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The sun-room was filled with plants, and finches twittered in large bamboo cages. A round white

table and chairs were in the middle of the tiled floor, and screened windows were open to a fresh

light breeze.

She felt, rather than heard him prowling. along behind her. For such a large man, he moved

silently.

She didn't stop moving until she was on the far side of the table. Then, hands twisted tightly

together, she turned half-expecting him to be right behind her.

But 'he had stopped and rested his hands on the back of a chair. Leaning on it, he looked at her

expectantly from across the table. As she watched, the muscles of his upper arms flexed fluidly,

"I apologize," she said, laboring hard to breathe normally. The words tumbled out too fast. "I've

behaved badly, and I should have talked to you on the phone, but I've had a lot on my mind and-

and-it just didn't happen. It was nice meeting you yesterday, but I have to say goodbye now." She

paused. His eyes had narrowed. "G-goodbye."

Another pause as he scrutinized her face. Then he straightened and demanded, "Why?"

He seemed so angry. Her eyes rounded and then she looked down at her tangled fingers.

"Oooh ... I'm ... sooo ... busy." This was too hard. It was a fine, brave attempt, but she just

couldn't come out and say that she'd heard he was a womanizer and a cheat, and she didn't want

to be put in a pickle jar.

"You're not that busy," he said in a low, clipped voice. "Why are you running away from me?

You were just fine when I left you last night."

Another, more poised woman might have said, so I've changed my mind. You're not my type. Get

lost, soldier. Mary's head ducked farther down and she muttered to her fingers, "I don't want to

be one of your conquests."

"One of my-" The harsh words were bitten off, and he gentled his tone. "I haven't had a

'conquest' since college. You've been hearing some rumours that just aren't true, Mary, and I

think you've been hearing them from someone who has a vested interest in scaring you away

from me." He waited until the words had sunk in sufficiently, then asked, "Am I right?"

Mary's brows drew together. Victor had been jealous, she knew that, but he'd been so concerned.

She could hardly believe that he was capable of that kind of manipulation. Or would it even have

to be manipulation? He only told her things she could check out herself, and if she'd heard those

kind of rumours firsthand, she would have been concerned, too.

Whatever Victor's motivation, whether they were true or not was an entirely different matter. "I

don't know. Maybe. D-do you go out with married women?"

"For God's sake, is that what you heard?" He moved impatiently. "I sometimes go places with

friends who happen to be married. Male and female. Have I had, affairs with married women?

No. Have some idiots spread the rumour that I have? Yes. That's all the fun some people get,

although it's not my idea of fun. It causes too much hurt. Are you the kind of person that listens

to that garbage?"

He sounded accusing, and he had every right to. Her shamed gaze travelled up to his grim

countenance.

"Not normally."

His expression eased. "Then why'd you listen this time? You had me really worried."

Her fingers flowed apart, and she reached out to the air between them. "I wish I hadn't listened. It

made me feel awful about what happened yesterday, and I didn't want to feel that way about it.

It's just nobody like you has ever shown an interest in me before. I'm not your type, and I

couldn't believe you were for real."

He walked around the table toward her with a lazy stride and a slow smile. "Now how would you

know what my type is? What about you? Do you have a type?"

The tip of her tongue crept between her teeth as she smiled back and her shoulders started to

climb toward her ears again. His smile widened into a grin as he reached her, and he tucked a

strand of hair behind her ear.

"Everybody's got some idea of what they want. What kind of guys have you dated?"

She considered making up a whole portfolio of hopeful, dashing young suitors, and a small

snicker exploded out of her nose. As if she could pull that off. "Victor."

He looked blank for a moment, then said, "You're kidding. That's it?"

She frowned uncertainly, and her cheeks heated. Was that a compliment? "Well, no. I really have

been busy."

He cocked his head. "Too busy to date? No pretty young lady should be too busy to date."

