Excerpt: Glory Girl

Glory Girl by Susan Connell

Chapter One

“My daddy’s got your poster.”

Holly Hamilton’s fingers stiffened in the sand. Only one thing mattered. Anonymity. And she’d just lost it.

In a singsong voice the little girl with the glob of zinc oxide on her nose who had materialized beside Holly’s beach towel continued, “And you still don’t got your panties on.” No matter how intensely Holly shushed the pigtailed child, high-pitched giggling accompanied by a great deal of jumping up and down continued.

Holly tugged at her swimsuit, then pushed herself up into a sitting position. Heads were already turning in their direction as she pulled the brim of her straw hat to her nose. “Does your mother know where you are?” she whispered through clenched teeth.

Oblivious to Holly’s question, the child continued loudly, “I’m gonna tell my daddy. I am. And my Uncle Scotty. He’s got your poster too. The gold one.”

Holly began struggling into her caftan, determined to put a quick end to her afternoon on the beach. She’d specifically chosen the isolated and normally less crowded Dune Island Beach over one closer to her cottage. She’d been so careful, so discreet… so stupid to venture out. Holly jerked the hood over her head and readjusted her sunglasses and hat just as the child’s mother arrived.

“Nina! Here you are. You scared me half to death.”

The mother grabbed the child by the elbow and began leading her away. “Haven’t I told you never to talk to strangers?”

“But Mommy, it’s the naked lady,” the child protested.

Holly quickly scanned the beach to see who might have overheard. The good-looking man she’d been peeking at shifted lower in his beach chair. Maybe he hadn’t heard. Maybe that smile underneath his sunglasses had nothing to do with him recognizing her. She took a shallow breath and held it. Several prickling seconds later she released it. “Maybe” wasn’t good enough.

ESCAPE blinked in Holly’s mind’s eye like a throbbing neon sign. When would this all end? It had been over a year since she’d left modeling. Over a year since she’d finally decided what she really wanted to do with her life. And now celebrity had reared its unwelcome head again! Shoving the rest of her possessions into her tote, she looked toward the path leading back to the changing pavilion. Three college-age young men singing the Morning Glory Soap jingle were heading straight toward her. My God, she thought, they’re coming at me from all directions.

“I’m telling you, Dougie. Older women. Take the Glory Girl…” one of the young men began.

Momentary silence. Then, in unison, the three young men yowled lustily.

Holly froze at the mention of the Glory Girl. Things couldn’t get any worse… unless the handsome stranger had heard, confirming his possible suspicions about who was hiding behind the dark glasses and hat. She chanced a look in his direction. He hadn’t moved one muscle of his gorgeous body, but the college trio was moving closer and getting louder. She cringed at the next remark.

“Tush. Pure and simple. Ah, what a piece! So round. So smooth and tight. So squeezable.”

“Nah. It’s that surprised look in her eyes. They say her husband took the photo without her permission, and since their divorce he’s been making a fortune from the posters. The concept is really retro. Like pure 70’s stuff. Right Sean?

“Right. Right. Not skanky. Classy.

“The man’s a genius, I mean, putting it out in three colors. Which one did you get, Ryan?

Ryan threw open his arms. “One? Out of respect for our school colors I have the red one and the blue one.

Hearing their every word, Holly’s hands tightened along the edge of her hat brim. Stuart Hamilton, ex-husband and rat, was going to pay for all this humiliation. But first she had to escape from Dune Island State Park and make it back to the Cape Shell beach house. Then she had to call her lawyer to find out if capital punishment was yet in effect in New York. Maybe murdering Stu wasn’t such a crazy idea after all. Grabbing her tote and her towel, she made a dash for the path.

* * *

Evan Jamieson dropped his head back against his chair with an exasperated sigh. “Gone,” he whispered to a perplexed-looking sea gull strutting nearby.

Probably the best body he’d ever seen had just left, and he’d never even gotten a good look at her face. In a flurry of turquoise, she’d hightailed it off the beach like a whirling dervish, her hand firmly planted on top of that damn hat! Because of it and those sunglasses he could only imagine her face.

