Chapter 3

It was like being descended upon by locusts. Tall, handsome, male locusts. There were only three of them, but that was enough.

Sandy stood at her front door Friday afternoon and stared at the men in front of her.

“We’re here to help,” Kyle said.

“But I don’t-“

He pushed past her into the house. “Sure you do. Be polite, say thank-you, then show us what needs to be done. We’re not going away.”

Lindsay came running down the stairs. When she reached the bottom, she stared at the three men. “Wow.”

Yeah, wow, Sandy echoed silently. There was enough testosterone in the room to float a football team.

“She’s speechless,” the tallest of the men said. They all had dark hair, but this one had cool gray eyes and was wearing a gold earring.

“Sandy?” Kyle said, coming up and putting his arm around her. “Not her. She’s just mentally organizing her next attack. Sandy always has a plan.”

She usually had a plan, she admitted to herself. She just didn’t have one right at this minute. Besides, how was she supposed to think when Kyle was standing so close? She told herself she should pull away, but her legs weren’t listening. It had been bad enough when she’d walked over to his place that morning. He’d been wearing shorts and nothing else. Just the thought of his bare chest was enough to make her hyperventilate.

“Maybe you should introduce us,” the third man said. He was obviously one of Kyle’s brothers, but Sandy couldn’t remember which one. He had the same dark hair and warm brown eyes. He was handsome as sin. They all were.

“Good idea,” Kyle said. “This is Lindsay.” He pointed to the preteen still standing on the bottom stair, gaping at them. “And this is Sandy.”

Kyle’s brother waved at her daughter, then nodded at her. “Hi, Sandy. I’m Travis. The second oldest of the Haynes brothers. You dated Jordan, right?”

She shook the hand he offered and grinned. “I’m amazed you could keep any of us straight,” she said. “Girls came and went through your lives with the speed of light.”

Travis chuckled. “Maybe, but a few were memorable.”

Sandy felt herself blush at the compliment.

The man with the earring moved toward her. “I’m Austin Lucas.” His gray gaze met hers. He was almost as handsome as Kyle, but there was something dark about him. Dangerous. She noticed a ring on his left hand and wondered who’d been brave enough to tame this man.

“Hey, enough of that,” Kyle said, stepping between them. “You’re married, she’s not interested, let’s get to work.”

“I picked up the paint you ordered from the hardware store,” Travis said, stepping out onto the porch.

“We’ve brought a decent ladder, too,” Austin told her.

Sandy barely heard them. She couldn’t seem to notice anything, not even when Blake and Nichole rushed into the room to see what was going on. All she could do was stare at Kyle, at his dark brown eyes and that lock of curly hair that fell over his forehead. He’d almost sounded…

She shook her head and told herself to quit being silly. He hadn’t sounded anything. It wasn’t possible. A man like Kyle wouldn’t be interested in a woman like her. And even if he was, she wasn’t. She wanted a mature, responsible man, not a handsome hunk who probably had women lined up for miles. None of which explained why Kyle had ended the conversation between herself and the other man. Or why he’d specifically told her that Austin was married. Kyle wasn’t jealous. Was he?

It was a dangerous train of thought. Mostly because her heart hadn’t recovered from its earlier aerobic workout when she’d gone to find her children and had also found Kyle practically naked.

His chest had been as big and broad as that tank shirt had promised three days ago when she and her kids had arrived. His tan went clear to the waistband of his shorts, and probably lower. The sprinkling of dark hair, the faint outline of impossibly firm muscles and the heat radiating from him had made her palms itch to press against him. She’d wanted to touch and taste and-

“Mom, how long are you going to stand there staring into space?”

Lindsay’s question jerked her back to the present. She landed with an emotional thud, then blushed hotly as she wondered if everyone knew what she’d been thinking about. She glanced around frantically. No one seemed to have noticed. Austin and Travis trooped past her carrying ladders, paint cans and drop cloths. Kyle was standing next to her, studying the list she’d posted to the wall detailing the chores that had yet to be done. Only Lindsay stared at her, exasperated. “Mom?”

