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BOOK: Damon, Lee
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He turned a pitiful look on Kitt which should have reduced her to abject apologies but, instead, inspired her to loud applause and a cry of "Bravo!" Midge was laughing so hard she had to hold onto the counter to keep from falling off the stool. Ez flicked a quick glance at her and then turned back to his audience. Shrugging and sighing, he said philosophically, "What can one expect from these oversized, independent women? It takes at least an hour just to wrestle them into their proper place. Now, me, I prefer the little ones." In an eye-blurring series of moves, Ez was across the desk and plucking Midge from her stool, swinging her high over his head with his huge hands wrapped securely around her small waist. "With the little ones," he chortled triumphantly, "you can put them where you want them and keep them there with one hand, leaving the other one free for all sorts of interesting activity."

He slowly lowered the breathless girl until they were practically nose-to-nose. He grinned into her flushed face and asked impatiently, "Well, aren't you going to kiss me hello?"

Midge was almost as quick-witted as the twins—no small feat since she'd had years less practice—and it took only seconds for her to toss out all thoughts of regaining her dignity, which would have been a difficult task anyway with her feet dangling almost a foot and a half from the floor.

Relying on Ez's extraordinary strength to hold her steady, Midge clasped her hands together under her chin, opened her big eyes as wide as possible in a look of reproachful surprise and breathed, "Oh, how can you ask it? Why, we're barely acquainted, and it's just... well, my mother... oh, it just isn't
done
in our family... I mean, I was brought up proper, I was. You," her face and voice expressed pure indignation, "you, sir, are a... a
masher!"

Utterly ignoring the muffled laughter from Kitt and the two women, Ez threw back his head and roared at the ceiling, "Do you hear that!? I've braved the Friday afternoon traffic over miles of superhighways, crossed high bridges, inched my way through the pitfalls of Ogunquit and Wells, dared the intricacies of interchanges, overcome the obstacles in Dock Square and finally, FINALLY, I've reached my goal and I have my personal pixie in my grasp and SHE WON'T KISS ME!" This time, the light fixtures swayed back and forth. Ez brought his head down and peered intently into Midge's stunned eyes, whispering resonantly, "Why won't you kiss me, little wench?"

Totally carried away with the dramatics of it all, Midge flung her arms around his neck, leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. She intended it to be short and friendly. Ez had other ideas. With typical speed and efficiency, he rapidly shifted his arms, winding one of them tightly around Midge's small frame to hold her in place and bringing his free hand up to cradle the back of her head. When Midge tried to end the kiss, she found herself unable to move. After half a minute of Ez's idea of gentle persuasion, she didn't want to move.

Kitt and her customers looked at each other with raised eyebrows and indulgent grins. The two women, with occasional glances at the oblivious couple, moved back to the bookshelves to continue their browsing.

Kitt's attention was caught by the sound of tires on gravel, and she looked at the clock. It was only four-thirty, too early for O'Mara. Realizing that more customers would be walking through the door in a few moments, she moved behind the desk and tapped Ez on the shoulder. This had no immediate result since he and Midge were both completely involved in what was obviously a deep and passionate kiss. Kitt tried again, and finally heard a faint "Hmmmm?"

"Ez," she hissed, "if you must carry on with this victor-and-his-spoils routine, will you please move it out back? There are some customers coming in, and this is beginning to look like 'Living Statues.' You know—the one called "The Kiss'? And while you're out there, will you bring in Hero? Ez? If you don't go away, I'm going to pinch you in a very uncomfortable place!"

"Hmmmm." Opening one eye but still kissing Midge, Ez strolled toward the back door.

Chapter 4

After almost thirty years' experience with Ez's single-mindedness, Kitt did not expect to see Midge back in the shop before closing. As the clock hands inched up to five o'clock, she crossed her fingers that Midge could continue to keep Ez occupied and unaware of the hour until O'Mara and Gus had time to arrive and arrange their confrontation with maximum effect. Kitt saw the last customer out just after five, but she
left
on the lights and opened the door partway so O'Mara would know where she was.

