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Authors: Emily March

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BOOK: Heartsong Cottage
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“Are you okay?” he asked, worry in his tone. “You left in a rush.”

“I'm fine. I just needed some air.” Thankful for the shadows that hid evidence of her tears, she continued with a self-deprecating note in her voice. “That last glass of champagne hit me a little hard.”

“Ah. Better now?”

“I am. Thanks.”

He gestured toward the parking lot that remained half full of cars. “You're not driving home, are you?”

“No. I walked over. That's one of the benefits of living in a small town. It's a short walk to just about everywhere.”

“You have a point. Mind if I walk along with you? I'm bunking at the Romanos'. Their couch is calling my name.”

“I'm glad to have the company,” she said, meaning it.

Since those who had left the reception shortly after the bride and groom's departure had had time to reach their destinations and the close-the-party-down types had yet to leave the community center, Shannon and Samuel had the streets mostly to themselves. The air was crisp, the moon a golden coin rising over Murphy Mountain. They strolled side by side, mostly not speaking, but sharing a comfortable silence.

For almost the first time Shannon didn't look forward to going home to her little work-in-progress. There in the anonymity of the deepening shadows, her tongue loosened by too much alcohol, she observed, “On nights like this, being alone sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.” He shoved his hands in his pockets.

“Ordinarily, I don't mind being alone. I'm around people all the time at work, so usually I like having my house to myself.”

“What sort of work do you do?”

“My primary work is tending bar. I run Murphy's Pub. That's why I know my music. The jukebox plays all the time.”

“Aha. The mystery is solved.”

“How about you? Why do you know so much about music?”

His lips twisted in a rueful smile. “I spend a lot of time in pubs.”

“Not mine,” she said. “I'd remember you.”

“No, not yours.”

“How come?”

“I seldom visit Eternity Springs.”

She shook her head—a mistake because it offset her precarious balance and she teetered. He reached out and grabbed her elbow to steady her … and didn't let her go. Good. She didn't want him to let her go. They were almost to her house. Her lonely house. Heartsong Cottage. Heartbreak Hotel. Empty, but for the ghosts. “I mean, how come you spend a lot of time in pubs? Are you an entertainer? You have a beautiful voice. Would you sing for me again?”

He made a sound that was part laughter, part groan. “I'm not an entertainer. I can't believe I did that. I don't sing in public.”

“It wasn't very public at the time.”

“No, it wasn't.”

“We should go somewhere private and you can sing for me. I'd like that. I'd love that. Your voice is such a gorgeous deep baritone. Like Elvis singing ‘Can't Help Falling in Love.' It sort of rumbled through me and I heard it in my heart. I didn't feel so alone.”

“Now I'm embarrassed.”

“Don't be embarrassed.” She was the one who should be embarrassed. She had a lump of emotion in her throat and the small, sober part of her heard desperation in her voice.

They stood at the base of her sidewalk. Her cottage loomed dark and empty and so lonesome she could cry. Maybe she should reconsider the staging she'd planned for when she listed it for sale. Forget the cutesy, romantic, Victorian bed-and-breakfast décor. She should go rustic with leather and wood and maybe some iron.
Go west, young woman.
Heartsong Cottage was a country-western song.

Shannon was a prideful woman. She was a hard worker and as good a friend as circumstances would allow. She didn't ask for special treatment and she never, ever begged for attention from a man.

But tonight she was lonely and vulnerable and a bit beyond a little drunk. So she touched Samuel on the sleeve and said, “This is my house. Come inside with me. Dance with me again. Sing for me again. I don't want to be alone. Do you?”

 

Chapter Four

No.

Daniel didn't want to be alone. He very much didn't want to be alone.

He should tell her good night and take his happy ass home to Hope's. Hadn't he decided when he saw her sitting with the Murphys and Raffertys at the reception that approaching her, pursuing her, would be a serious mistake? This was a small town. She was a friend of his friends. He valued his friendships. He didn't have all that many of them. He didn't want to complicate those he did have.

It would be stupid as hell to go inside with this beautiful, witty, fascinating woman.

