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Authors: Annette Broadrick

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BOOK: Provocative Peril
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Chapter 10

Pam and Susie eagerly bombarded her with questions. It was her second night home and they demanded to hear everything.

"What did the men look like?"

"Were there many eligible males?"

"What was the ratio between single men and women?"

"Did you find your one and only love?"

Carolyn laughingly held up her hands to protect herself from their verbal assault. "Am I really supposed to answer all of those questions?"

Pam, her short, curly hair bouncing around her animated face, pointed out, "We wouldn't have to ask all of them if you'd kindly explain to us everything that happened while you were there."

Susie tucked a sandy red wave behind one of her ears and nodded in agreement. "Start with the first day and proceed from there."

All three sat cross-legged around a large bowl of popcorn in the middle of Carolyn's living room. She still wasn't sure how much she was ready to share about Clay.

"It would take me three weeks to tell you minute-by-minute all the things there are to do, but I'll try to remember the highlights." She took time out for a mouthful of popcorn, then took a drink from the glass filled with ice and Coke clutched in her left hand. "There were several good-looking men. I don't know the ratio, but I met a tall, dark and handsome dentist from Bend"—both women applauded—"a gorgeous hunk of beautiful brown body who was a model and lived in Malibu"— simultaneous gasps echoed—"a famous writer—"

"What famous writer?" they asked together.

"Kenneth Clay."

"Kenneth Clay! You mean the guy who writes about Derringer Drake?" Pam's brown eyes seemed to expand in her face.

"Yep, the one and only. Selena Stanford was there to see him—"

"Selena Stanford, the actress?" they chorused, in unison.

"Do you guys practice or does that come naturally?" She grabbed another handful of popcorn.

"How can you sit there so calmly?" Susie demanded. "Tell us about him. What's he like? Was he friendly? Did you get his autograph? Did he ever talk to you?"

There was no way she could share with them what had happened. They'd never understand. She wasn't even sure she understood it, herself. Clay's reputation—actually, it was Kenneth Clay's reputation—did not make believable the fact that they had shared the same room for three weeks and nothing had happened.

She smiled. Quite a lot had happened, but nothing she could possibly explain at the moment.

"Would you look at the smile on her face? Talk about the cat with the canary! You can almost see the feathers." Pam looked at her in disgust. "Come on, now. Remember, we were the ones who persuaded you to take this trip and helped you to get ready for it. You would never have gone, otherwise."

"I know, and I want to thank you both for all your helpful hints and timely suggestions . . . but—"

"But what?" Susie demanded to know.

"I don't have all that much to report."

"You mean nobody made a pass at you?"

"You mean you weren't even tempted to go to bed with anyone?"

"You mean you came back to Portland in the same innocent condition in which you left?" Susie asked with a groan.

"Something like that."

Pam and Susie exchanged glances, then shrugged. "Well, we tried," Pam offered.

"I really did have a great time. Do you want to hear about some of the things I did?"

Susie leaned back on her elbow and stretched out her legs in front of her. "Sure. Did you find any pets to mother?" she asked with a grin.

"Not exactly. I did make the acquaintance of a disgruntled gull and an inquisitive octopus, though."

Both friends listened to Carolyn's collection of stories of her vacation with resigned affection. They loved her dearly, but decided to give up trying to help her find Romance. She just didn't have the personality to attract a man.


Carolyn had been home for ten days when the phone rang late one night. She fumbled in the dark for the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Damn. I woke you up."

"Clay?" She suddenly lunged into an upright position.

"Look, I forgot how late it was. Go on back to sleep."

"Don't you dare hang up!" She clutched the phone with both hands as though she could stop him. "What's wrong? Why are you calling?"

"Nothing's wrong, exactly."

"I thought we weren't going to be in contact with each other for two months."

"Yeah, that was the plan, but I discovered it was a really stupid plan. You see, I've developed a hell of a problem."

"What's wrong?"

"I miss you like hell, that's what's wrong. So how have you been?"

She smiled into the dark. "About the same." She heard his warm chuckle wing across the wires.

"As you can tell, I'm back into the life down here where no one would think of going to bed before two o'clock. I really am sorry I woke you."

"I'm not."

"So. Are you dating anyone these days?"

