Read Hard Habit to Break Online

Authors: Linda Cajio

Hard Habit to Break

BOOK: Hard Habit to Break
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Hard Habit to Break
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

A Loveswept eBook Edition

Copyright © 1986 by Linda Cajio

Excerpt from
Escape Diaries
by Juliet Rosetti copyright © 2012 by Patricia Kilday.

Excerpt from
The Devil’s Thief
by Samantha Kane copyright © 2012 by Nancy Kattenfeld.

Excerpt from
The Magic
by Juliana Garnett copyright © 1996 by Juliana Garnett.

All Rights Reserved.

Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.

Hard Habit to Break
was originally published in paperback by Loveswept, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. in 1986.

eISBN: 978-0-307-79886-2

For John and Genna—my angels, my devils.
I wish you two would make up your minds.
All my love, Mom.


“Does your mother know you smoke?”

The cigarette raised halfway to her lips, Liz O’Neal spun in the direction of the deep and disapproving male voice. Her dismay and surprise turned to shock when she caught sight of the man standing on the other side of the waist-high boxwood hedge.

He was naked.

At least he looked that way, she thought. Staring slack-jawed at the glistening bronze skin, she told herself that her new neighbor couldn’t possibly be attempting to bring Michelangelo’s
to life. Most likely he was wearing a pair of shorts against the unusually steamy afternoon heat. She hoped. Nudity and northern Vermont’s normally cool summers didn’t exactly go hand in hand.

But the abnormal eighty-five-degree temperature seemed to have risen one hundred points in the last minute.

Liz moaned to herself as her gaze traveled helplessly up and down the gorgeous torso. Her heart thumped at a supersonic pace. From what she could see, the statue had a long way to go before it matched her neighbor.

He peered down his Roman nose at her, topping her five feet two inches by at least another foot. His face was lean, the cheekbones high and well-defined, and the short mahogany-brown beard he wore did nothing to hide the square jaw or the firmness of his lips. Long thick lashes fringed the greenest eyes she’d ever seen. His dark hair was liberally streaked by the sun, the loose curls precision-cut and brushed back off his broad forehead—except for a few rebellious locks that dipped forward.

Her hypnotized eyes shifted to the strong neck that flowed into broad shoulders. Farther down, they discovered a heavy pelt of silky hair covering his chest and torso. The damn hedge effectively hid the rest of him.

Liz swallowed, suddenly grateful for the barrier separating them. She didn’t think she could take any more perfection, dressed or, especially, undressed. She didn’t want to know for sure.

“I’m glad to see you won’t be smoking that cigarette,” he said, his eyes focused on her now clenched hands. “I’m sorry I startled you. But if you promise to stop sneaking cigarettes behind the shed, I promise not to tell your mother.”

His words broke her trance, and Liz glanced down at the cigarette she’d inadvertently crushed.

“Dammit!” She felt a hot flush staining her cheeks.

“Honey, you’re not going to grow up any faster by cursing and smoking. Just be yourself.”

Liz glared at Mr. America’s tolerantly smiling face. “I am not a child—”

“Of course you’re not,” he broke in with a soothing tone. “But don’t rush nature; it’ll all come soon enough anyway. And you won’t ruin your lungs in the process.”

“But …”

Holding up a hand to stop her words, he added, “Be smart and give it up. Believe me, I don’t want to tell your mother about your smoking. I know what it’s like to be a teenager and want to be an adult. You’ve already got a great head start, and in a few more years—”

Her barely held temper broke, and Liz stalked over to the hedge. She jabbed the Adonis in the chest with a finger.

“Will you shut your self-righteous mouth and listen to me? I’m not a kid anymore. I’m twenty-seven years old, and I’ll smoke wherever and whenever I damn well please.”

His eyes momentarily widened in surprise, and she gave him a smug smile, satisfied that she had brought his lecture to a complete and total halt.

“I’m sorry. I thought you were about fifteen.” His gaze leisurely lowered to her slender figure clad in very short cutoff jeans and a yellow tube top. He grinned, his teeth gleaming whitely against his beard. “For a moment I wondered if teenage girls were maturing faster than they did in my day. But you still shouldn’t smoke.”

Liz opened her mouth to yell, and immediately shut it. Turning on her heel, she marched around
the shed and across the wide velvety expanse of grass to her large Dutch colonial house.

She was not about to explain her method of kicking the habit to him. Down to three cigarettes a day, she had made a so far unbroken rule to smoke them only at specific times and places during the day. Her plan had been working beautifully, but, because of that … that walking statue she had missed one and couldn’t have another until nine that night. Seven hours without a cigarette! Chinese water torture sounded like a vacation idyll compared to that. Skipping a cigarette might be good for her health but not for her already frayed disposition.

