“What are you going to do?”

Maryanne didn’t know yet. “Find a temporary job, I suppose. What about you?” By then, she should have sold a few of the articles she’d submitted. At least she hadn’t been rejected yet. She should be hearing any time.

“I’m not that worried about taking a month or so off work,” Barbara returned, her look thoughtful. “I could use a vacation, especially over the holidays. I was thinking of staying home and baking Christmas gifts this year. My fudge is out of this world.”

“I suppose I should start looking for another job now.” Maryanne was already worried about meeting expenses. Mom’s Place couldn’t have chosen a worse time to close.

A half hour later, she was waiting for the bus, her mind spinning with what Barbara had said. The diner’s closing was a concern, but Barbara’s comments about Nolan gladdened Maryanne’s heart.

Nolan did feel something for her, something more powerful than he’d let on.

She supposed she should confront him with it, force him to acknowledge his feelings. A brief smile crossed her lips as she envisioned what would happen if she actually did such a thing. She nearly laughed out loud at the thought.

Nolan would deny it, of course, loudly and vehemently, and she’d have to counteract with a loud argument of her own. The smile appeared again. Her decision was made.

Feeling almost light-headed, Maryanne glanced down the street, eager for the bus to arrive so she could get home. The first thing she intended to do was march into Nolan’s apartment and demand the truth. If he tried to ignore her, as he usually did, then she had the perfect solution.

She’d kiss him.

A kiss would silence his protests in the most effective way she could imagine. Maryanne almost melted at the memory of being kissed by Nolan, being held in his arms. It was like walking through the gates of an undiscovered paradise. Just remembering those moments made her feel faint with desire, weak with excitement. He seemed to experience the same emotions, Maryanne remembered hopefully.

Cheered by the thought, she nearly applauded when her bus arrived. The ride passed quickly and she hurried into the building, eager to see Nolan.

Consumed by her sense of purpose, she went directly to his apartment. She stood in front of his door, took several deep breaths, then knocked politely. No answer. She tried again, harder this time.

“Who is it?” Nolan growled from the other side.

“Maryanne. I want to talk to you.”

“I’m busy.”

She was only a little discouraged by his unfriendliness. “This’ll just take a minute.”

The door was yanked opened with excessive force. Nolan stood before her, dressed in a black tuxedo and white cummerbund, looking so handsome that he caught her completely by surprise. Her mouth sagged open.

“Yes?” he asked crossly.

“Hello, Nolan,” she said, aware that her mission had been thwarted. Nothing he could’ve said or done would have affected her as profoundly as finding him dressed like this. Because it meant he was going out on a date.

“Hello,” he said, tugging at the cuffs of his jacket, adjusting the fit. He frowned, apparently waiting for her to say something.

“Uh…” She tried to gather her scattered composure, and finally managed to squeak, “You’re going out?”

He scowled. “I don’t dress like this for a jaunt to the corner store.”

“No, I don’t suppose you do.”

“You wanted something?”

She’d been so confident, so sure she was doing the right thing. But now, seeing Nolan looking more dressed up and formal than he’d ever looked for her, she found herself speechless.

She couldn’t help wondering where he was going—and with whom. The “with whom” part bothered her the most.

He glanced pointedly at his wristwatch. “How long is this going to take?” he asked coolly. “I’m supposed to pick up Prudence in fifteen minutes.”

“Prudence?” His face, tight with impatience, drew her full attention. Prudence, her mind repeated. Who was this woman?

Then in a flash, Maryanne knew. It was all she could do not to laugh and inform him that his little plan just wasn’t working. No imaginary date was going to make her jealous.

He wasn’t seeing anyone named Prudence. Good grief, if he had to invent a name, the least he could’ve done was come up with something a little more plausible than Prudence.

In fact, Maryanne remembered Nolan casually mentioning a week or so earlier that he’d been asked to speak at a Chamber of Commerce banquet. There had also been a notice in the paper. Who did he think he was kidding?

Of course he wanted her to believe he was dating another woman. That was supposed to discourage her, she guessed. Except that it didn’t.

“It wasn’t important…” she said, gesturing vaguely. “The radiators were giving me trouble this morning, but I’ll manage. I was planning to go out tonight myself.”

His eyes connected with hers. “Another pity party?”

“Not this time.” She considered announcing she had a hot date herself, but that would have been carrying this farce a little too far. “Barbara and I will probably go to a movie.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“I’m sure it will be.” She smiled up at him, past the square cut of his jaw to his incredibly dark eyes. “Have a good time with…Prudence,” she said with a bright knowing smile.

