Authors: Desiree Holt
Tags: #Western romance, #erotic western romance, #contemporary western romance
She wheeled her cart out the door to the parking lot, and stopped, frozen in place. Griff Hunter leaned casually against her car, watching her.
Her breath was trapped in her chest. Swallowing hard, she made her feet move, one in front of the other, doing her best to ignore him, her gaze still drawn to him. This was a different Griff than the daredevil who lived in her darkest dreams. He was not only older but harder, less yielding. His hair was still sun-bleached and too long, but his body was fuller, though still tanned and muscular. Aviator sunglasses hid the remembered blue of his eyes, but his mouth that had pressed such passionate kisses on every part of her body was set in an expression of bitterness. There was something almost lethal about him now. If she hadn’t known him so well, she might have been afraid of him and thought people were right about him.
Something else defined his posture. Anger? Sadness? She didn’t want to know. More than anything she didn’t want to feel the quickening of her heartbeat, the tightening of her breasts, the instant hardening of her nipples, and the primal beat throbbing between her legs. The heat had burned her once—scorched her—and she wasn’t about to play with fire again.
But her brain seemed to have taken a vacation, along with her ability to make a sensible decision and stick to it. All these years, all that pain, and it only took seconds for her body to leap to life in the once familiar response. She detoured to the trunk of the car, her keys in a hand that trembled despite her best efforts.
Griff reached out one arm and pressed against the lid of the trunk so she couldn’t open it. “I heard you were in town. I came to see for myself.”
“Please let me open my trunk.” She tried to make her voice as flat as his.
“We have things to talk about, Cassie.”
“You’re wrong. We have nothing to say to each other.”
Not anymore, anyway.
“Oh, but we do.” He moved until he stood right next to her, crowding her. “We have a lot to say. We have unfinished business between us.”
She looked up at him, anger heating her blood. She hated him for what he’d done to her, and even more for the memories he’d left her with. Every one of her failed relationships could be traced back to her inability to get Griffin Hunter out of her system. No one’s kisses sparked such passion, no one saw into her soul the way he did. She wanted to kill him for destroying her life.
“Our business was finished a long time ago,” she spit out. “We’re done.”
He lifted his hand, and she opened the trunk, stowing the groceries inside.
“I was sorry to hear about your mother.”
She slammed the trunk lid shut, but when she moved to get into the car, he blocked her path. She forced herself to stare up at him, hoping her face gave nothing away of the turmoil inside her. “Please let me by. I have things to do.”
“This is far from over, Cassie.” A muscle twitched in his jaw. “You won’t be able to run away from me this time.”
“Run away?” She met his gaze. “I wasn’t the one who ran off and married someone else. I wasn’t the one who made false promises that I didn’t keep.”
His face remained expressionless, everything hidden behind the dark glasses. “There’s a lot you don’t know.”
Fury blazed inside her. “Did you have a good laugh, Griff? Seducing the baby sister of your lover, taking a naïve virgin to your bed then dumping her? Did you all have a good chuckle over that?” She drew a deep breath and fought for control. She hadn’t meant to let him provoke her this way, and her anger was directed as much at herself as at him.
Griffin yanked off his sunglasses and gripped her arms with his strong hands. His blue eyes flashed in the sunlight. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, each word clipped and sharp. “And you’re wrong. We aren’t done. Not by a long shot.”
As fast as he had grabbed her, he released her and stepped back. “We will be seeing each other, Cassie. Make no mistake.”
Then, like smoke in the wind, he was gone.
She sat in the driver’s seat, shaking uncontrollably, unable even to fit the key in the ignition. The feeling was still there, that flash of intense sexual tension between them, and he could still crack her shell with just a few words. She had to get out of town, had to get away from Griffin Hunter. She didn’t need to go through the pain of losing him again. She’d spent six years blocking it out. She wasn’t sure she had the emotional resources to do it twice.
