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Send No Flowers

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From the beloved Sandra Brown, whose "storytelling gift [is] surprisingly rare" (Toronto Sun), comes this New York Times bestselling novel, an exquisitely sensual tale of a young woman's sudden, irresistible affair with a stranger—a man whose secret could shatter her life....

Since the death of her husband, Alicia Russell has struggled to take care of her two young sons alone. But when a sudden storm threatens to ruin a family camping trip, Alicia must rely upon a stranger for ...

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Overview

From the beloved Sandra Brown, whose "storytelling gift [is] surprisingly rare" (Toronto Sun), comes this New York Times bestselling novel, an exquisitely sensual tale of a young woman's sudden, irresistible affair with a stranger—a man whose secret could shatter her life....

Since the death of her husband, Alicia Russell has struggled to take care of her two young sons alone. But when a sudden storm threatens to ruin a family camping trip, Alicia must rely upon a stranger for help. Before long, the man offers much more than shelter from the storm.

Handsome, sensual, and slightly mysterious, Pierce Reynolds showers much-needed attention on Alicia's sons—and reminds her how it feels to be desired. But even as Pierce tempts Alicia to explore her newly reawakened longings, he holds her at arm's length, his only explanation a silent refusal to share the secrets of his heart.

Alicia knows she can't give Pierce up without a fight. But how can she convince him that love is a risk worth taking?

From the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A novelist who can't write them fast enough."—San Antonio Express-News

"Author Sandra Brown proves herself top-notch."—Associated Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739324950
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 4.83 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Brown is the author of more than fifty New York Times bestsellers, with over seventy million copies of her books in print. She and her family divide their time between South Carolina and Texas.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


It was probably the cutest tush he had ever seen.

    Through the screen door he had an unrestricted view of it, a derrière roundly feminine, but trim. The cutoff jeans were tight. Denim fringe, bleached and curled from years of laundering, clung damply to taut, slender thighs.

    She was on hands and knees, peering into and hesitantly poking at the fuse box near the baseboard. As she leaned down farther to investigate the intricacies of the switches, the man smiled a slow, cat-with-mouse-trapped smile of masculine pleasure. It was the smile of a gratified voyeur. He was a little ashamed of himself. But not ashamed enough to stop looking.

    The cabin was dark. Her flashlight gave off a meager glow. The only real illumination came from fierce flashes of blue-white lightning.

    The two young boys watching her efforts were growing increasingly restless.

    "I'm hungry. You said we'd eat as soon as we got here."

    "Do you know how to turn the lights on, Mom? I bet you don't."

    The man at the door saw her head fall forward between her shoulders in an attitude of defeat. It lasted for only a moment. She raised her head determinedly as she drew in a deep breath. "It's just a fuse box, David. When I find the breaker switch, the electricity will come back on. It must have been tripped by the storm. And, Adam, we'll eat as soon as I can get the lights on and unload the car."

    "You said the cabin was gonna be great. I think it stinks," David complained. "We should've used tents."

    "Yeah, tents," the younger brother seconded.

    "If you don't think I can turn on the breaker switch, what makes you think I could put up a tent?"

    The rising impatience in the young woman's voice was unmistakable and the man at the door didn't blame her for it. But the two little boys looked so bedraggled that he couldn't blame them for their complaining either. They were only kids and had apparently spent hours traveling. Their arrival at the lake cabin had been inauspicious, to say the least.

    He had seen the headlights of their car when they arrived. A few minutes later, he decided to brave one of the most tumultuous thunderstorms he remembered in recent history and walk to the cabin only a hundred yards from his. That hundred yards was through dense woods, which guaranteed the owners of the cabins privacy. Walking through it in a thunderstorm had been foolhardy, but he had become concerned for his neighbors. His electricity had gone out about ten minutes before their arrival and God knew when it would come back on.

    Now as he listened to the whining of the boys and the near desperation in the young woman's voice he was glad he had chanced the woods. She needed help and she was alone. At least there was no husband and father in evidence.