He’d been keeping an eye—correction, both eyes—on that one-piece orange suit. Lying there at his feet… well, ten yards away anyway, playing peekaboo with him. The scenario had a vaguely familiar feel to it. Had they played this game together somewhere in his fantasies? He squirmed in his chair as he pictured her reaching to adjust the hat. A fragment of memory teased at his consciousness. Where had he seen her before? Her suit, already cut to the hip bones, rode higher still, revealing creamy white flesh above her tan line. The orange suit, the light tan on her legs, and the cream-white line at her hip… He thought of a good old-fashioned Creamsicle, and his mouth began to water. He looked past the college kids already spreading out to take her place and toward the path leading to the pavilion and the parking lot.

Evan drummed his fingers against the arms of his chair. Here he was, thinking about Creamsicles, while she was getting away. He did need a vacation! He stood up, startling the sea gull into flight as he collapsed his beach chair and threw his shirt onto his shoulder. Sprinting toward the pavilion, he remembered the words of his FAA physician, the words that convinced him to use the beach house for the month of August.

“Rest, exercise, unwind a little. Have some fun, Ev. You’re in great shape. Let’s keep it that way.” With the sand gritting beneath his feet, Evan Jamieson agreed with gusto. “Roger that, Doc.” Now, if he could catch up with her…

* * *

Leaning against the stall in the bathroom, Holly dug through the contents of her tote again. Her keys weren’t there. She swore under her breath at her carelessness. Somewhere between the beach and the pavilion she’d lost the car keys, and she couldn’t risk returning to the beach area to search for them. Not with old Dougie and his friends out there drooling over the Glory Girl.

She looked down at the thin sandals she’d dumped on the floor, slipped her feet into them, and sighed with resignation. She wasn’t looking forward to a seven-mile walk back to Cape Shell, but there was no other alternative. Calling a service station would lead to bullet-speed publicity. Calling the local cab company would probably take forever. The one person in Cape Shell who knew her situation and could help her would be up to her elbows in Italian dressing and imported salami right about now. Annie’s Deli must be in high gear with the late-afternoon crowd, and would be for quite some time.

Holly opened the stall door a crack and looked out. She couldn’t stay in here forever. Knowing she’d have to forgo the cold drinks at the crowded refreshment stand, she stealthily made her way toward the bank of water fountains. The water turned out to be low pressure and lukewarm, but she gulped it down. It was going to be a long walk back.

“A bad day at the beach is better than a good day at work,” someone had once told her. Well, she’d had quite a day at the beach so far. She’d managed to delight one very loud child, send three young males into rut, and humiliate herself in front of him. And now she was preparing to walk seven hot, dusty miles in the thinnest sandals she owned. She began lifting her head from the fountain, ready to laugh at the absurdity of her situation. Halfway up she heard someone humming the Morning Glory Soap jingle. She stopped suddenly, not daring to lift her head a fraction of an inch more. One of the young men from the beach—Dougie—had entered the pavilion.

Without hesitating, Holly turned from the sound and ran smack into a very broad, very masculine set of pectorals. A beach chair, the tote bag, and Holly’s sunglasses clattered to the cement floor. Quickly followed by an ice-cream bar still in its wrapper.

Glancing nervously over her shoulder, Holly knelt down and fished her glasses from the pile. She pushed them on. “I apologize, I really do,” she whispered to the pair of feet before her. Darting glances over her shoulder, she managed to pick up the dropped items and shove them into a large pair of hands. This day at the beach was turning into a nightmare. She reached for the ice-cream bar, noting almost unconsciously that it was a Creamsicle.

“Excuse me? Are you okay?” The voice was deep and steady, sending a slight shock wave of feminine awareness through her. “Are you in some kind of trouble?”

“What? No, no, of course not.” Holly tugged at her hat brim, bringing it close to one cheek. “Here.” She dropped the paper-wrapped ice cream into his hand and froze. It couldn’t be. Not the stranger across the beach with the shoulders to kill for and a smile that… She let go of her hat brim and stared up at him.

“I thought I recognized you from—” he began as she stood.

“No,” she began firmly before he could say it. “I’m not who you think I am. You’re wrong.” And, as an afterthought, “I’m sorry.”

