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Authors: Annette Broadrick

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BOOK: Provocative Peril
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At last he declared the bird to be as clean as he knew how to get it. He carefully rinsed the soap off, then carried the bird to the sliding glass door. Carolyn darted in front of him to open the door, then they both stepped onto the deck. Clay untied the shoestring and set the gull on the railing, where it immediately flapped both wings, thoroughly drenching them both, gave a squawk and promptly flew off.

"That's gratitude for you," Clay commented with a grin. He stood there with his hands resting on his hips, the late evening sun glinting on his golden blond hair and beard. "He's probably gone off looking for something to eat, which isn't a bad idea. Are you hungry?" He turned around and Carolyn hastily lowered her gaze by glancing at her watch.

"I had no idea it was so late. It's close to eight-thirty."

"So my stomach's been telling me. How about getting something to eat?"

Carolyn looked down at herself and laughed. She looked as though she'd been the one taking a bath, she decided as she studied her dripping attire. "I don't think they'll let me in the dining room looking like this, do you?" She turned her laughing gaze to him, willing to share the humor of her appearance.

Why the hell does she have to be so damned attractive?
he thought with unconscious frustration. His thoughts were not reflected on his face. "We could always eat here. There's a hibachi over there, and I could throw on a couple of steaks if you'd like."

Carolyn could think of nothing she'd rather do, but she didn't want to sound too eager. "Sounds like fun." She gestured to her soggy sweatshirt. "But if you don't mind, I think I'll change into something else."

Clay looked down at his shirt and jeans. "Good idea. I'll start the coals, then try to get a little cleaned up myself." The smile he gave her warmed her from her toes all the way to the top of her head. Carolyn eagerly headed toward the stairs.

After dinner Clay and Carolyn remained on the deck, watching the sun set into the sea. They sat in companionable silence, sipping wine Clay had conjured up.

Carolyn's thoughts had been drifting, and she found herself staring at Clay, wondering what it would be like to kiss him. She quickly looked down at her glass, then surreptitiously continued to study him through her thick lashes.

As though disturbed by her thoughts, Clay stirred in his chair and looked over at her. "Are you warm enough?"

If he only knew.
"I'm fine."

"You sure you aren't bored sitting out here when you could be over there dancing tonight?"

"There are other nights."

"I take it you are enjoying your stay here at the coast?"

"Oh, yes."

"Are you meeting all those men you hoped to find?"

Even though she heard the gentle teasing in his voice, she gave the question serious thought. "Nothing is happening quite as I expected. I've met several people, including a couple of women from Portland who've been in my shop. It was fun to visit with them." She paused, sorting through her thoughts. "But I'm not too certain about most of the men I've met here."

"Not certain about what?"

"Their motives."

"Oh, I imagine their motives are pretty much what yours are."

She looked at him with surprise. "What do you mean?"

"The men are looking for a good time, just as you are."

She thought about that for a moment, then nodded pensively. "I suppose so. But I'm beginning to wonder if my idea of a good time is a little different from theirs."

Clay smothered a grin at the seriousness of her tone and responded in a similar one. "You might have a point there."

"You see," she explained solemnly, "I haven't had much experience around men." She paused, giving him an opportunity to respond to her statement, but he managed to withhold the obvious retort. "But most of the men I've met seem to be in such a hurry. I mean, they really rush a relationship."

Clay could find no suitable response to her comment, and the silence lengthened between them. They continued to stare out over the peaceful scene before them.

Carolyn was surprised that she felt so comfortable with Clay. She didn't find the silence between them at all threatening. In fact, she felt Clay's presence to be very soothing, as though he understood how she felt.

Clay wondered if any of the people he knew in southern California would believe the present scene. There he sat, watching the sun disappear behind a gold-kissed ocean with a beautiful girl, while she shared her concerns about her relationships with other men as though he were her elderly uncle.
You're slipping, Kenniwick. You are definitely slipping.

He stood up. "How about a walk on the beach?"

"That sounds like a great idea." Carolyn hopped up and started down the stairs toward the breakers.

It seemed perfectly natural for Clay to take her hand as they scrambled across the large boulders to the smooth sand near the water. It seemed even more natural that he continue to hold it as they walked along the beach. He slipped his arm around her shoulders to direct her to look at the large pelican watching them from a nearby rock, then he allowed it to rest there as they continued their walk.

