Authors: Heather Burch
She couldn’t believe she was here. With him. With William. The same man who had invaded Normandy. The same man who had nearly frozen and starved at Bastogne. The man who never gave up. But the most remarkable thing about it—he was everything she’d imagined. Men like him really did exist. Even if they were from generations ago.
hey were laughing when Will neared the room. He peeked from the living room around the kitchen door to find her and Pops sitting at the table. Her long dark hair shone everywhere the light hit it. Her voice was sultry as it slipped out of that soft, generous mouth. There was a scent of citrus and flowers surrounding her, and if it hadn’t been for the pungent aroma of fresh crab, it might have been disarming. Will rubbed a hand over his face, shook his head to clear it, and glanced around the room, trying to erase the vision of the woman he’d met last week. Fat chance. He’d thought about her often in the last seven days. Even caught himself glancing up at work occasionally when he caught a glimpse of dark hair. Ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as her showing up to inquire about his grandfather. Again.
He pulled a breath and stepped fully into the room. The veggies had been chopped and arranged into a salad; the crab had been cleaned and boiled; and now she and Pops sat at the table, breaking open crab legs and removing the meat.
She hadn’t knocked on the door this time. Nope, she must have stalked Pops outside. Great. Will was pretty sure his grandfather had already invited her to stay for dinner—fresh crab salad was one of his specialties. Besides, that’s just the kind of man Pops was, gracious and ever so trusting.
Will, on the other hand, glared at her accusingly. “I thought I heard voices,” he said as he stopped where he could tower over them.
“Will, this is Adrienne Carter.” Pops used his elbow to shove a chair out so Will could sit. “She lives in Bonita Springs.”
Will nodded but didn’t sit down. He’d traded his work attire for old jeans and a white T-shirt. He almost wished he were still in his suit and tie. He felt more authoritative in them, and something about this woman caused him to be slightly off kilter. The suit would help him keep control of the situation. Will pressed his eyes shut. Really? Was he really feeling intimidated by a sprite of a woman who couldn’t weigh more than 100 pounds soaking wet? The thought of seeing her soaking wet flashed through his mind. Skin glistening with water, flesh slick, and . . .
. Will reined in his thoughts.
“Here,” Pops said, trying unsuccessfully to remove the loose bits of crab from his fingers. He reached for the photo. “Isn’t that a handsome fellow?”
Will took the picture. He softened, remembering what Pops had looked like years ago when Will was a kid. Not this young, of course, but younger than now. The two of them had always been close. His mind’s eye took him back to when he was only five years old, sitting on the floor next to Pops, the two of them coloring for hours until Pops had to have Grandma Betty give him a hand up from the floor. For several moments he stared at the photo, wondering when Pops had gotten old. It seemed like it had happened so fast. Five years ago, in fact.
Laughter once again drew his attention to the present. Will placed the picture on the table with a little more force than necessary and turned his full focus to Adrienne Carter. “So, are you a student doing a paper on World War II?”
“No,” Adrienne said, for the first time looking self-conscious about the crab meat she was up to her elbows in. She used her shoulder to brush some of that luscious hair away from her face.
A twinge hit him for being so rude, but hey, this was the last thing Pops needed right now. “Reporter?”
She shook her head, those giant eyes troubled. She glanced to Pops, seemingly searching for help.
“Settle down.” Pops said. “She didn’t come here for anything like that. Forgive my grandson, but a few years ago, a show about the 101st Airborne was a big hit on TV, and we were inundated with reporters and college students wanting interviews about the war. It was when we found out my wife was sick. Not the best time for interviews.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
Pops turned to Will. “She has some letters that belong to me.”
A little of the tension left Will’s shoulders.
Pops winked at Adrienne. “Of course, they were in your house. Technically, they belong to you.”
She gently touched the older man on the arm. “They’re your letters. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Her voice lowered when she said it, rolling over Will like honey on toast. He pulled out the chair and dropped his six-foot frame into it. So he’d misjudged her. “It’s nice to meet you, Adrienne,” he mumbled.
“You as well, Will.” A flash of a smile on that full mouth, and she returned to her job of removing meat from shells.
“Adrienne is staying for dinner,” Pops announced.
Will pointed to her hands, covered with bits of crab meat. “I figured so. I really didn’t think you were going to have her help make dinner, then ask her to leave before eating it.”
Pops winked at her again. “That would be downright rude, wouldn’t it?”
Will watched as she pressed her lips together, biting back a smile. She pivoted and swung her feet out from under the table. Will’s eyes trailed down a pair of long, slender legs to the tanned ankles tied with a black sandal strap. Dark pink toes. Sexy feet, especially as she stood, high on the sandals. She leaned over and grabbed the greasy bowl of empty shells.
Will realized he was staring, so he stood up with her, a half-hearted attempt at courtesy. He reached his hand out to take the bowl. “Can I help?” But he only succeeded in making her jump. The two were now face to face at the table edge. The color drained from her cheeks.
, he thought,
really must have been a bear the other day to elicit such a response
“Uh, yes . . . ” She clutched the bowl, but he could see her slippery fingers losing their grip. She pulled it to her, against an apron he’d seen Pops wear many times. Then he saw panic in her eyes as her grip tightened, but the bowl slipped away from her anyway.