She scurried past the refreshment stand, then out through the closest exit before realizing she was exiting south and away from Cape Shell. With sand hitting the backs of her legs, she hurried along the south wall. Someone was following her. Breaking into a run, she rounded the corner of the cinder-block structure and skidded on macadam. A steadying hand closed around her wrist, saving her from a fall.

“Excuse me?”

There it was again. That voice that sent shivers to the pit of her stomach. Holly’s shoulders sagged. Please God, don’t let him be a reporter, she prayed. She turned warily around to face him. “Yes?”

He handed her the tote she had tossed into his hands moments before. “Thanks anyway, but I really think you want this back.”

“My bag!” She took it with both hands and clutched it to her chest. Her address book, her cell phone, her credit cards, her driver’s license… her name. “Thank you.”

“By the way, you’re getting quite a sunburn on that nose, and I do recognize you from the beach today.” He tore the bottom out of the ice-cream wrapper. “If I’m not mistaken,” he said, knowing full well he wasn’t, “there’s an orange bathing suit underneath your, uh…” He pointed with the dripping ice cream.

Before Holly could say “caftan,” he’d pulled the ice cream from its wrapper and bit off a good-size chunk. She watched his cheeks hollow in and his lips purse as he sucked on the mouthful. She wasn’t sure how he managed it, but he looked damn sexy eating a dripping Creamsicle.

“That was me on the beach,” she mumbled as he took another huge bite. He didn’t act like any reporter she’d ever met. Reporters tended to hold microphones, not ice cream, and their shouted questions came swiftly and with barbs.

The stranger’s lips remained brazenly pursed for the longest time. He nodded finally, then walked past her. Was it possible? she wondered, turning to watch him. Hadn’t he recognized the Glory Girl?

A short distance away he was busy opening the trunk of his Mercedes. Tossing in his beach chair, he pulled out a pair of brown leather boating shoes. Looking in her direction and smiling, he tilted his head to a questioning angle. Ah, here it comes, she thought, the polite request for an autograph. She waited. But the request didn’t come.

She watched him closely and wondered vaguely if he was staring back while his tongue lavished attention on the dripping ice cream. With a thoroughness that sent quivers through her body, he thrust all but the end of the stick into his mouth, then slowly drew it out. Then he did it again. As his tongue slipped under the remaining lump, she flicked her tongue over her lips. And when he finally stroked off the last bit of cream with the tip of his tongue, she swallowed hard.

His lips glistened as he spoke. “Thought I had a meltdown going there for a moment.”

Meltdown? She hadn’t watched a man’s mouth do anything like that since… come to think of it, in all her twenty-eight years she’d never seen anyone do that before. She blinked. The sun had become unbearably hot on her skin, making her temples ache. Yes, that was it. The sun was to blame for the crazy pictures in her mind and the resulting sensations pulsating through her body. Recapturing her composure, she forced a shrug. “Gotta watch those meltdowns,” she offered with an airy innocence she didn’t feel.

He moved his head to one side again. “Are you sure everything’s okay?”

He didn’t recognize her. For a moment relief washed over her, and then the oddest thing happened. A slight but definite feeling of disappointment seeped in. She was dumbfounded at her own reaction, because disappointment was the last thing she should be feeling after all she’d gone through to protect her identity. “I lost my car keys.”

“Hmmm.” He dropped his shoes to the pavement and stepped into them. “Where do you think you lost them?”

“Probably the beach. I only realized I’d lost them a moment before I ran into you at the fountain,” she said, remembering how she’d bolted from him in the pavilion.

“Right,” he agreed with an understanding nod. “Why don’t you look in the pavilion, and I’ll check back on the beach? By the way, what do they look like?”

Holly toyed with the side of her sunglasses as feelings of anxiousness started again. If he wasn’t a reporter, why was he offering to help her? He didn’t even know her. She winced. She was so tired of suspicion and mistrust. Where would it all end?

The stranger stepped closer, offering her his hand. “I’m sorry. I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Evan Jamieson. And you are…?”

“H-Hilary Smith,” she lied, allowing him to take her hand.

