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Authors: Susan Mallery

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: A Dad for Billie
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“How old is Billie?” he asked.

Jane swallowed as her stomach flipped over. Why did he want to know? “Eight.”

He drew his eyebrows together as if doing the math. “And her father?”

“What?”

“Billie told me she’s never met him. You and he want it that way?”

Oh, God forgive her, she didn’t have the strength to say it. Not now. Not today. “It seemed like the best decision at the time.”

“A kid needs a dad.”

“Billie and I are getting by.”

“She deserves more than just getting by.”

“That’s why I brought her home.”

“Home?” His mouth curled into a cruel twist. “I’m surprised you’d still think of Orchard as home.”

“I grew up here.”

“And left.”

And left. It always came back to that. “I’m sorry,” she said, wondering how many times she would speak those exact words. “I never meant to hurt you. And you were right, this morning. I never did think about what my leaving would mean to the bank.
You had all those responsibilities. I should have handled the situation differently.”

“Yeah, a note would have been a nice touch. Maybe you could have left it on the church steps, weighed down by your bouquet and the engagement ring.”

However well deserved, his sarcasm hurt. She didn’t flinch, but had a bad feeling her pain showed in her eyes. She looked away. “I meant that I should have told you about my doubts when they first occurred to me. I should have talked to you. I apologize for that.”

“I don’t care enough to be angry or enough to forgive you, so seek your absolution elsewhere, little girl.”

She stood up and planted her hands on her hips. “I am not a child.”

His gaze raked her from the top of her head down to her sandal-clad feet. “You might not look like one, but you’re still acting like one. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t mean a damn thing to me, Jane. What are you really here for?”

“I’m going to be living next door. We have to—”

“We don’t have to do anything.”

He straightened and glared down at her. Fire burned in his brown eyes—flames born of pain and suffering and a desire to exact revenge. She wanted to run—it had always been her way of facing problems—but the time for running was long past. She’d returned to Orchard because she needed Adam to forgive her, and because her daughter and her daughter’s father deserved to know each other. But to get to that, she and Adam had to lay the past to rest. A high price for a family, she saw now.

“You used to frighten me,” she said, fighting the urge to retreat and holding her ground. “But not anymore. Not your temper or your demands or your—” Her gaze dropped to his mouth, then back to his eyes. “You can’t tell me what to do.”

“Is that what this is about?” he asked, taking a step closer to her.

Back up, her mind screamed. Her muscles tensed to respond to the message, but she stiffened and remained in place. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t play games, Jane.” His gaze traveled over her face,
then stopped at her mouth. “Years ago you wanted pretend passion. A boy, not a man. Is that why you’ve come home? To see if the woman likes me any better than the girl did?”

“No. I never—”

He reached out and grabbed her arms. Before she could catch her breath, he pulled her up against him. Her breasts flattened against his chest as he clutched her upper arms and trapped her hands between them.

She braced herself for the fury, fully expecting to pay a high price for her defiance. She waited for rage and violence. Instead it was the impact of coming up against her past that caused her to sag against him.

Her sharp intake of air was silenced when his lips touched hers. He kissed her hard, punishing her with the pressure, moving back and forth quickly, without consideration for her pleasure, or even comfort. Before she could protest or even begin to pull away, the kiss softened. Slowly he withdrew, until they barely touched. Familiar, she thought, as his lips brushed hers. Familiar and welcome and wonderful.

The soft contact enticed her. He teased, allowing their lips to join, then withdrawing until only the air whispered against her sensitized mouth. Instead of holding her trapped, his hands began to rub her arms, moving from shoulder to elbow. Against her palm, his heart beat steady, the pace gradually increasing to match the rhythm of her own.

Men had kissed her, she thought as he swept his tongue across her bottom lip, but those memories paled by comparison with the reality of Adam’s touch. He had been her first, her only lover. It had been his kisses that had given rise to young passion. But that girl had grown up, she realized as she opened for him. He no longer frightened her that way.

