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Authors: Barbara Samuel,Ruth Wind

Tags: #FICTION / Romance / Contemporary, #FICTION / Contemporary Women, #FICTION / Romance / General

Light of Day (36 page)

BOOK: Light of Day
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She jerked awake. “Joleen!” she cried out, remembering. Her sudden movement sent her sprawling a foot or two to the floor, and started strange ripples of dizziness through her head. Too confused to get up, she covered her face with her hand and tried to gather the various instructions for her body parts to move her to a standing position.

But then there was someone nearby, talking in a deep, lilting voice, and gentle hands moved on her upper arms. She lifted her head.

Malaria often twisted her vision, so it was no surprise to see the shimmering lights around the face that was so close to hers. Nor was she surprised to find the face itself almost dreamlike in its perfection. It was the sort of face Winona’s fevers were inclined to produce—dark, dominated by cleanly cut cheekbones and beautiful, cocoa-colored eyes with light deep within them. Long, long hair, the color of pecans, fell over his shoulder as he tried to help her up. A lock of hair touched her mouth and she dizzily lifted a hand to it, unsure whether she was dreaming. The hair was cool and coarse and heavy, a vividly sensual impression.

He was
real
.

Terror jumped in her chest. “Joleen!” She had meant to cry out the word, but it came from her throat as a croak.

“Joleen is fine,” he said. “She’s okay. Rest now.”

Winona nodded heavily, and had to close her eyes against the shivery arcs of light. Somehow she found herself again lying down. Gentle hands—his hands?—settled a blanket over her. She thought she felt a lingering hand against her ear, but couldn’t be sure.

The fever carried her away.

* * *

“Was that my sister?” Joleen asked, coming into the room.

Daniel straightened, nodding. “She wasn’t really awake.”

“It’s good she woke up a little, though.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah.”

The kid still wore her baseball cap and the painfully ugly glasses. She carried her milk with her into the room, obviously feeling more comfortable as she wandered over by his computer desk.

“You like computers?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I guess. I’ve never seen one this fancy, though.”

“It’s what I do for a living.”

“Make computers?”

“Software.” He was actually supposed to be working now. A major project was due in two weeks, and he was a long way from finished. “Maybe I’ll let you mess around on it in the morning if you want.”

“That’s okay.” She moved away carefully, her face blank. “I know adults have to use them to work.”

He frowned. “Do your parents use computers for work?”

The tiniest flicker of something crossed her schooled face.

“Nope. They died.” As if she’d said no more than she lived in Ohio, she wandered toward the bookshelves. “You have any reading books?”

Daniel grinned. “Reading books?” He picked up the comb he’d been using when Winona had scared him with her shout. A faint, sensual memory of her fingers twining in his loose hair flashed over his vision. Firmly he rewove his braid and fastened it.

“You know, like novels,” Joleen said, tilting her head to read titles.

“Some.” He stood and pointed out the various sections of the bookshelves. They were organized according to the Dewey decimal system. He hadn’t gone quite so far as to put numbers on the volumes, but only because he’d lacked the time for all his projects. “Fiction is over here. It’s alphabetized, so if you take a book, please put it back where you found it.”

The girl paused, looking up at him with a startled expression. “You alphabetize your books?” she asked, biting her lip. “All of them?”

He gave her a rueful smile. “Yep. I hate not knowing where something is.”

“Oh, so do I,” she said fervently.

It was the first real emotion he’d heard from her.

“I used to have all my drawers at home labeled.”

“Is that right?” He smiled. “I guess I don’t have to worry about you messing up my system, then, do I?”

“No, Mr. Lynch.”

He shifted. “Listen, Joleen, I have to work tonight. You can read anything up there, and I also have a bunch of movies in the basement.”

“Movies?” She brightened. “You have movies?”

“Bunch of ‘em.” Television reception at the ranch, unless you had a satellite dish, was next to nothing. “Nothing fancy, but it’s a pretty good TV and VCR. You know how to work a VCR?”

She nodded.

“All right, then. I’ll get you some blankets and you can sleep down there. If you get hungry, you don’t have to ask me—just go into the kitchen and get something. I kind of forget things when I’m working.”

“I understand.”

Something about her fragile maturity tugged at him. This was a child who’d been too much on her own. “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

“No, thank you,” she said, her blank expression firmly in place. “How do I get downstairs?”

Daniel showed her the door to the basement and flipped on the light, then watched her go down. “Remember,” he said, “you want anything, just come get it. There’s Kool-Aid and fruit and chips. Just help yourself.”

“Thank you,” she said politely from the bottom of the stairs. “I’m fine.”

Daniel nodded. But she wasn’t fine. He could see that easily enough. Poor little waif.

Back in the living room, his gaze fell on the snapshot he’d framed from Luke and Jessie’s wedding. Luke, Jessie and Giselle, a family at last. It reminded him forcefully just why he couldn’t afford to let his emotions get caught up in the needs of lost little Joleen.

His heart had been shredded quite enough for one lifetime.

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BOOK: Light of Day
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