    "We should've stopped at Burger Town. David and I wanted to eat there, didn't we, David?"

    "I knew this was gonna be a jerky camping trip. I wanted to use a tent and camp for real, not stay in a dumb cabin."

    The young woman rose up to sit on her heels, hands on hips. "Well, if you're such a pioneer, you can go out in the rain and start hunting or fishing for our supper." The boys fell silent. "I've had it with you two. Do you hear me? This cabin was graciously loaned to us. Since we don't have a tent and know nothing about them, I thought it was best we take up the offer to use it. I can't do anything about the storm. But I'm trying my best to get the electricity back on. Now stop the complaining!" She matched her stern tone with an intimidating glare and returned to her fanny-in-the-air position to futilely inspect the fuse box.

    Glumly the brothers looked at each other and shook their heads. They were convinced their trip was doomed to disaster. "Do you think she can fix the 'lectricity?" the younger asked the older in a loud whisper.

    "No, do you?"

    "No."

    Now was the time to make his presence known. He had never been a window peeper and was ashamed for having stood outside this long without letting them know he was there. But he was enjoying them. They were in no immediate danger. Their tribulation somehow endeared them to him. He found himself smiling at the comments of the two boys and the parental frustration of the woman. Maybe watching their dilemma was acting as a panacea for his own. Observing them had certainly taken his mind off his problem. Albeit unfair, that was human nature.

    It was also human nature for him to feel a shaft of desire spear through him each time he gazed at the display of long bare thighs and that incredibly delectable tush. That wasn't fair either. It was downright lechery to lust after a wife as well as the mother of two young boys. But could a man be held responsible for his thoughts?

    "Mom, I have to go to the bathroom." It was Adam who spoke.

    "Number one or number two?"

    "Number one. Bad."

    "Well, since we haven't located the bathroom yet, go outside."

    "It's raining."

    "I know that, Adam," she said with diminishing patience. "Stand on the porch under the roof and aim out."

    "Okay," he mumbled and turned toward the door. "Hey, Mom."

    "Hmm?" She was dickering with one of the switches.

    "There's a man out there."

    The young woman spun around, toppled backward, and gasped in alarm. "A man?"

    Quickly, hoping not to frighten her, he switched on his high-beam flashlight and caught in its paralyzing spotlight an impressive chest straining against a chambray workshirt tied in a knot at her waist, a tumble of blond hair that had escaped a haphazard ponytail, and wide blue eyes.

    Alicia Russell gulped in air and held it, her heart pounding. A brilliant flash of lightning silhouetted him where he stood just outside the screen door. Had she locked it behind them? Would it matter? He looked huge and fearsome against the stormy sky. And he was coming in!

    He pulled the screen door open. It was ripped from his hand by the force of the wind and crashed against the outside wall. She and the boys cowered. He rushed across the room and dropped to his knees in front of where she lay sprawled. Her eyes were blinded by his flashlight. She could no longer see him except as a looming hulk bending over her. She opened her mouth to scream for her boys to run.

    "Are you all right?" He switched off the light and for a moment everything was black. "I didn't mean to scare you. Here, let me help you up."

    Alicia recoiled and the hand extended to her was withdrawn.

    "I'm f-fine," she stuttered. "Startled, that's all." She pulled herself to her feet without his assistance. Her first concern was for her sons, who were eyeing the stranger curiously. "David, go help Adam ... uh ... do what he has to do on the porch." If she was going to be raped and murdered, she didn't want her sons to witness it. God, where was the telephone? Why didn't the lights come back on? Who was this man and where had he come from? Her heart was banging against her ribs and pounding on the inside of her eardrums.

    "Hi," David chirped. Alicia cursed herself for teaching her children to be courteous and friendly. "I'm David. This is Adam. I'm the oldest."

    "Hello," the man said. Alicia thought he smiled, but it was so dark, she couldn't tell. Her flashlight had flickered out and he had kept his turned off. "My name is Pierce."

