Kyle folded the blank piece of paper one last time, then laid it flat to smooth the edges. He grasped the bottom and aimed toward the open glass door that led into the hallway, then he let the paper airplane go. It soared toward the ceiling, looped around once, took a nosedive for the floor and crash-landed about a yard from the trash can.
Travis came in the from his office and stared at the crumpled plane. He glanced at the paper, then his brother and grinned. “Woman trouble. Who is she?”
Kyle didn’t bother answering. He wasn’t in the mood to be harassed with well-meaning advice. He rubbed his hand over his chin and tried to stay awake. He told himself his sleeplessness the night before had more to do with switching from graveyard to days than it did with Sandy, but he knew he was lying.
“Your silence means you don’t want to talk about her.” Travis sat on the corner of Kyle’s desk. “Excuse me for mentioning it, little brother, but you look awful.”
“Good. I feel awful.”
“Is it Sandy?”
Kyle glanced up into eyes that were the same dark brown as his own. All four Haynes brothers had dark hair and eyes. He was the tallest; Travis was an inch shorter. They were most alike in looks. He, Travis and Craig were most alike in temperament, with Jordan being the moody one in the group. But they all had one thing in common-a history of failed relationships. At least Travis had managed to make his second marriage work.
“Maybe,” he admitted.
“That’s a yes.” Travis leaned toward him. “What’s the problem?”
“She hates me.”
“Is that all?”
“Thanks for the sympathy.” He wondered if he should just ignore the whole damn thing. That’s what Sandy wanted. She thought everything that had happened with Blake was his fault. She’d been quick to judge and had refused to listen to his explanations. He shouldn’t try to change her opinion. Only it wasn’t that easy. He didn’t want her to be mad at him.
“So what did you do?” he asked Travis.
“Elizabeth.” Kyle leaned back in his chair and rested his heels on the corner of the desk. “How did you know she was the right one? How did you know it would be different from Julie?”
Travis’s first marriage had ended in divorce. He’d moped around for a year or so, then had started dating again. It had seemed that the Haynes curse was hard at work, until Travis had met Elizabeth.
Travis studied him for a long time. “It’s that serious?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” He picked up a pen and studied it, then set it down. “Maybe. She got mad at me yesterday. Her son, Blake, got in a fight. She thinks I wasn’t being responsible. She said a few things that forced me to take a look at myself.”
His brother nodded. “When I first met Elizabeth, I knew I was attracted to her, but I didn’t know she was going to be the one for me. When I finally figured it out, I was scared as hell.”
Travis grimaced. “The Haynes curse. Four generations of men who managed to screw up perfectly good relationships. I’d been faithful to Julie, and our marriage still hadn’t worked, so I knew it was more than that. But I didn’t know what. I was afraid we’d been born with a gene missing or something.” He grinned.
Kyle didn’t smile back. Maybe his brother was right. Maybe there was something fundamentally wrong with all of them. It would explain a lot of things.
“Then I found out it was a lot simpler than that. I just had to decide.”
“Decide what?” Kyle asked.
“Decide to make it work. I’d always thought I couldn’t be a good husband or father. Look at what we were raised with. Then I figured out our father chose to be with those other women. He chose to be gone and ignore us and Mom. He chose to be a first-class bastard and I could choose to be something else.”
“As easy as that?” It couldn’t be that simple.
“It wasn’t easy. I had a lot to learn. But Elizabeth has been patient with me and I’m getting better.”
Kyle lowered his feet to the floor and leaned forward. He rested his forearms on the desk. “But how did you know she was the one?”
“I couldn’t imagine life without her.”
Kyle had spent most of the previous night trying to imagine what his world would be like now that Sandy had taken herself from him. He hadn’t wanted to picture the long days, the silence. Even consoling himself with the thought that there were any number of women he could call hadn’t made him feel better.
“What if she can imagine life without me?” he asked glumly.
“You mean you haven’t seduced her with the famous Haynes charm?”
He shook his head. “I think she’s immune. She accused me of skating by on my looks. Form over substance.” He looked up at his boss. “Do I have any character?”
Travis laughed. “Hell, Kyle, you’re my little brother. I’m not supposed to make you feel better, I’m supposed to make you suffer.”
“That was when we were kids.”
Travis sobered. “Yes, you’ve got a lot of character. You work hard here. Why do you think I offered you the job in the first place?”
