Delaney Townsend was an expert at dealing with everyone else's problems but her own. How else could she explain that the whirlwind marriage she thought had ended definitely hadn't? Seems her supposedly ex-husband refused to sign the official papers. And he wasn't about to let her go until she could prove that she no longer had any feelings for him!
A cool professional, Delaney planned to put a tight lid on anything she felt for Samson Vega. But that was before one unquenchable spark flared into an unforgettable night of lovemaking. And before the clear morning light revealed Samson's true colors. Now Delaney had to decide if the only mistake about their marriage was ending it….
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The first time since she'd seen Sam in two years, and he was in the arms of another woman.
Not just some witness he was questioning after a crime. Not some elderly woman he was helping to cross the street. It was clichéd, but she'd watched him do that, more than once, as if he were "good guy" personified.
No, this woman with whom he danced was definitely not elderly, and if she were witnessing anything, it was what it felt like to press her temple against Sam's strong jaw while they swayed together beneath a starlit sky.
Well, wasn't this just dandy?
Delaney exhaled and paused at the fringe of the crowd spilling from the clearing that was being used as a dance floor. Despite the outdoor setting, she felt hemmed in by too-warm bodies, too-loud music.
She hadn't let herself think too deeply about how she'd feel seeing him again after all this time. Silly, considering that she was a psychiatrist. Now, like a tongue gingerly approaching a suspect tooth, she probed not only at what she felt seeing Sam, but what she felt seeing him dance closely with another woman.
Tiny red, blue and green lights were strung from the tops of young trees, circling bushes, sprouting from the swaying fronds of palm trees, even though the holiday season was half a year away. They blinked and twinkled, casting the revelers in a surrealistic light.
That's what it felt like, Delaney decided.
How had their lives come to this?
The question was moot. She knew good and well how.
She glanced over at the main building that loomed against the studded sky. Fortunately, young Alonso was taken care of and was now settled in at the halfway house, Castillo House. She'd said her goodbye, difficult as it had been. Which meant that all Delaney had left to accomplish was this one last… task.
Maybe it was foolish. But to leave without at least speaking with him smacked of cowardice. It might appear that she was still affected by what had happened. And she didn't want him thinking that way. Even if it were true.
She exhaled again, smoothed first the front of her regrettably wrinkled suit, then the strands of hair that kept slipping free of the pins, and headed into the fray of dancers.
She turned this way and that, moving between and around couples, murmuring an apology when she bumped right into one couple while avoiding another. But her voice was absorbed by the music blaring from the sound system just as surely as the high heels of her pumps sank into the earth, and she was fairly certain that nobody paid any heed at all to her progress through the melee.
That was okay. Having the element of surprise on her side could only be a good thing where Sam was concerned. She was prepared, while he was not. He couldn't possibly be. A cowardly approach, perhaps, but there you have it.
She sidestepped, avoiding a couple intent on an enthusiastically bad tango, and finally came face-to-face with Sam.
Well, face to back.
She willed away a foolish surge of nervousness. For heaven's sake, surely she was past the stage of butterflies where he was concerned.
She cleared her throat a little. "Excuse me." Her voice was swallowed whole by the swell of the female singer and a symphony orchestra. She sighed a little and tried again, shifting when Sam and his partner slowly revolved and Delaney found herself standing behind the other woman. "Excuse me." She tapped the dark-haired woman's arm.
Immediately the woman looked around, her eyebrows lifting as she looked over her shoulder.
Sam noticed her then, too. His gaze narrowed on her face, his eyebrows jerking for a moment before drawing together over his hawkish nose. All around their odd little trio, the dancers continued to sway.
Well. She had managed to surprise him. Who knew? "Sorry to interrupt," she said smoothly. "I just wanted a moment of your time."
The woman's head swiveled from Delaney to Sam and back again, and Delaney stuck out her hand, feeling some sympathy for the bemused-looking woman who shook it. "Delaney… Townsend." She hesitated over the name. She'd have to work on that. She'd only been using it since she'd been in contact with Castillo House—two months, now, when she should have begun using it two years ago.
