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Authors: Brenda Jackson

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“It was.” He could tell by the way her lips were quivering their conversation was bringing back painful memories for her. “I disappointed my parents tremendously, embarrassed them. When it was de
termined that the father didn’t want me or his child as part of his future, my parents tried talking me into giving up my baby for adoption, but I refused. That caused friction between us the entire nine months. Things got so bad at home that I had to go live with my best friend and her mother the last couple months of my pregnancy.”

After taking a sip of water, she said, “The day the nurse brought Tiffany to me for the first time after I’d given birth to her, I gazed down at my beautiful daughter and knew I had made the right decision, no matter how my parents felt.”

“Did they eventually come around to your way of thinking?”

“Years later when they realized they were denying themselves the chance to get to know their granddaughter. But at first they wanted me to know what a mistake I’d made in keeping her. They’d intended to teach me a lesson. I couldn’t move back home so I continued to live with my friend’s family until I was able to get an apartment at seventeen. I finished high school at night while working at a grocery store as a cashier during the day. My best friend, who also became Tiffany’s godmother, kept her at night so I could finish school. It was hard but I was determined to make it work. After high school, I went to college
and I struggled for years as a single parent before I finally earned a degree. I got a management position and later purchased a modest home for me and Tiffany.”

“What made you decide to move here?”

“The company where I worked as a supervisor decided to downsize. My position was no longer needed so they gave me a pretty nice severance package. Instead of seeing losing my job as the end of the world, I decided to turn it into an opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do.”

“Open up a florist shop?”

“Yes. The reason I decided on Charlotte was that Lena had moved here after college and I liked the area the couple of times I’d come to visit her.”

“Lena?”

“Helena Spears, my best friend from high school.”

Chance smiled. “Helena Spears? I’ve met her on several occasions. She’s a Realtor in town and is very active with the Cancer Society. I think her father died of the disease some years ago.”

“He did, when Lena was fourteen. In recent years her mother has taken ill. I admire Lena for taking on the responsibility of her mother’s care the way she has.”

Kylie leaned back in her chair. “So knowing my
history, Chance, I hope you can understand why I don’t want Tiffany to make the same mistakes I did. I don’t have anything against your son personally. I’m sure he’s a fine young man. I just don’t think he and Tiffany are ready for any sort of a relationship just yet.”

“And I totally agree. So what do you think we should do?”

“I think we should meet with them, tell them our feelings, let them know we understand how they feel, or how they think they feel, since we were young once. But we should try to do whatever we can to slow down things between them. They’re moving too fast. One day I didn’t even know Marcus existed and now my daughter is claiming to be madly in love with him.”

When the waitress came back to take their order, Chance glanced over at Kylie. “You’re still not hungry?”

Kylie smiled. “Yes, in fact I think I’m going to try a hamburger and fries.”

Chance returned her smile. “I think I will, too.”

 

“I’m glad we had our little talk,” Chance said as he walked Kylie to her car an hour or so later.

“So am I,” she said honestly, although the whole
time she’d sat across from him she’d had to fight back her drool. She was amazed at the thoughts that had crept into her mind. Thoughts of how Chance Steele had to have one of the sexiest mouths she’d ever seen. And the type of physique that drew feminine attention. Watching him eat had been quite an ordeal. She’d had to fight the urge to squirm in her seat each time he bit into his hamburger. Her attraction to him was truly bizarre, considering the real problem was finding a way to keep their kids in line.

But she would be crazy not to acknowledge that she was drawn to him in a way she hadn’t been drawn to a man in years. Sexual longings were something she hadn’t had to deal with for quite some time. Being in Chance’s company she had been reminded of just how long it had been.

“So we’ve decided that I’m to bring Marcus over to your place for Sunday dinner so the four of us can sit down and talk,” he said when they reached her car.

“Yes, that’s the plan.”

“And I think it’s a good one. We need to talk to them, but even more importantly, we need to let them talk to us. And no matter what, we’re going to have to keep our cool, even when we’d like nothing better than to ring their little necks. The situation we’re dealing with calls for strategy and tact, not anger.”

She tilted her head up and looked at him. “Strategy and tact I can handle, but it’s going to be hard keeping my anger in check,” she said, thinking of the conversation she’d had with Tiffany that morning before the girl had left for school. Her daughter was intent on being stubborn, no matter what.