“I never could figure that out.”
“You graduated at the top of your academy class, and you were ranked highest of all the rookies on the SFPD. Why wouldn’t I want to hire you? I spent the first year waiting for you to tell me you were going back to the city. That being a deputy in this little town was too boring.”
“So how about a raise?”
“Talk to me after the county commissioners present the budget.”
Kyle leaned back in his chair. Once he’d returned to Glenwood, he hadn’t wanted to live anywhere else. This was home to him. He liked the pace of life, and the roots he had here. Everything in his life worked. Except for Sandy.
“I should probably just forget about her,” he mumbled. She’d made her feelings pretty clear last night. He’d assumed she would realize her mistake and want to apologize, but what if he was wrong about that? What if she was still mad at him? Then, worrying about being a part of her life wasn’t going to matter. She would chase him off with a shotgun if she saw him coming.
But the thought of not seeing her again, of not being near her and touching her, made his chest ache. He wanted to call her up and ask her to hear him out. He wanted to have her kids over, even Lindsay, and take them to a movie. He wanted to hear the laughter and feel as if he was a part of a family. Funny, growing up with both parents and three brothers, he’d never felt as if he’d belonged. With Sandy and her kids, he felt whole.
Normally, this was the point in a relationship where he thought about running away. This time, he didn’t want to leave. At least not yet. He was willing to risk a little more. The thought scared him though. She could leave him trampled and bleeding. But he had to take a chance.
“I think you should wait for a sign,” Travis said.
“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”
“I’m serious. If something happens in the next five minutes that tells you it’s meant to be, then go for it. If nothing happens, then forget about her.”
Kyle glanced at his older brother. “You’ve been working out in the garden without a hat, haven’t you?”
Travis shrugged. “It’s just a suggestion. I’m a great believer in signs.”
Before Kyle could respond to that, the station door opened and Sandy walked in. He felt his jaw drop. “Holy-” Talk about a sign.
Travis slid off the corner of his desk and stood up. “I told you.”
Kyle rose and glared at him. “You’re not so smart.”
Travis chuckled. “I know. I saw her car pull up.” He glanced at the clock. “Look, it’s time for your break.” Still laughing, he went back into his office.
Kyle opened the wood-and-glass door that led to the waiting area. Except for Sandy, it was mercifully empty.
She was standing by one of the wooden benches that lined the wall. It was quiet in the middle of the afternoon. They were alone.
She glanced at him. Her green eyes were dark with emotions he couldn’t read. Or maybe he didn’t want to know what she was thinking. He stuck his hands into his pockets and waited.
Sandy wore a peach sundress. He was used to seeing her in shorts, but he liked how the thin fabric molded itself to her breasts, then flared out at the waist. Skinny straps held the bodice in place. Her slight tan made her hair look lighter.
She twisted the shoulder strap of her purse several times, stared at the floor, then looked back at him. “Hi,” she said at last.
“I went by your house but you weren’t there, so I figured you might be working.”
“Here I am.” He motioned to the benches. “You want to sit down?”
“Sure.” She lowered herself to one end of the seat.
He didn’t know how close to get, so he took the bench next to hers. There was about two feet between them. “What’s going on? Are the kids okay?”
“What? Oh, they’re, um, outside eating ice cream. We went to that place across the street. Blake’s doing really well. Most of the swelling is gone, although the bruise is turning some pretty interesting colors.”
He wondered if the conversation could have been more awkward. He wanted to ask why she’d come, but a part of him didn’t care why. It was enough that she was here. He studied her face, the wide eyes, the slightly pointed chin, the trace of lipstick on her mouth. He wanted to kiss her. More than that, he wanted to hold her and have her tell him it was going to be okay between them.
She drew in a deep breath. “I’ve come to eat crow. I can eat it cold, if you insist, although it might go down a little easier if I can heat it in the microwave.”
A fierce feeling of gladness swept over him. He forced himself to stay still. “I don’t mind if it’s warm.”
