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Authors: Lisa Mondello

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Tempting Fate (8 page)

BOOK: Tempting Fate
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A scuffling noise erupted from the kitchen that sounded like scratching paws on the tile floor. He heard the familiar bark. "Oh, no," Kyle groaned as he bolted to a stand.

"Whoa! Incoming!" Zoey called from the other room.

"Kyle Preston!" Judy screamed.

As if on cue, Will dove to the center of the table and grabbed the cheesecake tray just as Max pounced into the dining room. Kyle chased the dog around the table unsuccessfully until the animal lunged on top of the table, sniffing and slobbering for tidbits. Lauren jumped from her seat and stepped away from the table, her hand to her chest.

"I got him, Ma," Kyle said to Judy when she appeared in the doorway, hands on hips and scowling. To Lauren he said, "In case you were still wondering, this is what happened on Thanksgiving."

Judy's lips were tight. "Except that time this...this..."

"Max," Kyle offered.

"This animal got away with the turkey and dragged it through my house." Her nostrils flared with anger.

Will cleared his throat and eyed Kyle in a message that said he'd better take care of Max before the woman of the house blew her lid.

"Come on, boy." Kyle clutched the dog by the chewed leash and yanked, while Max continued to sniff for leftovers on the floor. When he got to the doorway, Judy glared at him and stepped back to let them pass. Kyle shrugged and said quietly, "Sorry, Ma."

"Oh, go. I swear, Kyle Preston, you get worse as you get older. You don't have to take in every stray that wags its tail on your doorstep," he heard his mother say as the kitchen door slammed shut.

As he crossed the driveway, he saw the red taillights of a car exiting the driveway. "I hope she knows what she is doing, Max," he said to the dog. Max whined, pulling away until Kyle ground his feet in to keep standing.

He let the dog pull him to the back of the carriage house and noticed the frayed end of the leash where Max had broken free. "Looks like I'm going shopping first thing in the morning for a strong chain," he muttered to himself.

He deposited the dog in his apartment, saying a silent prayer that his home would remain in relative order while he was gone.

Pushing the kitchen door of his parents' home closed, he heard the sound of laughter spilling from the dining-room. Lauren's laughter. God, what a beautiful sound. "He was a lot of trouble? I can't imagine it." Lauren's wide eyes twinkled with delight as she watched him sink into the dining room chair.

"Don't let him fool you. Kyle wrote the book on trouble." Judy handed him a plate full of cheesecake. But given the current topic of conversation, he didn't feel much like eating. "Kyle and Chas, I should say. The two of them were notorious for getting into everything."

"Really?" Lauren stared at Kyle in disbelief. Well, he never meant to paint himself as anything other than what he was, but he didn't go broadcasting his youthful indiscretions.

"There was the time you and Chas rolled that gigantic tractor tire down Main Street and wedged it in front of the Town Hall doors. I still can't believe no one saw you two do that," Will said, shaking his head.

"Or," Judy eyed Kyle, this time with affection, "the time you two borrowed Mr. Marsh's horse and strung it up on the water tower for the whole town to see."

Lauren's eyes flew open. "You put a horse on a tower?" she gasped.

Kyle shrugged uneasily. "It was a life-size plastic horse from the dairy over on Mill Brook Road. You know the one displayed at the front gate?"

Lauren nodded. "Oh, my word. How did you get that thing up the tower?"

"He used the Romex wire from my van." Will chuckled. "I got to Mrs. McAffree's house bright and early the next morning to re-wire her house with no wire for the job. And of course, there was the time-"

Kyle cleared his throat and extended his cup. "How about some coffee, Ma?" he asked as Judy refilled Lauren's cup. She turned and filled the cup he held out to her.

"Speaking of Chas, he called earlier today when you were out," Judy said. "Seems he and Kim are coming back to Palmer. Things didn't work out like he'd planned in New Jersey so they decided to come back here before Kim has the baby."

"Really?" he answered. "That's too bad. It’ll be good to see him again, though."

"I invited him Christmas Eve. You and Kristen are welcome, too, Lauren. Unless, of course, you'll be with your family."

Lauren's spirit plummeted.

"Great idea," Kyle broke in before she could answer. "What do you say?"

"Well, I, ah..." she stammered.