Ordinarily, she made a point of looking into the eyes of the person she was shaking hands with, but Evan Jamieson was still wearing his sunglasses. She found her stare fixated on the chiseled planes of his mouth and the slight sheen left there by the ice cream. His grip was strong, yet gentle, and he held her hand a few seconds longer than necessary. Holly’s heart thumped with a combination of excitement and fear. Who was Evan Jamieson, and why was shaking hands with him so extraordinarily… intimate? A few grains of sand were trapped between their fingers, heightening further her tactile awareness of him. She quickly pulled her hand from his and took a step backward.

“My keys? Oh, yes, they’re on a bamboo ring with a little plastic lemon hanging from it.”

He shrugged into his shirt. “Ten minutes?”

Rubbing her palms together, she felt the grains of sand, and it was as if he was touching her again. She nodded, and only then did he turn to go. Madras button downs never looked so good, she decided, watching him break into a trot across the parking lot. When he disappeared behind the dune, she dashed off to the bathroom to hide until he returned.

Ten minutes later Holly was back by his car watching him cross the parking lot.

“Have any luck in the pavilion?”

She took a step away from the car and shook her head guiltily. He’d been out on that hot sand searching for her keys while she’d been hiding in a cool, shadowy building. “No, but Mr. Jamieson, thank you so much for looking. I really appreciate it.”

He held up his hand. “Evan, please. What are you going to do now?”

She shrugged. “Start walking.”

He pulled back in mock horror. “You weren’t. Not in those,” he said, pointing to her sandals.

Holly looked down and wriggled her toes. The sandals’ thin straps and delicate beading didn’t appear sturdy enough to cross a carpeted living room, let alone a designated wilderness area.

She grinned sheepishly. “Afraid so.”

He shook his head. “You won’t last a mile in those things. Why don’t you let me drive you back?” He watched her hesitate. Nice to know she’s cautious, he thought, but that wasn’t helping either of them at the moment. He unlocked the passenger door. “Your mother was right most of the time.”

She backed away. “About what?”

“About not taking rides from strangers.” He watched as she looked him over once again. “For what it’s worth, you’ll be perfectly safe with me.”

Common sense fought with feminine instinct. He’d been more than generous with his time, and he did appear to be sincere. And well balanced. She laughed softly at the last thought. Living in New York City as long as she had, she’d developed a sixth sense about people. Evan Jamieson felt safe. Any lingering uneasiness was natural, considering her present circumstances. “Well, if you promise never to tell my mother…” she began teasingly.

“If you promise never to tell mine,” he said, pulling open the door.

The interior was stiflingly hot, but Holly let out a grateful sigh once she was inside. She’d been lingering in a public place much too long. The sooner she disappeared from view, the better. Holly smiled at Evan, then reached out and pulled the door shut.

Evan walked around his car, lifted the trunk, and then shut it before he opened his door and slid into the driver’s seat. “Sorry I took so long,” he said as he placed his paper on the dashboard, started the car, and turned on the air conditioner. “You’re in a hurry, I take it?”

Holly removed her hat and wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “Me? In a hurry? What makes you ask that?”

Evan shrugged as a quirky smile tugged at his mouth.

She allowed him to take her hat and toss it on the backseat. His right arm came to rest on the back of her seat, and for a moment he said nothing. Then he lifted his sunglasses to the top of his head, and Holly found herself staring into a pair of deep-blue eyes shining with intelligence, wit, and questions.

“My windows are tinted, so you can take off your sunglasses.”

She started to remove them, then hastily slipped them back on. Her glasses were the last barrier to Evan’s full-face view of the Glory Girl. Sooner or later he’d find out the truth, but right now later seemed so much better. “They’re prescription.”

“But how will I ever see the color of your eyes?” he asked with feigned innocence.

“They’re green,” she explained with businesslike efficiency as she adjusted her seat belt. When she turned back to him, she saw his eyes narrowing to skeptical slits. If she wasn’t careful, she’d arouse his suspicion. She smiled calmly. “Really, they’re light green. My dad says they look like anemic shamrocks.”

“You’re a very mysterious lady, Miss Hilary Smith. Tell me more about yourself. Like what you do when you’re not dealing with traumatic childhood events like that?”

She would have loved to explain her father’s sense of humor, but she hardly knew Evan. She also wanted to scold him for treating the subject of childhood trauma so lightly, though somehow she knew he was the kind of person who wouldn’t. “I’m a travel writer,” she lied. “I, uh, freelance. How about you?”