She smiled slightly. “Thanks.” Her smile faded. “Look, Kyle, I was wrong. I came home after dropping Nichole off and Lindsay told me Blake had been in a fight and he was bleeding. I just lost it. When I came into your place and saw you teaching him how to fight more-well, I reacted without thinking.” She stared at the purse on her lap. “I don’t remember everything I said. I just sort of went into protective mother rage. I was scared and I lashed out at you. Blake told me what happened. I know he wasn’t really fighting. Gary hit him when he wasn’t looking.” She raised her gaze to him. “I also know you tried to stop it. I’m sorry about all the things I said. I hope you can forgive me.”
At fourteen, he’d thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. At thirty, he thought she was the most beautiful woman. There was something about her combination of features, or her eyes, or her smile that made him crazy when he was near her. She could turn him on with a glance. She could reduce him to a whimpering mass with just a word. He had it bad, and it scared him. But for once, he wasn’t going to run away.
“Before I accept your apology, there’s something I have to tell you,” he said. “It might make you mad all over again, but this time hear me out before beating me up, okay?”
She flushed. “I’m not an evil-tempered witch, but okay, I’ll listen first.”
“Great.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “I went and spoke with Gary Warner’s parents.”
There was a moment of silence. He didn’t risk glancing at her. Instead, he waited.
“Why?” she asked at last.
“Two reasons. I went because I was concerned about what had happened with Blake. The kid hit him when Blake wasn’t looking. That’s not right. I’ve known his folks for a while and they’re good people. I thought there might be trouble at home, and they should be aware of what was happening in their son’s life. The second reason I went was because if Gary’s already acting like this when he’s ten, by the time he’s thirteen, he could be stealing or causing other kinds of trouble. As a deputy in this town, I want to prevent that. So are you mad or what?”
“Or what,” she said softly.
He glanced at her. She was smiling. He liked the way her lips curved up and the faint crinkles by her eyes. He liked the way she leaned toward him. The sweet scent of her perfume drifted to him. He inhaled the fragrance knowing other women could wear the scent and it would never be the same.
“I meant I’m not mad,” she said. “I appreciate your taking the initiative. What happened when you want to see them?”
He straightened and angled toward her. He rested his left foot on the opposite knee and stretched his arm out along the back of the bench. “They were very nice about the whole thing. They’re getting a divorce and fighting over who gets full custody of Gary. According to his mother, he’s been acting up for a while, but they didn’t know it was so bad. They’re going to talk to him and make sure he gets some counseling. Then I spoke with Robby’s parents.” He glanced at her. “Did Blake mention him?”
“Yes, he said he liked him a lot and wanted to know if he could play with him again.”
“Robby’s a good kid. I talked to his dad. He’s going to sign his son up for a martial arts class. He thinks it’ll give him some confidence.” He opened his mouth to tell Sandy she should think about the same thing for Blake, then reminded himself it wasn’t his business.
“Maybe I should do that, too,” she said.
“Gee, that’s what I was thinking.”
“I know. I could read your expression. But you were afraid to say something.” She bit her lower lip. “I was horrible yesterday, Kyle. I really am sorry.”
“I know. It’s okay.”
“It’s not.” Her green eyes darkened with regret. “Some of my anger wasn’t even about you. Thomas used to take Lindsay with him on his trips now and then. They always had a good time. It made me feel left out. I think that’s how I felt yesterday. You’d been there for Blake, and I was jealous.” She stared at her hands. “Pretty shallow of me.”
“Actually, it makes perfect sense.” He studied the top of her head. He’d never thought of Sandy as being insecure, but maybe she was. “Why didn’t you ever go with Lindsay and Thomas?” he asked.
“I couldn’t. I had two other smaller children to look after.” She glanced at him and sighed. “I know what you’re thinking. Maybe I was using them as an excuse. Maybe I said I couldn’t go, hoping Thomas would insist and prove it was important to him that I come along. Maybe I wanted him to think I was still fun to be around.”
He was so startled by her confession he didn’t know what to say. “Sandy, I-“
“No.” She shook her head. “It’s true. I can be a little grim. But it’s hard to be spontaneous
She sniffed and he realized she was close to tears. He’d never seen her cry. “I think you’re a fine mother,” he said. “I admire you.”
Her smile was a little shaky at the corners. “Really?”
“Yeah.” He touched her cheek. “Really.”
“Thanks. You’re not so bad yourself.” She stared at his face, then dropped her gaze lower, to his chest. “I haven’t seen you in uniform before. It sort of shocked me when I came in.”
“Most women like it,” he said.
“Mmm, I can see why.”