"Oh, as a matter of fact, I am. I'm out every night." There was silence at the other end of the line. She went on. "I've managed to meet seven men and I rotate them. It's easier that way. I don't get confused as to what night I see them. Jim on Monday, Larry, Tuesday—"

"Carolyn?"

"Yes?"

"We really need to talk about your sense of humor. That, for instance, was not funny."

"Oh."

"No. Because you see, for a minute there I thought you were serious, and I never want to feel what I just felt again. Okay?"

"I'm sorry." She searched her mind frantically for another subject. "How's the production going?"

"Great. We've had some excellent response from previews. The new series looks to go the whole season."

"That's good news, isn't it?"

"I suppose ... so long as they'll let me send them scripts from the Pacific Northwest. I'm ready to come home."

"When will that be?"

"Not much before the end of October, I'm afraid."

"That should give me time to get caught up on my reading."

"Carolyn?" His tone was ominous. "Are you still reading all that stuff about how to attract a man?"

"Not exactly. I'm getting acquainted with Derringer Drake."

A short silence greeted her. In a cautious tone, Clay asked, "You've been reading my books?"

"Uh-huh. It's a great way to learn how your mind works."

"But Carolyn, love, those are just fantasies. I mean, they don't have anything to do with real life."

"Of course they do. They're what you want life to be. Now I'm better able to understand why you so chivalrously offered to share your room with me."

"You are?"

"Certainly. You would probably have slain dragons as well, if they were indigenous to the Oregon coast."

More silence. "I'm really not such a shining knight, you know."

"You're not? What a shame. Should I wait until a shinier one comes along?"

"How about if I run my armor through the carwash before I get there. Would that do it?"

Trying not to laugh, she replied, "I'm sure of it."

"I've got to go, love. There are people waiting for me. See you in October."

"Yes," she responded softly as she heard the phone go dead.


After a month back at work, Carolyn remembered her vacation more as a dream or as though it had happened to someone else. She had never regretted not telling Pam and Susie about her vacation roommate. They would never have let her forget all of her missed opportunities.

With no one in the shop that afternoon, she had too much time to think, and against her will, she found her thoughts returning to Clay. She remembered his late-night call and wondered if he ever thought about her. He had sounded so warm and caring. She wished she had more experience with men. Maybe everything he'd told her was a line. Effective, but a line, nevertheless.

And for what purpose? Certainly not seduction. At least Carolyn could be honest with herself. She wasn't sorry they hadn't made love. She knew herself too well to attempt a casual affair, no matter how her friends had tried to convince her differently. Her feelings for Clay were far from casual, but she knew she would have been feeling much worse had she gone to bed with him.

She was even happier that she hadn't shared her holiday experiences with her friends a few days later when Pam came rushing into the shop, waving a well-known national magazine.

"Look who's been interviewed in
Playmate
magazine!" Carolyn glanced around the small shop, glad there were no customers to hear Pam as she continued. "According to the cover, Kenneth Clay reveals all—about his writing, his adventures, and his women—sounds interesting."

Pam didn't notice Carolyn's color fade, leaving her pale as Pam placed the magazine in front of her, opened to the article. Clay's infectious smile greeted her from the slick surface of the page, his blue eyes glinting devilishly.

"He looks like some kind of pirate, doesn't he?" Pam volunteered, staring intently at the picture as she casually leaned her elbows on the counter. "I had no idea he was so handsome." She turned the page, then paused. "Wow! Would you look at that? I wonder who she is."

Carolyn had already spotted the extremely attractive young woman. She had a glorious reddish-gold mane cascading over her shoulders, the same shoulders enfolded by Clay's arm as they both smiled for the camera.

Pam began to read. "Kenneth Clay, the world-famous author, relaxes at his luxury apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Santa Monica. Clay believes in authentic details in his writing. Whether his story takes him into the deepest jungles, or the most rugged mountains, Clay insists on in-depth research before he begins each new book. The lovely Leonie Remington (shown above) gives ample evidence that at least part of his research can be quite enjoyable."

Pam looked up with a grin. "I wouldn't mind helping him research some of those love scenes he writes." Her elbow gently nudged Carolyn. "How about you?"

Carolyn couldn't seem to move her eyes from the picture of Clay and Leonie. Their pose was casual, yet it suggested an intimacy of long standing. She studied the various poses of Clay, some including Leonie, others obviously taken in the wilds somewhere.