Despite her parted lips, he continued to trace a wet line around her mouth. First the outside, then the inside, teasing, tempting, but never entering. A low moan escaped her. She shifted back far enough to free her hands, then slid them up his arms, across his shoulders and around him until she could hold him close. Her fingers reached the coffee-colored silk of his hair. Sensibly short strands tickled her fingers.

She knew this man. The scent of him. And the feel of him. Those tiny hairs on the back of his neck, the strong line of his jaw, the sensation of a day’s worth of stubble rasping against her fingertips. The taste of him. He grew tired of his game and slipped into her mouth.

“Yes,” she whispered.

At last. His tongue moved delicately past her teeth to meet and embrace hers. They touched, tip to tip, then circled, rough to smooth. Long strokes imitated the act of love, whirlpool-like plunges dueled. He tasted exactly as she remembered. Sultry sweetness with a hint of the forbidden. His hands dropped from her arms to her waist, then lower and behind to her derriere. He cupped her curves.

Yes, she cried in her mind. She wanted him. He’d aroused her before, but always there had been the fear. Her body wasn’t curvy enough. She didn’t know how to please a man. She felt embarrassed by his looking and touching her.

She hadn’t been taught by anyone but him, and now the fear was gone. She was a woman, ready to be taken by this man. When he pulled her hips close, she felt the length and breadth of his arousal. An answering heat rose between her thighs. He had readied her with a kiss.

“Adam,” she breathed against his mouth.

It was as if his name had broken the spell that held him next to her. He stiffened in her embrace; his arms fell to his sides.

Don’t, she thought frantically, as the haze of passion lifted and allowed her to recall the difficulty of their situation. He still hated her for what she’d done to him. She continued to withhold the truth of his daughter from him. An impossible circumstance.

She stepped back before he could completely reject her. Her eyes searched his, hoping for a lingering sign of arousal, a hint that his wall of control had been bridged. He stood tall, with his arms at his sides and his hands balled up in fists. There was nothing soft about him. Nothing forgiving. If it were not for the memory of his body next to hers, the sweet taste his tongue had left inside her mouth, she would have wondered if she’d imagined the moment.

Coldness invaded his eyes, stealing away whatever desire
might have stayed. He stared directly at her. “That should never have happened.”

Of course it should have, Jane thought touching her fingertips to her still-trembling lips. Didn’t he get it? She wasn’t afraid of him. A liberating thought, heady even. No fear. For months, years after she’d left Orchard, she’d carried around the weight of that fear. Her uncertainty, her knowledge that she wasn’t woman enough to please Adam or strong enough to tell him what she was feeling had convinced her that she was so much less than everyone else. As she had survived and raised a child on her own, her confidence had grown, but she’d still shied away from men.

Her gaze dropped to his mouth. They should do it again, she decided, wondering if the passion and fire had been real. Had he felt it? Her stomach and thighs tingled with the memory of him pressing hard against her. He
had
felt something; she’d been touched by the proof of that.

She thought about stepping closer, of trying to tempt him. Even as she took one step toward him, he spun and walked to the window.

“I don’t have an explanation,” he said, staring out into the darkness. “I don’t usually lose control like that. It won’t happen again.”

He sounded so angry and final. His words battered at her newly discovered passion until she was ashamed. He’d wanted to punish her, make her suffer as he had. The kiss had been about retribution, not affection or desire. The thrill and excitement began to die within her. She tried to hang on to the feelings. The moment had been important to her. Don’t let it go, she told herself.

It was too late.

Defeat hunched her shoulders and she folded her arms over her chest. “See that it doesn’t,” she said, in a flash of self-preservation, then wondered if he knew she lied.

He stood so proudly, she thought as she stared at his back. Strong and broad. A man. He wore his power easily. The athletic prowess from his youth had stayed with him, adding grace to his movements. Tonight, however, he stood stiffly. The past weighed on him.

“Once your furniture arrives and you move into your own house, I don’t want to see you again.”

It hurt, she thought with a flash of surprise. It hurt that he could dismiss her so easily. Not seeing her wasn’t an option. Not if he wanted to get to know his daughter. But then Adam didn’t know he had a daughter. She’d have to tell him.

