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Authors: Katherine Allred

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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“There’s no law that says you have to sleep with him if you think that’s all he wants from you. So don’t do it. If you’re right, he’ll leave you alone once he realizes you’re serious. But in the meantime, use his attraction to let him get to know the real Jessie. Maybe he’ll surprise you.” He reached over and touched her cheek. “I don’t like seeing you miserable, Jess. Nothing in life is a sure thing, especially not where love is concerned. If you want to be happy you have to be willing to take some chances.” When she started to protest he held up his hand. “I know, you could wind up getting hurt. But if you are, at least you’ll get this guy out of your system once and for all. On the other hand, you could end up getting everything you’ve ever wanted. You’re a lot of things, Jess, but you aren’t a coward. Take the risk.”

“Easy for you to say,” she muttered.

“You know, there’s only one thing in my life I really regret. I never asked Mary Elizabeth Carson to go out with me. I carried a torch for her all through school. A nd I still have dirty dreams about her occasionally.” He leered at her. “Want me to tell you about them?”

“Please, spare me the details. So, why didn’t you ever ask her out?”

He shrugged. “She just seemed so aloof, so untouchable. I think she terrified every male over the age of three.”

“Have you seen her since school?”

“Once. She’s a nun now.” He grinned at her.

“Oh, Lord. You have dirty dreams about a nun? Dominic Reyes, you are going straight to hell.”

“Probably. But the thing is, maybe if I’d gotten up the nerve to talk to her, my life would be different. Now I’ll never know.” Jessie blinked at him. “I thought you loved what you’re doing.”

“I do. But it gets lonely, Jess. A nd I’ll never be sure if a woman really loves me, or just wants me for who I am. There are times I wish I was just plain Dominic Reyes again, the boy from the barrio. I’d probably be married with a house full of kids by now. A s it is, I’ll just have to wait until you have some so I can spoil them rotten.”

“Why haven’t you ever told me this before?” Her voice was soft and she was fighting back tears.

He shrugged. “The subject never came up. A nd I didn’t tell you now to make you feel sorry for me. I had a choice to make, Jess, and I chose the life I’m living now. For the most part, I’m happy with it. But you have a choice too, and I don’t want you to make it blindly, based on how you felt years ago. Neither of you are the same people you were in school.”

“I’ll think about it.” She sighed. It did seem like she was saying that a lot lately.

“Good.” He smiled at her. “A nd while I’m in my lecturing mode, there’s another way you can find out if he’s really interested in you or just your body.”

“How?”

“Go ahead and sleep with him. If he keeps coming back, it’s not just the sex.”

“Oh, thank you, Dr. Freud, for that observation. Like I couldn’t figure that one out on my own.”

“In that case, I won’t charge you.” He stood. “A nd now it’s time for me to make my exit.” Jessie stood also and hugged him. “I love you,” she sniffed. “Call me as soon as you get settled in ll.A .?”

“I will.” He rubbed her back. “A nd when I do, I want a full report.”

She laughed through her tears. “If there’s anything to report, you’ll have it.” She released him and stepped back, watching as he picked up his suitcase. He paused at the back door and turned to look at her.

“I love you, too, Jess. A nd I’m really going to miss you. You have my cell phone number. Call me any time, day or night. If you need me, I’ll be on the next plane out.”

Mutely, she nodded. The door closed behind him, leaving her alone in the suddenly quiet house with nothing to do but think about what he’d said to her.

Chapter Seven

She wasn’t a coward, damn it, she wasn’t. Viscously, Jessie stabbed her trowel under a weed and yanked it out of the ground. A t least, she hoped it was a weed. She added a trip to the library to her list of things that needed doing. If she were going to keep Gram’s flowerbeds up to par, she should get a book on gardening.

Sitting back on her heels, she wiped sweat from her forehead. Last night had been pure torture. She’d tossed and turned until daylight was seeping through her windows, Dom’s words running over and over through her mind like a tape on a loop.

She still couldn’t believe she’d admitted to Dom that she was in love with Chase when she’d barely acknowledged it to herself. But one thing was clear. She was going to have to make a decision. It was either get over him completely, once and for all, or risk getting her heart broken again.

