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OVERHEAD, THE SUN WAS BRIGHT with the promise of spring. Its direct rays were warming, but the nipping north wind retained the cool breath of winter. A sudden gust whipped dust into an eddy and sent it whirling across the busy intersection, sweeping the street and bouncing off traffic.
Jessica Thorne strolled along the sidewalk, glancing into store windows, her hunter-green coat unbuttoned to the brisk air. She adjusted the shoulder strap of her handbag and slipped her hand back into her coat pocket. The teasing wind mussed the waving wing of silky blond hair at her temple, but Jessica made no attempt to smooth it into place. There would be time enough to freshen up when she returned to the office.
A twinge of restlessness swung her gaze to the Tennessee hills rising around Chattanooga. Evidence of spring was visible in the delicate shading of green on the hillside—new leaves, new grass, new life. Soon the dogwood and rosebud would be blooming. The knowledge shadowed the already dark green of her eyes. But Jessica was unaware of it and would have been at a loss to explain why it should.
Her shoulder brushed against a passerby, returning her attention swiftly to her surroundings. "Excuse me," she murmured in apology, but the woman was already several steps beyond her and didn't hear.
The traffic light at the intersection was green. Jessica quickened her pace to catch the light. As she reached the crosswalk, it turned to amber, Don't Walk flashing beneath it. Traffic surged forward and she had to wait with the other pedestrians on the curb.
A man stood beside her. His imposing height attracted her glance. Coatless against the invigorating weather, he wore a dark business suit and tie. When Jessica would have looked away, the breeze ruffled the sable black mane of hair. A memory clicked in her mind, elusive yet strong.
Her gaze sharpened on his craggy profile. There was a quality of toughness in his lean, hard features that was familiar. Jessica was certain that she knew him, but she couldn't place where or how. He wasn't the kind of man a person could easily forget, which made it all the more confusing.
The man was someone from the past. Time had etched lines around his eyes and mouth, hinting that his age was in the middle thirties. That eliminated the possibility that he was someone she had gone to school with, since she was only twenty-three.
Perhaps the clothing or environment was wrong. The dark suit was hand tailored, the material expensive. He wore it with an ease that indicated that he was accustomed to such clothing, yet Jessica had the distinct feeling he had not been wearing such attire whenever she had met him. What had he worn? A uniform? The answer eluded her.
Becoming aware of her scrutiny, the man glanced at her. His eyes were a shattering blue, narrowed to have the piercing effect of a hard blue diamond. The look was familiar, but Jessica experienced a sense of unease that bordered on fear. She felt her pulse fluttering in alarm. The impulse was strong to look away, to avoid any further contact with the man.
She was stopped from obeying it by the recognition that flickered uncertainly across his face. His raking gaze made a swift, piercing study of her, noting her honey-colored hair and the clouded green of her eyes. So thorough was the inspection that Jessica had the sensation that her coat was stripped away to allow him to examine the slender curves of her figure.
Dark eyebrows drew together in a frown. "Do I know you?"
The voice fitted the man, low pitched and demanding in its curiousness. It struck a familiar chord, but Jessica still could not remember his name.
The shake of her head was more uncertain than negative. "I'm not sure."
"That voice." He paused and seemed to search his memory while his gaze never left her face. "My God!" Recognition glittered in the hard blue eyes, tempered with a hint of skepticism. "Can it be? Jordanna?"
"Jordanna is my sister." Eight years older than Jessica, there was a similarity between the sisters despite the age difference. Besides, all the Thornes had blond hair and either green or blue eyes.
"Of course." His mouth quirked at the corners in self-derisive amusement. "I should have realized you're too young to be Jordanna. You're about the same age Jordanna was when I left. I guess I didn't make allowances for the amount of time that's passed."
Neither noticed the traffic light change, but as the other people at the curb brushed past them to enter the crosswalk, they became aware of the fact. His hand cupped Jessica's elbow to guide her across. The strong, firm grip of his hand sent a tremor of unease through her. The physical contact increased the feeling that she should stay clear of him.
As he escorted her across the intersection, Jessica was still no nearer to remembering who he was. She had searched her memory, trying to recall the men her older sister had dated. None seemed to resemble the man striding beside her.
Stealing a glance at him, Jessica could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. For an instant, there was a cunning look about him. The thought leaped into her mind that, ultimately, he would always get what he wanted. It didn't seem to bode well.
Safely across the street, he stopped, his hand halting her. "What a small world it is!" His lazy smile looked pleased. "Almost my very first day back, I meet a Thorne. It's an amazing coincidence."
"Yes," Jessica agreed, although she didn't know why it was. "Were you a friend of my sister's?"
