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Authors: Susan Mallery

Evening Stars (8 page)

BOOK: Evening Stars
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“Yeah. Okay, then. Have a seat.”

When they were sitting across from each other, she drew in a breath. First things, first, she thought. “Thank you for saving my life.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I doubt the fall would have actually killed me, but I would have been hurt.”

“That’s true.”

He was staring at her as if trying to memorize her features. The intensity wasn’t scary, it was just strange.

“So, what brings you to Blackberry Island?” she asked.

“You.”

“You keep saying stuff like that. What does it mean? I haven’t seen you in forever. Kyle, you did get over your crush, didn’t you?”

“If I say yes, will that make you feel better?”

“A little.”

He leaned back against the sofa and stretched his arm along the back cushions. The relaxed, open posture of a man who was supremely confident.

“I got over you, but I never forgot you,” he told her. “I remember everything about you, Nina. You were my dream girl.”

“You were twelve.” He’d also been persistent, she thought, remembering him re-creating the scene from
Say Anything,
and standing outside of her house with a boom box. Only it had been about six in the morning, on a Sunday. The neighbors hadn’t been amused.

“Making you the older woman.” The grin returned. “You were so hot. You used to wear these really short shorts and when you bent over to pick up my sister—”

She held up her hand. “You were twelve,” she repeated, wondering if anything about this conversation was illegal.

Back then she’d done her best to ignore him, while taking care of his baby sister. Kyle had been a friendly kid. When he wasn’t trying to convince her to run off with him, he’d been busy hanging out in his room or having friends over. Normal stuff.

“How long ago was that? How old are you now?”

“Twenty-six.”

“So, fourteen years ago. I was sixteen. I was saving money for college.”

“I know. I kept telling you to wait for me, but you didn’t listen.”

“Do you blame me?”

“No. Back then the age difference was too big. I figured that out eventually. After we moved away, I really missed you. But then I got to high school and discovered girls my own age.” Humor brightened his eyes.

“Uh-huh. So much for me being ‘the one.’”

“You were, but I thought it best to practice so that I would be—” he coughed “—ready for you.”

“How generous.”

“I’m that kind of guy.”

A player, she thought. Not that it mattered to her. He was still too young. “I know you’re not really here on Blackberry Island because of me. Is your family still in the area?”

“No. We moved years ago, and they’ve never been back. I’m stationed in Everett.” He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. “I’m a fighter pilot.”

She felt her eyes widen. “What?”

That grin was back. “F18s. I’m doing training. Part of a joint task force. I’m good at what I do. I’m on track to join the Blue Angels.”

With five simple sentences, he’d started her head spinning. She knew about the Blue Angels. They were stars at air shows all over the country, maybe around the world. Their precision flying was practically the stuff of legends. “You’re a fighter pilot?”

“Yes. I was offered a couple of different assignments. I picked Everett because of the location. I thought it would be fun to check out the island and see if you were still here.”

She ignored that. “You fly multimillion-dollar planes?”

“That’s me. And if the government is willing to trust me with that kind of equipment, you can trust me, too.”

She chuckled. “Right. Does that line usually work?”

“All the time.”

“I apologize for women everywhere.”

“No need. So, what about you? What do you do?”

“I’m a nurse.”

He raised his eyebrows. “So, if I’m hurt, you can take care of me.”

Which was just like a guy, she thought humorously. “Not everything is about you.”

“Sure it is. Have dinner with me.”

“What? No. You’re too young.”

“It’s only four years and you know you’re curious. We’ll catch up.”

“We were never friends, Kyle. There’s nothing to catch up on.”

“Then we’ll get to know each other. I meant what I said. You’re the girl I fantasized about, Nina.” There was that smile. “You’re even better than I remember.”

She thought about the extra twenty pounds, the wet hair, the lack of makeup. “Are you sure they’re checking your vision regularly?”

He stood up and crossed to her, then pulled her to her feet. His large hands held hers. His skin was warm, and although she didn’t want to admit it, there was a distinct tingle low in her belly.