And now she was living next door to Dear Abby.

Matt Callahan grinned self-deprecatingly to himself as his neighbor’s back door slammed shut. He’d just made a mess of meeting her, but he was more than grateful she

It was an understandable error, he acknowledged wryly. When he’d caught his first glimpse of her, furtively huddled behind the shed, he’d naturally assumed her small, delicate frame was still undergoing the maturing process. The heavy wheat-blond hair pulled back in a ponytail had only enhanced his impression of child-woman. And the shock at being discovered had been very evident in her wide gray eyes, so he’d been sure she was a teenager. It wasn’t until she’d exploded in anger that he’d realized what a delightful mistake he’d made.

Her cheekbones had flushed a deep pink, emphasizing
the myriad pale freckles dotting her face. Her chin had shot up to a very stubborn angle, and her full lips had pursed. He’d immediately wanted to feel them with his. She had looked so naturally seductive, and it was obvious a very passionate nature lurked beneath her ingenue exterior. He definitely wanted to know his next door neighbor better. Much better.

Hopewell, Vermont, wasn’t quite the peaceful small town he’d been expecting. Not when it had neighbors like her, whoever she was.

An unwanted thought occurred to him, and he grimaced. He hoped she wasn’t married, although her smoking behind the shed indicated she was hiding her habit from someone.

Taking a deep breath of sweet-smelling air, Matt glanced up at the bright, cloudless sky and decided to do some yardwork instead of more unpacking. The house had been empty for several months, so the yard was overgrown. And being retired now, he really should cultivate a hobby. Gardening was nice. Besides, there was the added advantage of spotting a husband if there was one.

And if there wasn’t one, he intended to spend a good deal of time next door.

Maybe he ought to cut a hole in the hedge. “Accidentally,” of course.

Seven hours later Liz gazed at the lone cigarette lying in splendor on the top of her white-pine coffee table.

Picking it up, she silently cursed as she remembered what had happened to her last cigarette.
Damn that man! She’d started smoking behind the shed so she’d feel foolish and embarrass herself into cutting down to two cigarettes a day. But she hadn’t ever expected to be caught at it, like a teenager.

Remembering her instant attraction to the man across the hedge, she groaned loudly. Why did he have to be the healthiest male specimen this side of the Green Mountains? And why did he have to move in next door to her?

It had been over two years since her painful, pride-bruising divorce. She’d finally straightened out her life. She didn’t want a man. She didn’t
a man. So why did she have a heart-stopping, gooey-eyed reaction to him?

“Because he’s gorgeous,” she muttered out loud. “Big deal.”

She acknowledged, though, that she’d been somewhat rude to him, and she’d felt a little guilty about it ever since. Good thing she wasn’t a Welcome Wagon lady, or she’d be out of a job.

Liz grimaced in frustration, suddenly realizing how much her own job as bank manager depended on good public relations with the community. She only hoped she hadn’t blown a new account. Actually, she was pretty sure she hadn’t. After all, the Hopewell branch of the New England Bank was the only bank for fifteen miles in any direction. From now on, though, she would be friendly yet a little distant to her new neighbor. She didn’t want the town gossips to have any mistaken impressions about her relationship with him. It wasn’t every day Hopewell got a new citizen, and
speculation would be intense. They’d both be under the microscope for a long time.

Liz groaned again. Knowing Hopewell, they’d be under it forever.

She firmly reminded herself she’d missed having her afternoon cigarette. It had taken monumental willpower not to run to her purse and get another. She silently congratulated herself and added a footnote to forget about her neighbor. He could be trouble, and for more than one reason. She didn’t need any more worries, especially now.

Rolling the smooth cigarette between her fingers, she sighed thankfully. At least she’d be able to smoke this one.

Just as she was raising the cigarette to her lips, her doorbell rang. Surprised that someone in Hopewell would actually be out at nine in the evening, even on a Sunday night, Liz self-consciously cupped the cigarette in her hand to hide it. Then she walked across the federal blue carpeting of her living room to answer the bell.

Opening the darkly stained door, Liz gaped. Staring at a wide, T-shirt-covered chest, she dimly wondered if her neighbor had a thing about clothes. Besides the T-shirt, he wore only his beard, a pair of rubber thongs on his feet, and cutoff jeans faded almost white. They seemed to outline rather than cover the essentials.

BOOK: Hard Habit to Break
6.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Awakening by Shakir Rashaan
Linda Barlow by Fires of Destiny
Lessons of Love by Jolynn Raymond
For Elise by Sarah M. Eden
Fair Play by Shay, Janna
The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle
That Kind of Woman by Paula Reed