“I was thinking,” she said quickly, then cleared her throat. “Kyle, this is very nice of you and your brothers, but I really can’t-“

He turned and smiled. Her heart rate increased. Thank God he was wearing a T-shirt so she didn’t have to deal with his chest again. “Of course you can. Just say ‘Gee, Kyle, you’re a nice man. Thanks for your help.'”

“Kyle, you are a nice man, but-“

He turned and touched his finger to her lips. Electricity shot through her body, starting at her mouth and jolting clear down to her toes. Her blood heated as an unfamiliar longing stirred to life deep inside her belly.

“No buts,” he ordered. “You can’t do all this work by yourselves, Sandy. We both know that. You can give in gracefully, or you can fight me and look like a stubborn fool. The choice is yours.”

His eyes were an impossible color. Not black, just a deep, dark shade of brown. Long lashes framed his eyes. He had a straight nose with a small bump on one side. She wondered if it had once been broken. From what she remembered, the Haynes brothers weren’t afraid of a good fight.

She forced her thoughts away from the man and back to the task at hand. Her children stood around her, gazing up at her hopefully. They’d worked hard these last few days. Unfortunately, Kyle was right. They couldn’t do it all themselves. They’d barely finished the downstairs. There was still the upstairs to clean out, not to mention the painting. Her body ached, her muscles screamed in protest every time she even thought about climbing the stairs. This was supposed to be their summer vacation, and they needed a break.

“Thank you,” she said at last. Lindsay and Nichole cheered.

“Just because we’re accepting help doesn’t mean we’re not going to work,” she said. “Girls, you know the routine. Start upstairs with the bedrooms. Blake, you come with me and we’ll tackle the bathrooms.” She looked at Kyle. “Travis and Austin are painting. What are you going to do?”

He winked. “Supervise.”

By five that afternoon, the smell of paint drifted through the house and all of the upstairs had been cleaned. Kyle had done more than supervise. He’d taped off windows, painted the wooden window frames and all the downstairs baseboards. Travis and Austin had finished painting the kitchen and then had moved into the dining room.

Lindsay dumped the last of the dirty water and leaned against the bathroom counter. “Now what?” she asked, her voice tired, her face flushed.

Sandy gave her a weary smile. “Now we take a break. There are sodas in the ice chest. Take Blake and Nichole, and go outside and rest.”

“Can you carry me down the stairs?”

“I think you can make it.”

Lindsay started out of the bathroom, then paused. “What about dinner? I’m starved.”

“I thought about ordering pizza.”

“Really?” Lindsay’s brown eyes widened with surprise. “But whenever we ask for it, you always say it’s expensive and has no nutritional value. You never order pizza. I only get to eat it when I’m staying with a girlfriend.”

“I’m ordering it tonight.”

“Okay, cool.” Lindsay walked down the hall. “Blake, Nichole, come on. Let’s go get a soda. And guess what?”

Nichole came running out first. “What?” she demanded.

“We’re having pizza for dinner.”

Nichole clapped her hands together. “I want three slices.”

“You can’t eat that much.”

“I can too.”

Blake joined his sisters, but didn’t speak. The three of them went downstairs and their voices faded.

Sandy stood in the doorway of the guest bathroom and stared after her children. Was pizza that big a deal? She tried to remember if she’d ever ordered it for them before. She shook her head. She’d always preferred to cook. It was more economical and nutritious. She’d known Thomas could be counted on to eat junk food when given a chance, and the children didn’t always spend their lunch money wisely, so she’d felt it was her duty to provide a good, wholesome meal at dinnertime. But she didn’t think she’d been so strict about food that ordering pizza was an event worth noting on the calendar.

Besides, she needed to pay back her helpers, and she was reasonably sure they would accept food while they would be insulted by an offer of money. Thinking of which, things had been quiet downstairs for some time.

She followed the children down to the first floor. All the windows were open and a sweet breeze blew through the house. Cans of paint had been neatly stacked in the foyer. The drop cloths were folded next to them, and a ladder lay on the floor of the dining room. The house was silent.

