Wife On His Doorstep
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It was too late to change her mind, though, she decided after another peek at John’s profile. He yawned into his hand and rubbed his temple, and she sat back, prepared to take on Uncle Adrian.
“It’s the pink one,” Megan said, gesturing to the humble little house right before she caught sight of the gray car pulling into the narrow driveway. Red taillights flicked off as she watched, and the driver’s door opened. Robert dashed between the car and the house.
“Don’t stop,” she snapped. “Don’t stop!”
“I should have known. Robert isn’t the kind of man to sit by the telephone while another person affects his fate, especially me. He’ll keep checking everywhere he thinks I might go until he finds me.”
The captain kept driving. “How did he get here before us?”
“I took all that time blubbering,” she mumbled.
Half a mile down the road, John pulled the truck to the curb, turned off the ignition and once again stared at her.
“You can’t avoid your family forever,” he said softly, his voice comforting now, warm and easy, all hint of sarcasm gone.
“I can try.”
“Sooner or later, you’re going to have to face them.”
“Listen, John,” she said boldly. “Sooner or later I will face them. Sooner or later, I’ll tell them all to back off and leave me alone. I’ll rebuild my life, hold my chin up high and be a role model for women everywhere. But why do I have to do it tonight? Why can’t I have just one night to sort out my thoughts and get my life back in order? Is that so much to ask?”
“I suppose not,” he admitted. With a flick, he turned on the interior lights. She saw him glance at his watch.
“What time is it?”
“Oh, brother, no wonder I feel like a sack of cement. I’m so sorry—”
Smothering another yawn with his fist, he waved her apologies aside. “Megan, I’ll be frank with you. I have to get up and drive back down to the pier at six o’clock tomorrow morning because there’s a guy coming to service the navigation equipment, then I have to marry two couples, which is an ordeal for me even when I’m well rested. I live twenty minutes from here. I have a guest house. Why don’t you come to my place, spend the night with the door firmly locked and all the privacy you could possibly want, and tomorrow I’ll drive you anywhere you desire. How about it?”
No getting around it, his plan had appeal. For one thing, she didn’t have the nerve to ask him to drive her back into town where she might bunk with a girlfriend. Besides, Robert would never dream to look for her at this man’s house and she really did need a little time to get her head on straight. She snuck a peek at John Vermont and found his expression had changed from earnest to alarmed and she wondered what she’d done to warrant it. Too tired to worry about his feelings when her own were such a quagmire, she said, “Thanks. I’ll take you up on your offer.”
He nodded. He didn’t look the least bit pleased.Megan added, “I’ll call my mom from your house so she won’t call out the national guard.”
“The car phone is right in front of you. Help yourself,” he said.
Megan picked up the phone and made the call. She was evasive about where she was and with whom and promised to call again tomorrow.
Tomorrow. How could a word that promised distance suddenly loom so prominently on the horizon?
Twenty minutes later John opened the door of his house and ushered Megan Morison inside. He was immediately set upon by his yellow Lab, Lily, who licked his hand, wagged her tail, cast Megan a wary look and shot into the night.
John saw Megan’s gaze drift from the tile floors to the loft area above. When she lowered her eyes and looked into the main room, he knew she took in the wall of windows that faced the river, though it was so dark and wet now that the beauty outside was invisible.
“Obviously a man’s place,” she said as she looked around. “Is there a Mrs. Vermont?”
“There was. There isn’t anymore.”
“Don’t be. I’m even worse in the marriage department than you are.”
This comment made her eyes glisten. John mentally kicked himself for once again inserting his foot into his mouth as he crossed the room and opened one of the large sliding-glass doors. Lily wandered in, beaded raindrops on her yellow coat. She spared Megan another speculative glance, then moseyed over to the woven rug that sat in front of the huge stone fireplace.
Why had he brought her here? From the moment the offer had left his lips, he’d known it was a mistake. It was just that for a second he’d been overcome by a protective streak he couldn’t explain, one he didn’t even like. Rescuing women was a fool’s errand—he’d done it once with Betsy and he wasn’t going to do it again. He glanced back at Megan and the memory of holding her swamped him, the soft, yielding quality of her body, the smell of her hair. She was so beautiful. Was that it?
“This room is huge,” she said, taking a step toward him.
“I like my space,” he said with a little too much emphasis on the second and last words.
She nodded curtly as though the message he had inadvertently delivered was received and noted. Then she smiled at him, bit her bottom lip and bowed her head, staring down at the floor. It was a cunning gesture that told him very clearly she was sensing his unease and found it amusing.
Egads, he realized with a start. It wasn’t just her current vulnerability that attracted him. It wasn’t just her big blue eyes or her body, either. Those things were distractions, sure, but distractions that were relatively easy to dismiss. After all, there were lots of pretty and needy women in the world.
What Megan possessed was far more dangerous. There was a light in her eyes, a directness about her he found compelling, a sense of play and wonder that surfaced even when she was distressed. And there was that tenacious streak he’d witnessed, too. If it wasn’t such a clich?, he’d be damned tempted to say the woman had spunk!
She had moved toward the sofa and was standing beside Lily. The two eyed each other with mutual distrust. Megan said, “I don’t think your dog likes me.”
“She’s never been overly fond of women.”
“The jealous type, huh?”
Megan hugged herself as though she was cold. “You really love your animals, don’t you?”
He made himself stop looking at her, stop thinking about her. For a time after Betsy had left, he’d wondered if he’d ever want to get involved with a woman again and now he was discovering the answer was a resounding yes. But this one? She didn’t seem a very good prospect. He vowed to stop thinking about her.
He glanced at his dog and said, “Lily is family. I used to own a dozen tugboats and she was like a mascot. I can’t take her on the stern-wheeler because she has a bad habit of chasing cats and Foggy Dew has squatter’s rights.” He chanced another look at Megan and added, “Shall I start a fire? Do you want something to eat or drink?”
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