Authors: Sherryl Woods,Sherryl Woods
“Then you explain it,” his mother challenged.
He met her gaze and said simply, “I needed to get my bearings.”
“And you couldn’t do that under this roof?” she demanded incredulously.
“No,” he said quietly. “I’m not the same man I was when I left here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” his mother said with obvious impatience. “Of course, you are, certainly in every way that counts. You’re going to have to do much better than that, Michael.”
Both women seemed to be watching him expectantly, but Michael didn’t have any answers for them. None his mother was likely to accept, certainly.
“I’m glad I’m here now, Mom. Isn’t that enough?”
Her eyes misted again. “Yes, I suppose it is,” she said softly, then reached for his hand. “Your father is going to be so pleased. He’ll be home soon. You can wait, can’t you? And I can call your sisters. I’m sure they’d want to be here to welcome you.”
Michael noticed that even without him having to say it, she’d apparently gotten the message that he wouldn’t be staying here with them. “Of course I can wait, as long as Kelly’s not in a rush.”
She immediately shook her head. “I’m in no rush. In fact, that will give me time to try to pry this pie recipe out of your mother.”
Nothing Kelly could have said would have done more to ingratiate her with his mother, Michael thought as he saw the pleasure bloom on Doris Havilcek’s face. Before he knew it the two of them were sharing recipes as if they’d been at it for years. He sat back, closed his eyes for an instant and let the sound of their excited talk flow over him.
It didn’t take long for the rest of his family to assemble. His foster sisters Jan and Patty, were the first to arrive, welcoming him with hugs and more stern
admonishments about his failure to get in touch the instant he hit town. He was trying to fend them off with good-natured teasing when the man he’d always considered his father walked in.
Kenneth Havilcek was a big, burly man who’d spent his life in construction. He’d loved athletics and privately bemoaned the fact that his daughters weren’t the least bit interested in any of the sports he loved. When Michael had come into his life, he’d said Michael was the gift of a son he’d been dreaming about. Sports had been their bond. No father could have been prouder when Michael excelled at both football and basketball in high school. He’d never missed a single game.
He was halfway across the room, a welcoming smile on his face, when he spotted the wheelchair and faltered. When he finally met Michael’s gaze, there was a shared misery in his expression. Clearly, he understood better than most of the others in the room the full implications of Michael being unable to walk, however temporarily.
The moment lasted only a heartbeat, then he was bending over, giving Michael a hearty bear hug and a slap on the back. “Welcome home, son. I imagine your mother has already given you an earful about keeping us in the dark about being in Boston, so I won’t add to it.” He waved a finger under Michael’s nose. “But don’t think for a second I’m not as irritated by it as she is.”
His father nodded. “I should think you would be. Now, then, what’s this I’ve been hearing about your biological brothers finding you?”
His sisters reacted with shock. “You’ve heard from them?” Jan demanded. “Why didn’t anybody tell me?”
“Or me?” Patty asked. “This is huge news. Where are they? Have you actually seen them? What are they like?”
Michael held up his hands. “Whoa! One question at a time. They came to San Diego when I was in the hospital, so, yes, I have seen them.”
were in San Diego and you wouldn’t let us come?” Jan said, her indignation plain.
“I didn’t invite them,” he protested. “They showed up.”
“I guess there’s a lesson there for us,” Patty said to her sister. “When it comes to our baby brother, we shouldn’t wait for an invitation. So where do they live? What are they like?”
“They’re right here in Boston,” he admitted. “We have a lot of old baggage to work out, but I do like them. And they’re dying to meet all of you. Ryan would like you to join us at his pub one evening.”
Patty stared at him with sudden comprehension. “Not Ryan’s Place?”
Michael nodded. “You know it?”
“I’ve been there half a dozen times for the Irish music. Ryan is your brother? I can’t believe it.” She tilted her head and studied him. “Now that you say it, though, I can see the resemblance. This is so amazing. When can we go?”
Everything was moving a little too fast for Michael. He wasn’t sure what sort of reaction he’d expected from his family, but it hadn’t been this. Then, again, he should have known that people who could welcome a little boy into their home with such open
hearts would be just as eager to welcome those who mattered to him.
“How about next Friday night?” he said eventually. He turned his gaze to Kelly, who’d been sitting quietly throughout his reunion with his father and sisters. “Can you make it then?”
