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"I want to go find Tim," she protested, wild to go anywhere, be anywhere but where she was. I

don't

want to go over there. I don't want to exchange pleasantries with him, try to pretend to be nice to

her.

I don't, I don't.

But it was too late. The couple by the motorcycle had seen them, too. After a long, narrow-eyed

stare in their direction, Chance draped an arm around the redhead's shoulders, swept back her

hair, and bent to murmur into her ear. The redhead looked their way, as well, pursed her lips, then

smiled slowly.

Mary was swallowed by a surge of pure hatred.

The redhead slipped her arm around Chance's waist, and they strolled toward Victor and Mary. A

few years younger than Chance but older than Mary, her body moved sensuously, a perfect

complement to his catlike, prowling grace.

Am I getting sick? Mary wondered hopefully. Do I have to go home now?

Fireworks crashed. Green, everything turned green.

"Good evening," purred Chance as the couples converged. "It's Dr. Newman, and-let me guess.

Victor?" His eyes, as he looked at the other man, glittered hard and dangerously bright.

Victor's arm tightened. "What a coincidence," he said smoothly. "We were just talking about you.

I'm

Dr. Victor Prentiss. You and Mary have met, I know."

Victor-extended his free hand, which Chance appeared not to notice. Mary fixed her gaze

somewhere in the vicinity of Chance's chest and remained silent.

The redhead took Victor's hand and shook it. Her voice was low and husky as she replied, "Nice

to meet you, Doctor. I'm Cassie Grant, and of course this is Chance Armstrong." She drew back

and eyed Mary curiously and with a hint of surprise. "So this is your new friend, Chance? She's

such a sweet little thing."

Mary wanted to curl up and die. Sweet little thing. The words reverberated in the great big,

lonely space inside her head. Her gaze, weighted with hot burning lead, fell to the ground.

Chance ran his hand up and down Cassie's arm and drawled insolently, "Isn't she? And she's a

doctor, too. They work together, Cass. She and Victor make such a lovely, professional couple,

don't they?"

Mary stiffened, feeling pain and surprise in equal measure, and her gaze flashed up. She took in

Chance's angry, wicked countenance, the other woman's thoughtful frown and Victor's sudden,

creamy smile.

They were all so sophisticated, she thought bitterly, so sure of themselves with their social

veneers and rapier cuts. She felt like a mouse surrounded by a gang of predatory alley cats.

The scene blurred. She muttered, "I'm going to find my brother," and before he could stop her,

she slipped out from under Victor's grip and bolted.

There were four more rows of cars, then an open expanse of grass filled with spectators. Tim

would be waiting in, line at the vendors on the beach. She threaded her way quickly through the

people.

A warm, hard hand curled around her arm again, and a shiver went down her spine as she turned

around. A burst of white and red lit the sky like a demonic backdrop, outlining Chance's head and

shoulders and throwing him into silhouette. Still with that hateful drawl in his voice, he said,

"Running away, Dr. Mary? It was just getting good. Victor was about to throw down his white

glove and challenge me to a duel."

She hated scenes. She tried everything she could to avoid them, but now, cornered, she rounded

on him ferociously. "So why don't you go back and the three of you can get on with it? You've

already got a heroine-fight over that redheaded witch and quit tormenting me!"

His hard white teeth gleamed in the shadows. It was hard to tell if he was smiling or snarling. He

took her by the shoulders and pulled her close. She could smell leather and the faint, spicy tang

of after-shave, and the corners of her mouth drooped with distress, even as her legs weakened

with sexual awareness. The tremor ran up her body and seemed to communicate itself to him, for

his hands gentled on-her, the fingers sliding across her skin almost in a caress.

"Mary." The hard-bitten edge of nastiness had left his voice. "You're really upset."

He sounded so surprised, she thought. What had he-expected I was doing-enjoying it? She

crossed her arms around her middle and thought of Victor, and of Chance arriving with Cassie.

"I'm having an awful time."

