Eva hurried to her office. Crap. She didn't need the aggravation
of Carson Brandt, no matter how much he improved the scenery.
Shoving the door shut, she kicked off her heels and padded
in her stocking feet to the window behind her desk. Lifting a mini-blind
slat, she peered out into the garden area.
He stood there bare-chested, knee deep-cast deep-in rich
black soil. Holding open a burlap sack, Zack hunkered down while Carson
shoveled the humus mix into the bag. His shoulders bunched. His biceps
flexed. And he was much too tan for early spring.
His skin glowed bright with the kiss of summer sun. She
wondered where he'd been. An equatorial climate. Maybe Egypt or Ethiopia.
Somewhere where he wouldn't mind the lack of provisions. Food had never
mattered to him. So weight had never been a problem.
But what had once been a body gangly with youth was now
the lean strength of prime man. His skin was smooth, seasoned; his chest
dusted with sun-bleached fuzz. His hair had streaks of red gold over
streaks of honey. He'd let it grow and she liked it.
The overall picture put her on edge. She could appreciate
the hair and admire the skin. But the five percent body fat was too much
for her latent hormones.
She couldn't help herself. Wetting her lips, she released
her imagination, called up the past, and remembered the feel of his body.
A familiar tingle crept through her limbs.
She clenched her thighs and forced her breathing to slow.
Her eyes drifted shut. A lethargic weight rooted her to the floor. Seventeen
years hadn't changed her physical response to the man who'd taught her
the joys of physical love.
"Traitor," she grumbled down
to her disloyal body before lifting her lashes to look outside once
Carson's pullover sports shirt hung carelessly over the
cedar fence. So typical. The shirt was no doubt a designer label and
cost a fortune, but money and the luxuries it could buy had never meant
anything to Carson.
No matter how much he earned for each assignment, no matter
how much he increased his retainer, the money didn't matter. Only the
challenge of bettering himself, besting himself, beating himself time
after time carried weight with Carson Brandt.
He was a paragon of perfection. Just like Zack.
The intruding realization returned Eva to the moment. She'd
been determined to relegate these two men to their proper places in her
life, places separate and apart from one another.
Now they stood working side by side . . . and looking mighty
chummy, she noted with a grimace. Amazing, the number of similarities
in them. The long, lanky build. Tawny hair and tanned skin. Different
colored eyes, but similar expressions. The same intensity. The same inner
Funny things, coincidences.
With a puff of breath, Eva dropped the mini blind in place
and stripped off her suit, hanging it in her office closet. She pulled
on a pair of faded jeans and a loose white T-shirt. After tying on a
pair of scuffed leather work boots, she stood and took a deep breath.
This wouldn't be so bad.
Wrong, she amended seconds after she stepped outside, because
someone had forgotten to tell her body she was immune to Carson Brandt.
He was oh-so-cool, his stance indifferent, deceptively
lazy, like he owned both the world and the time. His long-fingered hands
were stacked casually on the shovel handle, his ocean blue gaze keen
and alert-and trained on Zack.
Slowly, Eva approached, pushing away the last few minutes
of fantastic lust to concentrate on the moment. And the fact that she
had to get Zack away from Carson, before he twisted her son's passion
for excellence into his own obsessive drive.
Tying up the full bag of soil, Zack slung the load to Miguel
who hefted it onto his shoulder and carried it across to the waiting
truck. As Miguel climbed in and drove away, Zack dusted his hands together,
grabbed another bag from the pile by the fence and squatted beside Carson.
"Hey, Mom," he called, as Carson dropped the
first shovel full of soil into the open bag. "What did Mr. Grant
have to say about his star pupil?"
Acknowledging Carson with a tight smile,
Eva relaxed her fists and glared down at her son. "Not as much
as Katie did. She told me about the prom."
Zack thumped the bag against the ground to settle the soil.
Eva felt the thud-thud in her empty stomach. She shouldn't have skipped
lunch, she ruefully thought, knowing the lack of food had nothing to
do with a burning sensation that would no doubt get worse before it got
"I guess I should've told you yesterday.
