Authors: TRISH WYLIE
HER ONE AND ONLY VALENTINE
HARLEQUIN ROMANCE 4006
A tennis racquet was the first thing her hand settled on. Anything would have done, to be honest. The fact she had even heard the noise to begin with when it was so stormy outside was miracle enough. But, more than likely, her first night in the huge house alone with her daughter, combined with the thick walls holding the worst of the storm at bay, meant Rhiannon MacNally had more sensitive ears than normal.
And there was
someone there. She knew for sure as she stepped off the last stair and heard movement, a tremor of fear running up her spine. Going to see who it was probably wasn't the best idea she'd ever had, and she'd always detested heroines in horror movies who went where they were bound to be—well—
but this was
And she wasn't going to lie cowering in her bed.
So she crept along the hall, ignoring the goose-bumps on her skin and the chill of her bare feet on the slate floor, while her body hugged the wall and she held the tennis racquet in front of her, clasped firmly in both hands.
She froze, her pulse skipping. There it was again. This time a much more distinct rattle, followed by a muffled curse as someone bumped against furniture in the kitchen. So she swallowed hard, ran her tongue over her dry lips and crept closer to the door, fully prepared to scream her lungs out and frighten whoever it was more than they were currently frightening her...
It swung open as she reached out for the handle. And, with a stifled scream in the base of her throat, she raised the racquet to hit whatever might come through.
The shadow moved out towards her, but she sidestepped and swung hard at where she guessed the shadow's waist might be, fully prepared to swing lower than that if the need called, but making enough of a contact to double him up briefly. And she immediately knew it was a
from his deep grunt of pain.
He swore in response, moving remarkably fast, catching the end of the racquet, using the fact she didn't let go of it to twist her arm and pushing her much smaller body in tight against the wall so that she was trapped against the cold stone.
'What the hell—'
This had been a
me!' She struggled for all she was worth, desperate to find a way to swing the racquet again. 'I phoned the police; they'll be here any minute! So you better just leave while you can!'
That was a fib, actually; she hadn't been able to find her mobile in the dark but he didn't need to
The sound of her name in such a gruff, rumbling tone stilled her. And then his scent hit her, tingling against her nostrils and attaching to the back of her throat, with low tones of sweet cinnamon and a familiar something else that her memory immediately recognized.
that scent, even after ten years. She'd never forgotten it, no matter how hard she tried, and now
was in her house! He had her
against a wall! This was a
There was no need to question; she already knew
who it was. What she didn't get was, 'What the hell are you doing here?'
His warm breath teased the strands of hair touching her forehead, his huge body still pressed along the length of hers. And Rhiannon hated that she was so aware of everywhere he touched, every breath he took, of how his scent opened the door to so many memories.
So she struggled again.'Get
His large frame remained tight against hers, tension radiating from every pore. 'I'll only consider it if you promise not to hit me with
that is again.'
'You were lucky I didn't find anything larger or aim any lower, you frightened the life out of me! What in hell are you doing creeping around in the middle of the night? How did you even get in? You shouldn't
here! You have no right to just walk in here and—
His voice held an amused edge to it. 'Let's cover the frightened part first, shall we? A lone female taking on what I assume she thought was a burglar was a stroke of genius, don't you think? And why
I be here? I've been a guest in this place just as many times as you have over the years. What makes you think I don't still have things here that might belong to me?'
The question flummoxed her for a second, a wave of panic forming in the pit of her stomach, so she took a moment to force it away with several deep breaths. Because he couldn't possibly have meant—
She stopped struggling, sighing a little in resignation when she realized that at least by staying still she didn't feel quite so sensually aware of him. That was a start. Then she took another deep breath and tried to form a coherent line of thought.
now. You can't just pop in here when you fancy it now that Mattie is gone! If you have things here that belong to you then you could have got them in daylight, or better still they could have been couriered to you!' And that way she wouldn't have had to see him or have him within twenty feet of her. 'How
you get in? Did you break in? Because if you
'I have a key.'
He had a key
since when ?
'I'll have that back—
' She scowled up at the dark circle where his face was. 'And could you kindly get the hell off me?'
There was a long pause before he stepped back from her, cold air rushing in to replace the heat of his body. And Rhiannon shivered in response, lifting her empty hand to rub up and down against her arm.
'Now, why are you here, really? Because I sure as hell didn't invite you.'
There was a brief pause. 'We need to talk.'
Rhiannon gaped up at him as she stepped towards the door again. Talking to him in the dark was too disconcerting. 'We have nothing to talk about. And even if we did, which we don't, here's a newsflash for you: there's a new invention called the telephone. You could have tried using one instead of frightening the holy hell out of me in the middle of the night. This is breaking and entering, Mister.'
'Not with a key it's not. And I had a flat tyre or I'd have been here sooner,' his deep voice grumbled behind her as she set the tennis racquet against the wall and felt for the light-switch inside the kitchen door. 'I was reliably informed you wouldn't be here for another week.'
