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"Thank you kindly for nothing."
"You got more than you deserved."
"I didn't seek what I deserve. No amount of money can compensate for the ten years of emotional hell I endured with Nathan Middleton." Kate Middleton waved the check. "This is for my son's future."
She stared at Joshua Johnson's thin pinched lips, hollow cheeks, and cold pigeon eyes, then swung around and headed for the door. With her hand on the knob, she let her gaze sweep the staid office of Johnson and Jackson with its ancient markings of respectability, including the graying old man—attorney for her late husband's estate and a friend of the Middleton family—who didn't raise his head to look at her. She took it all in, opened the door, walked out and closed it gently. Then she turned around, wiped her feet on the doormat, headed down the hall and didn't look back.
Nathan Middleton hadn't intended to set her free, but that was what her husband of ten years had done when he mocked fate by test driving a new-line sports car. While he'd lived, he'd done his best to rule and control her, pampered her and tried to stash her away in their elegant home. Her rebellion had been a source of increasing friction between them. For ten years, she'd fluttered around with clipped wings, but now she'd show them all, including her in-laws, who'd told their son that he'd married beneath his status. The world would know that she could manage her life and take care of her child.
Two hundred and ninety thousand dollars, a pittance of an inheritance for her and her child from the only son of a rich family—but it was more than she needed to get her life in order. She stepped out into the street, tightened her jacket against the sting of the brisk April breeze, inhaled the Grosse Pointe, Michigan, air, and smelled its familiarity. She had to get out of that town, away from that house with its memories of what Nathan had told her about her in-laws and their unfair estimation of her. She walked rapidly, her mind bursting with visions of her future. For many of her thirty-eight years, life had shortchanged her, but she meant to correct that—beginning right then.
Four months later, having returned with her son, Randy, to Portsmouth, Virginia, where she'd had her only teaching job, the only place she knew besides Charleston, South Carolina, and Grosse Pointe, Kate embarked on her new life—managing the bookstore that she'd purchased with a portion of the money from Nathan's estate.
"You don't need that sitter. You can leave your boy here with me while you're at your store," Madge Robinson, her building superintendent, said. "I take care of the kids that live in this apartment building while their mothers and fathers are off to business."
Kate looked from the gnarled fingers and wrinkled and heavily veined hands to the lined, weathered face and the hair that hadn't grayed or ever been dyed, and she wondered how many of life's barbed-wire fences and spiked gates the poor woman had scaled. She jumped at every opportunity to babysit, and Kate suspected that the occasions gave her a chance to talk with her neighbors. Lonely hardly described her. She exhibited the energy of a fifty year old, but the appearance of an octogenarian.
"I'll take you up on that, Madge," Kate said, though she didn't want to be beholden to Madge or anyone else. "And I do thank you," she added, "but I want him to love books so, for now, he can sit in my store after school and read. When you do keep him, I'll pay you the going rate for sitters." She knew Randy would rather not be under her watchful eye, but she had to repair the damage that his father's overindulgence had caused, and that meant keeping a right rein on him.
Luke Stuart Hickson hugged Amanda and Amy, his sister-in-law and niece, and walked with Marcus to his car. "It's time you got to work on settling down, Luke," Marcus said to his older brother. "We'd be happier if your life was what you want it to be, and we know it isn't."
Luke inserted the key into the lock, opened the door of his blue Buick LeSabre, and looked off into the distance. "Yeah, but it isn't something I can manufacture. You know that. Don't forget that you backed into paradise kicking and screaming." He let a grin crease his mouth at the memory of it. "And look what you found. If I had a woman like Amanda, I wouldn't be here with you right now. See you next weekend."
An hour and forty minutes later, Luke turned off Route 17 onto Greenwood Drive in Portsmouth and headed home. He thought about what he'd do the rest of the day, his coveted Sunday off, and decided to get a bag of hamburgers and fries, pick up some Sunday papers and spend the day lolling around. He drove up Deep Creek Boulevard, stopped at Burgundy for the red light, and did a double take. Making certain that his eyes hadn't fooled him, he backed up, stopped and got out. No, it wasn't a mirage.
His steps quickened as he neared Kate's Friendly Bookstore.
