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By Eileen Wilks
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHighpoint, Colorado
Humidity fogged the kitchen window where Duncan stood, gathering in tiny droplets at the bottom of one pane. Spaghetti sauce simmered on the stove, layering the air with scent - oregano, basil, the sweetish bite of onion and the meaty aroma of the Italian sausage he liked to use instead of hamburger. The phone was ringing.
Probably his brother. If not, the caller would either give up soon or leave a message.
He wiped a circle clear of fog and left his hand on the glass. It was cold. According to the calendar, spring had arrived, but winter died slowly in the mountains. It was likely to hang on, snarling and snapping, for another few weeks.
He looked out at the line of cedars his father had planted along the back fence when he was three. They were nearly thirty feet tall now. He tilted his head and saw a gray sky sliced and diced by the bare black limbs of the oak that sheltered the rear of the house.
Three rings ...
Duncan counted heartbeats in the silence between rings. His pulse was still elevated from his workout. A drop of sweat meandered down his neck. His arm throbbed like a mother, but that was to be expected. He'd learned to stop before throbbing turned to solid pain. Pushing for more than his body could give just slowed his recovery, and he couldn't afford any setbacks. He'd maxed out his personal leave; added to medical leave, that gave him just over a month to get himself in shape.
In more ways than the obvious.
Four rings. Idly he rubbed the raised tissue of the new scar on his forearm. It was cold outside, but free of ice or snow. He could run.
With a click, the answering machine picked up. After a pause he heard his brother's gravelly voice: "You'd better be in the shower or something, not out running in this weather. I'm in no mood to nurse you through pneumonia." Another pause. "I'll be a little late - a problem with a supplier." Then the click as he disconnected.
Duncan shook his head. Habits died hard - especially with someone as thickheaded as his big brother. Did Ben think the army only let them go out to play when the weather was nice?
Still, he should pull on a dry sweatshirt. He headed for the stairs at the front of the old house.
The doorbell rang. He paused with one foot on the step, tempted to ignore it as he had the phone. But this intrusion had arrived in person and would have seen his Jeep out front. He or she would probably keep ringing for a while, and it was cold outside.
Reluctantly he moved to the front door, turned the dead bolt and pulled the door open.
The woman on his doorstep looked cold. Her hands were pushed into the pockets of a pale pink cardigan that zipped up the front; it was the exact shade of her creased trousers. Her sneakers were pink, too, with shiny silver shoelaces. The flat white purse slung over her shoulder had the soft look of expensive leather. Her hair was icy blond and very short, revealing complicated little knots of wire and gems that dangled from her ears, which were small and pink with cold. So was the tip of her slightly crooked nose. Otherwise she was pale. And tiny. If she were to step straight forward into his arms, the top of her head would fit easily under his chin.
His heartbeat picked up. His mind skittered for purchase.
She was too young, too skinny. Her hips were no wider than a boy's, and the hand she pulled out of one pocket was long and narrow. He wasn't attracted to tiny, fragile-looking women a decade younger than he was.
What color were her eyes? In the fading light he couldn't tell.
Then those uncertain-colored eyes met his. And his thoughts spilled out, leaving his mind blank.
"Is Ben here?" she asked. "Benjamin McClain?" When he stared dumbly at her, her eyebrows pulled together.
"I have come to the right house, haven't I?"
What is this? What just happened? He licked dry lips. "Ben will be home soon. I'm his brother, Duncan. Duncan McClain." After a long moment it occurred to him to step aside. "Come in."
Excerpted from Midnight Choices by Eileen Wilks Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.