“Nina Wentworth, I have wanted you and been waiting for you for fourteen years. The least you can do is have dinner with me.”

Her breath actually caught in her throat. She could say with certainty that had never happened before. Not even once. She’d been nervous and interested and aroused, but never...fluttery.

Suddenly Kyle seemed like a
man,
in the best possible sense of the word. Gone was the preteen who had stalked her. This new and improved version got her attention in a big way. His gaze never left her face as he dropped her hands, cupped her cheeks and kissed her again.

This time she was warm and dry and had the wherewithal to notice the gentle warmth of his mouth on hers. He didn’t push, didn’t move, but he lingered, as if he wanted this moment to last forever.

Or maybe that was her.

He raised his head. “Dinner,” he murmured. “Say yes.”

“Yes.”

“Day after tomorrow?”

“Sure.”

He put his hands on her shoulders. “I’ll be here at six. We’ll have dinner. You’ll have a good time.”

“You know that for sure?”

That sexy smile returned. “I do.”

“You’re a player.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Your tone says you don’t mean that as a compliment.”

“I don’t. You enjoy women, and for some reason, now you want to enjoy me.” She winced, wishing she’d chosen another phrase.

“I do,” he said easily. “Very much. All of you.”

Because he’d had a crush on her years ago.

“Reality never lives up to the fantasy,” she said.

“You’re right. Sometimes it’s better.”

Oh, he was good. Way out of her league. He hadn’t denied her charge. Given the chance, he would seduce her before she’d had a chance to catch her breath.

Instead of being dismayed by the thought, she had to admit to a little tingle of anticipation. She hadn’t ever been with anyone like Kyle. He was easy to look at, funny and charming. So what if she would be one among no doubt many notches on his bed post? If she knew what she was getting from the outset, then she wouldn’t get emotionally involved and she wouldn’t get hurt. Didn’t she deserve a little “me” time?

“Dinner,” she said firmly. “At six.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” he told her as he crossed to the door.

“I am, too.”

He paused to study her. “For real?”

“Yes, Kyle. For real.”

The smile turned boyish. For a second, she could see the kid he’d been. Then the man returned and winked at her.

“Good,” he said, before he disappeared into the rain.

She shut the door behind him, then leaned against it. “What have I done?” she asked aloud.

Fortunately, there was no answer.

She wandered toward the kitchen thinking that dinner would be nice. She could use a man adoring her. It would perk up her spirits and brighten her complexion.

Her cell phone rang. She answered it without checking who it was.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Nina, it’s Dylan.”

Dylan? Her nose wrinkled. Hearing his voice was a bit like taking a bite of broccoli after tasting a hot fudge sundae. Because that’s what Kyle was, she thought humorously. A forbidden dessert.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“What? No. Sorry. I just got home from work and I’m still figuring out my evening. How are you? How are you settling back into island life?”

Guilt, she thought with disgust. She always babbled when she felt guilty. Not that she owed Dylan anything, but here she was, talk, talk, talking.

“It’s smaller than I remember,” he admitted. “My parents are closer.”

“And you’re the favorite son.”

“The only son. It’s intense.”

“I bet.”

There was a moment of silence.

“I have to go to Seattle this weekend,” he said. “But I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner next week, after I’m back.”

Nina knew for a fact she hadn’t been on a date in nearly eighteen months. Now she’d been asked out twice in one day. Why couldn’t this have been better coordinated? One date last year, one date this year?

Dinner with Dylan. Although she hadn’t recognized Kyle, she knew everything about Dylan. While she was over him, she was still the tiniest bit bitter about the way things had ended. Which brought the guilt back again, which annoyed her.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a hard question,” he said quietly.

Ack! “Sorry, sorry. Sure. Dinner would be great.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely. Give me a call when you’re back and we’ll set up a night. I’ll bring you up to date on all you’ve missed since you’ve been gone. That will take at least fifteen minutes.”

He chuckled. “I look forward to it. Talk to you soon.”

“Sure. Have fun in Seattle.”

She hung up and tossed her phone on the counter.

