Strangers When We Meet

Strangers When We Meet

by Marisa Carroll

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Welcome to Twin Oaks—the new B and B in Cooper's Corner. Some come for pleasure, others for passion—and one to set things straight…

Radio talk show host Emma Hart thought Twin Oaks was supposed to be a friendly inn, but fellow guest Blake Weston sure was grumpy! Blake had planned to buy an old farmhouse just


Welcome to Twin Oaks—the new B and B in Cooper's Corner. Some come for pleasure, others for passion—and one to set things straight…

Radio talk show host Emma Hart thought Twin Oaks was supposed to be a friendly inn, but fellow guest Blake Weston sure was grumpy! Blake had planned to buy an old farmhouse just outside Cooper's Corner—flee the rat race and propose to his girlfriend…until he'd caught her in bed with the real-estate agent.

Checkout: That real-estate agent was none other than Emma's soon-to-be fiancé! Blake and Emma turned to each other for support—and comforting hugs quickly turned to passionate embraces. But fate wasn't through with them yet. A shocking turn of events was about to deepen their newfound love…forever.

COOPER'S CORNER continues with My Christmas Cowboy by Kate Hoffmann

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Cooper's Corner , #9
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"Michael from Manhattan's up next. Seems like Michael's got a problem most guys only dream of. His girlfriend wants a menage a trois. And get this. He's got second thoughts! You're listening to seven-eighty, radio WTKX, the voice of Extreme Talk Radio in the Big Apple. This is your host, Emma Hart. It's ten fifty-five p.m. Time for adult radio. So don't be shocked at the subjects, and don't call the station complaining your kids are listening. They shouldn't be up at this time of night, anyway.''

Blake Weston punched the button on the dashboard console to bring up the volume another notch. Not because he didn't want to miss a word about the guy with too many oversexed ladies in his life, but just to hear Emma Hart speak. There was unadulterated sex in the whiskey smooth voice coming over the car radio, just as there was every night he listened. He sometimes wondered what the woman behind the microphone looked like. But he wasn't a fanciful man, and he knew there was no way her face could match that come-hither voice. To tell the truth, he didn't want it to. He was involved with a beautiful woman, and beauty like that demanded a lot of a guy. At least Heather did.

''We're here tonight and every night to discuss what matters to those of you out there who make this city hum. Men. Women. Relationships. Sex. What's your problem?

Too much love? Not enough? Tired of looking for Mr. Right in all the wrong places? Give me a call at one-eight-hundred five-five-five WTKX. For those of you who've had too long a day, that's one-eight-hundred five-five-five-nine-eight-five-nine. Michael's up next on 'Night Talk with Emma Hart' after our commercial break. Stick around, folks. This one ought to be good.''

Blake's mouth twisted into a mirthless grin as he glanced at the dashboard clock. Nearly eleven. He'd had a long day. A long week. A long year. In fact, five long years. But tomorrow he was leaving the city and his responsibilities at Braxton, Cartright and Wheeler Investments, Inc., behind for a week in the Berkshires. It was a little past prime color season, and that suited him just fine. It meant the leaf peepers would be gone for another year, and Cooper's Corner, Massachusetts, would have returned to the sleepy little village he'd first come across last spring.

The light turned yellow, and he gunned the Dakota through the intersection, wondering for the thousandth time why he continued to drive in the city, and a truck at that. The parking fees alone would keep his parents in tofu and bean sprouts for a year. He ought to sign up for a driving service like any sane man, but so far he'd resisted. You could take the Indiana farm boy out of the country, but you couldn't take the country out of the farm boy. At least not where his pickup was concerned.

The break ended, and her voice filled the night once more, making him forget about parking fees and beating the lights.

''Hi, Michael, are you still there?''

''I'm here.''

''From what it says on my screen, you've got the kind of trouble most guys only dream about. What's the matter? Afraid you're not up to it?''

''Well…'' The guy named Michael cleared his throat. ''Not really. Well, yeah,'' he finally muttered.

''Hey, I imagine deep down a lot of guys feel just like you do,'' Emma Hart responded. The husky voice was teasing, but with an underlying warmth that took the sting from the words. Blake tipped his head toward the radio, anticipating what she'd say next.

''No kidding?'' Michael sounded dumbfounded, too.

