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Authors: Annette Broadrick

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BOOK: Provocative Peril
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After a final inspection before the mirror, Carolyn started down the stairs. She was sure everyone could tell that she was naked beneath her dress, even before they saw her back. Funny, she'd never noticed whether other women were wearing a bra or not.
You're just self-conscious. No one else will even notice.
She fought the urge to casually cross her arms across her chest. Instead, she tilted her chin slightly and stepped outside the room.
Come on, Carolyn, you can do it. Remember, Pam and Susie are counting on you. You've got to have some good tales to share with them by the time you return home.

She smiled as she entered the room and a few people she'd met waved or nodded. She took a deep breath, then forced herself to relax.

Dinner was delicious and the music superb, but for some reason Carolyn found it difficult to relax. Part of her problem was Clay. She'd been in the lounge for about an hour when he walked in. It was the first time she'd seen him in the evening, and she almost didn't recognize him.

His suede jacket, almost the same shade of gold as his hair and beard, set off the tan he wore so well. Chocolate brown dress slacks, apparently custom made, were complemented by his Italian shoes. No moccasins for him tonight.

So he knows how to dress,
she thought with a shrug. As though she were a tailor mentally taking his measurements she studied the way his clothes hugged his flat waist and slim hips.

He glanced around the room, pausing as he saw her. She smiled, then could feel the heat surge into her cheeks as his gaze dipped to her chest. He was over twenty feet away and could not possibly know that she was bare to the waist under her dress. Or could he? Once again she resisted the impulse to cover her breasts.

She discovered that she was holding her breath, and only let go when his gaze continued around the room. She wasn't sure whether she felt relief or disappointment when he zeroed in on a table of four women. They made no effort to hide their delight when he went over to their table.

Carolyn watched as unobtrusively as possible while Clay took turns dancing with each of them, even the one slightly taller than he. Whatever he was murmuring into her ear seemed to be highly entertaining.

Not that Carolyn sat out too many dances, herself. She'd made several acquaintances during the previous week, although she noticed that a few had already moved on to friendlier females. She couldn't summon any feeling but relief. // / were honest, I'd admit that I don't know what to do when their hands keep moving around when we're dancing. I feel like a fool reprimanding them when it doesn't seem to bother any of the other women.

Carolyn had almost decided to call it an evening and return to their room when she heard a deep, velvety voice behind her. "May I have this dance?"

Glancing around, she took back all the bad thoughts she'd been having. He stood at least six feet tall, his hair the color of midnight, his eyes—what she could see of them in the soft glow of the lamp—almost silver. She'd known that if she were patient, she would find her fantasy male. Instead, it looked as though he'd found her.

She glanced up at him in her most provocative manner. "Yes, thank you." He took her hand and ushered her to the dance floor where she was just in time to see Clay lead yet another woman, this time a redhead, to the floor. When he saw her watching him, he winked. She turned and moved into the arms of her tall, dark stranger.

"You're a very good dancer," he murmured into her ear.

She smiled. "I was thinking the same thing about you," she admitted.

"I was sitting over at the bar, when your dress caught my eye." He pulled back slightly, so that he could meet her gaze. "You are very beautiful."

He must have studied my script. He's just as I imagined he'd be.
For a moment her mind went blank. She couldn't think how to respond. She wished she'd spent more time on that article that gave examples of sparkling dialog. Maybe it'd be a good idea if she clipped some of the suggestions out and kept them in her purse as reminders.

"My name's Ted. What's yours?"

"Carolyn."

"Carolyn. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman. Where are you from, Carolyn?"

She paused. Did she really want to tell him her life story during their first dance? She didn't know how to get out of answering that question, but maybe she should try to take charge of the conversation. She tilted her head slightly, glancing up at him through her lashes. "I'm from Portland. And you?"

"Oh, I'm from Bend, just across the Cascade Mountain range from you. I travel to Portland every once in a while."

"Oh?"

"Yes. I'm a dentist, and up until a couple of years ago I helped teach at the dental school in Portland." He pulled her close to him, his hands gently stroking her bare back.

He walked her to her table when the dance was over. "Would you mind if I join you?"

"Not at all." Her heart was bouncing in her chest so much she was sure he could see the movement.

The hours flew by as they got acquainted. They were amazed to discover the number of things they had in common.