"Oh, well, you see, there's Tim, and our parents died when 1 was seventeen, and I was in school

an awfully long time, and I-well-" She bit down on her tongue hard. Don't tell him you're a

virgin, blockhead! "I ... don't care for the country club much;"

"All those crisp, clean boys in their tennis whites, courting their Buffys and their Tiffanys, and

talking about which boards of directors their fathers sit on," he said wryly. "No, I can't see it.

Mary?"

"Huh?" She smiled up at him tentatively.

"Promise me something?" The creases at the sides of his mouth deepened as she nodded. "Be

careful not to get too caught up in Victor's point of view. I don't think he's looking out for your

best interests right now. If you haven't got anybody to talk to, my sister. Cassie said this

morning that she's looking forward to your call. She's a smart lady, and she doesn't hesitate to

call a fool a fool. Even me, when I'm acting like one. Which isn't often, by the way," he 'added

with a twinkle.

She twinkled back delightedly, feeling not only warmed by his suggestion but pleased that Cassie

had mentioned her again. Another thing she hadn't had time for was making friends. Most of the

young women her age that she'd met in college couldn't identify with her parental-like concerns

and life-style.

She had a few friends at the hospital, but they were Victor's friends, too. "I'm looking forward

to seeing her, too. I liked her."

He ran a finger caressingly down the side of her cheek and her stomach fluttered. "I've got a

meeting tonight, but I'd like to take you out soon when is your next free evening, Dr. Mary?"

Not for ages and ages, she thought with sudden gloom. Saturday was her next evening off, but

she promised to go to dinner with Victor and some of his friends. Oh, bother, they were supposed

to be going to the damn country club, too. Victor liked the country club, she remembered with a

brief chill. What did that say about their compatibility?

"Saturday," she burst out. "I m free Saturday.”

The trapped feeling from last night finally loosened and fell away, and she beamed up at him.

"What do you want to do?"

His face softened and he stepped closer to her. She caught the faintest, tantalizing whiff of his

after-shave, and her muscles went wobbly. "Have you been to the fair yet?"

"I usually take Timmy," she murmured huskily, "but this year 1 haven't had time to."

"Saturday's the last night. Would you like to go?"

Guilt and alarm flashed in her eyes. He was going to offer to take Tim, too, now. And if he

wasn't, shouldn't she say something? She couldn't go and not take Tim. He'd never forgive her.

"Yes, I love the fair. And maybe, would you mind, could we take Tim?"

"I was thinking of inviting Tim," he said smiling, "on maybe a different night. Just him and me.

Don't you think he'd like that better than playing fifth wheel to us?"

"Oh, good Lord, yes. He'd love it. Are you sure it's no trouble?" She searched his face closely.

"Of course not. I'd enjoy it, too, otherwise I wouldn't have offered. I like Tim. I'll talk to him

about tomorrow, and why don't I pick you up at six on Saturday?"

"That'd be wonderful." The glow was back; she could feel it radiating off her face in waves.

Chance took her face between his hands, tilting it up carefully. His hazel eyes were warm. "Don't

get engaged in the meantime. Promise?"

"Promise," she breathed.

He bent and placed his mouth lightly over hers. Her eyes dosed and she swayed against him,

feeling again that tremendous rush of heat. Her hands splayed across his chest. His lips stroked

hers languidly, while his long fingers cradled her skull as if it were fine china.

After a long, pulsing moment he pulled back from her trembling lips. She wore the expression of

a young woman dreaming.

"I'd better go," he said hoarsely. "See you soon, sugar."

He had already left the sun-room before she could get her eyes unglued. Dazed she stared around

her, heard Tim in the distance whooping with joy, and she dragged out a chair to sit down with a

bump.

Sugar. Her lips curved softly. He'd called her sugar.

CHAPTER FIVE

Mary had to go to work on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. Her morning at the emergency room was

filled with a patient allergic to bee stings who had gone 'into anaphylactic shock, a woman who

had spilled boiling water on her hand, a boy who had stepped on a fish hook, and an elderly man

suffering from sunstroke.