Michael caught the pleased look that his mother exchanged with his father and knew exactly what it meant. She already had him romantically linked with Kelly, though they’d never given her so much as a hint that Kelly was anything more than his therapist.
Kelly must have seen the same look, because she hesitated.
“I’d like you to come,” he told her, not sure why he felt it was so important to include her. He just knew that this whole day had been easier because she was by his side. He wanted her there when his two families met for the first time. “Please.”
She smiled then. “Of course, I’ll come,” she said, studying him intently. “But if you don’t mind, I think we should be going now.”
His sisters protested, but his mother took Kelly’s side and within minutes Michael was outside in Kelly’s car. He glanced over at her as they pulled away.
“How did you know I was ready to leave?” he asked.
She shrugged off the intuition. “Something in your eyes, I suppose.”
Michael sighed. It should be terrifying that she could read him so easily, but for some reason, it wasn’t. Tomorrow, when he was less exhausted, he’d have to try to figure out why.
elly had known she was in serious emotional trouble the minute she’d started sharing recipes with Doris Havilcek. There had been something so wonderfully comfortable about it, as if she were already a member of the family that had taken Michael in when he was a boy. Even as warmth had stolen through her, she had realized that she was heading down a very dangerous road. Being accepted by the obviously warmhearted Mrs. Havilcek was a far cry from having Michael indicate that he wanted her in his life in any meaningful way.
She had tried to remain on the fringes of the family’s reunion, staying silent and unobtrusive so that no one else would get the idea that she and Michael were a couple. Clearly his foster mother had jumped to that conclusion, and that was likely to be awkward enough.
Kelly had spent the rest of the weekend trying to think of some way to extricate herself from the visit to Ryan’s Place, but nothing came to mind—probably because the truth was that she wanted to be there to see how the Havilceks and Devaneys blended together, and whether Michael was at ease among them.
Even so, on Tuesday she attempted to make an excuse as she and Michael were finishing his therapy session. The two hours hadn’t gone especially well, and he was in a particularly foul temper because of it. She probably should have waited to broach the subject of Friday night until his mood improved, but she wanted to get it over with.
“One more thing,” she said as she gathered up her equipment. “I’ve been thinking about Friday, and I don’t think that’s going to work for me.”
Michael’s gaze shot up, a surprising display of alarm in his eyes. “Why not?”
“It’s just not. I…” The lie faltered on her lips, but she sucked in a breath and managed to get it out. “I have a date.”
He regarded her curiously. Suddenly his anger seemed to fade. “Is that so?” he said mildly. “Can’t be much of a date, if you didn’t even remember it when the subject of Friday night came up on Saturday.” His gaze narrowed. “Or did you make it after that?”
Kelly hated the faint hint of contempt in his eyes at the possibility that she was breaking her plans with him to go out with someone who’d issued a later invitation. “No, of course not,” she insisted, unwilling to carry the lie to that extreme. She didn’t want him to dislike her. Nor did she want to destroy the fragile trust they were building. She merely wanted to protect
her heart. “It was on my calendar. I’d just forgotten about it.”
“Is this date with a man?” he asked.
Kelly studied him curiously. He’d almost sounded jealous, but that couldn’t possibly be. Or could it? She decided to play out the charade a little longer to try to gauge his reaction. “Don’t women usually go out with men?” she asked. “Besides, my private life is none of your concern. We set up the ground rules weeks ago.”
He sighed at that. “Technically, no,” he agreed. “But this family thing is important to me. I thought you understood that I want you to be there.”
“Of course I understand that it’s important, but you don’t need me there,” she said, instantly feeling guilty for trying to wriggle off the hook. “Look at this another way. If I stay away, we’ll avoid all sorts of potentially embarrassing questions.”
“What I’m doing at what should be a very private meeting between the Havilceks and the Devaneys,” she explained. “That’s likely to stir up all sorts of speculation.”
Michael suddenly grinned. “So that’s it,” he said as if he’d just discovered some huge secret. “You’re scared my mother’s about to start making wedding plans. You should have thought of that before you started asking her for the recipe for all my favorite dishes.”
She frowned at his obvious amusement. Maybe it was a big joke to him, but it wasn’t to her. “Aren’t you worried about that?”
“Why?” she asked, bewildered by the fact that he wasn’t the least bit concerned.