“I am not a coward,” she repeated softly just as a shadow blocked the sun.

“Hi. Who are you talking to?”

“Myself.” She smiled up at A my. “Nasty habit. What are you up to today?”

“Nothing much. Dad’s working and I got bored.”

“You don’t know anything about gardening, do you? I can’t decide if I just dug up a weed or a flower.” She held the limp green wad up for A my’s inspection.

The little girl squinted her eyes as she looked at the plant. “I think it’s a weed.”

“Good. A nd even if it isn’t, we’re going to pretend it is.” She stood and dusted off her hands. “It’s too hot to be gardening anyway. Want something to drink?”

“Sure, if you aren’t busy. A unt Ruth said not to be a bother.”

“You tell your A unt Ruth I said you’re never a bother. You come over any time you want.” A my followed her into the house and got two sodas out of the fridge while Jessie washed the dirt off her hands.

“I was looking at Dad’s senior yearbook earlier.”

“Yeah?” Jessie dried her hands and reached for the soda. “I guess we seemed pretty funny-looking, huh?”

“Kind of.” A my smiled at her. “You looked different than you do now.”

Jessie grimaced. “You can say it. I looked fat. I was fat.”

A my stared down at the can of soda she was holding. “So am I.”

“Hey, look here.” She put her finger under A my’s chin and tilted it up. “You’re only ten. What you have is just baby fat, not the real thing.

Believe me, I know the difference. In the next couple of years you’re going to grow so fast that your height will catch up to your weight. A nd when it does, you’re going to have to beat the boys off with a stick.”

“Boys are stupid.”

“Yeah, they can be. A nd they don’t get much better with age, but you’ll change your mind about them when you’re older. Probably around the time you hit thirteen.”

“Isn’t all that kissing stuff gross?”

“Well,” she said cautiously, “not if it’s someone you really care about.” If they were going to get into conversations of this type she really needed to find out what Chase had told his daughter up to this point.

“I think my dad likes you.”

Jessie tried hard not to choke on the drink she’d just taken. “Oh? What makes you say that?” A my shrugged. “He was acting really weird yesterday when that guy showed up here.”

“Weird how?” Was it cheating to pump Chase’s daughter for information? Naw, she decided. A fter all, A my had started the conversation.

It wasn’t like she’d tied her to a chair and forced her against her will.

“Just weird. He ate a peanut butter sandwich.”

Jessie arched an eyebrow.

“He hates peanut butter,” A my clarified. “A nd he didn’t even know he was eating it until I said something. Then he told me I’d better start over to A unt Ruth’s before it got dark.” She paused. “A nd this was at two-thirty in the afternoon.” Jessie grinned. “Maybe he just had something on his mind and wasn’t paying attention.”

“He watched you kiss that guy.”

“Really.”

A my nodded. “He was fine until then. That’s why I think he likes you.”

“Would it bother you if he did?”

She tilted her head, blonde hair swinging around her shoulders as she thought. Finally, she shook her head. “I wouldn’t mind. Not if you liked him back. Do you?”

“Sure. You’re dad is a nice man. What’s not to like?”

She almost quailed under A my’s intent gaze, but apparently the little girl was satisfied with what she saw. A bruptly, she changed the subject.

“A unt Ruth said we could borrow her tape of Hamlet. Can we watch it tonight?” Jessie breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t see why not. Let’s go check the VCR. I haven’t used it since I got here and I’m not sure if it works.” She headed for the cabinet in the living room that held all her grandmother’s electronic equipment.

“I think it does. Mrs. James used to tape all the shows that were on after her bedtime so she could watch them the next day.”

“That sounds like Gram. Bedtime was nine p.m. on the dot even if the Earth shifted on its axis.” Jessie sat down on the floor in front of the cabinet and slid the door to one side. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” There were three shelves inside, the VCR on the middle one. The bottom shelf contained an assortment of tapes.

She tapped the black box on the top shelf. “Strange-looking radio.”

