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Authors: Annette Broadrick

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BOOK: Provocative Peril
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Is it possible I'm being courted, Clay Kenniwick style?
She found the thought exciting, as well as unnerving. Whatever happened, she knew her life would never be the same after knowing him.

The coastal park where Clay finally stopped was deserted, which wasn't surprising. Since all of Oregon's beaches were open to the public, there wasn't as much crowding as in other states where some were privately owned.

Clay had given Carolyn a sandwich to hold her over until they found the spot he was searching for. They parked on a bluff, but a well-worn path led them to the beach that formed a crescent stretching before them. Clay spread a large blanket, then began to unpack the oversized hamper. There was enough food to feed six people, Carolyn decided as she unwrapped the various dishes. There was even a bottle of Oregon wine and two carefully packaged glasses.

She was surprised to find that by the time they finished, there was very little left. They fed the scraps to the bold gulls who strutted up soon after the picnic began.

"They don't seem to be afraid."

"Why should they be? They've discovered that people are suckers for a soulful expression." Clay pointed. "Look at that one over there. When he thinks we aren't looking, he viciously attacks the one next to him for the food, then comes back over here looking hungry and forlorn."

She laughed. They watched the bickering and fighting among their feathered visitors for a while, until Carolyn stretched out on the blanket, full and drowsy. She heard Clay move and opened her eyes. He handed her a bottle of sunscreen. "You're getting a good tan. No sense in getting too much and ruining it."

As Carolyn carefully spread the lotion on her arms and legs she decided she just didn't have what it took to be a romantic object. With any one else, he would no doubt have offered to smooth the cream on her, which could have led to all sorts of interesting situations. She recapped the lotion and laid it beside her, then stretched out once more. Where had she gotten the impression that men could hardly wait to get their hands on a woman in order to seduce her? Here she was with the famous author, Kenneth Clay, whose romantic exploits were legendary, and he was treating her as though she was his maiden aunt!
I must have dreamed that he said he loved me
, she decided at last. She closed her eyes with a sigh.

Clay relaxed along side of her, trying to come to terms with his feelings for the petite young lady currently sharing his blanket. There was no longer any doubt—he wanted to marry her. He wanted the right to be able to love and protect her for the rest of their lives.

He propped himself on his elbow and watched her as she slept. His eyes softened as he studied her, and an ache started in his chest, the pain of loving her and wanting her, knowing that she was only looking for a lighthearted relationship—something to add to the stories about her glamorous vacation.

Eventually he stretched out beside her once more, his mind searching for solutions. He would not give up. She was his, even if she didn't know it yet.

Carolyn's dream was so pleasant. She was running in a field of daisies, laughing as the man who chased her quickly caught up with her. He pulled her to him, causing them to topple into the long grass, which cushioned their fall. She sighed, relieved that the chase was over. She was his—there would be no running away.

Her arms slipped around his neck, and she raised her mouth to meet his. Her dream dissolved and her eyes opened to see Clay leaning over her, blocking the sun. She blinked, then focused on his face.

"Hello," she whispered as she traced the shape of his beard with her finger. "How long have I been asleep?"

He continued to watch her, as though memorizing the shape of her eyes, the curve of her mouth. Shaking his head slightly, he answered. "I don't know. It doesn't matter. How are you feeling?"

"Very lazy right now. I imagine you're bored, aren't you?"

He smiled tenderly. "Oh, I don't know. You're kind of fun to watch when you're asleep, you know."

"Hey, that's not fair. I've never even seen you sleep. Are you sure you do?"

"I've been considering discussing with you a way for you to find out."


"Ummhmm. But I'm not sure you're ready to hear about it."

"Try me."

"Thank you," he murmured politely, "I believe I will." He leaned closer and his lips met hers in a suddenly possessive kiss that surprised her with its intensity. His mouth explored hers, then traced a path to her ear, over her eyelids, then settled once more on her waiting lips. This time he deepened the kiss, his tongue taking possession of her as though staking his claim. Carolyn was helpless to resist. She had been waiting so long for him to hold her, to show her the next steps in the mysterious rites of love.

When he pulled away, they were both breathless. Clay's eyes looked almost black as he fought the passion that threatened his control. He gave her a lopsided smile. "I think it's time we took a walk, don't you?"

Reminding herself that they were on a public beach, she nodded. She understood the need for control, but how did a person learn to control something she'd never felt before?

Clay didn't help her explosive tendencies any by dropping his arm around her and pulling her close beside him. He matched his steps to hers. Her arm fit naturally around his waist, and she felt the heat of his body through the knit of his shirt, her fingertips aching to slip under the cloth and rest against his bare side.

After long moments of silence, Clay finally spoke. "I meant what I said to you last night."

She looked up at him uncertainly "You mean about my lack of morals?"

She watched the dark color flood his face. "You know I didn't mean that. Your accusations upset me. I meant it when I said I love you."

"Then why didn't you want to make love to me?"

