Authors: Gina Wilkins
“I hadn’t realized it was so late. Lindsey just left. She and I were visiting and the time slipped away from me.”
“How is Lindsey? I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“She’s fine. Traveling a lot with her job.”
“Next time you see her, tell her I said hi.”
“You could always call her and tell her yourself,” Caitlin said a bit too casually. “She always says you’re kind of cute.”
He chuckled. “Thanks, but not interested. Lindsey’s nice, but she’s not my type.”
“Oh? I didn’t know you had a type.”
“Oh, yeah. My type has shiny brown hair, beautiful gray eyes, a clever mind, a sharp tongue—and the sweetest mouth I’ve ever tasted.”
Her face was hot by the time he finished speaking, and it wasn’t the only part of her in danger of overheating. He’d caught her off guard that time, unprepared for the hormonal rush his words evoked. “Nathan…”
“I can’t keep pretending I don’t have these feelings for you, Caitlin. Because I know you’re worried about it, I’ve tried to keep my thoughts to myself, but it’s just not working.”
“You’re still upset about your family. You’re turning to me for support.”
“I felt this way before Isabelle came to live with me. I’ve told you that before. I don’t know if you simply don’t believe me or if you’re afraid to believe me.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” she said automatically.
perhaps, but the way he made her feel…well, that terrified her. She bit her lip and sat in silence, holding the phone to her ear.
After a moment Nathan spoke again. “I’m not trying to upset you, Caitlin. If you want me to keep pretending, I’ll do my best. But I can’t promise I won’t slip every once in a while.”
She still couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Just tell me one thing,” Nathan prodded.
“What?” she asked warily.
“Do you really have no feelings for me? Other than just friendship, I mean.”
She wanted to say right then that friendship was all she felt for him. Tried to say it and mean it.
She couldn’t make herself form the words. Probably because she knew they would be a lie.
There was satisfaction in his voice when he spoke again. “I knew it wasn’t all one-sided.”
“Okay, maybe I feel…something. But I don’t know if it’s—”
“Let’s not look for definitions right now,” he suggested. “Let’s just play it by ear, shall we?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”
“Just what I said. No expectations. Let’s just see where it leads, okay?”
“I know you’re really swamped with this malpractice case right now, so I won’t ask for too much of your free time—what little you have. But someone gave me tickets for a symphony concert next Saturday night. You like that sort of thing, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, I—”
“We’ll concentrate on work during the week and Saturday night we’ll focus on us. Okay?”
“Well, I suppose—”
“Great. I’m looking forward to it.”
Caitlin frowned, trying to decide exactly what she had just agreed to. Before she could try to pin him down, he said, “I won’t keep you any longer. Like I said, I just wanted to hear your voice. Good night, Caitlin. Sleep well.”
Sleep well? She doubted it. She had a sneaking suspicion she would be plagued by disturbing dreams of Nathan. And it wouldn’t be the first time.
She leaned over to pick up the letter her classmate had sent from Los Angeles. Tom seemed quite confident that he could get her an interview with the senior partners in his big firm, though he was only on the junior partnership track for now. He was willing to make sure she got on that track with him, he wrote. No strings, he had added, though she knew he had still harbored feelings for her when he moved to California.
She had been very fond of Tom, a serious, intelligent, ambitious young man with a fascination for history and the law. They’d had a lot in common and had shared many pleasant times together.
She had found him attractive. Enough so that she’d spent a few weekend getaways with him. But when it had become clear to her that he wanted more, she’d backed away. She had told herself she wasn’t ready for a serious relationship, that she wanted to concentrate solely on establishing her career, and that she didn’t want to get in the way of Tom doing the same with his uncle’s firm in L.A. But the truth was, her feelings for Tom had simply never been strong enough to keep them together.
What she felt for Nathan bore absolutely no resemblance to the gentle affection she had held for Tom.
Tom had been undemanding, supportive, as intensely focused on his own career as she was on hers. He had connections to several prominent firms, entertained fantasies about someday being appointed to the Supreme Court and had never protested her long working hours because he had worked longer hours.
Tom hadn’t slipped off on lovely afternoons for golf or other play, wouldn’t have been content for long in a two-partner firm in a small Southern town and certainly wouldn’t have let his personal life intrude on his business. Nathan, on the other hand, let
interfere with business. He came with baggage and ties that would make any sane woman think twice about getting involved with him.
So why did the thought of joining Tom in a firm in L.A. leave her apathetic, when her palms were sweating at the very thought of attending a symphony performance with Nathan?
Caitlin was relieved when Nathan stayed true to his word and allowed her to concentrate on work that week. Maybe there was a touch more warmth than usual in his morning greetings, but she doubted anyone else noticed. And if the smiles he gave her were slightly more intimate than before, causing a shiver of reaction to course down her spine each time…well, maybe that was only in her imagination. No one else around them seemed to find anything out of the ordinary about their interaction.
Since both of them were busy with work, spending long hours in court, with clients, on the phone, or buried in research, they didn’t actually see much of each other during the early part of the week. Caitlin found herself looking forward to each of those fleeting encounters a bit too eagerly. Even the briefest and most mundane conversation between them left her with an increased pulse rate and an odd warmth somewhere deep inside her.
When had this happened? At what point, exactly, had she stopped looking at Nathan as merely an attractive business associate? When had she started thinking of him as a potential partner in the bedroom as well as in the courtroom? Was there a particular moment when her feelings had changed or simply a gradual increase in her awareness of her reactions to him?
And what on earth was she going to do about it?
By Wednesday afternoon she was having major mood swings, one minute telling herself she would be crazy not to at least give them a chance to explore the feelings between them, the next telling herself she would be insane to even consider such a possibility. Did she really want to risk ruining a great working relationship—not to mention having her heart broken—if this whole thing turned out to be as disastrous as she feared?
