“You’re not cynical. You’re scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Ha.” Oh, that was an intelligent, well-thought-out response. “Why didn’t you tell me Isabel was on the phone?”
He grinned. “I didn’t want to.”
“I was having too much fun watching you get all riled up.”
Had her body language been that easy to read?
Kate made the mistake of trying to bluff her way through the awkward conversation. “Why would I get riled up?”
“You thought I was talking to a girlfriend.”
Okay, trying to bluff had been a mistake, she realized. Better not to say anything.
“You’re not denying it?”
“Would you believe me if I were?”
“Then I won’t.”
Determined to ignore him, she stared out the window and tried to be fascinated by the scenery. The tarred road they were on wound through a collage of colors. They passed an old, deserted fruit stand, and a few minutes later a black-water lake came into view.
“You know what I find real interesting?” he asked. “You keep insisting that our night together in Boston was a mistake.”
“That’s right, it was. And it cannot happen again. It was an unusual circumstance, but now that we’re back to normal—”
“This is normal?”
She had to wait for him to stop laughing before she could continue. “Apparently I need to explain my actions again.”
He groaned. “You’re not going to give me the that-was-then lecture again, are you?”
He was beginning to infuriate her. “Do I need to?”
“You seem to enjoy giving that speech,” he replied. And before she could interrupt, he added, “What I find interesting is that you don’t want me to touch you, but when you thought I was talking to a girl back home, you got all riled up. That’s a contradiction, isn’t it?”
She needed to stop being defensive and embarrassed. “You enjoy flirting,” she said. “And that’s fine with me. But you know as well as I do that a relationship with me would be a disaster. Eventually you’re going to go home, and you would feel terrible if you hurt me when you ended it, and I’d feel terrible if I hurt you by ending it, and it’s just not worth it.”
“You forgot to mention Jordan this time.”
Rattled, she said, “I what? What do you mean ‘this time’?”
“The last time you told me a relationship with you wouldn’t work, Jordan was at the top of your list of reasons.”
“I’ve said all of this before?”
That took the wind out of her sails. “Then I shouldn’t have to go through it again, should I? I value Jordan’s friendship . . . did I mention that?”
“Sure did. You also told me you didn’t want it to be awkward.”
He was sounding slightly patronizing now. “So you were listening and you do understand.”
“Yes,” he said. “And I agree. Getting involved is a bad idea.”
She knew she should be relieved that he agreed with her, and yes, she was relieved, but did he have to agree so quickly?
She wasn’t being logical. The problem was, she didn’t know what to do about it.
Exhaustion and stress. Perfectly sound reasons for being so contradictory.
“I have every right.”
Great. She was in worse condition than she’d realized. Now she was thinking out loud.
“I’m stressed, and I have every right to be stressed, and do you know why?” She continued before he could say a word. “Someone out there is trying to blow me up.”
“Katie . . .”
“I’m tired,” she said. “Since I came home from Boston, I’ve felt like a punching bag. I think it’s time for me to start punching back.”
He nodded approval. “That’s good to hear. As long as you know who to punch.”
“Oh, I’ve got a few people in mind.”
They rode along for several minutes in silence, and she asked, “Why can’t I use my cell phone?”
“I’m probably being overly cautious, but when I heard that Jackman could be involved and probably is, I didn’t want to take any chances. A cell phone is easy to pinpoint, and calls, just like regular phones, can be traced if you’ve got the right equipment.”
“You told me Jackman was a loan shark. Would he have that kind of capability?”
“He’s a whole lot more than a loan shark, and if he doesn’t have the capability, he knows people he can lean on who do.”
The man sounded like a monster. A chill ran down her spine. “Have you told anyone where we’ll be spending the night?”
“No, not a soul. I thought we’d head to Charleston. I’ll find a hotel there, maybe on the outskirts.”
“The closer we get to Silver Springs, the happier I’ll be.”
“We’re going to have to figure out what to do about tomorrow. We can’t go back to Savannah.”
“No, we can’t,” she agreed. “But until I sign those papers . . .”
The hotel was packed, yet Dylan managed to get them a lovely room—all without showing any identification, as far as Kate could see. She waited across the lobby and watched the master at work. The person behind the counter was a young woman, and Dylan was Mr. Charismatic. It took him less than five minutes to get her to blush and hand him the key. Kate thought she might have handed him her phone number, too.
The room was well appointed and spacious and had a breathtaking view of the ocean. There were two queen-size beds which the maids had already turned down for the night.
As soon as the bellman left, she asked Dylan, “What did you have to promise that woman to get this wonderful room?”
“I can’t give away trade secrets,” he said. He unzipped his garment bag and hung his clothes in the walk-in closet.
She grinned. “You just can’t help it, can you?”
She thought he hadn’t heard her. He went into the bathroom, put his shaving kit on the marble counter, and called out, “This place is huge. I can’t help what?”
He had been listening. “It’s second nature to you. I think you were born with this . . . talent. Now that I think about it, all of the Buchanan brothers have it. It must be in the genes,” she added as she considered the possibility.
He stood in the doorway watching her. “I’ve got lots of talents, Pickle.”
“Yes, you do.”
“What was I born with?”
She really wished she hadn’t started this conversation because he wasn’t going to let it go. “A tiger can’t help having stripes, and you can’t help flirting. It’s okay,” she hastened to add. “You make every woman you meet feel special. It’s a gift.”
“A gift, huh?”
She couldn’t tell if he was pleased by her observation or irritated. “Yes, that’s right. Which bed do you want?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.
“The one by the door. You sound like you approve of this gift.”
Approve? She wouldn’t go that far. “I understand,” she said. “And it doesn’t faze me.”