Holding back a laugh, she returned to her own apartment. The rat. The low-down dirty rat! He was pretending to escort some imaginary woman to a fancy affair. Oh, he’d like nothing better than for Maryanne to think he considered her a pest. But she knew that wasn’t quite the case.

Where was the man who’d rushed to her rescue when the pipes needed a little coaxing? Where was the man who’d nearly been run over on a basketball court when he saw her standing on the sidelines? Where was the man who’d tried to set her up with someone else he thought more suitable? Nolan Adams had just proved what she’d suspected all along. He was a coward—at least when it came to love.

Suddenly depressed, Maryanne slowly crossed the living room and sank on to her sofa, trying to gather her wits. Ten minutes later, she still sat there, mulling things over and feeling sorry for herself, when she heard Nolan’s door open and close. She immediately perked up, wondering if he’d had a change of heart. He seemed to pause for a moment outside her door, but any second thoughts he might be having didn’t last long.

Barbara phoned soon after, full of apologies, to cancel their movie plans, so Maryanne spent the evening drowning her sorrows in television reruns and slices of cold pizza.

She must have fallen asleep because a harsh ringing jolted her awake a couple of hours later. She leapt off the sofa and stumbled dazedly around before she realized the sound came from the phone. She rushed across the room.

A greeting had barely left her lips when her father’s booming voice assailed her.

“Where the hell are you?”

“Hello, Dad,” she muttered, her heart sinking. How like him to get to the subject at hand without anything in the way of preliminaries. “How are you, too?”

“I want to know where you’re living and I want to know right now!”

“I beg your pardon?” she asked, stalling for time. Obviously her father had discovered her small deception.

“I talked to the managing editor of the Seattle Review this morning and he told me you haven’t worked there in weeks. He said you’d quit! Now I want to know what this craziness is you’ve been feeding your mother and me about a special assignment.”

“Uh…” By now, Maryanne was awake enough to know her father wasn’t in any mood to listen to excuses.

“You lied to us, girl.”

“Not exactly…” She paused, searching for the right words. “It was more a case of omission, don’t you think?”

“You’ve had us worried sick. We’ve been trying to get hold of you all afternoon. Where were you? And who the hell is Nolan Adams?”

“Nolan Adams?” she echoed, playing dumb, which wasn’t all that difficult at the moment.

“Your mother mentioned his name, and when I called the paper, some woman named…Riverside, Carol Riverside, claimed this was his fault.”

“Dad, listen, it’s all rather complicated, so I think—”

“I don’t want excuses, I want facts. You decided to work on the other side of the country. Against my better judgment, I arranged it for you with the promise that I wouldn’t intrude—and look where it’s gotten me! To have you deceive us by—”

“Dad, please, just settle down.”

He seemed to be making an effort to calm himself, but more than likely the effort was thanks to her mother. Maryanne could hear her arguing softly in the background.

“Can I explain?” she asked, waiting a minute for the tension to ease, although she wasn’t sure what to say, what excuses she could possibly offer.

“You can try to explain, but I doubt it’ll do any good,” he answered gruffly.

Now that she had the floor, Maryanne floundered.

“I take it this all revolves around that columnist friend of yours from the Sun?” her father asked. “That Adams character?”

“Well, yes,” Maryanne admitted reluctantly. But she didn’t feel she could place the whole blame on him. “Leaving the paper was my decision—”

“Where are you living?”

That was one of several questions Maryanne was hoping to avoid. “I—I rented an apartment.”

“You were in an apartment before. It doesn’t make the least bit of sense for you to move. The Seattle has a reputation for excellence.”

“Yes, Dad, I know, but moving was necessary.” She didn’t go on to explain why. She didn’t want to mislead her father more than she already had. But at the same time, if she told him she couldn’t afford to continue living at The Seattle, he’d certainly demand to know why.

“That doesn’t explain a damn thing,” Samuel Simpson boomed.

Maryanne held the phone away from her ear and sighed heavily. She was groggy from her nap and discouraged by her relationship with Nolan. To complicate matters, she was truly in love for the first time in her life. Loving someone shouldn’t be this difficult!

“I insist you tell me what’s going on,” her father said, in the tone she remembered from childhood confrontations about missed curfews and other transgressions.

She tried again. “It’s not that easy to explain.”

“You have three seconds, young lady, to tell me why you’ve lied to your parents.”

“I apologize for that. I’ve felt horrible about it, I really have, but I didn’t want to say anything for fear you’d worry.”

“Of course we’d worry! Now tell me exactly what it is we should be worrying about.”

“Dad, honestly, I’m over twenty-one. I should be able to live and work where I please. You can’t keep me your little girl forever.” This conversation was not only reminiscent of several she’d had with Nolan, it was one she should have had with her father years ago.

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