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Evie Dunn pushed her feet from under the uncomfortable airport seat and let out a long sigh. Two hours of waiting in the arrivals terminal had stretched her patience. And she'd never liked airports all that much. There were too many people leaving, too many sad faces, too many goodbyes.
She looked at the cardboard sign in her hand and traced the outline of letters with her forefinger. Her soon-to-be sister-in-law's kid brother was on the twelve o'clock out of Los Angeles via Sydney, and she'd agreed to pick him up. Because that's what Evie did. She picked up, she dropped off. Rock-solid Evie. Ever-reliable Evie.
Not true. She made the correction immediately. She wasn't boring. She was dependable and responsible. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. And today she was acting true to form after agreeing to make the four-hour road trip from Crystal Point to Brisbane and back again.
If Evie's nephew hadn't fallen from his bike and broke his arm, Callie would have been doing this. I wish Callie was here now.
She liked who she was. Most of the time. When the twinges camethose niggling little voices telling her to break out, to take a risk, to be wild and unpredictable for once in her lifeshe pushed them back to where they belonged. Which was not in her world. She had a business to run and a teenage son to raise. Taking risks wasn't on her horizon.
Passengers filed out of the gate, some greeting friends and family, some walked on alone. Evie stood up and held the sign out in front of her. As the parade of people dwindled, a tall, brown-haired man caught her attention. He moved with a confident lope, as though he was in no hurry, like a man with all the time in the world. And he looked a little familiar. Were they the same blue eyes as Callie's? He wore khaki cargo pants belted low on his hips, a black T-shirt and he had an army-style duffel bag flung over one shoulder. He was broad, toned and gorgeous.
This is no kid brother.
His pace slowed and his eyes scanned the crowd, clearly looking for someone. He met her eyes. He looked at the sign, then Evie, then back to the sign. Seconds later he smiled. A killer smile that radiated through to the soles of her feet. He stopped a couple of meters in front of her and looked her over. A long, leisurely look that made her toes curl. For one ridiculous moment she wished she'd paid more attention to her appearance that morning.
"Hey, I guess you're my ride?"
The soft, deeply resonant American drawl struck her low in the belly. She stuck out her hand. "Hi," she said, aware her voice sounded unusually high pitched. "I'm EvieNoah's sister."
His hand was big and easily wrapped around hers. "Scott," he said. "Nice to meet you."
Scott Jones aka The Most Gorgeous Man She Had Ever Laid Eyes On.
And about a generation too young for a thirty-six-year-old woman.
She cleaved her dry tongue from the roof of her mouth. "Did you have a good flight?"
"Reasonable. I had a three-hour stopover in Sydney after getting through customs."
Evie ignored the rapid pump of her heart behind her ribs. "You can sleep some on the drive back if you like."
He shrugged lightly. "I appreciate the lift."
"I guess I should collect my luggage." She nodded. "Sure. But first I think I should see your identification?"
Evie squared her shoulders. "I need to make sure you're who you say you are," she said, ever cautious, always responsible.
He smiled and exposed the most amazing dimple in his cheek. "Okay," he said, and reached into his back pocket.
Evie didn't miss the way his biceps flexed as he moved. He pulled his passport out and handed it to her. She read his nameScott Augustus Jonesand wasn't surprised to see he was photogenic, too. Evie returned the document to him.
He smiled again. "Do you want to frisk me now?"
Evie nearly burst a blood vessel. "I don't.. I don't think so," she spluttered, feeling embarrassed and foolish. He was joking, of course. However, out of nowhere came the idea of running her hands across that chest and those thighs, and it made her hot all over. "Let's go to baggage claim."
He continued to smile and followed her down the escalators and she became increasingly aware of him behind her. And mindful of how dowdy and plain she must look to him in her faded denim skirt and biscuit-colored blouse. She smoothed her hands down her hips and tilted her chin.
It took about three minutes to find his bag and another five to reach her car. She was glad she'd borrowed her brother's dual-cab utility vehicle instead of driving her own small sedan. She couldn't imagine Scott Jones spending lengthy hours cramped up in her zippy Honda. Not with those long, powerful legs, broad shoulders, strong arms
She sucked in a breath. Get a grip. And fast.
