aroun# a broa# *o""ee4tab e, <ra# an# her!e " in *hair!, Kerry pre"erring to !;uat on the " oor( 5i2e any "a-i y !pen#ing an evening together, *a-e the thought, bringing a !u##en wave o" onging( I" on y it *ou # be true8

She #i!-i!!e# the notion in!tant y( A pipe#rea->regar# e!! o" what Mr! 3 -ight thin2( The !ituation a!i#e, <ra#0! intere!t in her wa! no -ore than he -ight have in any wo-an who attra*te# hi-( It *ou # har# y be anything e !e(

De!pite hi! * ai-, he "ini!he# up winning two ga-e! out o" the "our they p aye#( He *a e# a ha t at ha "4pa!t ten when Kerry *ou # no onger !-other her yawn!(

9Ti-e we were a turning in, anyway,0 he !ai#( 9Ear y !tart to-orrow(0

Kerry oo2e# a itt e #own*a!t again at the re-in#er, but !he went o"" to be# without "urther prote!t( 5auren ti#ie# the ga-e away, whi e <ra# poure# night*ap! "or the- both(

9I a*tua y en)oye# that,0 he a#-itte#, *o-ing ba*2 a*ro!! with the g a!!e!( 9It0! a goo# way o" 2eeping the brain a*tive(0

9I !hou #n0t have thought your brain wa! ever anything but,0 !he returne#( 9Don0t you get tire# at ti-e!60

9O" bu!ine!! -atter!, you -ean60 A hint o" a !-i e " i*2ere# a*ro!! hi! ip!( 9I #o have other thing! in -in# "ro- ti-e to ti-e(0 Hi! brow *rea!e# a! !he put up a han# to ra2e ba*2 the hair that ha# "a en "orwar# over her *hee2!, throwing her pro"i e into !harp re ie"( 9It0! rea y o##, but I !ti 2eep "ee ing I0ve !een you be"ore !o-ewhere(0

9Maybe in a pa!t i"e60 !he ;uippe#, anxiou! to !teer hi- away "ro- #angerou! groun#( 9I wa! a ! ave gir in o # I!tanbu a!t ti-e roun#( Or !o I0- re iab y to #(0

9An# I wa! 2ing o" Sia-80 <ra# wa! aughing now( 9=ou #on0t rea y be ieve in a that regre!!ion bu!ine!!, #o you60

9I0- not !ure,0 !he !ai#( 9It *ou # a**ount "or tho!e -o-ent! o" #D)E vu -o!t peop e have at ti-e!( I re-e-ber #riving to Niagara a "ew year! ba*2, an# !u##en y getting a vivi# -enta pi*ture o" what ay aroun# the next ben#( I wa! !pot on too>an# I0# never been on that roa# be"ore(0

9Har# y "it! in with the I!tanbu the-e(0

9Oh, we0re not !tu*2 with )u!t the one prior i"e( Or even with the !a-e "or- in "a*t( I0ve a way! "e t a #e"inite a""inity with i7ar#!( Nothing to #o a #ay but ie in the !un an# *at*h a "ew " ie!( Sheer b i!!80

9=ou,0 <ra# #e* are#, 9are !en#ing -e up80

5auren oo2e# ba*2 at hi- in wi#e4eye# inno*en*e( 9A! i" I0# #are80

He grinne#( 9I #oubt i" there0! a -an a ive who *ou # inti-i#ate you( Not that inti-i#ation i! what -o!t -en wou # have in -in#(0

Thi! *onver!ation wa! getting out o" han#, warne# a !-a voi*e at the ba*2 o" her -in#, but the urge growing in her overro#e the *aution( He wante# her, !he 2new( An# !he wante# hi-( Right now it wa! a !he *ou # thin2 about(

9=ou0re not -o!t -en,0 !he !ai# !o"t y, an# !aw the b ue eye! !par2(

He too2 the g a!! he0# given her, p a*ing it a ong with hi! own on the *o""ee4tab e, then #rawing her to her "eet( The 2i!! brought the b oo# #ru--ing into her ear! an# #roppe# the botto- right out o" her !to-a*h(

She *ou #n0t have he # ba*2 i" !he0# trie#( Not "ro- that( Her han#! ! i# up behin# hi! hea#, "inger! twining into the thi*2 #ar2 hair a! !he an!were# the hea#y #e-an#( He #rew her * o!er again!t hi-, -ou #ing her to hi! !hape with a po!!e!!ivene!! that thri e# her, rou!ing her to an overwhe -ing nee# "or -ore, "or "ar, "ar -ore(

She !hut out a #i!!enting voi*e! when he turne# her towar#! the #oor(

CHA3TER SIF

HE TOOK her to hi! roo-, not her!( He #i#n0t put on any ight!, pu ing her ba*2 into hi! ar-! to 2i!! her with a "ervour that overro#e every re-aining ve!tige o" !anity(

Strippe#, he wa! -agni"i*entB *he!t #eep, !to-a*h har#4pa*2e# with -u!* e, thigh! taut( She a owe# her !en!e! "u rein, pre!!ing her ip! into the #a-p whor ! o" wiry hair on hi! *he!t a! !he ! i# her han#! ! ow y #own hi! " an2! to !ee2 the vibrant e!!en*e o" hi! -anhoo#(

<ra# !ai# !o-ething guttura un#er hi! breath an# !wept her up to ay her on the be#( Starting at the ho ow o" her throat, he 2i!!e# hi! way #own the "u ength o" her bo#y, hi! tongue *are!!ing her ting ing, pea2ing nipp e! i2e a " i*2ering " a-e( 5auren * ut*he# at the #ar2 hea# when he owere# it to her parte# thigh!, a -o!t unab e to bear the ex;ui!ite !en!ation( 9Too -u*h80 !he hear# her own voi*e p ea#ing(

+hen he i"te# hi-!e " away "ro- her !he thought "or a heart4!topping -o-ent that he wa! eaving her, but he wa! !i-p y rea*hing into the be#!i#e #rawer( I" !he0# been *apab e o" rationa thought by then, the rea i!ation o" what he wa! #oing -ight have brought her to her !en!e!, but a !he #i# "ee wa! the -ounting urgen*y(

She ! i# her han#! over the broa# !hou #er! when he owere# hi-!e " to her again, breath *at*hing in her throat a! they )oine# together( It "e t !o right to be with hi- i2e thi!( So

utter y an# *o-p ete y right8 Caught up in the age4o # rhyth-, !he o!t a !en!e o" ti-e an# p a*e, unaware o" the !oun#! torn "ro- her throat a! !he rea*he# the u ti-ate pea2(

She *a-e ba*2 to rea ity by ! ow #egree!, opening her eye! to "in# <ra# proppe# on an e bow, !-i ing #own at her(

9=ou #ri"te# o"",0 he !ai#( 9So #i# I( Har# y !urpri!ing *on!i#ering the energy we expen#e# between u!(0 He put up a han# to twi!t a ten#ri o" #a-p hair "ro- her "a*e, ! i#ing the ba*2 o" hi! 2nu*2 e! gent y #own her *hee2( 9=ou0re a reve ation, #o you 2now that6 So *oo an# *ontro e# on the !ur"a*e, !o wi # un#erneath80

5auren #a-pe# ip! gone #ry, !trugg ing to 2eep her new y warring e-otion! at bay( 9+hat ti-e i! it60

9@u!t a"ter -i#night(0 He #roppe# hi! han# ight y to her !hou #er a! !he -a#e a *onvu !ive atte-pt to !it up( 9Re ax( There0! no hurry( +e !ti have the who e night ahea# o" u!(0

9=ou0ve an ear y !tart to-orrow,0 !he re-in#e# hi-, trying to !oun# pra*ti*a about it( 9=ou0 have nee# o" a * ear -in# to #ea with whatever it i! you have to #ea with(0

9It i!n0t -y -in# I0- *on*erne# with right now(0 He !hi"te# hi! han# again, thi! ti-e to her brea!t, bringing her to !hu##ering i"e with hi! -ere tou*h( 9That0! the way I "ee too,0 he !ai# !o"t y( 9I *an0t have enough o" you, 5auren80

+hatever her -in# -ight be !aying, bo#y an# !ou weren0t going a ong( She re!pon#e# to hi- be*au!e !he *ou #n0t #o anything e !e, returning hi! 2i!!e! in a 2in# o" #e!peration(

It wa! )u!t a! tre-en#ou! thi! ti-e( 5ying #raine# in hi! ar-!, hi! hea# on her brea!t, 5auren wi!he# they *ou # !tay i2e thi! "orever( It *ou #n0t happen, o" *our!e( Eventua y !he wa! going to have to "a*e the *o # ight o" #ay( Ma2ing ove with a -an !he0# -et )u!t a bare two #ay! ago wa! nothing to be prou# about in it!e "C #oing it with the -an her #aughter *a e# "ather wa! in"inite y wor!e(

9I rea y -u!t go,0 !he !ai# thi*2 y(

9I !uppo!e !o,0 <ra# agree# with re u*tan*e( 9It wou # have been better the other way roun#, but>0

9<ut the prote*tion wa! here,0 !he "ini!he# "or hi-(

He i"te# to oo2 at her, brow! #rawn together( 9There wa! no ! ur inten#e#, be ieve -e80

9It ha#n0t o**urre# to -e to thin2 there -ight be,0 !he !ai#( 9It0! a goo# habit to "or-(0 She !tirre# re!t e!! y, #e!perate now to be gone be"ore !he gave too -u*h away( 95et -e up, p ea!e(0

He ro e# away "ro- her, ying on hi! ba*2, ga7ing at the *ei ing, whi e !he !*ra-b e# to "in# her #i!*ar#e# * othing( She 2ept her -in# a! b an2 a! po!!ib e( Dre!!e# at a!t, !he oo2e# ba*2 at hi- he!itant y(

9I0 !ay goo#night, then(0

Sitting up now, expre!!ion i-po!!ib e to rea# in the #ar2ne!!, he !tret*he# out a han#( 9I thin2 I -erit a itt e -ore than that( Co-e ba*2 here(0

5auren went again!t her wi , !tee ing her!e " again!t the i-pa*t o" hi! 2i!!( It wou # have been a too ea!y to !in2 #own into hi! ar-! again( She tore her!e " away with an e""ort, "or*ing a !-i e(

9=ou0# better get !o-e ! eep( =ou0ve a heavy #ay ahea# o" you(0

9+hat0! the prob e-60 he a!2e# !o"t y( 9It0! what we both wante#(0

9I 2now(0 She !ear*he# her -in# "or !o-e a#e;uate re!pon!e( 9It0! )u!t not on, i! it6 It0! on y been two #ay!80

The "ir- -outh *urve#( 9I" I0# ha# -y way, it wou #n0t even have been that ong(0 He pau!e#, !tu#ying her "a*e( 9=ou0# "ee better about it i" we0# 2nown ea*h other onger60

9I0# "ee better i" it ha#n0t happene# at a 80 !he * ai-e#(

9=ou #on0t -ean that,0 he !tate# with -a!*u ine *ertainty( 9=ou were a! *arrie# away a! I wa!80

9That0! not what I0- ta 2ing about( It i!n0t )u!t the ti-e e e-ent( I0- here to ta2e *are o" your #aughter(0

9Suppo!ing I "ire# you6 +ou # that -a2e a #i""eren*e60

Her !-i e wa! "aint( 9Not rea y(0

9Then !top ta 2ing rubbi!h80 He pu e# her to hi-, hi! -outh unexpe*te# y ten#er( 9I" it weren0t "or Kerry, we0# have -i!!e# 2nowing ea*h other at a ,0 he -ur-ure#(

5auren -a#e a !upre-e e""ort to !tay in *ontro o" the e-otion! he *ou # !o ea!i y *on)ure in her( 9It0! Kerry0! nee#! I0- !uppo!e# to be "u "i ing, not our!(0

9No rea!on why you *an0t #o both(0

9An# run the ri!2 o" her gue!!ing what0! going on60

9On y i" we0re *are e!! about it(0 Hi! tone "ir-e#( 9Kerry -ean! a ot to -e, but I0- not *ut out to p ay the ro e you !ee- to thin2 I !hou # be p aying( I want you, an# I0# !ay there0! itt e #oubt a"ter tonight that you want -e too(0 He put a "inger to her ip! a! !he -a#e to !pea2( 9I0ve !ai# a I0- going to !ay "or the -o-ent( =ou 2now how I "ee ( 1o an# get !o-e ! eep(0

5auren rea*he# her own roo- without -i!hap, * o!ing the #oor to !tan# "or !evera -inute! trying to !ort her!e " out( Tonight ha# been won#er"u , there wa! no #enying that, but !he !hou # have ha# the !trength o" -in# to ho # out again!t what a-ounte# to nothing -ore than u!t8

On y it wa!n0t )u!t that, wa! it6 a!2e# the trea*herou! itt e voi*e at the ba*2 o" her -in#( <ra# arou!e# e-otion! "ar above an# beyon# the -ere y phy!i*a ( She ove# being with hi-, ta 2ing with hi-, !eeing the b ue eye! *rin2 e in a-u!e-ent, hi! -outh ! ant in that ! ow, taunting !-i e( He wa! !o right about the in!tant attra*tion( She0# "e t it the -o-ent he opene# the #oor to her( +hat !he ha#n0t a owe# "or wa! re*ipro*ation on hi! part(

The prob e- now wa! )u!t what he wa! going to expe*t "ro- her on hi! return( To *arry on a "u 4b own a""air right un#er Kerry0! no!e wa! beyon# her, i" it wa!n0t beyon# hi-( Men !aw thing! !o #i""erent y( De!ire wa! to be in#u ge# at any *o!t(

+hatever he -ight expe*t, !he #i#n0t have to go a ong with it, o" *our!e( He wa! har# y i2e y to to!! her out on her ear "or re"u!ing to ! eep with hi- again( A"ter tonight0! experien*e, it wa! going to be "ar "ro- ea!y, but it ha# to be #one(

1etting #own to brea2"a!t to "in# <ra# a rea#y gone brought -ing e# re ie" an# #e!pon#en*y( He0# e"t her a note to !ay there wa! a *a!h box in hi! #e!2 "ro- whi*h !he wa! to ta2e any expen!e! over the *o-ing "ew #ay!, en#ing with )u!t the bo # !*raw o" hi! na-e(

So what e !e #i# !he expe*t6 5auren a!2e# her!e "( 5a!t night wa! a!t night( He0# probab y ha# !e*on# thought! about the who e a""air hi-!e " by now(

Kerry wa! #own*a!t too, the *hange in the weather no he p( 9It0! raining again80 !he announ*e#, ga7ing out o" the win#ow( 9So what now60

9The hor!e! !ti nee# exer*i!ing,0 5auren !ugge!te#( 9=ou0 have your own wet4weather gear, an# I0- !ure there0 be !o-e I *ou # u!e(0

Kerry *on!i#ere# her #oubt"u y( 9Da# !ai# you !hou # be re!ting your !hou #er(0

9My !hou #er0! "ine(0 5auren " exe# it, !urpri!e# her!e " to "ee no -ore than a twinge or two( The ini-ent ha# *ertain y #one it! )ob(

9=ou0 have to -a2e #o with the )a*2et Da# 2eep! in the ta*2 roo-(0 Kerry !oun#e# a -ite -ore upbeat( 9It wi be a bit big, but it0! a there i!(0

91reat( 5et0! go an# *hange, then(0

The rain ha# !ett e# ba*2 to a "ine #ri77 e by the ti-e they rea*he# the !tab e!( There wa! no !ign o" Mi*2, a though he0# obviou! y been there at !o-e point, a! the boxe! ha# been -u*2e# out(

9He0 have gone over to the gar#ener0! !he# "or a *igarette,0 Kerry gue!!e#, oo2ing a itt e #e!pon#ent again( 9Da# put a ban on hi- !-o2ing roun# the !tab e!(0

9A goo# thing with a thi! !traw aroun#,0 5auren *o--ente#( 9No prob e-, anyway( +e *an #o our own ta*2ing up(0

It prove# a bit pain"u hoi!ting the !a## e, but not enough to put her o""( De!pite the e!! than * e-ent weather, !he en)oye# the ri#e( The 2now e#ge that the over arge )a*2et !he wa! wearing over her !weater wa! <ra#0! wa! a !ti-u ation in it!e ", re u*tant though !he wa! to a*2now e#ge it( She ha# to put a tight rein on !u*h re!pon!e! i" !he wa! to "ini!h up heart who e(

Kerry her!e " !ee-e# to have got over her -oo#ine!!( +ith the groun# wet, an# ! ippy in part!, !he -a#e no atte-pt to put Dia-on# into a ga op, *ontenting her!e " with a bri!2 *anter a ong the e#ge o" a "ie # be"ore !ett ing the -are #own to a !tea#y wa 2 !i#e by !i#e with 5auren(

9=ou0re not rea y a that ba# "or an a-ateur,0 !he !ai# *on#e!*en#ing y( 9A bit -ore pra*ti*e, an# you0 be OK(0

5auren "ought to 2eep any e e-ent o" irony "ro- her voi*e( 9Than2!( I0- oo2ing "orwar# to #oing thi! every #ay( =ou -u!t rea y -i!! it in ter- ti-e(0

9I have Dia-on# at !*hoo with -e( There0! !tab ing "or twenty hor!e!( Da# boo2e# one "or the re!t o" -y ti-e there(0

9Do you rea y #i! i2e !*hoo a! -u*h a! you -a#e out ye!ter#ay60 5auren venture#, an# !aw a re u*tant !-i e tou*h her #aughter0! ip!(

9It0! not that ba#, I !uppo!e( I0# !ti rather be here going to #ay !*hoo though( There0! a rea y goo# one the other !i#e o" Strat"or#( My be!t "rien# goe! there(0

9Do I get to -eet thi! "rien# !o-e ti-e60

93robab y( She0! away on ho i#ay( In Ita y(0

9=ou0ve never been abroa# your!e "60 5auren a!2e#, pi*2ing up on the wi!t"u note(

9Not to Ita y( I0ve been to Fran*e an# 3ortuga an# 1ree*e, an# Da# too2 -e to Di!neywor # in F ori#a at Ea!ter, but I0# ove to go to :eni*e an# ri#e in a gon#o a80

9=ou0 have to !ugge!t it "or next ti-e(0 5auren winge# a -enta apo ogy to the -an !he ha# at "ir!t be ieve# !o neg e*t"u ( The trip to Di!neywor # a -o!t *ertain y wou #n0t have been hi! i#ea o" a per"e*t va*ation(

5eaving a! ear y a! he ha#, he wa! probab y *a ing in at the o""i*e be"ore going to the airport( A! *hair-an o" a arge internationa *o-pany, he0# have a who e ot -ore than )u!t thi! one *ontra*t to #ea with( She vi!ua i!e# hi- !tri#ing into hi! o""i*e, " inging or#er! right, e"t an# *entre>hi! !e*retary "u!!ing over hi- with *o""ee an# bi!*uit!( A goo#4 oo2ing one a -o!t #e"inite yB !he *ou #n0t i-agine hi- !ett ing "or anything e!!(

She ha# to !top thin2ing about hi-, !he to # her!e " "or*e"u y( Nothing *ou # *o-e o" it(

The rain ha# !toppe# an# the !un wa! rai!ing !tea- "ro- the #a-p earth when they returne# to the !tab e!( Mi*2 wa! ba*2 in !itu, painting a #oor "ra-e( 5auren !aw hi#i!*ar# !o-ething into the bin at hi! ba*2 a! they *a-e in through the ar*hway, but !he #i#n0t -a2e any *o--ent(

It wa! apparent that Kerry wou # have pre"erre# to inger behin# on her own, but 5auren p aye# #en!e(

9I thought we -ight go into Strat"or# "or un*h, then -aybe ta2e that boat trip you were ta 2ing about,0 !he !ai# *a!ua y( 9I" you !ti want to, that i!60

9I !uppo!e,0 wa! the !o-ewhat ungra*iou! rep y(

<etter than a 2i*2 in the teeth, at any rate, 5auren thought #ri y, !eeing Mi*20! ! y !-i e( He wa! we aware o" Kerry0! "ee ing!, !he re*2one#( +hi*h wa! "ine, provi#ing he #i#n0t try ta2ing any a#vantage o" the-(

<a*2 at the hou!e, !he *hange# into trou!er! an# !hirt, then went to pay a vi!it to the !tu#y( It wa! the "ir!t ti-e !he0# been in here !in*e the #ay o" her arriva ( De!pite <ra#0! in!tru*tion!, !he "e t a !en!e o" intru!ion(

The #e!2 ha# three #rawer! on ea*h !i#e( She "oun# the *a!h box in the top e"t, ta2ing out what !he thought the #ay -ight *o!t "ro- the *on!i#erab e *ontent!( She wou # have been -ore than happy to pay "or her #aughter0! entertain-ent her!e ", but he wa! har# y going to a ow that(

The #ay turne# out better than !he0# hope#( Apart "ro- a #i""eren*e o" opinion over the !i7e o" boat they !hou # ta2e out, an# !o-e #i!*or# with regar# to the !pee# re!tri*tion! when Kerry too2 a turn at the whee , thing! went !urpri!ing y !-ooth y(

Kerry a#-itte# on the way ho-e that !he0# a*tua y en)oye# her!e "( 9I" I ha# to have a !upervi!or at a , I !uppo!e I *ou # have #one wor!e,0 !he !ai# gru#ging y(

9For !-a -er*ie! -ay we be tru y than2"u ,0 5auren -ur-ure#, #rawing a !u##en grin(

9I !uppo!e I0ve been a bit o" a pig to you, pu!hing you in the poo an# a ( Than2! "or not te ing Da# about that(0

9+hatever happen! between you an# -e i! between you an# -e,0 5auren returne#( 9I "ight -y own batt e!(0

9I! that what I a- to you>a batt e60

+hat !he wa! to her, !he *ou #n0t a""or# to #i!* o!e, *a-e the pain"u thought( A ou#, !he !ai# ight y, 9More o" a !2ir-i!h, I0- hoping(0

The grin *a-e again( 9I0 thin2 about it(0

There wa! a #e"inite i-prove-ent in at-o!phere between the- that evening( The ear ier part, at ea!t( Kerry0! #eparture p ea#ing tire#ne!! at nine e"t 5auren *onte-p ating an ear y night her!e ", when the phone rang aroun# ha "4pa!t nine( <ra# wa!te# no ti-e on pre i-inarie!(

9I thought you0# probab y be in be# i" I e"t it ti a"ter we an#e#( How0! it going !o "ar60

9A right(0 5auren wa! too !urpri!e# by the *a to *hat( 9Kerry0! up!tair!( I0 get her(0

9There i!n0t ti-e( +e0 be !tarting the #e!*ent any -inute( Anyway, it0! you I wante# to !pea2 to(0 He pau!e#( 9About a!t night>0

9=ou #on0t nee# to worry,0 !he *ut in !wi"t y, !en!ing what wa! *o-ing( 9It -eant no -ore to -e than it #i# to you(0

The ine went #ea# be"ore he *ou # rep y( Not that !he ha# any #oubt o" what that rep y wou # have been( +ith ti-e to thin2 about it, he wou # have rea i!e# )u!t how i-po!!ib e a !ituation it wou # have been i" they0# *ontinue# the a""air( The #e)e*tion !he "e t at the -o-ent wou # pa!!( There were thing! "ar -ore i-portant than ove-a2ing, no -atter how goo# it ha# been(

She wa! ying through her teeth an# !he 2new it( She0# a rea#y gone pa!t the point o" no return( +hat !he ha# to #o wa! ive with it(

A though by no -ean! a tota tran!"or-ation, Kerry0! attitu#e *ontinue# to i-prove over the "o owing #ay!( They ro#e together ea*h -orning, u!e# the poo whenever the weather wa! "avourab e, an# p aye# !evera ga-e! o" tenni! in a##ition to #riving out to variou! p a*e!(

5auren too2 a#vantage o" a rainy a"ternoon when Kerry wa! !howing !ign! o" bore#o- to !ugge!t !he get out !o-e "a-i y !nap!hot!( She re!pon#e# to Kerry0! !urpri!e that !he *ou # want to oo2 at o # photograph! with a who y !puriou! * ai- to have an intere!t in photography a! an art(

