Authors: Opal Carew
St. Martin’s Griffin
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It couldn’t be him!
The thought sent involuntary shudders quivering up Kate’s spine as she stared out the van window at the disturbingly familiar man calmly reading a magazine less than ten yards away, totally oblivious to her scrutiny. No, surely it wasn’t him. Her imagination must be playing tricks. She thought she’d finally recovered from her irrational fear of running into Matt Pearce again. After all, New York City seemed a lifetime ago and that was where she’d left him.
Except that two years wasn’t nearly enough time to soothe the pain.
As she continued driving by the main entrance of Cavendish Mall, the large shopping center near her house, moving slowly because of the density of shoppers out for the post-holiday sales, she allowed her gaze to travel the length of him, determined to convince herself that this long, lean stranger, who had the audacity to look like the man she had prayed never to see again, truly was a stranger. He stood with his legs carelessly crossed as he leaned against the brick wall near the entrance.
The day was mild for Connecticut in late December and his overcoat, unbuttoned, was pushed open by the hand he had stuffed in his pants pocket. The clothes visible underneath—expensive and well cut—emphasized his broad shoulders and narrow waist. With his head bent toward the magazine, she couldn’t see much of his face, but he had dark, wavy hair, styled with the same flair as Matt’s had been.
She watched as a light breeze lifted a few locks and swirled them onto his forehead. Long, careless tanned fingers swept them back. Kate’s throat constricted as she remembered running her own fingers through Matt’s hair and the feel of the sleek strands against her skin. Thrusting away the disturbing memories, she forced her attention back to the stranger. Unlike Matt’s, gray sprinkled through this man’s hair, and he was a little thinner.
The sharp blare of a car horn behind her made her jump. She’d been holding up traffic. The man glanced up at the noise and…
Oh, my God. Either that was him—or Matt Pearce had an exact double living right here in Connecticut.
Denial flooded through her, overriding the evidence of her own senses. She simply could not believe Matt stood within the sound of her voice. For a fleeting second, his gaze locked with hers. She felt her lungs freeze, as though someone had stolen the last breath of air in existence. Those unforgettable eyes, the exact shade of the sky at midnight, did not belong to a stranger.
As though he moved in slow motion, she watched a slight frown etch his brow, then his eyes widen in obvious recognition. The magazine fluttered as his arm dropped to his side and he stepped forward. It would only take him a few steps to reach the van. A choking panic welled within her as her fingers clenched impossibly tight around the steering wheel. She couldn’t seem to force her rigid body to take action, even though he continued to move toward her. The driver behind her honked again, shattering the frozen shell of dread that held her immobile. She pressed the accelerator, lurching the van into motion.
Had that been anger chasing the recognition from his eyes?
Kate parked the van in her friend Ellen’s parking space at the back of the apartment building. What would Matt be doing at a shopping mall? Of course, she remembered when his sister and young niece had come to visit him in New York and he’d gone shopping with them for souvenirs. Maybe he was buying something for little Lizzie. Or maybe one of his high-tech gizmos was being launched and he wanted to see how the major department store was handling it. He was very hands-on in that way.
She pushed thoughts of Matt out of her mind as she set about the task of getting her new rocking chair upstairs. It would never have fit in her own little car, so Ellen had lent her the van to pick it up, along with a trolley. She wrestled the new rocker through the lobby and up the elevator. Once she had it unpacked, she called Ellen to come and see it.
Kate set out some refreshments, then slumped into the chair to await the arrival of her friend. Unfortunately, with the cessation of activity, her thoughts turned to the man she’d seen at Cavendish Mall.
Had it really been him?
The jolt she’d felt as their gazes had locked sent remembered sparks crackling across her nerve endings. Surely, she’d only imagined the flare of recognition in his eyes. Certainly, there’d been an uncanny similarity between this man’s appearance and Matt’s unforgettable features, but that didn’t mean they were one and the same person. Besides, why would he be here in Connecticut? He was the owner of a large computer firm and…
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair as the names of several high-tech corporations that had their headquarters in the area sprang unbidden to her mind. Had Matt’s company set up an office here, too?
She continued to rock, trying to shake some sense into her brain. She was being silly. This speculation was all based on the possibility that the man she’d seen today was Matt, and it probably hadn’t been. The anniversary of when she’d moved here was coming up and that reminded her of the turmoil her life had been in when she’d left New York City two years ago. Her relationship with Matt had fallen apart shortly before that, then things had gone from bad to worse and she’d had to sell the wonderful apartment she’d finally managed to put a down payment on. She’d loved that place, and she’d loved living in the city. But she’d had no choice but to leave.
No, surely her overactive imagination had tricked her into thinking that was Matt today.
Matt Pearce was definitely not in Connecticut.
A knock sounded on the door and she strode across the room to answer it, relieved for a distraction from her turbulent emotions.
“Oh, it’s lovely. Can I sit in it?” Ellen exclaimed when she saw the rocking chair.
The chair was a golden oak glider with beige striped upholstery and a matching ottoman. She’d been torn between the beige and the berry red, but beige won out.
“Be my guest.” Kate made a sweeping gesture toward the chair and smiled as Ellen sank reverently into the chair, stroking the beige fabric over the armrests.
“I love it,” Ellen said.