    "David--" Alicia began, only to be interrupted by her eldest.

    "We're gonna camp here for a week, but Mom can't turn the lights on. She's not too good at things like that."

    The stranger looked in her direction, then back down at the boys. "Few moms are. But she couldn't have turned the lights on anyway. The power's off because of the storm."

    "Da-vid," Alicia ground out through gritted teeth.

    "Why don't you take your brother outside," the stranger suggested, "while I see if I can help your mom."

    "Okay. Come on, Adam."

    The screen door slammed behind them and the man turned to Alicia. "You're off to a bad beginning. The campers aren't too happy."

    If he were a rapist and a murderer, he was a polite one. But then it was said the Boston Strangler had been too. And Jack the Ripper. "I'm sure once the electricity comes back on and they get something to eat, they'll be in a better frame of mind." There, that sounded good. Unafraid, in control, cool, calm, capable.

    "Where are your lanterns? I'll light them for you."

    So much for cool, calm, and capable. "Lanterns?" Employing that gesture that is universally used by women to give them an air of indifference and make them appear less stupid than they feel at the given moment, she reached up and made patting, straightening motions on her hair. She also gave the frayed hem of her cutoffs a swift, hard tug. "I don't know. The cabin is borrowed and I didn't have a chance to look around."

    "Candles?"

    She shook her head.

    "You didn't bring any emergency equipment with you?"

    "No, I didn't," she snapped testily, hating the incredulity in his voice. It made her feel imbecilic. This was the first camping attempt she had braved with her sons. How good was she supposed to be the first time out? "We'll be fine when the power comes back on."

    "Why don't you wait out the storm in my cabin? We'll have to walk through the woods, but it's not far."

    "No," she rushed to say. He had made her feel even more incompetent than she already did. That irritation had taken her mind off the possible danger he posed. But her panic quickly resurfaced when he mentioned their going to his cabin.

    "That only makes sense. I can cook something for the boys on a butane stove."

    "No, really, Mr.... uh ..."

    "Pierce."

    "Thank you, Mr. Pierce, but--"

    "No, Pierce is my first name. Pierce Reynolds."

    "Mr. Reynolds, we'll manage. I don't want to leave the cabin."

    "Why?"

    She could hear the boys playing on the front porch, letting the rainwater splash on the palms they extended past the overhang. "My ... my husband plans to join us later tonight. We should be here when he arrives or he'll be worried."

    "Oh." He rubbed the back of his neck in indecision. "I hate to leave you alone under the circumstances. Why don't we leave him a note and tell him where you are?"

    "Hey, Mom, we're starving," David said. He and Adam had tired of the game and trooped back inside. "When can we eat?"

    "We're starving," Adam echoed.

    "I really think it would be best if you came to my cabin."

    "I--"

    Before Alicia had a chance to object, the man turned to the two boys. "How does chili sound? If you come back to my cabin with me, I can have it heated up in no time."

    "Gee, neat. That'd be great," David said enthusiastically.

    "Neat," Adam said.

    "But you'll have to walk through the woods to get there," the man warned. "There's no road to drive your car through."

    "We don't mind, do we, Adam?" They were already racing toward the screen door.

    "Boys!" Alicia called after them frantically, but they heedlessly dashed outside.

    "Come on, Mrs.--?"

    "Russell."

    "Mrs. Russell. I can't leave you and the boys here alone. I promise I'm not someone you need to be afraid of."

    Just then another flash of lightning rent the sky in two. Alicia thought the prospect of the power being restored was nil. She had been an idiot not to have come prepared for something like this, but it was too late to do anything about it now. At least the boys could be fed. When the rain abated, they could come back and wait for morning.

    With a resigned sigh and a prayer that she could trust this man with her virtue and their lives, she said, "All right." The only thing she took with her was her purse. It would be insane to unload their bags from the car in the downpour.