Instantly her eyes widened and a bright spot of color flared on each cheek. The sight of Sensible Sandy reduced to embarrassed silence went a long way to restoring his ego. He knew enough about women to know she wasn’t immune to him, but he wasn’t sure attraction was enough. Of course, he wasn’t sure what he wanted yet, either. He just knew he didn’t want to have to think of being without her. He was going to risk trying. Just this once. If she walked all over him, then he would have to figure out a way to recover. If she was interested in a relationship, he was going to have to learn to face his fears.
“I’m sorry we missed our barbecue,” he said. “Maybe we could try rescheduling.”
She glanced at him, then away. “Sure. The kids really missed you last night. I got an earful from all three of them.”
“Did you miss me?”
She swallowed. “Um, yes.” Her voice was a whisper.
He placed his hand on top of hers, stilling her nervous movements. She hadn’t put her wedding ring back on. He was pleased. “Maybe we could try being friends as well as neighbors. I’m willing to admit I’m too charming if you’ll admit you’re a little too responsible.”
She glared at him, but didn’t pull her hands away. “Oh, sure. You get to admit to a fun thing. I’m supposed to admit to being a stick-in-the-mud. That’s not fair.”
“I like that you’re responsible. Being Sensible Sandy is one of your best qualities.”
“Don’t call me that.” She wasn’t mad. The tone of her voice was low, soft and sultry. The look in her eyes was anything but annoyed.
The air around them thickened with tension. It wasn’t just about sex and it should have scared him away, but it didn’t. It made him want to lean closer. Not necessarily to kiss her, although he wouldn’t mind that. But to be with her, a part of her life. It was different from desire-it terrified him, yet he wanted more.
“I like everything about you,” he admitted. “Except that you’ve forgotten how to have fun. I could teach you. It’s something I’m good at.”
“I’ll bet.” She started to pull away.
He grasped her hands more closely. “The world won’t end if you let go of your control for an hour or two.”
“I know. But-“
He leaned closer. Close enough to feel the heat of her body. Close enough that kissing was only a temptation away. “Trust me.”
Her lips parted. “I shouldn’t.”
He moved that last inch and brushed his mouth against hers. The quick contact left them both breathing hard. “You’re right, you shouldn’t trust me, but you do.”
She smiled. “I guess I do.”
“But I don’t want to,” Lindsay said, glaring at her mother.
Sandy took a deep breath and prayed for patience. “Honey, it’ll be fun for you. I feel badly that you haven’t had a chance to make any friends your own age.” She glanced around at the large park. Children from five through fifteen milled around. The summer park program had started its last session, and Sandy had enrolled all three kids.
“I don’t want to be friends with anyone dorky enough to do this,” Lindsay complained. “Look how weird-looking they are.”
She pointed at a pale, dark-haired boy wearing thick glasses and orthodontic headgear. Sandy bit back a smile. “You be nice to that boy,” she said. “He might be a nerd now, but in a few years, he might be the president of some fast-growing high-tech company. He’ll be rich.”
Lindsay looked doubtful.
Sandy gave her a hug. “Come on. Just give it a try. One afternoon. If you hate it, I won’t make you come back.”
Sandy nodded. She gave Lindsay a little push toward the row of tables set up by the parking lot. The posted signs told children to register by age group. “I swear I won’t force you to do it again. But you have to try. No sitting in the corner and sulking.”
Lindsay rolled her eyes. “Mom, it’s a park. There aren’t any corners.”
“You know what I mean. Now, Robby’s mom is going to give you a ride home. I’m going to the grocery store this afternoon. If I’m not back before you guys, you know what to do.”
“Stay inside with the door locked. Watch TV and avoid snacks that require heating. We’ve been over this a hundred times. I’m twelve. Lots of girls my age are babysitting.”
“I know. I can’t help worrying. Do you have your house key?”
Lindsay pulled a chain up from behind her yellow T-shirt. The house key dangled on the end.
Sandy bent down and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “See you later.”
“Bye.” Lindsay turned and walked toward the registration tables. A cute boy who looked about fourteen smiled at her. Lindsay tossed her head and suddenly looked incredibly grown-up. They were changing fast, Sandy thought as she returned to her car.
She paused before getting in and scanned the park. Children played everywhere. The younger kids were on the far side, so she couldn’t see Nichole, but Blake and his new best friend, Robby, had already joined a softball game in progress. Her son was laughing as he waited his turn at bat.
