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"You didn't!" Katriane wailed at her best friend. "Not at Christmas!"
Ada looked pained and visibly shrank an inch. "Now, Kati " she began placatingly, using the nickname she'd given the taller girl years ago. "It's a huge apartment. Absolutely huge. And you and I will be going to parties all over town, and there's the charity ball at the Thomsons' It will be all right, you'll see. You won't even notice that he's here."
"I'll notice," Kati said shortly. Her reddish gold hair blazed in the ceiling light, and her brown eyes glared.
"It's our first Christmas without Mother," Ada tried again. "He's got nobody but me."
"You could go to the ranch for Christmas," Kati suggested, hating the idea even as she said it.
"And leave you here alone? What kind of friend would I be then?"
"The kind who isn't sticking me with her horrible brother during my one holiday a year!" came the hot reply. "I worked myself to the bone, researching that last book. I was taking a rest between contractual obligations just Christmas. How can I rest with Egan here?"
"He'll be fun to have around," Ada suggested softly.
"We'll kill each other!" Kati groaned. "Ada, why do you hate me? You know Egan and I don't get along. We've never gotten along. For heaven's sake, I can't live under the same roof with your brother until Christmas! Have you forgotten what happened last time?"
Ada cleared her throat. "Look, you planned to set that next big historical in Wyoming, didn't you, on a ranch? Who knows more about ranching in Wyoming than Egan? You could look upon it as an educational experienceresearch."
Kati just glared.
"Deep down," Ada observed, "you both probably really like each other. It's just that you can't admit it."
"Deep down," her friend replied, "I hate him. Hate. As in to dislike intensely. As in to obsessively dislike."
"That's splitting an infinitive," Ada pointed out. "You are an actress, not an educator" came the sharp retort.
Ada sighed, looking small and dark and vulnerable. So unlike her elder brother. "I may wind up being an educator, at this rate," she said. "I am sort of between jobs."
"You'll get another one," Kati said easily. "I've never seen anyone with your talent. You got rave reviews in your last play."
"Well, maybe something will turn up. But, getting back to Egan."
"Must we?" Kati groaned. She turned, worrying the thick waves of her long hair irritatedly. "Don't do this to me, Ada. Uninvite him."
"I can't. He's already on the way."
"Now?" Kati looked hunted. She threw up her hands. "First my royalty check gets lost in the mail when my car payment is due. Now I wind up with a sidewinder to spend Christmas with "
"He's my brother," Ada said in a small voice. "He has no one. Not even a girlfriend."
"Egan?" Two eyebrows went straight up. "Egan always has a girl friend. He's never between women."
"He is right now."
"Did he go broke?" Kati asked with a sweet smile.
"Now, Kati, he's not that bad to look at."
That was true enough. Egan had a body most men would envy. But his face was definitely not handsome. It was craggy and rough and uncompromising. Just like Egan. She could see those glittering silver eyes in her sleep sometimes, haunting her, accusing herthe way they had that last time. She hated Egan because he'd misjudged her so terribly. And because he'd never admitted it. Not then, or since.
She folded her arms over her breasts with a curt sigh. "Well, Mary Savage used to think he was Mr. America," she conceded.
Ada eyed her closely. "He's just a poor, lonely old cattleman. He can't help it if women fall all over him."
"Egan Winthrop, poor? Lonely?" Kati pursed her lips. "The old part sounds about right, though."
"He's thirty-four," Ada reminded her. "Hardly in his dotage."
"Sounds ancient to me," Kati murmured, staring out over the jeweled night skyline of Manhattan.
"We're both twenty-five." Ada laughed. "Nine years isn't so much."
"Fudge." She leaned her head against the cold windowpane. "He hates me, Ada," she said after a minute, and felt the chill all up and down her body. "He'll start a fight as sure as there's a sun in the sky. He always starts something."
"Yes, I know," Ada confessed. She joined the taller woman at the window. "I don't understand why you set him off. He's usually the soul of chivalry with women."
"I've seen him in action," Kati said quietly. "You don't have to tell me about that silky charm. But it's all surface, Ada. Egan lets nobody close enough to wound."