He stopped and turned her to face him, his arms wrapped snugly around her. "Honey, I've wanted to make love to you every single day for the past week."

"Then why haven't you?"

"Because I want more from you than an affair. Why are you so eager for me to make love to you?" He studied her intently. "Are you just looking for experience?"

She rested her forehead against his soft lips. "I've discovered that the only experience I want is with you," she whispered.

"That's a start, anyway," he muttered, half to himself. His hands came up around her face, framing it, as he forced her to look at him. "Do you know what it does to me to hear you say that?"

She shook her head.

"I find you that much tougher to resist."

"Do you know what it does to me when you tell me you love me?"


"It scares me to death. A vacation fling seems so simple in comparison."

He pulled her back to his side and continued their walk. "Only because you've never had one. They aren't simple, believe me, particularly if there are deep feelings involved." He eased a tendril of hair away from her forehead. "It's a guaranteed method for getting hurt. You don't need that sort of experience."

The tenderness in his voice caused a lump to form in her throat. She swallowed a few times, then asked, "So now what? If we don't have an affair, what happens next?"

He stifled the grin that threatened to appear. In a tone as serious as hers, he suggested, "I think we need time to get acquainted, time to explore our feelings without the complications of a physical relationship." He paused. "We have another week here. Why don't we spend as much of our time together as possible?" When she didn't respond, he continued. "I purposely haven't talked about my work since I've known you because I wanted to get away from it for a while, but there are some things you need to know."

She glanced up, surprised at the hard note that had crept into his voice. He saw the slight apprehension in her eyes and smiled reassuringly. "No deep dark secrets, just complications to seeing much of each other for the next few months." He wrapped his arm around her waist and stroked the skin left bare between her halter top and the band of her shorts.

"I'm technical adviser and I'm in charge of the scripts for the Derringer Drake series currently being filmed. I've been working in L.A. for the past several months and I have to go back down there for at least two more months before I'm finished." His mouth found the tender spot in front of her ear, and he rubbed against it softly. "I'd like to visit you in Portland as soon as I'm through down there." He watched her expression as he drew slightly away from her. "What do you think?"

She stared at the intent expression on his face, then shook her head in bewilderment. "You're really serious, aren't you?"


"Has it occurred to you that I may love you, too?"

His eyes briefly flickered, then grew steady. "The thought has actually crossed my mind a time or two, but I don't think we've known each other long enough for you to be sure."

"Yet you're sure."

He grinned. "Afraid so, but then I've knocked around a few more years than you have."

"I see." She thought about his suggestion. "So in a couple of months you'll come to visit me in Portland to see if I'm sure about my feelings?"

"If you'll see me."

"Oh, that will be no problem." She grinned as she watched him relax slightly. "What happens if you're convinced I really love you?"

"I'll want you to marry me," he stated in a level voice.

Carolyn could no more control the sudden leaping of her heart in her chest than she could control the Oregon weather. She stood there staring at him while his words tumbled through her mind. "Is that a proposal?" she finally asked.

"In a way, but I don't want the answer now. I want you to be thinking about whether you could be happy married to me . . . knowing what I do for a living . . . knowing how I live . . . and travel. Because if you decide to marry me, I want you to know at the very beginning that it will be for keeps. There will be no time off for good behavior ... or bad ... no getting bored and walking out. It will be one of those death-do-us-part kinds of commitment."

Carolyn stood there facing him. Her friends had been wrong. She'd been reading all of the wrong books, after all. Clay had stepped out of the pages of her fantasy romances. She hadn't needed the new clothes, the new image, the new personality. He wanted her just as she was, without experience.

"Oh, Clay," she murmured, her heart suddenly at peace within her. She flung her arms around him, going up on tiptoes to feel the pressure of his mouth against hers. He obligingly pulled her against him in a snug haven. She couldn't get close enough to him, luxuriating in the firm feel of his muscular body.

Clay caressed her back and cupped her hips, loving the feel of her against him. For the first time since he'd met her, Clay felt a glimmer of hope that she was ready to face a future with him.

The remaining days of her vacation rushed by, and Carolyn longed to be able to hang on to each one a little longer, to savor the relationship developing between them.

Clay kept them busy. He coaxed her into her wetsuit to try surfing again, and she surprised them both by suddenly getting her balance and discovering the feel of the board.

They played tennis and racquetball, went swimming and jogging—in short, became inseparable. Brad joined them a few times, apparently undisturbed by seeing Clay sitting beside her at the pool, possessively holding her hand. Carolyn continued to ply Brad with a multitude of questions about local marine life, while Clay listened to the scientific answers with her. He was content to accept their friendship—up to a certain point.

He was warm and loving to her, kissed her at the slightest provocation, but made no move to consummate the relationship. For the first time in her life, Carolyn discovered what frustration was all about.

Each night they had dinner together, then danced for hours. Clay would hold her against him in a possessive clasp that effectively warned any enterprising male that she was not available. Held close to him, Carolyn was fully aware of the effect she had on him. She would lay awake nights, wondering if he would break his self-imposed rule.