If he went inside, he wouldn't have the strength to leave. Not before morning.
Hey, it's one way to get off the Romano couch.

Yes. By being a jerk
.

He cleared his throat and forced himself to say, “We've both had too much to drink.”

“Then come in and I'll make coffee. We can sober up.”

That sounded safer than dancing. Not nearly as appealing, but infinitely safer. “I'd like that.”

Daniel was in a mood. He'd brought it with him over Sinner's Prayer Pass, and Eternity Springs had yet to work its magic on him. Seeing Holly had helped, but when they'd brought the little kids out of the babysitting rooms and the band launched into the “Hokey Pokey,” a tsunami of loneliness had rolled over him and propelled him out into the night.

When he'd spied the yellow dress floating toward him, he couldn't help but reach for the lifeline.

Now, her smile lit up the night. She grabbed his hand and tugged him up the narrow walk toward the front door of a small Victorian cottage. “You'll have to excuse the mess. I'm in the middle of some serious kitchen and bath renovations. I'm having an undeclared war with my plumber. He's not getting paid until he fixes what he broke last time he was here. I'm functional enough to make coffee, though.”

She hadn't locked the front door—typical behavior in Eternity Springs, he knew. He followed her into a living room sparsely furnished with a small easy chair and ottoman, a floor lamp, and a wall unit of bookshelves filled with books. A sawhorse worktable filled a corner of the room. One wall was painted in … he counted nine different colors. “Fascinating color scheme you have going on.”

“I need to live with color for a time before I decide on what I want.” She waved a hand toward the chair. “Make yourself at home. I'd invite you into the kitchen but I don't want to get in trouble with OSHA. You'd need a hard hat. I'll get … oh, wait.”

She veered off toward the bookshelves, used her foot to shove aside a brown corrugated box. “I bet you'll find this interesting.”

Her action revealed a 1950s-era record player. “It works like new. There are 33s, 45s, and 78s in the box. Why don't you pick something out while I make coffee?”

Delighted, he hunkered down beside the box and started flipping through the collection of vinyls. It was an eclectic collection—country, big band, gospel, even a Simon and Garfunkel album.

When he saw Patsy Cline's
Showcase with the Jordanaires,
he couldn't resist. When Shannon entered the living room from the kitchen looking sexy and soft and warm, he didn't even try.

He needed. He wanted. He was so damned lonely. As Patsy Cline fell to pieces, he extended his arm. “Dance?”

Shannon moved into his arms as if she belonged there.

Daniel led her in the dance, the faintly floral scent of woman and perfume wafting around them, the warm heat of her soft skin beckoning him close. He closed his eyes and allowed the music to sink into his soul.

Once upon a time, music had been a big part of his life. During high school he'd been part of a garage band. Bass guitar and vocals. He'd made spending money in college playing little bars and clubs three nights a week, offering a mix of rock and country tailored for the venue. He'd only quit the band when he moved home to Boston and joined the police department, but he'd continued to play the guitar. Gail had loved for him to sing to her. Not country—she didn't like country music—but she'd loved the ballads of the sixties.

He'd sung to Justin every time he rocked him to sleep. Traditional lullabies, but also contemporary love songs. When he lowered his sleeping son into his crib, he'd stand and watch him and sing a verse or two of John Lennon's “Beautiful Boy.”

He hadn't picked up a guitar since Justin died. He had not sung, not even in the shower, since then, either.
So why did I sing to her tonight? Why did it feel so right?

The question left Daniel shaken. The sound of Shannon's sigh vibrated through him.

“Torch songs,” she said. “That's what these types of songs are called. I never listened to them until I ran across this box of records in the basement at the pub, but I like them. They're so … moody.”

He'd read an article about Patsy Cline a while back, and something she'd said had stayed with him. He murmured, “I sing like I hurt inside.”

Shannon lifted her head from his shoulder. “What?”

“They're songs of unrequited love. Of lost lovers.”

A sheen of moisture dampened her warm brown eyes. “They're evocative. Sad and lonely … so why do I like listening to them?”