Kate sliced her famous blueberry-lemon pound cake—famous because it was the only thing she could bake—and handed Ellen a serving.
“So…,” Ellen said, letting the word linger. “A handsome man was asking about you this afternoon. He saw you driving my van.”
Apprehension jolted through Kate like a major electrical shock. Her fork slipped from her suddenly numb fingers and clattered onto her plate.
Ellen put down her fork and leaned forward, concern sharpening her intent stare.
“Kate, what the heck’s the matter?”
“Who was he? Have you ever seen him before?” Amazingly, her voice sounded steady, totally unaffected by the tendrils of dread coiling through her.
God, please, don’t let it be Matt.
“Sure I have. I don’t go around talking to strangers, you know. I met him when he moved in a few weeks ago.”
“Moved in?” Kate’s voice tightened, vibrating with tension. This couldn’t be happening. Was Matt Pearce living in this building?
Ellen plunked her plate onto her knees and grasped one of Kate’s shaking hands in her own. “Calm down. I promise I won’t tell him who you are if you don’t want me to. That’s why I brought it up. I think he wants me to introduce you so he can ask you for a date.”
“A date?” Kate shook her head. “Oh, no, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” If it was Matt, she didn’t know why he would be looking for her, but it wouldn’t be for a date.
“At least, give him a chance. He’s young, very attactive—”
“Ellen, I don’t think—”
“—and a doctor. He’s just getting started in his practice but—”
“He’s a what?”
“A doctor. What is the matter with you?”
Matt was definitely not a doctor. He owned Cutting Edge Industries, a major high-tech firm.
“What did he look like?”
Ellen smiled. “Definitely handsome. He’s tall, obviously works out, has sandy hair. And big brown eyes you could get lost in.”
A definite catch.
Kate felt as though a devastating weight had been heaved from her chest. With her renewed ability to breathe in a normal fashion, she inhaled deeply, and started to feel almost lightheaded. She broke out laughing.
“What is the matter with you?” Ellen demanded.
Kate covered her mouth with her hand, quieting her frantic laughter, and took a few more deep breaths.
“I’m sorry. I’m just in a strange mood today.”
Ellen studied her uncertainly. “So, should I discourage Chris next time he asks? I just thought you might like to ask him to be your date for our New Year’s Eve party.”
Chris. Not Matt.
Kate stifled another giggle. She almost felt compelled to accept Ellen’s attempt at matchmaking to make up for her unprecedented behavior—but she really didn’t want to be fixed up with someone. She shifted in her chair, preparing to disappoint Ellen yet again.
“You know, I’m really not ready—”
Ellen waved her hand. “Yeah, I know. I’ve heard it before. You know, the way you’re acting, you’d think I was trying to push you into an arranged marriage rather than a simple date,” she teased.
“I’m sorry, Ellen.” Kate set her cup down on the coffee table, pushing aside the disturbing memory. “I really appreciate your concern, but—”
“It’s okay. I understand. I need to learn not to be so pushy.” Ellen grabbed a cup from the tray on the table. “Now, how about a cup of coffee?”
After Ellen had gone, Kate tidied up the dishes and climbed into bed. Still a bit wobbly from the shock of believing Matt was on her tail, she forced herself to calm down and tried to drive him out of her thoughts. Even if the man she’d seen had been Matt, why would he want to hunt her down? Maybe he’d wanted to possess her two years ago—completely and with a frightening obsession—but surely after all this time, he no longer cared.
That night, as she lay in bed, Kate couldn’t stop thinking about Matt. When she’d met him, he’d swept her off her feet. Handsome, powerful, charismatic. He’d had it all. And his potent masculinity had awed her.
She remembered their third date. The scent of fresh-cut gardenias in a glass vase on the table. Candles. Moonlight. The table set on his large balcony overlooking the city.
Matt, dazzlingly attractive, sitting beside her, enfolding her trembling hand in the warmth of his, pressing his lips to her palm, devastating her senses. She’d noticed a startling intensity in his unwavering blue eyes as if she were the most fascinating person he’d ever met, but he’d hesitated, as if uncertain. Until that moment, Matt Pearce—savvy executive, master of every situation—had never been uncertain. Yet, he’d parted his lips as if to say something, but then changed his mind. She’d wondered what he’d intended to say, but then he’d brushed his lips against her temple and electricity had shimmered through her.
She sighed and rolled onto her side.
God, and the first time they’d had sex, she’d nearly fainted with need. He’d been so…dominating.
They’d been out several times, and he’d been a perfect gentleman, but the good-night kisses were becoming more heated, and it had been clear they’d both wanted more. She’d also sensed he’d been holding back, which was a good thing, because when she experienced how intense being with him could be, it had unnerved her.
But it had been intensely sexy.
She closed her eyes and drifted back to that first time. She’d invited him in for coffee, but he’d pulled her into his arms as soon as the door closed behind them. His heated kisses had thrilled her and she’d wanted him more than she’d ever wanted any man before.
“Do you like a strong, powerful man, Kate?”
He was so close, so masculine. His breath wafted against her ear and she felt faint with desire.
“Yes,” she whispered.
He tightened his arm around her waist, pulling her snug against his body. Her nipples hardened, thrusting against the lace of her bra.
“Do you want me to touch you, Kate? To strip off your clothes and touch your breasts?”