With her eyes scanning the backyard through the sliding glass doors, Kitt walked quietly toward the rear of the shop. As she neared the doors and her view widened, she realized that the yard was empty. Just as she paused, wondering where Midge, Ez and Hero could have gone, she heard Ez's deep laugh from the side of the patio. She inched slowly to her right, leaning forward until she could see Ez's feet on the bottom edge of a lounger. Taking another step forward, she had a full view of Ez, half-turned away from her, stretched out comfortably in the lounger with Midge nestled in his lap and Hero sprawled along his legs.

Catching Midge's eye while Ez's attention was concentrated on nuzzling her neck, Kitt made a "staying" motion with both hands and mouthed, "Keep him there." Midge untangled one hand from Ez's hair, gave an "okay" sign and happily set her mind on making him forget about time.

Kitt returned to the desk and quickly closed out the register, counting the cash and bagging it to take upstairs and put in the safe. She had just finished when she heard a car pull into the lot. Glancing at the back door to make sure Ez was still out of sight, she moved swiftly to the front of the shop just as O'Mara came through the door.

For a moment, all she could see was the big, again-familiar man standing there, holding out his hands to her and smiling into her eyes. She clasped his hands and found herself caught up in the intensity of his very blue, very warm gaze. Neither of them seemed able to speak, but before they had time to become completely lost in each other, a slight movement and a muted "Wow!" from beside O'Mara distracted Kitt.

She pulled her eyes away from O'Mara's and looked to her right for the source of that "Wow!" She blinked and found herself looking
down
into O'Mara's eyes!
Impossible! I've just fallen into the rabbit hole. He's shrunk! No two people could have eyes that color.

Kitt swayed with shock and felt O'Mara's hands tighten on hers. Dazed, she looked back and forth between the tall man and the tall, thin boy standing beside him, both of them wearing identical grins as they chuckled at her stunned expression. It's a time warp, thought Kitt, and I've got the adult O'Mara and the child O'Mara here at the same time.

"Kitt, I'd like you to meet Gus," said O'Mara, still chuckling. "Gus, this is Kitt. Now do you believe me?"

Kitt stared at the boy, totally bemused by those sapphire O'Mara eyes looking so incredible in the young face and somehow
knowing
her just as his father's did. O'Mara let go of her hands as Gus stretched out his right hand to her.

"Hi. I'm very pleased to meet you, Kitt." He held her hand tightly and tilted his head, quirking an inquiring eyebrow in a gesture she'd seen O'Mara make dozens of times. "Are you all right? Dad said you'd be surprised, but—" He looked up at his father in concern.

"I... ah... yes, I'm okay." With a strong effort, Kitt pulled herself together and smiled at Gus. "I'm really perfectly fine. I was just... Your father, your very sneaky, sly father, who has a warped sense of humor, did not tell me that you looked just like him. Exactly like him. It's uncanny, but I'm sure I'll get used to it."

She gave O'Mara a ferocious scowl, then looked back at Gus with a delighted grin. "You and I are going to be the best of friends. I can tell. Now, what was this your father wanted you to believe?"

"He said you were someone very special and that I'd love you on sight." He looked at her with a familiar intentness and then stepped closer, tugging at her hand. "I think he's right. If you'll bend down a little, I can kiss you."

Laughing, Kitt leaned over and Gus kissed her on the cheek. He stepped back with a look of relief on his face, saying, "There. Enough mushy stuff. Dad says big girls like to be kissed, but I don't see what's so great about it."

"Oh, you will. No doubt about it." Kitt chuckled. "You are very definitely a trainee O'Mara."

"What's that mean?"

She leaned over and whispered in his ear, "I'll explain it sometime when you father's not listening." She slanted a teasing look up at O'Mara and found him watching them with what she considered an intolerably smug expression. She gave him an I'll-get-you-for-this look.

"It's a deal," said Gus, recalling her attention. He looked around the shop and then up at Kitt. "Dad said you had a super dog. Can I see him? And he said your brother was going to be here and that he's a crazy bear." He looked around again, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "Is he here?"

"They're both out back with Midge. She's keeping them distracted so you and your dad can surprise Ez. Tell you what—let's go down here by the desk. Gus, you stand over there out of sight for a few minutes, and you, Mr. Sly Know-It-All," she growled at O'Mara, "can sit on the edge of the desk. No, the other way, facing the front door. Great. Oh, wait. Here, take this. Pretend you're reading. Okay, now, hold your places. You're on."

Stifling her laughter, Kitt skipped to the back and slid open the door. "Ez," she called, "come on in a minute. There's someone here that I'm sure you'd like to meet."

