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Authors: Katherine Allred

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

Sweet Revenge (14 page)

BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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The thought of him in bed made her eyes close in an agony of wanting. Which was exactly why she had to avoid him while she came to a decision. She had no willpower where he was concerned. One look from those deep blue eyes and she’d melt like an ice cube in a tub of scalding water.

She made her way through the gates and headed toward the parking lot. A t least she’d been there when A my needed her. Maybe the little girl could finally begin to recover from the damage her mother had done. Now, if she could only find a way to straighten out her own life everything would be just peachy.

* * * * *

Chase leaned against the frame of his bedroom window, staring morosely at Jessie’s house. Where the hell was she? By the time he and A my had gotten up this morning, her car was gone. He had delayed their swimming trip, thinking maybe she’d just run to the store and would be back soon. But she hadn’t been.

A fter waiting an hour, he’d gone to her house hoping to find a note. Her doors had been locked. No one locked their doors in Rocky Flats.

With an increasing sense of unease, he’d even called Bridget, but she hadn’t seen or heard from Jessie since the day before. He’d been right yesterday. Something was wrong. He should have followed his instincts and gone back to find out what it was.

A bruptly, he straightened as headlights illuminated Jessie’s driveway. It was about damn time. He grabbed his jeans and slid them on, then paused only long enough to make sure A my was asleep before slipping out of the dark house.

She was trying to unlock her door, juggling two bags, when he stepped onto the porch behind her. “Looks like you could use some help.”

“Chase!” She turned so fast the bags started to topple. “I thought you’d be in bed by now.” Thought or hoped? Was she trying to avoid him? He caught the bags and lifted them from her arms. “I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been too busy worrying about where you’d vanished to.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t intend to worry you.” She unlocked the door and pushed it open. “I decided to go into Houston this morning.” He deposited the bags on the counter. “Next time you disappear, could you give me a little warning? I’ve been going out of my mind all day. I kept picturing you in an accident somewhere.”

She gave him a wan smile. “Well, as you can see I’m fine. What did you want?”

“A my and I went swimming. We wanted you to go with us.”

“How is she?”

“Better than I’ve seen her in a long time.” He leaned back and winced slightly when his bare skin touched the cabinet. “She actually got involved with another girl her age. Now she’s all excited about going to school tomorrow.”

“That’s wonderful.” She gestured at his back. “You’d better put something on that. Looks like a nasty sunburn.”

“I don’t have anything. A nd even if I did, I can’t reach that far behind me.” He shrugged. “I’ll survive.” She hesitated. “Just a minute.” She turned and left the room, coming back with a blue jar in her hand. “Sit down.” Even as he complied, he eyed the jar warily. “What’s that?”

“A burn ointment. It should take some of the sting out.”

When the first of the lotion hit his back he shivered. “God, that’s cold.”

“Only because your skin is so hot.” She smoothed it gently across his back.

For a few seconds he simply enjoyed the touch of her hands on his body. He wasn’t used to having someone do things like this for him. It was kind of nice, something he could get used to with very little effort. A nd she was right. The pain from the burn was already easing. But that wasn’t why he was here at midnight.

Before she could recap the jar and move away, he caught her hand and pulled her down onto his lap. “Jess, is something wrong? Did A my do or say something to upset you last night?”

Her gaze met his intently, then she blinked and looked down. “Of course it upset me. When I think about how long A my was living with that information, how scared she was, it makes me want to find Becky and strangle her. How could she do that to her own child?”

“I stopped trying to figure Becky out a long time ago.” He brushed a dark stand of hair away from her cheek. “A re you sure that’s all it was? This trip to Houston sure was sudden.” His voice softened. “You aren’t running from me again, are you Jess?” She took a deep shaky breath and looked up at him. “I don’t know. Maybe. I think I needed a little breathing space.”

“Why?” Just the fact that she felt that way scared him. He might not be ready to commit yet, but he also couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.

“I guess because things have been happening too fast.”

Her gaze drifted down his chest and she shifted restlessly before flattening her palm on his arm. “You have to understand that I didn’t expect anything like this. Especially not with you. I kind of feel like a bug on the windshield of a Mack truck.”

“Why especially not with me?”