If ever there was a time to have wine with dinner, tonight was the night, she thought, heading for the open bottle on the counter. But she would pass on the cookies she’d bought. And go to Pilates at least one more time a week.

Not that Kyle was ever going to see her naked. But still. A girl could dream.

Chapter Six

THE DRIVE FROM Mischief Bay to Blackberry Island was direct. North on I-5 for about 1100 miles, then a left at the arrow pointing to the bridge. Easy enough.

Now, after spending the night just this side of Sacramento, Averil carefully pulled into a rest stop south of Medford, Oregon. At the rate she was going, she was going to get to the island before dinner, which seemed both good and bad. On the one hand, she was happy to be escaping her life. On the other, she knew she was running away, and that was hardly a situation to make anyone proud.

She parked her car and got out. The rest area was quiet. There were only a couple of big rigs parked on the other side. Hers was the only passenger vehicle. After using the restroom, she washed her hands and walked outside.

The morning was crisp and clear. The rain would start farther north. She could see her breath and was grateful for her jacket. Deciding to stretch her legs for a few minutes, she started to circle the building.

She really needed to use her time away to get her life in order, she thought. She was too old to be running away, and yet here she was. Escaping from unpleasant reality. She missed Kevin already, and at the same time, she was glad to be away from him. As if that made sense. She had no direction, no novel, no anything. She was lost, plain and simple. Which was probably why she balked at having a baby. If she wasn’t sure she could save herself, how could she be responsible for someone else?

Just past the men’s room, she saw something move by the trash can on her left. She paused and watched. She saw the movement again. Her stomach clenched when she realized a small dog was huddled by the can.

The animal looked to be maybe twenty or thirty pounds, with matted gray-and-brown fur and big eyes. She could see it was shaking and, as she approached, the dog cowered.

She glanced around, but there were no other cars. The animal looked terrified, torn between running and wanting to be rescued.

“I know the feeling,” she murmured in a low voice as she slowly approached. “It’s okay, little dog. I won’t hurt you.” She crouched down and held out the back of her hand. The animal flinched but didn’t move. She gently touched its shoulder.

The animal shuddered, then seemed to collapse on itself. Averil shifted closer and patted its side. She could feel bones everywhere.

“Oh, honey, you’re starving,” she said, realizing some jackass had simply abandoned the animal. There was no collar, and with the dog sticking close to the rest area, it should have been easy for an owner to find.

She continued to pet the animal, trying to gain its trust. After a few minutes, she stood. “Okay,” she said, patting her leg. “You want to come with me?”

The dog rose and stared at her. It continued to tremble.

“I think we’re close to Medford. I’ll take you to a vet and have you checked out. If you have a chip, we can find your owner. If not, at least you’ll be warm and fed.”

The dog stared at her.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I’m a good person. I’m confused and emotionally stunted, but I won’t hurt you.”

The dog seemed to accept that and walked along with her.

It turned out the animal was too weak to jump into the backseat, so Averil lifted her. She was shocked at how little the dog weighed. She poured water into her hand and the animal drank greedily. She had part of a scone from the Starbucks where she’d stopped earlier, and the dog gulped that down.

When Averil slid behind the wheel, she started the engine and turned up the heat. It only took her a couple of minutes to use her phone to find a vet in Medford. She called and got directions, then drove back onto the highway.

* * *

“She’s about three years old,” the vet—an old guy with a kind expression—told Averil. “I would guess she’s been on her own for a month. She has a few bruises and she’s malnourished. I doubt she’s had a decent meal in that time.”

The technician looked up from the computer. “There aren’t any reports of missing dogs in the area,” she said with a shrug. “Without a chip, there’s no way to find her owners.”

“She was dumped,” the vet said. “Unfortunately, it happens.” He left the room.

Averil stroked the dog huddled on the examination table. The animal had been examined and bathed. She’d also been given a small meal.

“There’s a no-kill shelter in town,” the technician said. “She’s pretty cute and it shouldn’t be long until she’s adopted. You did a good thing, bringing her here. She’ll be fine.”

BOOK: Evening Stars
2.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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