But it's something I wanted to think about for awhile."
Eva plowed her hands into her hair and
don't apologize. I'm just worried that you're taking on more than you
"I know. That's why I didn't give them an answer right
away." He looked up with eyes too old to be on the verge of seventeen.
Eva's heart broke. "If you want
to talk about it, we can make it an early evening."
Zack shook his head. "Not tonight.
I've got a paper meeting in a couple of hours."
Eva opened her hands in offering. "That's why I'm
here. Katie told me about the meeting. I thought I'd lend a hand so you
can get out of here." She finally glanced at Carson. "Looks
like you've got plenty of help already."
"Yeah, Mr. Brandt wouldn't take
no for an answer even though I told him Miguel and I could manage."
Carson knocked the shovel head against
the sole of his single boot. "How are you, Eva?"
Aggravated. Frustrated. Annoyed. Strangely
disturbed. She looked up at the sky. "Fine. But we're all going
to be wet if we don't get this order filled in the next thirty minutes."
"Hey, Mom," Zack said, twisting the bag mouth
closed. "Why didn't you ever tell me that you knew Mr. Brandt?"
Bending down, Eva held the mouth of
the bag closed while Zack secured it with a length of rope. She shrugged
never come up. You knew I modeled years ago, but Carson and I haven't
kept in touch.
"Between you and Blooms," she said, tugging playfully
on a lock of Zack's hair, "I don't have time to keep up with photographers
and fashion any more." Straightening, she glanced at Carson, and
heard yesterday's conversation verbatim.
I'm only a star if you know where to look for my name.
Okay. So I look.
His eyes were as fiery now as they'd been then, his expression
condemning and righteous. She really had to quit lying to the man. She
was a total failure at making it work.
"Sounds like Mr. Brandt helped make you famous." Zack
fluidly rolled to his feet and nudged her shoulder with his.
She snagged her heel on a chunk of rock,
but caught her balance before falling into Carson. She glowered at
her son, wondering
at Carson's version of the story. How much had he told Zack? "Thanks
bunches, Zack. And I'm not famous."
"Then you've got this town fooled."
"Very funny," Eva grumbled, then took a deep
breath. It was time to get her son out of here. "Listen. Why don't
you go home and get cleaned up? Grab some money from the register and
order a pizza to take to Katie's. Just leave me a note of the amount."
"What about the rest of Mrs. A's
"Soil, Zachary. Specially formulated to meet her garden's
every need." Eva grinned as Zack rolled his eyes. "I imagine
Mr. Brandt won't mind helping me finish up this last bag. That's all
that's left-" Eva arched one brow Carson's direction "-and
he looks like he's wearing most of it."
"Just adding my own special touch," Carson
said with a too dazzling smile.
Pretending not to be dazzled, Eva crossed
her arms. "I'm
sure Mrs. Appleton's prize-winning begonias will wilt in abject horror."
Zack grabbed his shirt from the fence
and shrugged it on. He pushed the long locks of hair from his face
as his gaze cut from Eva
to Carson and back. "Hey, I'm outta here. You two can fight this
out alone. I'm gonna grab that pizza money and Katie. Just not necessarily
in that order."
"Bye, Mom." He leaned down and bussed her on
the cheek then extended his hand to Carson. "Mr. Brandt. Thanks
for your help. I just hope you didn't screw up your leg."
"No problem, Zack. And the leg's more a nuisance than
anything." Carson propped the shovel handle against his hip and
took Zack's hand.
Eva glanced from her son to the bare-chested man who once
was her lover. A streak of dark blond hair delineated the musculature
of Carson's torso before disappearing behind the waistband of his low-slung
khaki pants. She remembered the feel of his skin against her tongue.
She remembered his taste, his smell,
the wiry brush of hair against her cheek. The thunder rumbled. And
she moved her gaze to
Zack. Breathlessly, she said, "I'll see you later tonight, okay?
Have a good meeting."