He reached up and smoothed back her hair. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were coming with

Victor."

"I didn't know you were coming with Cassie." That came out so miserably, she was ashamed of

herself.

When was she ever going to get that social veneer that other people had, so she could hide

behind it when she needed to? His hand was warm, and lingered; she resisted the urge to tum and

bury her face in his palm.

He hesitated, then said with a tone of self-disgust, "Cassie is my half sister, Mary; What's Victor

to you, or haven't you made up your mind yet? He seems awfully possessive."

Half sister? Oh, but that meant-She played the scene over again in her mind, Chance catching

sight of her and Victor, the intimate murmur to his companion, the arm around her shoulders.

Suddenly the cloud of tears that had hovered over her head blew away, and Mary grew positively

light-headed. She said dreamily, "We've dated for a couple of years. I-don't think I--'care for him

as much as I thought I did."

Her hands had risen of their own accord and settled lightly on his corded wrists. She could feel

his Pulse beating slow and strong under her fingertips.

"Oh. Have you told him that?" He cocked his head. Now, it was definitely a smile. "Or should I?

I'd like that."

Heat burned her cheeks. If she kept blushing this way, nobody would have to tell Victor

anything. "Oh, I ..." Her voice trailed off breathlessly. I don't know what to do. My head keeps

getting fuzzed up with other, more heady things. She heard herself say, "I like your after-shave."

He chuckled quietly, put his arms around her and drew her close against his broad chest, and

tucked her head under his chin. She made an incoherent, questioning, absurdly happy sound. "It

smells better up close," he murmured. "I didn't get the chance to tell you how pretty you look."

Somehow she had slipped inside the opening of his leather jacket, and his deep voice vibrated

against her soft cheek. He was so large, so encompassing. He surrounded her with himself, and

she nestled in the warm cave he had made of his body and marvelled at the deep sense of

contentment that stole over her. Her arms slipped around his waist and she leaned on him and

sighed.

"You look good, too." He didn't, though. He looked bad in such an exotic, enticing way, he could

make her forget all about good plain common sense.

She didn't feel afraid, though she thought she ought to. She felt safe-protected. She wondered

when reality would hit her.

Her loose, waist-length fall of hair spilled over his arm. He sank his fingers into it. "Your phone

number's unlisted, Dr. Mary. You want to give it to me, or should I call you at work?"

She stared up at him, thrilled. Two and a half hours away from each other, and he'd tried to look

her up.

Her home phone number tumbled out of her mouth, and he repeated it, eyes gleaming with

satisfaction.

Victor's frigid voice sliced into the warm cocoon where she was hiding. "Mary, are you all

right?"

She jerked, startled, and Chance's hold tightened briefly before he let go of her and stepped back.

The night breeze seemed chilled in contrast, and she touched her hair self-consciously as she

summoned up a bewildered smile.

Victor stood with Cassie, his slim, elegant body taut and expression mildly inquiring. But his

eyes were furious. She felt again that sinking sensation from earlier. Cassie, she noticed, was

watching Chance closely, but his bland face showed nothing. "I'm fine. How are you, Victor?"

He ignored that and strode up to interpose his body between her and Chance. "I thought you

were going to look for Tim," he bit out.

Oh, Lord. Was she ever going to get a measure of control over what happened that evening? She

looked around and was overwhelmed with relief to catch sight of Tim winding his way slowly

through the crowd, laden down with hot dogs, elephant ears, cans of soda and bags of chips.

"There he is!" she squeaked. "Hi, Timmy! I've been looking for you."

Tim glanced up with a wide grin, took in the scene of adults around him, caught sight of Cassie,

and dropped a can of soda. His eyes rounded and grew lambent with love-struck awe. "Uh, I got

some for everybody-I thought ... Hi."

Mary put a hand to her forehead, which had begun to throb. What next?

Victor whispered tightly, "Mary, don't think this is over. You and I are still going to have that

talk."

