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Authors: Nancy Herkness

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction

A Bridge to Love

A BRIDGE TO LOVE

by Nancy Herkness

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is
entirely coincidental.

Copyright
© 2003, 2011 by Nancy Herkness

All
rights reserved. This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form
without permission. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via
the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the author is
illegal and punishable by law. Your support of the author’s rights is
appreciated.

Cover
design © 2011 Nancy Herkness

Cover
design by StoryWonk

For
information, contact Nancy Herkness at

[email protected]

Published
by Red Car Press

Also by Nancy
Herkness:

Music of the Night

Shower of Stars

“Even memory is not necessary
for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge
is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

—Thornton Wilder,
The Bridge of San Luis Rey

One

If
Clifton Walker called her a “gal” one more time, Kate Chilton was going to pour
her ice cold beer over his patronizing blond head.

“What
does a gal like you want with an engineering degree from M.I.T.?”

Kate
gritted her teeth and kept her beer under control. So Cliff hadn't been staring
at her chest for the usual reasons. He had been reading her name tag. And since
this was a college alumni picnic, her friend Georgia had printed not only
Kate's name but her alma mater on it.

She
decided that it was time to end this particular conversation.

She
smiled sweetly and said, “Well, before I got married, I did structural work on
some skyscrapers in New York City. I had to calculate stress loads and
determine how to best distribute them over the materials available to us at the
time. And of course, there were multiple agencies in the city whose regulations
I had to take into consideration. You would not believe the amount of paperwork
involved, especially since we always needed zoning variances—”

“Excuse
me,” Cliff said, his expression glazed over with boredom. “I see an old friend
by the bar.”

“Nice
meeting you,” Kate said cheerfully to his back.

Moving
to the edge of the crowd, she walked up the steps of an elevated terrace to
look for Georgia and wished that she had never let her friend talk her into
coming. She took another sip of beer. The familiar longing for David swept over
her with painful intensity. She closed her eyes to ride it out. Her husband had
died more than a year ago, and most of the time she functioned just fine. Then
a situation like this reminded her that she used to be part of a couple, and
she felt as if half of her soul were missing.

When
she opened her eyes again, she found herself looking straight through the
throng at a man's forearm. A solid curve of muscle drew her gaze down to the
plain gold watch shining against his tan wrist. Kate swallowed hard as her
imagination conjured up a picture of that big square hand—now wrapped around a
beer bottle—splayed across her bare skin.

“You
always did have good taste. That's Randall Johnson you're staring at.”

Kate
jumped as Georgia's voice shattered her unwanted daydream.

“I
wasn't staring,” Kate said, quickly averting her gaze. She was shaken by the
intensity of her physical reaction to a total stranger. “I was looking for
you.”

“Sure
you were,” Georgia said, rolling her eyes. “There's nothing wrong with admiring
a good-looking man. It shows you're human.” She glanced toward Randall Johnson
and smiled. “I think that he's admiring you, too, lucky girl.”

Kate
flushed faintly as she deliberately turned her back on the subject of their
conversation.

“Listen,
can we get out of here now? If I have to talk to another Clifton Walker, I cannot
be held responsible for my actions.”

Georgia
looked slightly guilty. “Sorry about that one. I'll make it up to you. I'll
introduce you to Randall Johnson.”

Kate
shook her head emphatically. “No, thank you. I'll stay another half an hour if
you swear to keep me away from Clifton Walker
and
Randall Johnson.”

Randall
Johnson had noticed Kate's attention. He stopped in midsentence to say, “Cliff,
is my fly unzipped?” Clifton Walker did not look down.

“I'm
sure it isn't.”

“Good,”
he said with a slight smile and a Texas drawl. “Do you know who that is,
standing beside Georgia Jenson?”

Clifton's
lip curled. “We've met. Her name's Kate Chilton and she went to M.I.T. Let me
warn you that asking her about her chosen field will unleash a torrent of
deadly detail.”

“She
seems to admire my watch. I think I'll let her get a closer look.”

Clifton
did look down this time. “Why would she admire that piece of junk?” he said to
thin air.

Randall
Johnson was already strolling in Kate's direction.

She
wasn't tall or blond, his usual preferences. He would have said that her
smooth, chin-length hair was brown until the sun hit it and it glowed red.
Auburn, he'd call it. When he had caught her staring at him, he'd noticed that
she had fine features: a straight nose, elegant brows and Hepburn cheekbones.
Her eyes were a silvery gray. She reminded him of a duchess he had met in
London on a business trip: she had the look of fine china reinforced by a
backbone of steel.

“Hey,
Randall, good to see you!” Kate heard one of Georgia's friends say. She shot a
dagger glance at Georgia, who held up her hands in a silent protestation of
innocence. She was forced to turn around as introductions were made. He nodded
to her slightly and held out his hand as someone said, “This is Kate Chilton, an
infiltrator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

Kate
shook hands, assuring herself that he couldn't have noticed her staring at him
amid all the noise and commotion of the picnic. “Nice to meet you.”

“A
pleasure,” he drawled with a quick flash of a smile.

He
joined the general conversation, and Kate got a good look at him. He had
strongly defined cheekbones and heavy black eyebrows. His hair was brushed
back, and the slight silvering in it softened the harsh planes of his face. She
guessed that he was five or six years older than her thirty-seven. He was
dressed simply in a white, button-down shirt and faded blue jeans, yet he
radiated power. His voice was a combination of dry, flat Texas twang and deep,
dark velvet. She wondered what he did for a living. Georgia would know since
she kept tabs on every eligible bachelor in the tristate area…

“It's
a Timex.”