She was preoccupied during the few moments she had to herself with the memory of Chance

from the day before. He had seemed so sincere, so genuine, that all her defences had come down.

Still, caution troubled her. Was he what he claimed to be, or was there some truth after all to

what Victor had said about him? And what about Victor-had he been looking out for her best

interests, or had he been prompted to say what he did out of jealousy?

Now that she had come to know him a little better, her instinct was to trust Chance, but still she

knew almost nothing about him, and what she did know was only what she'd heard from him.

Victor, on the other hand, was someone she'd known for more than two years, and she'd grown to

trust his advice.

Where was the truth? She didn't know, and she knew she couldn't begin to sort it out on her own.

That was one of the reasons why she found herself calling Cassie at lunchtime. The other woman

was delighted to hear from her, and they arranged to meet for brunch the next day at Cassie's

place before Mary had to be back at work. She hung up after the conversation, pleased to have

something to look forward to the next day.

Her feet had begun to hurt by two, and she was bogged down in the frenetic monotony of another

endless day when Victor arrived at work. He came up beside her at the nurses' station when she

was busy making notes on her latest patient. He put a hand on her back and smiled down at her

warmly.

"Hi, .Mary. How's your day gone?"

She straightened her shoulders with a sigh, pushed back her tawny bangs, and returned his smile.

He looked sleek and fresh, but then he always managed to look classy, where as she felt grubby

and worn. "Oh, not bad, comparatively speaking. Mostly minor injuries so far today. You look

nice. Have you had a good morning?"

"Yes, I played a few sets of tennis with Greg Aldrich. His wife says hello. They wanted to know

when you and I could play doubles with them." He grimaced, still smiling. "I told them we'd let

them know."

Mary withstood the temptation to make a face, as well. Victor was like a swan on the tennis

court, a real pleasure to watch, whereas she was a fuzzy duckling, flapping and squawking after

the balls with little hope of sending them where they were supposed to go.

She wondered if Chance played tennis. It somehow didn't seem like his type of game. What

would he play for fun-pool?

That reminded her; she looked around quickly, but the E.R. was quiet. A woman was talking to

Sandy at the front desk, and Julie was nearby making coffee.

She lowered her voice. "By the way, about dinner on Saturday-I'm not going to be able to make

it."

Victor frowned, his good humor fading. "Why not-what's happened?"

"Oh, something's come up, that's all." She bent her tell tale face back over her notes and frowned

thoughtfully. She really hoped he wouldn't press for details, because she didn't know what she

would say.

She was such a bad liar and knew it, and the truth right now would only start a conversation she

didn't want to be having in front of Julie, or anybody else for that matter. Silently she urged him

to shrug his shoulders and get on with other things.

"Something's come up? But I wanted to-" He bit back whatever he was going to say, looked

around, as well, and took her by the arm. "Come on, let's go to the doctors' lounge."

"Oh, but. .." Julie was watching them, bright-eyed with curiosity. Mary threw up her hands and

went with Victor.

The comfortable, utilitarian lounge was empty. Mary wandered to the other end of the room as

Victor closed the door and turned to her. He walked over slowly, smiling again, his dark eyes

liquid.

He took her hands, rubbing his thumbs lightly across her palms. "Mary," he said tenderly, "I was

going to ask you on Saturday, but if you can't make it, I'll just have to ask now."

She stared at his hands, at his face. Oh, Lord, she thought nervously, what now? He'd never acted

like this at the hospital, and someone could walk in on them at any moment. "Victor, maybe we

ought to have this-whatever this is-this conversation some other time, don't you think?"

"But our schedules' are so busy, and I can't wait until next week." He raised her hands and

pressed his lips against her fingers. "I think it's time we considered getting engaged."

BOOK: i b55e8bbed6ed0c22
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