Authors: Again the Magic
"The original Kittredge Tate, all grown up, and very nicely, too." The laughter trailed off and, suddenly intent, the deep blue eyes lingered on her face. It was only a matter of seconds, but in that time a long-suppressed empathy flared into new life, and he saw much more than she realized. "I'd say that sometime over the years you'd done some living." The deep voice was thoughtful and slightly questioning.
"Well, it's been, what, twelve years? Must be. I was eighteen that last summer, and I'll be thirty next month." Her hands tightened on his for a moment before she withdrew them from his clasp and slid them into the pockets of her cord jeans. "Of course I have, O'Mara. Who could go twelve years without... living?"
There was a note of despair in her voice on the last word. Her mouth tensed and the stress lines between her brows deepened as she closed her eyes for a moment. There had always been something about this man that made it impossible for her to hide things from him. She took a long, slow breath, visibly making herself relax, opened her eyes and smiled at him.
"You haven't told me what you're doing here."
"I live here—at least, I live a couple of miles up the coast. And how did you end up in Kennebunkport?"
"Oh, hard work and lots of luck. I've been saving for a long time for something like this, and then my grandmother died and left me enough to buy this place. It's just what I've always wanted."
"Always? I seem to remember something about your wanting to study physical education." The blue eyes teased as he added, "In fact, you were the most complete tomboy I ever knew. Can't think of a time when you didn't have a scrape, bruise or bandage somewhere. You just wouldn't admit there was anything that twin brother of yours could do that you couldn't do as well."
Kitt chuckled, remembering, and mused, "True. But I grew out of that... after a while... and other things happened, and I was living a long way from Ez for a few years." The strained look returned for a moment, until she controlled it. He could see the effort she made to smile as she continued brightly, "Ez and I have been sharing an apartment for almost five years—until last weekend, in fact, when I moved in here."
He studied her face, his eyes knowing and alert, narrowing as he tried to sort out the nuances in her voice and words. Twelve years before, he had felt a strong rapport with the younger Kitt, not as much as she had with her twin, but enough so that they had often sensed each other's moods and thoughts. And one night, almost the last time he had seen her, he had recognized and answered a need she hadn't even been aware of.
It was bad. Whatever happened in those "few years" was a disaster. And it must have been a man. Where the hell was Ez? He loves her. How could he have let any man do... whatever it took to put that look in her eyes?
Kitt had come around to the front of the desk and sat back against the edge, arms folded across her midriff and long legs stretched out, while she looked over the tall, rangy figure. During the few moments he studied her, she assessed the changes that twelve years had wrought.
Physically, he was much the same. Even at twenty-two, he had been on his own for several years and had developed confidence and self-reliance. He had been easy-moving, well coordinated, with long, sinewy muscles in his arms and legs. He hasn't changed much, thought Kitt. Maybe it's the heavy sweater, but he seems to have gained a few pounds. I hope so—he was always too thin. I used to tease him about counting his ribs.
Her smoky eyes were almost analytical as they moved up the long, lean body, registered the strong neck and finally came to rest on his face. Not exactly a handsome face, but compelling and not easily forgotten. She remembered it as being harsher, obviously showing the tensions and pressures of a young man who had been working since he was seventeen to support himself and pay for college. She and Ez had discovered early on that O'Mara had a quick, clever wit and sense of the ridiculous that often lightened his usually serious expression. She thought now that his face was more relaxed, the laugh lines bracketing the wide mouth more pronounced. All in all, he looked... experienced, as if he had seen it all and done most of it, and now knew with certainty who and what he was and no longer needed to prove anything to anybody. As a young man of twenty-two, he had been an excitingly romantic figure; now, at thirty-four, he projected an image of total male maturity that was devastating.
Kitt was feeling slightly breathless as she shifted her gaze away from O'Mara's face. He still had a swath of black, not quite straight hair falling across his forehead. It was longer now, but still thick and looking as if he'd been in a high wind. She had been avoiding his eyes. Those brilliant, pure blue eyes—intelligent, inquisitive, sometimes mocking, often glinting with laughter as he had teased the young Kitt—those eyes had always seen too much, been too knowing.