“Kyle?” she called.

“In the study,” he answered.

She went down the long hallway beside the stairs. There was a small bathroom behind the living room, then a set of double doors that opened onto a study. She stepped into the room.

An old stone fireplace with bookshelves on either side filled one wall. Opposite were more bookshelves. Large windows let in sunlight. The room smelled of lemon-scented furniture polish. She and Blake had cleaned all the wooden shelves and paneling the previous day. Only the wall containing the windows was painted. Kyle was on his knees at the windows, finishing the baseboard.

“Where is everyone?” she asked.

“Austin and Travis left already.”

“But they didn’t say goodbye.”

“They’ll be back tomorrow.”

“I was going to order pizza.”

Kyle stood up. “Good, I’m starved.”

She glared at him. “It’s not just for you. I wanted to say thank-you.”

“You can thank them tomorrow morning. They’ll be here about eight. With all of us working together, we should be able to get all the painting finished.”

“Why is everyone being so nice to me?” she asked, convinced Kyle was trying to pull something on her.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” He frowned. “You know, I never understood what that meant. Who’d want to look in a horse’s mouth, anyway?”

“Why am I sure you’re purposely changing the subject?”

“Because you have a suspicious mind.” He crouched down and put the top on the paint can. After tapping it back in place with a hammer, he grabbed the can and his brush and headed for the kitchen. She trailed after him.

“Travis and Austin left because they both have families who are expecting them for dinner,” he said. “They’re going to come back tomorrow because I asked them to. I’ve been helping Travis remodel his house for the last year. Before that, I spent hours working on Austin’s loft. So stop thinking the worst of me.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.” He set the paint can on the counter and stuck the brush under the faucet. “If you’re still ordering pizza, I prefer sausage to pepperoni, and I like mushrooms. Or have you changed your mind?”

She still felt there was something he wasn’t telling her, but she couldn’t be sure what. “I don’t want to keep you if you have plans,” she said. “It is Friday night.”

“I’m available.”

For what? she almost asked.

She stared at his broad shoulders, his narrow hips and long legs. He was the most tempting man she’d ever seen, and she was just staring at the back of him. If he was to turn around and smile at her… She sighed. She wasn’t sure exactly what she would do, but she was pretty sure it would be embarrassing.

Sometime when she was alone, she would figure out why she was reacting to Kyle this way. He wasn’t her type. She didn’t have a type. She’d only dated a little in high school and college. Then she’d met Thomas and they’d gotten married right away. She’d been so positive when she’d met him, confident that she’d found her soul mate. Someone kind and responsible, willing to share life’s burdens. How was she to have known that this tenured philosophy professor was just an adolescent in disguise? She’d learned one thing from her marriage-that she didn’t want to be the only adult in a relationship. When she got involved again-if she got involved again-it was going to be with someone who understood life wasn’t a game. It was going to be with someone who took things seriously and lived up to his commitments.

It was not going to be with an overgrown playboy who had a body that sent her stomach plummeting to her toes. And never with someone like Kyle.

“You’re looking fierce about something,” he said, turning to study her.

“What? Oh, I was just thinking. I’ll order the pizza now.” The phone had been installed the previous day. She walked over to the phone books that had been delivered and flipped to the right page. “Which place do you recommend?”

He set down the wet paintbrush, leaned over her shoulder and studied the list. The scent of him-male sweat, paint and something else, something subtle but compelling-drifted to her. She inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma. It made her think of tangled sheets on a Sunday morning. Of croissants and coffee after great sex.

The clear visual image startled her so much, she tried to back away. But Kyle was right behind her. She bumped into him, her head hitting his chest as her heel came down on the toe of his athletic shoes. At the moment of contact, she jerked forward and her hipbone rammed against the counter. She yelped.

“You okay?” he asked, putting his hands on her shoulders.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. She could feel his fingers through her T-shirt. The heat surprised her. As well as the way her muscles turned to liquid. She cleared her throat. “Ah, which place?”