Carolyn couldn't seem to control her reactions to him. The fresh, clean smell of a newly showered male seemed to envelop her senses. It felt so good to have his arm around her. Mitch had never affected her like that. She couldn't understand her reactions. Was this lust? If so, she could certainly sympathize with the struggle to overcome it. She could almost feel her blood bubbling through her veins, racing with anticipation, but she wasn't really sure what she wanted to have happen. Until it did.

Clay came to a slow stop, facing the water. Carolyn obligingly gazed out to sea as well until, with his other hand, he gently turned her head to face him. The look she saw in his eyes started a heavy drumming in her chest. Then he turned her to him and slowly placed his lips on hers.

Carolyn sighed; the anticipation was over. He kissed her long and leisurely as she stood passively in his arms, but as his hold tightened, she discovered she wanted to respond. Hesitantly she placed her arms around his broad shoulders, going up on tiptoe to better fit her mouth to his. He groaned his approval, his tongue darting between her softly parted lips.

Never had she been kissed like that. Never had she responded to a kiss like that. What had she been afraid of? What she felt was marvelous!

When they finally broke apart, both were breathless. Clay discovered that, novice or not, she certainly had the right instincts. His vacation plans looked better all the time.

Carolyn was shocked at her reactions. She'd gone with Mitch for years, and he'd never kissed her like that. And she had encouraged Clay! What must he think of her? She had made it clear to him that she didn't want any involvement between them, then had encouraged him to think differently by responding to him with such abandon.

It was a very confused Carolyn who returned to the room. He noticed her silence and decided not to rush her. He had plenty of time.

Carolyn had quite a lot to think over that night, none of which was sleep inducing.

By morning she'd decided she'd overreacted. After all, it was only a kiss. Most people thought nothing about kissing everyone they met. Her basic shyness was the only reason she'd been so affected. She needed to learn to overcome her inhibitions— that's what her vacation was for.

She decided that the night before had been sort of a lesson for her. After a quick shower Carolyn decided to see if Clay was downstairs. She wasn't at all displeased with his teaching abilities!

Carolyn could smell coffee as she hurried down the steps, but the kitchen was empty. As she poured herself a cup, she could feel the disappointment settle in.

This is ridiculous. Why do you care where he is? He isn't the only man around. Don't forget Ted. She nodded energetically to herself as she recalled Ted. Don't let one man interfere with your fun-filled vacation plans. Glancing at the clock, she decided to go to the restaurant for breakfast.

Carolyn kept busy all day. She was beginning to recognize several of the people now, and everyone was friendly. But she didn't see Clay all day.

Ted reminded her that a formal dance was planned for that evening.

"How about going with me?"

"Well, I'm not sure—"

"Of course, you're sure. I won't take no for an answer." He grinned. She couldn't understand her own reactions. Ted was everything she'd hoped to find at the resort, but for some reason a little of his company seemed to go a long way.

"All right. I'll meet you there," she finally agreed.

"Why don't I stop by your room for you?" he offered.

"Uh, no, I think it would be better if I meet you at the ballroom."

He shrugged. "If you say so. Then I'll see you tonight."

Carolyn nodded, then turned and slowly walked back to her room, deep in thought.

She chose one of her most demure evening dresses. She didn't feel comfortable enough to try one of the more daring ones. She'd kept listening for Clay all the time she was getting dressed and finally accepted that she wasn't going to see him that day. / wonder if he's avoiding me after last night. Maybe he thinks I was too forward and this is his way of letting me know he's not interested.

Her reflection reassured her. She looked fine. Even if Clay wasn't interested, Ted certainly was. Squaring her shoulders, she marched down the stairs. Just as she reached the door, it suddenly opened and Clay stepped in. He was wearing another army reject outfit.

His sudden appearance threw her, and she said the first thing that popped into her head. "Hi. Are you going to the extravaganza tonight?" When he closed the door behind him, the small entryway seemed to shrink. Carolyn was certain that he could hear her heart pounding.

"I don't know. Haven't given it much thought."

"Oh." She didn't know what to say. "Since you're such a good dancer and all, I thought you'd probably be there."

Clay's left brow inched up. "You think I'm a good dancer?"

Now she'd done it. What had possessed her to reveal to him that she'd noticed him the other night? She forced herself to meet his eyes. "You know you are," she said quietly. She stood there while he carefully inspected her.

"It's supposed to be formal, isn't it?"

She nodded.

"I might be there, why?"

She swallowed. "Well, I just thought if you were coming, we might get a chance to dance together."

Both brows raised at that. "Are you sure you want to be seen in public with me? Won't that cramp your style?"

"You know very well I never said any such thing. You're just trying to twist my words around."