She leaned against him with a sigh, her body, soft and warm, relaxing into his. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head, inhaling the sweet scent from her hair.

“I know Bridget told you I had a crush on you during high school. A really bad one. You were all of my fantasies rolled up in one. But I was realistic. I knew a fantasy was all you’d ever be. I didn’t expect that to change when I came back.”

“A re you sorry it did?”

Her body went so still he wondered if she’d fallen asleep. Then she lifted her arms to circle his neck, her fingers twining through his hair.

“No,” she murmured. “I can’t be sorry. The real you is so much better than the fantasy ever was.” Her lips moved softly against his. “How’s a girl supposed to fight that?”

“She doesn’t,” he whispered, his chest aching with relief. “She just enjoys it.”
Chapter Fourteen

Jessie pulled the blanket over her head and groaned when the alarm clock went off, but she’d already hit the snooze button twice. She had to get up, even if she did feel like she could do a pretty good imitation of Rip Van Winkle.

Stress. That’s what it had to be. Either that or the damn sinus infection was coming back. A nd it didn’t help that she’d gotten to bed very late last night. Chase hadn’t stayed very long, but she’d had to put away the groceries she’d bought in Houston.

Mustering the energy to lift her eyelids and sit up nearly drained her strength, but she managed it. Maybe a cold shower would help wake her. That and a whole pot of coffee. Thank heaven she’d set it to start on its own. She could already smell the strong aroma drifting up from the kitchen.

A tiny smile lifted the corners of her lips as she made her wobbly way to the bathroom, eyes still trying to drift closed. Chase had been worried about her yesterday. Could that be the sign she’d asked for?

Not that it made much difference. A t the first touch of her hand on his back, she’d known she could no more break it off with him than she could stop breathing. It had taken an enormous effort to keep from wrapping herself around his body and begging him to love her.

That still worried her a little. She had never been the clingy type and didn’t plan on starting now. Her independence meant a lot to her. It was clear she needed to get a grip on her emotions, to enjoy Chase without putting strings on him. She could do that. She hoped.

Turning on the water, she stripped off her nightshirt and stepped under the shower. Teeth chattering, she let the icy cold stream flow over her. Oh, yeah. She was awake now.

* * * * *

“I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it in this morning.”

Jessie stuck her purse in a desk drawer before she answered Bridget. “I couldn’t get woke up. I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.

Seems like all I want to do is sleep.”

“Well, let’s see. Could it be because you just made a major move, opened a new business you’re working your butt off at, and started a hot affair with a gorgeous hunk, all in the space of a few weeks?”

“Ya think?” She grinned at the redhead, then paused in the act of fastening her hair in a ponytail. “Why do you look so smug this morning?”

Bridget jumped to her feet and rounded the desk, catching Jessie’s hands in her excitement. “Oh, Jess. I tried to call you yesterday, but you weren’t home. You aren’t going to believe this. I had a date with Howard Saturday night. He asked me to marry him!”

“Oh my gosh!” Hair forgotten, she grabbed Bridget and hugged her. “When? Where? I’m so happy for you! You did say yes, didn’t you?”

“Of course I said yes.” Bridget laughed. “So fast he’s still dizzy. A nd we don’t have much time to get ready. He wants to do it in two weeks so I can move into the new house with him.”

“Two weeks,” Jessie wailed. “We can’t plan a wedding in two weeks!”

“If it’s a small one we can. Just a few friends and Howard’s parents. You’ll be my maid of honor, naturally, and I thought A my could be my flower girl. You’ve got some free time this morning. We could run over to the Bridal Shoppe and see what kind of dresses they have. Oh, and there’s one more thing. You can’t tell anyone yet. Howard’s parents still live in Dayton and he wants us to tell them before they hear it from anyone else. We’re going over there tomorrow evening.”

“My lips are sealed. But what are we going to tell them at the Bridal Shoppe?” Bridget grinned at her. “Nothing. Let them guess for a few days.”

“You got it.” She thought for a second. “Do you know where you want to have it yet? If not, we could use my house. With a little decoration, in front of the fireplace would be perfect.”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Mind? I insist. Oh, Bridg. I’m so excited. You and Howard are going to have a wonderful life together.” The bell over the front door tinkled as the first of her senior citizens class entered, and Jessie hurriedly finished her hair. “When’s my free time?”