The eather4ba*2e# a bu- Kerry eventua y "et*he# #own "ro- her roo- ha# been put together by a -other0! han#, every !tage o" the *hi #0! #eve op-ent oving y pre!erve# on "i -( Her e-otion! un#er un*ertain *ontro , 5auren wat*he# her #aughter grow "roheart4wren*hing babyhoo# to aughing to## er, to prou# "ive4year4o # in her prep4!*hoo uni"or- an# on to the gap4toothe# eight4year4o # portraye# in the "a-i y !hot !he ha# !een the other #ay( The !nap! #win# e# a -o!t to nothing a"ter that( C aire ha# !o obviou! y been the one 2eene!t on 2eeping re*or#(

There were !hot! o" -other an# *hi # together through the year! too, an# p enty with the three o" the-( The <ra# o" eight, ten, twe ve year! ago #i#n0t oo2 a that #i""erentB there wa! the !a-e "ir- y -ou #e# -outh an# un*o-pro-i!ing )aw ine, the "a-i iar !-i e, the vivi# eye!( Hi! hair wa! !horter an# *ri!per the!e #ay!, but it wa! !ti )u!t a! thi*2, with no hint o" grey a! yet in the #ar2ne!!(

Kerry wat*he# her *uriou! y a! !he ea"e# ! ow y through the page!(

9They0re not what you0# *a wor2! o" art, are they60 !he !ai#(

9They0re won#er"u 80 5auren an!were# !pontaneou! y, *at*hing her!e " up a itt e too ate( 9I -ean, a! a -e-ento,0 !he ha!tene# to a##( 9So -any peop e )u!t ta2e vi#eo "i - the!e #ay!( It0! ni*e to !ee a goo# o #4"a!hione# a bu-( =our -other>0 !he !ti "oun# the wor# har# to !ay 9>#i# a rea y goo# )ob 2eeping a thi! together(0

9She wa! goo# at everything(0 There wa! pri#e in the !tate-ent( 9Da# to # -e you p ay the piano( I0 bet you0re nowhere near a! goo# a! Mo- wa!80

5auren re"u!e# to a ow the #i!parage-ent to get to her( 93robab y not,0 !he agree#( She !hut the a bu- re u*tant y, wi!hing !he *ou # hang on to it( 9I hear you p ay too(0

9Not "or a ong ti-e(0 The young "a*e ha# * o!e# up again( 9I0 ta2e that up!tair!(0

One !tep "orwar#, two !tep! ba*2, 5auren thought wry y a! !he went "ro- the roo-(

Satur#ay !aw the !tart o" what wa! "ore*a!t to be another heatwave( The two o" thewere !unbathing by the poo when <ra# put in a tota y unexpe*te# appearan*e aroun# "our( He wa! a rea#y *hange# into trun2! an# towe ing robe(

9I got in ha " an hour ago,0 he !ai#( 9I too2 the re#4eye a!t night, !pent a *oup e o" hour! at the o""i*e thi! -orning, then hea#e# right ho-e(0

3er*hing on the e#ge o" Kerry0! ounger, he eye# the two o" the- with ;ui77i*a y i"te# brow!( 9So, what have you "oun# to #o with your!e ve! a wee260

9Ton!80 Kerry an!were#( 95auren too2 -e into 5ea-ington "or a who e new war#robe( +e went in every !hop80

9She nee#e# a ot o" thing! rep a*ing(0 5auren too2 !tep! to era#i*ate the ! ight y #e"en!ive note in her voi*e( 9Sty e! are a way! *hanging(0

9No exp anation! ne*e!!ary(0 <ra# !oun#e# ea!y( 9+hat #i# you u!e "or -oney6 It !oun#! a! i" there -ight not have been enough in the *a!h box(0

9I have a *oup e o" *re#it *ar#!,0 !he !ai#( 9I !ave# a the re*eipt!(0

She rea*he# "or the !un *rea- !he ha# a rea#y app ie# on y -o-ent! be"ore, avoi#ing hi! ga7e( Keeping her "ee ing! un#er *over wa! going to be one o" the har#e!t thing! !he0# ever been *a e# on to #o( She wi!he# he0# !top oo2ing at herC !he *ou # "ee tho!e eye! o" hi! burning into her brain( 5u*2i y, Kerry wa! bu!y exa-ining a !-a re##ene# area on her thigh where !o-e in!e*t appeare# to have bitten her(

9I0- going in,0 he !ai#, getting up again( 9A !wi- -ight #rive out the *obweb!(0

He #roppe# the robe on the en# o" the ounger, an# too2 the "ew !tep! to the poo e#ge to exe*ute a * ean #ive( 5auren wat*he# hi- power en# to en# o" the poo , water4bea#e# !hou #er! g inting in the !un( She a*he# to )oin hi-, to "ee hi! ip! on her!, hi! bo#y har# again!t her(

He *a-e out a"ter *o-p eting -ore than twenty ength!, towe e# hi-!e " rough y #own, then #rew up another ounger next to her!(

95i7ar#! #e"inite y have the right i#ea,0 he -ur-ure#, !tret*hing out(

9How ong are you going to be ho-e "or60 a!2e# Kerry, !oun#ing a! i" !he0# a rea#y pre)u#ge# the an!wer(

9I0- OK ti the boar# -eeting Mon#ay a"ternoon(0 He a##e# ight y, 9How wou # you "an*y a *oup e o" #ay! in town your!e "60

She !at up, eye! it( 9Serio! y60

9It0! not !o-ething I0# )o2e about( 5auren too, o" *our!e( I0- *ertain y not eaving you to run aroun# 5on#on on your own( The two o" you *an #o your own thing #uring the #ay, an# we0 )oin "or*e! "or the evening( Maybe ta2e in a *oup e o" !how!( It0! been a whi e !in*e I went to the theatre -y!e "(0

Anti*ipating !o-e #i!*or# on Kerry0! part at the i#ea o" having her a ong, 5auren wa! !urpri!e# by the rea#y re!pon!e(

91reat8 +e *an #o !o-e -ore !hopping80

<ra# gave a -o*24groan( 9Ma# "oo that I a-80 He turne# hi! hea# to view 5auren0! "a*e, -a2ing her than2"u "or the !e-i4prote*tion o""ere# by her !ung a!!e!( 9I ta2e it you0 have no ob)e*tion to *o-ing a ong60

Con!i#ering that an ob)e*tion "ro- her wou # re!u t in Kerry o!ing out too, there wa! on y one an!wer !he *ou # -a2e( 9None at a ( Ni*e i#ea( +here wi we !tay60

9My " at on y ha! two be#roo-!, !o it wi have to be a hote (0

9+e *an !hare,0 o""ere# Kerry -agnani-ou! y( 9I #on0t -in#(0

+ar-e# beyon# -ea!ure, 5auren #ire*te# a !-i e at the gir ( 9Fine by -e(0

9That0! !ett e#, then( +e0 #rive up Mon#ay -orning(0 <ra# !ett e# ba*2 again, * a!ping hi! han#! behin# hi! hea# an# * o!ing hi! eye!( 9For now, we0 -a2e the -o!t o" thi!(0

5auren #i# her be!t to re ax again her!e ", but "oun# it i-po!!ib e( +ith bare y !ix in*he! o" !pa*e between her ounger an# hi!, he wa! "ar too * o!e( She *ou # !ee the "ir- y -u!* e# thigh! on the periphery o" her vi!ion, the taut y !tret*he# b a*2 trun2! out ining the part o" hi- that ha# been a part o" her not !o very ong ago( The heat !prea#ing through her ha# nothing to #o with the !un( She wante# hi- !o ba# y !he *ou # !*ar*e y *ontain it(

Torn between *on" i*ting e-otion! when Kerry got up an# #ive# into the poo , !he wa! on the verge o" "o owing her exa-p e when <ra# !ai# eve y, 9+e nee# to ta 2(0

9About what60 !he prevari*ate#(

9=ou 2now about what(0 He i"te# up, propping hi-!e " on a bent e bow to *a!t a ingering g an*e #own her !hape y ength( 9I thin2 you -i!un#er!too# what I wa! trying to !ay when I phone#( There wa! no ;ue!tion o" -y not ta2ing what happene# between u! !eriou! y( I0# thought about itt e e !e a #ay(0 Hi! tone roughene#( 9I0- having the #evi o" a )ob 2eeping -y han#! to -y!e " right now( =ou have the -o!t won#er"u bo#y80

9Than2!(0 The wor# wa! #ragge# "ro- her(

9=ou0# rather be a#-ire# "or your -in#60

9I i2e it to be re*ogni!e# that I have one,0 !he retorte# !hort y(

9Di# I give the i-pre!!ion that I #oubte# it60 The !-i e wa! in hi! voi*e a! we a! hi! eye!( 9=ou !uit -e in every !en!e( I0- hoping I #o the !a-e "or you(0

?n"ortunate y on y too -u*h, !he *ou # have to # hi-( She !ti""ene# a! he rea*he# out "or her !ung a!!e!, unprepare# to "a*e the b ue ga7e na2e#, a! it were( 9Don0t80 !he )er2e# out( 9KerryA0

9She i!n0t oo2ing,0 he !ai#, but he et the g a!!e! !tay, ying ba*2 again with a !igh( 9I agree thi! i! neither the ti-e nor p a*e( It *an wait ti ater(0

So !he0# been wrong about hi! o!! o" intere!t, 5auren re" e*te#( Not that it -a#e any #i""eren*e( She #i#n0t #are a ow her!e " any "urther invo ve-ent(

+ith the -a!ter o" the hou!e in !itu again, #inner wa! re!tore# to it! u!ua !even4thirty ti-ing( <ra#0! !ugge!tion that they ta2e a wa 2 in the groun#! a"ter the -ea re*eive# itt e intere!t "ro- Kerry( She ha# better thing! to #o, !he !ai#( 5auren agree# with !o-e reti*en*e, won#ering how be!t to put what !he ha# to !ay(

It prove# -ore #i""i*u t even than !he ha# anti*ipate#( +hat !he wante# to #o an# what !he ha# to #o were two very #i""erent thing!, !he a*2now e#ge# rue"u y( <ra# wa! everything !he *ou # have oo2e# "or in a -an>everything any wo-an *ou # oo2 "or( +hi e !he #oubte# !he0# be "ire# "or re"u!ing hi- any "urther inti-a*ie!, he wa! har# y going to a**ept it ight y( +hat !he wa!n0t !ure o" wa! her abi ity to ho # out again!t any per!ua!ion! he -ight bring to bear(

He -a#e no i--e#iate atte-pt to approa*h the !ub)e*t, !tro ing at her !i#e, han#! thru!t *a!ua y into trou!er po*2et!(

9=ou an# Kerry !ee- to have -a#e rea progre!! !in*e I e"t,0 he ob!erve#(

9=e!, I thin2 we have,0 5auren agree#, on y too rea#y to put o"" the -o-ent o" truth( 9+e i2e a ot o" the !a-e thing!( That0! been a big he p(0 She pau!e#, *a!ting a !wi"t !i#eway! g an*e at the !trong pro"i e( 9=ou haven0t !ai# how your bu!ine!! trip went(0

He !hrugge#( 9+e enough, a"ter a "ew "a !e !tart!( I0# hope# to be ba*2 ear ier than thi!(0 He *a-e to a ha t a! they e-erge# "ro- the tree! into a wi#e g a#e, in#i*ating a !eat po!itione# to ta2e a#vantage o" the view( 9+hy #on0t we !it here "or a "ew -inute!60

5auren -a#e no #e-ur( Sitting or wa 2ing, the -o-ent ha# to *o-e(

9I thin2 we0# better have thing! * ear between u!,0 !he !ai# without prea-b e( 9+hat happene# the other night wa! a -i!ta2e( One I0ve no intention o" repeating( I" you nee# a wo-an in your be#, you0 )u!t have to oo2 e !ewhere( I0->0

The wor#! were *ut o"" a! <ra# pu e# her to hi-, hi! -outh * ai-ing her! with an ar#our that !et her on "ire( A part o" her trie# to re!i!t, but it wa! a hope e!! !trugg e again!t overwhe -ing o##!(

9=ou0re worth -ore than that,0 he !ai# rough y when he "ina y i"te# hi! hea#( 9A who e ot -ore80 He *uppe# her "a*e between hi! han#!, eye! "i e# with an e-otion that ro*2e# her to the *ore( 9I haven0t "e t i2e thi! about any wo-an !in*e C aire( I thought I0# never "ee thi! way again( I want you to -arry -e, 5auren(0

CHA3TER SE:EN

THIS *ou #n0t be happening8 5auren thought #a7e# y( She ha# to be ha u*inating8

Ex*ept that the -an ho #ing her "e t on y too rea > oo2e# on y too rea (

9=ou *an0t be !eriou!,0 !he got out(

9Never -ore !o,0 he !ai#( 9I0ve ha# a wee2 to thin2 about it( Kerry wa! the on y prob e-, but the two o" you !ee- to be getting a ong !o we (0 He 2i!!e# her again, the ten#erne!! -ore te ing than any pa!!ion( 9I ove you,0 he -ur-ure# again!t her ip!(

9=ou *an0t,0 !he whi!pere#( 9It i!n0t po!!ib e80

9To "a in ove in a "ew #ay!60 He !-i e#, !ha2ing hi! hea#( 9A "ortnight ago I0# have !ai# the !a-e thing( That wa! be"ore I 2new you( I0- not nor-a y given to i-pu !ive a*tion, but, having "oun# you, I0- not etting go( =ou -ight not "ee ;uite the !a-e way about -e a! yet, but you0re going to(0

9I a-60 !he !ai# #a7e# y(

9=ou *an bet on it( +e0ve everything going "or u!( A ot -ore than -o!t, in "a*t(0

9=ou #on0t 2nowAanything about -e(0 The wor#! were #ragge# "ro- her(

9I 2now a I nee# to 2now( =ou0re beauti"u , inte igent, !exy, hu-orou!>what -ore *ou # a -an a!2 "or60

Hone!ty, !he thought pain"u y( I" he 2new the truth, none o" thi! wou # be happening(

The *on"e!!ion tre-b e# on her ip!, but a !tronger "or*e he # it ba*2( I" !he too2 that !tep !he !too# to o!e everything( She ove# thi! -an, an# he ove# her( Di# anything e !e rea y have to -atter6

<ra# !ear*he# her "a*e, !en!ing the !trugg e going on in!i#e her( 9+hat are you thin2ing60

The wor#! "or-e# the-!e ve!( 9I thin2 I -u!t be #rea-ing(0

9Doe! that -ean what I thin2 it -ean!60

She #rew a !ha2y breath, aban#oning the a!t tattere# re-nant! o" prin*ip e( 9That I0- in ove with you6 =ou *an bet on it80

He aughe#( 9Then I ta2e it the an!wer0! ye!60

5auren put her ip! ba*2 to hi! in a !u##en ru!h o" e-otion, !tirring hi- to i--e#iate an# pa!!ionate re!pon!e( Sti war- "ro- the !un, the gra!! wa! a we *o-ing -attre!!, the *oo ne!! o" hi! han#! on her heate# !2in a !ti-u ant in the-!e ve!( Not that !ti-u ation wa! ne*e!!ary( She nee#e# thi! a! -u*h a! he #i#( 3erhap! even -ore( She #i#n0t want to thin2, on y to "ee (

He !taye# with her a"ter the tu-u tuou! * i-ax, bearing hi! weight on hi! e bow! a! he wat*he# her e-erge "ro- ob ivion(

9A per"e*t -at*h,0 he !tate# !o"t y( 9=ou ho # nothing ba*2(0

Nothing but the -o!t i-portant thing o" a , *a-e the thought, thru!t a!i#e be"ore it *ou # -a2e too -u*h i-pa*t(

9=ou #on0t -a2e it po!!ib e to ho # ba*2(0 She put up her han#! to *up hi! "a*e, -u*h a! he ha# #one with her ear ier, !-oothing her "inger! over the har# -a e *hee2bone!( 9=ou0re a -an o" -any part!, <ra# ey 5axton( An# a o" the- !en!ationa 80

9Keep thin2ing i2e that,0 he !ai#( 9<ut #on0t !top there( I want -ore "ro- thi! -arriage than !ex a one(0

9=ou0 be getting it,0 !he pro-i!e#( 9I0ve -i!!e# you !o -u*h thi! a!t wee280 She gave a !ha2y !-i e( 9I never i-agine# "or a -o-ent that you *ou # "ee i2e thi! about -e( I thought you were )u!tA0

9A"ter a te-porary be#-ate60 he "ini!he# "or her a! !he et the wor#! trai ( 9I -ight have ha# )u!t that in -in# right at "ir!t, but you ha# -e we an# tru y hoo2e# within hour!(0

5auren 2ept her tone a! ight a! po!!ib e( 9Maybe that wa! -y ai-( =ou have to a#-it, you0re ;uite a *at*h80

9So-e -ight !ee thing! that way, but I0# #oubt you have an avari*iou! bone in your bo#y,0 he re)oine#(

9Oh, I #on0t 2now about that80 !he !ai# !-i ing(

The b ue eye! *rin2 e# at the *orner!( 9+at*h it, a#y( I0 not !tan# "or -o*2ery80 He 2i!!e# the en# o" her no!e be"ore i"ting hi-!e " re u*tant y upright( 9+e0# better get ba*2 be"ore Kerry ta2e! it into her hea# to *o-e oo2ing "or u!(0

5auren !at up un!tea#i y to a#)u!t her own * othing, !pirit! ta2ing a p unge( There wa! no way Kerry wa! going to a**ept it( She0# *on* u#e what !he0# !u!pe*te# "ro- the "ir!tB that her !o4*a e# *arer ha# inveig e# her way into the hou!e with the ob)e*t o" "in#ing a ri*h hu!ban#(

9It0! "ar too !oon to !pring !o-ething i2e thi! on her,0 !he !ai# he!itant y(

9So, we0 wait a whi e( I *an go a ong with that( @u!t(0 On hi! "eet now, <ra# exten#e# a han# to he p her to her!, ho #ing her there in "ront o" hi- "or a -o-ent to !*an her "a*e with that !a-e inten!ity o" e-otion( 9I *an go a ong with anything other than o!ing you(0

9Me too,0 5auren !ai# !o"t y( 9I0ve never "e t thi! way about anyone be"ore(0

9<ut you0re !ti worrie# about Kerry0! rea*tion( She0 *o-e roun#( There0! a huge #i""eren*e in her attitu#e towar#! you a rea#y(0

9There0! a huge #i""eren*e between a**epting !o-ething !he 2now! i! on y "or a i-ite# perio# an# thi!,0 5auren *ountere#( 9She hate! the thought o" you -arrying anyone at a (0

Hi! )aw "ir-e#( 9I0- a"rai# !he0 )u!t have to get u!e# to the i#ea(0

The on y a ternative wa! "or her to wa 2 out on the who e !ituation, 5auren thought, 2nowing !he wa! in*apab e o" that 2in# o" !a*ri"i*e( It wou # be up to her to win Kerry over>to get her to !ee the a#vantage! to be ha#( It wou # ta2e ti-e, but that wou # no onger be at a pre-iu-( There wa! even a *han*e that arrange-ent! *ou # be -a#e "or her to eave boar#ing4!*hoo an# !tart the new ter- a ong!i#e thi! "rien# o" her!( It -ight he p her !ee thing! in a better ight(

It wa! a -o!t #ar2, the !tar! a rea#y g inting in a !2y * ear o" even the !-a e!t * ou#( <ra# put a proprietoria ar- about her !hou #er! a! they !tarte# ba*2 to the hou!e(

9I never a!2e# you about your "a-i y,0 he !ai#( 9Are your parent! !ti in Cana#a60

?p unti thi! -o-ent, 5auren ha#n0t given the- a thought her!e "( Their rea*tion to the new! wa!n0t har# to i-agine( So "ar a! they were *on*erne#, !he wa! a ong4 o!t *au!e(

9They are,0 !he !ai#( 95iving in :an*ouver now(0 She he!itate#, not !ure how be!t to !ay it( 9I #on0t !ee a that -u*h o" the-( +e "e out when I re"u!e# to app y "or natura i!ation a ong with the-( Obviou! y I0 be te ing the- about you, but they -ight not be a that enthu!ia!ti*(0

9Soun#! a! though we0re in pretty -u*h the !a-e boat,0 <ra# ob!erve#( 9So it0! )u!t u!( That0! "ine by -e(0

It wa!n0t )u!t the two o" the- though, wa! it6 5auren thought heavi y( There wa! the !e*ret !he *arrie#( She owe# hi- the truth, !he 2new, but !he *ou #n0t bring her!e " to #o it "or "ear he -ight ta2e the !a-e view Kerry wa! a -o!t *ertain y going to ta2e, an# be ieve !he0# !et out to en!nare hi-( To o!e hi- now wou # be -ore than !he *ou # bear >to !ay nothing o" o!ing a "uture *onta*t with her #aughter too(

Kerry wa! !ti out when they got in( <ra# poure# the- both a #rin2, eyeing her !pe*u ative y a! he han#e# her the g a!!(

9Sti worrying about Kerry0! rea*tion60

9I0- !ti in !ho*2 over the who e thing,0 5auren prevari*ate#( She !ear*he# the ean "eature!( 9Are you rea y !ure thi! i! what you want, <ra#60

9I #on0t -a2e a habit o" a!2ing wo-en to -arry -e(0 He !tu#ie# her upturne# "a*e, -outh *urving( 9=ou #on0t rea i!e your own power( =ou *a-e, I !aw, I wa! *on;uere#8 There0! *ertain y no #oubt on -y !i#e( I #on0t want there to be any on your!(0

Short o" b urting out the rea rea!on "or her he!itation, there wa! on y one an!wer !he *ou # give( 9There i!n0t(0

9Then that0! a that -atter!(0 He too2 a !eat be!i#e her on the !o"a, "o owing the *urve o" her hair with a "inger to ight y tra*e the !hape o" her ip!( 9+e0re going to be goo# together( Not )u!t in be#>though that0! *ertain y not a -inor "a*tor>but in every#ay i"e too( I nee# !o-eone I *an ta 2 with, augh with, p ay the "oo with o**a!iona y( So-eone I *an rant to when thing! #on0t go ;uite to p an, argue the to!! with over #i""eren*e! o" opinion( Doe! that *o-e anywhere near to your i#ea o" a happy -arriage60

9C o!e enough(0 She he!itate# be"ore !aying !o"t y, 9I! that the 2in# o" re ation!hip you an# C aire ha#60

The b ue eye! re-aine# !tea#y( 9In -any way!( <ut no two ove! are ever exa*t y the !a-e( C aire ha# a very b ithe per!ona ity( The on y ti-e I ever !aw her rea y #own wa! when !he "oun# !he wa! unab e to have *hi #ren her!e "( Even then, !he #i#n0t !tay #own ong( She wa! -a2ing en;uirie! about a#option within the wee2( Six -onth! ater, we ha# Kerry(0

5auren yearne# to hear -ore about tho!e ear y #ay! in her #aughter0! i"e, but !he !hran2 "ro- !tirring up too -any -e-orie!(

9Doe! it -atter to you that I0ve been -arrie# be"ore60 <ra# a!2e#, wat*hing the p ay o" expre!!ion a*ro!! her "a*e(

She !hoo2 her hea#, ab e to -a2e that #enia in a hone!ty( 9Not in the ea!t( I )u!t hope I *an ive up to her(0

9There0! no #oubt o" it,0 he #e* are#( 9Not in -y -in#(0

About to #raw her to hi-, he pu e# hi-!e " up abrupt y a! the #oor wa! pu!he# open( Kerry pau!e# on the thre!ho #, the ga7e !he re!te# on the two o" the- !harpene#(

9Are you #i!*u!!ing -e60 !he #e-an#e#(

It wa! 5auren who an!were#, on y too re ieve# by the -i!*on!tru*tion( 9+e were ta 2ing about 5on#on, an# what the two o" u! -ight #o whi e your "ather0! otherwi!e engage#(0

Ha7e eye! "ire# in#ignant y( 9+hat about -y i#ea!60

9I0- ;uite !ure they0 be ta2en into a**ount,0 !ai# <ra# #ri y( 9+hat have you been up to anyway6 I thought you0# gone to be#(0

9I0ve been rea#ing,0 !he !ai#( 9I wa! going to the 2it*hen to get a #rin2 when I hear# you ta 2ing( Have you "orgotten it0! the vi age ga a to-orrow60

9I ha#,0 <ra# a#-itte#( 9+hat about it60

9+e !hou # a go,0 !he !ai#(

9It !oun#! a great way to !pen# the #ay,0 5auren enthu!e#( 9I haven0t been to a ga a in year!80

<ra# put up hi! han#!( 9A right, a right, you ta 2e# -e into it, the pair o" you8 Not the who e #ay though( That wou # be a!2ing )u!t a itt e too -u*h(0