"Sara Drake," the other woman murmured.
"Drake?" Delaney looked over at the enormous mission-style house that provided a backdrop along with the trees and lights. "Are you related to Logan Drake?"
"He's my brother," Sara confirmed. "But I'm afraid I don't—"
"What the hell are you doing here, Delaney?" Sam interrupted the exchange.
Meeting his gaze was more difficult than she'd expected. So she looked at the total picture of him. The shining black hair springing back from his forehead, as thick as ever. Why couldn't the man at least have a receding hairline? Or a paunch instead of a body that looked—as impossible as it ought to be—even harder and stronger than before.
Which reminded her of the task currently at hand.
She tightened her grip on the strap of her briefcase. She had to raise her voice more than she was comfortable with to be heard above the music. "I'd just like to speak with you. It'll only take a minute, and you can get back to your dance partner." She managed a smile at Sara and felt relatively certain that it was harmlessly noncommittal. Butterflies or not, after having spent most of the day traveling—with the final hour spent sitting on a cold, wet seat in a boat that stank of gas and oil fumes—she suddenly felt rather more like baring her teeth at Sam.
Which would have shocked all of them, no doubt. Particularly Sam, since he'd considered her singularly unemotional when it came to certain matters.
She pushed a little more cheer into her smile. "Just a few minutes or less of your time, Sam. That's all I want."
"Townsend," Sam said abruptly.
She gave up trying to smile altogether. She'd come to the island of Turnabout for reasons that had nothing to do with him. But her reason for wanting to speak privately was solely due to his stubbornness. That didn't mean she wanted to create a scene right there in front of God and country and the dancers celebrating the anniversary of Castillo House's opening. "This is hardly the place to—"
"Why not? You're the one who's here."
The other woman, Sara, was looking decidedly uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," Delaney told her. She was.
She really had no desire to cause anyone discomfort. If she did, she could just hand over the box right now. Maybe Sam would turn around and present it to Sara.
The idea was nauseating.
"Perhaps somewhere more private is a good idea," Sara said softly, and the look Sam gave the woman—as if he were actually weighing her suggestion—gave Delaney a pang that she shouldn't have felt.
There was no need for Delaney to gingerly probe her feelings now. Not with the way her stomach suddenly churned. She quickly slid a bulging manila envelope from her briefcase. "Two minutes, Sam. That's all I'm asking."
"Is it?" He looked down at the envelope, lips thinning. "Don't think so."
She had a ridiculous urge to stomp her foot. And since she'd never been the foot-stomping sort she squelched it. "It's been two y—"
Delaney's words dried. She looked down at the envelope and pressed her palm against the buttons of her suit jacket, cursing the way her stomach rocked. Right. Twenty-one months. She could have even more accurately calculated the last time they'd seen each other down to days but didn't want to give him the satisfaction.
The night temperature seemed to have risen. Which was ridiculous. It had to be her. Becoming hot under the collar. Literally. If only she'd thought to wear a blouse, a camisole, something more substantial than a bra beneath her jacket. She could have removed the jacket, then, in deference to the heat. She'd checked the weather before making the trip to California and thought she'd been prepared for the warmer climate. So much for that notion.
"Why don't I get you some punch," Sara suggested suddenly. Too perceptively. "You and Sam can find a quiet place to talk." She smiled, doing a better job of it than Delaney had. "Take care of your business."
They were all adults. It didn't bother Delaney at all that it apparently took urging from Sara before Sam would be cooperative.
She exhaled and surreptitiously tugged at the front of her jacket in hopes of getting some air. "Punch would be nice," she lied. If she tried to swallow anything but water, she wasn't sure she could be responsible for the consequences.
Sam lifted a sardonic brow when Delaney hesitated as Sara moved away. "Well?"