Closing her eyes, she reached into the neck of her blouse and pulled out the long silver chain she always wore, fingering the oversized locket at the end. No one else knew that inside the locket lay the tiny silver heart Griffin had given her on their last night together. In all the time since then, despite her unbearable pain, despite the bitter memories, she had never, ever been without it.
She wanted to put her head down on the steering wheel and weep.
The afternoon was as unproductive as the morning had been. When Cassie called Neil, he told her the insurance company wouldn’t be faxing him anything until Monday.
“Sorry. The weekend, you know. But I’ll call you Monday when they come in.” The sound of papers rustled over the phone. “I did call Jesse Markham, and he said one of his daughters would drop by and see you. Do you need some help going through the house? I’d be happy to offer my services.”
. She didn’t need him pawing through her mother’s things or anything else that might turn up. “Thanks anyway, Neil, but I can manage. As a matter of fact, I think it’s something I need to do by myself.”
“Well, I know you want to get back to Tampa as soon as you can, Cassie, and I’d say that’s a good idea. I’ll do whatever I can to expedite things.”
She had just started the massive job of cleaning when Carol Markham dropped by. “Nice to see you, Cassie. I’m sorry about your mother. My condolences.”
Carol was the youngest of Jesse’s daughters and four years older than Cassie. Some said she’d been on the fringes of Diane’s crowd, but she looked very prim and proper now.
“We’re all on our way to the lake for the weekend,” she said with a breezy air. “How about if I come by late Monday morning? We can do a walk-through and fill out the listing agreement. Sound okay?”
And if it isn’t?
It seemed Stoneham closed up for the weekend, just like it always had.
“That will be fine.” Did she have a choice?
Carol’s next words made her tense. “Oh, and do something about the yard. Your mother really let it go. Call Griffin Hunter, or I can do it for you. He’ll fix it up in a jiffy. Bye.” She handed Cassie a business card and breezed out the door.
Call Griff? Over my dead body
. There had to be someone else she could call. She was still more shaken by their encounter than she could admit to herself.
She was interrupted again when Donald Brandon called to tell her he’d confirmed the memorial service for Tuesday, if that was all right with her.
Why did everyone ask her that when she had no real choice?
“Fine, Donald. Thanks.” She rubbed her forehead, where a headache was beginning to build.
“I spoke to the minister, and he’s agreed to perform the service. He’s also notified the cemetery, and they’ll prepare the grave site, right next to your father.”
“Thank you,” she repeated. “I appreciate you handling all of this.”
“I hope everything meets with your approval.” His slippery voice slid over the wires.
“I’m sure it’s fine, Donald,” she told him again. Did he want her to express undying gratitude? “Whatever you arrange will be all right with me.”
“I’ve run off some funeral notices,” he continued. “We’ll get them around this weekend.”
Stoneham’s newspaper published once a week, on Wednesdays. The usual method of notification of events between times was flyers in all the local stores. No high-tech age in this town.
“Fine, fine. I’ll touch base with you on Monday morning.”
“I know this must be a trying time for you,” he went on. “Perhaps you’d like to have dinner with me tomorrow night? A little companionship is always nice.”
Another dinner invitation. What was it with all these men and meals? She’d never had so much as a hamburger with them when she’d lived here before.
“I don’t think so, Donald.” She bit down on her impatience. “I have a lot of work to get done in the house.”
“Well, all right. But if you change your mind, just give me a call.”
Her original plan was to finish most of the downstairs by the end of the afternoon, but all the interruptions had given her a headache that had set up shop behind her right eye.
Tomorrow. As long as I’m stuck here for a few days, I might as well not kill myself.
She pulled her pad of paper across the counter toward her and listed things to check—utilities, mail, the newspapers. Whatever she couldn’t sell, she’d have to arrange for shipping to Tampa. Or give it away, which might be the best solution. There wasn’t anything she wanted, truth be told.
Then there was the yardwork. Carol Markham was right—the grounds were a mess. The signs of neglect were everywhere. A buyer would be put off by that and the fading trim. She’d ask Neil to recommend someone. Landscaper as well as painter. There had to be someone she could hire besides Griffin Hunter. Having him around would just open the can of worms she was trying to close.