"Since you enjoy playing tennis, why don't I reserve a court in the morning?" he asked with a lopsided grin that affected Carolyn's concentration.

She tried hard to control her eagerness. "Why not? What time shall we meet?"

"How about ten o'clock?"

"That sounds fine." Afraid of continuing to play the relaxed, carefree woman on vacation much longer, for fear of blurting out something that would convince him of her naivete, Carolyn decided to excuse herself, but assured him she was looking forward to seeing him the next day.

She returned to her room without once touching the ground.


Carolyn's first thoughts the next morning were of Ted. Bounding from the bed, she eagerly headed for the bathroom.
It's nice to finally meet a man so obviously interested in me as a person
, she thought as she stood under the cascading shower. She'd grown accustomed to being taken for granted by Mitch, the professional student. He was going to make it big someday, after he finished first one course, then another, or changed his major.

Carolyn remembered those years in college when she'd listened and believed. Then when she'd graduated, she took the trust income from her father's estate and leased space in one of Portland's suburban malls. Her gift shop specialized in items representative of Oregon. In little over two years she'd managed to make a healthy profit, while Mitch continued to go to school. After a year and a half of law school he'd suddenly decided he'd rather be a doctor, so he'd switched to pre-med, which meant several more years of training.

She shook her head, disgusted that it had taken her so long to wake up to the futility of the lukewarm relationship. Mitch would have been agreeable to their marrying while she supported them, but Carolyn knew she wasn't ready for that much women's liberation.

I wonder what Clay does for a living?
The question appeared out of nowhere, and even while she donned her scarlet running pants and zippered top, she couldn't rid herself of the question.
He has to have money to stay in a place like this. Or does he? Suppose he comes for the express purpose of finding someone with money? He comes each summer, according to the manager. Maybe he's bombed out, but keeps trying, year after year.
She remembered the sweatshirt with distaste, but then recalled the way he'd looked the night before. Maybe that was his gigolo uniform, she decided with a muffled chuckle.
For shame. Here he was nice enough to share his fantastic lodging with you and you have all these hateful thoughts about him.

Her dark eyes danced as she brushed her teeth. She had a feeling that he couldn't care less what her opinion of him was. He had certainly done a great job of ignoring her the night before, except for that appraising stare and impudent wink. It wasn't as though they didn't know each other.

Maybe he doesn't find me attractive.
She was surprised to discover how that possibility disturbed her. With determination she forced her thoughts to Ted and was immediately cheered.

She trotted down the stairs, smelling coffee as she arrived at the bottom. That was unusual. She glanced at the sofa, but found it made up. She wondered if he ever slept in it. Maybe one of the reasons he was so willing to share his suite was that he generally spent his nights with whomever he happened to meet.

Stop that!

How would you feel if he were speculating about your morals like that? You should be ashamed of yourself!

Carolyn sat down at the tiny kitchen bar and poured herself a cup of coffee.
He must have been here to have made coffee,
she thought as she lifted the cup to her mouth. Glancing out the glass wall, she was reminded of a horror movie she once saw entitled
The Fog
. A thick, impenetrable mist swirled on the other side of the glass, and she gave an unconscious shiver of remembrance. It had been a very frightening movie.

She took another sip of the coffee and had just replaced her cup on the counter when the sound of the sliding glass door caused her to turn her head. She gave a bloodcurdling shriek. A hulking monster stepped out of the fog into the room, his skin glistening, his long flipperlike feet slapping against the plush rug.

Then Clay peeled off the headpiece of his arctic wetsuit and looked at her with disgust. "A simple good morning would have been sufficient."

Carolyn's heart was still lodged in her throat. She had no idea where she'd found the lung power to scream. She finally managed to whisper, "You scared me," as he sat down and began to pull off his flippers.

"Was that what that was? I thought you were practicing scaring the whales from this stretch of the beach."

"Very funny." This time she used both hands to pick up her cup, despising the faint trembling in her hands.

"Is there any coffee left?"

Without a word, she poured him some. Glancing around, she received another shock. He was sitting in the chair peeling off his clothes right in front of her! In frozen fascination she took in the broad chest and the heavy muscles that filled out his arms and shoulders. "Do you lift weights?"

He stepped out of the wetsuit and stood there in a micromini swimsuit that Carolyn found obscene. "Now and then. I used to wrestle. Why?"