Kerry pu e# a "a*e at hi-( 9Sa*ri"i*e! have to be -a#e by everyone( It open! at ten(0

She #i!appeare# be"ore he *ou # an!wer, eaving hi- torn between a-u!e-ent an# exa!peration( 91ive an in*h, o!e a -i e80 he ob!erve#(

91ive an in*h, gain !evera yar#!,0 5auren *orre*te#( 9She !ai# a ( That in* u#e# -e( Thi! ti-e a!t wee2 !he0# have turne# her no!e up at the very notion(0

9Thi! ti-e a!t wee2, !he har# y 2new you,0 he !ai#( 9It0! a-a7ing how "ar you0ve got in a "ew #ay!( <y the ti-e we te her the new!, the two o" you !hou # be on a goo# enough "ooting to -a2e it -ore ea!i y a**eptab e(0

5auren hope# he wa! right( That wou # be one *on*ern e!!, at ea!t( The re!t !he wou # )u!t have to #ea with a! an# when( How wa! another -atter(

<ra# #rew her to hi-, "eathering her ip! open to exp ore the !o"t inner " e!h with the very tip o" hi! tongue in a -anner that !ent tre-or! through her who e bo#y( She an!were# in!tin*tive y, wanton y, "inger! !ee2ing between the button! o" hi! !hirt "or *onta*t with war- !2in an# wiry bo#y hair, -in# "i e# with nothing but the e-otion! o" the -o-ent(

She *a-e #own to earth again with a thu# when he !ugge!te# they !hou # go to be#, "ighting her own in!tin*t!(

9+e *an0t,0 !he !ai#( 9It0! too ri!2y( Suppo!ing Kerry *at*he! on60

<ra# #rew ba*2 enough to view her "a*e, hi! expre!!ion #i!*or#ant( 9+hat are you !aying6 That we !teer * ear o" any inti-a*y at a unti a"ter we0re -arrie#60

9No( +e , not exa*t y( I -eanA0 She bro2e o"", i"ting her !hou #er! in a he p e!! ge!ture( 9It i!n0t going to he p anything i" Kerry !u!pe*t! we0re ! eeping together( She0! not unaware o" what we a#u t! *an get up to(0

The wea2 )o2e "ai e# to rai!e even a g i--er o" a !-i e( 9So, we0 )u!t have to be *are"u ( Starting now( I want you with -e, 5auren( Tonight, an# every night po!!ib e(0

He got to hi! "eet, exten#ing a han#, hi! )aw "ir- y !et( 9Co-ing60

I" !he re"u!e#, !he0# not on y be going again!t her own nee#!, but a !o putting the -ere po!!ibi ity o" Kerry "in#ing out about the- be"ore hi!, !he *on*e#e#, ta2ing the han#( A! he0# !ai#, they wou # )u!t have to be *are"u (

Se*ure in the 2now e#ge o" hi! "ee ing! "or her, !he "oun# their ove-a2ing even -ore e*!tati*( He wa! !u*h a !uperb, un!e "i!h over, intent on giving her the ut-o!t p ea!ure

be"ore a owing hi-!e " re ie">intro#u*ing her to erogenou! 7one! !he ha#n0t even 2now exi!te# unti now(

She re in;ui!he# a inhibition her!e ", thri ing to the re!pon!e! !he *ou # #raw "ro- hi-( They were !o per"e*t y tune# to ea*h other, !en!itive to every nuan*e( +hat he -a#e her "ee wa! !o -u*h -ore than )u!t !exua !ati!"a*tion, 5auren a*2now e#ge# in the ha7y, a7y a"ter-ath( 5ove wa! the on y wor# that "itte#(

The ga a wa! a rea#y we un#er way when they got to the groun# at e even( Kerry #arte# o"" i--e#iate y on her own pur!uit!, eaving the two o" the- to wan#er aroun# the variou! !ta !( <ra# wa! greete# "ro- a !i#e!(

The extre-e y attra*tive, #ar24haire# wo-an they bu-pe# into by the *o*onut !hy prove# an ex*eption, the oo2 !he gave hi- "ro!ty enough to "ree7e -i 2(

95et0! -ove on,0 !he !ai# to her -a e *o-panion(

9Frien# o" your!60 5auren ;uerie# b an# y(

<ra# i"te# hi! !hou #er!( 9She0! the one I wa! !eeing a!t Satur#ay night( Fir!t an# a!t #ate( I ha#n0t -et you when I -a#e it(0

9Apparent y, !he expe*te# rather -ore "ro- you than !he got(0

9Apparent y(0 He !oun#e# !ingu ar y un#i!turbe#( 9A in the pa!t( It0! the "uture I0oo2ing to now(0

5auren g an*e# hi! way, heart )er2ing a! !he -et the vivi# ga7e( It wa! !ti har# to be ieve he "e t the way he #i# about her( Fee ing! that wou # #ie a !wi"t #eath i" he ever #i!*overe# the truth about her, "or !ure, yet )u!t how ong *ou # !he hope to 2eep her !e*ret6

9=ou0re oo2ing pen!ive again,0 he ob!erve#( 9Sti worrying about Kerry0! rea*tion60

9It0! boun# to be a !ho*2 "or her,0 !he !ai#( 9E!pe*ia y *on!i#ering the ti-e e e-ent(0

9She0 get over it(0

5auren he!itate# be"ore -a2ing the !ugge!tion( 9There are way! o" -a2ing thing! ea!ier "or her to a**ept( She0# ove to !wap boar#ing4!*hoo "or the one her "rien# goe! to near Strat"or#( It *ou # even be po!!ib e to arrange it "or the !tart o" the autu-n ter-(0

<ra# regar#e# her thought"u y, ob iviou! to the *row#! -i ing about the-( 9=ou0re prepare# to be a !tay4at4ho-e wi"e60

9Staying at ho-e #oe!n0t -ean vegetating( There are a thou!an# thing! I *ou # "in# to #o( I *ou # !tart a *rG*he, "or in!tan*e(0

95i2e he you *ou #80 He wa! !-i ing, re*ogni!ing the ga-bit "or what it wa!( 9=ou0 have enough on han# ing the one(0

9=ou agree, then60 !he a!2e#( 9=ou0# et her tran!"er60

9It wou # #epen# on whether <roo2"ie #! ha! a p a*e avai ab e(0 He !oun#e# a itt e re!traine#( 9=ou *ertain y have her intere!t! at heart(0

9=our! too,0 !he !ai#, ai-ing to in)e*t a itt e hu-our( 9Thin2 how -u*h ea!ier i"e wou # be with a tota y happy teenager about the p a*e80

9=ou re*2on a *hange o" !*hoo i! a it0! going to ta2e60

9It wi *ertain y he p(0 She put a han# on hi! ar- in in!tin*tive appea ( 9I want thi! to wor2, <ra#( For a o" u!80

9It wi ,0 he a!!ure# her(

Kerry appeare# through the *row#!, a**o-panie# by a boy aroun# her own age who!e !ho*2 o" bright ginger hair !too# out i2e a bea*on(

9A#rian0! at <roo2"ie #!,0 !he announ*e# without prea-b e( 9He 2now! Sarah(0

9+e0re in the !a-e "or-,0 he *on"ir-e#( 9I! it OK i" Kerry *o-e! to -y birth#ay party tonight60

9+here60 <ra# a!2e#(

9It0! )u!t up the roa#( Oa2! Far-60

9=ou0re Nei Harri!0! !on60

9=e!( =ou 2now -y #a#60

9+e0ve -et a "ew ti-e!(0

Fair y #an*ing with i-patien*e, Kerry bur!t out, 9Can I go, then60

9I #on0t !ee any rea!on why not(0 <ra# oo2e# ba*2 to the boy( 9I0 #rop her o""( +hat ti-e60

9Ha "4pa!t !ix( Da#0! #oing a barbe*ue( =ou an# Mr! 5axton *an *o-e too, i" you i2e( There0 be p enty o" other a#u t! there(0 The a!t on a "aint y re!igne# note(

9Than2!, but I thin2 we0 pa!!,0 <ra# an!were# be"ore Kerry *ou # *ut in with the *orre*tion rea#y on her ip!( 9Ha "4pa!t !ix it i!(0

91reat8 <et I *an beat you on the ro 4a4penny80 he *ha enge# Kerry(

9Not a hope80 !he re!pon#e# at on*e, "orgetting what !he0# been about to !ay(

5auren et out a breath a! the two o" the- too2 o"" again( 9That,0 !he !ai#, 9wa! a rea !ti*2y -o-ent80

9I #on0t !ee why,0 <ra# returne# e;uab y( 9It -ight even have p ante# the i#ea in her hea#(0

Doubting it, !he ightene# her voi*e to !ay )e!ting y, 9I0ve on y )u!t rea i!e#>I0 be 5auren 5axton( It !oun#! i2e a *hara*ter "ro- Super-an80

He aughe#( 9Ca it "ate( 5oi! 5ane wa! -y u ti-ate "anta!y when I wa! a boy(0

It wa! a "anta!y !he wa! iving right now, 5auren re" e*te#( Her "ear wa! wa2ing up "roit(

The ga a wa! we organi!e#, with entertain-ent "or a age!( <ra# won a *o*onut an# a go #"i!h, han#ing both ba*2 to be *o-pete# "or again( They ate "re!h y *oo2e# ha-burger! "or un*h, wa!he# #own with bott e# !han#y "ro- the re"re!h-ent tent, then wat*he# a #i!p ay by the po i*e4#og han# er!(

<y two o0* o*2, he0# ha# enough( They went oo2ing "or Kerry, "in#ing her with a !-a group o" "rien#! over by the !wing boat!( She -a#e it p ain that !he wa!n0t yet rea#y to eave, but <ra# gave her no option( 5auren *ou #n0t b a-e hi- "or re"u!ing to eave her to -a2e her own way ho-e>a though !he wou # probab y have given in to the p ea "or a bit -ore ti-e her!e "(

The at-o!phere in the *ar wa! heavy, to !ay the ea!t( A 5auren0! atte-pt! to ighten her #aughter0! -oo# -et with "ai ure( <ra#0! patien*e ran out be"ore they even rea*he# the hou!e(

9Carry on i2e thi!, an# you *an "orget about tonight,0 he threatene#(

9I #on0t want to go now, anyway80 Kerry #e* are# !u 2i y( 9They0 a be aughing at -e, being #ragge# o"" i2e that80

9I" they are, they0re not the 2in# o" "rien#! you nee#(0

There wa! no an!wer "ro- the rear( 5auren bit #own on her own tongue, -etaphori*a y !pea2ing( She wa!n0t !o "ar pa!t her own gir hoo# that !he *ou #n0t re-e-ber how it "e t to be !hown up in "ront o" one0! "rien#!( E!pe*ia y new "rien#!(

Kerry got out o" the *ar without a wor# the -o-ent it *a-e to a !tan#!ti , !ta 2ing o"" in#oor! without a ba*2war# g an*e(

9There are ti-e!,0 <ra# !ai# !hort y, 9when I won#er why I bother80

9=ou0ve been through puberty your!e ",0 5auren #e"en#e#( 9=ou -u!t re-e-ber what it0! i2e to be treate# i2e a 2i# when you #on0t "ee i2e one any -ore(0

9=ou0# et her run riot i" !he wa! your!, then60

It too2 5auren everything !he ha# to 2eep her expre!!ion unrevea ing, her voi*e *a -( 9No, o" *our!e not( I0- not !aying you were wrong to in!i!t !he *a-e ho-e with u!, )u!t that it wou #n0t have hurt to !tay a itt e onger our!e ve!( How o"ten #oe! !he get the *han*e to -ing e with the o*a youth60

9Certain y not a! -u*h a! !he wou # i" !he atten#e# <roo2"ie #!(0 He pau!e#, an o## expre!!ion in hi! eye!( 9@u!t whi*h o" u! i! -o!t i-portant to you60

9That0! not "air80 !he prote!te#( 9It0! a tota y #i""erent thing(0

9I! it60

9=e!80 She wa! #e!perate to *onvin*e hi-, 2nowing it un i2e y yet terri"ie# he -ight ta2e a !tab in the #ar2( 9+hat I "ee "or you bear! no *o-pari!on( How *ou # it po!!ib y60

He oo2e# !u##en y wry( 9I never thought it po!!ib e to "ee )ea ou! o" -y own #aughter(0

9I ove you,0 !he !ai#, #e!perate to *onvin*e hi-( 9=ou0re a -an in a -i ion, <ra#80

The b ue eye! 2in# e#( 9I0 !ett e "or the "ir!t bit(0

5auren -et hi! ip! ha "way, putting heart an# !ou into the 2i!!( Han#! burie# in the go #en "a o" her hair, he he # her * o!e, hi! -outh po!!e!!ive(

95et0! go on in,0 he -ur-ure#(

9It0! bare y three o0* o*2,0 !he prote!te# ha "hearte# y(

9I 2now(0 The #evi i!h !par2 e wa! ba*2 in hi! eye!( 9More than "our hour! ti #inner( It -ight )u!t be ong enough(0

+ith Kerry !u 2ing in her roo-, the * eaner! ong "ini!he# "or the #ay, an# Mr! 3 probab y whi ing away the a"ternoon in her own apart-ent, there wa! no one to !ee the pair o" the- hea#ing up!tair!( 5auren o!t !ight o" everything e !e in hi! ar-!( Ma2ing ove with <ra# wa! an experien*e !he *ou #n0t have enough o"( Hi! 2now e#ge o" )u!t where an# how to tou*h to have her writhing in e*!ta!y -ight in#i*ate how -any wo-en he -u!t have 2nown in the pa!t to have a*;uire# that #egree o" experti!e, but pa!t wa! the operative wor#(

It wa! gone !ix when they "ina y *a e# ti-e( 5auren rea*he# her roo- without running into anyone, an# !pent ha " an hour pa*2ing a bag "or to-orrow0! trip be"ore *hanging "or #inner(

The p ea!urab e a*he in the ower ha " o" her bo#y wa! a *on!tant re-in#er o" the a"ternoon0! ex*e!!e!( She *ou #n0t regret a -inute o" it, but neither *ou # !he 2eep "rothin2ing about the way !he0# aban#one# Kerry at a ti-e when !he0# nee#e# !o-eone( Even i" her overture! ha# been re"u!e#, it wou # have !hown *on*ern(

It wa! a !urpri!e, but a happy one, to hear "ro- Mr! 3erri-an when !he went #own that <ra# wa! running Kerry to the party at Oat! Far-(

The hou!e2eeper -a#e no *o--ent, but the twin2 e in her eye! !po2e vo u-e!(

Kerry ha# pu e# out a the !top!, <ra# !ai# on hi! return( 9I wa! a way! a !o"t tou*h when it *o-e! to tear!,0 he a#-itte#( 9An# !he 2now! it, the itt e #e-on8 +e0re going out to #inner our!e ve!, by the way(0

9So Mr! 3 te ! -e(0 5auren he!itate#( 9I thin2 !he -ight !u!pe*t !o-ething(0

He oo2e# un*on*erne#( 9Doe! it -atter60

9+e , no, provi#ing !he #oe!n0t !ay anything to Kerry(0 She *aught her!e " up, !en!ing hi! attitu#e har#en a "ra*tion( It ha# to happen !o-e ti-eC !he *ou # a -o!t hear hi!aying it( On y not )u!t yet( Not unti her re ation!hip with her #aughter wa! on a "ir-er "ooting( 9+here are we going "or #inner, anyway60

9A itt e p a*e I 2now near Strat"or#,0 he !ai#( 9The tab e0! boo2e# "or eight o0* o*2, !o we0# better get o""( I to # the Harri!e! we0# pi*2 Kerry up no ater than ten4thirty( They0

probab y have ha# enough the-!e ve! by then, )u#ging "ro- the throng #own there( I thin2 they -u!t have invite# everybo#y in a twenty4-i e ra#iu!80

9Maybe we !hou # have gone our!e ve! a"ter a ,0 5auren venture#(

9That wou # rea y have p ea!e# a *ertain per!on,0 *a-e the #ry rep y( 9There0 be ti-e enough "or getting together with the neighbour!, i" that0! what you "an*y #oing(0

She #i#n0t( Not yet at any rate( She ha# ;uite enough to be going on with(

Converte# "ro- three *ottage! 2no*2e# into one, the re!taurant wa! ex* u!ive both in #e*or an# * iente e( The "oo# wa! !uper ative, every #i!h a gour-et0! #e ight( 5auren "ini!he# o"" with a e-on -ou!!e to #ie "or(

9That,0 !he #e* are#, 9wa! pure heaven80

<ra# !tu#ie# her in the *an# e g ow, ga7e trave ing "ro- the e-era # brightne!! o" her eye! #own the !-ooth *urve o" her *hee2 to the !o"t "u ne!! o" her -outh( 9A * a!!y !etting "or a * a!!y wo-an,0 he !ai#( 9I0- not !ure )u!t how ong I *an wait to -a2e *ertain o" you(0

I" it wa! )u!t the two o" the-, !he wou #n0t want to wait either, 5auren a#-itte#( Not the way !he "e t about hi-(

9=ou are *ertain o" -e,0 !he a!!ure# hi-( 9I0- not going anywhere(0 She "e t her in!i#e! turn " ui# at the oo2 in the b ue eye!, !ti har# y ab e to be ieve her!e " *apab e o" rou!ing that #epth o" e-otion in a -an( 9=ou0re -a2ing -e b u!h,0 !he * ai-e#(

He rea*he# a*ro!! an# too2 her han# where it re!te# on the #a-a!2 * oth, rai!ing it to hi! ip!( 9Irre!i!tib y80

I" on y there were no !e*ret! between the-, !he thought a*hing y( +hy #i#n0t !he *on"e!! the truth an# have #one with it6

She 2new why, o" *our!e( <e*au!e there wa! a very rea *han*e that he wou # !u!pe*t her o" p aying hi- a ong with thi! very !ituation in -in#( Not )u!t "or Kerry0! !a2e, but "or her own too, !he ha# to *arry it through( 3erhap! there -ight *o-e a ti-e when !he *ou # *o-e * ean, but it *ertain y wa!n0t yet(

It wa! a -o!t a ;uarter to e even when they got to the "ar-( The party wa! to a intent! an# purpo!e! over, a though a "ew a#u t !tragg er! !ti re-aine#( A p ea!ant *oup e in their ate thirtie!, the Harri!e! bru!he# <ra#0! apo ogy "or their tar#ine!! in pi*2ing Kerry up a!i#e( She wa!, they !ai#, we *o-e to *o-e over any ti-e(

Kerry ha# itt e to !ay on the way ho-e( 5auren put her !i en*e #own to tire#ne!!( A theory borne out when her o""er to he p pa*2, on #i!*overing that no preparation! ha# been -a#e "or the *o-ing trip, wa! a**epte# without #e-ur(

9=ou #i# en)oy the party60 !he a!2e# when the two o" the- were a one in the be#roo!orting out what to ta2e(

The young "a*e it up brie" y( 9O" *our!e I #i#( It wa! great80

9<ut60 5auren pro-pte#(

9<ut what60

9=ou0re not a hun#re# per *ent happy about thing!, are you60

For a -o-ent or two it !ee-e# !he wa!n0t going to get an an!wer, then Kerry et out a !u##en !igh(

9I wi!h I #i#n0t have to go away to !*hoo any -ore(0

5auren "or*e# ba*2 the wor#! that ro!e in!tin*tive y to her tongue( Rea!!uran*e on that !*ore wou # *a "or exp anation! a! to why an# how, with the rea*tion har# y i2e y to be "avourab e at thi! )un*ture, regar# e!! o" the a#vantage!( Another *oup e o" wee2! *ou # -a2e a the #i""eren*e i" !he p aye# thing! the right way(

9It0! a #i""i*u t !ituation,0 !he !ai# *are"u y( 9The !o ution -ight be i" your "ather got -arrie# again(0

A ar- eapt in the gir 0! eye!( 9=ou thin2 he -ight be *on!i#ering -arrying thi! Diane wo-an60

5auren !hoo2 her hea#, ab e to rea!!ure her on that point at ea!t( 9Not a *han*e( There wa! nothing between the-(0

Kerry ga7e# at her #ubiou! y( 9How #o you 2now60

9He to # -e(0

9+hy wou # he te you60

5auren " oun#ere# "or a -o-ent( 9ItA)u!t *a-e out in *onver!ation,0 !he !ai# wea2 y( She in#i*ate# a pi e o" * othing ta2en "ro- a #rawer( 9+hi*h o" the!e top! #o you want to ta2e60

Si#etra*2e#, Kerry *a-e to oo2, #i!*ar#ing on y three o" the eight or nine ying there( 9=ou never 2now,0 !he !ai# in re!pon!e to 5auren0! rai!e# eyebrow!(

She !ee-e# rather -ore upbeat by the ti-e they parte# "or the night( The ha wa! in #ar2ne!! when 5auren too2 a oo2 over the ga ery rai ( 5i2ewi!e the other wing( +ith the ti-e *o-ing up to -i#night, an# an ear y !tart !*he#u e# "or the -orning, it wa! har# y !urpri!ing i" <ra# ha# #e*i#e# to !pen# the night a one, !he !uppo!e#, a though !he ha# to a#-it to a *ertain *hagrin that he *ou # even *onte-p ate it(

She returne# ;uiet y a ong the *orri#or to her own roo-, !ti" ing an ex* a-ation on "in#ing hi- waiting "or her in the be#( Obviou! y nu#e beneath the !heet #rawn a*ro!! at wai!t eve , !hou #er! bron7e# in the a-p ight, he it a "ire in!i#e her( There wa! itt e *han*e o" Kerry popping in on the-, but !he turne# the 2ey in the o*2 anyway be"ore going to )oin hi-, !e*ure in their priva*y(

CHA3TER EI1HT

THE= rea*he# the *apita )u!t be"ore -i##ay a"ter an unevent"u #rive( The " at wa! part o" a warehou!e *onver!ion over oo2ing the river( ? tra4-o#ern in #e!ign, it wa! tota y #i""erent "ro- 5auren0! expe*tation!(

9Convenien*e,0 !ai# <ra#, noting her !urpri!e( 9I0- #ue in the -eeting at ha "4pa!t two,0 he a##e#( 9I" we0re going to have un*h, we0# better -a2e tra*2! now( =ou *an unpa*2 ater(0

The *ar wa! e"t in the ba!e-ent garage( Fin#ing anywhere to par2 at thi! hour wou # be virtua y i-po!!ib e( They too2 a taxi to City Rho#e!, pa!!ing the ti-e o" #ay with the "a-ou! young *he" hi-!e ", who wa! paying a " eeting pub i*ity vi!it( Kerry too2 it a in

her !tri#e, ea#ing 5auren to the *on* u!ion that thi! wa! by no -ean! the "ir!t ti-e !he0# !a-p e# the *ity high i"e(

9I0ve "et*he# her out o" !*hoo the o**a!iona wee2en#,0 <ra# *on"ir-e# when !he put the ;ue!tion whi e Kerry wa! away "ro- the tab e "or a "ew -inute!( 9At ea!t there0! no !hortage o" entertain-ent here(0

9She to # -e you too2 her to Di!ney an# at Ea!ter,0 5auren !ai#( 9That *an0t have been -u*h "un "or you(0

9A*tua y, I thorough y en)oye# it(0 He grinne# at the oo2 on her "a*e( 9Mention !e*on# *hi #hoo#, an# you0 #o penan*e80

9A! i" !u*h a thought wou # *ro!! -y -in#80 She !*rutini!e# the !trong y *arve# "eature!, the #e*orou! grey !uit an# pri!tine white !hirt, trying to i-agine hi- 7oo-ing aroun# on the g ori"ie# "airgroun# ri#e!( 9Are you rea y !eriou!60

9Rea y,0 he !ai#( 9There0! a ot -ore to it than you0# thin2( =ou0 nee# to !ee it "or your!e " to 2now what I0- ta 2ing about( I #are !ay Kerry wou #n0t turn her no!e up at another trip(0

5auren wa! !ure o" it( +hat !he *ou #n0t get her hea# roun# wa! the "uture he wa! -apping out( 5itt e -ore than a wee2 ago he ha#n0t even been aware o" her exi!ten*e(

9Sti #oubting -e60 he a!2e#(

9Not you your!e ", )u!t a thi!,0 !he a#-itte#( 9=ou ive in a wor # I *ou # never have a!pire# to( It0! going to ta2e !o-e getting u!e# to(0