Pushing Hero off his legs but still holding Midge in one arm, Ez rose smoothly to his feet and started for the door. "Who is it?"

"Ez, for heaven's sake," exclaimed Kitt, shaking her head at him in exasperation, "put that girl down. You can't just carry her around like some kind of a pet."

He stopped in front of Kitt and looked questioningly into Midge's flushed face. "Would you really rather walk?" he asked, with genuine interest, almost as if the idea were somehow abnormal. At her choked "Yes!" he set her carefully on her feet and looked puzzledly down into her sparkling brown eyes, now on a level with his chest.

"I don't know why you want to be way down there. It's much easier to talk up here. I'm going to get a crick in my neck." He looked rather put out at the thought of such inconvenience, and Midge and Kitt exchanged amused looks. After a moment, Ez turned his attention back to his sister. "Who is it that I should meet?"

"One of your favorite authors. He came into the shop this morning, and I invited him back to meet you." With difficulty, she managed to keep a straight face. "It's Michael Talbot. He lives just outside town." She stood back to let Ez and Midge through the door, Hero wriggling in between their feet.

"Hey, great!" exclaimed Ez, dropping an arm across Midge's shoulders to hold her beside him as they all started toward the front of the shop. "That's one writer I'd really enjoy talking with."

"Oh, you will, you will," muttered Kitt, trying not to give anything away. She brought them all to a halt a few feet away from the tall figure sitting on the edge of the desk. "Mr. Talbot, I'd like to introduce my brother, Ez Tate."

As O'Mara stood up and turned around, Ez moved forward and then froze in shock, one foot in the air and his right hand half-raised, as he first recognized and then accepted the reality of O'Mara standing in front of him.

"Saint George and all his bloody dragons," came out as an amazed whisper, followed immediately by a joyful bellow of "O'MARA!" which completely drowned out the laughter of Midge, Kitt and Gus. The laughter turned to cries of alarm, overridden by Kitt's yell of "You great idiot, put him down!" as Ez, enthusiastically uninhibited in showing his affection, grabbed O'Mara in a bear hug and lifted the taller man completely off his feet.

Gus watched them, open-mouthed and goggle-eyed, barely able to believe what he was seeing. O'Mara hardly had enough breath left to laugh, and after a few seconds his hands flicked in quick motion. With a grunted "Hey!" Ez let go of him and stepped back, roaring with laughter, then started throwing quick, jabbing punches which O'Mara easily blocked. Within seconds, the two big men were cat-footing around each other trading punches and karate chops and laughing uproariously.

Kitt, Midge and Gus, with a sure instinct for self-preservation, took refuge on the long checkout desk while Hero scrambled under his chair out of harm's way. Tucking their feet under their legs on the desk, the fascinated boy and the two women settled down to watch the show.

"What happens if one of them connects?" Midge asked interestedly.

"Well," Kitt said judiciously, "if O'Mara hits Ez in the head, nothing. Ez has a head like a rock. Same is true of his chest and stomach. O'Mara might slow him down a bit if one of those karate chops lands on a kidney or if he kicks him in the shin. Ez doesn't like that; it's how I slow him down."

Gus looked wonderingly from Kitt to Midge and back to Kitt. "Aren't you going to stop them? You act like you aren't even worried. Your brother's awful big. And strong. He picked Dad right up. What if he hits him?"

Kitt put her arm around the boy's shoulders and smiled down at him. "No way would I get into the middle of that. They'd floor me and never even know it. Don't worry, Gus. They used to do this all the time, and neither of them ever got hurt. Besides, watch your dad. He moves faster than a blink. I doubt if Ez could touch him even if he were really trying."

Gus watched them for a moment and then looked up at Kitt. "You're sure?"

"Promise. They're only playing."

Kitt eyed the two men carefully, comparing them as they were now with the way she remembered them the last time they had roughhoused together. Both of them had filled out with solid muscle as they matured. However, Ez was broader and heavier through the shoulders and chest, while O'Mara had a rangy, sinewy build. Both were slim-hipped and long-legged, although Ez looked heavier in the thighs because of his exceptionally well-developed "halfback" muscles. O'Mara was an inch taller and had a slightly longer reach, but Ez could give him close to twenty pounds.

BOOK: Damon, Lee
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