“It’s a scanner,” A my told her. Leaning over, she flipped the “on” button and static filled the room. “Mrs. James used to keep it going all the time. She said she could keep up with all the news and never leave the house.” Tiny lights were lined up across the front of the box, each turning red in rapid succession. “What’s it doing?”

“Scanning for activity on the channels. When someone talks, it’ll stop until the conversation is over.” Suddenly the light stopped moving and a female voice came from the speaker. “Five-o-one, what is your ten-twenty?” There was a slight pause then a familiar male voice answered. “This is five-o-one. I’m about halfway between Liberty and Dayton on highway ninety, heading west.”

“Ten-four, five-o-one. We have a report of a ten-forty-six on farm road 1008 near Kenefick.”

“On my way. ETA is ten minutes. Five-o-one out.”

The voices stopped and the red light began its movement again.

“Fascinating,” Jessie commented. “Now what did they say?”

A my grinned at her. “Jamie, the weekend dispatcher, just told Dad that someone was having car trouble and needed help.”

“You got that from all those numbers?”

“It’s standard code.” She reached into the cabinet and pulled out a folded sheet of paper from next to the scanner. “Mrs. James had them all written down in case she forgot one.”

Jessie took the paper and opened it. “Fascinating,” she repeated, running a finger down the list. She’d heard of scanners, of course, but had never paid much attention to them before. The idea that she could listen to Chase work all day made the gadget quite interesting. Maybe she’d get another one for the studio office.

Refolding the paper, she returned it to the cabinet and shut the scanner off. “Okay, let’s check this VCR and then we’ll be all set for tonight.”

* * * * *

It was six on the button when she saw Chase leave his house and head across the yard toward hers. A lone, she noted. A nd he’d taken the time to shower and change out of his uniform. He was now wearing a pair of snug black jeans and a white cotton shirt. Her heart did a rapid pirouette and she was tempted to check her chin for drool he looked so good.

Even as she moved toward the door a tingle of excitement curled inside her. Which was silly. This certainly couldn’t be termed a date by any stretch of the imagination. They were just going to watch a tape with his daughter.

She opened the door before he had a chance to knock. “Hi. Where’s A my?”

“She’s loading the dishwasher. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“Come on in. I was just getting ready to make popcorn.”

He edged through the door sideways and she caught a whiff of his aftershave. Not only did he look good, he smelled like pure sin.

“I brought you something.”

Jessie looked down at his empty hands. “Thanks, but I’ve got all the air I need.” He grinned and turned around, pointing to the back of his neck.

It took a second for her to identify the gray ball of fuzz clinging just below his hair. “A kitten! You got me a kitten?”

“I thought it might help with your mouse problem. I knew Mrs. Ingels’ cat had a litter so I stopped and picked one up for you.” He’d been thinking about her today. The idea had her stomach doing joyous backflips. “You’re going to have to lean over. I can’t reach him.”

Obligingly, Chase bent his knees. Jessie put her hands around the kitten’s middle and tried to lift him off. The kitten promptly dug in with all four feet, protesting loudly.

“Ouch! What are you doing to him?”

“Hang on.” She pried the tiny animal loose one foot at a time, then cuddled him against her. “He’s adorable. It is a ‘he’ isn’t it?”

“So Mrs. Ingels says. I’m inclined to take her word for it.”

The kitten hid its face in her hand, shivering. “Poor baby. It’s scared.”

“Give it an hour and it’ll think it’s been here all its life.”

“Did you get one for A my?”

“No.” He reached over and ran a finger down the kitten’s back. “She wants a puppy. We’re still negotiating. I’m hoping that if she sees how much fun a kitten is she’ll settle.”

“You have something against puppies?”

“Only that they require a lot more care than cats. With me working and A my going to school we just don’t have the time to devote to a pup. Plus, cats don’t eat the furniture when you leave them alone.”

“I guess you’ve got a point.” She glanced up at him. “Oh, he messed up your collar. Bend over and I’ll fix it.” She expected him to turn around like he had before. Instead, he bent down until their eyes were on the same level. Hesitantly, she reached around him and turned his collar back under, aware with every nerve in her body that he was watching her face from less than an inch away.

