Holly And Mistletoe Susan Mallery Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR A storm had claimed her apartment and now Holly Garrett was without a home for the holidays.But just when she saw her plans for Christmas crumbling, a miracle came her way. The handsome firefighter who'd saved her and her cat–and who'd injured himself in the rescue–was now asking her for help. And he was inviting her to live with him.Sure, she could cook and clean for him while he recuperated, but was that really all he wanted? Jordan Haynes couldn't let Holly be alone for Christmas–not when she brought out his every protective instinct. No, he could play the needy patient as well as anyone…and just maybe he could convince her to keep him company through the holidays–if not longer. “Haven’t you heard about the infamous Haynes brothers?” Jordan asked. Holly shrugged. “Only rumors.” “Four generations of heartbreakers. Three generations of philandering men and bitter women. Unfortunately, we have a natural ability to attract women.” She raised her chin slightly. “I hadn’t noticed. Oh, what I meant was—” She paused. He waited, wondering what she would say. Would she claim to be completely unaffected by him, and if she did, would be believe her? “I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I really should be going.” He turned slightly. It would be easy to pull her close. Easy to draw her into his arms an kiss her until she forgot where and who she was. He might hate that part of himself, but like his brothers, he was every inch a Haynes. He knew how to seduce a woman…. SUSAN MALLERY is the USA TODAY bestselling and award-winning author of over fifty books for Harlequin and Silhouette Books. She makes her home in the Los Angeles area with her handsome prince of a husband and her two adorable-but-not-bright cats. Holly and Mistletoe Susan Mallery www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) To Barbara Zeiger. I was determined to give you a second firefighter to fall in love with, and here he is. Enjoy! With love and thanks, for the years of friendship. Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Epilogue Chapter One The woman sitting next to him clung to his hand as if she were afraid he would bolt. Her eyes were closed, and her lips moved in silent conversation. Long blond hair tumbled over her shoulders and brushed against their joined fingers. Jordan Haynes recognized the sights and smells of the hospital. He recognized that the faint blurring at the edges of his mind meant he’d been given a strong painkiller. But he didn’t recognize the woman. Still, it was damn nice of her to be so concerned, whoever she was. She dropped her head slightly, and her hair slipped onto his wrist. Cool silk, he thought, wishing he had the strength to raise his free hand and touch the pale strands. His arm felt as if it had been pinned down by an elephant, although he knew it was just weakness that made him unable to move. So instead of touching her hair, he turned his attention to her face. She had freckles across the tops of her cheeks and on her nose. Freckles. He grimaced. Her wide mouth tilted up at the corners. Except for the mascara darkening her lashes, she didn’t wear makeup. He would bet fifty bucks that her eyes were blue and that she’d been a cheerleader in high school. She looked wholesome enough to be in a milk commercial. So what was she doing in his hospital room? Her hair continued to stroke his skin. The soft, erotic touch had his mind producing fantasies his weakened body had no chance of fulfilling. At least not any time in the near future. He tugged his hand free of her grasp. Instantly her eyes opened. Yup. Dark blue. He owed himself fifty bucks. As soon as he got out of here, he would pay up. The woman smiled. Her pink lips parted, exposing white teeth and a smile so pleased, she might have just won the lottery. “You’re awake,” she said, then took hold of his fingers again. The smile broadened. “I’m thrilled. The nurse said you were going to be fine, but I was worried. How do you feel? Any pain? Do you want some water?” He tried to speak and realized his throat was scratchy. He coughed. Before he was done, the woman had stood up, reached for a small plastic pitcher and poured some water into a glass. She slipped one arm behind his shoulders, then raised the glass to his lips. “Sip slowly,” she said. He obliged. When he’d finished half the cup, he nodded to indicate he was done. She set the glass on the table beside his bed, then returned to her seat. This time she clasped his hand in both of hers. Before he could extricate himself, she leaned forward and pressed their joined hands against her chest. That got his attention. While she’d been standing, he’d gathered a quick impression of curves. Awe-inspiring curves. She had the kind of breasts that made up every adolescent boy’s fantasies. Right now his wrist nestled between them while the knuckle of his index finger brushed against the base of her throat. It didn’t matter that her loose sweatshirt was hardly seductive. As far as he was concerned, they could spend the rest of the day in this position. Then he noticed her blue eyes darkening with emotion, and he had the uncomfortable feeling she might be fighting tears. Dear God, anything but that. “Who are you?” he asked gruffly. The woman stopped blinking and smiled again. “I’m Holly Garrett.” She made the announcement as if that cleared up everything. He didn’t know any Holly Garrett, although judging by the way she was staring at him—as if he’d single-handedly saved the world—she obviously knew him. Great. Either the painkillers were doing strange things to him, or he was losing his mind. “And?” he prompted. She stared blankly for a moment, then laughed. He felt the vibration of the sound against the back of his hand, which was still pressed against her chest. Friendly, he thought. A charming trait in an attractive woman. “There was a storm,” she said. “You saved my cat.” The memories flooded him, and he groaned. The high winds had blown over a tree, sending it crashing through a single apartment above a detached garage. Not only had the unit been partially crushed, but the pipes had broken and flooded the place. When his men had arrived, there hadn’t been much left to save. He recalled a frantic woman trying to get through a stuck door. Water had been everywhere. The two-story structure looked as if it was about to collapse. Jordan had grabbed her around the waist and hauled her to safety. She’d been screaming about her damn cat. Like a fool he’d gone after the animal. And look what it had gotten him. He’d been back in Glenwood less than six months, and already he was in the hospital. Damn. “You were wonderful,” Holly said, her voice thick with emotion. “I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened t-to…” Her voice gave out. “Ah, yeah, well, nothing did, right?” She sniffed. “Thank you,” she murmured, and squeezed his fingers. “Just doing my job,” he muttered. And a poor job at that. He was going to take some well-deserved teasing when he went back to the station. Judging from the throbbing in his legs and back, he wouldn’t be returning to work any time soon. Everyone had seen what had happened, too. He’d found the cat and had made it safely out of the apartment, clutching the squirming furball under his coat. Once they were out on the balcony, the cat had tried to get away. Jordan had been afraid the animal would be injured by the fire trucks or lost in the crowd, so he’d hung on to the cat from hell. They’d wrestled each other, and the cat had nearly won. But in the end Jordan had prevailed and grabbed it by the scruff of its neck. Unfortunately in the process he’d lost his footing on the wet wooden balcony above the garage and had fallen off the side. In front of everyone. He swore silently. “Anything broken?” he asked, eyeing his leg under the sheet and blanket. He couldn’t tell if he was in a cast or not. Holly shook her head. “No. I took Mistletoe to the vet, and she’s just fine.” “I wasn’t asking about the cat,” he said dryly. She stared at him a moment, then blushed. Color climbed from her neck to her face, covering her cheeks, then moving up to her hairline. Her mouth formed a perfect circle. “Oh.” She glanced down, seemed to realize she was clutching his hand to her bosom and released him. “Oh, sorry. You meant your injuries. I don’t have specifics. The nurse said you would be going home tomorrow, if that helps.” She gave him a quick glance. “I’m sorry we were so much trouble.” The hand she’d abandoned felt cold. He missed her heat and the faint thudding of her heartbeat. Not to mention the close proximity to her impressive breasts. “Just doing my job,” he said again. She shook her head. “No, you did more than that. One of the other fire fighters told me it was dangerous for you to go back for Mistletoe. There was some question about the structural integrity of the apartment. And now you’re injured. I feel so horrible. If there’s anything I can do, please tell me.” He thought about asking her to hold his hand again, but before he could form the question, the door opened and a half-dozen people poured into the room. His younger brother, Kyle, was first. “Heard you fell off a building,” Kyle said, grinning. “Anything to be a hero.” Two of his sisters-in-law pushed Kyle out of the way. Elizabeth and Rebecca rushed to his side. “How do you feel?” Elizabeth asked. “You can stay with us,” Rebecca offered. “There’s plenty of room.” His third sister-in-law, Sandy, asked, “Anything broken?” “I’m still not sure,” he said, but was drowned out by his older brothers, Travis and Craig, who offered their expert medical opinions on his condition. Austin Lucas, a friend of the family, stepped to the other side of the bed and shook hands with him. “Glad you’re going to be okay.” “Me, too,” Jordan answered, then realized Holly was gone. Somehow she’d slipped out of the room as his family had entered. He looked at the concerned group of people surrounding him. They talked to each other about his condition and argued over who was going to have him stay with them while he convalesced. The conversation washed over him, a warm, loving blanket of concern. He knew everyone in the room cared just as he cared about them. He loved them, but he wasn’t always one of them. Like Austin, Jordan spent much of his life on the fringes, watching the rest of the world connect in a way he couldn’t understand. So he let them argue, because he knew in the end he would do what he wanted. He would go home and be alone, because that was the way he preferred it. “Yes, yes, it’s very macho, but I’m not impressed.” Elizabeth Haynes stood with her hands on her hips. Although her husband wasn’t the oldest of the Haynes brothers, Travis had been the first of them to marry, so Elizabeth was the leader of the women. Right now she was speaking for all of them, and Jordan didn’t like what she was saying. “I’m staying in my house,” he said, and glared at her defiantly. The fact that he was flat on his back diluted some of his power, but he wasn’t going to acknowledge that. “Fine. Stay here. Just not alone.” He raised his hand to his face and rubbed his eyes. Everything hurt. His legs, his chest, his back, even his hair. He’d stopped taking painkillers that morning. Maybe it had been a mistake. Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed and took one of his hands. It reminded him of another woman who had recently done the same. He couldn’t get Holly Garrett out of his mind. As a rule he avoided romantic entanglements. This time he was tempted to break his rule. Fortunately his physical limitations prevented him from acting on impulse. With a little luck, by the time he was healed, he would have forgotten all about her. In the meantime he had to get everyone to stop treating him like an invalid. “You have two choices,” Elizabeth said. “Come home with one of us, or…” “I’ll take the ‘or,”” he said. She ignored him. “Or have Louise stay here and look after you.” He scowled. “I know,” she said. “You hate Louise. No one knows why. Not even Louise. Over the years you’ve made your feelings about her very clear. However, you’re out of options. The doctor said you have to stay in bed for two weeks. So someone has to be here to look after you. It’s up to you, Jordan. Stay here with Louise or come home with one of your brothers.” Jordan turned his head toward the window. He could see bright blue sky and a few puffy clouds. Late fall in northern California could be rainy, but today the weather welcomed him home. Stay here with Louise or go live with one of his brothers. The latter wasn’t a problem. He got along with all of them. But it was only about a month until the holidays. Everyone would be busy with preparations. He would be in the way. Louise. He swore silently. No one understood why he didn’t like her. But he knew the truth. Her guilty secret. He’d carried it around with him for seventeen years. Everyone accepted her as a de facto member of the Haynes family. Everyone but Jordan. He questioned her motives for getting close to the brothers. “Well?” Elizabeth prompted. “You’re not leaving me with much of a choice.” “That’s the point.” He drew in a deep breath. He’d bought the old Victorian mansion less than two months ago. So far, he hadn’t made much of a dent in restoration. Maybe he could get some work done while he was convalescing. He wouldn’t be allowed back at the fire station until after the first of the year. “I want to stay here,” he said, then regretted his decision. “If you’re sure.” Elizabeth leaned close and kissed his cheek. “Be nice to her, okay? She’s doing you a favor.” “No problem.” She smiled. “Liar. You’re going to make her life hell. I’d better go warn her.” She rose and started out of the room. When she reached the doorway, she glanced back at him. “None of this would be a problem if you’d found yourself a wife.” He smiled at the familiarity of this conversation. Elizabeth was forever trying to get him married off. “I like being single.” She didn’t return his smile. “That’s twice you’ve lied to me, Jordan. It’s a good thing I love you as much as I do. Maybe I’ll have my husband beat some sense into you.” “I could take him.” She raised her eyebrows. “Well, maybe not today, but by the end of the week, for sure.” She stared at him for a moment. “Maybe this is a good thing—lying flat on your back will give you time to think about your life.” “I like my life just fine.” “You’ve got your brothers fooled, but we females know better. You need a woman.” “I’m a wounded hero. Leave me in peace.” “You’re a stubborn pain in the rear, but I still adore you. Take care of yourself and be nice to Louise.” She gave a quick wave and disappeared into the hallway. Jordan listened to the sound of her footsteps on the hardwood floor until they faded into silence. Then he was alone. It was how he preferred to spend his life. Alone. He was used to the solitude. But for the next few days he was going to have company. Louise. Elizabeth had admonished him to be nice. He grimaced. If she knew the truth, she wouldn’t be so eager to have Louise around. But Elizabeth didn’t know. No one did. He wasn’t sure why he’d been so diligent in guarding Louise’s secret. Probably some useless sense of honor. It didn’t matter that he owed her nothing or that she’d destroyed his family. He couldn’t bring himself to betray her. He heard footsteps again, but these weren’t his sister-in-law’s. Louise Carberry entered the room and stared at him. She was of average height with short blond hair and blue eyes. He guessed she had to be in her midforties, although she looked younger. A bright, long-sleeved fuchsia blouse hung loosely over purple pants. Louise dressed as if she were color-blind. She folded her arms over her chest and stared at him. He stared back. The moment reminded him of wrestling with the damn cat on the landing. He’d won the battle but lost the war when he’d gone over the side of the balcony and fallen to the hard ground below. His gaze narrowed, and he wondered if he would end this encounter equally battered. Holly parked her car in front of the large Victorian mansion. It was barely after six in the evening, but already it was dark. The sun set before five in the late fall. She could see the faint outline of the beautiful old house. The peaked roof, the oddly shaped windows. Years ago this part of Glenwood had been home to the rich and powerful families who made their fortunes in timber, mining and the railroads. By the Second World War most of them had left the small community for San Francisco or Los Angeles, but their houses remained. Some had been torn down, and some had been converted to offices. A few were being restored. Holly stared up at the building and wished she had the money to buy one herself. She would turn the downstairs into a showroom and live upstairs. She smiled. It was a lovely dream but had no basis in reality. Still, her fingers itched to feel the original wood molding and trace the shape of the stained-glass windows above the double-wide front door. She opened the car door, collected the pink bakery box, then got out. The early evening was still. Only the faint call of a night bird disturbed the silence. She drew in a deep breath and inhaled the scent of trees and the faint hint of some distant fire. The homey scent reminded her she’d lost her home three days ago. Everything she owned had either been crushed or soaked beyond repair. At least Mistletoe was safe. Holly clutched the bakery box firmly and started up the stairs. Store-bought cookies wouldn’t begin to repay the debt she owed Fire Captain Jordan Haynes, but they were the best she could do right now. She didn’t have access to a kitchen. As soon as she could afford to get a new place, she would bake something wonderful. She climbed the three stairs leading to the front porch. The wide wooden deck was bare. A single light burned by the front door. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what the porch would look like in the summer with sunlight spilling onto the refinished floor. There would be a swing at one end, by the large window on her right. Maybe a white wrought-iron table-and-chair set at the other end. She could see ladies in long dresses and gentlemen in tall hats. Children would play on the lawn, their laughter a happy background noise to the adults’ polite conversation. “You are the most stubborn man it’s ever been my misfortune to know.” The loud voice startled Holly, and she jumped back. She stared at the front door. She’d been about to knock, but obviously this wasn’t a good time. A low male voice rumbled, answering the woman’s claim, but Holly couldn’t make out the words. “If I didn’t care about the rest of your family, I’d leave you here to starve,” the woman continued. “It would serve you right, too. Even my Alfred, God rest his soul, wasn’t this fussy about his food.” More male rumbling. “Fine. Be insulted. You don’t like anything else about me, why should I be surprised that you resent being compared to a dog? Oh, and Alfred was better looking than you, too.” Before Holly could step back, the front door flew open. A woman stood in the doorway and stared at her. “I thought I heard a car pull up.” Holly didn’t know what to do. She was poised awkwardly on the porch, with one foot behind her as she tried to make her escape. “I…” she said, then paused. “I’ve come to see Captain Haynes, but I’ll come back. This obviously isn’t a good time.” The woman grimaced. “There’s never a good time with that one. He’s the most stubborn, pigheaded, difficult man I’ve ever met.” She paused and shook her head. “Why you’d want to see him is beyond me, but you might as well come in. Maybe you can talk some sense into him. Oh, by the way, I’m Louise.” She held the door open. Holly forced herself to walk forward. Once in the house, she shifted her weight from foot to foot and stared at her hostess. The woman wore a bright yellow long-sleeved shirt tucked into cobalt blue slacks. The silver belt around her trim waist matched the moon-and-star silver earrings she wore. The two women were about the same height, although Holly had come straight from work and still wore two-inch heels. “What are you doing now?” a male voice inquired. The tone of the question implied the woman was doing something he wouldn’t like. “Answering the door. Quit being such a baby. You don’t want me in the room with you, but you yell at me if I go away. Make up your mind, Jordan.” “Who is it?” he asked. Louise rolled her eyes. “One of your women.” “Oh, no,” Holly said quickly. “I’m not—” “Which one?” Louise glanced at her. “What’s your name?” “Holly, but I’m not—” “Holly,” she yelled toward the back of the house. Jordan was silent. Holly figured he was trying to place her. “I’m not one of Captain Haynes’s women,” she said. Louise smiled. “Then that makes you a smart girl. That boy is nothing but a difficult toad.” She shouted the last part of the sentence, aiming the words in the direction of what must be his room. After drawing in a deep breath, she released it slowly. “I’m real sorry I ever agreed to this. He’s going to be the death of me. And Lord knows I’m far too young to die.” She paused and drew her eyebrows together. “Who are you, then?” “I’m Holly Garrett.” Holly shifted her package to the other arm and held out her hand. “My apartment was destroyed in that big storm earlier in the week. Captain Haynes went back inside to save my cat.” She shook Louise’s hand. “I’m the reason he was injured. Actually Mistletoe is, but I feel responsible.” “Mistletoe?” “My cat. She got scared once they were out of the