He slid one of his hands down her arm and onto the page of the phone book. “That one,” he said, pointing. “Why don’t you tell me what you want to order and I’ll call? They’ll have to deliver it to my house, anyway.”

“Your house? Why?”

He stepped back. She didn’t turn around. It didn’t help. She could still hear the smile in his voice. “You don’t have any plates here. Not to mention chairs. Don’t worry, Sandy. There’s nothing to be frightened of.”

“I’m not afraid.”

Sandy managed to get through dinner without embarrassing herself. She was thrilled. By the time all three kids had gotten cleaned up and they’d walked over to Kyle’s gatehouse, it was almost time for the pizza to arrive. Between sorting out who wanted what to drink, picking off mushrooms for Blake and mopping up Nichole’s spills, she’d even forgotten to be nervous. Until now.

Sandy grabbed the last of the plates from the table and carried them to the counter.

“I’ll do that,” Kyle said, but he didn’t move from his chair in front of the window.

“I’ll wash the dishes. I insist. It’s the least I can do.” She put the stopper in the sink and started running the water. From the living room came the musical introduction to a familiar cartoon video. “I’m a little surprised that you have videos for kids,” she said without turning around.

“What did you think? That the house would be done in red velvet and paneling, with X-rated movies and mirrored ceilings? I live here, Sandy. It’s my home.”

Mirrored ceilings? She certainly hadn’t thought that. But she had assumed there would be some signs of the seductions that must have taken place here. If the walls could talk.

She glanced around the small kitchen. Everything was clean and in its place. The floor looked swept, the only items on the counter were a pile of mail and the hat from his uniform.

“I didn’t expect to find naked women in the closets, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she said. “I would hate for us to cramp your style. It is Friday night.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that. You’re really hung up on which day it is, aren’t you?”

“No. It’s just that, well, you are a single man.”

“And you’re a single woman.”

She swallowed. “No, I’m not. I’m a single mother. There’s a big difference.”

“Bull.”

She risked glancing at him over her shoulder. He’d propped his legs up on the chair to the right of him and leaned back against the wall. His arms were raised, his hands tucked behind his head. A slow, lazy grin tugged at his mouth. He was six feet two inches of fed, satisfied, hunky male.

She forced her thoughts away from his body and back on the conversation. “If I’ve learned one thing in the two years Thomas has been gone, it’s that most men don’t want a woman with children.”

“You mentioned that before, too. I happen to like kids.”

“You’re in the minority.” She reached for the dirty plates and lowered them into the soapy water, then turned off the faucet. “It’s been very enlightening to be single again. Things have changed since I was young.”

“Because you’re so old now?” he teased.

“I’m mature.”

“You were born mature.”

“Maybe.” She rinsed the plates and slipped them into the dish rack. She hadn’t been born mature, but she’d grown up fast in her house. She hadn’t had a choice. Painful memories threatened, but she pushed them away.

“Do you miss him?” Kyle asked. His voice was quiet. “You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.”

She picked up a glass and placed it in the soapy water. “Thomas, you mean? I do. Sometimes. I see him in the children. Blake looks a lot like his father. So does Nichole.”

“But she has your eyes.”

She almost dropped the glass. He’d noticed? Why? What did it mean? Nothing, she told herself firmly. After all, he was Kyle Haynes and she was just an ordinary person. Or she would be as soon as she got her body’s reactions to him under control.

“I heard somebody mention he was a professor, right?”

“Uh-huh. Philosophy.”

“You’re kidding?”

She finished washing the last glass and pulled the plug. As the water swirled down the drain, she reached for a dishcloth and wiped her hands. “You sound horrified,” she said, glancing at him.

“I am. Philosophy? Why would anyone do that on purpose?”

“Thomas was a very good professor.”

“I bet he was. Is there a more boring subject?”

“Some people like intellectual pursuits.”

Kyle didn’t look convinced. “Did you guys, you know, talk about philosophy a lot? Is it something you discussed over pizza?”