“Country songs are about everyday people living everyday lives. There's a lot of pain in this world. Country music expresses what we're feeling inside. ‘Misery loves company' is a cliché for a reason.”

“Are you miserable?”

Yes.
Rather than tell the truth, he fell back on a line. “Not right this minute, no. I have a beautiful woman in my arms.”

In her broken smile, Daniel thought he recognized a kindred spirit, a lonely woman to his lonesome man. His response was as natural as the moth being attracted to a flame. He lowered his mouth and kissed her again.

They kissed.

And kissed.

And kissed.

And ended up in her bedroom, in her bed.

There was a quiet desperation in the urgency they shared, their actions physical. Mindless. Both of them fleeing from pain.

Sad country-music lyrics.

Daniel hadn't been with a woman in almost a year, so he didn't last long. Her reaction in the aftermath suggested that she didn't mind. As he lay trying to summon the energy to leave her bed, she snuggled up against him, her hand resting on his chest. Sleepily, she said, “Samuel, I'd like it very much if you'd stay the night.”

This was what she'd wanted, he realized. The sex was the end to her means. That actually gave him absolution to avoid Hope Romano's couch. “Okay. I'd like it very much, too.” Then, because he was a little bit ashamed and annoyed that he'd had sex with someone who didn't even know his name, he corrected her. “Only, it's Daniel. Not Samuel.”

“Mmm … Daniel…” she murmured. “Pretty name for a magnet.”

They both dropped off to sleep.

*   *   *

Shannon stroked a two-inch brush dipped in bloodred paint down chalkboard siding on Heartsong Cottage. It screeched like fingernails. She was thirsty. Oh, so thirsty. Her mouth was as dry as … she glanced around … the desert sand beneath her feet. What had happened to Eternity Springs?

It was so hot. She was so hot. And she was naked. The streak of paint in front of her dried and began to blister. The blisters swelled and popped and her head exploded in pain.

Shannon's eyes flew open. Light pierced like a sword of fire. She slammed her eyelids shut. Slowly, awareness seeped through the pounding in her head. That had been a dream. She was home in bed. With a ferocious hangover.

Home, hungover, and … naked.

Lying beside a naked man.

Oh, holy cow.

Water. She needed water. He put off heat like a furnace.

The magnet. Samuel. Samuel of the piercing, beautiful blue-gray eyes and seductive, melt-your-bones voice.

She needed clothes.

She needed water.

She needed a hole to crawl into to hide.

I got drunk at Gabi's wedding and picked up a man and slept with him.
What in the world? She never did stupid, slutty things! And this hadn't been just stupid and slutty. It had been the epitome of stupid and slutty! The Taj Mahal of stupid and slutty. What had she been thinking?

She hadn't been thinking. She'd been running hard and fast from her memories and regrets and the what-ifs that haunted her. But she hadn't been able to outrun her feelings. Last night she'd felt horribly, disastrously alone … and look what she'd done.

I don't even know his last name.

She thought he was a Romano cousin, but he'd never really said that, had he? Oh, sweet kitten feet. Hazy recollections of the previous evening began to seep through the pounding pain of her headache. Coffee she'd brewed but never poured. Thank goodness for automatic shutoffs. The scratch of the phonograph needle at the end of the record. Hadn't he switched it off on their way to the bedroom? The soft, silky texture of his suit jacket beneath her fingertips as she pushed it off his shoulders.

The frantic digging through her nightstand drawer to find one of the condoms she'd brought home from her stock for the men's room machine at the pub.

She exhaled a relieved breath. Not as stupid as she could have been, then. Thank God.

Other hazy images floated through her mind. Samuel above her, his head thrown back, jaw set, the cords of his neck prominent as he came. She riding him. Snuggled up against him, asking him to stay.

“Not Samuel. Daniel.”

“Pretty name for a magnet.”

Daniel. His name was Daniel.

“I'm bunking at the Romanos'. Their couch is calling my name.”

The Romanos', he'd said. Not his cousin's house or his aunt's house. His last name probably wasn't Romano.

BOOK: Heartsong Cottage
12.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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