For
a moment, she didn't grasp the meaning of his comment. Then it hit her that he
had, in fact, caught her staring and heat blazed up into her cheeks. She
decided to brazen it out. “I'm sorry,” she said with a smile. “You looked
familiar and I was just trying to think where I might have met you.”

Randall
was smiling in anticipation of her discomfiture, but at her comment his
expression became decidedly cynical. Kate blushed even harder when she realized
she had blurted out a classic pick-up line.

Randall's glance flicked down to her name tag.
“We didn't meet at Princeton since you didn't go there. And I never took a road
trip to M.I.T.”

Kate was sure of that. From the look of him,
he had probably headed straight for the southern women's colleges when he went
hunting. Suddenly, she was tired of being polite. “Wait a minute,” she said,
pretending to search her memory. “Were you sitting in first class on the
midnight flight to Paris last Tuesday?”

She had the satisfaction of seeing him frown
in thought. “No, I was in Los Angeles.”

“Oh,” Kate said, doing her best imitation of a
social butterfly. “Then we must have met at the after party at the Academy
Awards.”

Comprehension flashed across Randall's face.
“Definitely not. I have nothing to say to a bunch of actors,” he said without
missing a beat.

“Did you run the Boston Marathon last year?”
Kate asked.

“I skipped it to go cliff diving in Acapulco.”

Kate was starting to enjoy herself. “We must
have been on the same expedition climbing Mount Everest.”

The corners of his lips twitched. “I hate
being cold.” He snapped his fingers. “You sat across the conference table from
me at the Microsoft board meeting.”

Kate gave an exaggerated shudder. “Only in my
worst nightmares. I'm on the board at Apple.”

“The last cabinet meeting at the White House?”

“You must be thinking of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff.”

“I have it.” Randall looked up suddenly. “You
were the engineer on the last space shuttle flight I piloted.”

Kate opened her mouth and then started to
laugh. “I can't top that one.”

Randall's dark eyes focused on her face, as a slow smile
curved his lips. “Have dinner with me Friday,” he said with the unmistakable confidence
of a man who never hears the word no.

“What?”

“I'll
pick you up at eight. Here's my card.”

Kate
stared at him, realizing with a shock that this man thought she was flirting
with him. Even worse, he was right. Five minutes ago, she had been mourning
David and now here she was, flirting with a total stranger. She was aghast at
her own disloyalty.

With
an air of deliberate insolence, she took his card and slid it into his breast
pocket. “I appreciate the in-vitation, but no, thank you.”

His
smile never wavered. He took the rejected card out of his pocket and returned
it to his wallet. “That's fine,” he said. “It would have been an interesting
dinner.” He lifted his beer bottle in a salute and turned back into the group
they had been ignoring.

Kate
sucked in a deep breath and tried to quell the riot in her body. Even as her
rational side was appalled at her own behavior, every nerve ending yearned
toward the large, warm, male body standing not two feet away from her. She
decided to blame it on a year of total celibacy.

She
pulled Georgia aside and said in a low voice, “I think I've had enough of
remembering college days. Can we go home?”

Once
the car was in motion, Georgia pounced. “Okay, I want to know what Randall
Johnson said word for word.”

Kate
sighed. “He said, 'It's a Timex.'”

“Yeah,
right,” Georgia said, as she turned onto the street.

“The
conversation didn't go well. I was in a bad mood because of Clifton Walker,
because I was missing David, and because I was embarrassed to be caught staring
at a strange man.”

“I'm
sorry,” Georgia said. “I thought this picnic might help distract you from the
memories of David.”

“When
you're married for fourteen years, everything reminds you of each other.”

Georgia
reached over to squeeze Kate's hand.

“He
asked me to have dinner with him,” Kate said, looking out the window.

Georgia
whooped. “You're having dinner with Randall Johnson! I knew dragging you along
was a good idea!”

“I
turned down his invitation.”

Georgia
practically hit the car in front of them. “You turned down dinner with Randall
Johnson! Are you out of your mind?”

“Georgia,
I don't date total strangers. In fact, I don't date, period.”

Georgia
banged her head on the steering wheel. “He's not a total stranger; he's the
founder and CEO of RJ Enterprises! He buys companies like you and I buy shoes!
He's gorgeous, unmarried and generally has a very tall blonde glued to his
side. And he asked you out!”

Kate
shrugged. “I guess there's a shortage of blondes in his life right now.”

Georgia
groaned as she pulled into Kate's driveway and stopped. “You are truly crazy.”

Kate
got out of the car, then leaned back in and faced Georgia. “Georgia, any man
with that kind of money, power and blondes is way out of my league. He's
probably got mirrors on his ceiling and cocaine on his night table and I would
faint from shock if I saw either one.”

“It
would have been a hell of a date.”

“More
like a date from hell.”

Randall
Johnson accelerated up the highway's access ramp.

What
kind of game had Kate Chilton been playing? First, she gave him a look he could
feel across a crowded party. Then she blushed when he took her up on it. Just
when he decided that she was too prim for him, she made wicked fun of the
pretentious conversations that went on at Princeton alumni gatherings. He had
been sure that she was flirting with him, but the next thing he knew, she had
turned him down flat!

He
was still amazed at her refusal; he couldn't remember the last time a woman had
said no to him. She hadn't even looked pleased or suggested another time.
Suddenly, he started to laugh out loud. “You are one conceited son of a bitch,”
he told himself. “Kate Chilton just didn't like you. Live with it.”

Sparring
with her had put him in the mood for female companionship. He punched a button
on his car phone to call one of his usual dates, but disconnected before she
answered.

Damn,
he really wished that Kate Chilton had said yes.

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