“We didn’t have pizza very much.” Ever, she reminded herself. Maybe that’s what had gone wrong in her marriage. There hadn’t been enough pizza. Sandy shook her head. That was crazy. What had gone wrong in her marriage was that Thomas had refused to grow up. He’d left her in charge of everything while he’d run off to play. She’d spent most of her marriage being a single mother.

“I didn’t mean to bring up unhappy memories,” he said.

Sandy took the seat opposite him and rested her forearms on the table. “They’re not unhappy in the way you think. It’s been two years. I’ve gotten used to the fact that he’s never coming back. The children and I have started a new life together. In many ways, it’s better.”

He shifted on his chair and leaned forward. Before she knew what he was going to do, he reached out his hand and touched her fingers. Sandy told herself to pull back. Except she couldn’t. Sparks leapt between them. She was surprised when she didn’t actually see them arcing across the table. A warm feeling of lethargy moved up her arm, heating her blood and making her yearn for something more. Something… dangerous.

The cartoon video played on in the background. She could hear her children talking. Beyond the house were the sounds of the night. A car driving by, crickets chirping. She felt caught in some powerful force. Slowly, she raised her gaze from the table to Kyle’s chest, then higher to his face.

Stubble shaded his jaw. There was a dab of paint on one cheek. His eyes darkened to the color of a midnight sky. Her gaze dropped to his mouth and the shape of his lips. She wondered what it would be like to be kissed by that mouth. Kyle had probably kissed hundreds of women. She’d kissed about five men. No doubt she would be completely out of her league. Still, the thought had merit.

Tension crackled around them. She wanted to lean closer, but the table was too long. She thought about getting up and walking over to him. Would he pull her close and kiss her? Would he hold her in his arms and-

He yawned.

Sandy straightened, blinking frantically as if she’d just been doused with a bucket of cold water. “I hope I’m not keeping you up,” she snapped.

“No.” He covered his mouth with his hand and yawned again. “It’s not you. I pulled a double shift last night. Normally it doesn’t bother me, but I didn’t get any sleep today. Sorry.”

“You haven’t had any sleep since the night before last?”

He shook his head. “It’s catching up with me.”

Now that she looked closer, she could see faint shadows under his eyes. There were lines of weariness around the mouth she’d been admiring.

“I should have realized,” she said, rising to her feet. “I’ll get the kids and we’ll go.”

“They can finish their movie.”

“Nonsense. They’ve seen it before. You need to be in bed.”

She hoped he couldn’t tell what image had sprung to her head at the word bed. It was too embarrassing. She’d been sitting there having incredibly erotic thoughts, and he’d been struggling to stay awake. Figures.

“Okay,” he said, standing. “I’m pretty tired. But I’ll be back tomorrow to finish the painting.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to.”

“But, I-“

He grabbed her hand and pulled her close. Kyle did a whole lot of touching, she thought, wondering if she should step back or just plain give in. Her body was already humming. Jeez, she’d spent the last two years without a single sexual thought, but since arriving in Glenwood, she couldn’t get sex off her brain.

“You talk too much,” he said lazily. “In my experience, women who talk too much are generally hiding something.”

“I’m not one of your women.” She jerked her hand free, but didn’t step back. “I don’t have anything to hide and I don’t want anything, so don’t waste any of your smooth, practiced lines on me.”

“I promise.” He made an X over his chest, then stared down at her. “You have the most beautiful eyes.”

“I thought you just promised you weren’t going to try any of your lines on me.”

“It’s not a line, it’s the truth. Green is one of my favorite colors.”

She stared up at him, immobilized. She told herself to run. This wasn’t happening, and if it was, it was happening too fast. She couldn’t get involved with Kyle Haynes. He would use her and dump her. He was irresponsible, immature. She didn’t need any more children in her life.

But the feelings he aroused in her were far from maternal. She felt trapped by the heat of his gaze. Or maybe it was her own stupidity that kept her standing so close to him, staring into his dark eyes and praying he would just kiss her and get it over with.

“Kyle, this is a mistake,” she said desperately as his head lowered toward hers.

“Tell me about it. But I’ve been waiting sixteen damn years for this, so either run or pucker up.”

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