What business was it of his where she was at any given time? She frowned at the switch as she flicked it up and down and nothing happened. She'd assumed she'd blown a light bulb upstairs—apparently not. 'There didn't seem any point in waiting till next week.'
'I tried the lights; your power must be out.'
She sidestepped, bumped her hip off the edge of the dresser and gasped at the pain, automatically flinching back, which brought her up against Kane again, his large hands lifting to grasp her arms.
needed some light in order to avoid all this accidental physical contact! So that she could look him in the eye and tell him to go
His fingers brushed, almost absentmindedly, against the light silky material of her dressing gown, making her all too aware of how she was dressed even before a slight dampness seeped through to the skin on her back from his heavy jacket.
Wind rattled the rain against the kitchen windows as Kane's baritone voice rumbled closer to her ear, an edge of irritation to it. 'Aren't there candles anywhere?'
She shrugged her shoulders hard, freeing herself. There had damn well better be candles. Stepping away from him she felt her way along the dresser, hauling open a drawer to blindly search its contents in anger. Of all the things she had managed to unpack during what suddenly felt like the longest day ever, she couldn't recall there being candles or matches, but there had to be some
Had to be!
With Brookfield situated in the middle of nowhere for centuries, it was hardly likely that this was the first power cut it had ever experienced on a stormy New Year's night, right?
She heard Kane moving away, the sound of drawers being rattled open, and for a few minutes they worked in heavy silence, while Rhiannon's fingertips searched frantically until she eventually found what she was looking for.
'I found some.'
There was a rattle from across the large room. 'I've got matches. Stay where you are; I'll come to you.'
With her back against the counter, she waited with bated breath, her skin tingling, eyes wide, while she strained to see him in the darkness. But she didn't have to see; his scent preceded him, so she turned towards him, holding out the candle like a miniature shield.
She'd fully intended him to take it from her, but there was another rattle and the strike of a match that made her blink to adjust her eyes to the bright light as he touched the flame to the candle wick.
Rhiannon's lashes then rose as his face came into focus in the warm glow. He was older, yes, as was she, but he was no less ruggedly handsome than he'd been when she'd known him before. Avoiding him for as long as she had hadn't been an easy thing to do, but somehow she'd managed it, right up until Mattie's funeral.
And she'd had bigger things to deal with then, she hadn't had the time to see what he looked like. Not that she cared any more. But up close and personal, as she was now, she really had no choice but to look...
In the dim light his eyes were so dark they looked black, instead of the deep sapphire blue she remembered. And the fact that he towered over her, his chin dipped a little to study her face while she studied his, meant that she couldn't read any thoughts in those shadowed eyes. Not that she'd probably read much more on a bright summer's day these days. She didn't know him any better now than it had eventually proven she'd known him then.
'Are there more of those?'
The question gave her a reason to turn away, but it was too late to erase the picture of him now seared into her mind. She knew if the candle went out she would still be able to see him— the sheen of short, dark chocolate hair that hugged his head, shorter spikes of it brushing against the top of his forehead from his centre parting—the downward tilt of thick dark brows while he had studied her face—the dense lashes that framed his eyes—the straight line of his nose—the mocking quirk on the corners of his sensual mouth.
Yep, suffice to say, she had a fairly thorough mental image of him. More of one than she would have asked for;
Holding the candle above the drawer, she searched for more of the same, clearing her throat before she asked in a cool voice, 'Well, what is it you want, Kane? Because the sooner I know, the sooner you can leave.'
'I told you, we need to talk. Mattie's death has changed things.'
to talk about.' But, even as she said the words, she felt an old familiar sliver of fear run up her spine. He'd better not
they had anything to talk about! He was ten years too late for that!
'We need to talk about Brookfield.'
'Why?' Her hand halted halfway out of the drawer with another candle, her face turning to look up at Kane's in the shadows. 'Brookfield is nothing to do with you—Mattie left it
'He left the
to you.' His deep voice didn't hold as much as a hint of emotion as he laid the facts on the line for her. 'But I own the estate. And
we need to talk.'
What did he mean—he
owned the estate?
The house and the estate went hand in hand, had done for generations! And, as daunting as the task of taking it on single-handed had been for Rhiannon, she had also been more excited by it than she had by anything else in years. She'd seen it as a challenge she could put her heart and soul into—building not just a home, but a future for herself and Lizzie.
Her gaze shot upwards.
Rhiannon couldn't have Kane one second more under the same roof as Lizzie!
He read her upward gaze. 'Is she asleep?'
She really didn't want to have a discussion about her child with
She wouldn't even deign to answer the simple question when it was
asking it. 'What do you mean, you own the estate?'
He shrugged, raindrops on the dark material covering his broad shoulders glistening in the soft candlelight. 'It doesn't take much explaining; I own the estate. Mattie sold it to me a year ago.'