"No need to decide right now. You let Kyle know. He'll be ho-hoing for the kids again this year."

Kyle half grinned. "Max can be my reindeer." "He'll be no such thing. That dog is so far from my good graces, I don't want him in my house."

Kristen and Julie ran into the room with Scotty on their tails. "He wants to shoot us!" Kristen screamed.

"Yeah! With the gun!" Julie confirmed. Then the girls giggled as they climbed into their mothers' arms.

"Scott William Preston," Will scolded as the little boy ran around the dining room table sporting a plastic gun loaded with a sponge torpedo on the end. "You know better than to scare the girls."

When Scotty ran around the table, Kyle hooked him with his arm and reeled him in, tickling him on his lap.

Lauren chuckled softly, her head still spinning from the chatter during dinner, trying to keep track of all the conversations going on at once. It was a crazy arena. Being an only child, it was something she never understood. She marveled that no one else here seemed to have any trouble keeping it all straight. But then again, it was probably second nature to them.

Watching the commotion around her, she noticed how Kristen interacted and thrived among Kyle's family. The outgoing personality and confidence her daughter displayed both filled her with pride and stabbed at her heart.

Involuntarily, she clutched her stomach and felt it tighten with the thought of how their lives could have been. If Kristen had been adopted, she would have had a family like this. She would have had Sunday dinners and maybe even sisters and brothers like Julie and Scotty. Had she been selfish to only think of what she was losing by giving Kristen up for adoption? She never once thought of what Kristen would be missing in her life. Never.

And now Kristen wanted a daddy. What else did she want that Lauren couldn't provide?

Everyone around her moved in slow motion. She looked at the faces, smiling, laughing, joking, as if she were in suspended animation. It suddenly seemed surreal.

Someone touched her shoulder and she jumped. Looking up, she peered into Kyle's smiling eyes. The lines she'd seen around his eyes earlier had smoothed. She touched his hand and felt her heart race. It wasn't just Kristen who needed something more in her life. Deep down, Lauren knew she'd gone far too long with unfulfilled need.

And Kyle Preston was just the kind of man to satisfy that need.

A short time later, Lauren thanked Judy for the lovely dinner and sent Kristen up to Julie's room to help clean up the toys.

She waited in the foyer, her wool coat draped over her arm. Kyle leaned against the doorjamb staring at her, looking through her, and making her incredibly nervous.

"What's going on in that head of yours?" he asked.

"I'm not sure I know what you're talking about." She avoided his gaze by looking at the pattern of the marble floor.

He reached forward and brushed his fingers across the hollow of her cheek. But she didn't look at him, couldn't look at him. "Yes you do," he said in a whisper.

"Am I still that predictable?"

"Anything but." The rough timbre of his voice caused her to finally look up at him. He sucked in a deep breath of air, expanding his chest against the cotton shirt he wore.

He was strong, no doubt about it. He had a strength she longed to wrap herself around, but feared like she'd never known fear before. She had the distinct feeling it wouldn't take much for her to tangle herself in his hold. He bent his head closer to hers and said, "I can't figure you out."

"I'm...not all that complicated."

He chuckled softly. "You look at me like you do, but you don't want to get involved," he said as he cupped both of her cheeks in his palms, forcing her to finally gaze up into his eyes. "That complicates things."

She closed her eyes and swallowed. The startling reality shocked her to her senses. It wasn't fear that seized her, it was desire. And damn, he knew it. "Kyle, please..."

"Look at me."

She didn't move. She heard his shallow breathing echo in her ear louder and stronger than the sounds of laughter upstairs from the children and the clanging of dishes and pans from the kitchen.

"Are you afraid of what you'll see? Of what I'll do?" he murmured when she didn't answer.

No, she thought, I'm afraid of what you'll see written all over my face.

This has to stop. She had to end it right here and now if she had any chance at all of getting away from Kyle Preston and the magnetic hold that was drawing her to him.

She shook her head and his hands fell away from her, leaving her cold. Straightening her spine, she took a stand.

"I'm sorry if I've been sending you mixed signals,'re right. I don't want to get involved. I don't intend to start something that I have no intention of finishing."

"No one is defining anything yet. We can take things as fast or as slow as you want."