Not yet. She again touched her fingers to her lips. The sensitive skin quivered from his kiss. In a few days. When she was stronger. When the bridge between them didn’t seem so long and dangerous.

“Good night, Adam.”

“Good night.”

She turned to leave. Before she could open the door to the hallway, he spoke.

“Jane?”

“Yes?” Oh stop, she told herself, hating how hopeful she sounded.

“It won’t happen again.”

The kiss. Of course not. Why would he have thought she’d think otherwise?

“I know.” That was the hell of it really. She did know.

Chapter Six

H
e was as good as his word, Jane thought. He and the moving company.

The large van containing all of her worldly possessions had shown up promptly at ten Monday morning. Adam had disappeared from her life a couple of hours earlier. From the bay window in the guest room, she’d watched him walk out the front door and around the house toward the garage. He hadn’t looked up at her or back at the house. Either he hadn’t sensed her watching him or he hadn’t cared. Probably a little of both.

It was Friday, now. Jane brushed her bangs out of her eyes and stared at the stack of books in front of her. She was alphabetizing them as she placed them on the shelves. She sighed. Okay. She was alone; she could admit the truth to herself, if to no one else. She was lonely.

Returning to Orchard had sounded so noble when she’d lain awake in her bed in San Francisco. She would unite father and daughter, be a wonderful teacher, provide her child with a warm, loving and stable environment. When she’d imagined the scene,
there had been a Joan of Arc sort of glow around her head in reward for all her good deeds.

Reality turned out to be very different. She hadn’t seen Adam since Sunday, so she wasn’t making any progress on that front. School wouldn’t start until early September. She’d planned her lessons before she’d left San Francisco. And as for Billie—She smiled. She’d love to take the credit for her daughter fitting in so well, but it was all Billie’s doing. Adam had sent, via Charlene, information on the local softball league. By Tuesday Billie had been enrolled in the park’s summer-camp program and assigned to a team. She came home every day with new battle scars from her activities and tales of friends made and adventures experienced.

Jane rose to her feet and walked from the den to the kitchen. White tiles gleamed from her thorough scrubbing. Food filled the pantry. Everything had been unpacked and put away.

Maybe she shouldn’t have worked so quickly, she thought as she leaned against the counter and stared out the kitchen window into the backyard. But it had been hard not to. She wasn’t sleeping well. Only by staying busy could she keep Adam and the kiss they had shared from her mind.

Back in San Francisco, she’d had friends and activities to fill her time. Here she knew people but—she shook her head—they would ask questions she couldn’t answer. Not until Adam knew the truth. She could go see Charlene, but the older woman had her own life. She was currently planning a trip to Greece. A movie about an older woman finding if not love then certainly passion in the beautiful islands had inspired her to travel to the Mediterranean. In addition, Billie had mentioned something about Charlene arranging for a few of her trucker friends to stop by before she left. Jane grinned. She wouldn’t want to touch that one.

She remembered the time she had casually asked the other woman about her visiting male friends. Charlene’s frank lecture of the joys of sex had left her blushing for days. When she’d told Adam about the conversation, he’d laughed for several minutes, then had teased that it was her own fault for inquiring. When she’d protested, he’d pulled her close and offered to illustrate
some of Charlene’s more interesting points. She’d turned away, embarrassed and scared and he’d—

She groaned. It always came back to Adam. Stop thinking about him, she ordered herself. She forced herself to mentally create a list of other chores she could do to fill her time. There was always the mending. Billie destroyed her clothes on a regular basis. And she could tackle the attic. Her mother had left several boxes up there.

She glanced at the clock. Almost twelve. She should do something about lunch. That would fill a few minutes.

The back door banged open and Billie stormed into the kitchen.

“Mom! I’m home!” she announced as she flew across the room and into her mother’s arms.

“So I see.” Jane hugged her close. “It’s early.”

“Friday’s only a half day at camp and I don’t have a game until tomorrow.” Billie looked up at her, her baseball hat pulled down so low, she had to crane her neck to see below it. “Can you make cupcakes for after the game?”

BOOK: A Dad for Billie
8.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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