9+hat i!60 a!2e# Kerry, ! i#ing ba*2 into her !eat(

9<eing ba*2 on ho-e groun#,0 5auren an!were# !wi"t y( 9Or virtua y( I wa! born in Harrow(0

9+hy #i# you go to Cana#a60 a!2e# the gir *uriou! y(

9My "ather wa! tran!"erre# there by hi! "ir-(0

9Di# you want to go60

5auren0! !-i e "e t a itt e !ti""( 9I #i#n0t have -u*h *hoi*e(0

9Do you have any brother! an# !i!ter!60 Kerry pur!ue#(

9A"rai# not(0 5auren *ou # "ee <ra#0! ga7e on her, !ure he -u!t re*ogni!e her #i!*o-"iture( She wa! re ieve# to !ee the waiter approa*hing with #e!!ert -enu!(

<y the ti-e !he0# *ho!en what !he wante#, Kerry ha# "orgotten what they0# been ta 2ing about( <ra# -a#e no atte-pt to return to the !ub)e*t either, though !he *ou # !en!e a *ertain !pe*u ation in hi! regar#( She0# brought the !ub)e*t up to get out o" one ho e, on y to an# her!e " in another( He !u!pe*te# !he wa! hi#ing !o-ething(

They parte# *o-pany out!i#e the re!taurant, having arrange# to -eet ba*2 at the " at at ha "4pa!t "ive( 1iven a "ree *hoi*e, Kerry opte# "or a vi!it to Harro#! to !tart with, going on "ro- there to Harvey Ni*ho !( 5auren trie# on a "ew ite-! her!e " at her urging, "ini!hing up with a *ara-e !i 2 !uit *o!ting -ore than !he0# ever !pent on a !ing e out"it in her i"e be"ore(

9=ou *an wear that at #inner tonight,0 Kerry #e* are# at the *a!h #e!2( 9Da#0! !ure to ta2e u! !o-ewhere !pe*ia 80

9Thi! wi ta2e you anywhere, -a#a-,0 !tate# the !a e! a!!i!tant, !e*uring the #i!tin*tive *arrier( 9An ex*e ent *hoi*e with your *o ouring( The !ha#e wou # be goo# on your #aughter too,0 !he a##e#(

5auren "e t her "a*e go "ir!t hot an# then *o #( 5u*2i y, Kerry ha# -ove# away to oo2 at a #i!p ay( Not that the re-ar2 wou # have been i2e y to give her any "oo# "or thought i" !he0# hear# it, 5auren a!!ure# her!e "(

It wa! a -o!t ha "4pa!t !ix when they rea*he# the " at, to "in# <ra# a rea#y *hange# "or the evening(

9+e got *aught up in the ru!h hour,0 5auren exp aine#( 9It too2 age! to get a taxi(0

9It -ight have been an i#ea to 2eep an eye on the ti-e,0 he !ai# !hort y( 9=ou0# better hurry up an# get rea#y( I0ve theatre ti*2et! boo2e#( +e0 have to eat ater(0

9<et he thought we0# been -ugge# or !o-ething,0 re-ar2e# Kerry in the roo- they were !haring( 9Are you going to wear the !uit you bought60

5auren !hoo2 her hea#( 9There i!n0t going to be ti-e "or any -a)or titivating(0 She opene# the !uit*a!e !ti waiting to be unpa*2e#, extra*ting a *rea- )er!ey tuni* that nee#e# no ironing( 9Thi! wi #o -e(0

Kerry *ho!e a #re!! her!e ", " a!hing a grin( 9<etter not ir2 Da# any -ore by turning up in trou!er!( I0 u!e hi! bathroo-( See you in "i"teen(0

5auren !pent !evera -inute! ta2ing her hair up in a !-ooth !weep, hoping the pin! wou # ho # throughout the evening( The high4hee e# !an#a ! in*rea!e# her "ive4"eet4 !even by a goo# three in*he!, whi*h !ti e"t her !hort o" another three at ea!t to -at*h <ra#0! height( A big -an in every !en!e o" the wor#, !he thought(

She returne# to the !pa*iou! iving area to "in# hi- aying #own the aw regar#ing the eye iner an# -a!*ara Kerry ha# app ie# with a !o-ewhat over4enthu!ia!ti* han#(

9=ou0re !u*h a "u##y4#u##y80 !he !tor-e#, be"ore ta2ing her!e " ba*2 to the bathroo- to re-ove the !tu""( 9+e0re going to be even ater now80

9Not -y #oing,0 5auren #i!* ai-e# a! the b ue ga7e turne# her way(

9So where #i# !he get it60 he #e-an#e#(

9I wou #n0t 2now( She *ertain y #i#n0t buy it thi! a"ternoon( I agree about the eye!, though I #on0t thin2 a tou*h o" ip!ti*2 wou # oo2 a-i!!,0 !he a##e# -i # y( 9It0! a genera y a**epte# thing the!e #ay!(0

9Not by -e( Not "or another *oup e o" year! at the very ea!t(0 He !hoo2 hi! hea# e-phati*a y a! !he opene# her -outh to re!pon#( 9It i!n0t open to #ebate( I0 #e*i#e what0! be!t "or her(0

5auren * a-pe# #own har# on the retort that ro!e a too rea#i y to her ip!, turning away to *on*ea her "ru!tration( 9=ou0ve -a#e that very * ear,0 !he !ai#(

Kerry0! #i!grunt e# return to the roo- put an en# to any rep y he -ight have been about to -a2e( She *ertain y #i#n0t nee# -a2e4up to enhan*e her oo2!, but that wa!n0t the

point o" the exer*i!e, 5auren 2new( +hat !he wante# wa! what a young teenager! wante#>to oo2 -ore a#u t(

The -u!i*a <ra# ha# *ho!en wa! en)oyab e enough to i"t any -oo#( Kerry ha# thawe# *on!i#erab y by the interva , an# *o-p ete y by the en# o" the !how(

9=ou0re !ti a "u##y4#u##y though,0 !he !ai# in the re!taurant he too2 the- to "or a ate !upper( 9I bet Mo- wou # have et -e wear -a2e4up(0

9I very -u*h #oubt it,0 <ra# returne# e;uab y( 9She har# y ever wore any her!e "(0 He oo2e# a*ro!! at 5auren, ip! ti ting( 9Sti -a# at -e60

9+hat gave you the i#ea I wa! -a# at you60 !he ;uerie#(

9The 2ni"e in -y ba*2 -ight have a bearing(0

Her !-i e wa! invo untary( 9=ou were a bit bo-ba!ti*(0

9+hen60 a!2e# Kerry(

9+hi e you were !*rubbing your "a*e,0 he !ai#( 95auren thin2! you !hou # be a owe# a !p a!h o" ip!ti*2(0

9I a*tua y !ai# a tou*h,0 5auren *orre*te#( 9Not that you rea y nee# it(0

9+hi*h bring! u! ba*2 to !;uare one( How ong i! it going to ta2e "or tho!e !trea2! to grow out60 <ra# a##e#(

9Age!(0 Kerry !oun#e# "aint y #e"iant again( 9I *ou # a way! have the re!t #one to -at*h >or even !have it a o""80

Hi! ip! twit*he#( 9That -ight be a bit o" an over2i , #on0t you thin260

95auren60 A wo-an #eta*he# her!e " "ro- a !-a group about to pa!! their tab e( 9I! it rea y you60

5auren "oun# her voi*e with an e""ort, the botto- #roppe# right out o" her !to-a*h( 9He o, Maureen( How are you60

9Fine( @u!t "ine8 An# how are you60

91reat(0 S-i e "ixe#, 5auren g an*e# a*ro!! at <ra#( 9Maureen an# I were at !*hoo together(0

9A ot o" year! ago,0 aughe# the other( Her ga7e went "ro- hi! "a*e to Kerry0! an# ba*2 to 5auren0!( 9Fa-i y outing, i! it60

9Mr 5axton0! -y e-p oyer(0 5auren wi!he# the " oor wou # open up an# !wa ow her( 9Thi! i! hi! #aughter(0

9=ou0re a nanny60

95auren0! -y *o-panion,0 !ai# Kerry on a "ro!ty note( 9I0- way pa!t nee#ing a nanny80

9Debatab e at ti-e!,0 <ra# put in #ri y( 9It0! a rare *oin*i#en*e you running into ea*h other i2e thi! a"ter !o ong(0

9I!n0t it though60 Maureen agree#( 9+hen #i# you *o-e ba*2 "ro- Cana#a, 5auren60

9Re*ent y(0

9For goo#60

9That0! right(0

95u*2y you to "a !traight into a )ob8 +e !hou # get together !o-e ti-e(0

9I0- on y in town "or a *oup e o" #ay!,0 5auren !ai# !wi"t y(

9I thin2 your "rien#! are getting a bit i-patient,0 <ra# a#vi!e#(

Maureen g an*e# towar#! the group hovering by the re!taurant #oor!, then ba*2 again via a ingering, !pe*u ative oo2 at Kerry to 5auren, obviou! y re u*tant to eave it at that( 9Ni*e !eeing you again, anyway(0

9=ou too,0 5auren ie#(

She #rew a !ha ow breath a! the other wo-an -ove# on, *on!*iou! o" <ra#0! eye! on her(

9I gather you were none too 2een on the i#ea o" getting together again,0 he !ai#(

9+e weren0t exa*t y * o!e "rien#!,0 !he returne#( 9I #i#n0t !ee -u*h point(0

9No one you -ight i2e to oo2 up whi e you0re in the area60

9I #on0t thin2 !o(0 She 2ept her tone a! *a!ua a! po!!ib e( 9It0! a a ong ti-e ago(0

He !ai# no -ore, to her re ie"( Running into Maureen She by ha# been ba# enough( It wa! true that they0# never been * o!e "rien#!, but !he0# 2nown about the pregnan*y, an# the a#option( Everyone ha# 2nown8 Fro- the way !he0# oo2e# at Kerry )u!t now, there wa! a *han*e that !ee#! o" !u!pi*ion, no -atter how "aint, *ou # have been !own( Her own obviou! #i!ruption ha#n0t he pe#(

9So, what are we #oing to-orrow60 a!2e# Kerry( 9I !uppo!e you0 be bu!y again, Da#60

9A"rai# !o,0 he !ai#( 9Steve *an #ea with whatever *rop! up a"ter that though( I thought we -ight hop a*ro!! to <rittany "or a "ew #ay!(0

91reat80 !he ex* ai-e#(

9+e #i#n0t bring the right * othe! "or that 2in# o" trip,0 !ai# 5auren, be-u!e# by the !ugge!tion(

9+hat we #on0t have we *an get there,0 <ra# re)oine# ea!i y( 9It0! a very *a!ua p a*e(0

9Mo- ove# it(0 Kerry !oun#e# re-ini!*ent( 9+e u!e# to go there a ot when I wa! itt e( Can we have a gHte60

9Might be #i""i*u t to "in# one going !pare thi! ti-e o" year, but we *an *ertain y try(0 Hi! attention wa! !ti on 5auren( 9Having #oubt!60

It wa!n0t #oubt !he wa! "ee ing, )u!t regret "or the year! !he0# been #enie#( 9None at a ,0 !he !ai#, brightening both voi*e an# expre!!ion( 9It !oun#! won#er"u 80

It wa! obviou! that he wa!n0t *o-p ete y *onvin*e# by the a*t, but he et it go( She ha# to !top #we ing on what wa! pa!t an# gone, an# *on*entrate on -a2ing the -o!t o" what wa! !ti to *o-e, !he thought re!o ute y(

It wa! *o-ing up to ha "4pa!t twe ve when they -a#e it ba*2 to the " at( A -o!t a! eep on her "eet, Kerry went !traight o"" to be#(

9I thin2 I0 turn in too,0 5auren #e* are#( 9It0! been a ong #ay(0

9A "ew -ore -inute! won0t hurt(0 <ra# in#i*ate# the !o"a !et within the *urve o" the huge win#ow oo2ing out over the #ar2ene# river( 9One or two thing! we !hou # perhap! ta 2 about(0

5auren too2 a !eat, !tee ing her!e " "or whatever wa! to *o-e( He !at #own * o!e though not too * o!e, !tu#ying her "or an en# e!! -o-ent be"ore !pea2ing(

9Seeing that wo-an ba*2 there in the re!taurant up!et you, #i#n0t it60

Denying it wou # be a wa!te o" ti-e an# breath, !he thought ho ow y( +hat !he ha# to "in# wa! a p au!ib e rea!on "or the rea*tion he0# by no -ean! been b in# to(

9<eing uproote# "ro- everything ta2e! !o-e getting over,0 wa! a !he *ou # *o-e up with( 9It )u!t brought it a ba*2, that0! a (0

9There were no re ative! you *ou # have !taye# with at the ti-e60

9No(0

9Not even gran#parent!60

9They were a #ea# by then(0 5auren "e t boun# to o""er -ore than )u!t that bare !tate-ent( 9My -other wa! thirty4nine when I wa! born, -y "ather "orty( They0# never rea y wante# a *hi # at a ( Da#0! retire# now, o" *our!e(0

9They0ve never wante# to *o-e ba*2 ho-e60

9Not even "or a vi!it(0 She he!itate# be"ore !ei7ing the opportunity( 9I0# a! !oon )u!t te the- I0- getting -arrie# an# eave it at that( They wou #n0t *o-e over anyway(0

It wa! #i""i*u t to te what <ra#0! thought! -ight be( 9+hatever you thin2 be!t,0 he !ai#( There wa! another pau!e, a ! ight *hange o" tone( 9Anything e !e to te -e60

5auren "e t the ban# about her *he!t tighten a -o!t unbearab y( To have it a out in the open wou # be !u*h a re ie", but !he #are# not ta2e the ri!2(

9Nothing I *an thin2 o",0 !he !ai#, won#ering how !he *ou # !oun# !o *a - about it with every nerve in her bo#y on e#ge( She !ought a *hange o" !ub)e*t( 9+i thi! be the "ir!t ti-e you0ve been ba*2 to <rittany60

9Sin*e C aire #ie#, you -ean60 He !oun#e# ;uite -atter4o"4"a*t about it( 9=e!, a! it happen!(0

9+on0t you "in# it a bit tooAno!ta gi*60

9No!ta gia #oe!n0t have to be !orrow"u (0 He #rew her to hi-, !-oothing the ba o" hi! thu-b gent y a*ro!! her ip!( 9Kerry wou # have -a#e it p ain enough i" !he #i#n0t want you with u!(0

9I !uppo!e(0 Her eye! were u-inou!( 9+e #o !ee- to be getting on rather we (0

9<etter than I *ou # have hope#( E!pe*ia y in !o !hort a ti-e(0 He !-i e#( 9I thin2 you *a!t a !pe on the two o" u!(0

Hope"u y a a!ting one, !he thought a! he 2i!!e# her(

They parte# "or the night with re u*tan*e on both !i#e!( 5auren won#ere# i" it ha# o**urre# to hi- that #i!*retion wou # be the or#er o" the #ay in <rittany too( I" they were to pre!ent Kerry with the new! in two wee2!0 ti-e, it wa! obviou! y going to be ne*e!!ary to bui # an atta*h-ent between the two o" the-, but it -u!t be #one with "ine!!e( Even then, the *han*e! o" her ta2ing it we ha# to be re-ote(

De!pite the !u--er *row#!, they -anage# to "in# a gHte "or rent in a !-a vi age on the we!t *oa!t( S eeping up to !ix peop e, it wa! arger than 5auren wou # have anti*ipate#, *o-pri!ing two be#roo-!, a ba!i* but a#e;uate 2it*hen an# a huge iving area( +ith a itt e *ove "ew peop e appeare# to have #i!*overe# within wa 2ing #i!tan*e, it o""ere# a -o!t everything anyone *ou # wi!h "or in her e!ti-ation(

They #i# their own *oo2ing, having !to*2e# up with gro*erie! at the port( <ra# prove# a virtuo!o on the barbe*ue( I" Kerry wa! re-in#e# o" #ay! gone by, !he !howe# no !ign o" being up!et by the -e-orie!(

For 5auren, the who e experien*e wa! pure para#i!e( Thi! wa! the 2in# o" "a-i y i"e !he ha# #rea-t about a the!e year!( She wi!he# they *ou # !tay here "orever(

9Even thi! *ou # pa a"ter a whi e,0 <ra# ob!erve# when !he !ai# a! -u*h to hi- a! they ounge# on the bea*h the !e*on# -orning( 9+e nee# the -un#ane "or *ontra!t(0

9I0# har# y *a your i"e!ty e -un#ane,0 !he returne# ight y(

9Neither wou # I,0 he agree#( 9I wa! !pea2ing genera y( I hope you0re not having any !e*on# thought! about putting Kerry in #ay !*hoo , by the way, be*au!e I0ve a rea#y -a#e the arrange-ent!(0

Eye! !ee2ing the pretty young "igure #own by the water0! e#ge, 5auren !hoo2 her hea#( 9She hate! going away an# eaving everything( E!pe*ia y now !he0! -et A#rian an# Co(0 She !to e a !i#eway! g an*e at the bare4*he!te# -an proppe# *o-"ortab y again!t a ro*2, !en!e! !tirring a! a way!( 9There0 be a pri*e to pay, o" *our!e( She0 expe*t to have the- a over to the hou!e(0

9More your provin*e than -ine,0 *a-e the unperturbe# rep y(

9Do you p an on !pen#ing a ot o" ti-e away "ro- ho-e60 !he a!2e# a"ter a -o-ent(

9No -ore than ne*e!!ary(0 Hi! tone ha# !harpene# a "ra*tion( 9I hope you0re not thin2ing o" !ugge!ting I give it a up60

9No, o" *our!e not( 5ove y a! it i!, you0# #ie o" bore#o- !tu*2 at Rave a a the ti-e(0

9At ea!t I wou #n0t be !u""ering the !a-e 2in# o" with#rawa !y-pto-!( I 2now thi! wa! -y !ugge!tion, but -u*h -ore o" it an# I0- going to b ow a ga!2et80

9Forbearan*e i! goo# "or the !ou ,0 5auren returne# b an# y(

9It i!n0t -y !ou I0- *on*erne# with right now(0 Hi! ga7e rove# her bo#y in the !2i-py ye ow bi2ini, hi! expre!!ion eaving itt e #oubt o" hi! "ee ing!( 9Enough to #rive a -an to #rin280

9It0! no ea!ier "or -e,0 !he -ur-ure#( 9Sharing a roo- with Kerry i! great, but I0# !ooner be with you(0

9I !hou # hope !o too80 He pau!e#( 9=ou thin2 the!e a!t "ew #ay! have he pe# the two o" you get a bit * o!er60

9In !o-e way!, ye!, though there0! !ti a ong way to go(0

9=ou0 get there( She *ertain y !ee-! a ot happier(0

More to #o with having hi- aroun# than her!e ", !he thought( No -atter how * o!e !he an# Kerry -ight get in ti-e, it !too# to rea!on that he wou # a way! -ean the -o!t(

Kerry *a-e ba*2 up the bea*h, the oo2 !he re!te# on the pair o" the- i-patient( 9How ong are you two going to !tay ta 2ing60 !he #e-an#e#( 9The !ea0! war- a! toa!t80

<ra# got ithe y to hi! "eet, !winging her up over a !hou #er to the tune o" her !;uea !( 9+e0 !ee how war- you thin2 it i! when I #u-p you in it80

5auren wat*he# hi- ra*e #own the !tret*h o" !an# to #o a! he ha# threatene#, aware o" !-i e! on the "a*e! o" other! in the vi*inity a! they wat*he# too( Hi! re ation!hip with Kerry wa! !o #i""erent "ro- what !he ha# "ir!t be ieve#( How *ou # !he ever have a**u!e# hi- o" not *aring6

That wee2 wa! the happie!t o" her i"e( The three o" the- went everywhere together( I" Kerry re!ente# her pre!en*e at a , !he *ertain y #i#n0t !how it(

9At ea!t you 2now how to have "un80 !he !ai# -agnani-ou! y one night(

9Not too o #, then60 5auren ;uerie#, #o#ging the pi ow that *a-e winging a*ro!! "rothe other be#(

9Iuiet in there80 <ra# *a e# "ro- next #oor( 9So-e o" u! are trying to get !o-e ! eep80

9So-e o" u! nee# it -ore than other!,0 Kerry *a e# ba*2 *hee2i y, rai!ing a !hort augh(

He wa! !u""ering the !a-e "ru!tration! !he wa! !u""ering, 5auren 2new( She onge# to be with hi-, but Kerry wa! too ight a ! eeper to ta2e the ri!2 o" *reeping through ater( They ha# the re!t o" their ive! to -a2e up "or it anyway( A thought !he * ung to happi y(

It ha# to *o-e to an en# eventua y, o" *our!e( She !ai# goo#bye to the gHte with regret on Sun#ay -orning( Apart "ro- the ne*e!!ary #i!*retion, it ha# been a won#er"u "ew #ay!( <a*2 at Rave a the !a-e prob e-! awaite#( However we !he an# Kerry !ee-e# to be #oing, there wa! no way the new! wa! going to be a**eptab e )u!t yet>i" at a (

They arrive# at the hou!e aroun# "our on the Mon#ay a"ternoon( Kerry went !traight over to the !tab e! the -o-ent they got in( She reappeare# an hour ater oo2ing, to 5auren0! eye! at ea!t, a! though !he -ight have been *rying(

Dia-on# ha# been we ta2en *are o", !he re!pon#e# !hort y when a!2e#( They a ha#(

+hatever ha# happene#, 5auren wa! pretty !ure it ha# !o-ething to #o with Mi*2( She *on!i#ere# *on"i#ing in <ra#, but "eare# hi! rea*tion( She ha# to "in# !o-e way o" broa*hing the !ub)e*t with Kerry her!e "(

She got her *han*e when <ra# retire# to the !tu#y a"ter #inner to *at*h up on hi! e4-ai !, a though it wa!n0t ea!y to get to the truth( It wa! on y when !he a*tua y -entione# Mi*20! na-e that the " oo#gate! "ina y opene#( Kerry ha# "oun# hi- in the ta*2 roowith a gir , it appeare#( Fro- the !oun# o" it, they0# been pretty we a#van*e#(

5auren0! "ir!t rea*tion wa! re ie"( She0# vi!ua i!e# even wor!e( 9I *an appre*iate how you "ee ,0 !he !ai# *are"u y( 9I wa! et #own by the "ir!t boy I "e "or(0

Kerry rai!e# a woebegone "a*e( 9=ou were60

9=e!( It #eva!tate# -e too(0 She pau!e#, onging to put her ar-! about the gir C 2nowing it wou # probab y be the a!t thing !he wante# right now( 9Di# they 2now you !aw the-60

9No, they were too bu!y(0

5auren *ou # i-agine( 9=our "ather wi "ire hi- when he hear! about it,0 !he !ai#(

The ha7e eye! #ar2ene#( 9I #on0t want Da# to 2now80

9He #oe!n0t have to 2now how you "ee about Mi*2, on y what you *aught hi- #oing( It0! -ore than !u""i*ient rea!on(0

9<ut then there0 be nobo#y to oo2 a"ter the hor!e!(0

They0# be ab e to #o that the-!e ve!, it wa! on the tip o" 5auren0! tongue to !ay, but that wou # *a "or exp anation! !he wa!n0t yet rea#y to give(

9It !hou #n0t be #i""i*u t to "in# !o-eone to ta2e hi! p a*e,0 !he !ub!titute#(

Kerry oo2e# torn between two "ire!( 9The hor!e! are u!e# to hi-( He0! the on y one apart "ro- Da# who Ca iph ta2e! any noti*e o"( +ho0! going to 2eep hi- exer*i!e# when Da#0! away60

So-ething !he *ertain y *ou #n0t ta2e on, 5auren a*2now e#ge#( 9<ut how are you going to "ee i" he !tay!60 !he a!2e#(

Re!o ution "ir-e# the young ip!( 9I #on0t *are any -ore( He i!n0t worth it(0 She got to her "eet( 9I0- going to be#(0

5auren re"raine# "ro- pointing out that it wa! on y nine o0* o*2( At ea!t her #i!i u!ion-ent over Mi*2 ha# re-ove# one *on*ern( A ;uiet wor# in hi! ear !hou # ta2e *are o" the re!t(

<ra# returne# with the unwe *o-e new! that he ha# to go up to town the "o owing #ay(

9I0 be ba*2 +e#ne!#ay,0 he pro-i!e#( 9+e0 have the who e wee2en# to brea2 the new! to Kerry(0 He pau!e#, eyeing her *on!i#ering y( 9+hat 2in# o" a we##ing wou # you have in -in#60