    On the front porch, Pierce Reynolds lifted Adam into his arms and directed David to take his mother's hand. "Okay, everybody, hold on tight. Mrs. Russell." For a long moment, Alicia stared down at the strong, lean hand extended to her. Then she placed her hand against it and he clasped it tightly.

    The rain drove against them like stinging needles. Wind tore at their hair and clothes and buffeted them about. Each time lightning flashed, Adam buried his face deeper into Mr. Reynolds's neck. David tried his best to be valiant, but he was fearfully clinging to Alicia by the time they saw the other cabin through the trees.

    "Almost there, troops," Mr. Reynolds called over the roar of the storm.

    They reached the security of the covered porch just as a clap of thunder rattled the windowpanes. "Let's leave our shoes out here," Pierce said, setting Adam down. When they were all barefoot, he led them through the front door of the cabin, which was softly lit by two kerosene lanterns and smoldering coals in the fireplace.

    "I'm cold. How about everyone else?" Pierce crossed the room and knelt in front of the fireplace to stir the logs with a poker. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw his three guests huddling uncertainly just inside the threshold. They were shivering. "David, bring me one of those logs, please." The boy picked a log from the box near the door and rushed it to the man who was definitely hero-material. "Thanks." Pierce ruffled the boy's wet hair. "You'll find towels for you and Adam and your mother in the bathroom."

    "Yes, sir," David said and ran toward the door that could only lead to the bathroom. The cabin was one large room serving as living room, bedroom, dining room, and kitchen. Comfortable chairs and a sofa were arranged in front of the fireplace. A double bed was tucked under a drastically sloping ceiling, which was actually the bottom of a narrow staircase that led up to a sleeping loft. It was too homey to be rustic and was spotlessly clean.

    David emerged from the bathroom carrying a stack of folded towels. After first handing one to Pierce, he took them to his mother and brother. Alicia felt a sense of unreality. What was she doing here in this stranger's mountain retreat, alone with him in a veritable wilderness? It would have been bad enough if he were old and feeble, or kindly but pitifully ugly and ignorant. But their rescuer was handsome and suave and virile, something she hadn't known until they'd entered the cabin and she had seen him in the light.

    His hair was ash brown and threaded with silver. It was carefully cut to look carelessly styled and was worn a trifle longer than fashion currently dictated. When he turned his head Alicia had seen green eyes as brilliant as emeralds beneath a shelf of masculine brows. As he added the log to the coals and fanned it to life, well-developed muscles rippled beneath his wet cotton shirt, though his physique wasn't brawny.

    He made her inordinately nervous. Not because she thought he would harm them. No man who would carry a little boy through a thunderstorm, murmuring reassurances that there was nothing to be afraid of, could be a murderer. As for being a rapist ... Well, it was clear he would never have to force any woman.

    "I'm glad I decided to build a fire earlier tonight. It was barely cool enough then, but now--"

    Pierce stopped mid-sentence. Because if Alicia was surprised to find him so appealingly attractive, her reaction to him couldn't compare to the explosion in his chest and loins when he stood and turned to face her. Her hair was wet and silkily draping her cheeks, neck, and shoulders. The chambray was soaked and plastered against full breasts and nipples peaked hard from the cold. He had a helluva time keeping his eyes off them. Her bare feet only made her legs look longer and shapelier. They were covered with goose flesh he craved to warm with caressing hands.

    He dragged his eyes away from her, cursing himself and this sudden attack of rampant desire. He hadn't felt so compulsively desirous of a woman since ... He had never felt so compulsively desirous of a woman. It baffled him. She was a wife and mother and doing absolutely nothing to entice him. In fact, she looked jittery and nervous, and if his expression revealed anything of what was going on between his thighs, he didn't blame her.

    "I think we ought to get you out of those wet clothes. Why don't you take the boys into the bathroom and I'll see if I can find them something to wear."