"A friend?" he repeated with a faintly cynical gleam. "No, I wasn't a friend. I had met your sister, but we never reached the stage of knowing each other well, through no fault of mine."
Jessica was intrigued by his answer. She didn't know what it meant—whether her sister had not wanted to get to know him better or whether her sister was too complicated to know well. She would have pursued the subject, but he changed it.
"Where is Jordanna now? Married, I suppose."
"Yes, she is. She has two children, a boy and a girl. She and her husband live in Florida."
He removed his hand from her arm and Jessica breathed a silent sigh of relief, as if she were once again in full possession of herself. He slipped both hands into the pockets of his slacks, a seeming concession to the brisk air except that his suit jacket was pushed open. The thin material of his shirt covered the muscular wall of his chest down to the trimness of his waist and fiat stomach.
When Jessica had first noticed him standing at the crosswalk, there had been an impression of a man on his way somewhere. Now he seemed prepared to stand on the street corner and chat away the day. It was a confusing reversal.
"What about your parents? They're well, I hope," he commented.
Did he know them, too? "Yes. Daddy retired two years ago. They moved to Florida so mother could be near the grandchildren." Jessica wondered if she should be telling him all this. She didn't even know him. Of course, there was a lot he seemed to know already.
"And your brother, did he get his degree from Harvard?" There was something cynical, almost sardonic, in the question.
"Yes. He joined a law firm in Memphis. He's doing quite well." Jessica found herself defending her older brother. She thought she had detected a note of sarcasm when the man had referred to Harvard and it irritated her.
"A Thorne couldn't do any less than very well for himself." The man smiled cruelly when he said it, and behind the joking response, Jessica suspected a taunt. "I never did ask—did Jordanna marry that wealthy Radford man?"
"As a matter of fact, she did, but money had nothing to do with her choice." Jessica bristled. "She happens to love Tom."
"Did I imply otherwise?" He seemed genuinely taken aback by the suggestion. "I apologize for my choice of adjectives to describe Radford. I meant nothing by it."
Was he sincere or merely acting? Jessica couldn't tell. She had been anticipating that he would introduce himself, but obviously he wasn't going to.
"I'm afraid I can't place you." She forced him to make an introduction. "You do look familiar, but ..."
"I doubt that we've met before," he said, not at all disconcerted. He withdrew his hand from his pants pocket and offered it to her. "The name is Hayes, Brodie Hayes." His name brought her memory of him into clear focus and a chili shivered down her spine. "You're Jordanna's sister, but I don't know your name."
Shock at his identity had whitened her face. Through the tightness in her throat, she squeezed out the answer, "Jessica."
Automatically she reached to shake his hand. The instant contact was made, warm skin against warm skin, she pulled her hand free.
Brodie Hayes! Her disbelieving eyes swept over the expensive clothes he wore, the fine leather shoes visible beneath the precise crease of his trousers, and the large diamond ring on his finger. Only after these changes were noted did her gaze return to see the bemused and mocking look on his rawly masculine features.
"You do remember me, don't you?" he said.
"I've heard about you." Jessica recovered some of her poise. "I believe I saw you once or twice."
"I vaguely remember that Jordanna had a little sister?" Brodie Hayes admitted. "A cute little thing with braces on her teeth."
Jessica didn't smile, nor attempt in any way to reveal the perfect set of white teeth. "You seem to have done very well for yourself, Mr. Hayes," she commented a trifle frigidly.
"Brodie," he corrected, and glanced down at his suit, giving the impression that its cost was of little importance. "I've come a long way from the poor boy who lived on the wrong side of the tracks."
A long way, Jessica agreed silently. He was a rough diamond that had been cut and polished into an expensive gem. But the outer look didn't change the fact that inside he was still that hard, rough diamond capable of cutting through anything.
Finally Jessica obeyed the impulse that had become embedded in her mind from the first moment he had looked at her. "I know I must be keeping you from something important. It was nice seeing you again."
Before she could take a step away, he was speaking. "You're not keeping me from anything." Brodie Hayes disposed of that excuse.
"Surely you must have some old friends you want to look up," she insisted.
"My old friends?" He seemed to consider the idea with bitter regret. "Unfortunately they wouldn't feel comfortable with me anymore. That's one of the prices you pay when you climb the ladder, Jessica. You leave people behind. It isn't often that you can help them come up with you."
"If they're your friends—" Jessica started to protest.
"If you meet someone you haven't seen in years and if that person has made a success of himself while you're still struggling to make ends meet, you get the feeling you're a failure, whether you are or not. It's not a feeling many people want to experience, however much they may like the other person," Brodie reasoned with unquestionable logic and the bitter taste of experience.