"Ken Clay was quite open about his writing and his lifestyle." Pam continued to read out loud. "Quoting the author, 'I spend a great deal of time traveling and I don't have the time or inclination to form commitments of any type.' When asked if he had given any thought to marriage, Clay laughed and said no. When asked how Leonie felt about his attitude, his rakish grin flashed as he admitted, 'The subject has never come up.'"

Why was she surprised? And why did she think that theirs had been anything but a typical vacation romance? She remembered the look on Clay's face when he'd said, "I'll want you to marry me, but I don't want an answer right now." She was so glad that she hadn't given him one—that she hadn't made a complete fool of herself. Then she remembered asking him to make love to her and mentally cringed from the memory. All right. She'd been foolish and naive, and no doubt he'd had a great deal of amusement at her expense. It could have been worse.

"C'mon, Carolyn, what do you think? Is this the real scoop on Kenneth Clay?" Pam was staring at her with amused curiosity, waiting to be filled in on any details not printed.

Carolyn shrugged. "I have no idea. I really didn't find out much about him."
Except the feel of his arms around me, the soft brush of his beard against my cheek, the feeling of being cared for and protected and—yes, loved.

Pam shook her head. "You're really impossible, you know that? How you could have blown such an opportunity, I'll never know." She flipped the magazine closed.

Carolyn's chuckle sounded surprisingly light. "The obvious answer is to let you take the vacation next time. I'm sure you would do a much better job at getting acquainted than I did."

Pam smiled. "Oh, I don't know. I don't think the experience hurt you a bit. You haven't seemed to be quite so shy with some of our male customers these days. I really think it helped for you to get away and relax."

Carolyn recognized the truth in Pam's statement. Her mind had been on Clay so much that she had felt comfortable around the men she dealt with. Perhaps Clay's friendship had helped her more than she knew.

She glanced at her watch. "It's time for my lunch." As she started for the door she waved and said, "Try not to work too hard." Before she went out, she stopped long enough to see Pam open the magazine once more and gaze at Clay's photograph.


The Saturday before Halloween Carolyn heard the doorbell's soft chime while she waited on a customer. She glanced around with a smile.

Clay stood just inside the doorway, his gaze devouring her. The shock of his sudden appearance caused the blood to rush from her head and she swayed.

"Are you all right?" the gentle gray-haired woman before her asked.

Carolyn glanced back at her solicitous customer. "Oh, I'm fine. Just felt a little dizzy for the moment." Her glance fell on Clay once more.

What is he doing here? I never expected to see him again! She forced her attention back to her customer. "Have you found anything you'd like?"

The woman smiled. "Several things, as a matter of fact. I'm having trouble trying to decide which one to buy." She nodded toward Clay. "Why don't you go ahead and wait on that young man over there? I'm in no hurry."

Carolyn's heart was pounding so hard that she wondered if it could be heard by the other two occupants of the store. She forced herself to walk over to Clay, who stood with his hands stuffed in the back pockets of his snug-fitting jeans.

"Hello, Clay. This is a surprise." Her voice sounded cool and formal. She was extremely proud of her control.

The smile that had lit his face when she started toward him faded. "Why is it a surprise? I told you I'd be up to see you as soon as I could get away."

She nodded. "That's true, but I supposed those were the usual things to say during a vacation fling."

Clay looked down at her, his confusion evident. "Is that what it was for you? A vacation fling?"

Carolyn could no longer meet his steady gaze. She glanced around at the woman studying the display of pottery on the other side of the shop. "I need to get back to my customer." She forced herself to look up at him, trying to ignore the warmth in his eyes. "Are you in town for long?"

"That depends on you, Carolyn."

The leap her heart gave at his low remark annoyed her. How could he have such an effect on her? And what could she say to him? She stared at the large clock hanging on the wall near the door. "We close in an hour. Perhaps you'd like to look around the mall. I could meet you after six."

His tender smile caused a melting sensation in the ice that seemed to have formed around her heart since she had read the Playmate article. "I'd like that very much."

She watched him stride out of her shop, then forced herself to return to her patient customer, determined to put the thought of Clay's presence in Portland out of her mind. She realized some time later that she had no recollection of what the lady had purchased.