“So if I were to come on to you, or hit on you, or flirt, or whatever it is you think I do . . .”
“It wouldn’t bother me at all. I’m immune now, Dylan.”
Ah, man, was he going to have some fun with her. “Good to know,” he drawled.
Desperate to change the subject, she picked up her makeup bag and her pajamas and robe. “I’d like to take a shower and go to bed.”
“No problem,” he said.
She glanced at the clock on the bedside table and was shocked by how late it was. They’d stopped for dinner and must have lingered longer than she realized.
She was walking past him when she remarked, “It’s been a long day.” She thought he had said something and turned around. “Excuse me?”
She tilted her head. “What . . .”
He moved fast. His hand cupped the back of her neck and his mouth captured hers.
She didn’t even think about pushing him away or stepping back. She might have sighed into his mouth, though. When his tongue swept inside to stroke hers, her body tingled all the way down to her toes.
She was about to put her arms around his neck when he pulled back. Her heart was racing, and she couldn’t catch her breath, but Dylan looked unaffected. He reached behind her and pushed the bathroom door open. She didn’t budge.
“Why did you do that?”
“You didn’t ask me to?” His eyes sparkled with devilment.
“No, of course I didn’t.”
He gave her a little push to get her to move. “I could have sworn you did. My mistake.”
She caught a glimpse of his grin as he walked away.
She shut the door, locked it, and dropped her makeup bag on the counter. There were two sinks. She took the one closest to the wall and tried not to think about the kiss as she took out her toothbrush and toiletries.
She glanced at herself in the mirror and cringed. She looked horrible. Her hair was hanging limply around her face, and the shadows under her eyes had gotten darker. And he’d kissed her. Goes to show you, she thought. Dylan either had very low standards, or he would hit on any woman no matter how bad she looked.
A hot shower made her feel almost human again. She hadn’t realized how tense she was or how much the muscles in her neck and shoulders ached until the hot water loosened them.
She worried about Dylan’s shoulder. He hadn’t had therapy in a while. Were his muscles tightening up? Was he in pain? If he weren’t so sensitive and macho about his injury, she would have asked.
She washed her hair and dried it, brushed her teeth, and put on moisturizer. Then she cleaned the bathroom. She knew how much Dylan hated clutter. He liked everything neat and in its place. When she was finished she checked herself in the mirror one last time and opened the door.
He gave her the once-over as he walked toward her. His gaze lingered on her legs.
She swallowed. Why was she feeling so nervous? After all, she’d slept with him, hadn’t she? He’d seen her naked, and she’d seen him.
Don’t think about it. Just dive in bed, pull the covers up, and hide like a coward.
He stopped when he was directly in front of her. His hands settled on her h*ps and he pulled her close. He leaned down, and she thought he was going to kiss her again. She couldn’t allow that, shouldn’t allow it, she thought as she tilted her head back in anticipation.
“Dylan, I don’t think . . .”
“You don’t think what? I’m trying to get a closer look at those bruises. The one on your forehead is beginning to fade.”
He let go of her and stepped back. She felt like an idiot. “It’s better now,” she stammered.
“One more thing,” he said when she tried to walk past him.
She looked up just as his hand brushed the side of her face. And then he kissed her. It was a quick touch of his mouth on hers, and yet it was electrifying all the same.
She wanted more.
She forced herself to put some distance between them. “About that kiss . . .”
“You didn’t like it?” He didn’t give her time to answer. “Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t like it either.”
Before she could prepare her defenses, he wrapped her in his arms, tilted her head back, and kissed her again. He was serious this time. His mouth was open and hot. How could she not respond? She felt as though she were melting under his touch, and oh it felt so right.
He ended the kiss abruptly and let go. She nearly fell backward, but he grabbed her and smiled. “I like that a lot better.”
One kiss and he’d turned her mind into mush. “I don’t know how you do it,” she whispered hoarsely.
“That’s an easy one. I lean in, and my mouth presses against yours, and my tongue—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. I’m not asking you how to kiss. I just mean that I don’t know how you can so easily make me—”
He beat her to the punch. “Want more?”
“Flustered.” She nearly shouted the word. “You make me flustered.”
“Good to know.”
This time she watched him walk into the bathroom and shut the door. She tried to summon up a frown, to work up a little anger. Self-preservation. That’s what it was, she thought. If she could hide behind anger, she wouldn’t have to face the truth.
A smile came unbidden, and she was suddenly weak-kneed. She sat on the bed and fell back against the pillows. It was odd, the thoughts that came into your mind when you weren’t blocking them. She pictured Dylan lecturing Isabel and instructing her. He’d been so caring with her.
He’d been caring with Kate, too. She remembered the way he’d held her in his arms while she’d wept against his shoulder . . . the way he’d touched her . . .
There was so much more to Dylan than his relentless teasing during those pickup football games on Nathan’s Bay. He was strong, and yet he could be very gentle. He was decisive, but still he took time to listen. He was kind and smart and sexy and . . .
“Oh, no,” she groaned. She was in love with him.
The truth stunned her. When had this terrible thing happened to her? She tried but couldn’t come up with a defining moment. She had a feeling that it would take years of therapy to figure this one out.
Of all the men in the world she could have fallen in love with, she had to pick Mr. Love-’em-and-leave-’em. She groaned again.
All things considered, however, she thought she was taking the realization quite well. She wasn’t running down the hallways screaming or tearing her hair out.
She wasn’t jumping up and down with joy, either. But then why should she? She’d lost her frickin’ mind.
She reached for the phone to call Jordan. It was an automatic reaction to want to talk to her best friend and pour her heart out. Then she remembered she couldn’t call anyone now and knew she shouldn’t anyway because Dylan was Jordan’s brother. It just wouldn’t be right to scream and carry on.