“We’ll not only get through it, we’ll succeed,” Chance said.

Kylie knew he was trying to alleviate some of her worries and she appreciated it. “Okay, then I’ll see you and Marcus on Sunday. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”

“And I’m looking forward to meeting Tiffany as well.” As he held the car door for her he shook his head and laughed. “Matching lovebird tattoos. Have you ever heard of anything so ridiculous?”

Chance drew Kylie into his amusement. “No, and what’s really crazy is that Tiffany is petrified of needles.”

“Well, it’s been said that love makes you do foolish things.”

 

Later that night Chance swore as he got out of bed. For the first time in eight years, a woman other than his wife had invaded his dreams. Every time he’d closed his eyes, he’d seen Kylie Hagan’s face.

It seemed as if he couldn’t keep his mind from dredging up memories of her. First there was her appearance yesterday when a T-shirt and a pair of shorts covered her shapely body. And today, at the café, the slacks and sweater she’d been wearing had made him appreciate the fact that he was a male.

And then there were the times she would do something as simple as drink water from her glass. He couldn’t help but watch the long, smooth column of her throat as water passed down it. He had wanted to kiss every inch of her neck and had wondered how it would feel for her to grip him the way she was gripping her glass.

Chance dragged a hand down his face thinking it had been a long time for him. Way too long. Sexual cravings were something he’d barely had to deal with, but now he was having several sharp attacks. In addition to the lust he was feeling for her, he also felt a deep sense of admiration.

She had given birth to a child at sixteen, hadn’t given in to her parents’ demand that she give the child up for adoption, and had struggled the past fifteen years as a single parent who’d gotten a college education and had provided for herself and her daughter. He considered what she’d done a success story. What he really appreciated was the fact that her
past experiences enabled her to foresee what could be a potentially dangerous situation for Tiffany and Marcus. It was clear as glass that she didn’t want them to make the same mistake she’d made.

As he left the bedroom and headed for the kitchen, he thought about his own situation with Cyndi. They had been blessed in that both sets of parents had been supportive of their decision to keep their child and marry. And when Marcus was born, there was no doubt in Chance’s mind that Cyndi’s parents, as well as his own, loved their first grandchild unconditionally. His heart went out to both Kylie and Tiffany when he thought about what they had been denied.

His pulse began racing when he thought about dinner at Kylie’s place on Sunday when he would be seeing her again. That was one dinner engagement that he was looking forward to.

 

Kylie awoke with a start, finding that she was drenched in sweat…or heat, since what had awakened her was an erotic dream.

Chance Steele had kissed her, touched her, made love to her. At first she had moaned in protest but then they’d become moans of pleasure. But at the exact moment he was about to do away with all the
mind-blowing foreplay and enter her body to take total possession, she had awakened.

She pulled herself into a sitting position and struggled to calm her ragged breath. Perspiration cloaked her body, a sign of just how long she had been in denial. For a brief moment, everything had seemed real, including the way his skin felt beneath her palms, how thick and solid his muscles were against her body and just how good those same muscles felt melding into hers.

With a deep sigh of disgust, she threw the covers back and got out of bed. Why, after fifteen years, did she finally become attracted to a man who just happened to the be the father of the boy who could become her worst nightmare? On the way to the bathroom, she inwardly cursed for finding Chance so damn handsome.

As she turned on the shower and began stripping out of her damp nightclothes, she thought about how her life had been over the past fifteen years. Sam was the first and only man she had slept with. Once Tiffany had been born, her precious little girl had become the most important thing to her, her very reason for existing, and the years that followed had been busy ones as a single parent. Although a number of men had shown interest, a relationship
with any of them had taken a backseat. It was either bad timing or a lack of desire on her part to share herself with anyone other than Tiffany. In essence, she had placed her needs aside to take care of the needs of her child.

But now it seemed that those needs were catching up with her. Something sharp, unexpected and mind-blowingly stimulating was taking its toll. For years she had been able to keep those urges under control, but now it seemed a losing battle. It was as if her body was saying,
I won’t let you deny me any longer.