She couldn't avoid them any longer, and she tensed defensively as she met his probing assessment of her face. Heavy black brows lowered in a slight frown as he noticed her reaction. Before he could speak, she turned away, coming to her feet and moving back behind the desk as if to put a barrier between them.
A quick, nervous spate of words burst forth. "Ez will be here tonight. He's staying for the weekend. I know he'll be so tickled to see you again. We've often wondered what had ever happened to you." She leaned over to rub Hero behind the ears. He was again sitting in his favorite position—on his rump, with his hind legs sticking straight out in front of him—watching the two tall humans with a puzzled frown. "Don't you like my dog? Come and make friends with him. I seem to remember your liking dogs. His name's Hero and—"
"Kitt," he broke in sharply. "Knock it off. What's the matter with you? I don't remember you as being at all jumpy." He walked behind the desk and rested one arm loosely across her shoulders, reaching down to let Hero sniff at his other hand. He felt Kitt tense again but ignored it. "Of course I like dogs. He's a Basenji, isn't he? They're crazy, but a lot of fun. Friend of mine in California breeds them."
He shifted his arm to rest his hand against her cheek, turned her head toward him and slowly rubbed his thumb over the tight muscle in front of her ear.
He looked in her eyes and saw a trace of fear. "Friend of mine right here, a very old and dear friend, is also acting a bit crazy."
She stiffened and tried to pull away from him. He let her go only long enough to cup her face in his palms, sliding his fingers into her heavy hair. "Kitt? What's wrong with you? I don't recall ever hurting you, so why are you so scared of me?" He tilted her head back slightly so that he could see her eyes, which suddenly glistened with tears as her thick lashes came down and her teeth bit into her lower lip.
"Please," she whispered. "It's not you, O'Mara. It's just... I don't...." Her hands were spread over his ribs, pushing him away. "Please, please, let go. I can't stand being touched. I can't...."
Letting his hands drop away from her, he took a step back. He watched closely as she turned away for a minute. When she turned back to face him, her eyes were still rather bright but apologetic, and she managed an uncertain smile.
"I'm sorry, O'Mara. It really isn't you—it's something that happened when.... Oh, I just can't talk about it now. Maybe sometime I will." She pushed her hands into her pockets and hunched her shoulders. "The only one I can talk to is Ez."
She met his eyes and couldn't look away. The rapport that they once had was—incredibly—still there. She knew he was seeing more than she could tell him. Without knowing a single detail, he was sending her a message of hope. Warmth, caring, encouragement flowed from him to her. It took only seconds for the silent plea of
Oh, God, I need you,
to be answered as silently by
I'm here now.
Slowly, Kitt held out her hands. He took them in a tight grip and smiled at her reassuringly. "Enough, now. I told you, I live here. There'll be all the time you need to talk to me whenever you're ready." His tone became more matter-of-fact. "Did you say Ez was coming tonight? When can we get together? I can't wait to see him. Is he still a bear?"
"Of course he's still a bear." Kitt laughed. "Did you suppose he'd shrink in twelve years? He should be here around five, so why don't you come to supper? Do you know Midge Bancroft?"
He nodded and Kitt continued, "She works for me and she'll be eating with us. Ez... well, I'll let you see for yourself. Get Ez to tell you how they met. And ask him about his interviewing technique. He actually hired her for me!" Kitt grinned reminiscently, shaking her head. "He's not to be trusted out without a keeper."
"Doesn't sound as though he's changed much," O'Mara said. "Supper would be great. I'll bring some wine. Do you want red or white?"
"Whatever you like with steak. And plan to stay for the evening, if you can. We've got a lot of catching up to do. I still don't know what you're doing living in Kennebunkport.
Thought you were going to work in Washington. Wasn't your degree in political science?"
"Good memory. And I did work in Washington, among other places. Look, it's a long story and I'll tell you all about it tonight. Save me repeating it for Ez."
He looked a little hesitant and half turned away from her. "Ahhh, would you mind if I brought somebody with me?"
Startled, and suddenly fearful, she said, "No, of course not. You're welcome to bring anyone you'd like. You always did have interesting friends, and..."
He burst into laughter, interrupting her. "Oh, Kitt, don't worry. It's a he. And
nine years old."
Wide-eyed, she stared at him. "Nine?"
"Nine. And, yes, he's my son and, no, I'm not married. At least, not now."