“Aircraft management. Corporate and private. And I occasionally pilot a plane myself.”

Tucking her legs under her, she turned toward him. “Isn’t that the kind of business where you fly the rich and famous around?”

“The rich and occasionally famous.”

Holly nodded. The thing to do now was to keep the conversation away from her. Besides, his job did sound interesting. “Well, where do you fly?”

“All over. I’ve been in South America for the last four months. Mostly Peru.” The air conditioner had finally blown most of the hot air from the car, and he pulled his door shut. “It’s good to be back.” He shifted into drive then turned to her with a thoughtful smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hilary.”

No one had ever smiled at her in quite the way he was smiling now. Or, if anyone had, she’d never before experienced such an immediate and intensely visceral response. There was a challenge in the depths of his eyes, and it seemed to say “If you’ll allow it, we’re going to have a wonderful time.” His sensual energy continued rippling through her like a fresh breeze across a desert, eroding her doubt. She relaxed against the seat, almost giddy with the knowledge that she remained incognito.

“It’s a pleasure meeting you, too, Evan. Thanks again for looking for my car keys and for offering to drive me back. I’m staying just across the bridge in Cape Shell.”

“Me too.”

“Vacation?”

Nodding, he swung his car out of the parking lot and headed toward the bridge at the north end of Dune Island State Park. “My FAA doc told me it was time to work on my tan. Maybe build a few sand castles and meet Hilary Smith.” He glanced at her. “Seriously, my doctor gets a bit cranky if I let three years go by without taking a vacation. And you?”

“Me? Just a vacation.”

Ah, Hilary Smith, he thought. What a beautiful woman. What a terrible liar. What an intriguing combination.

Anxious to change the subject, she continued quickly, “You mentioned Peru before. Were you there during the earthquake?”

“Yes.” He glanced across the car’s interior and caught her checking the rearview mirror. She was still skittish about accepting a ride from him. She was definitely running from something on the beach, too, and she was avoiding talking about herself. What did he have here? What was she really? A mob moll on the run? A beauty pursued by a jealous lover? Could she be hiding from a blackmailer? Well, he wouldn’t push. Patience, he told himself. Patience always paid. He decided to let her have the next words, whenever she was ready. What a looker she was. What he could see of her, that is. She wore those glasses like a piece of armor. What kind of fire-breathing dragon was threatening her anyway? Who or what would force her to walk back to town in this hellish heat? Patience, patience, he counseled himself.

Evan looked out the window to gather his thoughts. This crazy speculating wasn’t like him at all, but she could be trudging along the roadside right now, perhaps carrying a sandal or two with broken straps. The beauty of wild beach plum and other scrubby vegetation couldn’t cancel out his thoughts. She might never have made it back. She could’ve succumbed to heat prostration. Or God knows what.

“Well, aren’t you going to tell me about it?” she asked, interrupting his thoughts.

Heat prostration? Circling buzzards? “About what?”

“The earthquake. What was it like?”

“It scared the hell out of me. We were in Cuzco, and half my hotel was turned into rubble.”

“Were you hurt?”

“No, but the shoe-shine boy in the lobby broke his leg. Luckily the airport was operational. We flew him down to Lima. You know, the kid had never been in an airplane before. The ride inside a luxury jet coupled with the painkillers had him believing he was on his way to heaven.” Evan shook his head. “Makes you realize how lucky you are when something like that happens.”

Holly nodded. “What happened to him?”

“We had a call last week from my client. The boy’s healing nicely and wants to go flying again.”

Holly laughed along with Evan. “You know, that was a wonderful thing you did. Helping out like that. Children are so helpless during a disaster. I wish more people were like you.”

She was relaxing. He meant to keep her that way too. “Sounds like you have a special interest in this sort of thing.”

“I do volunteer work for Lemon Aid. It’s a disaster- relief organization.” She became more animated as she continued. “It’s children helping children on a grass-roots level. They hold car washes, walk dogs, clean out garages, stuff like that. The money they raise goes to relief efforts for other children, who are caught up in disasters.”

“No kidding. Sounds worthwhile. What exactly do you do?”