As she stepped into the shower and stood beneath the spray of water, she knew that she was in deep trouble. Not only did she have to deal with the situation going on with Tiffany and Marcus, but she had to deal with her own attraction to Chance. It was sheer foolishness to become this enamored with a man she had only met a couple of days ago, and the very thought that she had gone so far as to dream about him making love to her was totally unacceptable.

No matter how intense the sexual longings invading her body, she had to get a grip. And more than anything, she had to remember that men couldn’t be depended on to always do the right thing. Sam had proven that to her in a big way, and so had
her father. He had let her down when he’d meekly gone along with her mother’s treatment of her when she’d gotten pregnant.

Moments later when she stepped out of the shower, dried off and donned a fresh nightgown, she had to concede that the water hadn’t washed any thoughts of Chance from her mind. She had a feeling that even when she went back to bed she wouldn’t experience anything close to a peaceful sleep.

Chapter 3
 

“Y
ou actually invited Marcus and his father for dinner on Sunday!”

Kylie lifted a brow as she washed her hands in the kitchen sink. Surprised at the excitement she heard in her daughter’s voice, she turned to meet her gaze. “I take it that you don’t have a problem with it.”

The enthusiasm in Tiffany’s voice dropped a degree when she shrugged her shoulders and said, “No, why should I? Just as long as you and Mr. Steele aren’t going to try and break us up, because it won’t happen. Marcus and I are—”

“Madly in love,” Kylie rushed in to finish, stifling her anger as she dried her hands. “I know.” If she heard her daughter exclaim the depth of her love for Marcus Steele one more time she would scream.

“I thought it would be a good idea for me to finally meet Marcus, considering how you feel about him,” Kylie said.

“Why is Mr. Steele coming?”

“Because he’s Marcus’s father and, like me, he wants what’s best for his child.”

“Oh, then, he won’t have to worry about a thing because I am the best.”

Kylie rolled her eyes thinking her daughter was getting conceited lately—another of Sam’s traits rearing its ugly head.

“So the two of you have been talking a lot?”

Kylie frowned as she began making the pancakes for breakfast. “The two of who?”

“You and Mr. Steele.”

“More than we’ve wanted to, I’m sure,” Kylie said with forced calmness. The last thing her daughter needed to know was just what an impact Chance Steele was having on her. Just as she’d figured last night, she hadn’t been able to go back to sleep without visions of him dancing around in her head.

“How does he look?”

Many of the descriptive words that came to mind she couldn’t possibly share with her daughter. “He’s handsome, so I take it that Marcus is handsome, too.”

Tiffany beamed. “Yes, of course.” Then seconds later she said, “I heard Mr. Steele is nice.”

Kylie expelled a deep breath. “I don’t know him well enough to form an opinion but I have no reason to think that he’s not.” Although she pretended nonchalance, she couldn’t stop herself from glancing over at Tiffany and asking, “Who told you he was nice?”

“Marcus. He thinks the world of his father.”

Kylie’s first reaction at hearing that statement was to ask why, if Marcus thought the world of his dad, he was causing Chance so much grief.

“He doesn’t date much.”

“Who?”

“Mr. Steele.”

With his good looks and fine body, Kylie found that hard to believe. “Don’t you think you need to start getting dressed for school?” she prompted, not wanting to discuss Chance any longer.

Tiffany nodded. “I’ll be back in time for pancakes,” she said as she rushed out of the kitchen.

When she was gone, Kylie leaned against the
counter wondering why Chance had dominated their conversation. Was there a possibility that Tiffany was nervous about meeting Marcus’s father? She couldn’t help but remember the first time Sam had taken her to meet his parents. They hadn’t been impressed with her and hadn’t wasted any time letting her and Sam know they thought the two of them were too young to be involved.

Too bad she hadn’t taken the Millers’s opinion seriously. How differently things would have turned out if she had. But then she could never regret having Tiffany in her life, even now when her daughter was determined to make her hair gray early.

So, she thought as she pulled the orange juice out of the refrigerator, Chance didn’t date often. Rather interesting…

 

Chance leaned back in the chair and stared out his office window. Instead of reading the report from the research-and-development department, he was sitting at his desk thinking of a reason to call Kylie Hagan. After that dream last night, he had awoken obsessed with hearing her voice.