And Nathan was certainly in no position to start a hot and heavy affair! He had Isabelle to think about now. She had to be his first priority.
So that was it. They had to resist these perilous impulses. She was sure the feelings would pass soon enough, letting them get back to the more comfortable relationship they had had before. Friends. Very good friends, she amended. She cared about him, of course, but there was no need to bring sex into the equation.
Now if only she could convince her recalcitrant hormones to stop kicking into overdrive every time he smiled at her.
Nathan hung around the office a bit later than usual Wednesday afternoon. He knew he really should head home. This was Mrs. T.’s choir practice night, and he didn’t want to delay her unnecessarily. But for some reason, he found himself procrastinating when it came time to leave. He’d heard the clerical staff clear out a short while earlier. Even Irene had already gone home. He and Caitlin were the only ones in the offices, and she was involved in an intense conference call that could last a while longer.
It wasn’t that he dreaded going home, he assured himself. Mrs. T. would have a delicious meal waiting there for him. Isabelle would greet him with hugs and giggles and amusing stories about her day at preschool. He would play with her for a couple of hours, read her a story or two and tuck her into bed. Maybe spend another two or three hours watching the tube and reading through some paperwork before turning in.
Very exciting path his life had taken lately, he thought wryly.
Leaning back in his desk chair, he let his thoughts drift backward to the week before Alan Curtis had called. He remembered watching Caitlin walk across his office with her smooth, graceful strides. Remembered flirting with her and making her blush. Remembered thinking he had plenty of time to charm his way into her bed—and perhaps into her heart.
He suspected she’d been in his heart since the day she had first come into his office with her smoky-gray eyes, her very respectable résumé, and her burning ambition.
He didn’t regret bringing Isabelle into his life, he reassured himself. Given the same decision, even knowing first-hand how his life would change, he would do nothing differently.
But that didn’t mean he had absolutely no regrets. He wished he had asked Caitlin out while he’d still had more free time. And he wished he could have taken care of the youngest member of his family without losing the older ones.
He missed his mother. While he hadn’t seen her every day before Isabelle moved in, he had talked to her on the phone most days. Just a quick call to say hello, make sure she was okay. To share a funny story, maybe, or hear about her many community activities.
He didn’t want to believe his relationship with her was over.
He recalled the assertion he’d made to Caitlin that he hadn’t given up on his relationship with his father and he wouldn’t give up on his mother. And then he reached for the phone.
“Mom?” he said when she answered. “It’s Nathan.”
There was only a slight pause before she replied, “I haven’t forgotten the sound of your voice.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” he said lightly. “I’ve missed hearing yours.”
“I miss you, too, Nathan.”
“Then why are we acting this way? Why can’t we get past this?”
“You know why.”
“Are you really telling me you don’t want to see me again?” His voice was very quiet now, his throat tight as he waited for her to answer. “Do I mean that little to you?”
“Please don’t be cruel.” Pain throbbed in her low voice, making him realize exactly how deeply he had hurt her. “You know very well that I love you, Nathan.”
She had loved his father, too—more than he, or perhaps even Stuart, had known until the marriage ended. Nathan understood that now, but it still hurt that she was comparing his actions to her unfaithful husband’s. “I love you, too, Mom. And I would like to see you again.”
Another long pause, and then… “Perhaps you could come by the house some afternoon for a cup of tea. You can slip away from the office for an hour or so, can’t you?”
He knew, of course, why she had suggested tea rather than dinner. She was making it clear that she was inviting
to her house and not his ward.
He bit his lip, trying to decide how to respond. Maybe he should take advantage of any small gesture; maybe if he and his mother opened a dialogue, she could better understand the position he had been placed in.
Maybe someday soon she could even be around Isabelle and see a sweet little girl instead of her husband’s betrayal.
“Sure, Mom. That would be great.”
He could hear the relief in her voice when she responded, “How about tomorrow afternoon? Do you have any free time then?”
He glanced at his calendar and winced. “Um, I’m afraid I can’t make it tomorrow.”
“I understand if you have to work. I thought you might be free because you usually have a light load on Thursday afternoons.”
He cleared his throat. “Actually, I’m supposed to be at Miss Thelma’s tomorrow afternoon. Isabelle’s class is having a Halloween party and parents are encouraged to attend.”
He had the odd sensation that the telephone receiver suddenly grew cold in his hand. “I see,” she said.
“I wouldn’t want Isabelle to be the only one there without someone to perform for. I think they’re singing a song or something. And there’s a carnival after the program, with booths and games and treats. The parents are expected to help out for a little while.”
His stumbling explanation seemed to only make the situation worse. “Yes, well, perhaps another time.”
“I hate to keep harping on this, Mom, but Isabelle’s an important part of my life now. I can’t pretend otherwise. I’m going to have her for the next fifteen years or so. Couldn’t you…couldn’t you think of her as my adopted daughter, or something, and forget about her parentage? You wouldn’t shun an adopted child, would you?”
“Do you think I haven’t tried to think of her that way?” Lenore demanded, her words practically vibrating through the lines. “I can’t. At least not yet. Please, Nathan, I can’t talk about this now.”
He sighed. “I’ll call you next week, Mom.”
She murmured something inaudible and disconnected the call. Nathan hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair, staring blindly out the window.
e didn’t hear her come in. Caitlin paused just inside the open doorway of Nathan’s office, struck by his pose and his distant expression.
Just the fact that he sat so motionlessly was disconcerting enough; Nathan was never still for long. And there were so many complex emotions swirling in his eyes that she couldn’t begin to guess what he was feeling. Worried? Sad? Lonely?
Maybe he was just tired. She could identify with that, since she hadn’t been sleeping well this week.
Of course, her reason for losing sleep was sitting right here in front of her.