    "All right." Alicia herded her sons toward the sanctity of the bathroom, where she hoped she could will her breasts back into a state of repose. He had noticed her distended nipples. She knew he had.

    Several minutes later he knocked on the door, though it stood open to give them light. Adam and David had been stripped down to their underpants and Alicia was rubbing them with towels. "Chili is on the stove and I found these in a drawer." He held up two UCLA T-shirts.

    "Super," David said, grabbing one and pulling it on over his head. It hung to his knees.

    "Say thank you, David, to Mr. Reynolds for loaning you his shirt." She stood slowly, still painfully aware of her wet shirt and short cutoffs. When she had left Los Angeles that afternoon they were enjoying an unseasonable warm spell. For an automobile trip to the woods with David and Adam, the old cutoffs and shirt had seemed like the perfect outfit.

    "Thanks, Mr. Reynolds," David said as he helped Adam with his shirt. The hem came to Adam's ankles.

    "You're welcome, but the shirts aren't mine. This cabin belongs to my company. Everyone uses it and leaves things behind. I'm sure they'd never be missed if you want to keep them."

    "Gee, can we?" The boys raced out looking like two friends of Casper the Ghost. They were happy now that they were warm and dry and dinnertime was imminent.

    "I'll have to look a bit further to find something for you." Somehow Pierce kept his eyes on her face, which wasn't hard to do at all. Her hair was beginning to dry around the edges and it coiled beguilingly along her cheek. And, God, did she have a kissable mouth. His insides were groaning.

    Alicia shifted from one bare foot to the other. "I'll dry out in a minute. Don't bother." Despite his resolution, his eyes drifted downward. "Maybe we'd better get them fed," she said hurriedly, and pushed past him. The boys were already sitting at the table where four places had been set. There was a basket of saltines and a tray of sliced cheese and apples in its center. A pan of chili was steaming on the portable butane stove.

    She carried the bowls to the table as Pierce ladled them up. Then he held her chair for her before she sat down. Her stomach rumbled rebelliously and he laughed. "I guess the boys aren't the only ones who are hungry."

    Good-naturedly she smiled. "I didn't have a chance to eat today."

    "She always says that," David piped up. "She doesn't eat breakfast or lunch because she's afraid she'll get fat."

    "Yeah," Adam said after cramming his mouth full of crackers, "she exercises every morning with the girl on the television. She gets on the floor and stretches and grunts and her face looks like this." He made a grimace that made Pierce laugh and made Alicia want to kill her second-born.

    "Eat your supper so we can get back to our own cabin," she said in typical motherly fashion.

    "Can't we stay here?" David whined.

    She looked at him with the unmistakable, but silent, parental threat of annihilation. "No, David. We can't intrude on Mr. Reynolds."

    "You don't mind, do you?" Adam asked him candidly.

    Pierce looked at Alicia across the table. "No, I don't mind. As a matter of fact, I was thinking that I could run back down there and leave a note for your husband. He could join you here when he arrives."

    "Husband?" David's young face screwed up in puzzlement.

    Alicia's heart stopped and she momentarily closed her eyes. When she had told the lie, it was in the hope of protecting herself and her sons. The boys hadn't heard her. She had never thought the fib would come back to haunt her.

    "Your mom told me that your dad is going to meet you at your cabin tonight."

    "We don't have a dad," David informed him. "He died."

    Adam swallowed his food. "Just like our goldfish. Except Daddy's grave is in the c'metery instead of the backyard."

    Alicia felt the green eyes slicing toward her before she even looked up to meet their inquiring gaze. With what defiance she could muster, she met their stare levelly.

    "He died a long time ago," David said conversationally. "I remember him but Adam doesn't."

    "I do too!" Adam protested. "He had black hair and brown eyes like us."

    "You've just seen pictures of him so you think you remember."

    "I remember. Mommy, make David stop saying I don't remember."

    While this argument was carried out, the green eyes hadn't released their captive. "I'm sure you remember your daddy, Adam," Pierce said quietly.