apartment and tried to get away. Captain Haynes managed to hold on to her, but in the process he lost his footing on the balcony and fell over the side. I feel terrible about what happened.” Louise’s lips started to twitch. She chuckled for a moment. “Felled by a cat. Serves him right.” “I brought cookies,” Holly said, holding out the box. “They’re not much. I couldn’t make them myself. I don’t have a kitchen right now. I wish I did. I really like to cook and bake.” “Louise!” Jordan yelled. “Wait a minute,” she yelled back, then lowered her voice. “He’s going to be flat on his back for two weeks. I don’t think I’m going to last here.” “You’re his…?” “Housekeeper. It’s a temporary job. Very temporary. You want some coffee?” Louise didn’t wait for an answer. She just headed for the rear of the house. Holly trailed after her. As they passed through the foyer, she noticed the stunning chandelier hanging down from the ceiling two stories up. The tiny crystal teardrops were original. They caught light and created rainbows. The banister was hand carved, the floors in great shape. In her mind’s eye she saw the house as it had once been and what it would be like again, given enough time, money and love. “He’s through there,” Louise said, pointing to a half-closed door. Holly saw a library and beyond that the foot of a bed in what had once probably been the study. “How is he?” Louise snorted. “If his foul temper is anything to go by, he’s improving every hour.” They entered the large kitchen. A tray sat on the table in the center of the room. Louise motioned to it. “Says he won’t eat it. Can you imagine? I’ve been cooking all my life, but Mr. High-and-Mighty doesn’t like it.” Holly glanced at the plate filled with meat loaf, mashed potatoes and vegetables. It smelled wonderful. Her stomach growled. She hadn’t had anything since breakfast, and suddenly she was starving. Louise smiled. “Help yourself.” “Oh, I couldn’t.” “Louise!” Jordan called again. He sounded furious. Holly looked at the tray, then in the direction of the makeshift bedroom. She owed Jordan Haynes a big debt. He’d saved her cat. Mistletoe had been her mother’s gift to her the Christmas before she died. A single dinner wouldn’t do much to repay what she owed him, but it could be a start. She didn’t know much about men, but she was intimately familiar with a sick room. “Maybe I could help,” she said cautiously. Louise planted her hands on her hips. “Honey, you’re welcome to try.” She glanced at the clock over the stove. “My evening college class starts in forty minutes. I don’t have the time to fix Jordan something else. Why don’t you go introduce yourself and if he takes to you, then be my guest.” “Thank you,” Holly said, then headed back the way she’d come. She knew several dishes specially designed to tempt an invalid’s appetite. She’d taken care of her mother for years. “Oh, and Holly?” She paused, then glanced over her shoulder. “Yes?” “Tell the boy to put some clothes on.” Chapter Two Tell Jordan to put some clothes on? Holly blinked several times. “You mean he’s—” She couldn’t even say the word, but she could sure think it loudly. Naked? Louise winked. “You’ll just have to go see for yourself, won’t you? Don’t worry. He hasn’t got anything you haven’t seen a dozen times before.” Holly gave a weak smile, then headed for the study. Actually Louise was wrong. Jordan did have something she had never seen before. At least he did if he was naked. As she walked through the library, one part of her mind noted the hand-fitted floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and the large crystal light fixtures hanging in each corner. In front of her she could see the bottom of a bed. Her steps slowed. Naked? No, Louise wouldn’t do that to her. She stopped on the library side of the doorway and cleared her throat. Maybe she should warn him that she was about to enter his room. So if he was, well, naked, he could cover up. Still, she hesitated before speaking. She didn’t know what to say. Just thinking about the handsome fire fighter made her nervous. At the hospital she’d been so concerned about his condition, she’d barely had time to notice his looks at all. But once he woke up and they spoke, she hadn’t been able to think about anything else. Her stomach had gotten all sort of quivery, and she’d barely been able to form whole sentences. Thank goodness his family had shown up and she’d been able to escape before she made a complete fool of herself. Now here she was, about to enter his bedroom. Well, not really his bedroom. He had been put downstairs because it was more convenient and would make it easier for him to get around without having to worry about stairs. She remembered when they’d first moved her mother to the downstairs family room. Holly sighed at the memory. She might not know a single thing about men, but she knew how to take care of someone. That’s why she was here. Because Jordan Haynes was injured. If she remembered that and forgot how he looked, then everything would be fine. “Captain Haynes?” she said softly as she stared at the scarred hardwood floors. “Hi, I’m Holly Garrett. We met in the hospital. May I come in?” “Sure.” She paused, waiting to hear the rustle of bed sheets as he covered himself. There was only silence. She reminded herself that sick and injured people had a lot of similarities. They got frustrated, bored, tired of the pain and isolation. And if she was worried about him being naked, she wouldn’t look at anything below his neck. She drew in a deep breath, smiled broadly and stepped into the converted study. Thick drapes had been pulled over two sets of windows. In the daylight the room would get morning sun. A hospital bed had been set up in the center of the room. She was familiar with the model. The electric motor allowed the occupant to raise and lower both the head and the foot to find the most comfortable position. A low table had been pushed to one side, and there was a straight-back chair nearby. Holly ignored the patient for as long as she could, then gave a quick prayer for courage and turned her attention to him. He wasn’t naked. Not completely. Still, her breath caught in her throat, her heart started pounding and she had the uncomfortable feeling that she was turning bright red. Jordan had raised the back of the bed so he was in a nearly sitting position. Dark hair tumbled onto his forehead. Equally dark eyes studied her in return. She wasn’t sure if it was the shape of his masculine features, the set of his jaw or just a perception problem on her part, but she knew he was the best-looking man she’d ever seen. The muscles in her legs felt funny. It took her a moment to figure out they were shaking. Her gaze dipped to his bare chest and the sheet bunched around his waist. She swallowed, resisting the urge to run for cover. Sculpted muscles defined his shoulders, arms and the hard, flat region of his belly. He looked as if he were posing for a provocative calendar. “Searching for visible proof of my injuries?” he asked. Holly realized she’d been staring at him for several seconds. This time she didn’t have to guess about blushing. The heat climbed quickly from the edge of her collar to her cheeks. She ducked her head. “I…” What was she supposed to say? “Have a seat.” She sank into the straight-back chair and folded her hands on her lap. “You’re the lady with the cat,” he said. She risked a glance. He didn’t look annoyed. “Yes. You saved her. I stopped by to see how you were doing. I don’t mean to intrude.” He studied her as intently as she had studied him. His attention made her uncomfortable, but she didn’t feel she had the right to protest. Fair was fair. She smoothed a hand over her skirt and wondered what he saw when he looked at her. Blond hair and blue eyes, which sounded more exciting than they were. Curves, she thought grimly, knowing her five-year battle against an extra fifteen pounds had ended in an uneasy truce. The pounds didn’t multiply, and she stopped trying to make them go away. So her breasts and hips were a little larger than fashion dictated. She would survive. “Did you bring the cat to finish me off?” he asked at last. It took her a moment to realize he was teasing. She smiled. “Mistletoe is very sweet. I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt you. She was just scared.” “Yeah, right. I saw the look in her eyes. She was glad I went over the side.” His gaze brushed across her face. “What happened to your hair?” “My hair?” She reached behind her head and touched her braid. “Nothing. I’m wearing it back.” “Let me see.” She half turned in her seat and tilted her head so he could see the French braid. She’d pinned the end up by the nape of her neck to form a loop. “I like it loose,” he said. “You’ve got beautiful hair.” “Oh.” She blinked. “Ah, thank you.” Had he just paid her a compliment? Holly figured he had. Why? Is that what men and women did? Was he flirting? No. Not with her. She wasn’t his type. Actually she didn’t know what his type would be, but she was pretty sure she was the furthest female from it. He was injured, that was all. Or possibly delirious. She cleared her throat and wished she’d had more experience with this kind of situation. The problem was she’d never spent any time with a man and his bare chest before. “I brought cookies,” she said. “They’re from the bakery. I don’t have a working kitchen yet, but when I do, I’ll make something from scratch. That is, if it wouldn’t be too inconvenient.” “I think I can handle the inconvenience of you baking me something,” he said, then smiled. The smile caught her unaware. Lines crinkled by his dark eyes. His teeth were white, and his handsome face became almost painfully beautiful. Everything inside her bubbled so much, she thought she might start floating around the room. Wow. She needed to get out more. “I’m pretty hungry,” he said. “Would you mind bringing me a couple of those cookies now? I’d get them myself, but I’m—” He motioned to the sheets. “Naked,” she said without thinking. “What? No. I’m not supposed to get up for a couple of days. I’m not naked.” Naked? Had she actually said naked? Holly covered her face with her hands and made a whimpering noise. “No,” she said. “I didn’t mean…That is, I…” “Holly?” He said her name softly. She thought about just running from the room, but her legs were too shaky to cooperate. “I didn’t mean that,” she murmured. “Louise said for me to tell you to put some clothes on, so I just sort of thought—” “It’s okay.” She risked sliding her hands down so they just covered her mouth, then she glanced at him. He wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look mad. She breathed a sigh of relief and dropped her hands to her lap. “Sorry. Look, I’ll go get those cookies for you.” She rose to her feet and reminded herself of his injuries, which