Authors: Judy Angelo
Sam was humming under her breath as she rang the
doorbell and waited for Jake to let her in. When the door opened she held up
her bundle to a sleepy-looking Jake. “You won’t believe what I have here,” she
said eagerly. “The perfect material for the music room.” She barely gave him
a chance to step aside before she breezed in, the bulky bag of fabrics clutched
to her chest. “Come on. Let me show you,” she said and, not waiting to see if
he was following, she headed for the room in question.
When she got to her location she made a beeline for
the sofa where she sat down and began to spread out her pieces. “Come look at
these rich colors,” she gushed, bubbling with enthusiasm. “They’ll be the
perfect palette for this room, with its deep mahogany paneling and, of course,
the solid ebony of your grand piano.”
She waved a hand, beckoning to Jake who seemed to be
hovering in the doorway. “What are you doing all the way over there? Come
closer.” She leaned over and patted the other end of the sofa.
He came but then he looked so strange, his back so
straight and rigid. He didn’t look comfortable at all.
She frowned. “Are you okay?”
Only then did his posture change. Her question must
have made him conscious of how weird he was acting because he gave a sheepish
grin and relaxed into the chair.
“Do you like the colors?” she asked, trying to draw
him into conversation.
“Yes,” he said with an almost reluctant smile. “Very
much.” Now he was beginning to look like his old self again. Thank goodness.
After that things went back to normal with Jake
holding lengths of fabric while she matched and measured and shared her plans
for recreating the room with matching rug and classic paintings for the wall.
Working with a man like Jake was a decorator’s dream. He did not question her
choices and, as for the budget, he approved without comment.
Sam was a bit surprised when Jake invited her to stay
for lunch. After the way things had started off she’d expected him to see her
to the door as soon as their business was done. But no, he’d asked her to
stay and she graciously accepted, smiling inwardly. Her improved look must be
They lunched on green salad with baby tomatoes
followed by grilled cheese and tuna sandwiches, compliments of Chef McKoy, and
with each passing moment his spirit seemed to lift. Relieved at his change of
mood Sam began to relax and she gladly accepted the wine he offered her at the
end of the meal.
“Mm, nice.” She sipped slowly, savoring the tart
liquid as it bathed her tongue. “What year?”
“Nineteen eighty-three, from the best vineyard in the
Niagara Falls area.” Then he tilted his head and gave her one of his crooked
smiles. “Just doing my part to support the local economy.”
“Thanks,” she said with a little giggle. “You’re doing
a great job.”
She lifted her napkin to her lips to dab lightly at
the moisture there and when she looked up again Jake's eyes were trained on her
and the intensity of his blue-eyed gaze brought a hot flush to her cheeks. He
did not look away, and even as she lowered the napkin his gaze did not waver.
It was almost as if he were captivated by her. Had her charms worked that
Suddenly feeling nervous, she gave a little laugh.
“The lunch was great,” she said, trying to break the tension. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome,” he said quietly and only then
did he look away. His brows furrowed and he looked like he had a lot on his
Whatever his issues were, Sam knew there was one thing
guaranteed to make him feel better. “Jake, can we go for a walk? Just down to
the stream. I’m so full. I think a walk would do me good.”
His face softened and he nodded. And then his eyes
were on her lips again and this time she knew he wanted her. There was
absolutely no doubt in her mind. Why didn’t he just take her in his arms and
kiss her? He wanted it and so did she. But Jake McKoy was trying hard to
resist the attraction between them. Well, she wouldn’t let him.
She stood and raised her eyebrows at him. “Coming?”
Even though they strolled it took them less than three
minutes to get to the stream but the closer they got the more at ease Jake
seemed to become. When they got to the bridge they went to stand in the middle
at its highest curve then leaned over to look into the cool, clear water. For
a while they stayed silent, breathing in the freshness of the air. When Jake
finally turned to her and looked deep into her eyes she knew exactly what he
was feeling. She could feel it, too – the pounding of the heart, a quickening
of the breath, all in anticipation of a kiss. His eyes, so intense and so
blue, said it all.
Her lips parting involuntarily, Sam closed her eyes
then turned her face up to receive his kiss. She waited on his lips to descend
on hers. And waited. And waited.
What was taking him so long? Her eyes popped open.
What she saw made her heart plummet. Instead of staring down at her with eyes
full of desire Jake was scowling. Bewildered by his contrary response, she
took an involuntary step backward.
And then Jake spoke. “Stop it, Sam,” he said through
clenched teeth. “I don’t want to do this. I can’t.”
His words were like a slap to her face, startling her
out of her dream world and dragging her back to reality.
Never in her life had she felt so embarrassed. She’d
laid herself open and vulnerable before Jake and he’d rejected her, treating
her with a contempt that left her devastated.
Her body suddenly cold and trembling, Sam turned and
ran back across the bridge, cursing the day she’d decided to take her mother’s
Trying to tempt Jake McKoy had been the worst mistake
of her life.
So he’d screwed up. Big time. In shielding his heart
he’d gone and hurt a woman who didn’t deserve that. And this time…well, he
wouldn’t blame her if she refused to even do business with him after this.
He couldn’t take back his words. He couldn’t reverse
his actions. Nothing he said or did could erase the look of utter dejection
that crossed her face at his words. The sight had been like a knife to his gut
and he’d wanted to take it back, to hold her and kiss the pain away. But she’d
moved too fast, running blindly across the garden and round the house. And she
hadn’t stopped running even then. He heard the engine of her truck start up
and then she was gone. He hadn’t heard from her since. One day. Not a long
time under normal circumstances but to him it felt like a year. And it wasn’t
just his pain that was tearing him apart. It was hers.