Gut-twisting emotions clawed through him. It was bad enough that his son was totally besotted with the daughter, now it seemed he was becoming
obsessed with the mother. He hadn’t even managed to brush his teeth this morning without Kylie consuming his thoughts. He gritted those same teeth, not liking the position he was in one damn bit.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t dated since Cyndi’s death. But he quickly admitted that Kylie was different from any woman he’d taken out. She had a strong, independent nature that he admired. She had raised her child alone and when times had gotten tough with the downsizing of her job, she had made what she’d felt were the best decisions for the both of them. Even considering all of that, he still wondered what about her had not only grabbed his attention but was holding it tight. Could it be that now that he was getting older with a son who would be leaving for college in a couple of years, the thought of being alone scared him? Of course, he had his brothers, but they had their own lives.

Sebastian was the corporation’s problem solver and troubleshooter. The Steele Corporation was more than just a company to Bas; it was his lifeline. Bas had been the last brother to join the company, and of the four, he had been the one to give their parents the most grief while growing up. Cutting school on a regular basis had been minor considering the other things he’d done. His reputation for getting into
mischief was legendary. Trouble had seemed to find Bas, even when he wasn’t looking for it. His engagement had mystified his brothers since he was the last Steele anyone would have thought would want to tie the knot.

Then there was Morgan, who headed R & D. Although he dated, everyone teased Morgan about holding out for the perfect woman. So far he hadn’t found a woman who qualified for the role, although he was convinced one existed.

Last but not least was Donovan, who women claimed could seduce them with his voice alone. The youngest of the Steele brothers headed product administration, but unlike Bas, who was married to the corporation, Donovan always managed to carve out some play time.

“It doesn’t look like you’re busy, big brother, so I’ll just come in.”

Chance turned his head and watched as Bas entered his office. He sat up, a little surprised that anyone, including his brother, had made it past his secretary without being announced. “Where’s Joanna?” he asked. It was a rare occurrence for Joanna Cabot to leave her post without advising him.

Bas smiled. “Just where is your mind today, Chance? Have you forgotten that Robert Parker is
retiring and today’s his last day in sales? We were all at the celebration downstairs and wondering where you were. I made an excuse for you by telling everyone you probably had gotten detained on an important call.”

Chance muttered a low curse. He had forgotten about Robert’s retirement party. Robert had been part of the Steele Corporation when their father, Lester Steele, had run things. Now their retired parents were living the life in the Keys, doing all the things they’d always dreamed of doing, and had left the family business in the hands of their capable sons and niece.

“Yes, I’d forgotten about it.”

Bas leaned against the closed door. “Umm, and you were just talking about it yesterday, which makes me wonder what’s weighing so heavily on your mind.”

Chance stood and quickly slipped into his suit jacket. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

Bas scowled. “You aren’t losing sleep over that Marcus affair, are you? You are chilling like we told you to do, right?”

Chance decided not to tell Bas that the Marcus affair had conveniently become his own personal
affair, thanks to Tiffany Hagan’s mother. “Yes, I’m chilling.”

Bas laughed. “You wouldn’t know how to chill if your life depended on it.”

Chance rolled his eyes, grinning. “Look who’s talking.”

It was a couple of hours later that Chance arrived back in his office. A part of him was still obsessed with hearing Kylie’s voice. Deciding not to fight it any longer, he pulled out his wallet to find the business card she had given him the other day at the café. He picked up the phone, then put it back down. Damn, he wanted to do more than talk to her. He wanted to see her.

He reached for the phone and punched in the number to connect with his secretary. “Ms. Cabot, I’m leaving early today. If an emergency comes up you can reach me on my cell phone.”

Strategy and tact were the methods he’d mentioned to Kylie for bringing their children around. Little did she know he was about to apply that same technique on her.

 

Kylie turned at the sound of the shop door opening with a smile of greeting on her lips. The smile quickly faded when she saw it was the one man who had invaded her dreams last night.

She took a calming breath, remembering her reaction the first time she’d seen him when he’d walked through her door two days ago. Nothing had changed. Dressed in another power-house business suit, he looked drop-dead gorgeous.

She tried not to stare at him like a love-struck teenager, but found she was helpless in doing so. Chance Steele wasn’t just any man. He was the one man who had started her blood circulating again in some very intimate places. He was definitely a man who was the very epitome of everything male.