''Sure. Sex is the most intimate act we share with another human being. It makes us vulnerable. Men and women both. Being in the right place in your head is important. Especially if this is really making love, not just some kind of recreational roll in the hay. Am I right, Mike?''

''It's not. I mean, it is love. At least for me.'' Michael was, sounding a little more sure of himself. ''I love, her, but— Well, things haven't been quite as good between us lately. Maybe I haven't been, you know, paying as much attention to her as I should. I work sixty, seventy hours a week. So does she. Hell,'' he blurted out. ''That's not the reason. I'm not James Bond. I don't want to get naked with her girlfriend. And what if—well, even if I do, and then…you know…nothing happens…''

''Have you told her you're not comfortable with this?'' The teasing note was gone from Emma Hart's voice. Her program was cutting edge, and she didn't pull any punches when it came to sex in the city, but if you stripped away the titillating double entendres and shock-value lead-ins, her advice was pretty straightforward.

''No. She thinks I want to. Like you said, man, it's every guy's dream, right?''

''Every adolescent's dream, maybe. But what about a grown man who wants to make a commitment? And yeah, ladies, there are such animals among us. Pretty rare, I admit, but out there all the same if you're willing to track one down. Or is Michael just being stodgy and uptight? It's the twenty-first century, after all. Use a little caution, practice safe sex and why not take a bite or two of forbidden fruit? Stay on the line, Michael. Let's get some other opinions here. This is Emma Hart on Extreme Talk Radio seven-eighty. The number is one-eight-hundred five-five-five nine-eight-five-nine. Get on the phone and let Michael know what you think of his dilemma. He says he loves his lady. She wants to try something a little bit kinky, a little naughty, but Michael's an old-fashioned kind of guy. And come on, listeners, let's face it. That's a lot of body parts to keep track of. Anyone could get…cold feet.'' Her laugh was every bit as sexy and appealing as her voice.

''Hey, this one's lighting up the lines like Fourth of July fireworks. We've got two guys, Hank and Antoine, saying go for it. And three ladies with other suggestions. Let's take Diane from Queens first. Diane you're on 'Night Talk.' What advice do you have for our shy guy?''

''Hi, Emma. I've listened to you every night for almost two years.''

''Thanks, Diane, that's what I like to hear.''

''Tell him he can call me any time he wants. I've been dating losers in this town for ten years who couldn't get their pants off fast enough if someone made them an offer like that. I'd give my right arm for a nice, old-fashioned kind of guy like Michael who's only interested in one woman at a time. Believe me, he won't need an extra body around if I'm in bed with him. Hey, Michael, are you listening? She's a pervert. Dump her. Call me. My number's—''

There was a click, and Emma Hart's voice reached out to him once more with laughter. ''No can do, Diane. This isn't a dating service. We're just here to talk about the things that are important to us Gen Xers. And sex is sure one of them. We're coming up on the top of the hour. I have to go to the news. Michael, can you hang on until after the break?''

''I'll wait.''

''Great. When we return, we'll see if we can't come up with a solution to your problem that will make you both happy. And maybe all three of you.''

With that provocative tag line, the show's theme music came up and Blake switched off the radio. He pulled the Dakota into his parking bay in the garage beneath his coop building and switched off the engine. The last caller had said she'd been dating in the city for ten years. That was a long time to be in the game. She sounded tired of the whole scene. He was, too. Maybe that's why he tried so hard with Heather, despite their differences. Was he sticking with her because he couldn't live without her, or simply because he was tired of living alone?

He sure as hell was too tired for one-sided self-awareness sessions this late at night. He didn't believe in love at first sight. Love was something you worked at, invested in, kept a close eye on, just like the stock market. It wasn't romantic, it was damned hard work, but it was a good formula for success. Hard work was the name of the game in managing a multibillion-dollar investment fund and in life. So he was going to keep working on his relationship with Heather, and sooner or later it would turn into love.

Blake grabbed his briefcase and laptop and opened the door. When he did, a brochure sailed out onto the concrete. He picked it up and studied the century-old farmhouse pictured beneath a wrought-iron sign. Twin oaks B & B. It looked peaceful and welcoming sitting among the big oaks and maples surrounding it. He couldn't wait to get there. He wondered if he could talk Heather into leaving a day early? He doubted it. She hadn't wanted to make reservations there to begin with. Too quiet and off the beaten track to suit her. An early morning start and Heather Markham were mutually exclusive terms—unless, of course, he caught her just coming in from a night on the town.