    "He was big like you, except maybe you're bigger," David continued. "We thought Carter was going to be our new dad, but then he married Sloan instead of Mom."

    Alicia's warning glances did nothing to stop the flow of words from the mouths of her babes. "David, I'm sure Mr. Reynolds--"

    "I cried when Carter told us he wasn't going to be our dad," Adam expounded. "But Mom said it was okay because Sloan was our friend and we'd get to see Carter a lot and just because he didn't marry her that didn't mean he didn't still love us. Can I have some more chili, please?"

    "We can still go to Carter's beach house to play. It's neat. Adam's a pig. He always wants seconds."

    "Am not."

    "Are too."

    Alicia was able to avoid Pierce's questioning eyes as he got up to refill Adam's bowl. He would think she was a complete idiot for fabricating a husband.

    "Do you have a dad?" David asked of Pierce as he sat back down.

    "No. He died a long time ago. But my mother is still alive."

    "You're just like us."

    Pierce smiled. "I guess I am."

    "Do you have a wife?"

    "Adam!" Alicia admonished, ready to throttle both her talkative offspring in one fell swoop. "That's enough. Both of you stop talking and eat your supper."

    "No, I don't have a wife." Pierce's eyes were laughing as he blotted his mouth with a napkin.

    They finished the meal in what was to Alicia blissful silence. Finally Pierce spoke. "If you're finished, I think it's time to get you two boys to bed." He stood and began to clear the table.

    Alicia panicked. "David, Adam, go in the bathroom and wash your hands."

    "Do you want us to wash our hands or are you just sending us in there because you want to talk about something you don't want us to hear?"

    "Go!" she said, pointing a commanding finger toward the door.

    "All right," her precocious son mumbled, taking his younger brother by the hand.

    When they had the water running in the bathroom, Alicia whirled on the man. She had to tilt her head back at a drastic angle to look up into his face. Until then she hadn't noticed how tall he was. Or was he just standing closer? "I'm taking my boys back to our cabin. We will not spend the night here and I would appreciate it if you'd stop trying to lure them into staying, thereby making me the villain."

    "That's lunacy, Mrs.-- oh, hell. What's your name?"

    "Mrs. Russell," she said peevishly. He glared and she relented. "Alicia."

    His lips drew up in a quick smile, then thinned to a resolute line. "The rain hasn't slacked off. What possible advantage could it be to drag those two little boys back through the woods to that damp, dark cabin when they could sleep here?"

    "Because I'd be sleeping here too."

    He shrugged. "So?"

    "So? So my mother taught me to have better sense than to spend the night with strange men."

    "I'm not strange." Again that quick smile, then tight-lipped sternness. "Why did you make up that lie about a husband? To protect yourself from me?"

    She tossed back her hair and raised her chin. "Yes. I was hoping you wouldn't bother us if you thought I had a man joining us soon."

    Was it only her imagination or did he lean forward slightly and did his voice lower in volume and pitch? "Am I bothering you?"

    Damn right. That's what she would have had to say if placed under oath. Thankfully she wasn't. "I just think that for all concerned, it would be best if we returned to our cabin."

    "I disagree. You'd be alone without power. It's cold out now and the boys aren't dressed properly, to say nothing of you."

    To make his point, his eyes scaled down her bare legs. But something happened on their return trip up to her face. They softened. Dangerously so. So that when they collided with Alicia's, he and she were both rendered speechless by that nonphysical collision. Seconds ticked by, moments stretched out, and still they stared, powerless either to move or look away.

    What is wrong with me? Alicia asked herself. She had taken this week off to weigh an important decision, a decision she was being pressed for. Her time was running out; they wanted an answer. She didn't need this kind of romantic distraction in her life. Not ever, but particularly not now, when she had just found her footing in the scheme of things.