were, indirectly, her fault. Act like a nurse, she told herself. She knew how. “Are you on any medication?” she asked. “Pills you have to take with food?” “Nope.” She thought about testing for fever but knew she couldn’t disconnect enough to touch his forehead without swooning. She consoled herself with the thought that he didn’t look hot. She fought a giggle. Okay, yes, he looked hot, but sexy hot, not fever hot. Her body continued to tremble, but she tried to ignore it. After taking a couple of steps toward the door, she paused. “I’m a pretty good cook,” she said, not looking at him but instead staring at the library in front of her. “If you don’t like what Louise prepared for dinner, I could make something else.” She swallowed. “No, it’s a dumb idea. Never mind.” Just as well. She had to get out of his house before she embarrassed herself again. She wanted to tell Jordan it wasn’t her fault. Except for a couple of her mother’s doctors, she’d never spent any time around men. They were as foreign to her as space aliens. “I’d like that very much,” he said. She whirled around to face him. “You would?” “Sounds great. But only if you keep me company. I’ve been home for two days without anyone to talk to. I’m about to go crazy.” Then he gave her that smile again. Despite the shaking and the way her heart was slamming against her ribs, she forced herself to smile back. “Okay. I’ll make something fast.” “I can’t wait.” Holly didn’t remember leaving the room or walking through the library and down the hall. The next thing she knew, she practically floated into the kitchen. Louise was leaning against the sink. She raised her blond eyebrows. “Well?” the older woman asked. “I offered to cook him something, and he said yes.” Louise shook her head. “He’s the most stubborn man I’ve ever met. You’re welcome to him.” She walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out two steaks. Holly eyed the meat. “Can he really eat that much?” Louise grinned. “Only one of them is for him. The other is for you. I heard your stomach growling. You’ve been at work all day, haven’t you? Barely stopped for lunch.” Holly thought of the half sandwich she’d never had time to get back to. It had been a busy afternoon. Still, she would much rather be busy and go without food than sit alone in an empty store, wishing for customers. Before she could comment, Louise continued, “I know what it’s like to be young. Thinking about everything but being healthy.” She opened the refrigerator and pointed to the bottom bin. “There’s plenty of fresh vegetables. He likes them steamed. Of course, not when I steam them.” “Why doesn’t he like you?” Holly asked. The housekeeper shrugged. She crossed the worn linoleum floor and grabbed a denim jacket hanging from a hook by the back door. “I don’t know. He’s always been this way. I’ve been working on and off for the Haynes family for years. There’s four brothers, five if you count Austin, who isn’t technically family but might as well be. I’ve helped when they’ve had new babies, cooked for the bachelors, nursed them through illness—” she tilted her head toward the study “—and injury.” She smiled. “They’re a wonderful group of people. Except that one.” “Then why are you here?” Louise slipped on her jacket. There was a backpack on a second hook. She reached for that and slung it over her shoulder. “Because I care about the family. I told them I would look after him, and the good Lord willing, I’ll survive. But that Jordan has a chip on his shoulder. Don’t ask me why. He’s never said, and I haven’t bothered to ask. Maybe I will one of these days.” Louise opened the back door. “My class starts at seven. I’ll be home around ten-thirty.” “Oh, I’ll be long gone,” Holly said. “I’m just going to cook his dinner, then leave.” “I appreciate this. I would have gone to my class no matter what, but I would have spent the whole time feeling guilty.” Louise gave a quick grin, then left. Holly turned to the old-fashioned kitchen and realized she hadn’t asked where anything was. She was going to have to fumble around to find pots and pans. She didn’t really mind. She was in one of the beautiful Victorian mansions she’d admired since coming to town. Jordan Haynes might not get along with his housekeeper, but Holly thought he was nice. Best of all, she was taking the first step in repaying her debt to him. Jordan watched Holly carrying in a laden tray. She’d found an apron and slipped it over the white frilly blouse and long, soft-looking blue skirt she wore. Her wide eyes shone with excitement, and her mouth quivered on the verge of smiling. “Are you hungry?” she asked. He inhaled the savory aroma of steak, baked potato and broccoli. “Starved.” She set the tray on the table he’d pulled next to the bed. Like the bed, the table had been rented from a hospital-supply center. He’d figured if he had to be restricted for a couple of weeks, he might as well be comfortable. The table slid around easily and could be raised and lowered to fit across his bed. Holly reached for the bed controls. “Can you sit up a little more? It will be easier to eat.” “Sure.” She worked the controls like an expert. Next she raised the table two inches and slid it close. She unfolded a napkin and handed it to him. She played nurse very well. Interesting. He glanced at the tray and saw it was set with two plates. “Thanks for joining me,” he said. “Sometimes I get tired of eating alone.” Holly sank into the chair next to him. “I’m glad you don’t mind. Louise suggested I join you. I was going to ask, but…” Her voice trailed off. The all-business persona faded as quickly as it had arrived. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, as if she didn’t dare stare directly. Quite a contrast of personalities. Deliberate or unconscious? Then he reminded himself he’d spent nearly three days staring at the same four walls. His family had stopped by to visit, but it wasn’t enough to fill the hours. He didn’t care if Holly was a serial killer. He was grateful for her company, whatever her motives. She took her plate and set it on her lap. He cut a piece of steak and tasted it. The meat was cooked perfectly. “Great,” he said when he’d swallowed, then leaned back. “So, Holly Garrett, cat owner, how’d you find me?” “I went to the fire station. I thought I could leave the cookies with one of the men there and they would deliver them.” “Fat chance. They would have been devoured in thirty seconds.” She smiled. “That’s what the captain on duty told me. He gave me your address. I hope you don’t mind.” “It’s fine. Glenwood is a small town. Everyone knows everyone. That’s why I moved back.” “Where did you move from?” “Sacramento. I’d grown up in Glenwood. When I decided to become a fire fighter, I left.” She cut some broccoli and speared it with her fork. “Don’t they have a training academy here?” “The county does. But that wasn’t the problem. My father was the sheriff. His father was a cop, all my uncles are cops. I’m one of four boys, and the other three are all cops.” “You were expected to be a policeman, too.” It wasn’t a question. “Exactly.” He remembered the fights he’d had with his old man. His brothers had teased him about his choice, but they’d supported his decision. Not Earl Haynes. His father had threatened to disown him. By that time Jordan hadn’t cared much about his father’s opinion. Not after everything the old man had done. Holly tilted her head slightly. “Are you happy with what you do?” “Yes. But I didn’t like being away from my brothers and their families. So I put in an application here. When a position for fire captain opened up, I got the job.” He grinned. “One of my brothers, Travis, is the sheriff. He never said anything, but I suspect he put in a good word for me.” Holly laughed softly. The sweet sound penetrated his chest and, for a moment, thawed some of the cold he felt there. Then the laughter faded, and her eyes darkened with an emotion he could only label as sadness. Don’t be a fool, Haynes, he told himself. He didn’t know this woman well enough to be reading her emotions. “Your family sounds wonderful,” Holly said, the tone of her voice confirming his guess. “I can understand why you would move back to be near them. How long have you been here?” “About six months.” “That’s when I got here, too.” “What brought you to Glenwood? It’s not exactly a bustling metropolis.” “My mother and I inherited a store.” So she wasn’t a nurse. “Which one?” “An antique store across from the park. Now it’s called A Victorian Parlor.” He remembered seeing the shop after it had opened. “When I’m feeling better, I’m going to be working on restoring this old place. Maybe I should come by.” “Definitely.” She leaned forward. “The store specializes in Victorian pieces, with a whole section on restoration. There are books of wallpaper, both reproductions of old prints, as well as Victorian inspired. I can order fixtures, faucets, even disguised switch covers. As far as the restoration books go, a few are for sale, but mostly I loan them out. That’s one of the things I like about Glenwood. There are so many old homes that people are restoring.” She hung on to her plate with one hand and gestured with the other. Enthusiasm filled her voice. “You like your work,” he said. “I love it.” “Then I’ll come into the store and get your help.” “I’d like that.” Their eyes met. She bit her lower lip and turned away. Jordan studied her. Part of him wanted her to be as shy and innocent as she seemed; another part of him hoped it was an act. If she was playing a role, then he wouldn’t like her—and that would be easier for him. Mostly because he didn’t want to admit being attracted to Holly Garrett. “I remember that place being empty for a long time. When did you and your mother inherit the store?” “My mom’s aunt passed away about five years ago. She’s the one who left it to us.” She toyed with the last piece of steak, then pushed it away and set the plate on the floor. “My mother was ill for several years. She had breast cancer that kept coming back. We talked about the antique store. It was our joint dream.” Holly leaned back in the chair and folded her hands on her lap. “After she died three years ago, I paid off the rest of the medical bills, then saved money. When I had enough, I moved up here.” She told the story simply. Jordan knew there were many details she’d left out. He wondered about family. Was she an only child? Where was her father in all this? But he didn’t like questions, and he wasn’t about to force her to answer his. At least part of the mystery was explained. If her mother had been ill for a long time, Holly would have become familiar with hospitals. No wonder she could do a great nurse imitation. “Do you like owning your own business?” he asked. “I love it. When I was still in high school, I had a part-time job working in