He picked up the phone and dialed. She answered on
the fifth ring.
“Hello?” Her voice was tentative and faint.
“Sam,” he said gently, “I’m sorry about yesterday. I
didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“You…didn’t,” she said, her voice cool and tight.
She was lying, of course, but what was the use in
arguing that point? Right now all he wanted was to make things right. “Will
you have dinner with me tomorrow?”
“Excuse me?” Her voice was sharp with disbelief.
“I’d like you to have dinner with me,” he repeated,
his voice deliberately calm. This was an emotional situation and he didn’t
want to make things worse. “That is, if you’re available.”
“Why?” The question was abrupt, her tone suspicious.
“We need to talk.”
Jake stifled a sigh. She was not making this easy.
“I’d like to explain my…behavior.”
Silence. Not exactly the response he’d expected.
Where were the questions? Where was the angry rejoinder? Instead, nothing but
“Sam, you have every right to be mad at me but all I’m
asking is for a chance to talk to you. Please.”
Finally, after more seconds of silence, her answer
came. “Fine. Just this once.”
Not a particularly enthusiastic response but Jake was
grateful. She could have said no.
They made the arrangements for the date, with Jake
offering to pick her up. She refused. “I’ll meet you there,” she told him.
She probably wanted to hold on to the chance to make a quick escape. And how
could he blame her? He’d been like a pendulum, swinging from ‘thrilled’ to
‘gloomy’ all in the same afternoon. She probably thought he was nuts.
He smiled ruefully to himself then shook his head.
Tomorrow night he’d have to be on his best behavior.
Sam pulled into the parking lot of The Italian Garden
and shut off the engine. So here she was, all dressed up for her date with
Jake McKoy, and she was miserable.
We need to talk, he’d said. And she could just guess
what he wanted to talk about. She’d crossed the line when she’d revealed her
attraction for him. Obviously, he’d been offended.
She was a plumber, for heaven’s sake, and he was a
billionaire author. What business did she have dreaming of winning his heart?
She'd attracted his attention, she knew, but so what? When it came to taking a
woman seriously men like Jake were only interested in their own kind.
So tonight’s talk could only be one of two things. He
was either going to warn her to back off and focus on her job…or he was going
to fire her.
She drew in a deep breath, grabbed her purse and slid
out of the truck. “Well, here goes nothing,” she murmured under her breath
then straightened her shoulders and held her head high. She refused to be
defeated. If he didn’t want her, well so be it. She’d had a life before she’d
met Jake McKoy and she’d still have one after he was gone.
But when she breezed into the lobby of The Italian
Garden she wasn’t so sure. He was standing there, his back to the entrance,
seeming totally absorbed in reading the lighted menu on its freestanding
pedestal. In dark jacket and black slacks, the subdued light illuminating the
profile of his jaw, he looked both serious and sophisticated at the same time.
Sam felt her breath tighten in her chest. It was
hard, having to accept that after tonight she’d probably never see him again.
She lingered a few seconds longer, drinking him in with her eyes, imprinting
the image on her mind, then clutching her purse close she stepped forward.
“Hello, Jake,” she said, her voice low and husky even to her own ears. She
almost sounded sexy. Well, none of that would be any use to her right now.
She was about to get her ‘walking papers’.
He looked up and when he saw her his pensive look
dissipated and he gave her a smile that looked genuine. Dared she hope that he
was happy to see her?
“Hello, Sam,” he said as he turned toward her. “You
look very beautiful.”
“Thank you.” She dropped her eyes, felling the warmth
of a blush rising to her cheeks.
Get a hold of yourself, woman. He’s just
saying that to be polite.
The maitre d’ came forward and Jake cupped her elbow
with a firm hand and guided her toward the table for two. He pulled out her
chair and waited until she was seated before taking up his position across from
her. They placed their order then waited for their wine glasses to be filled.
Then, finally alone, their eyes met across the candlelit table.
“Thank you for coming, Sam. I know you didn’t have
She bit her lower lip then nodded. What could she
say? I know you’re going to give me the boot but I came anyway because that’s
the kind of girl I am? As sad as the thought was she almost smiled. She’d
always prided herself on being strong but this evening she was feeling anything
“I wanted to tell you, I’m sorry.”
Sam blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I know I acted like a brute yesterday and I wanted to
apologize. And explain.” Jake frowned as he stroked the stem of his wine
glass with his thumb then he gave an almost bitter laugh. “You must think I’m
the strangest man you’ve ever met.”
“No, I understand.” She’d said it quickly, without
thinking, but then she realized she really did understand. “You lost someone
you loved deeply and…you need more time to deal with it.” Sam remembered how
long it had taken her to recover from being jilted just a month before her
wedding. It had taken a long time for her to even think of another man in that
way. How much worse it must be for Jake who had lost the woman he’d shared
vows with? He definitely needed more time to heal.
He raised his glass to his lips and took a sip. A few
seconds passed and then he spoke. “I wish that was all,” he said sardonically,
“but there’s more.”
Sam frowned but said nothing. She would let him speak
in his own time. Mirroring his action, she reached for her glass and began to
sip her wine. It helped fill the silence while she waited.
“My wife is dead because of me.”
For the second time that evening Sam blinked in
surprise. No, shock was a more accurate description of her state. She
returned the wine glass to the table with a bump. “What do you mean?” She
stared at him in consternation.