The woman—taller than Delaney by several inches—seemed to have far less difficulty making her way through the crowd. Or maybe people just naturally got out of Sara's way in the same manner they did for Sam.
Delaney watched the pair of them from the corner of her eyes. Sam and Sara. A striking couple. Both tall and raven-haired. They could have been brother and sister, only, Delaney knew Sam had no sister named Sara. Janie, yes. But not Sara.
Not that she'd ever met Janie, or his brother, Leo.
Not that she ever would.
The envelope crinkled as her fingers tightened. She nearly jumped out of her skin when Sam closed his hand around her elbow.
"Little jumpy, Delaney?"
He used to call her Laney. She carefully moved her arm away from his touch. "It's been a long day," she said smoothly. It was the gospel truth. An incredibly long day. But it was worth it to have Alonso taken care of. She'd worked long and hard to make sure of it.
"Delaney." Sam watched her much too closely. "You all right?"
He'd recovered from his surprise. Now she couldn't read his expression to save her soul. A regrettably familiar position.
She lifted an eyebrow and brushed a strand of hair away from her face again. "Right as rain, Sam." But her voice was clipped despite herself and she deliberately looked around. Sara had made it to the row of tables near the house, laden with food and refreshments. But Sam and Delaney were still amidst the dancers and had finally begun to draw attention. "Is it serious between you two?" She cringed at that. Don't ask the question if you're not prepared to listen to the answer.
"Does it bother you to think it might be?"
"Is it still impossible for you to give a straight answer?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you're as annoying now as you ever were," she said evenly. She turned on her heel, grateful to keep her balance with her sinking heels. She should have just given him the ring, whether it embarrassed him or not, and gone on her way. Or, better yet, she should have left it with Annie and Logan Drake. They could have delivered it. He would hardly have refused that type of personal delivery.
There were just too many "should haves" where Sam was concerned.
She realized Sam hadn't moved, and turned around to look, only to find him looking right back at her, his head cocked to one side. Studying? Judging?
Then he suddenly turned his head and Delaney followed suit, looking over to the house.
Alonso slouched against the wall near the high, double-wide door, his hands shoved in the pockets of the new baggy jeans she'd given him. His stance was casual, but Delaney knew it was feigned.
Even though Delaney had prepared herself for this, too, she still felt herself bracing. Still felt defiance coursing through her, joining the rock 'n' roll beat inside her stomach.
Sam looked back at her.
Oh, yes. Definitely judging.
Her grip tightened on the envelope as Sam headed toward her, his steps unhurried. He stopped just in front of her. "Should have known this would have something to do with him," he said, angling his head so she could hear his low voice. "Some things never change."
Her throat went tight. "Some people never change, either." He wasn't expressionless, she realized. An angry muscle flexed in his tight jaw.
"When are you going to learn your lesson where he's concerned? Hasn't he cost you enough?"
You mean when he cost me you? She wanted to voice the question. Better sense prevented her. "He has a name, Sam. Alonso. And he's cost me nothing of value." Her voice was flat. Hopefully it disguised the pain.
He tilted his head again, considering. "Been practicing your target shooting, I see."
"Alonso has been accepted as a resident at Castillo House. You might as well get used to seeing him on the island."
"In my jail cell, maybe."
Every nerve inside her tightened. The work Logan Drake and his wife, Annie, had accomplished in the past year at Castillo House with homeless and troubled youth had drawn attention from Delaney and her colleagues—enough attention that she'd swallowed the fact the program was located on Sam's turf and approached them about Alonso.
And Castillo House was Alonso's last chance to avoid jail time. The judge was out of patience where the boy's probation was concerned.
"Not without cause, Samson. Even you don't stoop that low, do you?"
Despite the music, the chatter, the revelry all around them, the silence between the two of them lengthened, thickened. "Crediting me with some integrity?" he finally asked. "There's a change."
She exhaled slowly, reining in a wealth of frustration and other emotions she didn't even want to put a name to. "Here."
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