“There. A ll fixed.”

He straightened, but his gaze remained on hers. “Jess, about what happened at the dance last night. If you’re expecting me to apologize, don’t. I’m not sorry it happened.”

She looked down at the kitten. “I wasn’t expecting you to apologize. It was as much my fault as it was yours. I could have stopped you.”

“Does that mean you won’t stop me if it happens again?”

“I don’t know.” Good grief. She was shaking, just like she had the night before.

“I guess we’ll have to find out, won’t we.” He glanced out the door. “Here comes A my. Listen, before she gets here I need a favor. She told me you found Mrs. James’ scanner. I’d rather you didn’t have it on when she’s around.” Jessie looked at him in puzzlement. “Why not?”

“I’ll explain later,” he murmured, reaching for the door. While he let A my in, she put the kitten on the floor and watched as it stretched out, sniffing everything in its reach before taking a few tentative steps.

“What are you going to name him?” A my was watching the kitten with interest.

“I don’t know yet.” She smiled at the girl. “A ny suggestions?”

“How about Glue? Every time you try to pick him up he sticks to whatever he’s on.” Jessie shot Chase a disgusted look and he held up both hands and grinned.

“Don’t look at me. I didn’t say a word.”

“A bout what?” A my was looking from one of them to the other.

“Nothing,” Jessie said hastily. “But I think I’d rather find a different name.” Suddenly she smiled. “Bubbles, maybe.”

“Bubbles? For a boy cat? A re you trying to give him a complex?”

Jessie laughed when Chase arched a brow at her. “I can see it now. Every time you let him outside all the other cats will beat him up.”

“Well, I like it. A nd he’ll never know the difference. Bubbles it is.”

“Bubbles,” A my repeated. “Can I take him in the living room while I get the tape ready?”

“Sure. I’m going to make the popcorn. Chase, why don’t you get the sodas?”

She poured oill in a pan and added the kernels while he rummaged in the fridge.

“You mean you aren’t going to nuke it?”

Jessie put a lid on the pot and turned on the burner. “No. I don’t trust Gram’s microwave. Each time I’ve used it the lights flicker and nearly go off.”

“Sounds like the wiring. That could be dangerous.”

“I was going to call someone about the air conditioner tomorrow anyway. I’ll just have them check the wiring while they’re at it. Is Tom Davis still around?”

“Still around and still working. He’s a good choice.”

She shook the pan vigorously as the popping started. “Then that’s who I’ll call.” A s soon as the popcorn was done she divided it into two bowls and carried it to the living room. The sight of Chase sprawled comfortably on one end of the couch had her pulse rate jumping. It looked as though he belonged there, like he’d been doing it for years. How could he seem so calm when she felt so…so excited? Nervous? Whatever the emotion was, it sure wasn’t calm.

A my was on the floor between the coffee table and the TV, with Bubbles stalking her wiggling fingers. Jessie put one bowl beside her and took the other one to the couch, depositing it on the center cushion. “Lights on or off?” she inquired.

“Off,” A my said.

Jessie flicked the switch. “Okay, Madam Projectionist, let her roll.” She took the other end of the couch just as the film started. The view spun dizzily then settled on the stage. A unt Ruth must have been in the front row the shot was so close. A nd every time Chase appeared on stage, the camera stayed right on him.

A fter his first scene, he groaned. “You were right. Watching it is harder than doing it.” Jessie kept her eyes on the set as she reached into the bowl for popcorn. “Truthfully, you guys aren’t bad. I’ve seen worse on Broadway.

You could have had a career on the stage.”

“Local theater is one thing, but I like what I do. I wouldn’t change it even if I could.”

“I can see that.” She glanced at him in the light from the TV. He had shifted until he was in the nook where the couch arm met the back, one knee bent on the seat, arm stretched along the top. A nd he was watching her instead of the tape.

A n electric tingle ran down her spine as their gazes locked, and Jessie realized that she’d made her decision. Even if he only wanted to use her, even if she wound up dying from a broken heart, she had to take this chance. If she didn’t, she’d spend the rest of her life wondering.

BOOK: Sweet Revenge
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