"If you say so."

Carolyn watched a tiny quiver in Clay's mouth spread into a smile. Of course he was teasing her. Why did she have to react to him so strongly?

They stood there in silence, a sudden tension entering the room. The message in Clay's eyes caused a quiver inside her, and Carolyn found it impossible to break the eye contact.

Then Clay stepped back and said, "I might. If so, I'll see you there."

Carolyn left the room, shaken by the encounter, but not sure why.

It was too early to meet Ted, so she stopped by the room of a couple of new friends to exchange views about one another's dresses. By the time she arrived at the ballroom, a large crowd had assembled. The room had been lavishly decorated and the centerpiece on the buffet—a swan carved out of ice—was breathtaking.

Ted joined her and escorted her to a table. Carolyn felt like a queen as she floated into the room on his arm. She knew they made an arresting couple; his tuxedo fit his tall, lean form as though his body had been designed to wear such a garment; her smaller frame further accentuated his height.

She studied the roomful of people for a few moments before she realized that she was searching for Clay's golden head. Annoyed at herself, she turned her attention to Ted.

Ted kept her entertained with tales of his youth, which she found quite amusing. In fact, she wondered again about her ambivalent feelings for the man. He was attractive, charming, and he had a keen sense of humor.

Unaware of her actions, Carolyn glanced around the room once more.

After a magnificent dinner, the musicians played a pleasant mix of currently popular songs and classics. Carolyn spent most of her time on the dance floor, either with Ted or one of several other men she'd met.

Where was Clay, anyway?

Late in the evening Carolyn relaxed in Ted's arms, letting her mind drift with the music. . . .

"Excuse me, may I cut in?" Clay's voice was muted but distinct.

Carolyn glanced around and saw him, forgetting the man who held her. Clay stood there in formal dress, a ruffled shirt gleaming in the soft light. He looked stunning. The stark black of the suit emphasized his fair hair and beard, both of which looked freshly trimmed.

Without a word Carolyn floated into his arms.

"Where have you been?" she asked in a sleepy, wondering voice.

"Well, you see, I was asked to dance tonight and I didn't have a thing to wear." He paused and glanced down at her, then pulled her even closer to him. She could feel the hard planes of his body pressing against her entire length and tiny electrical currents leaped into life. "So I had to rush out and buy a suit, get my hair cut and do a few other things so I could show up tonight."

Her eyes widened as she stared up at him. "You're kidding! Surely you didn't go to all of that trouble just because I asked you to dance with me!"

He shrugged his wide shoulders. "If you say so."



"Are you serious?"

"I never lie."

"Oh, Clay."

"Oh, Carolyn," he mocked.

They continued to dance through the rest of that song and the next, a medley that went on and on. When the music stopped, Clay walked her decorously back to the table where Ted waited, thanked her politely and disappeared.

Ted's mood had deteriorated. He ordered them more drinks and sat there drumming his fingers on the table.

"Who was that?"

Carolyn's thoughts were not on the man across from her. "Hmmmm?" she asked, a dreamy expression on her face.

"I said," he repeated irritably, "who was that?"

"Oh. His name is Clay Kenniwick."

"Kenniwick. That's your last name."

She smiled. "I know."

"I mean, is he any kin to you?"

"Not that I know of. I've never asked."

"How long have you known him?"

"Oh, about the same length of time I've known you." The waiter appeared with their drinks, and Carolyn began to sip hers.



"Why have you never mentioned this Clay character before?"

She looked surprised. "Why should I?"

"Because I thought . . . what with the time we've spent together and all . . . that you weren't seeing anyone else."

"That's silly, Ted. You've been watching me dance with other men all evening."

"But you haven't danced with them like that!"

"Like what?"

"Oh, come on, Carolyn, don't act so innocent. You didn't drape yourself all over them, or me either, for that matter, like you just did him."

"I did not 'drape' myself, as you so nicely put it," she pointed out with quiet dignity. "I merely danced with him."

Ted sat there for a moment, his dark good looks brooding. "Would you like to dance?"

She smiled. "Love to."

Carolyn couldn't remember having enjoyed an evening more. It had been borrowed out of some ancient fairy tale, where the lights sparkled magically, and the swirling colors of the ladies' dresses added a brilliant backdrop to her romantic adventure. She noted that more than one feminine eye had watched Ted as they danced, and before she left he made her promise to have dinner with him the following evening.

But what lingered in her memory, long after the evening was over, was that Clay had gone to so much trouble just for one dance with her.

BOOK: Provocative Peril
4.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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