God, she owed him some kind of explanation, the way she'd been acting. She put a hand on his

arm and murmured, "Later. We'll talk later, I promise."

Cassie said loudly, "Why don't we all just make it one big party and go find somewhere to sit

down?"

Mary followed the rest of the group as they searched for an open space to settle on the beach.

Chance shrugged out of his jacket and offered it to Mary to sit on, and then lounged back on the

sand. Victor stationed himself on her other side like a guard dog.

Tim passed around food, hovered around Cassie like a bee to a honey pot, and exclaimed over

the fireworks. Cassie, who had removed her high-heeled shoes and carried them dangling from

one hand, responded with friendly amusement to his incessant chatter.

Tim's making enough noise for all of us, Mary thought as she chewed without interest on her hot

dog. Bless his heart. The unpredictable silence between the two men was gnawing at her

stomach. Chance appeared to be relaxed enough, propped back on both elbows with legs crossed

at booted ankles, but Victor was vibrating with hostility.

The food was sitting like rocks in her middle. She put half her hot dog down, uneaten, arid

glanced at Chance. His T-shirt glowed very white against the darker hue of his tan. He looked

back at her, his eyes lit from the fire in the sky, and for one brief moment they glowed strangely

feline.

Then his lips pursed quickly in a kiss. Her head snapped around and she stared at the shore in

front of her. Then she sneaked a peek back at him. He winked. Incorrigible man! She whipped

around to see if Victor had seen any of it. He had. He was staring balefully at Chance, jaw out.

Mary set her drink down so hard, soda splashed out of the can.

I want to go home. Now. I mean it this time.

Cassie's low, husky voice said in her ear, "Hey, sugar, could you show me where the rest rooms

are?"

"Yes," Mary moaned, and she shot to her feet.

"I could have shown you," Tim said brightly.

"Sorry, soldier. This trip is girls only. Come on, honey.' Cassie took her hand and led her away.

Mary squeezed the older woman's slender fingers in a silent message of gratitude. Cassie

squeezed back before letting her hand drop, then she lifted her red hair up and shook it out with a

gusty snort.

"You might want your shoes," Mary suggested. "There might be broken glass around the rest

rooms."

"That's all right. I don't really need to go. I just thought you might like to get away for a few

minutes," Cassie said. "Lord, you could cut the air back there with a knife."

It was a pretty powerful turnaround of feeling, to go from pure hate to such a sense of appreciation in less than an hour. Mary smiled tentatively and was rewarded with an instant

warm smile in return.

"Thank you, I did need to be rescued. It's been a long day, and I'm a little out of my depth."

"Looks to me like anybody would be, with those two acting the way they are." Shrewd green

eyes studied Mary, but it wasn't an unkind scrutiny.

She asked impulsively, "Are you really Chance's half sister?"

"Oh, so he confessed, did he?" Cassie laughed. "Yes, I am. We share a mother, and a-certain

sense of humor. Are you really a doctor?"

Mary chuckled. "Yes. A resident, actually."

"Chance said he met you in the emergency room this afternoon."

So he had talked about her? Mary's step grew springy until she seemed to float. "What else did

he say?"

Cassie's gaze danced. "He said he was throwing his weight around as usual, and you threw it

back again. He had such a note of respect in his voice, I got intrigued, because Chance doesn't

respect much. Way to be, sugar."

Mary's chuckle turned into an outright laugh. It bubbled infectiously in the air around them,

aerated like champagne. In an impulsive gesture, Cassie swung, an arm around her shoulders and

then turned serious. "Hey, I've really enjoyed hearing about you and meeting you. Would you

like to call me sometime, and maybe we could get together and talk?"

Mary's eyes brightened. Underneath that worldly siren image was a really warm person whom

she'd like to get to know. "Yes, I would."

"Great! I own a bookstore in town called The Crystal Dragon, and I live above it. The number's

in the book, and you can call any time. It rings all over the place. Maybe you can come over for

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