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The night was beautiful, the air crisp and clean, bringing with it a hint of pine and sage. Pierce's SUV easily maneuvered the winding road up the mountain.
"It certainly is dark up here," Sabra said, glancing around.
"I know these roads. Luke and Catherine's cabin is further up the mountain. Don't worry."
"I'm not. Just making an observation." Sabra pulled her leg under her. "There's always light and people milling on and around Broadway."
"You miss it?" Pierce turned off the road.
"The convenience, I guess." She chuckled. "There's always a restaurant or a little club open into the wee hours in the morning."
"You won't find that here, but Santa Fe has other appeals," he said, his voice carrying a hint of seduction.
Sabra glanced at him. "Pierce, remember you said you'd try."
"I am. I'll let you know when I'm not." He pulled into a paved semicircle. A security light was stationed at the end of each arc to light the area, but not glaring enough to reach the interiors of the cars parked at the steel guardrail.
"Looks like others had the same idea you did," Sabra drew her leg from beneath her and sat up.
"Not exactly." Pierce swung the vehicle around and backed in between a truck and a late-model sedan.
Sabra looked at Pierce, then back at the cars; a frown puckered her brow, then cleared. The couples inside both vehicles were embracing. "I don't guess they came for the music."
"That would be my opinion. Grab Isabella. I'm going to let the back down." He opened his door.
"Maybe we should go." Sabra reached for Isabella's collar. "I don't want to disturb them."
"Outside of an atomic bomb, I don't think anything will." Outside Pierce let the tailgate down and pulled the blanket from over the basket. "Come on."
Sabra joined Pierce. Her lips twitched. Beside the extra blanket there was an emergency kit, a first-aid kit, and a gas can. "I still can't believe all the stuff you keep in the back of your car or how neat it is."
Pierce brushed a finger down her nose. "Sudden snowstorms and rain showers happen. So do flat tires and other emergencies. I plan to be ready." He spread the basket out over the tailgate and held out his hand. "After you."
Sabra didn't hesitate. She sat and her legs hung over the end of the tailgate. Pierce sat beside her. Isabella sniffed at the basket, then barked. "You've already eaten, but if you're good I might have an extra sandwich."
Isabella barked, then sat back on her haunches. Sabra glanced from the dog to Pierce. "If you ever want a second profession, you certainly qualify."
"This one is enough." Opening the basket, he placed a cup carrier, chips, and a container of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies between them. "Turkey and ham or roast beef?"
"Turkey and ham."
He handed her the three-inch sandwich filled with meat and vegetables. "Here you go. The musicians are warming up. The concert should start soon."
Sabra stopped unwrapping her sandwich and turned her head in the direction of the theater below. "I don't hear anything."
"You will." Pierce opened their bottles of water. "How did rehearsals go today?"
"Better," Sabra answered, her head tilted.
"You won't be able to hear it," Pierce said easily, and bit into his sandwich.
She straightened. "I have excellent hearing. If you can, then I should be able to."
"Part of the gene pool I was telling you about." Pierce guzzled his water.
She stared at him thoughtfully. "You're not joking."
He grinned. "Would I lie to you?"
Not directly," she said.
"I guess I'll take that as a compliment and a no."
He nodded toward her sandwich. I'd advise you to eat up. Isabella is staring at your sandwich."
Sabra glanced up and almost bumped noses with the dog. She held the sandwich away and took a bite. "What other things can you do?"
Pierce looked at her mouth; then his heated gaze lifted to hers. "I'll show you one day."
Unleashed desire zipped through her. Her body burned. Her imagination, always active, went wild. His hot mouth on her, the curve of her neck, the slope of her breasts. "Pierce."
"You asked." He drained his bottle of water. "Finish up. If we can't neck, we can at least sit close. Friends certainly do that."
Sabra automatically ate, not tasting the food, wondering how Pierce would taste. After a few minutes, she gave up pretending and offered over half the sandwich to Isabella. She didn't give Sabra a chance to change her mind. It was gone in one gulp.
Pierce handed her a wet nap. Thanking him, she cleansed her hands and tried to concentrate on keeping her mind off Pierce. With him so close, it was impossible. She almost sagged in relief when she heard the stirring strands of Mozart.
The haunting music soothed and soared. They sat side by side, their bodies touching, listening. When he linked his fingers with hers, it felt right and natural. It was as if she could see the star-crossed lovers, their desperation, their hopelessness. She wasn't aware of the tears on her cheeks.
"Love shouldn't hurt."
His thumb gently brushed the tears from her cheeks. "I'm sorry he hurt you."
Sabra jerked up and scooted off the tailgate. "I'd like to go back now."
"Is he the reason you won't let yourself trust me?"
"You don't have right to ask that question." Sabra went to the passenger side of the car and got in.
Pierce put things away, then climbed backed into the driver's seat. She could feel his gaze on her. She refused to meet it. "Please. I have some calls to make."
The motor started and he pulled off. Silence reigned on the drive back and continued during the short ride on the elevator and the walk to her door. Thankfully, for once she found her key. The lock clicked. She shoved the door open and turned, her gaze centering on his chest. "Thank--"
"Don't," he cut her off.
Her head snapped up. She stared into Pierce's angry eyes. "Don't brush me off. Don't compare me with the man you can't forget. Don't make his sins mine. You're smarter than that."
Her chin lifted. "You have no right to talk to me that way."
"This gives me the right." He pulled her into his arms, his mouth crushing down on hers. There was no time to react, to evade. As his lips warmed and seduced, she didn't want to. Her arms went around his neck, clinging. He ravaged her mouth and she whimpered in pleasure. Need became a throbbing ache that made her press closer.
Then his mouth was gone. She almost cried out at the loss. The tip of her tongue traced across her upper lip in search of his taste. "Open your eyes."
The brusque command snapped her out of her sensual haze. Anger and desire shimmered in his piercing gaze. "I don't do stand-ins."
Anger came hot and heavy. No man had ever made her body want his like this or emptied her mind with a simple kiss. "Take your hand off me."
His hand on her arm flexed. "I can make you want me."
That he could angered her more. If he kissed her again she'd be lost. "Shuler thinks the same way about women."
Shock and revulsion swept across Pierce's face. His hand dropped.
The instant the words were out, she wanted to recall them. It wasn't worth the look of self-loathing on Pierce's face. Her hand lifted. He stepped back. "I'm sorry. You won't be bothered with me again."
Sabra closed her eyes when he entered his apartment. Isabella whined, looking from her to Pierce's door. "I hurt him." Turning, she went inside. She dropped into the first chair she reached. No matter how she tried to rationalize her behavior, she couldn't. Sure, Pierce was pushing, but moments before she had been curled around him like wet noodles.
She had what she wanted. Pierce was out of her life. She just wished the price hadn't been so high.