an antique store. After I graduated, I worked there full-time. I know a lot about antiques, restoration. One day I want to buy an old place like this and restore it from the ground up.” “Two of my brothers have houses like this. Travis has finished his. Kyle and Sandy are still wrestling with plumbing upgrades. When I’m up and around, I can show you the houses if you’d like.” “That would be wonderful. What are you going to do with this house?” “I’m not sure. In some of the rooms I’m stripping paint off the original molding. You wouldn’t believe what people do to beautiful wood.” “Tell me about it. I’ve seen some horrible things. It should be illegal.” She moved her chair a little closer to his bed. “Once I went to an estate sale. A woman had covered every piece of furniture with gold paint. It was appalling.” Holly continued with her story, but Jordan was having trouble concentrating. He stared at her face. When she’d visited him in the hospital, he’d noticed her freckles and the fact that she didn’t wear much makeup. Today was the same. Her lashes were darkened with mascara, but other than that, she was as clean scrubbed as a ten-year-old. He watched her full lips move as she spoke. Enthusiasm made her eyes sparkle. Her arms moved, and with them, her body. His gaze was drawn to her chest. She was definitely this side of curvy. Her breasts would spill out of his hands, but he didn’t think he would mind all that much. He fought down a grin. His family and friends considered him reclusive and brooding. Occasionally he bordered on surly. So what the hell was this woman doing in his house? And why was he so pleased to be in her company? “When you’re ready to strip wallpaper, let me know,” she said. “I have a steamer that works like magic.” She glanced at the high ceilings. “Even with that, in some of the rooms it’s going to take days.” “I’ll get my brothers to help me,” he said. “I’ve helped them enough times.” “You’re one of four, right?” He nodded. “That’s nice.” She sighed. “I always wanted a big family, but it was just my mom and me.” Holly was alone. Jordan didn’t know what that felt like. Many times he found himself standing on the outside of family activities. Watching rather than participating. But that was about him, not about the family. He always had a place to go where he was welcome. He couldn’t imagine a world where no one cared about him. “There’s no husband lurking in the background? Or a jealous boyfriend? I’m not in a position to have to defend myself.” She blushed. “Hardly. I haven’t really had time for that sort of thing.” What sort of thing had she had time for? Leave it alone, Haynes, he told himself. She wasn’t the woman for him. He’d wondered if the innocent act was real. Now he had a bad feeling it was. Wholesome. Just as he’d first thought. “How old are you?” he asked. “Twenty-eight.” Twenty-eight and never been kissed. He pushed the rolling table to one side. That was unlikely. Holly had been kissed. How could she look the way she did and not have been kissed? She probably had a trail of men drooling after her everywhere she went. “Have you met a lot of people in Glenwood?” he asked. He meant men, of course, but asking that directly would be rude. Not to mention the fact that it would imply an interest he didn’t have. Liar, a voice in his head yelled. He ignored it. “Some. People who come into my store are nice. I know my landlord, of course. I’ve made a couple of friends.” She looked away from him as he spoke, and he knew in that instant she was lying. She hadn’t made a lot of friends, but she didn’t want him feeling sorry for her. He thought about the women his brothers had married. All of them were terrific and friendly. He had a feeling if he mentioned Holly to them, they would take her under their wings and draw her into the group. Or at least help her feel less alone. But Holly might not want him interfering. Before he could ask or offer, she rose and collected their dinner plates. “Would you like some coffee?” she asked. “That would be great. Oh, and some of those cookies you brought.” She gave him a quick smile, then headed out of the room. He watched the sway of her hips as she walked, and felt a stirring deep inside. He ignored it, just as he ignored the flicker of interest and the sensation of being intrigued. It had been a long time since a woman had caught his attention. He reminded himself there was a price to be paid for getting involved. A price for caring. He wasn’t willing to pay that again. But that wasn’t what this was about. Holly was keeping him company. Nothing more. Soon she would leave, and he wouldn’t have to see her again. Bad enough to risk getting involved with any woman. Worse to risk the heart of an innocent. Chapter Three Holly brought in coffee and a plate of cookies. While she’d been in the kitchen, she’d removed her apron. Jordan tried to ignore her curves and his body’s natural reaction to them. Aside from the fact that they were strangers, he was in no condition to act on any impulses, however pleasant the fantasy. “I didn’t know how you liked it,” she said as she set the tray on the table across his bed. “There’s milk and sugar.” She motioned to the small containers next to the plate of cookies. “Black is fine.” She picked up her cup, added milk, stirred, then took her seat. “How do you feel?” she asked. He shrugged, then grimaced as muscles in his back protested. “Like I was thrown off the side of a building.” Instead of smiling, she grew solemn with concern. “I’m so sorry.” “It’s not your fault.” “Yes, it is.” She leaned toward him and placed her cup on the table. “I shouldn’t have asked you to go back and rescue Mistletoe. When I think about it now…” She swallowed. Her blue eyes darkened with an emotion he couldn’t read. “You could have been killed.” “I wouldn’t have gone in if I’d been in that much danger.” “Really?” He nodded. “I like what I do for a living, but I don’t have a death wish.” She gave him a faint smile. “She’s all I have left from my mother. Mistletoe was a gift to me the Christmas before Mom died. I’m very grateful for what you did.” Her voice was husky. Somehow, in all the moving around, her chair had slid closer to the bed. Now, if she leaned forward as she was doing now, her hands rested on the edge of the mattress. A single strand of blond hair hung down by her cheek. The wisp brushed against her skin, but she didn’t seem to notice. His gut clenched as he wondered if she was going to cry. He freely admitted he was a typical male, completely knocked off balance by female tears. “Just doing my job,” he said lightly. She responded with a smile. “What made you want to do that rather than become a police officer like the rest of your family?” He pushed the controls and lowered the bed a little, then tucked one hand behind his head. “When I was about eight or nine, a house in the neighborhood caught fire. I watched the fire department at work. I’d never really understood what my father and uncles did. I knew from television they were supposed to catch the bad guys, but Glenwood isn’t a hotbed of criminal activity. The sheriff’s department acts more as a deterrent than a crime-solving organization. But I could see what the fire fighters did, and I was impressed. That stayed with me.” He reached for his coffee. That wasn’t the only reason. Growing up, he’d also watched his old man. By the time he was twelve, he knew he didn’t want to be anything like his father. Earl Haynes had a reputation for being a ladies’ man. Jordan swore silently. It wasn’t just the women his father flaunted. It was the disrespect for everyone else. No one mattered, and nothing was important but Earl’s pleasures. He often hit the boys for no reason, then told them to consider themselves punished in advance of their next mistake. Jordan’s brothers had been able to look past the man and carry on the family tradition of law enforcement, but not Jordan. He could feel his anger building. Even after all this time, his father still got to him. He wondered if that would ever change. “Jordan? Are you feeling all right?” Holly’s voice was concerned. She rose and touched her palm to his forehead. With her other hand she took his wrist and felt his pulse. “Slightly elevated,” she murmured, “but you don’t feel hot.” She pressed the back of her hand against his cheek, then touched his earlobe. He figured if she kept that up much longer, he could really show her an elevated pulse. “Do you want a painkiller or are you due for some other medication?” “I’m fine,” he said. “Relax.” He was fine. Since getting out of the hospital, he’d grown used to the dull ache in his body. He’d wanted to give up his prescriptions altogether, but he needed the medication to sleep at night. During the day he did without. She released his hand, sank back in her chair and continued to study him. Gone was the blushing innocent. He liked the contrast of competence and shyness almost as much as he liked her freckles. She gave him a half smile. “I should leave so you can get some rest.” “I’d prefer that you kept me company. It gets pretty boring lying here all day.” “You’ve got Louise.” Rather than answer that, he reached for his coffee. Holly opened her mouth to speak, but before she could say anything, there was a noise from the kitchen. She stood up and turned toward the sound. “I’m back,” Louise called. Figures, Jordan grumbled to himself. Holly glanced at her watch. “Goodness. I didn’t realize how long I’d been here. You must be exhausted. I’m so sorry. You should have said something.” She twisted her fingers together. “My only excuse is that I’ve been spending too much time on my own. Mistletoe is a sweetie, but she’s not much for conversation.” She was babbling. He liked it. It meant she was nervous and unsure of herself. Better than that, it meant she liked him. He wanted her to like him. He heard footsteps in the hallway, then Louise stepped into the room. Her eyebrows arched in surprise. “You two seem to be getting along. Everything all right?” “It’s my fault,” Holly said quickly. “After dinner I—” Jordan didn’t know how else to shut her up. He reached out and grabbed her hand. She turned and stared at him. He ignored her. “Everything is fine,” he told the housekeeper. “How was your class?” Now both women were staring at him. He figured he had Holly’s attention because of the incredibly hot sparks arcing between their clasped hands. He’d never felt anything like it before, and he sure as hell didn’t know what it meant. He also wasn’t going to let go, because he had a feeling if he did, she would bolt. He wanted to make sure she was going to come back and see him again. Louise stared at him because his question was the first civil comment he’d spoken since she arrived. For a moment he wondered if it was really so necessary to be such a bastard around her. Then