He never did.

Carolyn woke up depressed on her last day at the resort, knowing she wouldn't see Clay for at least another two months. So much could happen during that length of time—plans could change as well as feelings.

He was not in the room when she went downstairs, but coffee was made. Dispiritedly she poured herself a cup. The weather was in complete accord with her mood. A drizzling rain streamed down the glass wall.

Where was he?
She'd grown accustomed to waking up each morning and finding him cheerfully waiting to greet her. She was going to miss that. She was going to miss so much—his teasing good nature, that lopsided grin that formed on his face when he listened to her, the softness of his beard as it brushed against her face, the strength of his arms around her, the touch of his hands.

So this is love
. She'd had no idea.
A feeling of peace when you're together, of unrest when you aren't.
Never had two months seemed so long.

She took her time packing, stretching the chore until noon. Clay still didn't return. Carolyn finally faced the fact this could be his way of saying good-bye. Perhaps he was right.

After loading her bags in the car, she decided to eat before starting the long drive to Portland. The attractive fruit salad she ordered could have been a collection of wood chips and seaweeds for all she noticed as she systematically rearranged it on her plate.

"Am I too late for lunch?"

Her head jerked up. Clay stood there by the table, his familiar grin causing her heart to roll over in her chest. How could she possibly not have known when she first saw him that this man, above all others, was exactly her type? He stood there in a disreputable sweatshirt, well-worn jeans, and moccasins. He'd never looked better to her.

Carolyn's smile lit up the room, causing the drizzling rain outside to fade away. "I was afraid I wasn't going to have a chance to tell you good-bye," she managed to say with a degree of aplomb that surprised her.

He pulled out the chair opposite her and sat down. "I've never cared much for good-byes, myself."

"I had a hunch that might be the case. But you decided to make me an exception, I take it."

The waiter appeared and Clay gave him his order. "Something like that." They were both silent, each trying to memorize the other's features. "Actually, I had some thinking I needed to do, and I seem to have trouble doing that when you're around. Somehow all my thought processes keep getting fogged up."

"I know the feeling," she said, wrinkling her nose slightly.

"Good, then you'll probably understand the reason behind the suggestion I'm going to make." His serious tone caused a cold feeling to settle in her stomach. She had an idea she wasn't going to like his suggestion.

"We both know how unrealistic a vacation romance can be."

Oh, no. He's changed his mind.

"It's totally unrelated to day-to-day living."

I should have known someone like Clay wouldn't be interested in me.

"I think we need a cooling off period."

At least he waited until I was leaving to tell me. I won't have to continue to see him. I will probably never see him again
. "I see."

Her quiet response seemed to help him, because he relaxed somewhat. "My idea is this: We go back to our regular lives and routines. We won't call or write each other. We need to remember that we haven't made any commitments, so you should feel free to date . . . and I'll do the same."

Oh, Clay, why are you bothering with any explanation? I understand. The fantasy is over.
"If that's what you want."

"I think it's the most sensible arrangement. Then we'll see how we feel after a couple of months without contact with each other." He continued to stare at her. "I'm going to miss you like hell," he finally muttered.

Her heart lightened with his words. "I'm glad to hear it. I've grown rather used to having you around, myself. I guess that happens when you share a vacation with someone else."

"Just remember that the only vacations you're going to share from now on will be with me."

Her brows lifted slightly. "Oh? What about all the men I'm going to be seeing for the next two months."

She watched with interest as he clamped his jaw around the protest she saw forming. "Yeah, well, I guess I hadn't thought about your finding someone else so quickly."

"The same could happen with you, you know."

"No, it won't! I'll be too damn busy to waste my time. I want to get finished down there as soon as I can."

"So why the complete break between us, then?" she asked, curious about his reasoning,

"Because I want you to be sure of what you want."

She stared at him in silence and with sudden insight saw how painful it had been for him to make that offer. He was trying to be fair. Couldn't he see that there was no reason for him to be so cautious? She loved him. She always would, no matter what happened to their relationship.

Clay walked her to her car, frowning at the rain that fell all around the covered area where they stood. "You'll be careful driving back? Those mountain roads can be treacherous in this kind of weather."

"Of course I will. Don't worry about me."

"Call me as soon as you get home."

"I thought our agreement was—"

"To hell with the agreement. I need to know you made it home safely."

"All right."

They stood there inches apart, neither one wanting to make the first move to leave. Clay's face looked grim when he spoke. "I love you." He made it sound as though it were an accusation.

"I love you, too," she replied with quiet conviction.

He pulled her roughly against him, as though his self-restraint had finally snapped. "I hope so. Dear God, I hope so." His mouth found hers with an urgency that she matched, his kiss almost bruising in its intensity. Then he pushed her away with trembling hands, opened the door to her car and helped her get in.

As she drove out of the parking lot Clay wondered if he was a fool for gambling on their future. Only time would tell.

BOOK: Provocative Peril
2.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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