A woman and small boy peered at him from behind the door, handcuffed together, their faces pressed to the glass. It didn't take him a second to figure out that they were prisoners. He tried the door. Locked, as he'd guessed. Too bad he wasn't wearing his uniform. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, pulled out his badge, and held it so the woman could see it. If she recognized it as a policeman's identification, she didn't show it.
"Can you hear me?" he asked, but the woman didn't respond. Instead, her eyes grew larger, and tears began to trickle down the boy's face. He tried sign language, but got no response. There goes my Sunday. He tried to signal that he'd be back, then went to his car, got a knife and screwdriver, and picked the lock.
"I'm Detective Captain Luke Hickson," he told them when he got the door open. "What happened?"
She didn't appear to believe him, so he showed her his badge again. He gave her points for her caution; she had good reason. "I was locking up last night, and a man pushed us into the store, took the money from the cash register and said he was going to shoot us. I begged for mercy for my son, and he handcuffed us, took the store keys and locked us in. We've been here since nine last night. I'm I'm so glad you came. My son, Randy, is starving."
He looked at her more closely. She had to be tired and miserable, but you'd never guess it from her bearing. She had an aura of dignity, strength and soft femininity, and she earned his respect when she didn't apologize for inconveniencing him. That would have smacked of dishonesty.
A half smile settled on her face as she glanced at her son. "You've been a great little trouper, Randy. I hope the captain can get these handcuffs off us soon, so we can get you something to eat." She looked at Luke for confirmation that their hands would soon be free.
"I'll do my best, ma'am, but it may take a while, so maybe you two want to go to the washroom before I start on these handcuffs."
He got the bunch of keys that he kept in the glove compartment of his car and examined them. "Let's get busy," he said when they returned. If none of the keys fit, he'd have to use a cutter.
"Suppose you can't find a key," Randy said, apparently anxious to end his ordeal.
"We'll get them off, with or without a key. It's just easier with a key." Another ten minutes is all I'm giving it, he told himself as one key after another failed to fit.
"That does it. We have to go to the station, but I'll stop along the way and get you some food. What do you want to eat, ma'am?"
He didn't imagine the relief that spread over her countenance. "Burgers, fries and milk for Randy. Buffalo wings, fries and coffee for me."
"I'm not drinking any milk," Randy said.
Luke let the boy have a steely gray-eyed stare. "Your mother said you're drinking milk, and if you want those handcuffs off, young man, you will drink milk. You got that?"
He'd have sworn that her look was one of thanks. The boy was probably a problem, but his uncouth behavior didn't so much as put a frown on her face, and he wondered about that. His olfactory sense triggered a masculine response. Her perfume again filled his head with ideas that had nothing to do with the work of a police detective, and he tried to shut it down. When he took her arm to help them into the back of his car, she turned to him, smiling, apparently to thank him, and the bottom dropped out of his belly. He stared into her greenish brown eyes, unable to shift his glance until Randy, in another display of bad manners, jerked his mother's arm. Get your act together, man, he cautioned himself.
He left them in the car and bought their food. Then he drove with them to his precinct on Crawford Parkway. "As soon as you finish eating, we'll start on those handcuffs," he said, and with a look at Randy added, "and that includes drinking all of your milk."
While they ate, he sent a clerk to get the details of their ordeal. "What's your name, ma'am?" Luke asked her as he began trying more keys in the handcuffs.
The sooner he freed their hands, the better; he did not relish standing that close to Kate Middleton for any length of time, touching her hands and He shook himself out of it.
"Where're you from, Mrs. Middleton?" he asked, though he knew he'd find out as soon as he read the clerk's report. When she told him, he resisted asking her how she happened to make the jump from Grosse Pointe to Portsmouth, because that was personal, but he wanted to know all about her. With the fingers of her free left hand, she wiped perspiration from her brow. He' d already known she was getting warm, because her spicy perfume got stronger and stronger—teasing him, daring him to enjoy her nearness and to prolong the whole torturous experience. He'd recognize that perfume again if he smelled it in Timbuktu.
"Do you think it'll take much longer?" she asked.