he reminded himself of all she’d done and how many lives she’d torn apart, and he knew she deserved all that and more. The fact that she was doing a nice thing by looking after him was something he would have to learn to ignore. “The professor barely looks old enough to have to shave every day, but he lectures real nice,” Louise said cautiously. “I should go,” Holly said, tugging her fingers free. Jordan didn’t want to let her go. For one incredibly stupid moment he wished he could stand up and kiss her. If he’d been on medication, he would have said it was the drugs talking, but he hadn’t had anything since the previous evening. So it was the boredom or the pain. Or maybe it was the fact that outside his family, he didn’t have many friends. He liked Holly. She was someone he could be friends with. Even as he thought the statement, he half expected to be zapped by lightning. Sure, he wanted to be friends with her. That’s why he’d spent half the evening staring at her curves. “Come back tomorrow,” he said without thinking. Holly’s full lips turned up at the corners. “I’d like that,” she said softly. He smiled. Her reaction was instant. Her mouth parted, and her breathing increased. He saw the faint tremor that rippled through her body. He’d never much wanted it, but apparently he still had it. The infamous whatever that made Haynes men popular with the ladies. Years before he’d used it to get whatever he wanted, but he’d grown up and the game had lost its appeal. He turned off the smile, and Holly blinked, as if she were awakening from a spell. She gave him a quick wave and walked from the room. Louise followed. Jordan was left alone in the silence. He would have to be careful. Despite his preoccupation with her curves, he liked Holly and he would be grateful for her company. But only as his friend. He didn’t want anything more. He knew the truth about romantic entanglements. He’d learned it from an expert. Despite all the songs and movies about the joys of falling in love, the truth was that love hurt. Holly walked into the kitchen to collect her purse. “I’m impressed,” Louise said, strolling behind her. “You worked a miracle.” “It wasn’t very difficult.” Holly smiled at the housekeeper and hoped her trembling wasn’t obvious. Touching Jordan to see if he had a fever was one thing. She could ignore the fact that he was handsome, charming and very close to naked. But when he’d taken her hand and smiled at her, she’d thought she was going to faint. She drew in a deep breath. It wasn’t fair that one man should have so many good qualities. They should be spread around among several men. Then she wouldn’t have to worry about making a fool of herself in his presence. “Maybe it wasn’t hard for you,” Louise said, “but I can’t get a lick of cooperation out of that boy. I don’t suppose you’d consider coming here full-time until he’s healed.” Holly grinned. “Sorry, I’ve got a business to run.” “Just my luck. Guess I’m stuck with him.” She rolled her eyes. “He forgot himself and was nearly pleasant to me tonight. I’m sure I’ll pay for that in the morning.” “I don’t understand why he acts like that.” Louise touched her right earring, separating the dangling silver moon and stars. “Could be any number of things. He’s never come out and said. Glenwood is a small town. People know each other’s business. But he’s carried his anger for a long time. I suppose one day I’ll have to have it out with him, but not tonight.” She smiled brightly. “You coming back tomorrow?” “You really think I should?” “Of course. If nothing else, I could use a break from his bad temper.” “I know it’s difficult. My mother was sick for nearly ten years. When she was feeling good, she was fun and easy to be around, but after days of being in pain she got—” Holly hesitated. “Cranky?” Louise offered. Holly smiled. “That’s as good a word as any.” She glanced back toward the study. Jordan had asked her to come back, and she really would like to spend some more time with him. Tonight had been great fun. Talking with another person was much better than spending the evening alone. “So you’ll be here?” Louise asked. Holly started toward the front door with the housekeeper following behind. “Yes. I’d like that very much.” “Good. I look forward to it, and I’m sure Jordan does, too.” She held the door open. Holly stepped onto the porch and waved. “Good night.” It was just dinner and conversation, she reasoned as she started her car and backed down the driveway. It wasn’t really like a date. So what if Jordan was funny, charming and handsome? She was being neighborly. Besides, she’d been so busy getting her business started, she hadn’t had time to meet anyone. Jordan could be her first friend. And Louise, too, although the thought of seeing Louise again wasn’t quite as exciting. If nothing else, the visit would get her out of the store. Since she’d lost her apartment, she’d been sleeping in the shop. There were plenty of sofas to bunk on. They weren’t that comfortable—but it was only for a few weeks. Stocking her store with inventory for Christmas had taken every last penny she had. When the storm had struck, she’d lost all her furniture and most of her clothes. She couldn’t afford to replace everything, let alone come up with first and last months’ rent. But if she had a good holiday season, she would be fine come January first. Then she would find a new apartment and buy a few things. In the meantime she had the store, and that was enough. That night, as she stretched out in her sleeping bag on one of the more comfortable sofas, she thought about her evening with Jordan and smiled in the darkness. Her pleasure wasn’t just about how he looked, even though his smile took her breath away. It was that he really took the time to listen to her. No one had ever done that before. She shifted, and Mistletoe meowed in protest. The cat was using her feet as a pillow. Holly could feel the vibration of Mistletoe’s purring through the sleeping bag. The familiar sensation relaxed her. “Maybe I’ll take you to meet him,” she murmured. “Then you can thank him in person.” Mistletoe yawned, obviously not impressed. Three days later Louise opened the front door as Holly climbed the stairs. “Right on time,” Louise said. “There weren’t any customers in the store, so I closed exactly at five.” She stepped inside, then set the large basket she was carrying on the floor. “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought Mistletoe.” Louise eyed the basket. “Is she the cat responsible for Jordan’s injuries?” “Yes. She’s really very sweet, but she got scared by everything going on.” “Don’t make excuses. I like her already.” Louise bent down and opened the basket. Mistletoe was curled up inside. Her long gray fur fluffed out around her. Big green eyes stared at Louise. The housekeeper let Mistletoe smell her hand, then scratched behind her ears. The cat purred in ecstasy. “She’s beautiful,” Louise said. “A purebred Persian, and she doesn’t hesitate to remind people that she’s special.” Louise stood up. Mistletoe sniffed the air, then stepped out of the basket. Her round belly hung low. “Has she been eating too many table scraps or is she pregnant?” “Pregnant,” Holly said. “It’s only a couple of weeks until she’s due. I’ve been coming here every night, and I didn’t want to keep leaving her alone. You’re not allergic, are you?” “Not at all.” Louise bent over and petted the cat. “Aren’t you a pretty girl? Now, you go bother Jordan. There’s a sweet cat. Yes, you go shed cat hair all over his sheets.” Mistletoe arched into the caresses. When Louise straightened, the animal began to explore the foyer. Holly took a deep breath. “Something smells wonderful. What is it tonight?” “Spaghetti. I had some frozen sauce. I just defrosted it in the refrigerator, then started heating it about twenty minutes ago.” In the past three days they’d settled into a routine. For some reason Jordan continued to complain about Louise’s cooking. So Holly took credit for the evening meal, even though she didn’t prepare it. It made Jordan happy, and Louise didn’t mind. The housekeeper disappeared each evening. Some nights she was at the local college taking courses. Other times she was baby-sitting or studying in the library. Holly privately thought she simply left to get away from Jordan. “I don’t understand why he’s so stubborn,” Holly said as she followed Louise into the kitchen. As usual the housekeeper dressed to attract attention. This evening she wore a brilliant orange long-sleeved silk blouse tucked into black jeans. A gold belt circled her small waist. Her dangling earrings—a teapot twirling from one ear, a cup and saucer hanging from the other—swayed with her movements. Holly admired her sense of style even if it wasn’t what she would have chosen for herself. For the shop Holly favored ruffly blouses and long, flowing skirts. They reflected the era of the store but allowed her to be mobile. Fortunately she’d kept her work clothes at the store, preferring to change into jeans before she went home. She’d lost a lot of casual wear but could still be dressed appropriately at work. “You really don’t think he’s caught on?” she asked as she leaned against the kitchen counter. The old-fashioned room hadn’t been updated since the early fifties. The counter tiles were alternating light and dark green. The big stove had rounded corners and a storage area on one side. The only modern appliance was the microwave on the counter. “Even if he has, why would he want to admit it?” Louise bent over and pulled out a large pot. “This should do for the pasta. The sauce is simmering on that back burner. Just give it a stir every fifteen minutes or so. The longer it cooks, the tastier it will be.” She motioned to a loaf of bread by the sink. “I picked that up fresh this afternoon.” She winked at Holly. “I think he suspects I’m doing the cooking, but he likes pretending you’re doing it instead. He gets to growl at me and have you keep him company every night. What’s not to like?” “I suppose. I guess I feel a little guilty claiming credit for all your wonderful meals.” “If it makes him feel better to think he’s eating your food and not mine, let him. The faster he’s feeling better, the quicker I can get out of here.” “How’s he doing today?” Louise grimaced. “Pretty bad. The fool got up this morning. The doctor told him to relax. Anyway, he overdid it and spiked a fever this afternoon. I finally convinced him to take an over-the-counter painkiller, and last time I checked, he was sleeping. You might want to look in on him. I think he’ll wake up on his own in an hour or so.” “That’s fine.” Holly brushed her hands against her skirt, then stared at Louise. “I have another favor to ask.” “Sure, what?” She cleared her throat. “Could I use the shower?” She felt her cheeks getting hot, but plunged on before she lost her nerve. “I’ve been living at the store since the fire. There’s a bathroom with a sink but no shower. I’ve been bathing piecemeal, and I really want to be able to wash my hair without having to bend over that tiny sink.” Louise stared at her for several seconds. “Child, you don’t even have to ask. Why didn’t you say something sooner? There’s five bathrooms in this house, and Jordan’s only using one of them. Come right this way.” Louise marched out of the kitchen. Holly followed on her heels. She was quickly shown the downstairs bathroom, the closet with fresh towels, then handed a thick terry-cloth robe. “The boy never uses it, so it’s practically new.” Holly hugged the robe to her chest. She’d brought shampoo and other toiletries, but she hadn’t thought of a robe. “Thanks. I appreciate this.” Louise shook her blond head. “I’m the one in your debt. You’re giving me a break by staying with him.