"I suppose you're right," she conceded, and glanced pointedly at her watch.
Brodie took the hint. "Am I keeping you from an appointment?"
"I've reached the end of my lunch hour. I have to be back to work in a few minutes." Actually she had plenty of time to spare, but common sense demanded she spend no more time in his company.
"You're a working girl, then, not a lady of leisure." He seemed mildly surprised by the discovery, as if he had expected her parents' wealth was a reason for her to be idle.
"Living the life of leisure can be boring. Perhaps you haven't reached the point where you've discovered that yet." This time it was she who was faintly acerbic in her response.
Brodie Hayes seemed to find it amusing. His mouth remained in its half-curved line, but there was a sparkle of mocking laughter in his hard eyes. It didn't endear him to Jessica.
"Perhaps I haven't," he agreed.
"It was nice seeing you again." She repeated her earlier exit line with the same result as the last time.
"Have dinner with me this evening," Brodie invited before she could move away. "Your husband is welcome to join us."
"I'm not married," Jessica answered, then realized she had fallen for an old gambit.
"Your boyfriend, then. You do have one?" His skimming look seemed to say any woman as attractive as Jessica had to have a boyfriend or there was something wrong with her.
"Thank you, but I'm afraid I can't accept," she refused as graciously as her clenched jaw would permit, and purposefully adjusted the strap of her shoulder bag.
"Please reconsider." His slow smile was packed with compelling male charm. Jessica was aware of its potency and wavered under its spell. Only it frigid woman could be immune to it, and she was definitely not frigid. "Take pity on a lonely man who's tired of eating his meals by himself."
"If you eat alone, I'm sure it's by choice. There are probably any number of people who would be delighted to join you." She felt a drawing fascination and fought it vigorously as she discounted his appeal.
"My dinner companions generally want to discuss business or money, directly or indirectly." Brodie Hayes didn't deny her allegation. "Yours is the first remotely familiar face I've seen since I returned. I'm a stranger returning home to find no one here to welcome me. I would like to spend an evening with you, reminiscing about old times."
It was difficult to refuse in the face of his persuasions. He was making her feel guilty and heartless. Only the sensation that he was a little too smooth made Jessica persist in her rejection.
"I doubt if I would be able to do much reminiscing, since your 'old times' were not mine. I would be able to supply you with little information about your contemporaries and where, they are and what they're doing today," she argued, hiding her terseness behind a smile.
"My contemporaries were also your sister's and brother's. I'm sure you've heard them speak about their friends." A gust of wind ruffled his midnight-black hair. In a careless gesture, his fingers combed it back into order. "You'd probably be surprised at how much information you've unconsciously gathered."
"Possibly," she conceded that he might be right.
"Shall I pick you up at eight o'clock?" Brodie didn't repeat his invitation, but rephrased it to take her acceptance for granted.
Jessica hesitated, finding herself at a loss to battle him with words. With a sigh, she released the breath she had unconsciously been holding and flashed him a quick smile.
"Eight o'clock will be fine," she agreed, and glanced at her watch. "I have to run. See you tonight ... Brodie." Her tongue tripped over his given name.
"Tonight," he agreed with an arrogantly pleased smile.
But Jessica was already moving away, not allowing him another chance to detain her. She hurried down the sidewalk, not looking behind her to see if Brodie Hayes was watching her leave.
There was no sense of triumph in having eluded him, nor in having bested him. She had agreed to the dinner invitation for the simple reason that it was the easy way out. She knew she wouldn't be going with him when she had accepted. Not because she was going elsewhere that evening. The fact was that Brodie Hayes did not know where she lived, and her telephone was not listed in the directory, so there was no chance he could find her. A man like Brodie Hayes would not take kindly to being stood up, but with luck she would never bump into him again.
At the building where she worked, Jessica paused to glance behind her. She scanned the people on the sidewalk and felt silly for thinking that Brodie might have followed her. With an impatient shake of her head, she pushed open the glass door and walked in.
Riding the elevator, Jessica shrugged out of her coat and tried not to let her mind dwell on what she had just done. But it had left a sour aftertaste in her mouth. Her expression was downcast and slightly preoccupied as she entered the outer office area.
Ann Morrow, the receptionist, glanced up and frowned. "I wasn't expecting you for another twenty minutes, Miss Thorne."
"I came back early," she answered abruptly, and immediately tempered her sharpness. "I wanted to look over the Atkins account."
"I took the file into Mr. Dane's office a few minutes ago." The girl lifted her shoulders in mute apology.
Excerpted from Sentimental Journey by Janet Dailey. Copyright © 1979 Janet Dailey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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