Holly sank back in her seat and dutifully retested her seat-belt buckle. This man was too easy to talk to. She’d really have to watch what she was saying. “I just help out licking stamps, stuffing envelopes. That’s all. Tell me more about your stay in Peru.”

By the time they’d driven up and parked by a small strip of stores in Cape Shell, he had her laughing about a family of timid llamas he’d happened upon in some ancient Incan ruins.

“I need a few things in here. Want to come in with me?”

She was about to say yes, but when Holly glanced out her window, reality took hold again. Too many people. Too many chances to be recognized. “That’s okay. I’ll just wait here.”

Watching him saunter into the little grocery store, she felt a wave of depression weigh down on her. What would he do if someone recognized her while they were together? She remembered the mob scene on Madison Avenue last week. What would he think if he knew about a poster of her naked backside going for twenty dollars a pop? She winced. Whoever said life was fair was probably the same jerk who promised that marriage was forever.

Evan returned a few minutes later with two paper sacks and put them on the backseat. He raised his chin in the direction of one of the sacks. “I’ve got to get to my freezer pronto. Mind if I drop this stuff at my house?”

Another few minutes with him? “I don’t mind.”

“Good. Then we’ll call a dealership to see about a replacement key.”

Holly shoved a lock of hair behind her ear and grinned. Evan’s energy filled the car, leaving little room for depressing thoughts. “You think of everything. Are you always so good at solving problems for strangers?”

Evan laughed. “Actually, that’s exactly what I do at my office—smooth out rough spots for our clients. But enough about work. This is my vacation.” He looked at one of the plastic sacks. “There’s a present for you in that one.”

“Me?” she peered in and laughed. Lifting out the plastic tube, she read the front of it. “Zinc Oxide. You didn’t have to buy me this.”

“Nonsense. Someone had to. That nose is bright enough to put Rudolph out of work.”

During her modeling days she’d used enough sun block to stock a chain of pharmacies. Today she’d forgotten to use any. Holly jerked down the windshield visor and leaned in toward the mirror attached to it. Groaning, she slapped the visor back into place. Because he’d leaned in to look, too, their faces were inches away from each other.

“I thought my hat was taking care… of… that problem.”

“Is that right?” His voice was husky as he leaned a fraction of an inch closer. “Back there on the beach you kept readjusting that hat every time you looked my way.”

Holly felt her mouth go dry. “I didn’t know you…”

“Were looking back? I couldn’t take my eyes off you.” Evan reached to remove her sunglasses when someone began pounding on his window.

“Hey, buddy. Take her home and kiss her. I need this parking space for my deliveries.”

Evan turned around to see a huge, grinning face, framed by two cupped hands, pressed against his side window.

A soft sibilant curse broke from Evan’s lips, but he gave the man a smile and partial salute.

Shielding her face with one hand, Holly sank low in her seat. This was not that bad, she told herself. Certainly not as bad as that one reporter, Dennis Cracci, following her into the ladies’ room with a microphone. All the same, she found herself crouching lower.

She watched Evan look into his side mirror and shift gears. With good-natured restraint he looked over his shoulder and commented, “I don’t think I want to cross the Hulk. His truck looks pretty big.”

“No,” Holly agreed. “You don’t want to cross the Hulk.” That’s all she needed, involvement in an altercation with a burly truck driver and a gorgeous man like Evan. Wouldn’t the press just love it!

She kept her head down as they drove along the crowded street. In a surprisingly short time Evan was reaching for the remote-control garage-door opener on the console. “We’re home. And I can’t wait to hear why you’re practically wedged under my dashboard.”

She sat up and looked out the window. The paved drive to the three-story house was remarkably familiar, as was the six-foot privacy fence surrounding it. Her mouth fell open in genuine surprise. “Is this a joke? I mean, you’ve got to be kidding.”

Evan drove inside the garage and aimed the control over his shoulder. “Hilary, you’re evading the issue.” The door clamored shut. “Do you usually ride in the fetal position, or is it my driving?”

“Evan,” she began, ignoring his question, “I’m in the house directly behind this one. Right behind you. The little house,” she added, as if he hadn’t heard her.