She slipped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. Blake was going to be all right. For a long time, she’d worried about her only son. No matter what she’d said to Thomas, she couldn’t convince her husband that his son needed him. Thomas had neglected the boy shamefully. It didn’t help that she knew why. Blake was too much like Thomas-the red hair, the glasses, the slight build. After all her years of marriage, she’d finally realized that Thomas liked his dangerous sports because they proved his masculinity. He’d been ridiculed as a child for being small and skinny. She thought that might have made him more compassionate with Blake, but it hadn’t. Instead, he’d turned his back on his son, and Blake had been the one to suffer.
That was changing, Sandy reminded herself as she drove down the quiet streets of Glenwood. They were all starting to fit in. Sandy and Robby’s mother, Alice, had become friendly. They were sharing car-pool responsibilities for the summer camp. Nichole and Mandy had become best friends. Blake had Robby. Only Lindsay hadn’t met someone her own age. Hopefully, the camp would change that.
She turned onto her street. Overhead, tall, leafy trees touched over the center of the road creating a tunnel of shade. She liked the older houses with the wide porches and big windows. She liked that she knew her neighbors, that they waved when they saw her and that she could let her children play outside without worrying about them.
She was a long way from Los Angeles, but she didn’t miss the city at all.
She turned down her driveway-and hit the brake. Kyle was waiting for her in front of her house. He sat on the porch stairs and next to him was his large, black motorcycle. Nestled together on the seat were two safety helmets.
He’d promised to teach her how to have fun. Did this mean the lessons began today?
She eased the car forward. Self-consciously, she touched her hair. She hadn’t done anything but slip on a headband. Her red shorts and white T-shirt were clean, but not especially stylish. She wasn’t ready for this.
She’d seen Kyle a few times since she’d gone to apologize to him, but he hadn’t said anything about having fun together. She’d thought maybe he’d forgotten or had just been kidding. In the deepest, most secret part of her heart, she’d been disappointed. Apparently, he hadn’t forgotten, he’d simply been biding his time.
She stopped the car and got out. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He stood up. Six feet two inches of lean, sexy male. Worn button-fly jeans hugged his hips and thighs. His tank shirt exposed tanned, muscled shoulders. Aviator sunglasses hid his eyes, but his mouth was smiling. Did he know what he did to her? Did he sense that her stomach clenched every time she saw him or that her heart pounded harder and faster? Did he know he made her palms damp and her knees tremble? She kept waiting for her nervous reaction to him to go away, but it didn’t. She wondered if it ever would.
“I thought we’d go for a ride,” he said, walking over to the bike.
“I’ve never been on a motorcycle before.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Then it’s time. Go put your purse inside.”
She ran upstairs and unlocked the front door. After dropping her purse on the floor of the coat closet, she tucked her keys into her shorts’ pocket, stepped back outside and locked the door behind her.
Kyle had already put on his helmet and straddled the bike. He looked dangerous and exciting. He tempted her and she didn’t know how to resist. She told herself she should. He would only bring her pain and heartache. But she didn’t want to listen to that voice today. She didn’t want to hear dire warnings about what might happen in the future. She wanted to live for the moment.
“Come on,” he said, holding out the extra helmet.
She walked down the stairs and took it from him. When she’d settled it on her head, he adjusted the chin strap. “How does that feel?” he asked. “Shake your head and see how loose it is.”
She quickly turned her head from side to side. “It’s fine.” The fit was perfect. Too perfect. “So, how many women have you taken out on this thing?” she asked, motioning to the bike.
He laughed. “Not many. Don’t worry. It’s not part of my seduction routine. I don’t need props. Slide on behind me.”
Of course he didn’t. She was walking, breathing
She glanced at the house. She’d planned to spend her afternoon lining her dresser drawers and relaxing. She glanced back at Kyle. The drawers could wait. After all, how often did a woman like her get to spend an afternoon with a man like him? She might as well experience the Haynes charm full on. Besides, she’d always wanted to ride a motorcycle.
She rested her hand on his shoulder for balance, then slipped her leg over the seat. When she was settled, he showed her where to put her feet.
“Hang on,” he said, grabbing her hands and pulling them around to hug his midsection. “I’m about to change your life.”