Heather had more friends than he could count, and they all partied as hard as she did. She might not even be in the apartment now. She'd said something about attending the opening of a new club in Harlem. She'd wanted him to join her there when his dinner meeting was finished, but he'd begged off.

He hadn't expected his meeting with one of the firm's biggest out-of-town investors to be over until after midnight. But D. Miles Rutter had gotten a call from his wife earlier in the evening that one of their grandchildren had appendicitis and was undergoing emergency surgery in the morning. He'd cut the meeting short to fly back to Florida on his private jet. ''Twenty years ago, if this had been one of my kids,'' he told Blake, ''I would have let my wife handle it and I'd stay here with you and make damned sure you weren't doing anything stupid with my money. But two heart-attacks and coming this close—'' he touched his thumb to his index finger ''—to being divorced by the woman I've loved since high school changed my outlook big time. Money's great to have and I've worked hard to get mine. But there are other people just as good at making it as I am. You're one of them, Weston, so I'm going to let you do what you do, and head home. There's a hell of a lot more important things in life than money, and family's one of them, remember that.''

Blake couldn't attest to the family closeness part of it. He seldom saw his parents since they'd moved to Florida five years earlier to join a gaggle of other aging sixties flower children in a commune near Kissimmee. His brother, Ash, a biotechnical engineer, was working as hard as he was, and his sister, Summer, was completing her residency in pediatrics at a hospital in Cincinnati. He'd been on his own since the day he graduated from high school, and so had his brother and sister. Still, he knew they'd be there for him if he needed them.

He leaned against the brass railing along the back wall of the elevator and stared at his dull reflection in the doors. He might as well stop trying to turn his mind in other directions. Like Michael from Manhattan, he worked a great many seventy-hour weeks, and even longer. Heather had a right to question his commitment to their relationship. They had a lot to work out, and he hoped the coming stay in the Berkshires would give them the quality time they needed to plan their future together.

The elevator doors slid open, and he fumbled in his pocket for his key as he walked the short distance to his corner unit. He'd been lucky to get this place. The apartments were from the twenties, big and high-ceilinged, and most of the other owners were young professionals like himself, a few with babies and toddlers. When he and Heather decided to start a family, they wouldn't have to look for someplace that welcomed children.

And they'd have the place in the country—the-hundred-and-fifty-year-old homestead he'd finally made up his mind to buy. Heather would get used to the idea of living part of the year in the country once he got the place fixed up. He'd call the Realtor in Williamstown first thing after they got to Cooper's Corner and tell him to go ahead and close the deal. What was the guy's name? Tubb, that was it. Devin? Darwin? Something like that.

He opened the apartment door and found the man whose name he couldn't quite recall standing in the middle of his living room floor, shrugging into—or out of—his coat.

Blake might have bought the real estate agent's stammered explanation that he'd had business in the city and had stopped by to tell Blake there was another offer on the farm and that Heather had kindly invited him to stay for drinks. After all, that's what Blake wanted to be-lieve—and it was just plausible enough to be true. If, that is, the woman he'd just been planning to ask to be his wife hadn't chosen that moment to walk into the room wearing nothing but her pearls.

''Ari, here's what I think you should do. Try taping a performance of your amorous next-door neighbors the next time they wake you up at three a.m. with their marital gymnastics, and leave it in their mailbox along with a note suggesting they at least move their bed away from the wall and tone it down a notch or two or you'll send the a copy to the tenants' grievance committee. Bet ya a nickel that gets you a good night's sleep. That's all the calls we have time for tonight, folks. Stay tuned for Rob McKee from now till six, and Julie Reimund bright and early tomorrow morning with all the news and traffic reports you'll need to maneuver through the gridlock out there. You'll be getting the best of some of our past 'Night Talk' shows hosted by my producer, the talented and lovely Armand Williams.'' She grinned back as the burly six-footer gave her a sour smile while he counted down the last ten seconds of the show with hand signals. ''Be sure and join him at our usual time Monday night. This is Emma Hart. You've been listening to 'Night Talk' on WTKX Extreme Talk Radio. Now, go take on the night.''

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