“Because my mother is basically harmless. And if she does start getting any crazy ideas, I’ll set her straight. It’s not a big deal, Kelly. I can handle my mother.”
“Yeah, I could see that on Saturday,” she said dryly.
He laughed. “Okay, I can
handle my mother.” His expression sobered. “Come on, Kelly, tell the truth. You don’t really have a date, do you?”
Continuing to lie was obviously pointless. Apparently she wasn’t all that good at it. “No,” she finally admitted with a sigh.
“Why is my being there so important to you?”
Now it was his turn to look vaguely bewildered. “It just is,” he said finally. “I feel more…” He paused, searching for a word. “I feel more normal when you’re around.”
The explanation left her more confused than ever. “Normal how?”
He looked away as if he were almost embarrassed to make the admission. “You don’t get that expression in your eyes when you look at me that everyone else gets,” he said.
Kelly was beginning to get the picture. “No pity?”
“Exactly. And you don’t let me off the hook when I’m behaving badly. Everyone else does, as if I deserve a pass because I’m in this damned chair. That’s the last thing I need. I need to be held accountable for my actions. I need
Kelly swallowed hard against the tide of emotion rising in her throat. Michael’s admission that he
needed her—that he needed anyone—took her breath away. It was a huge breakthrough for a man who’d probably gone through his whole life trying to convince himself that he didn’t need anyone. How could she possibly turn him down after that?
“What time?” she asked, resigned.
As he realized what she was saying, a smile spread slowly across his face. “Pick me up at seven?”
Kelly almost agreed, then recalled that he’d told his family to meet at the pub at six-thirty. “Isn’t that a little late?”
He gave her a rueful look at having been caught. “I was hoping they’d get all the introductions out of the way before I got there.”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’ll pick you up at six-fifteen, and no dillydallying. Be outside and ready to go. I’ll remind you of that when I’m here on Thursday.”
Michael laughed, clearly in a much better frame of mind now that she’d caved in to his request. “Yes, ma’am.”
Impulsively she went back and touched his cheek. The faint stubble was rough against her palm. His heat and masculinity drew her as no other man’s ever had. It was getting harder and harder to go on with the charade that she was immune to him. “It’s going to be okay, you know.”
He placed his hand over hers and held it in place. “With you there, something tells me it will be.”
Michael still wasn’t used to Kelly having her hands all over him. It didn’t seem to faze her, so he knew he shouldn’t let it bother him, but it did. In fact, it was driving him crazy. As if worrying about Friday
night weren’t bad enough, today he couldn’t seem to keep his thoughts from straying to what it would be like if Kelly’s touches were a little—okay,
“How do you do it?” he asked finally when it felt as if he might explode if she stroked her hands over his thigh one more time. He’d spent the past few weeks trying to hide the fact that he was in a perpetual state of arousal when she was around and it was beginning to get to him.
“Do what?” she asked, sounding oddly distant.
“The massage thing.”
“I took classes.”
He glanced back over his shoulder and frowned. “Not what I meant, and you know it.”
She met his gaze, then looked hastily away, her cheeks suddenly rosy.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” he persisted.
“It’s my job,” she said, her tone as prim as someone’s elderly maiden aunt. “You’re a client.”
“I’m also a man,” he reminded her. Some wicked instinct had him rolling over to prove the point. He was thoroughly aroused…and that was despite a concerted attempt to remain completely disconnected from the massage.
Kelly’s attention was immediately drawn to the evidence. She swallowed hard, then deliberately looked away. Michael tried to gauge her reaction. It had almost seemed as if she was more fascinated—maybe even secretly pleased—than embarrassed. Maybe she wasn’t as immune as he’d thought.
“Look, I…” Her words dwindled off.
He reached out and clasped her hand in his. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I really don’t.
Actually, I was curious about how you remain detached from what you’re doing.”
She met his gaze. “The truth?”
“The issue has never really come up before.”
“Before?” he repeated, a certain measure of gloating creeping into his voice. “Meaning it has with me? You aren’t unaffected by touching me?”
She pulled away. “Don’t sound so blasted pleased with yourself. We really shouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s inappropriate and totally unprofessional on my part. Besides, we had an agreement.”
She was so clearly dismayed that he instantly backed off. Besides, he had the answer he wanted. The attraction wasn’t as one-sided as he’d imagined. Satisfied with that knowledge, he rolled back on his stomach and rested his head on his arms. “I’ll drop it, then,” he murmured.