It had been forever since she'd really thought about a man in such a way. Oh, there'd been the odd inkling or an occasional vague and random thought. Mostly memories of the husband she'd loved and lost. But that was all. Acting on those thoughts was out of the question. She was a widow and mother, after all.
Ten years. The words swirled around in her head. An entire decade of abstinence. That would almost give me a free pass into a convent.
She looked at him again, as briefly as she could without appearing obvious.
Young came to mind immediately. And Callie's brother. And only here for three weeks. And not my type.
Gordon had been her type. Strong and sensible. Her first and only love. They'd been happy together. But dealing with his senseless death had been hard. After that, she buried herself along with her husband. Buried the part of her that screamed woman and got on with living.
Or so she thought.
"Thank you for the ride."
Evie didn't budge her eyes and drove from the car park. "You said that already."
He shifted in his seat and stretched his legs. "So, what happened to the kid?"
"Matthew fell off his bike two days ago and broke his arm. He's out of hospital, but Callie didn't want to leave him."
Evie admired her brother's fiancée. Callie had embraced her role as mother to Noah's four children and had quickly become the tonic the family needed. When four-year-old Matthew had his accident, Evie had quickly stepped in to taxi Callie's brother from Brisbane to Crystal Point. With her wedding only weeks away, the home she was selling in the middle of renovations and Matthew needing attention, Callie had enough on her plate without having to worry about her younger brother being stranded at the airport.
Only, Evie hadn't expected him to look like this.
And she hadn't expected her skin to feel just that little bit more alive, or her breath to sound as if it couldn't quite get out of her throat quick enough. Okay, so that only proves that I still have a pulse.
"So," she said, way more cheerfully than she felt, "what do you do for a living?"
He looked sideways. "I work for the Los Angeles Fire Department."
Evie's heart stilled. A firefighter? A hazardous occupation. Exactly what she needed to throw a bucket of cold water over her resurfacing libido. "That's a dangerous job?"
"It can be."
Evie's curiosity soared. Ask the question. "So why do you do it?"
"Someone has to, don't you think?"
"I guess." He had a point. But it didn't stop her thinking about the risks. She'd had years of practice thinking about risks, about dangers. A decade of thinking. Since the rainy night Gordon had donned his Volunteer Emergency Services jacket and left her with the promise to return, but never did. An awful night long ago. The night she'd shut down. She wondered about Scott's motives. "But why do you do it? Are you an adrenaline junkie?"
He chuckled. It was such an incredibly sexy sound that Evie's cheeks flamed.
"I'm sure my mom and sister think so."
"But you don't?"
"I do it because it's my job. Because it's what I'm trained to do. I don't think about the reasons why. Do you sit down and analyze why you're doing what you do?"
No. Because a shut-down person didn't question herself. A shut-down person was all about control, the now. But she didn't admit that. It was better to sound like everyone else. "Sometimes."
"What exactly do you do?"
"I run a bed-and-breakfast."
He nodded. "Yeah, I think Callie told me that. And you've got a kid?"
"Trevor," she replied. "He's fifteen."
Although she remained focused on the road, Evie felt his surprised stare.
"You must have married young."
Evie pushed her hair from her face. "By some standards, I suppose. I was nineteen."
She could almost hear him do the math in his head and felt about one hundred years old. While he, she knew, was just twenty-seven.
She pushed the CD button on, waited for music to fill the cab and resisted the urge to sing along.
"Do you want to share the driving?"
Evie looked sideways. "We drive on the other side of the road."
"I have an international license."
Of course he did. He was young, gorgeous, fearless and accomplished. "I'll let you know."
He didn't say anything for a while and relief pitched in her chest, although she felt the nearness of him through to her blood. What was it about men who looked like Scott Jones that made some women discard their usual good sense and want to jump their bones? But not her. Evie wasn't about to make a fool of herself over a great body and an incredible smile.
She cast a quick look in his direction. His eyes were shut. Good. If he slept she wouldn't have to talk. Besides, they had three weeks to get through, including the wedding, Christmas and New Year's.
And she could bet, right down to the soles of her feet, that they'd turn out to be three of the longest weeks in history.
Scott wanted to sleep. He longed for it. But he couldn't remember the last time he'd caught more than a couple of hours without being bombarded by dreams.