Monday she’d get copies of the will, the death certificate, and probate papers from Neil and take them to the bank so she could transact her business there.
She sighed. Why had she ever been so foolish as to think she could accomplish this over the weekend with no problems? Everything, it seemed, conspired to keep her here long past the limit of her endurance.
The ringing of the phone again startled her.
“Just checking to make sure you’re doing okay.”
Harley sounded so steady and soothing, Cassie almost cried at the warm familiarity. “Not great, but okay,” she told him.
“I spoke to Neil, and he said he’ll do what he can to help you wrap things up here as fast as possible. Time to bury the past, right, Cassie?”
She sighed. “I thought I’d already done that, but it seems fate dug it up again. Thanks for checking on things. The sooner done the better.”
“I agree. Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Life had indeed conspired to tear open the scars of the old wounds, and she wondered now if they’d ever heal.
On impulse, she picked up the phone and dialed Claire.
“Oh, Cassie, I’m so glad you called. I just this minute got home and was checking for messages. How’s it going, gal?”
“It looks as if life has connived to keep me chained to this stupid town,” she complained. “Nothing’s changed here, that’s for sure.”
“Is there a lot you have to do? Do you want me to come out there and give you a hand?”
“Claire, you don’t know how wonderful it would be to have you here, but no, thanks just the same. You have obligations, and the stuff isn’t that complicated, just tedious. Everything gets done on Stoneham time.”
“How’s Mister Silver Heart?”
Claire was the only one Cassie had ever confided in about Griff. She’d fled to her that terrible summer and cried off and on for days, overwhelmed by the awful sense of betrayal. After that, unable to return to Stoneham and see Griff and Diane in the bloom of wedded bliss, unable to cope with her parents’ blindness where Diane was concerned, she’d spent every school break and summer at Claire’s. The warmth Claire’s family surrounded Cassie with almost—
killed the pain that still lived in a tiny corner of her heart.
“I’m sure he’s just fine,” she answered. “I’m avoiding him at all costs.” Telling Claire she’d already run into him would open a dialogue she wasn’t ready to have.
“You know, I guess it’s none of my business, but this might be a good time to take care of your unfinished business with him, too.”
“Griffin and I are more than finished,” Cassie said, her tone heavy. “It’s over and done. Period. You know that.”
“Sure, sure,” Claire soothed. “That’s why you wear that locket with the tiny heart inside, right?”
“All right, all right. But call me if you need to gab. I’ll be in and out all weekend, but I’ll keep my cell phone with me. Take care, sweetie.”
After ending the call, Cassie realized she’d had nothing since coffee that morning, which might account for part of the headache. She was too tired from dealing with the hassle of the day for anything elaborate, and she felt the grime of the house covering her. Okay, a shower, cool clothes, and a sandwich and milk. Just what she needed.
Passing Diane’s room on the way to her own, she again stopped in the doorway. She could almost smell the scent of her sister’s rich perfume, hear her throaty voice as she hummed to herself. Had someone flown to close to her flame, burned themselves, and retaliated? She turned away to escape the sense of choking when something nudged at her consciousness.
Forcing herself to wipe everything out of her mind, she put on her reporter’s brain. What had she noticed that didn’t register? What was wrong or out of place? Her eyes lit first on the dresser. That was it. Every drawer was open, just a fraction, as if it had been closed in haste. Her mother would never do that. She was known for her prim neatness.
Cassie opened each drawer, looking through the contents. Again, everything was almost neat, but if you knew the history, you could see things had been marginally displaced.
Next, she turned to the closet. The folding doors were open a fraction, again as if someone had been in a hurry. The inside of the closet was messier than the drawers. It was apparent someone had been looking for something and might have been running out of time, not able to be so careful here.
The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and a shiver ran down her spine. Tomorrow, she would do a more thorough search of this room. It was obvious, though, someone had been in here searching. When? And for what? Most important of all, who had a key and could come here whenever they pleased?