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Looking for Home – 26

Posted: 28 Nov 2010 07:56 PM PST

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M scowled.  "What do you mean?"

"Would you have had this conversation with her last week?  I know you stepped in and told her to stop screaming when you first arrived, but this is a little different."

Huh.  Could he be right?  She had told Alicia to be quiet when she first arrived, and looking back, she was amazed at her temerity.

At the time she hadn't taken into consideration Alicia, or her possible state of mind.  No, M realized, she'd been frustrated and scared, and she'd taken it out on the child.  Today however, her reactions stemmed from something else.

The implication scared her.  Sure, she needed to build some sort of relationship with Alicia, but this deal came to an end as soon as she had her business established—if not before.  Letting these two twine themselves around her heart only invited despair.

She pushed her chair back farther from the table.  "And two?"

"And two…"  He brought up one hand and stroked his cheeks with thumb and forefinger, while his eyes danced a gleeful little gig.  "…I guess you really can cook."

After shooting a quick glance at Alicia to make sure she wasn't looking, M stuck her tongue out.  "Told ya."

Nodding his head, he said, "Yes, you did.  Okay, here's what I'm going to do.  In a few weeks, I'll have you cater a small dinner party for myself and a few colleagues.  Six of us.  You can use the kitchen, and serve in the formal dining room.  Alicia starts school on Tuesday, so let's get through that, and then we can get together and iron out some details.  Does that work for you?"

Her eyes widened, and a smile slowly stretched across her face.  "Yes!  Thank you!  It works for me."

Standing and reaching for Alicia, Jonathan said, "Good.  Now, I'm going to get this one ready for bed.  As soon as she's settled I'll come back and give you a hand cleaning up.  KP duty isn't included in your job description."

M leapt up out of her chair, swayed, then held still as blood returned to her head.  "No, no.  That's okay.  Thanks for the offer, but I can handle it."

Without thinking, she stepped close to Alicia, now snuggled in her brother's arms, and pressed a kiss to her cheek.  She didn't realize what she'd done until she was right there—in the danger zone.  Alicia's cheek wasn't all that far from Jonathan's, and this close M caught the alluring scent of his cologne.

Oh, God.  Please give me strength.

One foot took a step back—okay, it wasn't a whole step.  She moved back an inch, but her eyes turned from Alicia and honed in on his.

So close.  Maybe six inches separated their lips.

She pressed her eyes shut.  Gave her head a gentle shake.  Yep, the blood had returned to her brain, for all the good it did her now.

She opened her eyes again and fought the urge to slam them shut again as he snared her with his.

Taking a sustaining breath, M forcefully dragged herself away from his magnetic pull.  Looking at Alicia while her legs finally obeyed the command to move her out of harm's way, she said, "Goodnight, sweetie.  We'll get started on the garden tomorrow, 'kay?"

"'Kay.  Night, Emmie."

Jonathan's voice pulled her unwilling gaze back to him.  "Emmie?  Is that your name?"

Curling her lip and cocking her head, M answered.  "As far as Alicia's concerned, it is."

"Still not going to tell me, eh?"

"Not on your life."

Walking from the kitchen, he turned his head back and gave her a mocking look.  "Don't be so sure.  Better watch yourself, or I'll make you show me your driver's licence before I let you take the car again.  How will you get the groceries here for your first catering job without a car?"

She curled her tongue back and clamped the tip with her molars.  Alicia didn't need to hear the words that sprang to mind.  Instead, she finally said, "This is Toronto.  I can get anything I want delivered."

His answering laugh drifted back to her as he walked away.

After pushing her chair closer to the table, she plopped back down in it and rested her elbows on the table.  Burying her head in her hands, she mentally chanted her new mantra.  Born again virgin.  Born again virgin.  Born again virgin.

Yeah, maybe if she repeated it enough she'd remember her resolve to live the rest of her life on her own.  Despite her emotional compulsion to look for home and family, logic, and her personal history, dictated she was better off living a solitary life.  She'd been let down by too many people, right from the get go, to believe anything else.

She needed to get away from this house—from him—for a while.  Maybe that would help clear her thinking.

Within minutes the kitchen sparkled.  She belonged to the clean as you go group. It made the aftermath so much easier to deal with.

Hoping that Charlie—one of the few people to have never let her down—had some free time, she picked up the phone.

"Hey Charlie, it's M.  Can you spare some time this evening?"

"Sure.  What's up?"

"I just need to get out of the house for a while.  Things are kinda—um—heating up around here."

"What's going on?  Is he hitting on you?  Is he pulling a lord of the manor and trying to take advantage of the help?  That bast…"

"Charlie, stop it.  I'm okay.  I'll explain later.  Can you come and get me?"

"Try and stop me.  I'll be there in twenty minutes."

In less time than that, the door bell rang.  Jonathan walked into the foyer just as M reached it.

She paused and looked back at him.  "It's probably for me.  I'm spending some time out with a friend.  I'll see you tomorrow."

Wanting—needing—to widen the distance between herself and temptation, she grabbed the handle and pulled the door open wide.

Oh my.  There stood a Charlie she didn't see too often—ah, ever! The man his parents wanted him to be.  The man he blatantly rebelled against anyway, anyhow.

While she stood there gaping at his Bay Street look—uber-lawyer or uber-trader, take your pick—he pushed past her and sauntered inside.

M held on to the door.  She closed her eyes, but the sound of footsteps forced them back open.

The men met in the middle of the foyer and M couldn't dispel the mental picture of two territorial alpha bucks about to lock antlers.  She could understand Charlie's attitude, but Jonathan?  It made no sense.

Installment 27 Coming Soon!

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Thanks to Nan Donahue for sharing one of her manuscripts.

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