9I ha#n0t thought that "ar,0 5auren a#-itte#( 9Nothing e aborate "or *ertain(0

<ra# -a#e no atte-pt to *on*ea hi! re ie"( 9I wa! hoping you wou # want !o-ething inti-ate(0

9The rea!on -o!t peop e put on a !how i! to !uit other!,0 !he returne# ight y( 9+e0 )u!t be !uiting our!e ve!(0 She he!itate# be"ore *ontinuing( 9I! it rea y !o ne*e!!ary to ru!h thing!, <ra#6 +e 2now how we "ee about ea*h other, but Kerry *an har# y be expe*te# to give u! her b e!!ing( Not at thi! )un*ture, anyway(0

He regar#e# her in !i en*e "or a -o-ent, the expre!!ion in hi! eye! #i""i*u t to rea#( 9How ong #o you thin2 we !hou # wait60 he a!2e# at ength in neutra tone!(

9Another *oup e o" wee2! at ea!t(0

9=ou re*2on that0! going to -a2e a #i""eren*e60

9It ha! to he p(0 5auren -a#e a !-a , appea ing ge!ture( 9It i!n0t that I #on0t want to -arry you, be ieve -e80

9@u!t that you !ee Kerry0! nee#! a! greater than -ine(0 He he # up a !taying han# a! !he -a#e to rep y( 9That wa!n0t "air, I 2now( Her "ee ing! have to be *on!i#ere# too( A the !a-e, it0! on y a -onth ti the !tart o" the new ter-(0 He !hoo2 hi! hea# #e*i!ive y( 9No, !he ha! to be to # thi! next wee2en#(0

He *a-e over to where 5auren !at, #rawing her to her "eet to ta2e her "a*e between hi! han#! an# bring her -outh to hi! in a 2i!! that * ai-e# po!!e!!ion in no un*ertain ter-!(

9There0! nothing going to *o-e between u!80 he #e* are# rough y when he *a-e up "or air at a!t(

Nothing he nee# ever 2now about, 5auren rea!!ure# her!e ", unab e to ho # out any "urther again!t her own yearning to be with hi- open y( +ith thi! -an, an# her #aughter, !he ha# everything !he *ou # po!!ib y want in the wor #8

In"or-e# at brea2"a!t o" her "ather0! *o-ing #eparture, Kerry !howe# !urpri!ing y itt e rea*tion( She wa! !ti re*overing "ro- the trau-a o" "in#ing her hero ha# "eet o" * ay, 5auren too2 it( So-e ti-e to#ay !he wou # "in# a -o-ent to have that ;uiet wor# with the young -an( +hat he got up to in hi! own ti-e wa! hi! bu!ine!!, but the !tab e! wa! no p a*e "or a over!0 try!t(

Kerry #i#n0t !how up to !ee <ra# o""( 5auren #i# it with *ir*u-!pe*tion )u!t in *a!e they were un#er !urvei an*e, wat*hing the *ar #i!appear roun# the *urve in the #rive with a !en!e o" #eprivation( It wa!n0t )u!t the ove-a2ing !he wa! going to -i!! hi- "or either( +ithout hi-, the hou!e !ee-e# !o e-pty(

Thi! wa! how Kerry -u!t have "e t the ti-e! in pa!t ho i#ay perio#! when he0# gone away an# e"t her in Mr! 3erri-an0! *harge, !he -u!e#( 1oo# a! the wo-an wa!, !he wa! no !ub!titute "or a parent( At ea!t that wou # never happen again(

There wa! !ti no !ign o" her #aughter when !he -a#e her way to the !tab e!( She "oun# Mi*2 in the pro*e!! o" -u*2ing out Ca iph0! !tab e(

9+hat0! it to you60 he #e-an#e# when !he -entione# the previou! a"ternoon0! in*i#ent( 9=ou0ve no -ore authority here than I have(0

9I0- in *harge o" a thirteen4year4o # gir who !hou #n0t be !ub)e*te# to the 2in# o" !*ene you an# your gir "rien# were *reating,0 5auren re)oine# eve y(

9I #i#n0t rea i!e !he wa! aroun#,0 he !ai#( 9Anyway, it -ight !top her giving -e the eye( She0! a goo#4 oo2ing 2i#( It ha!n0t been a that ea!y ho #ing her o""80

1reen eye! b a7e#( 9Fro- what I0ve !een, you0ve given her a great #ea too -u*h en*ourage-ent8 A-u!ing, i! it, to have a young gir wor!hipping at your "eet60

9Ma2e! a *hange "ro- thi!,0 in#i*ating the pi e he0# )u!t ra2e# out "ro- the !tab e( 9Anyway, I never tou*he# her(0

9=ou0# better not either80 5auren " a!he#( 9Fro- now on, you treat her with the re!pe*t #ue to her a! your e-p oyer0! #aughter( An# you 2eep your ove i"e away "ro- here too >i" you #on0t want Mr 5axton to hear what you get up to on hi! property(0

Mi*20! "a*e har#ene#( 9Are you threatening to te hi-60

9On y i" I have *au!e to(0 5auren re"u!e# to be inti-i#ate#( 9The two o" u! wi be ta2ing a ri#e thi! a"ternoon( @u!t re-e-ber what I0ve to # you(0

She turne# away be"ore he *ou # -a2e any re!pon!e, hea#ing ba*2 the way !he ha# *o-e( Kerry probab y wou #n0t than2 her "or putting her oar in, but !he wou #n0t 2now i" Mi*2 p aye# hi! part( He0# *ertain y better8

It wa! gone ten when Kerry put in an appearan*e again( She agree# without -u*h enthu!ia!- to a ga-e o" tenni!, re*overing her !pirit! on*e on the *ourt(

9=ou0re goo#, but I0- better80 !he *hort e# on the way ba*2 to the hou!e, having won two ga-e! out o" three(

9=outh wi out,0 re)oine# 5auren aughing y, an# re*eive# an in#u gent g an*e(

9=ou0re not !o o #, I !uppo!e(0 There wa! a pau!e, a !u##en *hange o" tone( 9Di#n0t you ever want to get -arrie#60

5auren !tea#ie# her voi*e( 9+anting i!n0t a way! enough(0

9=ou -ean nobo#y ever a!2e# you to -arry the-60

9Nobo#y I *ou # *onte-p ate !pen#ing the re!t o" -y i"e with(0

9It i!n0t too ate to "in# !o-ebo#y you *ou # though, i! it60

9+e , no, I !uppo!e not(0 5auren wa! *autiou!, not about to )u-p to any *on* u!ion! through !heer wi!h"u thin2ing(

9Da# too, I !uppo!e(0

5auren 2ept the rein tight( 9I thought you hate# the thought o" hi- getting -arrie# again60

9It -ight be OK with !o-ebo#y I i2e#( It0! on y a -onth ti I go ba*2 to !*hoo ,0 !he a##e# ob i;ue y(

5auren wante# !u##en y to augh( 9A ot *an happen in a -onth,0 !he !ai#( 9@u!t oo2 at what we0ve -anage# to pa*2 into the a!t two wee2!80

Fro- the expre!!ion on her #aughter0! "a*e, that wa!n0t ;uite the re!pon!e !he wa! oo2ing "or, but !he et the !ub)e*t #rop( 5auren hope# !he wa!n0t rea#ing too -u*h into what ha# been !ai#(

The #ay went through it! pha!e!( Kerry treate# Mi*2 with po ite #i!#ain when they went to ri#e in the a"ternoon, an# !ee-e# happy enough a"terwar#!( 5auren waite# unti "ive to -a2e a *a to her parent!, re*eiving the anti*ipate# *oo re!pon!e(

9=ou #o a! you !ee "it,0 !ai# her -other( 9A! you a way! #i#(0

Har# y a way!, it wa! on the tip o" 5auren0! tongue to reta iate, but !he bit it ba*2( There wa! no point in being bitter about what wa! pa!t an# gone( She wa! !tarting a new i"e now(

<ra# rang at !ix( He ha# a bu!ine!! #inner to atten#, he !ai#, an# -ight not get an opportunity ater( 5auren thought about -entioning what Kerry ha# !ai# ear ier, but #e*i#e# again!t it on the groun#! that !he -ight !ti be -i!ta2en(

9I wi!h you were here80 !he ex* ai-e# i-pu !ive y, an# !en!e# hi! !-i e(

9So #o I( One night wa!n0t near y enough to -a2e up "or a who e wee2 o" #eprivation(0

9I! !ex a you thin2 about60 !he a!2e# tea!ing y(

9No,0 he returne# without ha!te( 9I a rea#y !ai#, there0! a who e ot -ore to you than that( A! I hope you "in# in -e too( I ove you, 5auren(0

9I ove you too,0 !he whi!pere#(

Hi! augh wa! ow( 9I0 !ee you to-orrow( Ear y a! I *an -a2e it(0

Kerry wa! !tan#ing in the !itting4roo- #oorway when 5auren turne#( It wa! #i""i*u t to te what !he -ight be thin2ing(

9That wa! Da#, wa!n0t it60 !he !ai#(

There wa! no point in prevari*ation( 5auren -a#e a wry ge!ture( 9It wa!, ye!(0

9=ou !ai# you ove# hi- too, !o he -u!t have !ai# it "ir!t(0

9I !uppo!e he -u!t(0

Kerry0! expre!!ion !ti gave itt e away( 9Are you going to get -arrie#60

9=e!(0 5auren he # her breath "or the re!pon!e, etting it out on a re ieve# !igh a! the young "a*e bro2e into a !-i e(

9So you won0t be eaving when I go ba*2 to !*hoo 80

9No( An# you won0t be going ba*2 to !*hoo ,0 5auren a##e#, !eeing no rea!on to 2eep that a !e*ret any onger( 9Not the !a-e one, anyway( =ou0 be !tarting the autu-n terat <roo2"ie #!(0

9Rea y an# tru y60 Kerry oo2e# a! i" a her birth#ay! ha# *o-e at on*e( 9An# I0 be iving here at ho-e a the ti-e60

9+here e !e wou # you ive60 5auren wa! !-i ing too, g a# to have it a out in the open >at ea!t thi! part o" it( 9=ou #on0t -in#60

9About you an# Da#60 She !hoo2 her hea#( 9I -ight have at "ir!t, but not any -ore( E!pe*ia y,0 !he a##e# with a ga-ine grin, 9now I0 be going to <roo2"ie #!8 I0- going to text A#rian80

She0# #eparte# be"ore 5auren *ou # !ay anything -ore( So -u*h "or a her *on*ern, !he re" e*te#( She *on!i#ere# *a ing <ra# ba*2 with the new!, but #e*i#e# it wou # be be!t e"t unti hi! return, when they *ou # !tart -a2ing p an!(

Stan#ing here in the hou!e !he wou # !oon be -i!tre!! o", !he "oun# it har# to be ieve that itt e -ore than a *oup e o" wee2! ha# pa!!e# !in*e the #ay !he0# arrive# on the #oor!tep( Two wee2! to "a hea# over hee ! in ove8

Far e!! than that in "a*t( She0# 2nown a -o!t i--e#iate y that here wa! the -an !he ha# been oo2ing "or a her a#u t i"e( I" it weren0t "or the !e*ret gnawing away in!i#e her, !he wou # be in !eventh heaven right now(

CHA3TER NINE

ASS?RED by Kerry that !he wa! tota y in "avour, <ra# o!t itt e ti-e in -a2ing arrange-ent! "or the we##ing, !ei7ing a *an*e ation at the regi!ter o""i*e in Strat"or# "or the "o owing Thur!#ay( 5auren wa! e"t breath e!! by the !pee# o" it a (

Spar2e# o"" by A#rian, via Kerry, the new! went through the vi age i2e wi #"ire( Hi! -other rang to exten# her be!t wi!he!, an# to !ay that Kerry wa! we *o-e to !tay at the "ar- i" they wante# to get away "or a "ew #ay! a"ter the we##ing( 5auren ha#n0t even *on!i#ere# that "ar ahea#, an# #oubte# i" <ra# wou # want to ta2e the ti-e, but !he than2e# the wo-an "or the thought(

<ra#, a! it turne# out, ha# thought that "ar ahea#, with a *rui!e o" the Norwegian "ior#! a rea#y boo2e#( Mr! 3erri-an ha# agree# to ta2e *are o" Kerry whi e they were gone, but he *on!i#ere# the o""er to have her at the "ar- a better !o ution a roun#(

9More "un "or her, an# I 2now the Harri!e! wi ta2e *are o" her,0 he !ai#(

5auren put up no argu-ent!( Mu*h a! !he ove# her #aughter, the thought o" a "ew #ay! on their own wa! heaven y(

Try a! !he -ight to 2eep unwe *o-e thought! at bay, the #e*eption haunte# her( Her on y *o-"ort wa! the po!!ibi ity that !o-e ti-e in the "uture, when the three o" the- were we an# tru y e!tab i!he# a! a "a-i y, !he -ight "in# the *ourage to bring out the truth( It wou # be a !ho*2 even then, but at ea!t !he wou # have prove# )u!t how -u*h they -eant to her(

She0# be ieve# her!e " outwar# y !erene at any rate, but <ra# !en!e# !o-e #i!*or#(

9+ant to ta 2 about whatever0! bothering you60 he a!2e# when they too2 a !tro in the groun#! a"ter #inner one evening(

93re4we##ing nerve!, I !uppo!e,0 5auren prevari*ate#(

<ra# !toppe# wa 2ing to #raw her * o!e, han#! !upporting the ba*2 o" her hea# a! he oo2e# #own into her "a*e( 9I! it be*au!e I0ve #one a thi! be"ore60

9No(0 She #i#n0t have to ie on that !*ore( 9It0! )u!t been !o ;ui*2(0

He !-i e#( 9Do you #oubt -y "ee ing! "or you60

9No(0 She *ou # !ay that with truth too "or now( +hat !he #oubte# wa! hi! abi ity to !u!tain tho!e !a-e "ee ing! i" her #e*eption *a-e to ight too !oon(

9I0- )u!t a bit )ittery, that0! a ,0 !he * ai-e#, thru!ting the thought a!i#e on*e -ore( 9I0 be "ine on*e it0! a over(0

+hether he be ieve# her or not, he et the !ub)e*t #rop( Continuing their !tro , with hi! ar- about her !hou #er!, 5auren vowe# "or the u-pteenth ti-e to *on*entrate on the here

an# now in!tea# o" worrying about what -ight never happen( She wa! !o u*2y to have a thi!8

Not that Rave a wou # -ean anything to her without <ra#( There wa! no p a*e on earth that *ou # -ean anything to her without hi-(

Kerry in!i!te# on *o-ing with her on the Tue!#ay to *hoo!e her we##ing out"it(

9Too boring80 !he #e* are# to every gar-ent 5auren !e e*te# a! a po!!ibi ity( 9@u!t be*au!e you0re not getting -arrie# in *hur*h, you #on0t have to oo2 a! i" you0re going to the o""i*e80 She too2 a bright re# #re!! with a !hort !wir y !2irt #own "ro- the rai , ho #ing it up again!t 5auren to )u#ge the ength( 9Thi! wou # oo2 terri"i*8 =ou0ve got great eg!80

9Than2!, but I thin2 I0# pre"er to !ee a itt e e!! o" the-,0 5auren returne# #ri y(

9I bet Da# wou #n0t( He ha!n0t been ab e to 2eep hi! eye! o"" you !in*e the #ay you arrive#80

5auren gave her a !wi"t g an*e, re ieve# to !ee the !par2 e in the ha7e eye!( 9Rubbi!h80 !he !ai#(

9It0! true( I0- not #en!e( +hy #o you thin2 I wa! !o rotten to you at "ir!t6 I0- not near y a! bratty a! I -a#e out( I )u!t wante# you to go(0

9<ut not any -ore60

9+e , o" *our!e not( I0# !ti be !tu*2 at Thur!ton "or one thing( Anyway, Da# wa!n0t going et you go, wa! he60

9=ou rea y #on0t -in# any -ore60 5auren venture#( 9About hi! getting -arrie# again6 I 2now I *an never ta2e your -other0! p a*e(0

9Mo- wou # have i2e# you,0 *a-e the rea!!uring re!pon!e( 9She -a#e Da# augh a ot too( It u!e# to be great when we were a together>)u!t i2e it wa! in <rittany(0

9There0 be p enty -ore goo# ti-e! to *o-e,0 5auren pro-i!e#, -ove# beyon# -ea!ure( 9Do you thin2 you0re too o # "or another vi!it to Di!ney an#6 I0ve never been, you !ee(0

9I" you0re not, I0- #e"inite y not80 Kerry !oun#e# enthu!e#( 9+hen60

9Maybe ha "4ter-60

91reat8 A#rian an# Sarah *an *o-e too80

5auren *aught ba*2 the ex* a-ation hovering on her ip!, aware o" having #roppe# her!e " we an# tru y into that one( +hat <ra# wou # thin2 o" the i#ea !he #i#n0t *are to *onte-p ate(

+ith Kerry !ti giving the thu-b!4#own to her -ore *on!ervative *hoi*e!, !he !ett e# in the en# on a *o-pro-i!e in the !hape o" a 2nee4 ength, "igure4!2i--ing #re!! an# " oaty overwrap in #eep b ue !i 2, "ini!hing o"" with a "rivo ou! itt e hat *overe# in " ower! a the *o our! o" the rainbow(

9I !ti thin2 Da# wou # i2e the re# one be!t,0 !ai# Kerry on e-erging "ro- the !hop, 9but it0! your #ay( How about *ho*o ate e* air! "or tea60 !he a##e#, aban#oning the we##ing a! a topi*( 9They have !*ru-ptiou! one! at the *a"D over there80

A teenager in year!, but !ti a *hi # at heart, thought 5auren !-i ing y, "o owing her a*ro!! the roa#(

She !ai# a! -u*h to <ra# that evening a! they ingere# over *o""ee(

9<etwixt an# between,0 he agree#( 9I0- u*2y you0re !o wi ing to ta2e her on( Not a wo-en wou # be(0

Other wo-en #i#n0t have the !a-e in*entive, 5auren thought, "ee ing her !pirit! #ip a itt e at the re-in#er( Not that !he wou # have been re u*tant to #o it even i" Kerry wa!n0t her #aughter( Fee ing the way !he #i# about <ra#, !he0# have ta2en anything on(

A! !he oo2e# at hi- now, hair ru"" e# by the ight bree7e, "a*e an# bo#y re axe#, it wa! !ti #i""i*u t to be ieve that in another "orty or !o hour! he wou # be her hu!ban#C !ti #i""i*u t to be ieve that any o" thi! wa! rea y happening, in "a*t( Three wee2! thi! *o-ing Fri#ay, that wa! a it ha# been( Three wee2! in whi*h her i"e ha# *hange# beyon# re*ognition(

Her ga7e #roppe# "ro- the !trong "eature!, #own the bron7e# *o u-n o" hi! throat revea e# by the open !hirt *o ar, a! !he vi!ua i!e# the way in whi*h the triang e o" #ar2 hair on view at pre!ent exp o#e# a*ro!! hi! *he!t, narrowing to a !ing e ine #own the -i## e o" the -u!*u ar -i#ri"" to wi#en out on*e -ore about the -a!*u ine !hape( A "ine "igure o" a -an in any anguageB a -an who -eant everything to her(

She "e t the *o our *o-e up in her *hee2! on rea i!ing !he wa! un#er !urvei an*e her!e "( <ra# wa! !-i ing, brow! i"te# ;ui77i*a y(

9I" ever there wa! a boo!t to the -a e ego, it0! to !ee that oo2 in a wo-an0! eye!,0 he -ur-ure#(

9I" ever there wa! a boo!t nee#e# to the -a e ego80 !he retorte#, *o e*ting her!e "( 9I wa! !i-p y won#ering what you were p anning to wear on Thur!#ay( A"ter a , we have toA0 She bro2e o"", aban#oning the preten*e( 9I! it too ear y to go to be#60

9Sha-e e!! hu!!y80 he !ai#, but he wa! a rea#y on hi! "eet(

The weather he # up "or the we##ing( Stan#ing at <ra#0! !i#e in the !un it regi!ter o""i*e, 5auren !po2e the vow! that -a#e the- hu!ban# an# wi"e, * o!ing her -in# to any intru#ing thought!(

A "ine4 oo2ing pair a together, #e* are# Mr! 3, who0# been thri e# to be a!2e# to !tan# a! a witne!!( 5auren !u!pe*te# !he regar#e# her!e " a! the one who0# brought the two o" the- together(

<ra#0! !e*on# in *o--an#, Steven Dexter, ha# #riven up to be be!t -an, a**o-panie# by a !-a *ontingent o" peop e <ra# *ounte# a! "rien#!( There were a "ew peop e "rothe area too>the Harri! "a-i y a-ong the-(

The re*eption wa! he # ba*2 at Rave a( 5auren wa! returning "ro- the * oa2roo- when !he overhear# Kerry ta 2ing to A#rian(

9Sarah wi be "uriou! when !he get! ba*2 an# hear! what !he0! -i!!e#80

9=ou rea y #on0t -in#, then60 he a!2e#( 9=our #a# getting -arrie# again, I -ean60

9Not when it -ean! I #on0t have to go ba*2 to boar#ing4!*hoo ( 5auren0! OK, anyway(0

9<ut !he0! not i2e a rea -other(0

The an!wer wa! "or*e"u ( 9I #on0t want a rea -other(0

5auren "or*e# her!e " to -ove out o" ear!hot, b in2ing "ier*e y at the pri*2 ing o" tear! behin# her eye!( That ha#n0t been a ! ur again!t her per!ona y, on y again!t the wo-an Kerry be ieve# ha# aban#one# her( One thing wa! * earB !he -u!t never 2now they were the !a-e per!on(

Deep in *onver!ation with Nei Harri!, <ra# bro2e o"" to !-i e at her a! !he *a-e up( The b ue eye! narrowe# a "ra*tion a! they re!te# on her "a*e(

9Everything a right60 he a!2e#(

5auren !u--one# a !-i e o" her own( 9Ab!o ute y8 The *aterer! *ertain y #i# a bri iant )ob at !u*h !hort noti*e80

9I #oubt i" Mr! 3 wi give the- top -ar2!,0 he !ai# hu-orou! y( 9She wa! we an# tru y torn between being a witne!! an# !taying ba*2 here to !ee to everything her!e "(0 He g an*e# at hi! wat*h( 9Anyway, we !hou # be thin2ing about getting o""(0

9Don0t worry about Kerry whi e you0re away,0 !ai# Nei ( 9+e0

oo2 a"ter her(0

9It0! rea y goo# o" you,0 5auren returne#(

9No prob e- at a ( She0 be *o-pany "or A#rian( He get! a bit one y !o-eti-e!, being an on y *hi #(0

Kerry !ee-e# #e!tine# to re-ain one her!e ", thought 5auren( Mu*h a! !he wou # ove to have hi! *hi #, a baby wou # har# y he p -atter!(

They too2 their eave o" everyone on the "ore*ourt, with Kerry !howing itt e *on*ern over being e"t( Mr! 3 wipe# a tear "ro- her eye when 5auren i-pu !ive y 2i!!e# her(

9I *an0t te you how happy I a- "or you both80 !he !ai#( 9It0! i2e a "airy ta e *o-e true80

9An# they a ive# happi y ever a"ter,0 <ra# ;uippe# in the *ar( He g an*e# 5auren0! way, the !-i e ingering about hi! ip!( 9How #o you "ee 60

9Marrie#,0 !he !ai#, tongue4in4*hee2( 9How #o you "ee 60

9I0# pre"er to !how you,0 he re!pon#e# with a g int( 95ater(0

9I *an har# y wait,0 !he !ai#, an# -eant it( To be together "or the "ir!t ti-e a! -an an# wi"e wou # be won#er"u 8

The !hip wa! no run4o"4the4-i *rui!e iner, but a uxuriou! y appointe# ya*ht *arrying no -ore than "orty pa!!enger! in tota ( 5auren wa! bow e# over by their !tateroo- with it! #oub e be# an# !uperb #e*or, the !pa*iou!, beauti"u y "itte# bathroo- an# !eparate iving area(

9It0! i2e !o-ething out o" a bro*hure80 !he ex* ai-e#(

9It i! out o" a bro*hure,0 <ra# returne#, a-u!e# by her wi#e4eye# enthu!ia!-( 9+e0 be !ai ing in a "ew -inute!( Di# you want to go up on #e*260