Keeping her eyes carefully averted, she shrugged her shoulders. "I just wondered." He walked over and picked up the coffee mug. "Would you mind putting on some clothes?" she demanded.

He looked at her in surprise. "I have on some clothes. You act as though you've never seen a man in a swimsuit before."

"I've never seen anything that size described as a swimsuit!"

Clay grinned as he saw the flush on her face. So Ms. Sophisticated Swinger wasn't quite as experienced as she liked everyone to believe. He discovered a distinct feeling of relief settle somewhere inside of him. From the way she'd been flirting with that flashy Romeo the night before, he'd half expected to find him in her bed that morning—which was the only reason he'd tiptoed up the stairway before he left to go scuba diving. He'd intended to tell her that it was one thing for him to offer her accommodations, but he'd be damned if he'd invite half the male population of the resort to sleep over!

They sat side by side at the small kitchen bar, enjoying the first time they'd spent together since they'd met. Clay admitted to himself that that was mostly his fault. He'd had a surfeit of dazzling beauties hanging on his every word during the last several months. Much more of southern California and he would become quite cynical. He'd needed this break before continuing with the heavy schedule facing him during the next several weeks. He yearned for the late fall when he could return to Seattle and his first love, writing novels.

He had to admit that his roommate was beginning to intrigue him. He'd been amused to discover that she had accepted his offer of a place to stay, blithely ignoring any ulterior motives he might have had.
She's obviously a straightforward person who assumes those around her are the same,
he decided. But she wasn't as straightforward as he'd first thought. Her reaction to his swimsuit didn't fit with the image her clothes and last night's behavior projected.
This might take a little research to puzzle out.

"Have you had breakfast?" he asked, enjoying the sight of her freshly scrubbed face in the morning light, her creamy skin satin soft, causing Clay to fight the urge to glide a finger across the curve of her cheek.

She glanced up. "No."

He walked over to the small refrigerator and opened the door. "I've got all the makings for an omelet. Sound all right?" He paused and looked around at her. "Or are you supposed to meet Romeo for breakfast?"

"Meet who?"

He realized what he'd said and muttered, "Nothing. Would you like to eat here or did you plan to go to the dining room?"

"I hadn't gotten that far. Actually, I'd thought about running on the beach, but it looks too foggy for that."

"It is. That's one of the reasons I came in so early. A person can lose all sense of perspective out there." He stood with his hands resting on his slim hips. "So? Do you want an omelet or not?"

She seemed to. have no control over the direction of her gaze as it slid once more down his body, then back up, lingering at the swirl of gold surrounding his navel. Forcing her eyes to meet his, she gulped, "Why don't you go get dressed and I'll make the omelet?"

He shrugged. "Fine with me. I've never known anyone so concerned with my modesty before." When he returned Carolyn discovered that the black pullover sweater and black cords didn't lessen the impact of his presence in the tiny kitchen, perhaps because her mind kept visualizing what he looked like beneath them. Mitch had certainly never affected her like that!

Clay and Carolyn were well into demolishing breakfast when Clay asked, "What do you do in Portland, Carolyn? Go to school?"

She laughed. "Hardly. I finished college two years ago. I own a gift shop."

Clay blinked in surprise. "I'm impressed," he said after a moment. "How did that happen?"

"Several of my college friends are artists. Some work with wood, others are potters, and a few do hand looming. I don't have any creative talents, but I appreciate theirs and thought others might as well."

"Don't you know that the gift of appreciation is every bit as important as artistic talent? Just think what it would be like if there were no one around to appreciate the efforts of others." His smile flashed, and Carolyn felt warmed by it.

"I suppose you're right." She thought about his comment for a moment. "I guess that's how I've managed to become a success. I put all of that talent on display and attracted those people with a gift of appreciation." Her answering smile caught him off guard, and his body responded to her.

Clay shifted restlessly and tried to concentrate on their conversation. "You make it sound easy. I have a feeling you're skipping some relevant information."

"Not really." She was having trouble keeping her eyes off him. The black clothes emphasized his blond good looks, and she had to force herself to look away from him. "How about you? What do you do when you aren't vacationing on the Oregon coast?"

"Write."