“Hi,” she said, deciding to break the silence when they just stood there staring at each other.

“Hi.” He then glanced around. “You’re not busy.”

“No, the lunch crowd has come and gone.”

“Oh. Would you like to go out?”

She raised a brow. “Out where?”

“To lunch.”

Surprise flickered in the depths of Kylie’s dark eyes. “To lunch?”

“Yes,” he said, giving her a smile that made her stomach clench. “Would you go to lunch with me?”

“Why? Do we need to talk about the kids again?”

“No.”

That single word sent her mind into a spin. He
wanted to take her out but not to talk about the kids. Then what on earth would they talk about?

Chance must have seen the question in her eyes because he said, “I discovered something very important yesterday at the café, Kylie.”

“What?”

“I enjoyed your company a lot. A whole lot.” Then as an afterthought, he added, “I don’t date often.”

His confession was the same as Tiffany had said that very morning. Although she knew it probably wasn’t good manners, Kylie couldn’t help asking, “Why?”

He shrugged. “For a number of reasons but I can probably sum it up in one rationale.”

“Which is?”

“Lack of interest.”

Kylie knew all about lack of interest. She’d been dealing with it for over fifteen years. She hadn’t wanted the drama of getting into a hot and heavy relationship with someone, nor had she wanted to expose Tiffany to the drama, either. “Oh, I see.”

“Do you?”

Nervously, Kylie stared down at her hands, confused by a lot of questions, the main one being why she was more attracted to Chance than any other
man. She lifted her head. “Then maybe I don’t see after all.”

Her heart began racing when he started crossing the room. When he came to a stop directly in front of her, he placed his finger under her chin, lifting her gaze to meet his. “In that case, for us to go to lunch together is a rather good idea.”

She was warmed by his touch. “Why would you think that?”

“Because it would make things easier for us on Sunday if we were honest with ourselves about a few things now.”

Kylie’s eyes clung to his, knowing he was right. There was no need to play dumb. There was something happening between them that she didn’t need or want, but it was happening anyway. And they needed to get it out in the open, talk about it and put a stop to it before it went any further. How could they help their kids battle lust when they’d found themselves in the same boat?

She drew in a deep breath. “All right, if you’ll give me a second, I need to close up and put the Out to Lunch sign on the door.”

He nodded. “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”

Chance stood to the side while Kylie went about
closing her shop. His eyes roamed over her with more than mild intensity. For some reason, today she looked even younger than she had the other days. She was wearing shorts and a top again, and he thought her legs were just as shapely as he remembered and her body just as curvy.

He couldn’t help the desire that quickly escalated to extreme hunger and hit him in the gut. For one intense moment, he felt a burning desire to walk across the room and take her mouth with his. The need to taste her was driving him insane.

“I’m ready.”

He blinked, realizing she had spoken. He inhaled a calming breath and fought for composure. He was ready, too, but doubted they were ready for the same thing.

 

“One of these days I’ll take you to a place that serves something other than hamburgers and fries.”

Kylie smiled as he led the way to their table. To save time they had decided to grab a quick lunch at Burger King. “I don’t mind,” she said, as butterflies began floating around in her stomach. Did he realize he’d just insinuated that he would be taking her out again?

“It’s not too crowded,” he said, pulling the chair out for her.

“No, I guess the lunch crowd has come and gone.”

“Which is fine with me. Before I go order, I think I need to do this.” He pulled off his tie and stuffed it into the pocket of his jacket. Then he reached for the top of his shirt and worked a couple of buttons through the holes. “I’m a little too overdressed for this place.”

Kylie watched as he walked off toward the counter, thinking that an overdressed Chance was the last thing on her mind. Thoughts of an undressed Chance seemed to be cemented into her brain. In a suit it he looked handsome, professional and suave. And she would bet that even in a pair of jeans and a shirt he would look rugged and sexy. She didn’t want to think about how he would look without any clothes on at all. But she had, several times, day and night, and that wasn’t good.

It didn’t take long for him to return and they began digging into their food. It was only when they were halfway through their meal that Chance spoke. He leaned in close, smiled and said, “I was wondering about something.”

“What?”

“Since we’ve assigned ourselves the task of monitoring our kids’ behavior, to make sure they stay out of trouble, whom should we assign to do the same thing for us?”

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