Zack jogged off, then turned, gave her
a thumbs up, and disappeared through the door. Eva whooshed out a long
breath and turned
back to Carson. She'd gotten rid of Zack. Now to get rid of Carson. "What
are you doing here?"
"I'm working." He glanced
at the shovel in his hand and back as if the answer were obvious.
"Not here, as in here in my garden,
but here as in what are you doing in my hometown? I thought you had
an assignment in
Houston. And, now that you mention it, what are you doing in my garden?"
Using the shovel for leverage, Carson
eased down to the ground. Leaning back on both elbows, he stretched
out his casted foot
and groaned. "I volunteered to help when I saw how your son was
busting his butt out here."
"The Carson Brandt I knew wouldn't volunteer to help
do anything." Eva frowned down at him. "But he'd have no qualms
about ruining a perfectly good pair of pants. Or a cast. Are you supposed
to be working in that thing?"
"You mean should I walk in my walking
"Smart mouth." She offered her hand. "Get
up. Your getting filthy."
He shook his head, his gaze speculative,
interested, and way too familiar. "I don't think so. I like the
view from down here."
Why did he always make her think of
sex? Ignoring what that look, those words, did to her already jittery
stomach, Eva shrugged. "Suit
"I always do."
And didn't he, though. Stepping closer,
she picked up the shovel and grabbed the last bag. "Thanks for
helping Zack, but I can manage from here. You probably need to be getting
back to Houston."
"Nope. I took myself off the assignment. I'm on vacation," he
said, tugging the bag from her hands.
After that remark, she didn't have the
strength to hold on. Dread seeping into her bones, she watched while
he tossed the bag
back on the pile. "A vacation. And you're spending it here?"
"Why not? Nice quiet town. Nice people. Nice place
for secrets." Carson hoisted himself to his feet and dusted off
his seat before grabbing the shovel from Eva's hands. "Tell me about
your son, Eva."
The question didn't surprise her. In fact she'd expected
it sooner. First there was the timing of her past shared with Carson.
Then there was Zack's age, not to mention the uncanny similarities in
looks between the two. And she couldn't forget Carson's arrogance and
reluctance to admit he'd made a mistake. Of course he would think Zack
was his son.
Eva glanced in the direction her son had disappeared but
Carson's broad chest, muddy and inches away, blocked her view. Shoving
agitated fingers through her hair, she stepped back.
"Look, Carson. I've really got to finish this order." She
gestured toward the stack of burlap bags. "Do you mind?"
A raindrop pelted the end of her nose.
Carson took a step forward. She backed into the fence. He leaned toward
her, braced the
shovel against the cedar picket, then straightened and shoved his hands
in his pockets. "Tell me about Zack."
Fine. She knew a no-win situation when she saw one. Laying
her palms against the fence, she rested her backside against her hands
and met Carson's relentless gaze through the steady drizzle.
"Let's see. He plays shortstop for Lake City High.
They're having a great season, so between games, practice and working
as photographer on the school paper, he doesn't get in a lot of study
time. That's where Katie comes in. You met her earlier?" she asked.
When he nodded she went on.
"She's a shoe-in for valedictorian next year and is
a big help tutoring Zack. His grades could be better, but I'm pleased.
And right now he's still mulling over his college choices." There
now. That wasn't so bad.
"He's a junior then?"
"That would make him how old?"
"His seventeenth birthday is next month." And
seventeen years ago she'd run from New York. Showdown time.
Long quiet moments hung thick in the air, enveloping the
rhythm of nature and the heartbeat of man. The pattering rain spawned
a vaporous haze redolent with earth and new growth. The cool mist bathed
Eva's skin, and blurred her view beyond this one small, intimate corner
of the garden.
The darkening sky cast gray shadows over Carson's face,
but the clarity of his gaze never wavered. The rain plastered his hair
to his head, sluiced smoothly over his torso and washed away the accumulated
sweat and dirt. His muscles flexed and slowly he advanced; his movements
sleek, stealthy, with a jungle cat's grace. Eva held her breath.
He stopped. Inches separated their rain-soaked bodies.