An hour later, from the slight shelter of the shop's entrance, she watched Clay as he slowly made his way toward her. He stopped and studied various displays, his interest obvious. He looked so good to her, even though he appeared somewhat thinner. His summer tan had faded, but she realized how little his looks mattered to her any more. It was the person inside who fascinated her, who made her want to throw herself into his arms and beg for explanations. But she didn't.

Instead, she greeted him calmly and suggested that they have dinner in a charming restaurant in the mall. After they had eaten, Carolyn directed him to her apartment, located a few blocks from the mall. Clay followed her into the living room, then gently turned her around to face him.

"Dear God, I've missed you," he muttered as he pulled her to him. He buried his face in her hair. "I never want to go through anything like these last few weeks again. They were hell."

"Clay, you really don't have to say things like that to me, you know."

He jerked his head back as though she had slapped him. He dropped his arms, then took a step back from her. "You've met someone else, haven't you?"

She stared at him as though he had suddenly begun speaking Vulcan.

He started pacing. "Of course I'm not surprised. Not really. I made you aware of your own feelings and ability to respond, and I knew you'd be eager to experiment. I mean, that was the point to this whole exercise. And I was right, wasn't I? Good old sensible Clay, able to read character so well." He ended up over at the window that overlooked her apartment complex.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't met anyone."

He spun around. "Then why are you acting like this?"

"Like what?"

"Like we're casual acquaintances who happened to run into each other again. 'Oh, yes, I remember you. Didn't we meet at the coast this summer? How have you been? Fine?' Well, that's fine. Just fine." He glared at her. "Dammit, Carolyn, what's wrong?"

So he was trying to put her on the defensive, was he? She stalked toward him. "You want to know what's wrong, Clay? Well, I'm not sure I can remember exactly, but I'll try. Let's see how it goes— Kenneth Clay doesn't believe in commitments— marriage has never been a topic of conversation— you and Leonie have never discussed it." Although her tone was quiet enough, her words became clipped and, by the time she reached his side, her eyes were flashing, her cheeks rosy with anger.

He stared at her dumbfounded. Finally, he muttered, "Leonie?" as though the name was the only thing he'd recognized out of her tumbled words.

"Yes. Leonie."

Half to himself he murmured, "but I haven't seen Leonie in months. Not since the writer from
Playmate
spent so much time interviewing—" He grabbed her arms. "You read the interview, didn't you?"

"Didn't everyone?"

"Oh, Carolyn." He pulled her rigid body to him and wrapped his arms around her. "Oh, no, love. It never occurred to me that you'd see that." He looked at her and slightly raised one eyebrow. "I didn't expect the magazine to be part of your regular reading material."

With as much dignity as possible under the circumstances she admitted, "I don't usually read it. Someone showed me the article."

"And you read it very carefully, totally misinterpreting it."

"What's to misinterpret? I thought it was very well written. I don't believe anyone could possibly misinterpret it."

He started grinning. "So what weighty conclusions did you reach after reading all about the infamous Kenneth Clay?"

If possible, she became even more stiff. "There were no conclusions to be reached. You like freedom; you dislike commitment. Even without a great deal of experience I can understand that."

"Oh, Carolyn," he said, shaking his head ruefully. Then, as though he knew explanations at the moment were futile, he leaned down and kissed her, his lips brushing against hers softly, as though getting acquainted once more.

Carolyn tried to stay unaffected, but knew she'd lost the battle when he pulled her closer to him and deepened the kiss. Her mouth responded to his loving pressure, and her arms slid around his shoulders.

Clay lifted her from the floor and strode to the sofa, placing her on his lap as he sat down. By the time the kiss ended, Carolyn had almost forgotten their discussion. Almost, but not quite.

"Carolyn," Clay said solemnly, "everything in that interview was correct. As you pointed out, it was carefully researched and well written. However, I gave that interview last January, long before I met you."

Startled by his explanation, she said, "Then why did they wait so long to publish it?"

"Honey, it's obvious you don't know much about the publishing world. It takes a while to get something from the tape recorder into print." He stared at her. "Do you really mean to tell me that you thought I was with Leonie, that I gave that kind of interview after I met you?"

She nodded hesitantly.

He studied her dispassionately. "You know, I should turn you over my knee, but I don't go in for that sort of thing. What kind of person do you think I am?"

She dropped her head. "I don't think my judgment is all that great, Clay. And I believed what I read."