About to !ay ye!, !he too2 a oo2 at hi- an# *hange# her -in#( 9I0# "ar rather !tay here,0 !he !ai# !o"t y(

The b ue eye! he # a !-a , "a-i iar " a-e( 9=ou0 not -in# -i!!ing #inner60

She aughe# by way o" re!pon!e, ho #ing out her ar-!( 9Try -e(0

She0# thought it i-po!!ib e to better what they0# a rea#y experien*e# together, but !he wa! prove# wrong( <ra# too2 her to height! !he *ou #n0t have *on*eive#( She gave her!e " to hi- who y an# *o-p ete y, oving hi! -a!tery( He wa! a -an, an# he wa! a her!( Cou # any wo-an be u*2ier than !he wa!6

The *rui!e it!e " wa! i#y i*, the !*enery out o" thi! wor #( +ith -ore *rew than * iente e, the !ervi*e on boar# wa! out!tan#ing too( 5auren on y ha# to i"t a "inger to have a !tewar# hovering at her e bow(

She ha#n0t rea i!e# how we 2nown <ra#0! "a*e wa! to *ertain !e*tion! o" the pub i* via -e#ia *overage o" hi! variou! bu!ine!! exp oit!( He wa! re*ogni!e# by !evera peop e, an# even approa*he# by one -an with a propo!ition, to whi*h he re!pon#e# with po ite but "ir- unintere!t(

9It -ight have been better i" we0# gone !o-ewhere tota y private,0 he !ai# rue"u y when the -an ha# #eparte#( 9Sorry about that(0

9It #oe!n0t -atter,0 5auren a!!ure# hi-( 9Not to -e( I0- )u!t beginning to #i!*over how a**o-p i!he# a hu!ban# I0ve got80

9On y beginning60 he tea!e#( 9I *an !ee I0 have to i-prove -y te*hni;ue(0

He too2 her to a who e new p ane again that night( 95i2e ri#ing the bigge!t ro er *oa!ter in the wor #80 !he -ur-ure# a"ter the "ina , !hattering * i-ax( 9=ou0re pheno-ena 80

<ra#0! augh wa! !o"t( 9=ou0# in!pire any -an80 He waite# a -o-ent or two, hi! tone a tere# when he !po2e again( 9How wou # you "ee about having a *hi # o" our own60

5auren0! heart -i!!e# a beat( 9=ou !ai# the patter o" itt e "eet he # itt e appea "or you,0 !he got out(

9I probab y -eant it at the ti-e, but I0- beginning to have !e*on# thought!,0 he a#-itte#(

9+hat about Kerry60 !he a!2e#( 9Mightn0t !he "ee pu!he# out60

9It wou # be up to u! to -a2e !ure !he #i#n0t(0 He i"te# hi! hea# to !ear*h her "a*e( 9Don0t you want a baby60

9I0# ove one,0 !he #e* are#( 9I )u!tA0

9Kerry wi be OK,0 he !ai#( 9Anyway, it -ight not even happen(0 Hi! eye! g inte#( 9+e *an en)oy trying though( Starting right now, in "a*t80

5auren gave in to the e-otion !weeping her without "urther !trugg e( To have a *hi # with <ra# wou # be won#er"u 8 Right now, !he *ou #n0t thin2 o" anything e !e(

The ten #ay! pa!!e# a too ;ui*2 y( The pouring rain an# how ing ga e that greete# theba*2 in Eng an# wa! har# y !*he#u e# to *heer any !pirit!( It too2 Kerry to #o that, with a we *o-e ho-e that !et 5auren0! heart ag ow(

9It0! been great at A#rian0!,0 !he !ai#, 9but I0ve rea y -i!!e# our ri#e! together( An# the tenni!( A#rian #oe!n0t p ay near y a! we a! you( It0! boring winning a the ti-e80

91reat oa2! "ro- itt e a*orn! grow80 *o--ente# <ra# #ri y( 9I" the win# *hange! you0 !tay i2e that,0 he a##e# a! !he !tu*2 out her tongue at hi-( 9A#rian wou # go a bun# e on you then(0

9A#rian0! )u!t a "rien#, not a boy"rien#,0 *a-e the o"ty re!pon!e( 9I0- !teering * ear o" tho!e unti I0- o #er(0

<ra# i"te# an eyebrow at 5auren a! !he #eparte#( 9=ou re*2on !he -ean! it60

9For now(0 5auren brie" y *onte-p ate# te ing hi- about Mi*2, #e*i#ing again!t it be*au!e there rea y wa!n0t a that -u*h to te ( 9I !uppo!e I0# better go an# !tart unpa*2ing,0 !he !ai# in!tea#( 9At ea!t I #on0t have a the wa!hing an# ironing to thin2 about>a though I *ou # give Mr! 3 a han#(0

<ra# aughe#( 9She0# throw a "it i" you even o""ere#( I0 !tart *at*hing up on !o-e *orre!pon#en*e(0

There wa! *ertain y enough o" it pi e# on the ha tab e, with probab y a goo# #ea -ore awaiting hi! attention in the !tu#y( He0# be hea#ing "or town at the ear ie!t, 5auren a!!u-e#( A"ter ten #ay! away, there0# be a ot nee#ing hi! attention(

He went the "o owing -orning( So-ething !he ha# to get u!e# to, 5auren 2new, but !he -i!!e# hi- #rea#"u y(

+ith e!! than three wee2! to go now be"ore the !tart o" the new ter-, there wa! no !hortage o" thing! "or her to #o too( The re!t o" Kerry0! be onging! ha# to be "et*he# "roCa-bri#ge, an# the new uni"or- bought, "or a !tart(

Her re ation!hip with her #aughter i-prove# by the #ay( Mr! 3 wa! -ove# to re-ar2 on the *hange in Kerry0! who e attitu#e(

9It0! what !he0! -i!!e# !o ba# y,0 !he !ai#( 9Mr <ra# ey0! #one hi! be!t, but a gir nee#! a -other to ta 2 to( E!pe*ia y now at her age(0

So-ething !he0# -i!!e# her!e ", thought 5auren wry y( Her -other ha# never been very approa*hab e( She hope# Kerry wou # *on"i#e in her( Te ing her about Mi*2 ha# been a goo# !tart(

That young -an appeare# to have ta2en what !he0# to # hi- !eriou! y( At any rate, he e"t Kerry we a one( I" !he ha# any ingering "ee ing! "or hi-, !he !howe# no !ign o" it(

<ra# returne# at the wee2en# to a war- we *o-e "ro- both o" the-(

9=ou0ve -a#e !u*h a #i""eren*e to -y i"e,0 he !ai# ater when he an# 5auren were a one( 9Kerry0! too( She0! a #i""erent gir 80

9A! -u*h #own to A#rian an# Co, an# not having to go ba*2 to boar#ing4!*hoo ,0 5auren #epre*iate#(

9A part o" it, -aybe, but it0! obviou! how * o!e the two o" you are be*o-ing( I #oubt i" !he0 ever get u!e# to *a ing you Mother though(0

9C aire wa! the on y -other !he ever 2new,0 !he !ai#, !ti" ing the pang( 9I0- happy the way thing! are(0

The b ue eye! 2in# e#( 9Me too,0 he !ai# !o"t y( 9E*!tati*a y80

For how ong6 *a-e the thought a! he #rew her to hi-( +a! !he iving in a "oo 0! para#i!e i-agining !he -ight be ab e to 2eep the !e*ret "orever6

Her re!pon!e to hi! 2i!! wa! a -o!t "everi!h in it! inten!ity, arou!ing hi- to in!tant an# #eva!tating pa!!ion( 5auren wrappe# her eg! about the ean hip! a! they )oine# together, b otting out everything e !e(

They !pent the wee2en# #oing a the thing! "a-i ie! #i# together, "ini!hing o"" with a barbe*ue on Sun#ay a"ternoon at Kerry0! urging( The Harri!e! *a-e, a ong with another two *oup e! with *hi #ren at <roo2"ie #!( Reti*ent at "ir!t, 5auren re axe# when it be*a-e evi#ent that any *urio!ity the vi!itor! -ight have about her wa! un#er wrap!(

She wa! ta 2ing with Nei Harri! when Mr! 3erri-an *a-e out to !ay there wa! !o-eone wanting to !pea2 with her( Fin#ing Maureen She by waiting in the !itting roo- wa! a !ho*2 that brought her heart eaping !i*2ening y into her throat(

9+hat are you #oing here60 !he a!2e#( 9How #i# you even 2now where I wa!60

9One o" the peop e I wa! with that night re*ogni!e# your Mr 5axton,0 *a-e the *a return( 9It wa!n0t too har# to "in# hi! out4o"4town a##re!!( The hou!e2eeper to # -e the two o" you )u!t got -arrie#( Congratu ation!80

5auren ignore# the !a utation, eyeing the other wo-an0! !harpi!h4"eature# "a*e with -i!giving! growing in her by the !e*on#( Maureen She by ha# been no rea "rien# o" her! in !*hoo , an# wa! *ertain y not here in the na-e o" "rien#!hip now(

9@u!t what #o you want60 !he #e-an#e#(

Maureen *a!t an apprai!ing g an*e about the roo- be"ore an!wering( 9I0# have thought it -ight be obviou!( That gir who wa! with you that night i! your #aughter, i!n0t !he60

9Don0t be ri#i*u ou!80 5auren put everything !he ha# into the !*orn"u retort(

9It0! the truth>a though the thought -ight never have o**urre# to -e i" you ha#n0t oo2e# !o utter y #i!traught when you !aw -e( Anyone who 2new you0# ha# a *hi # an# it ha# been a#opte# -ight have )u-pe# to the !a-e *on* u!ion( The age wa! about right, the *o ouring very !i-i ar( C ever o" you to "in# her a"ter a the!e year!( Even * everer to inveig e her "ather into -arrying you( Cat*h o" the *entury, he ha! to be80

She !hoo2 her hea# a! 5auren began another re"utation( 9=ou0re wa!ting your ti-e trying to #eny it( I" it wa!n0t true, you0# have *a e# your hu!ban# in by now to throw -e out( A! you are !ti trying though, it0! evi#ent you haven0t to # hi-( That wi be -y p ea!ure i" you #on0t *o-e through(0

5auren pu e# her!e " together, a*2now e#ging the u!e e!!ne!! o" "urther prote!t( 9Co-e through with what exa*t y60

9Money( +hat e !e6 =ou0ve -arrie# into an abun#an*e o" it( It !hou #n0t be har# to ay your han#! on enough to -a2e -y i"e a bit -ore *o-"ortab e( A *oup e o" thou!an# wou # #o( For a !tart, at any rate(0

9I #on0t have any -oney o" -y own(0 5auren #i# her be!t to !oun# po!itive( 9An# b a*2-ai *arrie! a heavy pena ty(0

9=ou won0t be going to the aw,0 *a-e the un-ove# re!pon!e( 9How you get the -oney i! your *on*ern, but I0- not eaving here without it(0

9+hat #i# I ever #o to -a2e you !o vin#i*tive60 5auren bur!t out(

9Not a ot,0 Maureen a#-itte#( 9<ut thi! ha! nothing to #o with the pa!t( I0- !i-p y ta2ing a#vantage o" a heaven4!ent opportunity( I nee# -oney80

9=ou *ou # try earning it(0

9Oh, I have( Troub e i!, I0- not a that 2een on the nine4to4"ive routine( +hat I rea y "an*y #oing i! !wanning aroun# the way you0re going to be #oing, but ri*h hu!ban#! #on0t grow on tree! !o I0 !ett e "or what I *an get(0 She rai!e# !ugge!tive eyebrow!( 9I hear you0re having a barbe*ue( Aren0t you going to invite -e60

Short o" *a ing <ra# in right now to earn the har# "a*t!, 5auren wa! e"t with no *hoi*e( That Maureen -eant what !he !ai# about not eaving the hou!e e-pty4han#e#, !he #i#n0t #oubt "or a -o-ent( Her own -oney ha# been tran!"erre# to an a**ount with a Strat"or# ban2, an# <ra# ha# arrange# a generou! per!ona a owan*e, but even i" !he *ou # get to a -a*hine to #raw *a!h to#ay !he wou # be i-ite# to a "ew hun#re# poun#!, whi*h wa! har# y going to !ati!"y her avari*iou! ex4!*hoo -ate( To-orrow wa! the ear ie!t !he *ou # ay her han#! on the a-ount a!2e# "or, whi*h -eant "in#ing !o-e rea!onab e ex*u!e "or Maureen to !tay overnight( Even then, it obviou! y wa!n0t going to "ini!h there(

It wa! a too -u*h to han# e at the -o-ent, !he thought #e!perate y( She nee#e# ti-e to thin2(

9=ou0# better *o-e in, then,0 !he !ai# with re u*tan*e(

<ra# wa! pre!i#ing over the gri !, a g a!! o" wine to han#( Hi! !urpri!e on !eeing the new*o-er wa! evi#ent(

9Maureen0! touring,0 5auren announ*e# in a! ight a tone a! !he *ou # -anage( 9She *a e# in to !ay he o(0

9I re*ogni!e# who you were when we -et, o" *our!e,0 Maureen *ut in be"ore he *ou # !ay anything( 9I !aw a -aga7ine arti* e about Rave a a!t year, an# I *ou #n0t re!i!t ta2ing a peep at the rea thing whi e I0- in the area( Hope you #on0t -in#60

9Not at a ,0 <ra# returne# *ourteou! y( 9Ma2e your!e " at ho-e(0

9I inten# to,0 !he !ai# !o"t y, turning away !o that on y 5auren hear# her( 9Right at ho-e80

For 5auren, the a"ternoon #ragge# inter-inab y( She wa! aware o" <ra#0! eye! on her "ro- ti-e to ti-e, an# 2new he re*ogni!e# her #i!*o-po!ure i" no one e !e #i#( Maureen her!e " wa! *o-p ete y at ea!e, *hatting away happi y with everyone( She too2 a !pe*ia intere!t in Kerry, who oo2e# tota y uni-pre!!e#(

3eop e began eaving aroun# !ix( <y ha "4pa!t, it wa! #own to )u!t the Harri!e! an# Maureen( 5auren "e t her !pirit! i"t a "ra*tion when the atter o""ere# her than2! "or a ove y a"ternoon an# !ai# her goo#bye!, on y to have the "aint hope that the wo-an ha#

*hange# her -in# #a!he# when !he reappeare# to announ*e apo ogeti*a y that her *ar ha# a*;uire# two " at tyre! #uring it! !tan# out "ront(

9I *an0t i-agine what *an have *au!e# it80 !he #ep ore#(

5auren *ou #( It wou # have ta2en no -ore than a *oup e o" -inute! to open up both va ve!( +ith no hope o" getting anyone out to the *ar at thi! hour on a Sun#ay, <ra# exten#e# an i--e#iate invitation to !pen# the night(

I" the a"ternoon ha# #ragge#, the evening !ee-e# to go on "orever( Maureen ang e# unaba!he# y "or a tour o" the hou!e a"ter #inner( <ra# #i# the honour! hi-!e ", returning po2er4"a*e#( Maureen oo2e# put out too(

9<et !he -a#e a pa!! at hi-80 Kerry whi!pere# to 5auren(

<ra# *on"ir-e# the gue!! when they retire# "or the night, hi! opinion o" the wo-an * ear(

9She0! out "or whatever !he *an get,0 he !ai# gri- y( 9I0# #oubt very -u*h i" it wa! any !pur4o"4the4-o-ent i#ea to *a on you( I0ve a noon -eeting, !o I0 have to eave it to you to ring the garage in the -orning( @u!t get ri# o" her a! !oon a! you *an(0

9I wi ,0 5auren pro-i!e#, hoping !he *ou #( 9I0- !orry "or an#ing you with her(0

9It0! har# y your #oing( =ou ha#n0t even !een her in year!(0

9I 2now(0 She -a#e a he p e!! itt e ge!ture( 9I !ti "ee re!pon!ib e "or her being here(0 She he!itate# be"ore !aying it( 9She ha!n0t a!2e# you "or -oney60

9No(0 The b ue eye! narrowe# a "ra*tion a! he !tu#ie# her( 9Ha! !he a!2e# you60

There wa! on y one an!wer !he *ou # give( 9No(0

9I" !he #oe!, an# you #o, !he0 be ba*2 "or -ore,0 he warne#(

9I 2now,0 !he !ai# again( 9Are you going to be gone a wee260

9I !hou # be ab e to get ba*2 +e#ne!#ay(0 Su**e!!"u y !i#etra*2e#, he gave her a !-i e( 9Sha you -i!! -e60

95i2e *ra7y80 Her voi*e !hoo2 a itt e( 9<ut you0re worth waiting "or(0

He re!pon#e# with a*tion a! we a! wor#!, 2i!!ing her into b e!!e# ob ivion(

It #i#n0t a!t, o" *our!e( 5ying be!i#e hi- ater, i!tening to hi! !tea#y breathing, !he 2new !he !hou # wa2e hi- now an# te hi- the truth rather than give in to Maureen0! #e-an#!, but !he !ti *ou #n0t bring her!e " to #o it(

Morning "oun# her heavy4eye# an# weary a"ter a near4! eep e!! night( Maureen wa! !ti to !how her "a*e when <ra# e"t at eight4thirty(

91et ri# o" that wo-an a! !oon a! you po!!ib y *an,0 he reiterate# on the #oor!tep( 9I0 ring you tonight(0

Mouth ting ing "ro- hi! parting 2i!!, 5auren turne# ba*2 into the hou!e to !ee Maureen !tan#ing bare "eet away( @u#ging "ro- her expre!!ion, !he ha# overhear# <ra#0! in!tru*tion(

Her "ir!t wor#! *on"ir-e# it( 9=ou0 get ri# o" -e when I0ve got -oney in -y han#8 The !ooner you put it there, the better80

9An# a"ter that60 5auren a!2e#(

9Depen#! how ong I *an -a2e the "ir!t ot a!t(0

5auren i"te# an un!tea#y han# to pu!h ba*2 the o*2 o" hair "a en over her *hee2, "ighting "or *o-po!ure( 9=ou rea i!e <ra# wou #n0t he!itate to *a in the po i*e i" he 2new what you were #oing80

9<ut he i!n0t going to 2now, i! he6 =ou0re too !*are# o" o!ing a thi!( Not that I *an b a-e you "or that(0

9Than2!(0 5auren 2ept the !ar*a!- ow42ey, too #i!pirite# "or any "urther atte-pt at inti-i#ation( 9+e have to #rive into Strat"or# to the ban2( It !hou # be open by the ti-e we get there(0

9Oh, I thin2 brea2"a!t "ir!t( The "u wor2! "or -e( It i!n0t o"ten I get the *han*e to in#u ge(0

She0# be wa!ting her ti-e re"u!ing, 5auren 2new( The other ha# her over a barre (

Mr! 3erri-an -a#e no atte-pt to *on*ea her #i!"avour when a!2e# to pro#u*e a "u Eng i!h brea2"a!t "or the gue!t( :i!itor!, in her e!ti-ation, !hou # !tir the-!e ve! to atten# -ea ! with the regu ar hou!eho #(

5auren *arrie# "re!h *o""ee through to the !-a brea2"a!t roo- her!e "( A rea#y !eate# at the tab e !et in the win#ow, Maureen too2 up her *up with purpo!e y exten#e# itt e "inger(

9Mu!t re-e-ber I0- eating with the gentry now80

5auren et the !neer pa!! without *o--ent( She poure# *o""ee "or her!e ", nee#ing !ti-u ation in or#er to get through the re!t o" thi! or#ea ( She wa! being a "oo going ahea# with it, !he 2new(

9Don0t oo2 !o g u-,0 Maureen a#vi!e#( 9=ou0re !poi ing your oo2!( =ou wou #n0t have got thi! "ar without the-( Co-e to thin2 o" it,0 !he a##e#, 9they0re re!pon!ib e "or the who e *aboo# e( =ou0# better 2eep a !harp eye on that #aughter o" your!( She0! going to be a -an4*at*her her!e "(0

More than *ou # be !ai# "or her the!e #ay!, 5auren thought, viewing the !a ow "a*e an# i-p #ar2 hair ba# y in nee# o" !ty ing( It wa! a -o!t aughab e that !he0# a*tua y ha# the ga to try it on with <ra#( He wou #n0t have oo2e# at her twi*e un#er any *ir*u-!tan*e!(

A! i" on *ue, Kerry poppe# her hea# roun# the #oor, oo2ing !urpri!e# to !ee the two o" the- !eate# there(

9I thought you0# gone a rea#y,0 !he !ai# to Maureen(

9I haven0t ha# brea2"a!t yet,0 the atter an!were#( 9=ou -ight go an# give the hou!e2eeper a gee4up( I0- !tarving to #eath here80

A "ew wee2! ago, Kerry -ight have "e t -ove# to !o-e pert retort( To#ay, !he 2ept her -outh !hut, #ire*ting a !o-ewhat pu77 e# g an*e in 5auren0! #ire*tion be"ore going to #o a! !he wa! bi#>or !o it wa! a!!u-e#(

Conver!ation>i" it *ou # be *a e# that> ap!e#( They were !itting there in !i en*e when Mr! 3erri-an brought in the oa#e# tray( She !ai# nothing either, though her expre!!ion !po2e vo u-e!( 5auren winge# a -enta apo ogy, to be "o owe# up with a verba one at the "ir!t opportunity(

She phone# the o*a garage whi e Maureen wa! eating( Spe*ia e;uip-ent wa! nee#e# to rep a*e tyre! on the !pot, !he wa! to #( They0# !en# a ow oa#er to *o e*t the *ar( Meanwhi e, there wa! the two thou!an# Maureen wa! #e-an#ing to be *o e*te#(

Stan#ing there, vi!ua i!ing a "uture where !u*h #e-an#! be*a-e a regu ar o**urren*e, 5auren 2new a !u##en "ier*e an# "ina re)e*tion( 1iving in to b a*2-ai wa! no way to ive8 +hatever the *on!e;uen*e!, it wa! ti-e !he "a*e# up to the wo-an in there(

She went ba*2 to the brea2"a!t roo-, exerting every oun*e o" wi 4power to 2eep her!e " on tra*2( Maureen oo2e# pointe# y at her wat*h(

9They0 be open now( I thin2 I0 have a wa 2 roun# the groun#! whi e you go an# get the -oney(0

9I0- not going anywhere,0 5auren #e* are#( 9=ou are( They0re !en#ing tran!port "or the *ar( =ou wi go with it80

Eyebrow! p u*2e# within an in*h o" their i"e #rew together( 9=ou0re in no po!ition to turn -e #own( Not i" you want to 2eep what you0ve got(0

9I0 ta2e the ri!2(0 5auren wa! a-a7e# by her own *ontro ( 9Do your wor!t80

The !a ow "a*e ha# *o our now, burning high on the *hee2!( 9Oh, I wi , #on0t #oubt it8 The who e !or#i# itt e !tory8 @u!t i-agine how your #ar ing Kerry0! going to "ee when !he hear! who you rea y are80

9+hat #oe! !he -ean60 a!2e# a voi*e, bringing both pair! o" eye! !wive ing to where Kerry !too# in the #oorway( 9+hat0! !he ta 2ing about, 5auren60

CHA3TER TEN

MA?REEN got in be"ore 5auren *ou # #raw breath, -a i*e in both voi*e an# "a*e( 9I0ta 2ing about the ti-e you were born thirteen year! ago to a !ixteen4year4o # !*hoo gir 8 Do the arith-eti* "or your!e "( =ou0re bright enough80

Kerry0! eye! "ixe# on 5auren, bewi #er-ent giving way ! ow y to #eva!tate# *o-prehen!ion( 9=ou0re -y -other,0 !he whi!pere#( 9My rea -other80

5auren !wa owe# on the u-p in her throat, hating her!e " even -ore than Maureen "or *reating thi! -o-ent( 9=e!, I a-,0 !he !ai# thi*2 y( 9I0- )u!t !orry you ha# to "in# out thi! way(0

Eye! #ar2, Kerry ga7e# at her a! i" at a !tranger( 9Doe! Da# 2now60

5auren !hoo2 her hea#, her !to-a*h ur*hing at the expre!!ion that *a-e over her #aughter0! "a*e(

9=ou ie#80 !he bur!t out( 9Right "ro- the !tart80

9I 2now(0 5auren yearne# to go to her( She #i#n0t be*au!e !he *ou # gue!! what the rea*tion wou # be right now( 9I0- !orry,0 !he repeate# he p e!! y( 9It wa! wrong o" -e to 2eep it "ro- you( Fro- both o" you( I never inten#e# thing! to happen the way they have(0