"Can't say. I've got another fifty or so keys that I can try. Failing that, we'll cut them off, but that won't be fun." She glanced up and caught his gaze, and embarrassment reddened her flawless tan complexion. So she was attracted to him! He'd as soon not have that piece of information—she was tempting enough as it was.
"Would you like to walk, or just stand?" he asked. "I know this is tiring for both of you."
That soft, sweet smile again. "I'll stand for a couple of minutes, if you don't mind."
"I don't want to stand," Randy put in. "I was standing all night, and I wanna go to bed."
Luke loved children and had always wanted some of his own, but he loved nice kids, not brats. "If she wants to stand, you stand," he said to Randy. "You may not realize this, but it's a man's pleasure to please the women in his life, and you're old enough to practice that. On your feet."
"All right," Randy said, his tone less than friendly.
Luke felt a twinge of sympathy for the boy, but Randy Mid-dleton was going to respect his mother, at least until those handcuffs were removed. She stood slowly, and he wasn't sure whether that was because she was tired or because she was standing so close to him. He moved back to give her some space, and made the mistake of looking into her eyes. He was forty-two, he knew when a woman's interest in him was more than casual. Her warm, intense gaze told him plenty. It had been a long time since he'd last wanted a particular woman, but he wanted this one. Not that it mattered. He didn't know a thing about her, and he refused to let himself be sucked into her orbit just because his testosterone had gotten unruly.
Enough was enough! He called a junior detective. "Set up that cutter, will you?"
"I don't know how to thank you, Captain. You've been so kind to us," Kate said, rubbing the wrist that had borne the metal cuff.
"My pleasure. You may go in a couple of minutes." He handed her a notepad. "Jot down the address of your store and the hours and telephone number, and your home address and phone number, in case I need to reach you." He knew his young colleague had taken that information from her, but he didn't want to raise eyebrows by copying from the record in the presence of his officers. He gave her his card. "If you have a problem of any kind, call me."
She did as he asked and thanked him again. "Could I phone for a taxi, please?"
He looked at the address she'd given. "I'll drop you off on my way home."
By the time he'd taken them home, the Hamburger House had closed, so he stopped at the River Café and bought enough Cajun-fried catfish, french fries and coleslaw for two meals, got the Sunday papers and headed for his co-op town house.
For the life of him, he couldn't figure out why Kate Mid-dleton wouldn't get out of his head. He put on a CD and listened to his favorite music—a Max Bruch violin concerto— while he savored his lunch.
Relaxed, he thought back to the time when the woman he loved, his wife, had needed him and called for help. But he'd been busy saving someone else's life, and he'd lost her, a victim of mistaken identity. He was not going to get involved with a woman he might have to protect. The fact that the robber had selected Kate's store from among those nearby, which even the most inexperienced criminal should have known would yield more cash, made the crime suspicious. To his mind, it wasn't an ordinary stickup. It occurred to him that he ought to have someone put a new lock on her store and get the keys to her. An expletive slipped through his lips.
Kate crawled into bed and replayed the day in her mind. Luke Hickson wasn't an ordinary man whom you met on an ordinary day. The personification of gentleness, but oh, boy, you would not want to cross him. Power. He exuded it. Even seven-year-old Randy noticed it, because he hadn't tried any of his usual antics on the captain. She couldn't let her thoughts dwell on him, though, because such a man had to be married. And even if he wasn' t, she'd served her years of martyrdom in her marriage, and she wasn't going that route again.
Thank God the robber hadn't come ten minutes earlier. No one would ever know how glad she was that she'd taken all but a few dollars from the cash register and put her day's take in the safe in the back room. She couldn't afford to lose money. Buying a little summer home on the Albermarle Sound, moving Randy and herself into an apartment and setting up her bookstore had taken over half of her capital. Still, she was thankful. The robber had spared their lives. Tremors shook her at the thought that he might return to finish what he'd started. She hoped Luke Hickson would catch him.
She didn't let herself dwell on the career she'd given up when Nathan moved them to Grosse Pointe, because she couldn' t resume teaching music education and advanced piano in the Portsmouth schools unless she took refresher courses or got another degree. Even then, she'd have to pass board exams again. With Randy to care for, she couldn't spare the time or the money. Her career was a thing of the past.