Yes, I can
Eight months, he thought. Give or take a day. It had been eight months since his colleague and friend Mike O'Shea had been killed. And he'd lived under a cloud of guilt and blame and regret ever since.
Because despite being acquitted of any negligence involving the incident that had taken Mike's life, Scott felt responsible. He should have been able to save his friend. He should have tried harder, moved faster, relied on instinct rather than adhering to protocol. Mike had deserved that. So did the two young daughters and grieving wife he'd left behind.
It proved to Scott that a man with his profession couldn't have it all. The job he had, the job he loved that job and family didn't mix. The wife-and-kids kind of family that meant commitment on a big scale. He'd been in love once, a few years back. He'd thought being involved with another firefighter would work, that she would understand the job, the pressures and the dangers involved. It lasted eighteen months before she'd bailed on him, their apartment and their plans for a future.
He should have expected it. Love hadn't figured in his life since. Lust well, that was different. Since Belinda had walked out he'd dated half a dozen different women. He'd slept with a few of them but had no inclination to pursue anything serious. Because serious wasn't for him. Not while he was a firefighter.
Scott inhaled a deep breath and got a whiff of perfume. Something sweet vanilla. He smiled when his brain registered how much he liked it. The woman beside him was extremely attractive; although she was so uptight he could feel the vibrations coming off her skin. But he liked the way she looked. He'd always been a sucker for long, dark, sexy hair. She had a nice mouth and big green eyes beneath slanting, provocative eyebrows. The type of woman he'd notice. Lush, he thought. And touchable in a way that could make a man's palms itch.
Maybe I should talk to her and break the ice a bit? Talking with women had never been a problem. He liked women. They usually liked him. But she didn't seem interested in conversation, so Scott kept his eyes closed and concentrated on the soft music beating between them.
Sleep yeah I can do that.
Evie had a headache. Probably from the tightly clenched jaw she couldn't relax. Acutely conscious of the sleeping man beside her, she gripped the wheel and looked directly ahead. An hour and a half into the journey and she felt the need to stop for a fix of caffeine. She pulled into a truck stop twenty minutes later and maneuvered the pickup into a vacant space outside the diner. Her passenger didn't stir as she turned off the engine and unclipped her belt. She looked him over and experienced a strange dip low in her belly. Really low.
Okay so my body's not quite the museum I thought it was.
Evie wasn't sure how this sudden attraction made her feel. She wasn't sure she wanted to feel anything. She wasn't sure she even knew how anymore. Oh, she knew how to love her son, and her parents and her siblings and her nieces and nephews. And she was a good, loyal friend.
But a man? A flesh-and-blood man like the one in front of herthat was a different kind offeeling altogether. Memories of those kinds of feelings swam around in her head, like ghosts of a life once lived, a life that belonged to someone else.
The life of a woman who'd had a husband, a lover, a soul mate. When Gordon was alive she'd had those things. They'd laughed and loved. She felt passion and heat and sweat.
But Evie wasn't that woman anymore.
She took a breath, grabbed her purse and got out as quietly as she could. The restaurant wasn't busy and she quickly ordered coffee to go and a couple of prepackaged sandwiches. Evie hung around the counter until the order came, then stopped to collect sugar and plastic spoons from a small table near the door. She was just about to pocket some of both when she heard a voice behind her. "How's the coffee here?"
She turned. Scott was close. Really close. His chest seemed like a solid wall in front of her. "I'm not sure." She held up a small cardboard carrier containing two foam cups. "It's hot at least."
"That's a good start."
Evie's skin prickled. "I wasn't sure how you liked it."
He smiled. "Black, two sugars and milk."
A funny guy. Great. She passed him four sachets of sugar. "Knock yourself out."
"Shall we sit?" he asked.
Evie handed over the coffee. "Sure."
She grabbed the food and followed him to one of the melamine tables and contained her surprise when he pulled out a chair for her. "How much do I owe you?" he asked once seated.
Evie shook her head and flouted the way her heart pounded beneath her ribs like a freight train. "My treat."
He smiled again and she got another look at the dimple. "Thanks." He took the lid off his coffee and poured in some sugar. "Callie tells me you're in the wedding party?" he asked, resting both elbows on the table.