The air swirled close, the moisture thickened. The fog of Carson's body
heat scented the air. Droplets caught in Eva's lashes and she raised
He meant nothing to her any more; he was no longer a part
of her life. But her thighs quivered, and her breasts tightened. And
she knew the lie had run its course.
Carson lifted a finger, hesitated, then flicked a raindrop
from the end of her nose. A second kissed her lip, slipped down her chin,
ran the length of her neck and soaked into the neckband of her T-shirt.
Carson's gaze followed, then traveled lower. His eyelids grew heavy,
his breathing sharp and ragged. And Eva pressed back against the fence.
The distance was no deterrent. Carson stepped into her
space. He traced the path of the raindrop with the pad of his index finger.
His rough skin pulled at the pillow of her lower lip. She opened, allowed
him to dip inside and leave a tempting hint of his taste. A taste she
remembered too clearly. A taste that made her hungry again.
She tilted her head against the rough cedar board, giving
him access to the skin of her throat. She wanted him. Dark secrets from
the past pulled them apart, yet this white-hot electricity arced between
them, spanning the years as well as the lies of omission. Making a mockery
of the life she'd built for herself and her son.
His touch drifted feather light, drawing a single line
down her neck. Her breath caught in the back of her throat; her erratic
pulse pounded beneath his touch. His finger slipped lower, grew bolder,
tickling a line between the valley of her breasts.
She shivered from the cool touch of the rain, from the
hot touch of his finger. In a minute she'd stop him. For just one more
minute she'd soak up his touch and let the rain wash away the years.
For one second longer she'd pretend this was real and dream all those
fantasies one more time. Make believe their differences didn't matter.
Fool herself into believing they had a chance.
"Eva." Her name escaped his
lips in a grating whisper.
She opened her eyes to find his heated gaze on her chest.
Her nipples tightened under his intense perusal with the same ease they
once had for his mouth. Using his thumb, he traced the upper curve of
one breast, then the other, and she whimpered. Shamelessly, she strained
"You're so incredibly beautiful. More so now than
years ago. And your body . . ." He shook his head, his chest lifting
and falling rapidly now. "I wish I'd seen you pregnant. It's so
hard to believe of this body."
The words he spoke woke her from the fantasy and thrust
her deep into the madness of the moment. Swirling and whirling and spinning
out of control. She dropped her gaze to the ground, looking for stability,
solidity, finding nothing but water that eddied in the mud around her
Pulling in a stilted breath, she whispered
her answer. An answer that was only a part of the truth. "Well,
I have been pregnant, Carson."
She lifted her gaze enough to see the lean strength in
his fingers as they flexed at his sides. She looked higher, at the indentation
of his navel and the flat male nipples hidden in a whorl of blond chest
hair. Water ran over and around the sculpted ridges of his torso like
a river fighting formations of nature.
Finally, she braved his eyes. For a fraction of a second
his need burned so sharply she wanted to claw her way through the fence
behind her and run for shelter. Seventeen years later and the emotional
threat of his sensuality hadn't diminished. Why? Why now? Oh God, why
She ground the back of her hand against
her mouth to stifle a moan. "Damn you, Carson Brandt. He's not
His eyes lost none of their brilliance, but his stance
shifted imperceptibly. That telltale sign told her he'd been hit. That
he wanted Zack to be his son and irrationally hated her because of that
truth. Because he wanted to believe the lie he'd been living since he'd
laid eyes on Zack four days ago.
Carson leaned closer and she sucked in a breath, sucking
in with it the very taste of him, the sweat, the earthiness and the man.
She waited. And waited. Wanting his touch and hating herself for the
He lifted his arm above her head and jerked his shirt from
the fence. After struggling into the wet material, he turned on his heel
without a word and limped through the gate. The motor of his Jeep roared
to life. He spun his tires on the wet pavement and drove away.
When the world returned to the present, to the sweet smell
of nature, pine bark and earthy soil, Eva dropped to her knees. Lifting
her face to the spray of cleansing rain, she damned herself for once
being young and foolish, and for ever loving Carson Brandt in the first