She stretched out on the satin sheets—that her late husband had insisted they use—and let her bare skin enjoy the silky softness. Now that she wasn't married, she'd taken to sleeping nude and loving it; that was part of her statement of independence.
She reached for the phone on its second ring.
"Ms. Middleton, please. Luke Hickson speaking."
Currents of dizziness attacked her, and it seemed as though her head had lost most of its weight. "This is Kate, Captain Hickson. Is is something the matter?" She hated the unsteadiness of her voice. The man must be used to having women roll over for him. Not this one.
"I hate to disturb your rest, but it's occurred to me that you need a new lock and key for your store, and you need it now. With the simple padlock I put on it, a criminal wouldn't need much imagination if he wanted to open it."
"What do you suggest?"
"We can take care of it, but you have to be present. I can pick you up in half an hour."
"Thanks. I'll be ready."
What next? She wanted to stay as far away from that man as she could get, but fate seemed to have other plans. She phoned Madge Robinson, the building superintendent.
"Madge, I have to go out for I don't know an hour or two. Could you please keep an eye on Randy for me? He's asleep."
"In that case, I'll go down to your place. It ain't smart to leave a child his age alone. Be right there."
She met Luke in the lobby and knew she'd never hear the end of it, because Madge was standing in the garden, though she should have been inside with Randy.
"Who's with your boy?" Luke asked after handing her the new keys to her store.
She told him and waited, since it was clear he had something else to say.
"He needs a strong male hand. Where's his father, if you don't mind my asking?"
She hated talking about herself. Although he'd asked without seeming to probe, that didn't make her more comfortable. "I've been a widow for fourteen months. Randy is showing the results of his father's pampering and overindulgence. Sometimes he's very unruly."
"I can see that."
He had a way of looking at her intently, of focusing on her as if she were the only other living creature on the planet. Suddenly, he smiled, and her heart flipped over like a jackknifed eighteen-wheeler. She took a deep breath to steady herself.
"You didn't get any rest, but well, since we're out here, do you feel like having a decent meal with me?"
Stunned at the unexpected invitation, she gazed up at him, judging his intent.
His smile widened. "I'm harmless. Besides, everybody in town knows me, so I can't possibly abduct you and get away with it. What do you say?"
An infectious grin, his sparkling white teeth against his dark brown skin, gave her a warm feeling, and the twinkling mischievous challenge in his beautiful gray eyes provoked in her an oddball sense of devilment, a wickedness she hadn' t felt in over ten years.
In a reckless moment, she said, "Harmless? Luke Hick-son, you're about as harmless as a hungry lion among a herd of antelope."
Posted April 30, 2009
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I think this was GREAT!! I especially loved how she did luke Marcus's brother. I loved the story of Marcus and Amanda(Beyond Desire). I always wonder what the life of these people are like after they get married. And I got to see that in this book. I loved Luke and Kate. They were perfect for each other. Each going through the same things but in different ways. It was great!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
To her late spouse¿s lawyers in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Kate Middleton sounds as if she was released from prison instead of a ten-year marriage. The death of her controlling husband in a car accident is a blessing to Kate. Inheriting a portion of Nathan¿s estate, Kate places most of that in a trust fund for their child Randy and uses the rest to purchase a bookstore in her hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia. <P>However, her new life has problems as the bookstore is robbed and police officer Luke Hickson arrives to free the handcuffed Kate and Randy. Luke likes the independent Kate and tries to help Randy by enrolling him into the local Police Athletic League. However, a deep lasting relationship seems impossible as Kate revels in her independence while Luke fears commitment after the death of his wife. Suspicious accidents follow Kate¿s every step leaving her to wonder if Nathan is reaching out from the grave to harm her. She turns to Luke for the protection of Randy more than herself because she wonders who will keep her safe from her attraction to the police officer. <P> Gwynne Forster shows why she is an award winning romance writer with her latest ethnic romantic suspense thriller, SECRET DESIRE. The story line is filled with action that grabs the audience because the key cast members come across as genuine people needing reader empathy. This is another triumph for contemporary fans, especially ethnic romance readers, who expect and always receive the best from the fabulous Ms. Forster. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.