"Oh! That's great! I mean, it's great that you've got a son." Kitt was more than slightly rattled. Somehow, it hadn't occurred to her that he might have married. "What happened to your wife? No! I'm sorry. It's not... I mean, I shouldn't have asked that. It's... oh, damn... what's he like? What's his name? Who takes care of him? Oh, if he's nine, I guess—"
"Whoa! Kitt, take a deep breath and calm down. God, I don't believe this is the girl I knew. Now, one thing at a time. His name is, heaven help him, Augustus Edgar—but he only answers to Gus. He and Ezekiel will probably have a splendid time consoling each other. And, no, it wasn't my idea. I wasn't there when he was born, and his mother wasn't particularly interested, so she let her father name him. The birth certificate was filed before I found out, but it can always be changed when he's older if that's what he wants."
"What do you mean, his mother wasn't interested?" Kitt interrupted.
O'Mara ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead, and stared out the window. "She didn't want a baby. She was mad as hell when she found out she was pregnant. We were divorced when Gus was six months old, and I've had him ever since. I'll tell you about it later, when we've got more time. Right now," he paused and checked his watch, "I've got to get going. It's almost noon, and I was supposed to be picking up milk and bread, among other things, for Mrs. Andretti. She's my housekeeper. Lower that eyebrow, Kitt. She's fifty-seven and very grandmotherly. I work at home most of the time, but once in a while I have to go off for a few weeks and she looks after Gus. She's been with us from the beginning."
He caught her hand and started walking with her to the door. Kitt stopped abruptly and exclaimed, "Wait! You never said what you came in for in the first place. And you still haven't told me what you're doing here."
He grinned ruefully. "It went right out of my mind. Wonder why. I came in to see if some books I ordered had arrived."
"Afraid not. I've been through all the special orders, and there's nothing for O'Mara."
"It wouldn't be under O'Mara." He tried to look serious, but couldn't keep the laughter out of his eyes. He watched her speculatively as he asked, "Do you have anything for Talbot?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. There are three, no, four—" Her voice stopped and her mouth stayed half-open while she stared at him in utter disbelief. She finally found her voice and said wonderingly, "Talbot. And your first name is Michael. I always forget that. We always just called you O'Mara. Michael Talbot.
"Oh, Kitt," he choked, doubled over with laughter. "If you could see your face!"
"Well, what did you expect? How would I have ever guessed that you'd be Michael Talbot? You never have your picture on the book jackets. Lordy, make sure Ez is sitting down when you tell him. If he falls over, he'll dent my floor. And I will leave it to you to tell him. I wouldn't think of spoiling your fun."
Eyes full of mischief, she said in a polite voice, "I must tell you, Mr. Talbot, that I've read all your books and so has my brother. We've found them most enjoyable and definitely a cut above what one usually finds in that genre. We've even seen two of the movies that—"
"Kitt, if you don't stop..." He took a step toward her, then paused, lifting an inquiring eyebrow. "Have you really read them? Or are you putting me on?"
"I've read them. We both have. And liked them. You do realize, don't you, that you've got a lot of explaining to do."
She glanced out the window. "Someone's coming in. Listen, we close at five, and Ez should be here about then. Can you get back here around five? I can't wait to meet Gus. Will he like Hero? I usually take him for a walk after I close up. Maybe Gus would like to do it today."
He moved to catch the door before it could close, nodding hello to the woman coming in. "Gus will love him, and he'll be delighted to take him for a walk. Now wait, today's Friday... Gus has baseball practice this afternoon, and I'll be picking him up at five. We can be here by quarter past. Do you think you can manage not to tell Ez? If we could surprise him, the look on his face when we walk in would be a nine-day wonder."
"It won't be easy, but I'll manage." Kitt couldn't contain a deep chuckle. "He'll go into shock."
She had stepped close to him to give the woman room to get by. He looked down into the face he had never quite forgotten. The sapphire eyes seemed to darken to almost indigo, and he said softly, "Dear Kitt, I'm so glad I found you again." And before she realized his intent, he leaned forward the few inches necessary and brushed his mouth along her cheekbone in a quick, gentle kiss. He straightened up, smiling at her, and with a "See you later" went out, closing the door behind him.