9Oh, I bet you #i#n0t80 The ha7e eye! were g ittering>tear! not "ar away( 9I0- going to ring hi-80

She ha# turne# tai an# gone be"ore 5auren *ou # !ay another wor#( Not, !he ha# to a#-it, that there wa! very -u*h !he *ou # !ay(

9Sti thin2 it0! worth the ri!260 Maureen !neere#(

5auren oo2e# at her with oathing( 9I want you out o" here,0 !he !ai#( 9Now80

9I *an0t eave without the *ar,0 the other pointe# out(

9=ou *an !it in it ti they *o-e "or it,0 5auren returne# har# y( 9=our thing! wi be brought out to you( I0 have you "or*ib y re-ove# "ro- the hou!e i" ne*e!!ary,0 !he a##e# when the wo-an "ai e# to !tir her!e "( 9I0ve nothing to o!e now, re-e-ber60

9=ou0ve everything to o!e when that hu!ban# o" your! get! to hear the new!,0 Maureen retorte#, but !he got up( 9I0# i2e to be a " y on the wa when you try *onvin*ing hi- you never inten#e# thing! to happen the way they #i#(0

It wa! going to be #i""i*u t, 5auren 2new( I" !he0# ie# about one thing, why not another6 He wa! going to thin2 what any -an -ight thin2 in the *ir*u-!tan*e!B that !he0# inveig e# hi- into -arrying her a! the on y way !he *ou # be with her #aughter( To !ay nothing o" the other a#vantage!(

He wou # !ti be on the roa#( Even i" Kerry -anage# to rea*h hi- via hi! *ar phone, it wou # be a *oup e o" hour! be"ore he *ou # get ba*2( Two hour! in whi*h to try getting through to her at ea!t(

She a!2e# one o" the #o-e!ti* he p! to ta2e Maureen0! bag out to her, then went to !ee2 her #aughter( The be#roo- #oor wa! o*2e# again!t her( There wa! no re!pon!e "orth*o-ing to her appea ( 5auren 2ept up her e""ort! "or !evera -inute!, but it wa! hope e!!(

The ow oa#er arrive# an#, wat*hing "ro- a win#ow, 5auren !aw Maureen get into the *ab with the #river( The wo-an wa! going to be "a*e# with a he"ty, an# a -o!t *ertain y unne*e!!ary, bi "or a thi!, but !he #e!erve# a great #ea wor!e "or what !he0# atte-pte# to #o( The pri*e !he her!e " wou # have to pay wa! in*a *u ab e a! yet(

She wa! atte-pting to *a - her!e " via the piano when <ra# eventua y arrive#( She !aw the *ar #raw up through the win#owC !aw the oo2 on hi! "a*e when he got out an# hea#e# "or the hou!e( Finger! !ti"" an# heavy, !he !toppe# p aying an# owere# the i# over the 2ey!, to !it waiting "or whatever wa! to *o-e(

<ra# wa!te# neither ti-e nor breath on entering the roo-( 9I! it true60 he #e-an#e#(

9=e!,0 !he !ai#(

The b ue eye! were i*y *o #, hi! )aw ine rigi#( 9=ou !*he-ing itt e bit*h80 he )er2e# between hi! teeth(

9It wa!n0t i2e that80 !he re)oine# #e!perate y( 9A I wante# in the beginning wa! to !ee her( The )ob wa! )u!t too -u*h o" a te-ptation( I #i#n0t anti*ipate "a ing in ove with you(0

9I0- !ure you #i#n0t(0 The !ar*a!- wa! biting( 9=ou p aye# -e "or a "oo 80

9No80 5auren *a-e to her "eet, * ut*hing at the piano "or !upport( 9I never ie# about the way I "ee ( Not at any ti-e8 I ove you, <ra#( =ou0ve got to be ieve that80

95i2e he 80 Hi! ba*2 to the * o!e# #oor, hi! "a*e !et in ine! !he0# never !een there be"ore, he wa! "or-i#ab e( 9I even *aught a *ertain "a-i iarity -y!e " at ti-e, but I "ai e# to tie it #own(0 Hi! augh wa! britt e( 9Or -aybe !i-p y * o!e# -y -in# to it( There0! none !o b in# a! tho!e who #on0t want to !ee8 I on yA0 He bro2e o"", )aw * en*hing a"re!h( 9How #i# that wo-an "in# out about it anyway60

9She 2new I0# ha# a baby, an# that the gir ha# been a#opte#( She put two an# two together when !he !aw Kerry an# -e together that night at the re!taurant(0

9A!tute o" her(0 He pau!e#( 9So !he wa! a"ter -oney(0

9+hi*h I re"u!e# to !upp y, hen*e the !pite(0 5auren0! tone wa! " at, her e-otion! un#er !tri*t *ontro ( 9I thin2 you !hou # go an# !ee Kerry( She0! in her roo- with the #oor o*2e#( She won0t !pea2 to -e(0

9I! there any won#er6 =ou wor- your way into her a""e*tion! then #rop thi! on her8 How wou # you expe*t her to rea*t60

9The way !he i! #oing, I !uppo!e( For now, at any rate(0

9=ou re*2on !he0! going to *o-e roun# to the i#ea60

9In ti-e( I" we han# e it the right way(0

9There0! no JweK about it,0 he re)oine# har# y( 9There are " ight! to Toronto every #ay( =ou0 ta2e the ear ie!t I *an get a !eat on(0

5auren !hoo2 her hea#( 9I won0t go(0

The har#ene# -outh tautene# !ti "urther( 9=ou #on0t have a *hoi*e(0

9I0- your wi"e,0 !he pointe# out( 9Try throwing -e out, i" you i2e, but I0- not eaving8

9<ra#80 The -o-entary rage #i!!ipate#, !he !tret*he# an appea ing han# a! he !tarte# to turn away( 9Don0t go>p ea!e80

<ut he wa! a rea#y at the #oor, expre!!ion unre enting( 9I0- going to !ee Kerry( She0! the -o!t i-portant part o" a thi!(0

5auren !too# -otion e!! "or !evera -inute! a"ter he0# gone, the #e!peration -ounting in her( She0# brought thi! on her!e ", o" *our!e, but 2nowing it -a#e it no ea!ier to bear(

<ra# ha# to be -a#e to i!ten to her>-a#e to be ieve her( Kerry too( She ove# theboth to #i!tra*tion( The thought o" never !eeing either o" the- again wa! too -u*h to even *onte-p ate(

She "or*e# her!e " to -ove, not at a !ure where !he wa! going but unab e to !tay here in the roo- where <ra# ha# "ir!t 2i!!e# her any onger( He wa! *o-ing ba*2 #own the !tair! a! !he e-erge#( 5auren0! heart p unge# i2e a !tone on !eeing the oo2 on hi! "a*e, their per!ona prob e-! pu!he# a!i#e by a !u##en pre-onition o" #i!a!ter(

9She0! gone,0 he * ippe#( 9At a gue!!, I0# !ay !he0! hea#e# where !he u!ua y hea#! when !he0! up!et>to Dia-on#(0 He -a#e a *urt ge!ture a! 5auren !tarte# "orwar#( 9I0 go a"ter her -y!e "( =ou )u!t hope !he ha!n0t *o-e to any har-80

5auren wa! !ti !tan#ing where he0# e"t her when Mr! 3erri-an *a-e through "ro- the rear(

9I thought I hear# Mr <ra# ey0! voi*e,0 !he !ai#(

9=e!, he ha# to turn ba*2(0 5auren *ou # on y won#er at the !tea#ine!! o" her voi*e(

9Three "or un*h, then60

9I>=e!(0 There wa! no other rep y to be -a#e( 9I0- not !ure about #inner(0

93 enty o" ti-e(0 The hou!e2eeper obviou! y !en!e# !o-ething not right, but !he 2ept her own *oun!e (

Min# nu-b, 5auren too2 her!e " out to the terra*e to wat*h "or the two -o!t i-portant peop e in her i"e returning( The !2y wa! over*a!t to#ay, the * ou# hanging grey an# threatening( She *ou #n0t have -ove# even i" it ha# poure# with rain(

How -u*h ti-e pa!!e# be"ore !he !aw "ather an# #aughter e-erging "ro- the tree! !he *ou #n0t have !ai#( She got !ha2i y to her "eet a! they -ounte# the !tep!, ho #ing out her han#! to the white4"a*e# gir at <ra#0! !i#e(

9Kerry, I0- !orry8 I0- !o !orry80 !he *ho2e#(

Hatre# b a7e# in the ha7e eye!( 9Don0t you *o-e near -e, you iar8 I wa! right about you a a ong8 =ou )u!t wante# Da#0! -oney80

9I #on0t *are about the -oney80 5auren p ea#e#( 9I *are about you8 I0ve a way! *are# about you80

9I" you #i#, you wou #n0t have given -e away80

9I #i#n0t have a *hoi*e( Not then( I>0

9=ou hear# what !he !ai#(0 <ra# !po2e in ow tone!( 95eave her a one80

5auren re!i!te# the urge to -a2e any "urther appea ( It wa!n0t going to be any u!e( Not at pre!ent, anyway( Maybe ater, when thing! ha# *a -e# #own a itt e, !he *ou # try again( She ha# to 2eep on trying8 Not )u!t with Kerry, but with <ra# too(

9+here #i# you "in# her60 !he a!2e# a! her #aughter !ta 2e# pa!t her to hea# in#oor!(

9In Dia-on#0! box,0 he !ai#( 95u*2y !he ha#n0t ta2en o""( The !tate !he wa! in, anything *ou # have happene#(0 Hi! tone wa! unyie #ing, hi! )aw !et( 9I -eant what I !ai#( =ou eave her a one( =ou gave up any right! thirteen year! ago(0

5auren 2ept her voi*e *a - with an e""ort( 9I #i#n0t give the- up, they were ta2en "ro-e( I wa! !ixteen( +hat e !e *ou # I have #one60

9There are !o*ietie! un-arrie# -other! *an turn to(0

9I" I0# #one that, oo2 what !he0# have -i!!e# out on( =ou an# C aire gave her a the thing! I0# never have been ab e to give her(0

The b ue eye! viewe# her unwavering y, the har#ne!! in the- un#i-ini!he#( 9=ou thin2 the -ateria thing! are !o a 4i-portant60

9No(0 She *ou # !ee where he wa! hea#ing( 9I -eant what I !ai# ba*2 there, <ra#( I *ou #n0t *are two hoot! about -oney8 I -arrie# you be*au!e I ove you8 <e*au!e you0re the on y -an I ever "e t thi! way about80

Dar2 brow! i"te# !ar#oni*a y( 9Not even the "ather60

9E!pe*ia y not the "ather(0

9A ba# ot, wa! he60

9No( @u!t another -i!gui#e# teenager( It wa! a party( +e0# both ha# too -u*h to #rin2(0

9So he got ai#, an# you got pregnant(0 There wa! a brie" pau!e, a *hange o" tone( 9+here i! he now60

9Dea#(0 She !ai# it une-otiona y( 9He wa! 2i e# ten year! ago in a *ar a**i#ent( He *a-e "ro- a very goo# "a-i y, in *a!e you0re won#ering(0

9Don0t pu!h it,0 he a#vi!e# gri- y( 9I0- hanging on to -y better nature by a threa# to !tart with( +e0# better get on in( Mr! 30! going to be won#ering what the he 0! happening(0

5auren a**o-panie# hi- in !i en*e( She ha# 2nown it wa!n0t going to be ea!y, but it wa! proving har#er than !he0# even i-agine#( She ha# no intention o" giving up though( However ong it too2 to get through to the- both, !he wa! !ti*2ing with it(

Mr! 3erri-an -et the- in the ha ( 9I0ve ha# un*h rea#y ha " an hour80 !he *o-p aine#( 9The !a -on wi be a #rie# up by now80

9It0 be "ine,0 <ra# an!were#( 9@u!t the two o" u! though( Kerry i!n0t "ee ing too we (0

Sy-pathy too2 over in!tant y "ro- annoyan*e( 9Oh, the poor a-b8 I! there anything I *an ta2e her60

He !hoo2 hi! hea#( 9<e!t i" !he0! e"t to ! eep it o""(0

9I0- not veryA0 5auren began, voi*e "a#ing away be"ore the g an*e he turne# her way(

9+e0 be through in a -inute or two,0 he to # the hou!e2eeper(

9I" you0re !taying, you0 *arry on a! nor-a ,0 he !tate# ow4tone# a! the wo-an #eparte#( 9Thi! i! a !tri*t y private a""air80

9+e0re un i2e y to 2eep it that way i" both o" you treat -e a! i" I ha# the p ague,0 5auren pointe# out( 9Mr! 30! no "oo ( I" !he #oe!n0t !en!e !o-ething wrong a rea#y, !he very !oon wi (0

9She *an !en!e whatever !he i2e!,0 *a-e the *urt rep y(

5un*h wa! an or#ea ( The two o" the- *onver!e# whenever the hou!e2eeper wa! in the roo-, but 5auren *ou #n0t have repeate# a wor# o" what wa! a*tua y !ai#( She *ou # have been eating !aw#u!t "or a the ta!te that *a-e through(

Suit )a*2et #i!*ar#e#, white !i 2 !hirt !ti pri!tine, <ra# -a#e her a*he( She "oun# her!e " wat*hing hi! han#! when he poure# wine, re-e-bering the "ee o" tho!e ong, ten!i e "inger!B the ingering, ting ing *are!!e!( The -outh that ha# rove# her who e bo#y with !u*h #eva!tating pa!!ion wa! a thin !traight ine, hi! eye! i2e !tee (

9+e have to ta 280 !he !ai# "ier*e y when Mr! 3erri-an ha# *o-e an# gone "or the a!t ti-e( 9=ou have to i!ten to -e, <ra#8 I ove you( There0! nothing you *an !ay or #o that0! going to a ter that80

5eaning ba*2 in hi! *hair, g a!! in han#, he regar#e# her with irony( 9=ou0 be te ing -e next that !taying with Kerry wa! the "urthe!t thing "ro- your -in# when I a!2e# you to -arry -e(0

5auren too2 a grip on her!e " be"ore an!wering( 9O" *our!e it wa!n0t( It *ou #n0t be( <ut I *ou #n0t have a**epte# )u!t "or that rea!on( =ou 2new how I "e t about you( =ou ha# to 2now80

9I 2new I *ou # !ati!"y you in be#(0

9It wa! -ore than that( A who e ot -ore8 A right, I !hou # have to # you the truth at the !tart( I #i#n0t be*au!e I wa! a"rai# you0# re"u!e to et -e !ee Kerry( I0# have e"t when !he went ba*2 to !*hoo i" you ha#n0t>0

9I" I ha#n0t et -y!e " get *arrie# away60 <ra# interpo!e# *yni*a y( 9+ith that "a*e an# bo#y you were ha "way there the -o-ent I opene# the #oor to you( A you ha# to #o wa! p ay -e a ong( =our te*hni;ue wa! a#-irab e, I have to a#-it( =ou ha# -e tota y hoo#win2e#80

5auren ga7e# at hi- he p e!! y( +hatever !he !ai#, however har# !he trie#, !he wa!n0t rea*hing hi-( She got to her "eet, unab e to ta2e any -ore "or the pre!ent(

9Stay away "ro- Kerry,0 he or#ere#( 9She0! up!et enough(0

9She0! -y #aughter80 !he " a!he# ba*2(

9On y by birth(0 He wa!n0t giving an in*h( 9She0 #e*i#e "or her!e " whether !he want! to ta 2 to you(0

5auren e"t hi- !itting there, hea#ing "or the terra*e again an# "re!h air( She !hou # never have begun thi!, !he thought ho ow y( She !hou # have et go a ong, ong ti-e ago( A !he0# #one wa! *au!e #i!ruption(

It wa! too ate now "or regret!( +ith Kerry #ue to !tart at <roo2"ie #! in a wee2, !he ha# to *arry on a! inten#e#( 1iven ti-e to a#)u!t, Kerry -ight eventua y !tart to *o-e roun# a itt e( <ra# wa! another -atter( Hi! pri#e wa! at !ta2e( Men !et !o -u*h !tore by it(

At ea!t, !he *on!o e# her!e ", thing! *ou #n0t get any wor!e than they a rea#y were(

Kerry #i#n0t put in an appearan*e a a"ternoon( <ra# !pent it in the !tu#y, e-erging at !ix to go !traight up!tair!( It wa! a ;uarter to !even when he *a-e #own again, a rea#y *hange# "or the evening( On y then #i# 5auren !tir her!e " to "o ow !uit(

Sharing a be#roo- wa! going to be #i""i*u t enough whi e he *ontinue# to entertain the !a-e view o" her -otive!, !he thought nu-b y on rea*hing itC !haring a be# wa! i-po!!ib e( She gathere# !o-e thing! together an# too2 the- a*ro!! to the roo- !he ha# origina y u!e#(

Hou!eho # inen wa! 2ept in a wa 24in * o!et at the top o" the ba*2 !tair!( To rea*h it, !he ha# to pa!! Kerry0! #oor( It wa! "ir- y * o!e#, with no !oun# i!!uing "ro- within( 5auren bore #own har# on the urge to try a "urther approa*h(

Far "ro- hungry, but not about to !tay out o" !ight, !he put on the "ir!t thing! that *a-e to han# to go #own to #inner( The *rea- !i 2 trou!er! an# oo!e top oo2e# a itt e over#re!!e# "or the o**a!ion, but !he *ou #n0t be bothere# *hanging again(

It wa! !pot on the ha "4hour when !he wa 2e# into the #ining roo-, to "in# the two o" the- a rea#y !eate#( Kerry wou #n0t even oo2 at her a! !he too2 her p a*e at the tab e( 5auren !u!pe*te# it wa! on y at <ra#0! in!i!ten*e that !he wa! here at a (

9Ni*e out"it,0 he *o--ente# #ri y(

9Than2 you,0 !he !ai# expre!!ion e!! y(

9How *an you ta 2 to her60 Kerry bur!t out( 9She0! no right to even be here80

9<ut I a- here, an# I0- !taying,0 5auren an!were# be"ore <ra# *ou # !pea2( 9I0- not going to apo ogi!e again "or what I #i# thirteen year! ago, Kerry( +hat I *an te you i! there ha!n0t been one #ay in tho!e thirteen year! when I haven0t thought about you> won#ering where you were, what you oo2e# i2e, whether you were happy( I *a-e to oo2 "or you be*au!e I *ou #n0t !tan# not 2nowing any -ore(0

9@u!t how #i# you "in# u!60 <ra# *ut in( 9The aw !ay! on y the a#opte# *hi # ha! a right to in"or-ation(0

9I hire# a private #ete*tive,0 5auren a*2now e#ge#( 9Don0t a!2 -e how he -anage# to obtain the #etai he *a-e up with be*au!e I0ve no i#ea( I pai# hi- to #o a )ob, an# he #i# it(0

9?n aw"u y80

9I #are !ay( I #i#n0t *are how he #i# it(0

He regar#e# her *o # y( 9A "u *a!e hi!tory, wa! it60

9I" you -ean #i# I 2now be"ore I *a-e that you were one o" the *ountry0! -o!t !u**e!!"u bu!ine!!-en, the an!wer i! ye!,0 !he !ai#( 9It -a#e no #i""eren*e(0

He #i#n0t be ieve her, it wa! evi#ent( Neither, )u#ging "ro- her expre!!ion, #i# Kerry( De!pite her!e ", 5auren "e t her #eter-ination to !ti*2 it out beginning to ! ip a itt e(

9=ou0# *o-e to i2e -e be"ore thi! happene#,0 !he appea e# to her #aughter( 9I0- !ti the !a-e per!on80

9No, you0re not,0 *a-e the une;uivo*a rep y(

The !u##en !i en*e a! Mr! 3erri-an appeare# in the #oorway *ou # a -o!t be "e t( The hou!e2eeper wa! *ertain y aware o" !o-e at-o!phere in the roo-C her g an*e "ro- one "a*e to another wa! -ore than a itt e *on*erne#( 5auren *on)ure# a "aint !-i e "or her, though !he #oubte# i" it #e*eive# her at a (

9@u!t eat,0 <ra# *o--an#e# when !he0# gone( 9Anything e !e that ha! to be !ai# *an wait(0

5auren app ie# her!e " to the !tu""e# avo*a#o! without appetite( She *ou # "ee her #aughter0! ani-o!ity *o-ing a*ro!! the tab e in wave!( 3erhap! when !he re-e-bere# the new way o" i"e !he wa! #ue to !tart !oon, !he wou # rea i!e thing! weren0t a ba#( It wa! * ut*hing at !traw!, but what e !e wa! there6

Kerry #i!appeare# again right a"ter the -ea , eaving the two o" the- to ta2e *o""ee in the !itting roo-( <ra# poure# #rin2!, an# put !o-e -u!i* on, !ett ing ba*2 on a !o"a an# * o!ing hi! eye! a! i" in #i!in* ination to #i!*u!! -atter! any "urther(

5auren !too# it a! ong a! !he *ou #( <ut ignoring the !ub)e*t wa!n0t going to he p( She got up an# went a*ro!! to where he !at, 2nee ing on the *u!hion to put her ip! to hi! with a the pent4up e-otion o" the a!t "ew hour!(

Hi! -outh re-aine# pa!!ive, neither #rawing away nor re!pon#ing, though !he "e t the ten!ion throughout hi! bo#y( She gave up a"ter a -o-ent or two, !itting ba*2 to oo2 at hi- he p e!! y(

9=ou rea y thin2 it0! a been an a*t60

9The !ex, no,0 he !ai#(

9It0! -ore than )u!t !ex8 =ou 2now it i!80

He !tu#ie# her, ta2ing in every #etai o" her "a*e beneath the go #en ha o o" her hairC !hi"ting hi! ga7e with #e iberation #own the ength o" her bo#y, an# ba*2 again( 9I #on0t 2now anything any -ore( Not where you0re *on*erne#( I be ieve# you were genuine a! they *o-e80

9Apart "ro- thi! one thing, I a-,0 !he p ea#e#( 9<e hone!t about it, <ra#( I" you0# 2nown who I wa! that "ir!t #ay, wou # you have et -e !ee Kerry60

9Con!i#ering !he0# never expre!!e# any #e!ire to -eet her rea -other, no,0 he !ai#( 9+hat I -ight have #one wa! !oun# her out about it( It wou # have been her *hoi*e then, not your!(0

9I *ou #n0t ta2e the ri!2( I thought i" I *ou # on y !ee her, even on*e, I0# have !o-ething to ho # in -y -in#( She wa! )u!t two #ay! o # when they too2 her "ro- -e( I #i#n0t even have a photograph o" her a! a baby8 Have you any i#ea what tho!e "ir!t year! were i2e60 Her voi*e wa! i-pa!!ione#, eye a!he! #a-p( 9+e , I0 te you( They were he 8 I hate# -y parent! "or not !tan#ing by -e8 I hate# being uproote# "ro- everything I0# ever 2nown be*au!e they *ou #n0t !tan# the go!!ip8 Mo!t o" a , I hate# -y!e " "or etting it happen80

9That0! a ot o" hate,0 he !ai#( 9Do you !ti "ee the !a-e60

5auren !hoo2 her hea#, a rea#y a!ha-e# o" the outbur!t( 9I rea i!e# it wa!n0t he ping anything( I traine# in *hi #*are to try an# -a2e up "or what I0# o!t( It he pe# a itt e(0

9+hat -a#e you #e*i#e to !ear*h "or her thi! parti*u ar year60

9Rea i!ing !he wa!n0t going to be a *hi # "or very -u*h onger(0 She -a#e a !-a #e!pairing ge!ture( 9I0ve b own it, haven0t I60

It wa! a -o-ent or two be"ore he an!were#, tone )u!t a -ite e!! *hi y( 9Not ne*e!!ari y( She0! in !ho*2 right now( 1ive her ti-e(0

1reen eye! bore# into b ue, unab e to penetrate the vei #rawn over the-( 9Do I have the ti-e60

Hi! !-i e wa! thin( 9A! you pointe# out ear ier, you0re -y wi"e( =ou have right!(0

9That wa! anger ta 2ing, not -e(0 5auren he!itate#, aware o" trea#ing on #angerou! groun#( 9I" you want -e to go, I wi (0

The !-i e *a-e again, no -ore -irth"u than be"ore( 93utting the ba "air y an# !;uare y in -y *ourt( No, #a--it, I #on0t want you to go8 I" we #on0t have what I thought we ha#, we0 )u!t have to -a2e #o with what there i!(0