“But don’t be surprised if it comes up again tomorrow night when you’re not on the clock.”
Her hands on his leg stilled. “Michael!” she protested weakly.
“Kelly!” he responded, teasing.
She sighed heavily. “What am I going to do about you?”
“An intriguing question,” he told her. “Let’s put that on the agenda for tomorrow night, too.”
“You realize if these topics come up tomorrow night, we might never actually make it to the pub?”
He hid his grin. “Definitely an added bonus,” he conceded.
She smacked his uninjured leg. “Forget it, Deva
ney. I’m not providing you with an excuse to get out of introducing your families to each other.”
“Oh, well, it was worth a try,” he said with an air of resignation.
And getting Kelly to admit that she was not oblivious to the effects of these massages had definitely been a side benefit. Of course, it was also likely to fuel his own fantasies so that he wouldn’t get a minute’s rest between tonight and tomorrow. He figured the sacrifice of a little sleep was worth it.
Kelly was a nervous wreck on Friday night. She told herself she was worried for Michael’s sake, that she merely wanted everything to go well, but it was more than that. The entire conversation they’d had about the impact of her massages on him had been disconcerting at best. His assurance that he intended to get into the subject again tonight the instant they were alone had her feeling edgy with anticipation of an entirely different sort.
She had been stunned when he’d revealed that he was thoroughly aroused. Stunned and, she was willing to admit, thrilled that she could have that kind of impact on a man she’d been convinced didn’t think of her as a woman at all. There was little question now that Michael saw her as a desirable grown-up, not a kid. But what would he do about it? Would he do the noble thing and ignore it because of his friendship with her brother and her role as his therapist? She hoped not. She’d been waiting far too long for him to notice her.
Of course, that wistful thought lasted only the length of time it took to say “lost license.” She could just imagine what Moira would have to say if Kelly
revealed that there was anything the least bit provocative about her contact with a client.
She should get a grip, she told herself sternly, and tell Michael he had to do the same. Or she should quit. One or the other. She certainly couldn’t let things continue as they had been, not if she valued her professional reputation.
But the prospect of not seeing Michael on a regular basis was inconceivable. He’d come to mean too much to her. Her childish infatuation was developing into something far more important. Something she had to ignore, though, if she wanted to see him through his rehabilitation. And she did want that. She wanted to be there when his leg was strong and he was finally able to walk again. Which meant she was going to have to push her personal feelings for him aside and pretend they didn’t exist, no matter how badly he tormented her.
When she arrived Friday night to pick him up, he was dutifully waiting for her outside, despite the fact that the temperature had dropped and there was a threat of snow in the damp air.
“Are you crazy?” she demanded as she got out to open the door and help him into the car. “Why didn’t you wait inside?”
“You told me six-fifteen and that I wasn’t to dillydally,” he reminded her.
“And you always do what I say?”
He gave her his most winning smile, the one that made her heart flip over. “I try.”
Kelly noticed that he was able to transfer himself to the car a bit more easily than he could the previous weekend. He was actually able to put a little weight on his bad leg. When he was settled, she put the
wheelchair in the back, then got back behind the wheel and glanced over at him.
She grinned at his sour expression. “Too bad.”
“We could run away to the Caribbean. Spend a month or two in the sun getting a tan,” he suggested, regarding her seriously. “My treat.”
“As much as the possibility of spending a few days on a beach where the temperature is at least fifty degrees warmer than it is here appeals to me, I’m afraid I’ll have to say no to that, too.”
“You’re no fun,” he accused.
His words, clearly spoken in jest, hit a raw nerve. “So I’ve been told,” she said, unable to keep the old hurt out of her voice.
Her response clearly startled him. His gaze narrowed. “What idiot said a thing like that?”
“The last man I dated.”
Something in his expression turned dark and dangerous. “He hurt you, didn’t he?”
“Well, it’s never pleasant being told that one is a bore,” she said, trying to make light of it.
It wasn’t that Phil Cavanaugh had devastated her. She hadn’t cared enough about him for his opinion to matter that much, but she had been shaken. It had made her question if that was why no relationship she’d been in had lasted more than a few months. Had Phil been speaking the truth? Was that the conclusion her other dates had eventually reached?