"Obviously." He stared at her for a moment in silence. Then his face lightened. "Would it make you feel any better to know that I have come to Portland to make an honest woman of you?"

She looked at him suspiciously. "There's no need to make me an honest woman. I haven't done anything dishonest."

"How can you say that?" he asked with a shocked expression. "Do you consider living with a man for three weeks without benefit of clergy nothing? Ms. Kenniwick, you are almost beyond redemption, sullying the Kenniwick name in that fashion."

She watched his eyes as they sparkled with humor and love. "You know, Clay, you might find yourself in a real fix if I took you up on your offer and agreed to marry you."

He smiled. "Try me."

She leaned over, remembering a similar incident. "Thank you," she murmured. "I believe I will."

The kiss she gave him was a good indication that the hours spent at the coast had not been wasted. She was a fast learner, he would certainly give her that!

Clay finally reached his limit of self-restraint and suddenly lifted her from his lap. He moved quickly from the couch, running his hand through his rather mussed hair distractedly as he tried to gain some control over his breathing. "Carolyn," he rasped. "I want you to know that when I gave that interview I had no intention of committing myself to anyone—at least, not for several years. Then I met you. You knocked all my ideas out of my head and I haven't been the same since." He slowly walked over to her and sat down beside her once more. "You are what I want in life, Carolyn. I came to Portland to find out if you're willing to make a commitment to me." Never had his eyes appeared so dark as he asked, "Will you marry me?"

The love she saw in his face told her more than his words that she had been wrong to doubt him. Perhaps it had really been herself she doubted. Tentatively she reached out and rested her palm on his cheek.

"I can think of nothing I'd rather do than marry you, Clay. I realize now how wrong an impression I gave you. I was never as eager to experience the swinging single life as you thought. I was only trying it because Pam and Susie were convinced it would help me get over my shyness." She leaned over and kissed him lightly. "It was only when I met you that I discovered that my shyness wasn't as much of a handicap as I thought. You didn't mind it, and you're the only man I've ever wanted."

His response was immediate and extremely satisfying.

"Would you consider a November wedding?"

"November! That's next week!"

Clay grinned. "That's true, but we could be old-fashioned and wait a couple of weeks, if you'd like."

They were still on the couch, and Clay's arms were wrapped securely around her. He still wasn't sure how she managed to keep him so unsure of himself. He knew, he wouldn't draw a relaxed breath until they were safely married. It couldn't be too soon for him.

"I suppose I could ask Susie to plan it for me, if you don't mind."

"Is she one of your friends?"

"Yes, she makes the pottery we sell in the shop, and she's also a bridal consultant. I know she'd love to plan my wedding, once she gets over being angry with me." She slipped her arms around his neck in a closer hug.

"Why is she angry?"

"Oh, she isn't, yet. But both she and Pam are going to be furious with me when I tell them we're getting married. You see, they're still irritated because I didn't get your autograph!"

Never had time gone so fast. It was two days before her wedding, and Carolyn was curled up on her sofa kissing Clay passionately. When Clay began to loosen his hold, she sat up and murmured a soft complaint.

"Honey, if I don't get out of here now, I won't leave at all," he muttered as he ran his hand distractedly through his hair.

"I wouldn't mind if you stayed, you know." He grinned, looking down at her flushed cheeks and her hair in careless curls around her face. "We'll be married in a couple of days, love. I've waited this long—I can wait until then."

Carolyn sat up, futilely tugging her sweater down to her waist. The movement was futile because Clay's hand rested under her breasts and immediately slid the sweater up a few more inches. "I thought you might want me to know a little more than I do," she offered in explanation.

"You know plenty as it is."

"You know what I mean."

He leaned over and kissed her lightly on her slightly swollen lips. "Honey, if you knew how to please me any more, I would burst into flames before your very eyes. You have a very strong effect on me, in case you haven't noticed."

She pulled away from him. With a degree of vulnerability that touched him, she whispered, "But what if I get stagefright or something on our wedding night and freeze up? What if I'm frigid? Shouldn't we find out now?"

Clay looked at her serious expression incredulously. "You are not frigid. Please take my word for it."

"How do you know?" she asked suspiciously.

He couldn't help it, he burst out laughing. "Take my word for it, okay? Someday I may explain it to you, but not now."

BOOK: Provocative Peril
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