It flipped up, over, around, and fell as she clambered, fingers grasping, trying to recover. Empty crab claws showered the floor, then ricocheted, pelting them all with bits of meat and crab water. The bowl didn’t break, but turned like a top, its clattering ring echoing through the kitchen until it finally rested.
Adrienne’s jaw hung open in shock, her face turning from pink to a deep crimson red. Bits of crab were stuck to her legs and clothes. In her right hand she grasped one mutilated claw.
“Glad I could help,” Will said, beginning to chuckle as he heard Pops mumbling that the kitchen floor needed to be mopped anyway.
She blinked big brown eyes. Once, then again, her mind probably trying to catch up with what she’d just done. There was a bit of crab meat caught in her eyelashes. That’s when Will laughed, a deep belly laugh, and it rolled right out of him, ridiculous as the mess that was in the kitchen and on the pretty brunette who’d arrived and turned their crab bowl—and their evening—upside down. In five years of making fresh crab, Will had plenty of messes under his belt, but none came close to this, and for some reason, inexplicable and surprising, the look on her face, coupled with the crab stuck in her lashes, unhinged him. She stared at him for a few horrified seconds. Blink, blink went the crab. She must have noticed it there because she blinked harder, her left eye trying to focus on the white sliver, and she actually tried to lean away from it. It dropped onto her cheek, and Adrienne reached up.
“Here, let me.” He slid a thumb across her face, trying not to notice how smooth and delicate her skin felt beneath his touch.
“I don’t know what to say,” she managed.
“How about, where’s the mop and broom?” His voice lowered to match hers, creating more intimacy in the moment than he intended.
With the crab meat gone from her cheek, Adrienne took in the carnage. “It’s everywhere,” she whispered.
“Yeah. You’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Her dark eyes fanned back to his face. He was fighting another full-on laugh when her own glossy lips spread into a smile. Her shoulders rose, and she tried to stifle the laugh but couldn’t. Adrienne and Will both dropped to their knees to gather the pieces. Pops grabbed a garbage can as they cleaned up.
Adrienne sprawled on the floor, catlike, with one elbow propped up. Will’s gaze danced over those legs again. He noticed her toes were painted meticulously, but her fingernails were worn down and . . . stained. He thought he’d seen that the other day but had dismissed it. Beautiful women—he’d told himself—don’t run around with stained fingers.
Adrienne got up, ran her hands under the water at the sink, and reached for the soap a second time.
“That won’t work,” Will said, sliding beside her. He cut a fresh lemon and gave her half of it. “Try this.”
She threw him a half grin. “No thanks, I prefer oranges.”
“Ha, ha. It’s not to eat.” He rubbed a piece over his hands. “It removes the fishy smell.”
Her gaze drifted down to his chest. “Does it work on shirts too?” She reached over and plucked a piece of crab meat from his T-shirt.
“Hopefully,” he said, and noticed he was smiling again. He liked watching her gaze slide down over him. So she wasn’t here to use his grandfather for a story or a thesis. She was simply here to return items that belonged to Pops. That changed the dynamic.
Will tried to keep reminding himself of that, but somewhere in the back of his mind he felt there was more to the pretty brunette’s story. Throughout dinner, he couldn’t stop his gaze from continually drifting to the klutzy woman with the smoldering eyes. It was almost like she knew his grandfather as well as he did.
“Tell me about yourself, Adrienne,” William said, shaking pepper onto his salad. They had settled into a comfortable flow of conversation—until now. She’d never really liked talking about herself. And now that she was a twenty-eight-year-old divorcée, she liked it even less. “I moved here from Chicago,” she began slowly. “I’ve always wanted to live in a beach house in Florida, so in February, I began looking for one.” February 14th, to be exact. The day her divorce was final. Happy Valentine’s Day.
“Did you have some high-falootin’ job in Chicago?”
Will rolled his eyes at her. “He means high-powered job.”
She smiled. “I recognized the term. I have a grandfather as well.” Taking a bite of salad and crab meat, she looked from the older Mr. Bryant to the younger. Will had seemed so stoic at first, but that had melted somewhere between broken shells flying in the air and squeezing fresh lemons to eradicate the smell.
“No,” she said. “No high-falootin’ job for me.” Side by side, she could see the family resemblance in the two Mr. Bryants, though the contrasts were glaring. William’s eyes were a soft blue, the shade of a pale summer sky and soft fuzzy baby blankets. Will’s were an intense green that seemed to darken in direct relation to his mood. William’s hair was white, but full. Will’s hair was dark with loose waves that threatened the business professional cut it was layered into. Hair gel held it in place, and for a brief moment Adrienne wondered what it looked like untamed and windblown.
“So, why now?” William set his fork against his plate.
She lowered hers too, not wanting to discuss what brought her here. Not now and not ever. This night wasn’t about her. It was about William. But as her eyes traveled up, it was Will’s tender look that held her captive. The green had softened, almost glowing, coaxing her on. Suddenly, she did want to explain. “I was in a divorce months ago. I never wanted to live in Chicago, but he accepted a residency there. We met while he was in med school and married before graduation. He promised that when he finished school we would move to Florida, but he really had no intention of doing so. He’d made up his mind and that was that.”
Concern ran across both men’s faces. “How long were you married?” Pops asked.
Will shot a look over to him. “She may not be comfortable talking about this, Pops.”
Adrienne shook her head. “No, it’s okay.” She felt like she was in a safe environment, tucked between two men she barely knew. “Five years, almost six.”