5auren he # ba*2 the prote!t that ro!e to her ip!( No a-ount o" verba a!!uran*e! were going to *onvin*e hi-( A !he *ou # #o wa! !how hi- how !he "e t(

9I -ove# -y thing! out o" our roo-,0 !he !ai#, re*o e*ting( 9I thought it wa! what you0# want(0

9Then you0# better -ove the- ba*2 again(0 He to!!e# o"" the #rin2 he wa! ho #ing, an# !et #own the g a!!( 9I0ve thing! to #o(0

5auren !at "or !evera -inute! a"ter he0# gone "ro- the roo-, trying to be ieve that everything wou # wor2 out in the en#( <ra# !ti wante# herC that ha# to be a !tart( +hether Kerry wou # ever *o-e to regar# her in any better ight again on y ti-e wou # te (

She wa! in be# when <ra# "ina y *a-e up at -i#night( He un#re!!e# without bothering to put on any ight!, ! inging hi! * othing a*ro!! a *hair an# *o-ing !traight a*ro!! to get between the *oo *otton !heet!(

5auren turne# to hi- eager y, ar-! ! i#ing over the broa# na2e# !hou #er!, bo#y -ou #ing again!t hi-( Hi! phy!i*a re!pon!e wa! in!tant, the -outh !ee2ing her! a*2ing nothing in pa!!ion( +hat wa! -i!!ing wa! ten#erne!!, but !he *ou # har# y expe*t to regain everything a at on*e(

She put everything !he 2new into the "o owing -o-ent!, 2i!!ing her way #own the ength o" the har# -a!*u ine bo#y to bring the breath hi!!ing through hi! teeth at the !en!ation! *reate# by ip! an# tongue( +hen he turne# her un#er hi- !he wa! p iant in hi! han#!, -oi!t an# we *o-ing( Fee ing hi- there in!i#e her, a part o" her again, wa! !heer e*!ta!y(

The e ation "a#e# when he ro e# away "ro- her a -o!t i--e#iate y a"ter * i-axing with a -ur-ure#, 91oo#night(0 Nor-a y he wou # ho # her in hi! ar-! unti they both went to ! eep( She ha# a ong way to go !ti , !he thought ho ow y(

Thing! i-prove# a itt e over the "o owing "ew #ay!( +ith <ra#, at any rate( Kerry re-aine# a! a#a-ant y again!t her a! ever( 5auren began to #oubt that !he0# ever brea2 through thi! new barrier her #aughter ha# ere*te#(

+hatever bu!ine!! a""air! <ra# ha# been hea#e# "or on Mon#ay, he !ai# nothing about going to town again( He wa! *o-panionab e enough on the !ur"a*e, though the wi*2e# !par2 e no onger #an*e# in hi! eye! when he oo2e# at her(

9No -atter how you "ee about your parent!, you have to te the- about Kerry,0 he !ai# on the Thur!#ay a"ternoon when they were out ri#ing( 9Even i" on y by etter(0

9They won0t want to 2now,0 5auren prote!te#( 9So "ar a! they0re *on*erne#, they never ha# a gran##aughter to !tart with(0

9I !ti thin2 they0re entit e#( +hat they *hoo!e to #o about it i! their a""air(0 He g an*e# her way, -outh twi!ting( 9A!!u-ing you haven0t been ying about the- too(0

9No, I haven0t(0 She gave a !hort augh, not "ee ing in the ea!t hu-orou! about it( 9Not that I *an b a-e you "or !u!pe*ting it( I0ve prove# -y!e " a iar through an# through80

9<ut a ove y one,0 he returne# #ri y(

9Doe! that -a2e -e any ea!ier to "orgive60 !he a!2e#, an# !aw a *orner o" hi! -outh turn #own(

9It he p!( Kerry ha! #i""erent prioritie!( =ou #on0t !ee- to be getting any "urther with her(0

9I" anything, I thin2 thing! are wor!e,0 5auren a#-itte# wry y( 9She0! rea i!e# !he0! going to be !tu*2 with -e ta2ing her to an# pi*2ing her up "ro- <roo2"ie #! every #ay, when you0re not here to #o it(0

9There0! a way! a *han*e they haven0t "i e# her p a*e at Thur!ton yet,0 he !ai#(

9I #on0t thin2 that wou # be a !o ution(0

9Then !he0 )u!t have to a#)u!t(0 He !oun#e# abrupt( 9I0- going ahea#( Ca iph nee#! a goo# "a!t ga op( +e0 wait "or you by the "or2(0

He wa! o"" a -o!t be"ore he0# "ini!he# !pea2ing, bo#y ea!y in the !a## e a! he et the !ta ion have hi! hea#( Rea i!ing he probab y wante# to be on hi! own "or a whi e, 5auren he # @a!per to a *anter( Thing! -ight have i-prove# between the-, but they were !ti "ar "ro- what they ha# been( He !i-p y #i#n0t tru!t her any -ore(

Mi*2 wa! in the ta*2 roo- when they got ba*2 to the !tab e!( 5auren thought he oo2e# a bit !hi"ty on e-erging( I" he ha# a gir "rien# in there again, !he #i#n0t want to 2now( She ha# enough prob e-! a rea#y on her p ate( They e"t hi- to put the hor!e! ba*2 in the pa##o*2 with Dia-on#(

Kerry wa! in the poo a ong with A#rian an# two other! re*ogni!ab e "ro- the barbe*ue( 5auren #oubte# i" !he wou # have invite# the- over in view o" the !ituation, but wa! g a#, "or her !a2e, that they were here( She nee#e# the *o-panion!hip(

The #ay wore on( Dinner wa! "a!t be*o-ing a *u!to-ary batt e to -aintain a !e-b an*e o" har-ony when Mr! 3 wa! aroun#( A probab e wa!te o" e""ort in 5auren0! view( The hou!e2eeper ha# to be we aware by now that thing! were "ar "ro- right(

The etter <ra# ha# !ugge!te# prove# even -ore #i""i*u t to write than anti*ipate#( She0# !toppe# a*tive y hating her parent! a ong ti-e ago, but there wa! no #epth o" ove there either( In the en#, !he )u!t !et out the "a*t! o" the -atter "ro- !tart to "ini!h, * o!ing with the hope that they *ou # a get together !o-e ti-e in the not too #i!tant "uture(

That there wa! going to be a "uture "or the three o" the- here, !he wa! #eter-ine#( She ha#n0t *o-e thi! "ar to give up now(

There wa! an e e-ent o" ten#erne!! ba*2 in <ra#0! ove-a2ing that night( 5auren0! heart war-e# to the gent e 2i!!e! he pre!!e# to her eye! an# te-p e! be"ore ea!ing hi! weight "ro- her( ?n i2e the a!t "ew night!, he #i#n0t turn away, but turne# to her in!tea#, tu*2ing hi! 2nee! in behin# her! !o that they ay together i2e a pair o" !poon!, hi! arabout her wai!t, han# *overing her brea!t(

9S eep,0 he !ai# !o"t y(

She ay awa2e "or !o-e ti-e a"ter he0# #ri"te# o"", a owing her!e " a *autiou! opti-i!-( I" he *ou # be ieve in her again, then !o *ou # Kerry( However ong it -ight ta2e(

It wa! !ti #ar2 when !he opene# her eye! again( On y )u!t three, !he !aw by the be#!i#e * o*2(

<ra# ha# !hi"te# onto hi! ba*2, hi! breathing #eep an# regu ar( Out ine# again!t the pa er !;uare o" the win#ow, hi! pro"i e oo2e# *arve# by a -a!ter *ra"t!-an( The !heet ha# been pu!he# away, revea ing the broa# bare *he!t with it! wiry -at o" hair tapering #own to har#4pa*2e# !to-a*h( ?n!een, the re!t o" hi- wa! et*he# on her -in#0! eye, bringing an urge to rea*h out to hi-, to wa2en hi-, to have hi- part o" her again(

She re!i!te# with an e""ort, not yet ;uite !ure enough o" hi! "ee ing! to go that "ar( Too re!t e!! to ! eep again, !he ! i# "ro- the be#, *are"u not to #i!turb hi-( The night wa! "ine( A wa 2 -ight !ett e her(

She put on a pair o" trou!er! an# a ightweight !weater a ong with a pair o" pu-p!( The hou!e wa! !i ent>a itt e eerie in the !ha"te# -oon ight( She went out via the terra*e, #ropping #own to the awn! with no parti*u ar route in -in#(

It wa! p ea!ant y war-, with )u!t a hint o" a bree7e( There wa! no * ou# in the !2y, an# itt e in#u!tria ha7e to #i- the !tar!( The u*2 o" the #evi !o-e wou # *a it, 5auren thought, to be given a thi!, but it wou #n0t -ean a thing without <ra# an# Kerry to !hare it with(

For a -o-ent !he too2 the g ow !he *ou # !ee through the tree! to be !unri!e, rea i!ing it wa! not on y "ar too ear y but in entire y the wrong #ire*tion( Her heart -i!!e# a beat a! her -in# !upp ie# the an!wer( The !tab e!8 It ha# to be the !tab e!8

The ta*2 roo- wa! "u y ab a7e when !he got there, the hor!e! going "ranti* in their boxe! at the !-o2e an# heat a rea#y rea*hing the-( 5auren et Dia-on# out "ir!t, then @a!per, !en#ing the two o" the- ga oping into the night(

Ca iph wa! "urthe!t "ro- the b a7e, though "ar "ro- the *a -e!t o" the three( +hinnying, !norting, 2i*2ing the !i#e! o" the box, he wa! -ore #angerou! than the "ire it!e ", but with the atter a rea#y beginning to a#van*e a ong the row, !he *ou #n0t eave hi-( She trie# to *a - hi- a itt e by ta 2ing to hi-, to ab!o ute y no avai ( In the en# there wa! on y one thing to #o an# that wa! open the ower #oor( 3rovi#ing !he 2ept it between the- !he wou # be OK, !he a!!ure# her!e "(

+hat !he ha#n0t re*2one# with wa! the !i7e an# !trength o" the ani-a ( +hen he #i# *o-e out he a -o!t too2 the #oor with hi-, barging her over( She "e t her hea# *o-e into *onta*t with !o-ething har#, an# hear# a ru!hing !oun# in her ear!, then everything "a#e#(

She *a-e roun# to the !oun# o" a voi*e !aying her na-e( <ra#0! voi*e, !he rea i!e#( It wa! hi! ar- !upporting her, hi! *he!t her *hee2 wa! pre!!e# again!t( The roaring !oun# in the ba*2groun# brought -e-ory " oo#ing ba*2(

9The hor!e!80 !he ga!pe#(

9They0re "ine80 <ra# tightene# hi! ho # on her( 9Stay !ti 8 =ou -ay have *on*u!!ion80

Her hea# *ertain y a*he#, but her vi!ion wa! * ear enough( So-e #i!tan*e away, the !tab e! were ab a7e "ro- en# to en#, the " a-e! !hooting high into the !2y( She ha# to have been out "or !evera -inute! "or that to happen(

9I0- a right,0 !he !ai#( 9Rea y8 How #i# you 2now60

9So-ething wo2e -e( A !oun#, a pre-onitionA0 He bro2e o"", !ha2ing hi! hea#, hi! "a*e bron7e# by the " a-e!( 9It #oe!n0t -atter how( I" I ha#n0t "o owe# youA0 He !toppe# again, #rawing a har!h breath( 9=ou were ying right up again!t the wa ( Another "ew -inute!, an# you0# have been in the thi*2 o" it(0 He #rew her * o!er !ti , ben#ing to put hi! ip! to her te-p e, e-otion !pi ing "ro- hi-( 9I" you0# #ie#A0

9That0! the thir# !enten*e you0ve "ai e# to "ini!h,0 5auren )o2e# wea2 y, unwi ing to ta2e the *on*ern o" the -o-ent "or anything -ore -eaning"u ( 9I #i#n0t, anyway, than2! to you( Di# you *a the "ire briga#e60

A !tupi# ;ue!tion, !he a*2now e#ge# at on*e, *on!i#ering the on y phone wa! in the ta*2 roo-, an# the un i2e ihoo# o" hi! *arrying a -obi e in the tra*2!uit botto-! he wa! wearing(

9There i!n0t -u*h point,0 he !ai#( 9It0! too ate to !ave anything( 5u*2i y the tree! aren0t * o!e enough to *at*h( I0- going to get you ba*2 to the hou!e,0 he a##e# #e*i!ive y(

9I *an wa 280 !he prote!te# a! he hoi!te# her up( 9Rea y, <ra#80

9I0- not ta2ing any *han*e! ti you0ve been !een by a -e#i*,0 he !ai#( 9@u!t re ax(0

Re ax6 5auren wante# !u##en y to augh( Hy!teria, !he thought( The ar-! ho #ing her were !o !trong, !o !a"e, the "a*e above the- !o utter y #ear to her(

9I ove you,0 !he whi!pere#( 9=ou have to be ieve -e( I ove you80

9I #o,0 he !ai#( 9I ove you too(0 Hi! !-i e wa! a *are!! in it!e "( 9I wa! a "oo "or ever #oubting you(0

Eye! i2e !tar!, !he -ur-ure#, 9=ou #i# have !o-e rea!on( I0# have probab y #oubte# -e too in your p a*e(0

The !-i e wi#ene#( 9Con*u!!ion, -aybe, *on"u!e#, #e"inite y80

They e-erge# "ro- the woo# an# to *ro!! the gra!! to the terra*e( The gir !tan#ing there in py)a-a! *a-e running #own the !tep! to -eet the-, her "a*e a !tu#y in horror(

9I !aw the "ire "ro- -y win#ow8 It0! the !tab e!, i!n0t it6 I! 5auren ba# y hurt60

9I0- "ine,0 5auren a!!ure# her, *o-"orte# beyon# -ea!ure that the hor!e! weren0t her #aughter0! "ir!t thought(

9=ou *an0t be, or Da# wou #n0t be *arrying you80 The young voi*e wa! "ranti*( 9+e have to get a #o*tor80

93ut -e #own, <ra#,0 5auren *o--an#e#(

He #i# !o without argu-ent, *at*hing her by the ar- when !he !tu-b e# a itt e, but not ho #ing her ba*2( Kerry *a-e into her ar-! i2e a ho-ing pigeon, the tear! ! i#ing #own her *hee2!(

9I0- !orry I0ve been !o horrib e to you8 I #on0t want you to go away8 Not ever80

9I0- not going anywhere(0 5auren wa! *rying her!e ", overwhe -e# by e-otion( She ha# her #aughter, !he ha# her hu!ban#, !he ha# everything8

Arriving within ha " an hour o" being *a e#, the #o*tor #iagno!e# a -i # #egree o" *on*u!!ion "or 5auren, an# !ugge!te# be# re!t( +ith the !un a rea#y up by then, an# "ar better thing! to #o with the #ay, 5auren !ai# no way( Stubborn a! a -u e, <ra# #e* are#, but he -a#e no atte-pt to "or*e the i!!ue(

It wa! ne*e!!ary to *a the briga#e out in or#er to -a2e the !-ou #ering re-ain! !a"e "ro- " are4up( The !a"ety o""i*er0! ob!ervation that #i!*ar#e# *igarette! were the -o!t "re;uent *au!e o" a**i#enta "ire! !par2e# a -e-ory "or 5auren o" the gui ty oo2 !he0# *aught on Mi*20! "a*e when he0# *o-e "ro- the ta*2 roo- the previou! a"ternoon(

She #i#n0t -ention it to <ra#, who wou # have gone up in " a-e! hi-!e " at the -ere !ugge!tion, )u!t -a#e a -enta note to et the obviou! y #eva!tate# young -an 2now !he ha# her !u!pi*ion! in or#er to !a"eguar# the new !tab e! when they were bui t( In the -eanti-e, a te-porary !he ter wa! ere*te# "or a three ani-a ! in the pa##o*2(

Kerry ha# *hange# beyon# re*ognition "ro- the ter-agant o" the a!t "ew #ay!( She *ou #n0t #o enough(

9I thought you0# on y *o-e be*au!e you "oun# out how ri*h Da##y i!,0 !he !ai# when the two o" the- were on their own(

9An# he thought I0# on y -arrie# hi- to !tay with you,0 5auren !-i e#( 9The truth being, I wante# to !tay with you both !o ba# y by then I o!t !ight o" everything e !e(0 She put out a han# to !-ooth the b on#e hair "ro- her #aughter0! "a*e, !eeing the e-erging re!e-b an*e to her own with a p ea!ure !he ha#n0t #are# a ow her!e " be"ore( 9I 2now I *an never ta2e C aire0! p a*e>I wou #n0t even try>but I0 #o everything I *an to -a2e up "or a tho!e -i!!ing year!( I ove you !o -u*h, Kerry80

Tear! we e# in the ha7e eye! again( 9I ove you too80

5auren put her ar-! about the gir , the way !he ha# !o o"ten onge# to #o the!e pa!t wee2!, ho #ing her * o!e( It ha# been a ong, har# tre2, but they were together at a!t(

9I" !o-eone ha# to # -e !ix -onth! ago that -y i"e wa! going to turn out i2e thi!, I0# have thought they were roun# the ben#80 !he ex* ai-e# in be# that night( 9I !ti 2eep thin2ing I0- going to wa2e up an# "in# it wa! a a #rea-80 She gave a ye p a! <ra# pin*he# her, oo2ing into the aughing b ue eye! in -o*24in#ignation( 9+hat wa! that "or60

9@u!t proving it0! no #rea-,0 he !ai#( 9Not that what we )u!t #i# wa!n0t out o" thi! wor #80

9Right out,0 !he agree#( She #rew hi! hea# #own to 2i!! hi- on the ip! that gave her !o -u*h p ea!ure( 9=ou0re a over without e;ua , Mr 5axton80

9+ith you, it i!n0t har#,0 he !ai#, #i!!o ving into aughter again a! !he rai!e# a !ugge!tive eyebrow( 9There are pit"a ! everywhere80

A-u!e-ent gave way to !o-ething in"inite y -ore heart4!tirring a! he !tu#ie# her *aptivating "a*e "ra-e# by the !prea# o" go #en hair a*ro!! the pi ow( 9I0- the u*2ie!t -an a ive to have you( E!pe*ia y a"ter the way I treate# you thi! a!t wee2(0

5auren put a "inger to hi! ip!( 9+e got through it, that0! a that -atter!( =ou -ight even !ay,0 !he a##e#, 9that we owe Maureen a vote o" than2! "or bringing it a out in the open(0 She gave a wry !-i e( 9Fe-inine intuition !purre# by ani-u!8 She wa! one o" the wor!t na-e4*a er! when it "ir!t *a-e out that I wa! pregnant(0

9@ea ou!y,0 he !ai#( 9+ith every rea!on>un e!! !he wa! a great #ea better4 oo2ing a! a gir than !he i! now( A na!ty pie*e a roun#80

9Over an# #one with(0 5auren ha# no intention o" wa!ting any -ore thought on the wo-an( 9I0ve nothing to "ear "ro- anyone now( =ou 2now everything there i! to 2now about -e(0

9Not near y,0 he !ai# !o"t y( 9<ut I0ve a i"eti-e ahea# to earn(0

E3I5O1?E

9HEAD her over here,0 *a e# <ra#, bran#i!hing the new *a-*or#er( 9I want a * o!e4up o" you both80

The boy a!tri#e the *he!tnut pony wave# a han# in re!pon!e, an# e#ge# the !to*2y itt e Shet an# in the re;uire# #ire*tion, gaining a !hout o" prote!t "ro- the #i-inutive ri#er(

9I *an #o it -y!e "80

9It0! a right, 3au , et her *o-e on her own,0 5auren *a e#, !-othering any trepi#ation( At "our, Ch oe wa! a rea#y on her !e*on# pony>the "ir!t having prove# -u*h too #o*i e "or her( Thi! one ha# !pirit in abun#an*e, but !o #i# !heB evi#en*e# now in the #eter-ine# way !he turne# her !o-ewhat !e "4wi e# -ount in the re;uire# #ire*tion(

Three year! her !enior, an# wearing the in#u gent expre!!ion o" o #er brother "or younger !i!ter, 3au "o owe# behin# on the *he!tnut, thi*2 #ar2 hair " i*2e# "orwar# over hi! "orehea# by the bree7e *utting through the pa##o*2(

9Try *ir* ing hi-,0 <ra# in!tru*te# a! hi! young #aughter pu e# up in "ront o" hi-( Stan#ing on the ower rung o" the "en*e, he !hot a engthy !e;ue , panning a"ter her a! both pony an# ri#er o!t intere!t in #oing !o-ething !o repetitive an# hea#e# ba*2 towar#! -i#4"ie #(

9She0 be "ine,0 he a!!ure# 5auren, !tepping #own "ro- the "en*e( 9The *on"i#en*e o" youth,0 he a##e# with a grin( 9I re-e-ber the "ir!t ti-e we went ri#ing(0

9I #i#n0t have the groun#ing,0 !he returne# in -o*24in#ignation, brea2ing into aughter to a##, 9Not unti I -et that rabbit, at any rate80

9=e!, goo# o # @a!per80 Hi! voi*e wa! re-ini!*ent( 9He0# have been twenty4"our thi! year(0

9+e , at ea!t Ca iph0! !ti with u!( Kerry wou #n0t have ti-e to ri#e Dia-on# the!e #ay!, even i" !he wa! too(0

9No,0 he agree# prou# y( 9She0! rea y !et on be*o-ing a vet(0 Eye! on their !on an# #aughter out in the pa##o*2, he a##e#, 9It0! !ti !o-eti-e! har# to be ieve !he0! in her twentie! now( A pity we !ee !o itt e o" her, but that0! the way it i! when they0re grown up an# -a2ing their own way in the wor #(0

9I 2now,0 5auren !ai# !o"t y( 9I -i!! her too( She0 be ho-e "or Ea!ter though>-aybe with thi! new boy"rien# !he0! !o * o!e4-outhe# about( I )u!t hope he0! a #e*ent !ort, that0! a (0 She gave a !igh( 9+e0ve been !o u*2y, <ra#8 Ten who e year! o" we##e# b i!!80

He gave her an ironi* g an*e( 9Not what you were thin2ing thi! -orning when you *a e# -e a #o-ineering brute80

5auren pu e# a "a*e at hi-( 9+e , you #o ten# to get on your high hor!e when it *o-e! to who #e*i#e! what0! what( I0- no #o*i e itt e hou!ewi"e rea#y to a**ept your wor# in everything(0

9Te -e about it(0 He wa! grinning( 9Not that I0# want you to be( Can0t thin2 o" anything -ore boring than a #o*i e wo-an8 E!pe*ia y in be#,0 he a##e# with that wi*2e# g int in hi! eye!( 9=ou were pretty wi # a!t night80

He viewe# the *o our !pringing in her *hee2! with a-u!e-ent( 9An# !he *an !ti b u!h, a"ter a the!e year!80

9=ou0re enough to -a2e a *at b u!h80 !he retorte#( 9Anyway, it0! ti-e I went an# !tarte# #inner(0

9=ou 2now you #on0t have to,0 he !ai#( 9The wo-an Mr! 3 re*o--en#e# when !he retire# *o-e! with pretty high ;ua i"i*ation!(0

9I0- en)oying p aying hou!e2eeper -y!e " "or the pre!ent( It0! har# y a! i" I0ve a the * eaning to #o a! we ( Or are you hinting that -y *oo2ing #oe!n0t *o-e up to !tan#ar#, by any *han*e60

9A! i" I0# #are80 Hi! expre!!ion !o"tene# a! he !tu#ie# the ove y ine! o" her "a*e "ra-e# by the !ti uxuriant #ar2 go # tre!!e!( 9@o2ing a!i#e, I *an0t i-agine i"e without you, 5auren(0

The !a-e way !he "e t about hi-, !he thought -i!ti y( Apart "ro- a tou*h o" !i ver in the #ar2 hair, the year! ha# -a#e very itt e #i""eren*e( Hi! )aw ine wa! )u!t a! "ir-, hi! bo#y a! taut a! it ha# been when !he "ir!t 2new hi-( He wa! !ti a !uperb over>a! the "ri!!on running the ength o" her !pine at the -ere thought *ou # te!ti"y>an# a won#er"u "ather( +hat -ore *ou # a wo-an want6

9I ove you,0 !he !ai#, an# !aw the b ue eye! ta2e on the !pe*ia g ow re!erve# "or her a one(

9Steve *an *hair to-orrow0! -eeting,0 he !ai#( 9I0- !taying right here with -y wi"e an# "a-i y(0