“Annie rented that out, did she?” His eyebrows moved closer together and then, suddenly, apart. An easy grin slid across his face. “This is going to be a very interesting vacation.”

Holly smiled warily and shook her head. “Wait a minute. This is too much of a coincidence.” But she’d known Annie since junior high, and Annie wouldn’t do anything to screw things up for her. “It’s just… Evan, this is—”

That slow, sure smile was lighting his face again. “I think, Hilary, they call it kismet,” he offered, reaching for the sacks of groceries. The devastating smile never quit. “What do you think?”

Kismet? She felt as if she’d been clinging to a rope and was suddenly asked to let go of it. To trust. She looked at the tube of zinc oxide still clutched in her hand, and then she looked at him. She should leave right now. She should say thank you very much, but no thank you, and be on her way. She really should. The silly yet practical gift had touched her, and so did the honesty she found in his eyes. Trust him? Maybe, just a little, for a while, she could. “Maybe.”

“Maybe,” he repeated, winking. “Then gather up your things and come on in.”

She did, following him from the garage and into a spacious kitchen-dining room area. She stared up at the skylight and landing above the dining room. “This place is wonderful. You must have a very large family.” She turned to face him. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but these days that was not necessarily a sign of bachelorhood.

He’d gone directly to the refrigerator and was stuffing the first sack into the freezer section. “Before you have to ask, the answer is no. I’m not married. This friendly old monster of a house is a hand-me-down from my folks. They moved to Florida three years ago.”

A smile played on Evan’s lips. He shut the freezer compartment, then shoved the second bag into the refrigerator.

Holly nodded solemnly, trying hard not to return his smile. She cleared her throat. “Do you always store your groceries like that?”

He shut the refrigerator door, then took her by the hand and drew her toward the wide central staircase. “Always when Hilary Smith comes to visit and remarks that my beach house is wonderful. Come on, I’ll show you where I jumped off the landing using Uncle George’s umbrella as my parachute. I was six at the time and watching too many cartoons.”

Laughing, she allowed him to draw her up the stairs, then across the landing. Evan slapped the railing.

“This is where I began my career in aviation. Of course, my landings have shaped up considerably since then.”

“Evan, you could have broken your neck.”

“My leg, actually.” Taking her hand he led her into a wide hallway. “I spent July and part of August of that year in here,” he continued, pushing open the first door on the left. She hesitated. “Come on. You don’t want to miss this point of interest on the tour. I promise, it’s better than anything at Graceland or the White House.”

She followed him into the shadowed room. There was shared amusement in his eyes as he leaned her back against the wall. “This,” he said smiling, “is a bedroom wall I hoped never to have to look at again.”

Evan Jamieson studied the beauty before him. He reached up, took off her sunglasses, and dropped them to the carpet. It was too dark to see the color of her eyes, but they sparkled in the thin light coming in through the shuttered windows. He reached to touch her hair, which cascaded to her shoulders in silky waves of golden red. And her face… well, if she wasn’t a model, she ought to be, he thought. Desire soared through him with the shocking speed of unsuspected wind shear. He forced his voice to remain casual, but he was fast losing that battle. “The Hulk said to take you home and kiss you.”

Feeling recklessly happy, she reached up and placed her hands against his chest. She didn’t want to think about the fear and uncertainties presently ruling her life. She only wanted this moment with this man and the feeling he stirred inside her. As wonderful and as real a feeling as she’d ever known. “Well, we don’t want to cross the Hulk,” she said, feigning surrender to a shared conspiracy, “because his truck is pretty big.”

“Screw his truck,” Evan whispered, twisting his head to lower it to hers. “I just want to kiss you.”

His lips were warm as they brushed hers. Her eyelids fluttered closed, but not before she saw what hung on the opposite wall. “Oh my God!” Holly thumped him hard on both shoulders. “How could you!” She shoved him away with tightened fists.

“Ouch! What?”

Pointing across the room to the framed poster on the opposite wall, she growled her frustration. Then, with her voice spilling over with hurt and accusation, she spoke. “You knew.” She lowered her head, bouncing both her fists on her thighs as she did so. “You knew from the first moment you saw me, didn’t you?”

“Knew what?” Evan looked genuinely confused.

“That I’m the Glory Girl.”


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