Bridget checked the appointment book. “You don’t have anything scheduled from eleven to twelve, then an hour for lunch.” Jessie nodded. “That gives us two hours. We can do a lot of damage in that amount of time.” She paused. “This doesn’t mean I’m going to lose you as my secretary does it?”

“Not a chance. The house is halfway between Bay Town and here. It won’t be any trouble to drive.”

“Even better. For a second there I was having visions of trying to find a replacement in two weeks. Okay, time to go to work.”

* * * * *

“May I help you?”

Jessie smiled at the saleslady. “Thanks, but for now we’re just looking. We’ll let you know if we need something.”

“We just got a shipment of new formal gowns. They’re along that wall if you’d like to browse through them. A nd naturally, we have several catalogs on the table over there.” The blonde gestured to a round table near the back of the room.

“Thanks,” Jessie repeated, glancing at Bridget. “Maybe later.”

She waited until the woman was out of earshot then turned to her friend. “Okay, any idea what you’re looking for? We need a place to start.”

Bridget’s gaze was skimming the dresses with delight. “Something simple, probably.”

“Long, short or tea length?”

“I guess long would be too much for a small wedding, wouldn’t it?”

Her expression was so wistful that Jessie put her hands on her hips and glared at her. “This is your wedding, Bridg. The only one you’ll ever have. If you want a dress with a ten-foot train, then we’re going to find you one. If necessary, we can leave the train draped over the banister during the wedding.”

The redhead laughed. “Now that would be a sight. But you’re right. It’s my wedding and I want a real dress. A white one, long skirt and tight sleeves. Maybe a lace bodice?”

Jessie had been rummaging through the rows of gowns. “Like this?” She pulled one out and held it up for inspection.

Bridget eyed it critically. “Not exactly. This one is Empire style. I look horrible in those. But the neckline is right.” She put it back and continued looking. “What style did you have in mind?”

Bridget hesitated. “Do you think I’d look stupid in one of those old-fashioned dresses? The kind the Gibson Girl wore?” She waved a hand behind her. “You know, the straight skirt with a small bustle kind of thing in back.” Jessie took a step back and studied her. “Oh. Oh, yes. Bridget, you’ll look absolutely perfect in it. We can do your hair in a Gibson Girl, too. With a wreath of tiny flowers wound all through it.” She sighed. “Howard won’t know what hit him.”

“What if we can’t find one like that?”

Wasn’t it getting hot in here? Jessie wiped a hand over her damp forehead. “We’ll find it if we have to search every town between the coast and Houston. Starting right here. Someone is bound to have the perfect dress.”

“Jess, are you okay? You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine.” Bridget’s image shimmered in front of her. “I just got a little warm.” She was turning back toward the dresses when a wave of dizziness slammed into her and she swayed. Suddenly Bridget was clutching her arm, guiding her into a chair.

“No, you aren’t fine. You’re about to pass out.” She shoved down on Jessie’s shoulders. “Put your head between your knees. Good grief, Jess. You’re white as a sheet and dripping sweat. Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”

“Not sick,” she mumbled. The blackness at the edges of her vision was starting to recede, but she was still afraid to move. “Just missed breakfast.”

She caught a glimpse of the saleslady’s skirt, then someone pushed a cold, wet cloth against her forehead. God, it felt good. She took it and wiped the sweat from her face.

“Should we call someone?”

“No, please, I’m fine. Really. It was just a little dizzy spell.” Tentatively, she straightened. “See? It’s already gone.”

“Forget the dress for now,” Bridget told her anxiously. “Just as soon as you can walk we’re going to get you some lunch.”

“That might be a good idea. Maybe we can come back after we eat.”

“I don’t think so. You’re going home and get into bed. I’ll just reschedule your classes for today and tomorrow.”

“I can’t afford to take two days off!”

Bridget shook her head. “You can’t afford to wind up in the hospital either. You’re going to rest if I have to hog-tie you to the bed.” She stood, wobbled for a second, then steadied. “Let’s just get something to eat first, then we’ll see.” She handed the cloth back to the blonde. “Thanks, and sorry I caused such a fuss.”

BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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