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late. I can’t have a tardy on my attendance record. I’ve never been late once this whole semester. Oh, and I might not get home right on time. Several of us are going out to coffee with the professor after class.” Holly stared at her. “The one so young he doesn’t have to shave every day?” Louise shrugged. “Oh, Richard isn’t all that young. He’s nearly thirty-five. He just looks young.” “You call him Richard?” Louise cleared her throat. “Did I say Richard? I meant Professor Wilson. That’s his name. I’m out of here. Have fun.” With that, the housekeeper left the bathroom and walked down the hall. Holly stared after her and shook her head. Too much had happened too fast. She set the robe on a hook behind the bathroom door, then went to collect her toiletries. Once in the foyer, she moved Mistletoe’s basket to one side and picked up her oversize purse. Her cat raced down the stairs and came over to be petted. “Are you enjoying all this new stuff to sniff?” Holly asked. Mistletoe purred in response. When Holly straightened, the cat took off to explore another part of the house. Holly moved through the library, then tiptoed into the study. Jordan was sprawled out on the rented hospital bed. One dark lock of hair tumbled across his forehead. While he was asleep, he appeared a little younger, although just as good-looking. Her heart did its usual rapid patter against her ribs, but she was learning to accept the fluttery sensation. It was just part of the price she paid to spend time with him. She reached out and touched his face. He was warm but not hot. If he’d spiked a fever, it seemed to have faded. Also, he was sleeping soundly without the restlessness that accompanies fever. She studied him for a few minutes, examining the strong line of his jaw, his straight nose, the faint stubble on his chin. Sometimes while they were talking, she had the oddest sensation of being part of a play or a movie. It didn’t feel real. What was she doing here? But she didn’t dare question her good fortune. Even though she’d never had much opportunity to spend time with men, she’d always dreamed about what it would be like to know one. Jordan was everything she’d imagined the perfect man would be. He was kind, funny, charming and when he looked at her a certain way, she could feel her bones melting. It would be easy to have a crush on him…or worse. But she wouldn’t. First of all, she’d heard a little about the Haynes brothers from people in town. They had a reputation for being heartbreakers. She might as well try to learn ice skating at a U.S. Olympic team workout. She was completely out of her league. Not only was she a virgin, but she hadn’t kissed a single male since she was fifteen. Talk about being out of the loop. The second reason she wouldn’t dare fall for Jordan Haynes was that as much as she might daydream about a man, even marriage, she knew it wasn’t in the cards for her. Not because no one would love her. She liked to think that one or two people might think she was special. The real reason was that love required trust, and she’d been let down too many times. She couldn’t imagine ever trusting anyone again. She pulled the sheet higher up his bare chest, then left the room and hurried down the hallway toward the bathroom. She’d spent the past three days longing for a shower and she was going to enjoy every minute of this one. A hideous howling broke through Jordan’s dream and jerked him into consciousness. He sat up in bed, then groaned as pain ripped through his muscles. He shouldn’t have gotten up earlier, as Louise had told him gleefully. He shook his head and tried to figure out what was wrong. His brain was fuzzy, and he couldn’t focus on anything. There’d been a sound. A— The howling came again. Someone or some thing was being tortured. He threw back the sheet and tried to rise to his feet. The floor shifted. Or maybe it was him. He gripped the nightstand with one hand and the table by his bed with the other, then pushed up. As he locked his muscles, he realized he’d made one fatal error of judgment. He’d forgotten the hospital table had wheels. It shot out from under him and went flying across the room. Jordan lost his balance and tumbled toward the floor. He braced one arm to save himself, but it gave way and he hit the hardwood on his already bruised shoulder. Footsteps sounded in the hallway. “Jordan?” It was Holly. She would be relieved to find out he wasn’t naked under his sheet but instead wore shorts over his briefs. Then his eyes closed, and he couldn’t think about anything but the pain. “Jordan, what happened?” “I heard something. Howling. Tried to get up.” “You fell. Are you hurt?” He hurt like a son of a bitch. She raised his head to her lap, then stroked his face. He opened his eyes. For a moment he stared at her, then he blinked, certain he must have hit his head when he fell. She was wearing a white robe and nothing underneath. He knew because the robe had parted, exposing the curve of one breast and the first hint of the rosy skin around her nipple. He sucked in a breath. Her hair was wet and tumbling around her shoulders. Her eyes darkened with concern, and the fingers on his face were gentle and comforting. Maybe he was dead. If this was heaven, who was he to complain? Chapter Four “Jordan?” Holly said, her voice laced with concern. “Please say something. Are you hurt?” “I’m okay.” He forced the words through the pain and awareness battling in his body. He couldn’t remember hurting this bad before, nor could he remember being this instantly aroused. It was an odd combination that again made him wonder if he had clipped his head on his way down. “Do you think you can get back into bed?” she asked, then glanced from him to the mattress. “I doubt I can lift you by myself.” “I can manage. Just give me a minute.” He continued to stare up at her face. She smelled like shampoo and soap. Her pale skin almost glowed in the early-evening lamplight. Her chest rose and fell with each breath, and the edge of the robe slipped open a little more, exposing a taut nipple and the underside of her breast. Heat coiled low in his belly. The pain from his injuries and the ache from his groin set up a low-frequency hum that had him holding in a moan. He couldn’t continue to torture himself this way, he thought grimly. He rolled to his side, then started to push himself up to his knees. Holly scrambled to her feet and bent over, grabbing him around his chest and adding her strength to his. Together they moved slowly to the bed. Jordan dragged himself onto the mattress. Holly lifted his legs into place, then bent over and smoothed the sheet over him. “Better?” she asked. “Do you want a painkiller?” He shook his head, which surprisingly only hurt a little. “I’ll be fine.” “You sure?” She sat on the bed next to him. Her hip bumped his. “Yeah,” he murmured, trying not to notice that now he could see her other breast. She bent close and touched his forehead. “You feel a little warm.” “I’m sure it will pass.” She frowned. “I hope you’re not spiking another fever.” He glanced at the deep V exposed by the oversize robe. “I’m sure that’s not it.” She was so intent on his condition, she didn’t notice she was flashing him. He wasn’t sure if he should be pleased or insulted. While he appreciated the concern, no man wanted to be considered as sexually interesting as a eunuch. “How did you end up on the floor?” she asked. He’d almost forgotten the circumstances that had brought Holly rushing to his side. He rubbed his temple as he tried to remember. “I heard a noise.” “What was it?” “I can’t remember. I was asleep and something woke me. I got up to see what it was.” “Maybe you were dreaming.” “Maybe.” He stared at her for a moment, for the first time really taking in the oversize robe and her wet hair. He reached out and fingered a damp strand. “What have you been up to?” Holly blushed, then turned her head away. “I, ah, was sort of using your shower. I hope you don’t mind.” He wanted to say she could use it anytime, but only on the condition he got to watch. Though he figured she wouldn’t know he was kidding. Then he realized he wasn’t kidding. Had it been that long since he’d been with a woman, or was it specifically that Holly Garrett intrigued him? Dangerous question, Haynes, he told himself, and decided to ignore it. “I don’t mind,” he said. “Is there a problem with the plumbing at your new apartment?” She drew in a deep breath. The edges of the robe trembled slightly but didn’t part any more. Staring at them was screwing up his concentration, so he lowered his gaze to her lap, where she rested her hands. “Plumbing? Oh!” She seemed to realize how she was dressed. She touched her wet hair, then pulled the collar of the robe together and held it tight. “I, um, I don’t really have an apartment.” He drew his eyebrows together and stared at her. “Where are you living?” “At the shop.” She gave him a quick smile. “It’s really very nice. There’s plenty of furniture. Some of the sofas are very comfy. I have a sleeping bag, a hot plate and a small refrigerator. There’s even a bathroom, but it doesn’t have a shower. So I asked Louise if it was all right for me to use the shower here. You were sleeping, or I would have asked you.” “You can’t live there,” he said. “Why not? It’s perfectly safe. I didn’t have renter’s insurance, and right now I can’t afford to replace everything I lost, let alone come up with first and last months’ rent. But right after the holidays everything should be fine. It’s only for a few weeks.” She was talking quickly, and he wondered if it was to cover her nervousness. He figured it was. Now that she was no longer acting as his nurse, she was shy and embarrassed. As he watched, the fingers at her collar tightened. “Go get dressed,” he said gruffly, then closed his eyes as she scurried from the room. When she was gone, he raised his arm to cover his eyes. He didn’t want to think about Holly Garrett living alone in her store. After six the shopping district was deserted. She could get into trouble, and no one would be around to call for help. To make matters worse, thinking about her living there made him think about her not having access to a shower and instead using his. She’d been so soft and tempting in his robe. His mind filled with a hundred different ways he could take them both to breathlessness and back. But he wasn’t going to act on any of them. He was too old and cynical for a woman like her. For a moment a flicker of regret raced through him. Regret for all he’d never experienced and for all he would never have. If he were someone else, if circumstances were different, he could pursue his interest in Holly. He could woo her slowly, risk caring about her and being cared about in return. A fantasy, he told himself, even as he acknowledged the fantasy was a hell of a lot better than reality. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in love; he just didn’t like the consequences. Seconds later the noise that had awakened him returned. It was a low-pitched yowl. Before he could make up his mind about the risk of trying to get out of bed again, Holly returned carrying a large gray cat. He eyed the beast distastefully. He recognized the face. That cat was responsible for him being laid up. He thought about grabbing the creature and expressing his feelings, but in his weakened condition he didn’t dare. The cat stared back at him, dislike gleaming from its bright green eyes. He figured the cat had gotten the best of him once, and that had been while he was healthy. God knows what it could do to him now. Holly shifted the massive feline in her arms and smiled. “This is Mistletoe. Mistletoe, this is the brave man who saved your life.” Man and cat glared at each other. Neither was impressed. “Mistletoe is a pedigreed Persian,” Holly said, then set the animal on the floor. “I hope you don’t mind that I brought her over. She’s very special to me.” At the sound of her name, the cat glanced up at Holly, then purred and rubbed against her legs. When the feline completed the circle, she looked at Jordan and flattened her ears. He stared back. “She’s pretty fat.” “She’s pregnant.” He had a moment of guilt for thinking evil thoughts about an expectant mother, then realized Mistletoe would probably pass her bad temper on to her offspring. “I don’t like to leave her alone at night,” Holly said. “She’s very well behaved. She won’t be any trouble.” “Yeah, right,” he muttered. Holly picked up the cat and walked toward the bed. “Maybe you should pet her and get acquainted.” Mistletoe began to squirm. Holly set her on the foot of the bed. The cat glared at him. He glared back. She arched her back, gave a sharp pftt, then jumped down and stalked away. Holly stared after her. “I don’t understand. She’s really very sweet and loves everyone.” “Uh-huh,” Jordan said, knowing he’d just been insulted by a twenty-pound monster. “I’m sure she’ll adore you once she gets to know you.” Mistletoe had already sent him off the balcony of a building. He would hate to see what the cat was capable of when she put her mind to something. Holly curled up in the chair Louise had brought into Jordan’s temporary bedroom. The overhead light was off. The only illumination came from two floor lamps in opposite corners. Jordan sat up in bed with the sheet bunched around his waist. They’d finished dinner and were sipping coffee. Holly was pleased with how far she’d come. Despite being in the same room with a good-looking man and his handsome chest, she was able to talk like a normal person. Definitely an improvement over the first day. Jordan still had the power to make her blush, but that was getting better, too. She studied his face and eyes, searching for signs of fever or pain. “How do you feel?” “That’s the third time you’ve asked me, Holly. I’m fine.” Then he smiled. She bit back a sigh. Okay, she was able to survive the bare chest and witty conversation, but the smile…That smile could still reduce her legs to the consistency of whipped cream. She leaned forward and set her coffee mug on the nightstand before she did something stupid like dropping it. “I’m concerned about that fever coming back.” She rose to her feet and leaned over the bed. She touched his forehead, then his cheeks. “You’re cool to the touch.” “You do that very well.” He raised his eyebrows. “Lots of practice?” “With my mom.” “How long was she sick?” Holly settled back in her chair. “Ten years. I was fifteen when she found a lump in her breast. It was cancer. At first they just took the lump out, but then the cancer came back.” She closed her eyes, recalling the terror of that time. Her mother had been her only parent. Because it was just the two of them, they were very close. She’d tried to be strong, but all she could think about was what was going to happen to her when her mother died. “That’s a lot to handle when you’re fifteen,” he said. She nodded. “She had the usual treatments, but she was really sick. I guess some people tolerate them better. There were a lot of times I missed school to be with her.” “What else did you miss?” he asked, his voice low and concerned. She opened her eyes and stared at him. “What do you mean?” “You were a teenager. Most kids have a hard enough time dealing with school and growing up. You had your mother to worry about. You must have missed out on a lot.” Her eyes burned, and for a brief second she was afraid she was going to cry. Then she sat up straighter and blinked several times until the burning went away. “Thank you,” she said. “For what?” “For saying that. No one really noticed before. I was just a teenager, but I was expected to act like an adult. There wasn’t anyone else to take charge. My mom couldn’t do it. The doctors and nurses were busy. Mom had a few friends, but she didn’t want them to know how sick she was. And my friends were young like me.” His dark gaze met hers. “You must have been scared.” “I was. I didn’t want her to die. It was hard because I’d just started high school and I was involved in a lot of activities. I had to give them up. There was even this boy. Jimmy. We sort of dated. As much as one dates at fifteen.” Holly stared down at her hands and realized she was twisting her fingers together. Consciously she stilled the movement. “He dumped me because I had to spend too much time taking care of my mom.” “Tell me his last name. As soon as I’m better, I’ll find him and beat him up for you.” She smiled. “That’s sweet, but no thanks. It was ages ago. It doesn’t matter anymore.” “Sure it does. Some of those hurts never go away.” They stared at each other for a long time. Something in Jordan’s eyes convinced her that he really did understand what she was talking about. She wondered what hurts he carried around from his past. “Did your mother go into remission?” he asked. “For a couple of years. I got through high school. After I graduated, I went to work full-time. I’d wanted to go to college, but there were medical bills. Then the same week we got the news that we’d inherited the antique shop up here, Mom found a lump in her other breast.” Holly’s breath caught in her throat. She remembered hearing the sobs through the thin walls of their bathroom. She’d rushed inside and found her mother crouched down on the floor, crying and rocking. At that moment Holly had known the cancer had returned. “Mom was strong. She had another remission, but this one was shorter. Then they found the cancer had spread everywhere. She hung on for a couple of years. It was hard on her, but she was very brave.” “Sounds like you were, too.” “I didn’t do anything.” “You took care of her, didn’t you?” “I was her daughter. What else was I going to do? I was all she had.” She shifted in the chair and pulled her knees up to her chest. “Enough about this. I’m supposed to be entertaining you, not getting your spirits down. Let’s talk about something more lighthearted.” Jordan thought for a moment. “If you could have gone to college, what would you have studied?” “That’s easy. Business. I want to do a good job running the shop, but I don’t have all the education I need. I admire Louise for going back to school. That’s what I want to do. Next question.” “You never mention your father.” “I don’t have any contact with him.” She thought about the single conversation she’d shared with her father six years ago. She could remember everything about it, right down to the sound of the rain on the windows. “He had an affair with my mother. When she got pregnant, he disappeared.” She said the words matter-of-factly. Jordan stared at her and wondered how she’d managed to stay so giving and innocent in the face of so much tragedy. Holly had been abandoned by one parent and lost the other, yet she’d survived. More than that, she was happy and successful. “I know about fathers like that,” he said. “My dad stuck around, but I often think it would have been better if he’d left.” “Why?” She looked at him intently. After her shower she’d dressed in jeans and a dark blue sweatshirt. The soft fabric deepened the color of her eyes. Her hair was long and loose over her shoulders. He wanted to pull her close and bury his hands in the long silky strands. He wanted to kiss her and make love to her until she forgot the past and its pain. He could make her forget. He could even seduce her. But if he did, he would break her heart, and that was one thing he wouldn’t allow himself to do. So instead, he told the truth. If that didn’t drive her away, nothing would. “Haven’t you heard about the infamous Haynes brothers?” he asked. She shrugged. “Rumors, really. Nothing specific.” “Four generations of heartbreakers. Four generations of boys born into the family. Three generations of philandering men and bitter women.” “You and your brothers are the fourth generation?” “Yeah. We saw what our uncles did and how our father treated our mother. He was out with women several times a week. Earl Haynes believed everything he did was fine as long as he actually slept in his bed. Everyone in town knew about his affairs, including my mother.” She sucked in a breath. “You and your brothers knew, too?” He nodded. “How awful.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand how someone could act like that.” “It was easy.” “What do you mean?” “The men in my family have a natural ability to attract women.” She raised her chin slightly. “I hadn’t noticed.” “Gee, thanks.” She looked startled, then laughed. “Oh, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. What I meant was—” She paused. He waited, wondering what she was going to say. Would she claim to be completely unaffected by him, and if she did, would he believe her? 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