"I don't want to take things at all."

"I don't understand."

"My daughter is very sensitive. She has hopes for a daddy for Christmas. I can't have men coming into Kristen’s life today, giving her false hopes that they'll be around tomorrow.”

“What makes you think I won’t be around tomorrow?”

She blinked hard. “It's not fair to her."

He looked away as if she'd slapped him. "Are you sure that it's really your daughter you're trying to protect?"

She cleared her throat. "Yes. I hope I've made my position clear."

His jaw squared as his gaze bore into her soul. "Perfectly."

# # #

Chapter Five

Monday morning turned out better than Kyle had anticipated. After getting too little sleep the night before, he downed a cup of black coffee and made a quick call to the newspaper. Three weeks of ads running in the paper and still no one had claimed ownership of Max. He swung around to the vet to give Max a checkup and make sure he had all the required shots before stopping by the house to do some work.

Inhaling a breath of clean winter air, Kyle looked out to the mountain view in the back of the property. A snowshoe rabbit poked its head out from underneath a broken pine limb before hiding again. Max darted his ears up and wiggled his nose, but couldn't find the little creature before it disappear from sight.

It had been at least a month since he'd been out to the construction site. He'd forgotten just how much he loved this place.

The only thing he didn't like about it was the idea of living here alone. He'd spent too much time bucking family members and rejecting the love that was given him, that when he finally knew it, felt it, he didn't want to give it up.

With thoughts of Lauren, he rubbed his chest where he felt an ache and gazed out at the thick blanket of smooth snow covering the ground. Except for the deer tracks he spotted out back, the whole yard was as smooth as a baby's bottom, thanks to last night’s snowfall. Reaching back, he picked up a piece of scrap wood from the barrel on the cedar deck just off the back of the house and pitched it out to the yard. Max flew from the deck and quickly clambered after it, tramping through the snow like a big floppy slipper, burying himself until he found the scrap.

Scotty and Julie always enjoyed coming out here to sled down the slope out back. Now there was a fresh coat of snow to cut through. Maybe this weekend, he mused.

Kyle let out a shrieking whistle to Max, but was not at all surprised when the dog didn't respond. He chased after the dog, rolling in the snow and getting himself wet in the process, until he got him on the new chain he'd purchased.

After pulling a few logs from the pile out back, he set a fire in the woodstove in the den. Since the house was still unoccupied, there was no sense running the heating system. He'd always used electric space heaters when he was working if it got too cold, but he couldn't use them today for what he planned to do.

He tossed his ski jacket to the kitchen counter and pushed up the sleeves of his UMass Amherst sweat shirt. Standing in the dining room, he looked long and hard at the walls on either side of the room. "Well, Preston, I hope you know what you're doing," he said to himself.

Funny how he was so sure of himself when it came to dealing with business. Put him in front of Lauren Alexander and he felt like he couldn't even recite the alphabet.

He'd been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time during his business career and take advantage of many win-win situations. After countless business deals and property renovations where the name of the game was money, he had to wonder what else was in store for his life. Money didn't keep him warm at night when he was sleeping in a cold bed. Finally being at a point in his life where he had much to share, he had no one to share all that he'd achieved with.

And then he’d met Debra three years ago. At first, everything was great. With her being the youngest of eight children, Kyle had foolishly thought that family was an important part of her life and she understood how much it meant to him. But he was wrong. What meant a lot to Debra was how much Kyle could give her. Period. Like many of the women he’d dated once he’d become successful in business, she was attracted to his checkbook. When it became glaringly obvious that she resented the time and attention he gave his family, their relationship crumbled. But not before he was deep into constructing the house Debra had wanted so much. His enthusiasm for the project plummeted soon after.

But Lauren wasn’t like that. She was fiercely independent, devoted to Kristen and...stubborn...and incredibly beautiful. Since they’d met, Kyle was beginning to think that maybe she was someone he could share his life with, too. Maybe he wouldn't be living here alone after all. The way she'd opened up to him about her parents, seeing the way she had blended right in with his family, he thought she'd finally started to lay down the shield she used to guard herself. Despite the rift that tore her family apart, Lauren didn’t seem like the kind of woman who’d reject family without a reason.

BOOK: Tempting Fate
8.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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