She waited, but he added nothing more. A little taken back by his brevity, she asked, "What sort of things do you write?" He picked up his cup, no longer looking at her. "Various things. I've been a journalist, tried my hand at a few novels." His smile didn't quite touch his eyes. "Write."

"I see." Carolyn was fairly sure she did. However he got his money to stay at the resort, he obviously didn't make it writing. Interesting. "I have a friend who writes. She's trying to get a romance published. It's a tough field." Carolyn smiled at him in gentle commiseration.

His shoulders relaxed and she realized how he had tensed at her probing questions. It was none of her business how he made his money, and she wasn't going to ask him any more awkward questions.

He leaned both elbows on the bar, moving closer to her. "I've been meaning to ask you, are there any more Kenniwicks around besides you?"

"So far as I know, just my mother and I."

He studied her face, feature by feature, as though trying to find the answer to some question only he knew. "So you're an only child. What's that like?"

"I take it you aren't one, or you'd never ask."

He shifted, so that his shoulder lightly brushed against hers. "You're right. I am the middle of three boys. I grew up thinking everyone had someone to play with or fight with. I suppose your life was a little different."

She laughed, remembering how different. Before she quite realized it, Carolyn was sharing her past with Clay, and as he listened he pictured the little girl spending most of her time in the backyard swing, reading a book. Her companions had been characters she'd met through reading. Because of her mother's allergies, Carolyn had never had a cat or dog, so she had lavished her attention and love on the various animals at the Washington Park zoo which overlooked Portland.

Her favorite animal had been the giraffe. "I've always appreciated the way the zoo housed them, with the curve of the hill putting visitors at the giraffe's eye level." She was unaware that she was twirling her cup in circles—her mind had traveled back over the years. "Have you ever noticed their eyes?"

"No, now that you mention it, I don't guess I have." He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been to a zoo, but decided not to interrupt her train of thought with the information.

"You really should visit them, just to look at their eyes," she was saying earnestly. "They're beautiful, and so kind looking—big and brown with ridiculously long lashes. It makes you want to walk up and hug them."

He stared into her large dark eyes, noting the long lashes surrounding them. He could certainly understand a sudden urge to hug.

"Did you do that often?" he asked interestedly.

"Not there, but I spent a lot of time at the petting zoo."

Clay could see her, smaller than her peers, those large eyes staring with equal intensity into the giant eyes of the giraffe. "So what made you decide to come on a vacation by yourself?"

The sudden change of subject startled her. To make matters worse, she could feel the heat in her cheeks that signaled her change of color. He raised his brow slightly. "Sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you. I realize it's none of my business."

"Oh, it's not that. It's just that I'm not sure you won't find my reason silly."

"Try me."

"Well, I've never really done anything on my own before. I mean, even with the business, I had my friends there creating what I was selling, bolstering me when I was unsure of myself. And of course I had Mitch."

"Mitch," he repeated without expression.

She nodded. "I met Mitch at college. He's brilliant; he really is. He has a very inquiring mind and reads all the time, when he isn't studying, and he's easy to talk with." She stopped. "You really don't want to hear this, do you?"

"Sure. After all, we've lived together for a week. I think it's time we got better acquainted, don't you?" He reached over and idly took her hand in his, his shoulder pressed lightly against hers.

Carolyn could smell Clay's aftershave, its seductive scent mingling with the warmth radiating from his body. "We haven't exactly 'lived' together. I've hardly seen you since I moved in." Her pulse rate shot up as he stroked each of her fingers with one of his. Then he gently placed her hand palm-to-palm with his, as though comparing them in size.

"I thought that's the way you wanted it," he murmured softly.

She turned her head, her lips only inches from his face. "Maybe I did, at first," she admitted. "After all, we're strangers, and this is an unusual situation."

He turned his head, the look in his sea blue eyes causing her to catch her breath. "That's true. That's why I was trying to play by your rules."

Carolyn felt as though she couldn't get her breath. Somehow his closeness had affected her ability to force air into her lungs. She tried to move her hand from his, but his fingers wrapped around hers with a gentle pressure. She stared at their clasped hands in fascination. Hesitantly she admitted, "It would be nice to get better acquainted." She forced herself to take a deep breath, then firmly reminded herself to exhale.
You've been doing it all your life, silly, don't forget how to breathe now when you most need some oxygen to your brain.

BOOK: Provocative Peril
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