    Similar thoughts were parading through Pierce's mind. A week ago, he would have been highly amused by this situation. He would have given his arousal free rein and not battled to suppress it. Wryly he admitted that he would have used any tactic necessary to get this woman into bed with him. But the day before yesterday, his world had been turned upside down and he didn't know how he was going to cope. His problem was solely his. He certainly couldn't invite anyone to share it. And what he had in mind every time he looked at this woman was sharing of the most intimate kind.

    "Where's my bed?" Adam's question was rolled out around a broad yawn.

    Alicia and Pierce both jumped reflexively and moved apart.

    She floundered helplessly. If she refused to stay now, that would be tantamount to an admission that Pierce Reynolds did bother her. Purely from a logical standpoint, staying in his cabin was the safest, most reasonable thing to do. She would look like a sap traipsing back through the woods during this thunderstorm with her two weary, cranky children in tow.

    This would be a temporary relapse, she assured herself. It had taken her thirty-one years to learn to take care of herself. She never wanted to depend on anyone else ever again. But this was only for one night.

    Pierce Reynolds's gray-flecked eyebrow arched in query and she answered with a silent lowering of her eyes. He accepted her decision graciously and without a trace of smugness. "I thought one of you boys could sleep down here with me and the other upstairs with your mom. There is a double bed up there."

    "They can both sleep upstairs. I wouldn't want you to be crowded." He would crowd any bed.

    "No problem." I'd love to be crowded in a bed with you.

    "Then Adam can sleep with you since he's the smaller."

    David's brow wrinkled as he eyed his brother jealously. Then he bounded up the stairs. "Goody, I get to sleep upstairs."

    They were soon bedded down and the cabin became awkwardly quiet save for the steady cadence of rainfall and the distant rumble of thunder. The worst of the storm had been spent. Alicia began clearing the table, washing the dishes in the sink. Pierce dried and replaced them in the limited cabinet space. They worked in silence until the job was done.

    "Thank you," he said.

    "It's the least I could do."

    "I guess I'd better find you something else to put on. Whether you want to admit it or not, I know those damp clothes are uncomfortable. Mine are."

    She wished he hadn't mentioned that. His damp shirt was molded over the muscles of his arms and chest. Tight denim jeans hugged his hips and thighs like a second skin. His bare feet hinted at an intimacy she would rather not think about.

    She was thinking about it just the same.

    He knelt in front of a cedar bureau and began rifling through the drawers. He had searched two, found them lacking, and closed them before he pulled open the third. His hands plowed through the garments left behind and long forgotten. The drawer produced a stocking cap, one glove, a pair of plaid bermuda shorts about a size forty-two, and three socks all of different colors.

    "Ah, here's something." He pulled the garment out of the drawer, eyeing it knowingly. "Someone had a good time while he was here."

    Alicia's breath stopped in her throat when he held up a slinky nightgown. Firelight shone through its black transparency. Filaments of fabric formed the shoulder straps. The lace bodice was as fine and fragile as a spider's web. On a human body, it would be no more substantial than smoke, a shadow worn for clothing.

    Coming slowly to his feet, he advanced toward her, his eyes immobilizing. He laid the straps of the nightgown against her shoulders, pulled the scanty bodice into place over her breasts, and let the length of it float down over her bare legs to her feet.

    He peered at her through the shimmering folds. "Perfect fit," he said in a rough, unnatural voice.

    Alicia stood stock-still, not daring to move. Feeling vulnerable and much like a succulent dessert about to be devoured, she quavered, "I can't wear this."

    To her relief, he stepped back quickly. He looked as though he had suddenly remembered something and whatever it was had yanked him out of a golden fantasy and plunged him into cold reality. His face went blank. His mood changed abruptly. It was so extreme a mood shift that even Alicia, a stranger to him, saw it, felt it. It was tangible.

    Maybe he was married.

    He turned his back, angrily shoved the nightgown out of sight into the drawer, and began to pillage it again. He seemed unaccountably aggravated as he stood up and thrust a man's shirt at her. "You can wear this," he said brusquely. "Good night, Alicia."

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